February 15, 2014

Charter School “Midyear Dump” Tactics

This is an interesting must-read comment by one of Diane Ravitch’s readers. He talks about the “midyear dump” that often occurs in some charter schools as a means to improve the odds of school test scores. This is one of the games being played in Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, and it’s his SLAM DUNK on devious ed reform tactics. It is ruining many students’ lives, mischaracterizing teachers, administrators and schools. It is causing the doors to public schools to be slammed shut, and it is crippling communities. My, how deeply those ed reformers care about the education of children….just warms my heart.
 
“Case-in-point: AUDUBON MIDDLE SCHOOL, out here in the inner-city of LAUSD, in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. DeWayne Davis, the principal at LAUSD’s Audubon Middle school, wrote Dr. Diane Ravitch a letter which Diane posted on her site. In this letter, Dr. Davis condemned the “midyear dump” of students from the nearby charter schools. Every year, just after winter break, there are about 168 or so kids that have left those charter schools—either kicked out or “counseled out”. I can’t recall the exact figures, but he said about 162 of those are FBB (Far Below Basic)—kids who score low because of being innately “slower”, non-cooperative, “Special Ed”, newcomers to the country who are brand new to English, those students just plain not willing to work hard, from distressed home lives, foster care, homeless, etc.

Davis tells about the great difficulties that teachers have in their efforts to absorb these charter cast-off’s into their classes. For the next month or two—or for even the remainder of the school year—teachers and the pre-existing students report varying states of chaos as a result of the nearby charter schools engaging in this despicable “midyear dump”.

Of course, think of the effect this has on Audubon’s scores—they go DOWN—and on the nearby charter schools—they go UP.

DR. DEWAYNE DAVIS:

“It is ridiculous that they (charter operators) can pick and choose kids and pretend that they are raising scores when, in fact, they are just purging nonperforming students at an alarming rate. That is how they are raising their scores, not by improving the performance of students.

“Such a large number of FBB students will handicap the growth that the Audubon staff initiated this year, and further, will negatively impact the school’s overall scores as we continue to receive a recurring tide of low-performing students.”

One teacher activist explained this phenomenon with the following analogy:

“It’s like you have two oncology (cancer treatment) practices:

Oncology Practice A
&
Oncology Practice B.

“Oncology Practice A only accepts patients with Stage 1 cancers, carefully screening out those with Stages 2, 3, or 4 cancers. They send the latter down the street to Oncology Practice B. If one of the latter happens to sneak by this screening process, they likewise are immediately referred down the street to Oncology Practice B. If they advance from Stage 1 to Stage 2, they are also kicked out the door and dumped on Oncology Practice B.

“Meanwhile, Oncology Practice B, by law, MUST ACCEPT ALL PATIENTS who show up in their waiting room, and are banned from doing what Oncology Practice A is doing—again, being selective at the outset to only accept the Stage 1 cancer patients, and doing a later screening out to maintain that their patients are exclusively Stage 1.

“Well, low and behold, as things play out, the ‘data’ shows that Oncology Practice A has higher cure rates and higher remissions, while Oncology Practice B has a greater percentage of patients who are relapsing, having to undergo multiple surgeries, enduring extra rounds of chemotherapy, etc., and of course, dying.

“Proponents of Oncology Practice A then claim, ‘Look at all that’s wrong with all Oncology Practice B. Their patients are suffering, not being cured, and even dying. And then look at how wonderfully we’re doing here over at Oncology Practice A.’ ””

Comment by Jack 

http://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/15/reader-offers-a-dose-of-common-sense-about-high-test-scores/

February 15, 2014

Education “Reform” with David Sirota

Corporations are making BIG money off of school children.

“The truth is that the largest funders of the education reform movement are…cut-throat business people

making financial investments in a movement that is less about educating children than about helping education

reform funders make a lot of money for themselves.”

Journalist, David Sirota, explains what’s really going on in education “reform” in this video…

March 25, 2013

Great insight, by writer Chris Hedges, on current #edreform…

“Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.”

March 24, 2013

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System… by Chris Hedges

This is an amazing piece by Chris Hedges that puts all of this destructive education reform into perspective…

Original post on Truthdig.com… http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_united_states_is_destroying_her_education_system_20110410/

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

By Chris Hedges

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

Read the rest of this amazing post by Chris Hedges here… http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/why_the_united_states_is_destroying_her_education_system_20110410/

May 15, 2011

For LA Teacher Librarians, brutal interrogations are used to justify firings…

The following is an unbelievable account of some of the brutal interrogations being conducted of Teacher Librarians in LAUSD who have been targeted for layoffs…

Monday, May 9, 2011

by Mizz Murphy at http://mizzmurphy.blogspot.com/2011/05/settle-in-its-long-one.html?spref=tw

Settle in. It’s a long one.

In the basement of the California Mart building in downtown Los Angeles, one can find a series of bright, cavernous rooms buzzing with the sound of the fluorescent panels that hang from a ceiling of exposed ducts and wiring. In the back of one of these rooms sits three long tables decorated with black table skirts along with perhaps a dozen rows of hard, plastic chairs. The room is exceptionally cold. Footsteps can be heard echoing each time someone makes his way to the restroom or to take a phone call. This is the setting for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s hearings for educators who have received a Reduction in Force notice. In other words, this is where teachers come to defend their qualifications in front of a judge in the hopes that someone in the legal system will understand what the students of this city really need. From what I’ve seen in the last two days, that just doesn’t seem likely.

A bit of a disclaimer, before I dig in. I am not a reporter. I am a teacher, a librarian, and a writer. This account is crafted from my personal perspective, biased as it may be, and combines events from two days observing the hearings. As there were no reporters present, my point of view may be the only one available to the general public at this moment. I do not contend that the events detailed here are exact or verbatim. I do contend that this is the gist of it.

From my cold, plastic chair facing the court, I can observe on my right hand side the attorneys for United Teachers Los Angeles, who are the men that will make my case when the time comes. Their table is laden with binders nearly eight inches thick that are filled with the thousands of documents we teachers have entered into evidence. These are teaching credentials, lesson plans, and letters of recommendation, among other things. Most of this will not be admitted into evidence, or if it is, will be labeled hearsay. What a waste of paper. The UTLA attorneys seem flustered and distracted at their worst, but can be pointed and on top of things at times. They are slightly more knowledgeable about their clients and schools than LAUSD’s lawyers, I would say, but that is not saying much.

