"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Cracking the Code of Inner City School Troubles

Did you know that ninety three percent of Missouri schools are performing adequately or above expectations? It may be surprising to some that that number is so high.  You would think, with all we are changing in our public education, that the number would be much lower, say around twenty five percent. But the fact is, we have been trying to "fix" the seven percent that aren't doing so well, and those seven percent are, by and large, in our urban areas in St. Louis and Kansas City. Just look where the schools have lost accreditation and you will see what areas we are trying hardest to fix. Both those cities could exist in any state. The inner city school seems to be ground zero for academic failure and many in the education intelligentsia have proffered their reforms to change the student scores in those schools. Because we no longer believe in targeted strategies, but have preferred to aim for education equity, we find ourselves in teh situation we are in today where we are changing what schools do everywhere to fix the problem in our inner cities.

John Kuhn, in a stunning frank but well written article, explains why most of the reform efforts aimed at inner cities schools don't work, and how contextual accountability might be the better approach. He writes,
Every school is a microcosm of the community it serves—that is, every school that serves any and all students in the neighborhood. Peaceful schools are nestled in peaceful environs. If there are drugs or violence in the streets, educators will contend with drugs and violence working their way into the school like crickets through unseen cracks. If there are racist or misogynistic attitudes in the homes, they will manifest themselves on campus. And so it goes. If there is materialism, superiority, entitlement, narcissism, coldness, anti-intellectualism, vanity, laziness, or greed ensconced in the hearts of the parents or grandparents or neighbors or pastors or businessmen or family friends who act out their human dialogues in the public space shared with students, then students will bring traces of those attitudes with them into class and the air will hang with secondhand dysfunction.
Educators spend entire careers—some without even realizing it—trying to accentuate and play off of students’ positive outside influences and minimize or at least sidestep their negative ones, just to prepare the groundwork so they can teach their content. Teaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum, an obvious fact which bears repeating only because it’s so common to hear people go on and on about teacher quality as the ultimate driver of student learning. Too many experts spout the mogul-endorsed “no excuses” mantra reflexively when the conversation turns to the context of student lives, and in so doing effectively refuse to talk seriously about the increasingly debilitating conditions of that context.
He pokes holes in the argument that charter schools are a fix for the environmental problems inner city kids face.
In reality, the quiet secret to their [charter schools] trumpeted success is simply a strategic divorce of cultures. Via lottery-purified enrollment, high-hurdled parent involvement, and hair-trigger expulsions, the highest of the high-performers embrace select children from the neighborhood while flatly rejecting the broad sweep of the neighborhood’s culture, preferring to substitute their own pre-manufactured culture-like products... Tragically, creatively-selective charter schools portend national blindness to the suffering our policies foster.

I highly encourage you to read the entire article for it speaks the truth that so few in the education reform movement are afraid to speak. What is needed in the inner city schools is a personal connection to the students and their families that cannot be quantified by psychometrics and institutionalized by a public bureaucracy. That one-on-one that comes from the heart goes farther than any free lunch, idyllic curriculum or state of the art technology could.

The Cake Lady of Roosevelt High School knows this to be true. Roosevelt HS is where the kids who don't join the Voluntary Transfer Program (busing to the suburbs), go to a private or charter school end up. Basically it is the public school that is made up of kids whose parents have not opted to send them outside their district. It is a what's known as a comprehensive public school and it has had a troubled history in the few decades. There were about thirteen gangs in the school. Attendance stood at 65%.  The student population is classified as 75% black, 17% white, 6% Asian, and 2% Hispanic.  Back in 2006 they went through four principals in about six months. 

At about that time,  a woman became involved in the school. She didn't want to just send money to buy things for the kids. She wanted to see what she could do to help, so she took a tour of the school with the Principal Terry Houston who wondered what this white woman thought she was going to do for an inner city, predominantly black, school. After seeing the conditions there the woman decided she was going to let these students know that they were special, that somebody out there cared about them and wanted them to succeed. It was important that they hear those words from someone who wasn't playing them and who had nothing to gain personally.

So she decided to share this message at a birthday party for all the kids. Knowing that everyone would want their birthday recognized she showed up Friday morning with 10 sheet cakes and shared 800 pieces of cake with the students in the cafeteria. They of course wanted to know who this woman was and why was she bringing them cake. She told them that each one of them was a special human being, with gifts and talents that they might not yet have discovered even themselves, someone who had the ability to succeed and achieve something greater. Sadly, this was a message that many of these kids had not gotten.