On my left is the school district’s table of attorneys. They have a plastic cart filled with evidence binders and their own files of information collected on each of us in what I can only assume was a rather hurried manner. I have come to think of them as evil incarnate. One appears to be content in his role, the other a reluctant but acquiescent pawn who may have trouble looking himself in the mirror at bedtime. They are there to squash the credibility of teachers and librarians without mercy. My employer has become my enemy.

Perhaps the most important thing to note, the most important point of all, is that these legal eagles seem to know very little about education. Pedagogy, current research, and national trends escape them. Their line of questioning is often nonsensical and even absurd, eliciting ripples of laughter among the forty or so educators watching the proceedings. These are the people making the decisions about what will happen, day after day, in our schools.

The hearings crawl along at a snail’s pace, each attorney and the judge rifling through mountains of documents and then discussing which belongs in evidence and which does not. The respondents wait on the stand, suddenly unsure of their own skills as teachers after long and tiresome rounds of questions that mean nothing to a person who spends her days inside a classroom. The students are almost never mentioned by the attorneys, except to ask whether we take attendance for them or enter their into grades into a computer system.

Sometimes a hearing becomes riveting. I find myself perched on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear what shocking question will spill out of the LAUSD attorney’s mouth. The first of these concerns a teacher named Mrs. Cook, a lovely, well-dressed woman in her early forties perhaps. As far as I understand, Mrs. Cook has taught Advanced Placement Government, Economics, and World History at So-and-So High School for a number of years, but not that many. She was laid off by the district because her seniority date did not reach back far enough into the past for them to consider her truly qualified.

Mrs. Cook was there to contest her RIF on the following grounds: One, she was the only of the three History teachers at her school both willing and able to teach Advanced Placement coursework. Two, in the years she has been teaching the AP classes, the passing rate on the AP tests has gone up nearly forty percent, helping many of her students gain credit, admittance, and scholarships for college. Three, depriving the school of their only AP History teacher simply because of a seniority issue creates an inequity of services for the students in that community and her RIF should therefore be rescinded.

Well, duh.

The attorneys from LAUSD asked Mrs. Cook a number of questions, but the really juicy stuff came near the end of her testimony.

LAUSD: Mrs. Cook, didn’t you testify that there are two other credentialed history teachers at your school with more seniority than you?

Mrs. Cook: Yes.

LAUSD: So, if you were no longer a teacher at that school, there would be two other teachers who could teach the AP classes?

Mrs. Cook: Technically yes, but as I said before, each of them has stated that he will not accept a position teaching AP coursework. In addition, they have not received the training required to write an AP syllabus that would be acceptable to the College Board.

LAUSD: But they could, isn’t that correct?

Mrs. Cook: Well, I suppose, but they’ve said that they will not.

LAUSD : Please, Mrs. Cook, just answer the question I’m asking. These two teachers who have more seniority than you could teach the AP classes in your place. Is that correct?

Poor Mrs. Cook: Yes, that is correct.

Unbelievable. Here is how this translates in my mind: The Los Angeles Unified School District does not give a rip that the students at So-and-So High will no longer have a qualified AP history teacher. They do not care who the most effective educator might be. They do not care if the students go to college. They. Do. Not. Care. They have instructed their attorneys to go for the jugular, and to do so, they are ignoring years of mandates that have required teachers to jump through hoop after hoop to become highly qualified. No longer does one need to be trained to teach Advanced Placement. One just needs to be old enough and to be present.

These thoughts are occurring to me for the very first time, even though we are in the third year of massive teacher layoffs. Before sitting in on this hearing, I was under the impression that my large, mismanaged school district was more a bumbling idiot than a conniving schemer. Now though, I have been given a glimpse of the truth.

Some background is necessary here, I think. Two school years ago, LAUSD initiated year one of the Reduction-in-Force (RIF) movement, pleading budget shortfalls. We accepted this as an inevitability of the global economic crisis. It was unfortunate; we protested, we passed out leaflets, but we did not strike. My school lost many wonderful, bright, talented educators to charter and private schools, as well as careers outside of education. Many decided to return to law or medicine, the careers they had dreamed of as children before discovering the nuanced beauty of pedagogy. We persisted with substitute teachers in classes where no one would accept a position. We worried about what would happen next. And then it did.

One school year ago, we experienced another round of layoffs, again reducing our pool of energetic, innovative teachers and replacing them with people who were shuffled around from school to school, or office to school, who didn’t really want to be where the district was placing them. Many stayed only a month or two before fleeing for greener pastures, and the students suffered. The ACLU took action against the district for the inequitable layoffs in schools in impoverished areas. Forty-two schools were declared exempt from year three’s layoffs (in the event they would happen, which of course they did), but mine was not among them. Even though we had nearly thirty teachers who received RIFs each year (many more than in schools in areas with higher socio-economic indicators), even though our school is in an impoverished part of Los Angeles, we were not put on the exemption list because, and here’s the kicker, our test scores were too high. We were, essentially, punished for succeeding.

This year, once again, thousands of teachers went home to find the dreaded notification of a certified letter at the end of a long, taxing day in the classroom. Many didn’t bother to pick up the certified letter, knowing what it would say (side note: how much money was spent sending thousands of certified letters?). Nearly five thousand people, most of them tenured this time around, received the notice and started the wait. The wait consists of three months (at least) of psychological terror during which one does not know what will happen to one’s passion and commitment, income, mortgage payments, and general livelihood the following school year.

Last year, members of the union voted to accept seven furlough days in exchange for hundreds of jobs. This year, LAUSD wants twelve with no solid indication of what will be saved with that sacrifice. We have yet to strike, and this battle is being fought relatively quietly and within our own ranks. It is, unfathomably, not yet part of the general public’s consciousness.

So here I am, in the basement, the light panels zapping my brain as it dawns on me that these hearings are no innocent byproduct of a global economic collapse. Something sinister is happening, but I can’t yet put my finger on it.

On and on it goes, teacher after teacher getting pummeled by bullies who are dumber than dirt when it comes to education. Law, they seem to know ok. Or maybe it’s not law, but something else, like badgering and stalling. That’s how it feels as I watch.

I’m not here just as an observer. Soon I will be under that gun, so I want to see what I’m in for while I can still prepare. The real show for me begins when the Teacher Librarians (TLs) begin to take the stand. TLs are being eliminated by the district, or so it seems. I do not approve of this, nor do I think it will result in any real monetary savings in the long run, since the amount of money that will be needed for intervention later in order to make up for the lack of reading skills this causes will be phenomenal. However, the squabble the TLs are having with the district at these hearings is not even about the closure of dozens of libraries across the city. What we object to now (after having reluctantly and not fully conceding the point about libraries in general, since it has proven nearly unwinnable) is the recency rule that says were are no longer qualified to teach in a classroom setting in our other teaching credential(s), which means we are flat out fired no matter what our seniority dates might be. Twenty-five years as a teacher? If you made the mistake of transitioning into a Librarian position, too bad! You are no longer qualified.

The logic behind the recency rule seems to be based on poor decision making from last year. LAUSD sent scores of people into classrooms who had been sitting in cubicles for ages. These were people with dusty old teaching credentials, waiting for retirement in the cool, air-conditioned Beaudry building in downtown LA. (To be fair, many of these people did real, important work in their office settings. I personally know people who may have been in cubicles, but remained good teachers in spite of not spending their days in schools. A generalization is made here only to drive home a point. You will recall that I am not a journalist presenting the cold hard facts, but a teacher attempting to provide a synopsis of a cold, hard process. ) When layoffs began, these educators were saved because of their time served, but their office positions were cut and they went back to school for the first time in who knows how long. This did not go well. Everything had changed. The research, the curriculum, the technology, the furniture, the processes, the policies, the basic and fundamental understanding of how students learn.

An epic failure, test scores took a dive as unruly and bored children rebelled and administrators struggled to reacclimatize these cubicle-dwellers with slow, low success rates. So this year, LAUSD got wise. Make a rule that says that if you haven’t been in a classroom for five years, you can’t be in one ever again. No more problem, right?

Here’s the rub. The library is a classroom, not a cubicle. Teacher Librarians perform all of the functions that classroom teachers perform on a daily basis. TLs know the content well. TLs attend faculty and department meetings, have conferences with parents, plan lessons, deliver instruction, evaluate student work, and, by the way, are defined by their contracts with LAUSD as……Teachers.

So here I am in this courtroom day after day, waiting for my chance to prove that I am a teacher, and that this recency rule that was applied like a wet blanket over all of us should not stand. When the TLs got on the stand, thing got tense. And so tedious I cannot even describe how badly I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. The best way I can think of explaining the vicious humiliation doled out by the LAUSD attorneys is to describe four scenarios that illustrate their flawed but deliberate reasoning for taking us out of the schools forever.

Scenario One – What Dewey Teach, Anyway?

A TL whose original teaching credential is in High School English takes the stand. Let’s say he’s been working for the district for, oh, fifteen years, the last six or seven in the library. He is attempting to show that he is familiar with the English Language Arts content and curriculum. LAUSD wants to prove he is not.

LAUSD: Sir, are you familiar with the Dewey Decimal System?

Laughter from the peanut gallery as the TLs in the room reflect on the idiocy of these proceedings.

TL: Uh, well, yes. Of course I am.

LAUSD: Could you please describe to the court what the Dewey Decimal System is?

TL: It’s an organizational system used in the library to catalog and locate the books.

LAUSD: And is the Dewey Decimal System an alphabetical system?

TL: Heh. Well, no sir, it’s a numerical system.

LAUSD: So, the Dewey Decimal System uses numbers, is that correct?

TL: That is correct.

Let me just add that in this moment, we are all on the edge of our seats. Where could this be going? Is the LAUSD attorney just stalling? There is no reason we can possibly imagine that he would be asking about dear old Melville Dewey.

LAUSD: Would you say that in the course of your day you use numbers?

Gasps from the audience. What does this even mean?

UTLA: Objection. Vague.

Judge: Sustained.

LAUSD: Sir, would you say that using numbers is an important part of working in the library on a daily basis?

UTLA: Objection! Vague, your honor. Numbers? Where is this going?

LAUSD: Your honor, I am simply trying to establish that Mr. So-and-So does NOT spend at least 75% of his time working on the English content that he claims he is competent to teach.

UTLA: Your honor, the Dewey Decimal System is an organizational system, not a mathematical concept. This line of questioning is irrelevant.

Judge: Sustained. Move on.

So, here is my interpretation of this scenario. LAUSD wants to claim that the Dewey Decimal System is a numerical system and therefore we TLs use so much math in our daily practice that we can’t possibly be teaching much else. Well then, why don’t they put us all in math classes? Riddle me that, why don’t you?

This is, of course, absurd on many, many levels. Our lawyers, the UTLA lawyers, really should have been coached on these matters. The answer to this line of questioning ought to have made clear that all content area teachers are familiar with and use the Dewey Decimal System, as all content area teachers utilize the library’s resources in the course of their teaching, and therefore the Dewey Decimal System is as ubiquitous on a school campus as is any other regular function that teachers perform and is not related to any specific content area. It is akin to using a table of contents, index, or glossary in a classroom textbook to locate needed information. I would have also liked to point out that the use of said system is embedded into what we do in such a seamless way that there is not a chance in hell that we spend 25% of our time on it. If that were the case, it would take an hour to find a book on the shelf that it takes only seconds to do in reality.

Scenario Two – Left Hand, Right Hand: Which is Which?

In this case, LAUSD made an argument opposite to the one above, in terms of the use and practice of content area instruction. This TL holds a Multiple Subject teaching credential, qualifying her to teach elementary school and some middle school. She has been teaching as a middle school Teacher Librarian for a decade. She was an elementary school teacher for a decade before that.

LAUSD: Are you familiar with the California mandates for Physical Education in the first grade classroom?

TL: Do you mean the standards?

LAUSD: Yes, the mandates as set forth by the state of California.

As an aside, no one calls them mandates in the world of education. He meant standards, but he didn’t know it. If he meant mandates, he might be asking how many minutes of PE are required per week, etc. These are not things teachers need to know, but are the realm of school administration. Of course, even though he works for LAUSD, no one told him the difference.

TL: Well, no, not off the top of my head.

LAUSD: So, you don’t know the Physical Education requirements for first grade?

TL: No, not off the top of my head.

LAUSD: Don’t you hold a credential to teach elementary school?

TL: Yes, I do.

LAUSD: If you were to be placed in a first grade classroom position, who would be responsible for making sure the students received the state mandated PE instruction?

TL: I would.

LAUSD: But you don’t know what those mandates are?

TL: You mean the standards? No, not off the top of my head.

Here, the LAUSD attorney wants to require us to have memorized all content area standards for grades in which we have not worked for a number of years. They want to say that we are unqualified if this question stumps us, if we have not honed in on one content area for 75% of our time (the opposite of the argument from scenario one).