Knowing that the message itself was only part of what these kids needed, this woman also worked with Kimberly McCurdy who opened KidSmart in 2002 to supply basic school supplies like pencils, paper and crayons to 90,000 kids in St. Louis who could not otherwise afford to buy them. KidSmart distributes the supplies through teachers who shop at KidSmart’s Free Store once a month. You can't be expected to do the work without the tools.

She also worked with Judge Jimmie Edwards in the St. Louis Juvenile Court. Judge Edwards was a national finalist in People magazine's 2011 People Readers' Choice Hero campaign. Innovative Concept Academy, which he created in 2009 in the abandoned Blewett Middle School, as an alternative school for juvenile offenders. There were so many negative influences on these kids lives: gangs, poverty, single parents etc., that it looked like crime was inevitable for many of them. Judge Edwards and this suburban white woman did not want to see that come true.

She continued delivering sheet cakes to Roosevelt each month for the next six years and quickly earned the moniker "The Cake Lady" which children would happily shout as they saw her walking down the hall laden with her ten packages of sweet celebration. She was a constant reminder to the students of Roosevelt that someone out there cared about them and was watching their progress.  Through a business connection she was involved in, out of last year's graduation class of 130, 110 had jobs to go to after Roosevelt.

What it takes for kids to succeed is for someone to take an interest in them and reinforce the idea to them that they can succeed. Kids know when you're paid to do it and when your heart isn't in it, but they knew The Cake Lady was the real deal.  

By the way, the Cake Lady is gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence's wife Suzie Spence. Wouldn't it be great if everyone who wanted a pubic office had a personal history of selfless dedication, who actually got in and worked with the people they claim to want to help once in office? Think of what public policy might look like if that were the case.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What to Ask Your Child's Teacher on "Meet the Teacher Night"

Ask your child's teacher how this letter might fit into the common core standards assessment at "Meet the Teacher Night".

If you don't have enough time to specifically ask questions about Common Core standards in your child's classroom on "meet the teacher" night, make an appointment with the teacher and/or principal to talk about exactly what these mandates will mean to your child's education.  Your school board probably won't have a town hall meeting about these mandates (mine isn't), so ask the teacher and/or principal directly.  You need to know what is expected of your child in the classroom.  It's quite different than just learning the three "Rs".

The blog below is written by a teacher.  He's extremely concerned about his students, Common Core standards ramifications on those students, and the fact his hands are tied about what he is allowed to teach.

Take a copy of his words to your child's teacher and principal.  Ask his/her opinion on Meet the Teacher Night 2012.  Ask the principal and teacher if they agree with this teacher's take on the Common Core standards.  If they disagree, ask them to give you reasons why they disagree.

I teach fifth grade in a small suburban K-6 district and last night was our meet the teacher night. I had several options before me,  give my standard  spiel on my procedures and expectations , explain the new Common Core State Standards, or educate parents on how, so called , education reform, will really affect their children. I had to decide whether or not I was willing to choose this mountain to take a stand.

Please keep in mind, I work in a very conservative  Republican district.  It is so conservative, that when President Obama gave his famous speech to students at the start of his first school year as president, I was given a directive not to show that speech to my students.  After much debate, I was threatened with insubordination charges if I dared to show that speech.  ( Just so you know, I read the speech to my class, I posted President Obama’s picture with an excerpt from the speech in my classroom, and it’s still there since 2009.)

After much contemplation as to  what to present to parents, I decided to do all three.  I went for that mountaintop. I  give a quick run down on procedures and expectations. I then explained the new Common Core State Standards, and went on to  educate them on how, so called , education reform, will really affect their children.

I explained to these parents that this year will be like no other. I went through how the Common Core assumes that their children have skills  that they don’t have yet. I explained how they must robotic-ally  answer questions with specifics from texts while leaving out their own personal feelings. Because as David Coleman has stated, no body gives a sheet as to what you feel.  I explained how their children will have to learn a new expanded math curriculum and that I need to teach more than one lesson a day at times, because there aren’t enough days to teach 1 lesson per day before the ‘big test’. I told them that learning how to divide fractions is now not enough, their children will have to create models to demonstrate how that actually works. All because someone thinks that’s what is done in the real world.

When I described how New York State now has a new teacher evaluation program called APPR, I could see some parents were quite uncomfortable. I then explained to them that APPR will rob their children of lesson time. I showed them how I must take attendance 5-6 times each day to collect data , and how at 1 minute each it would rob their children of the time equal to 9 lessons. I then informed that of all the testing that their children will have to endure and that is designed to test teachers  rather their children. I told them that their children could lose up to 90 lessons this school year due to APPR tests, data, training, grading and more.