Here is what I would say to this: LAUSD, the very district trying to prove we are not capable of adapting, has required each of us to adhere to an ever-changing professional development program for as long as we have been in the district. We meet at our schools, at the district level, and are sometimes even sent to state or national conferences in order to incorporate new concepts, content, and strategies into our daily instructional practice. We have been taught by the district to adapt to new curricula and assessments that are thrown at us every couple of years. We have been taught to learn, and it is LAUSD who has taught us to do so. If I am truly incapable of reading the first grade PE standards and using my many pedagogical skills to create lessons to teach them, then yes, I am an unqualified teacher. Knowing the standards off the top of my head has nothing to do with it.

Here are some examples of the first grade PE standards:

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Kick a rolled ball from a stationary position

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Identify the right and left sides of the body

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Explain the importance of drinking water during and after physical activity

This is not calculus. I think I could manage to incorporate this into my daily teaching routine without have to return to university for an advanced degree. I already have an advanced degree, by the way. It’s in Education, which means that I know how to deliver instruction about pretty much anything, as long as I understand the content. I know how to do all of the things listed in the first grade PE standards, so….

Scenario Three – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

In this scenario, the TL has worked for LAUSD since, I believe, 1977. He holds multiple teaching credentials, one of them qualifying him to teach high school Social Studies classes, although he has never done so outside of the Library setting.

LAUSD: I see that you’ve submitted a lesson plan into evidence for a research project on various countries.

TL: That’s correct. The students were assigned a country and then did research on the history, culture, politics, etc. of that country.

LAUSD: So, you taught them research skills?

TL: Yes, and I also taught them about the countries they’d been assigned.

LAUSD: So, you taught them about the history of those countries?

TL: Briefly, yes. As you can see, there are about twenty countries on the list.

LAUSD: So, you taught them about the history of Armenia?

TL: Yes, briefly, I did.

LAUSD: Could you please tell the court what you told the class about the history of Armenia?

TL: You want me to give a lecture on Armenian history? Now?

LAUSD: Please, if you wouldn’t mind.

The TL then proceeded to give a 3-4 minute lecture on the history of Armenia. He was spot on, and I think the LAUSD lawyer may have been a bit disappointed. The disrespect for this man’s credentials here is egregious.

Again, why weren’t the UTLA attorneys coached? Several points that I would have made are:

One, research skills are a part of almost all content areas at the secondary level, so why is LAUSD treating them as the bastard stepchild relegated only to the library? Two, research skills cannot be taught in a vacuum; content is imperative or the research is meaningless. And finally, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, when issuing a credential to a teacher, verifies that the teacher has met subject matter competency requirements. If LAUSD takes issue with the CCTC’s definition of subject matter competency, then that should be a discussion between those two organizations. End of story. The TL should not have been made to prove to a panel of lawyers with no pedagogical training (and, by the way, perhaps zero knowledge of the history of Armenia?) that his valid, current teaching credential is actually valid.

Scenario Four – Gotcha!

In this scenario, the LAUSD lawyers just got plain old nitpicky.

LAUSD: How much of your school day would you say you spend teaching?

TL: I teach all day long.

LAUSD: You teach all day?

TL: Yes.

LAUSD: Do you ever catalog books?

TL: Yes.

LAUSD: Are you teaching while you are cataloging books?

TL: (pause) No.

LAUSD: Do you ever write purchase orders for library materials?

TL: Yes.

LAUSD: Are you teaching while writing these purchase orders?

Ack! UTLA lawyers, where are you? First, teachers have conference periods. That’s when they take care of administrative and clerical tasks. Second, TLs do all these things in the moments between classes, or after school, or when a class cancels its appointment because of district-mandated testing, for example. If this is the kind of thing that’s going to persuade the judge to rule against us, I will have lost my faith in judges.

At the end of the first day of the hearings I attended, the judge was visibly frustrated. Twenty TLs had been on the docket and only four had been heard. Each of us brought a mountain of evidence that the attorneys would argue about, one page at a time. The judge asked the attorneys to come to an agreement, to make a deal, to expedite the process. It was clear that she believed the TL testimony would be the same thing over and over. Yes, we teach. Yes, we evaluate student progress. Yes, we are familiar with the content. Blah, blah, blah. On and on it would go, unless the lawyers agreed to something that would put an end to this. Perhaps lifting the recency rule for all TLs would do it. Perhaps rescinding our RIF notices. Perhaps allowing us to have a single spokesperson testify on the behalf of the group (we had chosen such a person and she was prepared).

The lawyers conferred and we murmured to each other while sending out a prayer and crossing our fingers. As a group, we had been pummeled pretty hard. We were tired and no one wanted to come back for another round of this the next day, much less for the weeks it would take if they heard us one by one. We had coffee jitters and our toes were cold from the air-conditioning. We were angry and humiliated, scared of what might happen, frustrated by the snail’s pace and inefficiency of the proceedings. Please, oh please, just make some sort of deal.

The lawyers returned to their tables.

UTLA: Your honor, we were unable to come to an agreement.

LAUSD: Your honor, we want to prosecute them all.

Ouch. Could that be what he really said? Prosecute them all? It was; I was sitting just behind him and heard it quite clearly. So, back the next day, and the next. The same thing over and over again with the same results. I believe that’s the definition of insanity, is it not?

So many questions arise as I think about this process. I have answers for none of them, although I do nothing but speculate as I try to fall asleep, as I drive to work, as I shower. What I think is this:

LAUSD does not want to pay for the TLs because we are expensive. Most of us have been teaching long enough with enough advanced degrees that we are at or near the top of the pay scale. If we were allowed to return to the classroom, our pay would be the same. Better for LAUSD to discredit us and replace us with young teachers on emergency credentials who will make little more than half of what we do.

It is clear that LAUSD has instructed its lawyers to do whatever they can to prove were are unqualified, even though we have satisfied every single requirement for qualification that LAUSD had asked of us for years, not to mention the state itself.

It is clear that LAUSD does not give credence to the massive volumes of research that prove that school libraries are directly linked to student achievement. Perhaps LAUSD is not aware of this research, but I imagine it is just being ignored.

It is clear that LAUSD is not trying to provide the best possible services for its students. The AP history teacher is a case in point. Student achievement is not LAUSD’s highest priority.

What is not clear is what will happen next. Will the libraries be closed and locked? Will the district violate state Education Code and keep the libraries open with clerical staff but no credentialed Teacher Librarians? Who will be the teachers in the coming years, when thousands of qualified and tenured faculty members have been released while the Board of Education announces a massive teacher shortage? Why is there no media coverage of these hearings, and does anyone even know we’re down there in the basement, defending ourselves? And on a personal level, can I continue working for an organization that wants to prosecute me? Even if the judge rules in my favor, can I stomach the thought of taking a paycheck from a school district that will just keep trying to push me out?

On Friday, I returned to my school. It was a pleasure to see the children and to work as a teacher, but it was a bittersweet feeling after having been where I had been. The truth is, there is little time left to make plans for the library’s future. If it closes, if I’m released, what will happen to that room? My library is one of the largest middle school libraries in the entire district, with over 35,000 items in its collection. There are twenty-five computers, three printers, an LCD projector, and shelves of multimedia resources. The value of that library is well over a million dollars. So what will happen to it after June 30th of this year, if I am gone and my clerks are gone (yes, they were laid off as well)? Will teachers and students just come and go as they please, taking books willy-nilly? If so, why is LAUSD not concerned about the financial loss implicit in that scenario?

Today I am furloughed. Tomorrow I go back to the hearings to plead my case. I do not want to. The next day I go back to school to prepare the library to be closed forever, or to be run a few hours a week by a reluctant clerk, or to be ransacked. The questions continue to pile up, but no answers are forthcoming. Stand by for further developments. Hurry up and wait.

At the bottom of all of this is a political reality that I find so daunting, so dark, that to enter into a discussion of it strikes fear in my heart and nausea in my belly. I believe that this is part of a larger movement in our city (and state, and finally, nation) towards a for-profit education model that takes pressure off of elected officials and puts money in the pockets of clever financiers.

Charter organizations are sweeping the nation, taking over school after school under the guise of a reform movement that doesn’t exist. I believe that LAUSD is in cahoots with this movement. Perhaps it is not LAUSD as a whole, but instead the unseen, rarely heard politicos that move the gears inside the machine, like the Wizard of Oz. The collapse of LAUSD will accomplish some big things for a few people.

A Prediction in Ten Simple Steps:

  1. 1. LAUSD proves that its teachers are awful and should be fired.
  2. 2. The school board allows charter organizations to take a crack at running the schools.
  3. 3. Charter organizations receive public funds meant to finance the education of children (just under $7,500 per student in 2009-2010), but are not required to fund libraries, provide special education services, or pay teachers union wages. This means that charter schools can pay for services that cost only three or four thousand dollars per student, let’s say, and pocket the rest.
  4. 4. Charter organizations are allowed to remove students from their schools at their discretion, sending low-performing students back to the public schools just in time for state testing. What luck! Schools with no special education students, few English Language Learners, and the ability to remove low-performing students prior to state testing show, according to the only measures we seem to care about (tests), improvement and success, thus lending credibility to the reform ruse. (Note: Although people believe that charters’ test scores are higher than public schools, in many cases a direct comparison shows otherwise. Why aren’t they higher, I ask you?)
  5. 5. Charter organizations (run largely by financiers, investment bankers, etc who are making a nice profit) gain legitimacy as an educational reform model, making inroads in districts across the nation.
  6. 6. Mayors, governors, and other politicians get a nice break from answering for their failing school systems.
  7. 7. Qualified teachers move on to other careers, while inexperienced, underpaid teachers are worked to the bone and burn out after only a few years.
  8. 8. This goes on and on for years. Few people notice, because few people think about schools unless they have school-age children. In a state where people elected not to pay an extra $18 on their car registration in order to fund state parks, who would expect any different?
  9. 9. Consumers begin to wonder why the clerk at the Gap doesn’t understand how to calculate the 40% discount on last season’s khaki capris when her computer is down and her manager is on break. This seems outrageous. Eventually, people begin to take note that nearly half of the students entering college need remedial classes, teachers are leaving the profession after just a few years due to burnout, dropout rates increase, and students are faced with huge inequities from campus to campus.
  10. 10. Finally, the public demands yet another overhaul of the school system. The charter organizations are evaluated using the same criteria they imposed on public schools years ago to prove their incompetence. The charters are proven incompetent. Local governments reestablish public school districts and states spend millions of dollars for intervention consultants, trainers, and curricula to swoop in and repair the state of affairs. Libraries are re-stocked and re-opened. New teachers are recruited and trained. And we begin again, from the beginning.

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As this happens, I will be raising my own children. I will not be allowed to participate in these movements, and I will not be a teacher. I will grapple with how to educate my children and will be forced to forsake my belief in free education for the public, because that will no longer exist. I cannot afford private school for them, and I do not believe home schooling is a good choice in terms of social-emotional development (plus, I cannot afford it). As a person who has devoted her life to the art and science of teaching, I will be faced with no acceptable choice for my children.

Yes, I would like to continue work as a teacher and librarian. People who are teachers, real teachers, cannot imagine doing anything else. It’s a knack, a calling, like a painter or writer or brain surgeon may feel. If not allowed to teach, what will we do? More than this though, I’d like the children, all of the children, to have teachers who are supported, respected, and assisted, not attacked, discredited, and humiliated. I’d like the children to be given what we know that they need, not just what we can afford, or what we feel like giving them at the time. Maybe it’s hard to say what they need or how to give it to them. What is abundantly clear to me, however, is that what they don’t need…is this.

April 12, 2011

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

by Chris Hedges http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/04/11A

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside. 

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class—an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love—love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

March 14, 2011

How suddenly the country I thought I knew could become unrecognizable… #wiunion

The following is a post in TheDailypage.com 
A Teacher Weeps for the Future of Wisconsin Schools
by Vikki Kratz
The morning after the Republicans stripped me of my rights, I stood in the hallway of my school, watching my four-year-olds stream in. They gave me hugs. They ran up to show me things: a new shirt, an extra pretty hair ribbon, a silly band. They wanted to know if it was chocolate milk day. They pointed out that one of their classmates, who had been out sick for a few days, had come finally come back!

And for a little while, normalcy returned to our world. I had spent the evening before at the Capitol, in the crowd of thousands that pushed against the locked doors, demanding to be let in. I think I spent most of the night in shock – not only at how suddenly I could be deprived of everything I had worked for, but of how suddenly the country I thought I knew could become unrecognizable. I was standing with a crowd on the steps in front of the Capitol door when a police officer slammed it shut in our faces. I walked around the building until I found a spot where protesters had lowered a bathroom window. And I watched in disbelief as people began hoisting each other in through the open window, while dozens milled around them. “Ssssh,” they warned each other. Don’t make any noises that might attract the police.