Our school was labeled a “Reward School” this year. That means that out of over 4600 public schools in NYS, our school was one of approximately 230 that were rated at the very top. Despite this, we are being treated as if we don’t know how to teach, our teachers must be evaluated to weed out the possible ineffective ones, and their children are not doing well enough.

I informed these parents  that it was time for them to get involved. It was time to step up and contact those at the state level that this path we are on is leading the wrong way.

Needless to say, there were some parents who were quite upset.

Hopefully not with me. It looks like it could be a wild ride this year. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Romney Comes Out Against Common Core

There is that moment in the very early morning, when the sun has not yet risen in the sky but when there is clearly brightening on the horizon that begins to focus on a single point of light. For those opposing Common Core, that moment occurred yesterday in an interview between candidate Romney and Brian Williams at the NBC organized Education Nation Summit in New York. In that exchange, Romney said, “I don’t subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push the Common Core onto various states." In referring to the Race To The Top tactic used to foist the standards on the states he said, "To financially reward states based on accepting the federal government’s  idea of a curriculum is a mistake.” 

So if Governor Romney wins maybe we can expect Washington to cease and desist on national standards (or whatever they want to call them by then.) How do we know this?  Because Romney also said that states who have chosen to adopt the Common Core States Standards would be on their own to implement it.  “If you have chosen it, congratulations. Work on it and do it within the resources of your own state.”  There will be no further funding of Common Core from Washington.

Any idea that the Consortia might be able to go back to the well for more funding after September 2014 pretty much dries up if Romney is elected. That makes it all the more likely that states/districts signed on to Common Core will bear the entire future fiscal burden of supporting the assessment consortia. This is yet another warning bell that the time to get out of Common Core is now.
American Principles in Action (APIA), a leading opponent of the Common Core State Standards, praised Romney’s stated opposition.

“We applaud Governor Romney’s bold support for states and local communities to decide what’s best for their children, restoring power over education from the hands of the federal government to where it belongs,” said APIA’s Emmett McGroarty. “He is right to warn that the national authorities may have an agenda and should be prevented from pushing it on the states. Unfortunately, just as with Medicare reform, the federal government has resorted to coercing now more than 40 states into adopting the Common Core.” Caffeinated Thoughts Sept 25, 2012
From this bright point on the horizon from the Romney campaign, we are optimistic. Further, he recognizes the importance of family in education. "The idea that somehow schools are entirely separate from the home, from the economic circumstances of the home, from the social experiences of the home, that's just not reality. The home is an integral part of the education system and the best teachers in the world can't possibly overcome a home that is completely pulling in a very different direction."

Tempering our enthusiasm is his apparent support for Condoleezza Rice's dangerous comment that education will be the greatest civil rights issue of our generation which his campaign posted on Face Book. In our litigious society, making something a civil right has very serious consequences. Just look at all the craziness that happened when Canada made same sex marriage a "civil right."

Add to this the fact that Romney says he likes the Obama administration new teacher-evaluation systems and the idea of expanding charter schools, and you get a mixed vote on Romney in education.  His businessman thinking is quite clear. A good business always has a quality review of its product line to keep the end user happy (and paying.) His support for charters is in line with his fiscal view of Washington. He would like DC to be doing/spending a lot less, and nothing is off the table. If there is a way for another entity (a state, a business) to take over something the federal government is doing, and probably not doing efficiently, he is open to exploring that option.

For now, let's focus on that small point of light and prepare to do our work for as long as the sun remains in the sky.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Feeeeed Me Seymour.

Hungry students face the reality and results of Federal mandates in local schools.

This student produced youtube video below illustrates how hungry students are due to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (isn't that a delicious contradiction?).  It shows the fallacy of a "one-size fits all" calorie program for students.  Think of this video as a precursor of when the horrors of a "one-size fits all" Common Core educational program is realized by students and parents.  "One size fits all" might work well for a system...for human beings....not so much.

What happens in Scotland regulating food choices (even outside the school building) might just find its way here.  The students may not be able to have their "food stash" in their lockers.  These students might like to do a video next on what branch of government should be setting food requirements/portions in local schools supported by local tax dollars.  Should these food requirements be set by the Federal government?  If so, why?

It's time for the serious discussion on why the Federal government is forcing its food agenda on public schools.  Do you really think "it's for the kids"?  