This was my country now.

But this morning, I had to pretend that none of that had happened. I had to pretend that my colleagues were not sobbing in the teachers’ lounge, wondering why the world had suddenly turned on them. I had to pretend that teaching is still a respected and valued profession. I had to pretend that the future for my young students is still as bright as it seemed a few weeks ago.

So today, my children and I discussed music. We talked about how you can’t see music, but when you listen to it, you can imagine pictures in your head. How sometimes those pictures can lighten your soul.

All of them lay down on the carpet and closed their eyes. I turned on a piano concerto by Bach. They saw mermaids, whales, ballerinas twirling. I played some jazz. “Look, my toe is tapping!” one girl exclaimed excitedly.

I don’t cry in public, and not in front of my students, but I felt tears suddenly well in my eyes. These are the moments that Scott Walker and his ilk are letting go. These moments when children transform because of something they learned in school. An experience they had because of a loving teacher and a dedicated staff.

And I know that all of this could soon be gone. My rights were taken away in a blink of an eye. Now how easily will they take away the right my students have to an enriching, enthralling education? Under Walker’s budget, my school and all the other public schools in the state are facing drastic cuts. We could lose the arts. We could lose music. We could lose sports. And counselors. And librarians. Custodians. Secretaries. School nurses. Field trips. Summer school.

We could lose pre-kindergarten.

Which is what I thought about as I looked at my class, lying on their backs, eyes scrunched close, imagining music. Which is why, when you see teachers weeping today, you should know they are not crying only for themselves. They are crying because public education in this state is being dismantled. It started with the unions. And it will end with hurting our children.

I pulled out the watercolors. We have been making a mural for the hallway outside our room. I turned on another jazz song and modeled how to let music inspire your painting. I started with dark colors, the blues and greens, then unconsciously began to add yellows. “Yellow is for happy,” one child observed.

“It’s for hope,” I agreed.

March 8, 2011

It is Not a Teacher Effectiveness Problem. It is a Poverty Problem.

I read an article today on CBSNews.com that profiled homeless children in America.  The families that were profiled were from Seminole County, Florida, where I live and work as a teacher.  I recognized the name of one of the students, Destiny Corfee, who was profiled, but couldn’t remember where I had heard that name before. I called our school counselor and she looked up the name and told me that the young 11 year old went to an elementary school in a nearby town. Then it hit me where I had heard her name.

Months ago, my children and I had made a trip to McDonalds to buy some sweet tea. It was a scorching hot day and we needed something ice-cold to drink to bring home with us in preparation for some yard work. We saw a couple sitting on a curb near the drive through. The man was holding a cardboard sign that read, “Please Help: Family of 5″.  To be honest, I was initially shocked to see people there in my middle-class suburb begging for help, but I quickly reminded myself that we have been dealing with some tough economic times lately in America and that more and more Floridians were dropping into poverty and homelessness, even in my neighborhood. 

I walked over to the couple to ask how I could help. The father explained that they had lost their jobs and home and were living out of a motel.  We talked about their kids and the father explained that his kids were doing good in school but that he was concerned about them now that they were homeless.  Since I am a teacher, I was aware that our school district will help homeless students to stay in the same school, if possible.  Long story short, I gave them a contact at our school district to call and ask that their kids stay in the same school. I also took down their kids’ names to later refer them to our districts’ Families in Transition program.  After chatting with the couple for about 15 minutes, my kids and I left them with some cash, something to eat and some cold sweet teas to sip on while they sat in the hot sun.

That whole incident stuck with me for weeks. Eventually, with time, the memory of this faded until today when I saw the name of Destiny Corfee in the CBSNews.com article on homeless students.  Destiny was the name of the homeless couple’s daughter that I had met months back at that McDonalds restaurant parking lot. Here now, months later, I was reading about her and seeing her smiling face on a 60 Minutes video that profiled homeless children in Seminole County. I now had a face to the name, and what a wonderful kid she was in the 60 Minutes interview. I was so impressed with both her and her older brother, Jorge, during their interview. I was sad to hear that Jorge had dropped out of high school. So many kids, like him, drop out due to economic reasons. My hope is that he will return to school if he can.

Watching the 60 Minutes video was heartwrenching, and hearing the children talk about what hunger felt like and what they had to do to try and study when their electricity was off in the house, made me cry. I deal with many homeless children at my school, but hearing and seeing that many children together pour their hearts out on camera and talk about what it feels like to be homeless, really got to me. Seeing that couple, that I had met in the McDonalds parking lot, being interviewed on 60 Minutes made me realize how small our world really is and how many of us are just one or two paychecks away from falling right into poverty and homelessness.

One of the children’s stories about using candles to study by when their electricity was shut off reminded me of one of my students, two years ago, whose house had burned down because they had used candles for light when their electricity was shut off. So many tragic stories like this come out of Seminole County, and many places across America, and I am hearing more and more of them, lately.

After I viewed the 60 Minutes video I became angry because as a teacher it is me who is blamed by people like, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and President Obama, for poor kids being behind academically.  It is me who is bashed in the media for not being “effective” enough to bring up their test scores on par with kids who do not live in poverty. In fact, it is me who is blamed for kids being in poverty because I am too lazy, “status quo”, not “effective”, not hard-working, and, well, “insert here” just about any insult concerning my job and it is me as a teacher in America.

I think our nation’s politicans, hedge-fund managers, bankers, and some billionaires should take a look in the mirror. I blame them for ignoring poverty and, instead, focusing their efforts on blaming overworked teachers. I blame these greedy bastards for neglecting poor communities while they collude to set up profit centers and charter schools to cash in on Race to the Top initiatives and the push to privatize education.

I think our nation’s leaders, billionaires and politicians need to take a step back and look at all of the hardships they have created as a result of their greed and egos. My hope is that they will see the 60 Minutes video. For it to all sink in, to really, really sink in, I think they will need to view it more than the three times I did to realize the root of the problems we are seeing in America….it is not a teacher effectiveness problem. It is a severe poverty problem.

A CBS affiliate, Local 6, did a followup interview to their feature on 60 Minutes of the Corfee family.  The couple had one asset left and that was their family van. After that interview, their van was repossessed. Makes me wonder how many more Americans will be stripped of every possession they own because of the greed of a few. When will it stop?

February 26, 2011

Veteran teacher gives an eye-opening history of her 35 years in teaching

This is an amazing post on dailykos.com  by a veteran teacher who gives the reader an eye-opening history of her 35 years in teaching. She writes about the many cutbacks, additional responsibilities piled on her, and monetary losses she has incurred as a public school teacher. Most people don’t realize the sacrifices that teachers make. They don’t hear the stories like this one that tell what truly goes on behind the scenes in public education and the sacrifices teachers make to do what they love.

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by thalli1 

I’ve always been a teacher.  Even before I received my teaching credentials 34 years ago, I was the one who Mr. Wells asked to help Kim Hull learn how to do his story problems.  I always knew I’d become a real teacher some day because Kim told me I was the first one who ever  explained it to him in a way he could actually understand.  
    Now, I wasn’t ever one of “those who can’t, who teach,” and I always knew it.  My high-school guidance counselors had advised me not to go into education because I would be “wasting my brain.”  They suggested that due to my 98th percentile math scores, I should go into engineering.  But I was undaunted, because I knew that in reality I already was a teacher.  I just needed to go to school to get a piece of paper to make it official so I could get paid for it.  I was very clearly told that I wasn’t making the best financial choice that I could, but that didn’t matter in the least—I was out to change the world—one student at a time.
    I finished college in three years, and began teaching third grade in 1976 at the age of 21, and I’ve never looked back.  I found what all who become teachers know, that being a teacher is so much more than a job.  It’s always been my passion, my mission, even my identity.
    Being a great teacher came naturally to me.  Now that doesn’t mean it’s ever been an easy job.  I’ve always found it exhausting, challenging, frustrating, and very rewarding—in other words, a perfect job for somebody who needs their brain to be challenged in ways they could never imagine.  I went from being able to focus on only one or two things at a time, to being able to easily manage twenty or thirty on-going projects or ideas.  Over the years I’ve improved my creativity, flexibility, problem solving skills, and sense of humor.
    I’ve taught grades three through six, and felt very lucky that I never felt I was in a rut. I knew people who got burned out, but it honestly never happened to me.  I knew I was very blessed to find the perfect occupation.  I’ve changed how I do things in my classroom many times, incorporating new ideas, trying new things, always learning, always changing, and loving every minute of it.  I’ve always been told in every way that I’m a great teacher, but I honestly didn’t need to be told, because I could feel it. That is, until recently.
 