For more articles from around the country on hungry students due to Federal policy, check out this Facebook page, Nutrition Nannies.

Monday, September 24, 2012

In Common Core Math, the Answer isn't that Important. The Collaboration and Communication and Argument is Paramount.

It's all about process.  The student must explain the method in solving the problem.   Now the student will talk about the problem with the other students.  It's the standards requirement.

SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia) weekly update #65 includes information on Illustrative Mathematics Project, which is developing resources to support implementation:

Chaired by Bill McCallum, professor of mathematics and another contributing author of the CCSSM, Illustrative Mathematics provides guidance and develops resources to support the implementation of the standards. Through the website (http://illustrativemathematics.org/), the project has developed hundreds of tasks that illustrate the meaning of each standard and provide instructional best practices for teachers. This project aligns well with the Smarter Balanced vision of formative assessment practices that continually inform teaching and learning.

Here's a sample lesson in Common Core from Illustrative Mathematics:

1.OA Find the Missing Number

This task is rated +1 (1 rating)  •  Log in if you'd like to rate this task

Find the missing number in each of the following equations: 

Commentary: This task asks students to solve addition and subtraction equations with different structures so that they are able to see the connections between addition and subtraction more easily. Examples should be presented with the the sum or difference on either side of the equal sign in order to dispel the notion that = means "compute."
Solution: Solution
We know that if we subtract 3 from nine, the result is 6 so the missing number in the first equation is 6. The first equation should look like:
We can either count up from 8 to 15 or subtract 8 from 15. In either case, the result is 7. The second equation should look like:
We can ask, “What number do we need to subtract from 16 to get 5?” or “5 plus what number is 16?” In either case, the answer is 11. The third equation should look like:
We know that if we subtract 2 from seven, the result is 5 so the missing number in the first equation is 5. The first equation should look like:
We can either count up from 7 to 13 or subtract 7 from 13. In either case, the result is 6. The second equation should look like:
We can ask, “What number do we need to subtract from 14 to get 6?” or “6 plus what number is 14?” In either case, the answer is 9. The third equation should look like:
We have found the missing numbers in each of the given equations.
Comments log in if you'd like to leave a comment
  • mboudwin wrote this comment 5 months ago
    Would it be beneficial to state in the commentary that the sum could appear on the left side of the equation with the addends on the right to reinforce Standard 1.OA.7?
    • BanjoBen wrote this reply 5 months ago
      I think that's a good idea. I'll try to see about getting some examples like that added.

Look at the last equation and answer.

Here are my questions if I chose to log in and comment to "Banjo Ben".  
  • How much money are taxpayers on the hook for these new math standards?  There's a wrong answer in that last equation that's cost a lot of money to prepare at taxpayer expense and no one has caught it in 5 months.   
  • How could an assessment company, the commenter and the website master miss such an easy answer?
  • If the computer reads the pre-loaded computerized answer to the question, even though it is incorrect, will the student be graded incorrectly...for the correct answer? 
Read the reasoning behind these standards.  Students are not just learning math facts and then solving problems.  In math, a student must:
The PROCESSES of dissecting a mathematical equation to death, trying to make patterns and critiquing other students' mathematical problems takes a student's (and apparently the assessment company's) attention off the answer to the basic math problem of 6 = 14 - __.

What is particularly troubling to me is this: why should students be sharing their answers with other students and critiquing other students' work?  Students are to justify their conclusions, communicate them to others, and respond to the arguments of others. 

  • I pity the shy child who doesn't care to share his/her answers, prefers to work independently and shuns group projects in favor of individual effort. 
  • I pity the child who does not have the language ability to convey his/her thoughts to others and panics at the thought of expressing his/her work verbally.  
  • I pity the child who struggles with math taught in this manner and his/her work is shared with other students for their responses.  
Will these children be held up to ridicule by his/her classmates?

What is the reasoning for these process lessons and collaboration in math?  Maybe this creates the framework in which to integrate the issue of bullying into the math standards when the slower child doesn't participate or gets the wrong answer.  Bingo!  The teacher can cover her bullying lesson in the language standards for the day with the Math lesson and the teacher can mark it off her list of mandated lessons.   The teacher can craft the following problem to address the math facts AND the language arts standard about bullying.  Then the class can dissect the reasons children bully other children and integrate language arts in math class.  It's a standard writer's dream: 

Little Johnny has 14 apples.  The bully takes away 6 apples.  How many does Little Johnny have left?

Meanwhile, the students and teacher may or may not catch the answer to 6 = 14 - __ is NOT 9.

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