           Things started to change in education in Oregon about ten or fifteen years ago with a number of tax measures that created huge budget cuts.  I noticed programs such a band, art, and drug-abuse prevention being cut for lack of funds along with enrichment programs, swimming class, and all kinds of little things that we used to offer that could no longer be afforded.  Class sizes began to grow, and my class size averages went from the low to high twenties and then eventually into the thirties.
    All these things were sad and annoying, but they didn’t change how I felt about my job in the least.  I just worked harder to make my lessons even more creative, and added in as much enrichment as I possibly could on my own to make up for the cuts.  I spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket to buy materials my school could no longer afford to buy.  I wasn’t about to let a little thing like budget cuts stop me from my mission.  The first time we cut school days in Oregon, and I had to take a several thousand dollar pay cut in the middle of a school year, it was a definite setback, but I never really thought it would become the norm.
    As my class sizes increased, so did the needs of my students.  Normally when I would teach something, I would have a handful of students who didn’t get it.  I rarely had kids I couldn’t get to make progress.  But as the classes got bigger, that began to change.  More students with special needs were being mainstreamed into my classroom.  I was getting kids in class who had been in America less than six months who spoke no English, with very little help or support.  I crazily began to take all kinds of classes, do research on how to reach kids with autism, ADD, emotional disturbances, limited English proficiency—you name it, I studied the best ways to overcome disadvantages.  I’ve always had a never-say-die attitude, so I worked my butt off to reach everyone in this increasingly diverse classroom with fewer and fewer resources.
    I also began to notice that lots of things that never had been my job before were suddenly added to my list of responsibilities.  A silly example, but very time consuming, was janitorial work.  Due to limited resources and constant budget cuts, I now had to devote my time to things like cleaning my own classroom, doing clerical work that used to be done for me by the front office, planning my curriculum instead of just my lessons, so many things I began to have trouble keeping up.  One year I started a list I called “Jobs Other People Gave Me,” but after adding 57 things to my list in less than a single year, I decided that it wasn’t really healthy for me to continue the list.
    Now mind you, that through all of this I still actually loved closing my door and teaching.  I continued telling myself that I had wanted a challenge, although at times I privately admitted to myself that maybe I would have liked a little less of a challenge.  But I still loved my job, I still got glowing reports from principals, parents, and especially kids.  That was what sustained me as things began to change.
    When No Child Left Behind came into effect, it didn’t affect me that much at first.  My class averages were always above where they needed to be, and I was still having good results, so I didn’t really worry about it much.  Philosophically, I knew I didn’t agree with focusing so much on test scores, but I could still keep my students’ scores where they needed to be by focusing on what my experience as a teacher had taught me was best.  I pretty much just worked on reaching each kid, pushing, encouraging, helping, inspiring, prodding, and let the test scores take care of themselves. I believed that great teaching overcame the over-emphasis on test scores, so I concentrated on great teaching instead.
    One thing that did bother me during that time was that it became acceptable to bash teachers, schools, and education in the media.  I wasn’t hearing it personally, but I didn’t like the way people were so ready to berate my passion.  Maybe because I was hearing good things on a personal level, I didn’t worry too much about it.  I just closed my door and taught my kids.
    Then the past few years a few of the buildings in our district didn’t meet their AYP (adequate yearly progress.)  The district began to look for ways to help these building to succeed.  The focus on test scores escalated to a crazy level.  The teachers in one of the elementary buildings in my district were told they could no longer teach anything besides reading, math, and science because those were the subjects that were tested.  Our building wasn’t ever told that specifically, but it was understood that we were to focus on practices that would improve our students’ test-taking skills.
    The district decided to implement required core instructional materials that were mandated to everyone.  Suddenly, the creativity of the job was being removed.  They wanted everybody to teach the same materials, the same way.  I’ve never been one to buck the system, so I began to wrack my brain for how to use these new materials and still keep the lessons interesting for my students.  
    At the same time, class sizes and special needs were growing.  The behavior classroom was closed and its students were mainstreamed into the regular classroom.  I tried to become an expert on dealing with anger issues.  I tried to learn how to help fifth graders with severe disabilities, limited mobility, and cognitive levels of very young children, all in my regular classroom now filled with 30-35 students.  My job became an even greater challenge than it had always been before, but still my attitude was to think “bring it on!”  I just couldn’t fathom the idea that my natural teaching ability wasn’t exactly what was needed to solve any and all challenges that came my way.
    Never once in the past 34 years of teaching did I ever want to quit.  I even told my husband that if we won the lottery, I’d keep teaching.  My students would just have all their own computers, art supplies galore, and any book we wanted to read as a class.
    So now I’m into my 35th year of teaching.  Last July my district had offered a $20,000 bonus to any teacher who could retire, in order to save money.  It struck me as odd that they’d want to get rid of experienced teachers.  I didn’t take it because I felt I’m not ready to retire.  It’s been such a big part of me forever, and I’m not ready to give it up yet.  Besides I’m only 55, and even though I’ve been teaching so long, I’m just barely old enough to retire.
            But then one Thursday, on the eighth day of my 35th year of teaching, I suddenly thought for the very first time ever, “I don’t want to be a teacher anymore.”  It’s so weird how it just came over me like that.  I don’t know if it’s like the challenges in Survivor where they keep adding water until the bucket finally tips over and the slow leak of problems finally made my bucket tip over.  Or maybe this is how it happens for all older teachers.  
    It wasn’t a single thing that gave me this feeling.  I’m hoping it doesn’t last.  Maybe it was the severely autistic boy who showed up at my door the first day with no notice, but I don’t really think so.  Maybe it was the rigid schedule the principal passed out for everybody to be doing the same subject at the same time of day, or the new basal reader we have to use that we aren’t allowed to call a basal reader.  Maybe it’s the look in my student’s eyes when we’re reading the newly required dry textbook when I’m used to wild and crazy discussions about amazing novels.  
Maybe it’s that for the first time, our school didn’t meet AYP because two few English Language Developing students in the entire school didn’t pass their reading benchmarks.  
             When I heard this, I instantly thought of the two English Language Learners in my class who hadn’t passed their reading tests last year and how unfair I thought it was that they even counted on our test scores when they came to our school in January and were absent at least twice a week from that point on.  I was wondering how I could possibly have gotten them to benchmark level in three days a week for three months. I was thinking how if only those two students hadn’t counted on our scores, we would’ve met AYP as a school.  When I mentioned it to my principal, she just said there are no excuses.  We aren’t allowed to have any excuses.  We have to get kids to the level they need to be no matter what the circumstances.  I thought of the little boy I had with an IQ of 87 who could barely read.  I thought of the little girl in a wheelchair who’d had 23 operations on tumors on her body in her eleven years, and the girl who moved from Mexico straight into my class and learned to speak English before my eyes, but couldn’t pass the state test.  Somehow it doesn’t feel like making excuses to acknowledge that they had good reason not to pass their benchmarks.
            Maybe it was the e-mail I got saying that the department of education in Oregon has raised the cut scores again this year by six or seven points per grade level, even though they just raised them a couple of years ago.  I found out that if they would have used these new cut scores last year, over half of the students in grades 3-8 who passed their benchmarks wouldn’t have passed.  That led to a realization that as a school we have very little chance of meeting our adequate yearly progress this year, but of course I’m not allowed to say that because there are no excuses. It’s hard not to feel discouraged.
            Maybe it was one of the two parents who contacted me in the first few days of school to tell me that their child doesn’t particularly love my program this year.   I’m so not used to that.  I’ve always had kids achieving highly and loving my class.  I’m just not sure how I can use the mandated materials in the required time periods, focusing on the required skills and still get kids to really love it.
            Maybe it’s the fact that I lost a third of my retirement when they reformed our Public Employee Retirement System a few years back and now I keep reading about how they want to slash it even more because of the greedy teacher unions and how this is the main reason for the budget problems in our state.
Maybe it’s that I haven’t gotten a real raise in a really really long time, or that we had to cut eight days again this year to solve our state’s budget problems.  So I’m taking a big hit again, and nobody seems to notice or care.
            Anyway, whatever the reason, for the first time in 34 years it hit me, I don’t want to be a teacher any more.  I want to sit on a rocking chair on my porch and drink tea instead.  Maybe if they offer $20,000 for me to retire next year, I’ll take it.  It’s so weird because never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d feel this way. I wonder if I’ll still feel this way when I close my classroom door tomorrow.  I sure hope not because it makes me really sad.

###

February 26, 2011

Interested in donating supplies to #wiunion protesters?

Here’s a comment I found on Huffington Post that asks for help with supplies at the protests in Wisconsin. Thought I’d post it here in case anyone wants to help out…
Totto (9:48 AM)
Please help out: http://www­­.defendwi­s­consin.o­rg­/2011/0­2/2­4/loca­l-bu­sines­s-sen­d-su­pplies­/
Interested in donating supplies? Send supplies to room 300NE. We especially need:

* Tupperware (medium size)
* Serving bowls and serving spoons
* Disposable bowls, plates, and cups
* Hand sanitizer
* Sleeping mats
* Gas-X
* Daytime cold medicine

Food and Beverage

* Fresh Vegetables (we love variety!)
* Fresh Fruits (Bananas, apples, oranges…an­­d after variety, we love even more variety!)
* Pop (regular, caffeinate­­d and caffeine free)
* Fruit Juice (no red juices)
* Rice Milk /Soy Milk / Almond Milk
* Sugar (packets)
* Granola bars
* Emergen-C

If you do not have time to bring these items to the Capitol directly, the following businesses are willing to make deliveries to us:

Grocery:

* Centre Market, 608-255-26­­16
* Willy St. Co-op, 608-251-67­­76
* Regent Market Co-op, 608-233-43­­29

Food and Beverage

* EVP Coffee, 608-294-68­­68
* Indie Coffee, 608-259-96­­21
* Just Coffee, 608-204-90­­11
* Mermaid Coffee, 608-249-97­­19
* Mother Fool’s Coffeehous­­e, 608-259-13­­01
* Nature’s Bakery, 608-257-36­­49
* Ian’s Pizza, 608-257-92­­48
* Silver Mine Subs, 608-286-10­­00
* Steep N Brew, 608-256-29­­02
* Straight To Your Door (coupon: killthebil­­l)
* Undergroun­­d Kitchen, 608-514-15­­16
* Community Pharmacy, 608-251-32­­42”

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