A Teachers Viewpoint

Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Monday, April 24, 2006

How to save American schools - step one

The first thing that absolutely must be done is to abandon the absurd notion that anything useful is gained from the current misuse of standardized tests. States, local boards and schools must simply refuse to take part in these tests. They are resulting in the destruction of schools, good administrators and good teachers while doing little or nothing to improve appallingly bad schools.

Perhaps the most aggressively dumb use of test scores is when the whole school score is used to evaluate individual teachers. In every school in America there are lizards who think that the way to teach is to make kids copy the textbook. In the same schools there are great teachers who break their backs everyday to see that thier kids get the highest quality instruction. Yet those same great teachers have their evaluations graded down because some other loon next door can't teach. This practice is demoralizing great teachers everywhere. The time has come for school administators of courage and integrity to say this is one thing I will not do.

The time has come for intelligent administrators, teachers and governing agencies to stand up on their own two feet and say this is enough. Most important it is time for parents to say with loud voices "you will not do this to my child." It is time for parents, teachers and everyone involved in schools to stage a rebellion in the voting booth. If a legislator or any government official insists on continuing the current use of standardized tests - vote - them - out.

Parents need to remind government officials that their children belong to the parents, not to the government.

I wish to concede one argument that school testing advocates will make. There are lousy public schools - many of them. However, standardized testing is not the way to determine the quality of a school. All anyone has to do is walk through the halls of any school in America to perceive the quality of a school.

The only intelligent use of standardized tests is to determine the growth of a single student over some reasonably extended period of time. Standardized tests of content should be used to gauge a childs' growth in a discipline. That is the single use for any standardized test.

Take back control of your schools.

Friday, April 21, 2006

National Geographic vs Tippy Chases His Tail

Another aspect of the testing scandal that is occurring in Texas is seen in the seemingly trivial requirements around this test. What is the difference between a magazine like the National Geographic and a 10 page book from the school library.

One can be read in a classroom after TAKS and the other cannot. Would you like to guess which one is forbidden?

You are absolutely right! National Geographic would be the magazine that is the one that the students cannot read after the test.

After a student completes marking the TAKS test he or she certainly must remain quiet. That is not arguable. So, students in a particular testing situation were given National Geographic magazines to read. The problem is that National Geographic is a magazine. By virtue of its binding students were told that they could not read National Geographic magazine.

The state of Texas tells test administrators that after the test the students can read a book. They can't read a magazine. They can't draw. They can't put their heads on their desk and sleep. The situation has become so legalistic, so rule bound and so silly that school administrators are running scared of being found guilty of violating any of the silly rules associated with this farce. Since the instructions say "book" the students WILL read a book, not a magazine like National Geographic. So students are reading books. And many, if not most of the books, are written at a very low reading level. As long as the material they read is in the printed form we know as a "book" anything is legal.

The thing I would like to ask any parent is how long are you willing to put up with this until you hold the politicians who voted for and still support this monstrosity responsible. How long will you put up with this mess. Your kids time is being wasted.

The people who tolerate this waste of time in their kids lives are responsible. That would include all of us if we do not raise our voices for change.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is there any hope left for average to low income kids

Lately, I have been wondering what it will take to help the public to understand how bad things are in many public schools. I am especially concerned about schools that serve average to low income populations. Many of those schools are under the leadership of people with minds so dull that it boggles the imagination. So many administrators in schools are playing a fools game. There are so few administrators now that have the intellect and the independence to reason for themselves.

Most school administrators have bought into the testing philosophy. Because of that the educational landscape is becoming more of a wasteland. This week in Texas we are giving the TAKS. The TAKS is that way that schools are now judged in the state of Texas. There is really no other way in which schools are measured. Unfortunately, that is also the way that teachers are measured. Tragically, it has become the way the kids are measured.

In many districts across the state teacher contracts are being held up until the TAKS scores come in. Many of the superintendents and boards in charge of school districts believe that the scores on the TAKS is actually a way to measure quality teaching. Rational thought still can be found in some places. But, unfortunately, many school leaders have fallen for the common orthodoxy that somehow a school population, particularly one that is challenged, can be in the same place at the same time. Further, many of them seem to think that it would be a good thing if they were in the same place on tests.

If a school district falls into the last appallingly stupid group its approach will be something like the following. The district finds that its test scores are below their expectations. The district curriculum leadership then tries to identify the specific objectives that need work. They tell teachers that their evaluations and their jobs will depend on the test scores of their students. All the busy bees go to work writing manuals, worksheets and workbooks to remediate the skills that are lacking. The skills are taught out of context with the view that if you really hit those skills hard then success can be achieved. This procedure focuses on ever narrower objectives until almost nothing is taught. Then the tests are given the next year. When the scores don't come up it must be the teachers fault. So, obviously the answer is to hold teacher contracts until the scores come up. Some districts will try to shuffle the chairs by simply moving teachers and adminstrators around. Other districts may actually go so far as to close schools to eliminate the problem of low test scores. When a school is closed and redefined by a district the scores at that school basically go away. That is the solution of an intellectually bankrupt leadership.

Presently there are schools who are just dumping their older, more experienced teachers for cheaper young, inexperienced teachers. School districts can save a tremendous amount of money in this way. Too bad about the kids. I have seen situations where hundreds of years of combined experience are replaced by people who have no experience. There are classes where the students are reduced to reading the chapter of the textbook and doing the questions in the back of the chapter. Many, many classes exist where there are no grades in the computer. I have seen situations where the grades absolutely were fabricated out of whole cloth.

The collective leadership of many schools represents a true confederacy of dunces. There are some specific things that failing schools can do if they want to help the kids. I will muse about those things in coming days.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

wonder whats new today

You have to love it.....

A wake-up call from one of America's top education watchdogs: Parents are ultimately responsible for their kids' future success. Check out the rest of the article here.

Here's one that seems to say that school success might indicate success in he real world. Who would have thunk it?

In their meta-analysis of 127 studies involving 20,352 participants, psychologists Nathan R. Kuncel, Ph.D., and Sarah A. Hezlett, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Deniz S. Ones, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, set out to directly test whether the abilities related to performance in academic settings overlap with those predicting performance in work settings. To do this, they focused on studies that involved the Miller Analogies Test, or MAT. The MAT has been used for admissions decisions into graduate schools as well as in hiring and promotion decisions in the workplace. In use since 1926, the MAT is composed of analogies that require knowledge in many different areas, including sciences, literature, the arts, history and vocabulary. Read the rest here.

Kudos to teacher Debbie Fisher in St. Petersburg, Florida ...

Debbie Fisher, a teacher at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, has a problem her peers can only wish for:After class, her students don't want to leave. Check it here.

Here is another great teacher. For Elaine Schwartz, 2005 is going to be a tough act to follow. That's the way to go Elaine! Read about this wonderful teacher here.

Late in the day today, I noticed this article in the Guardian over across the pond. Teachers who use any technology probably are familiar with Power Point. Here is a nice article on the uses of the program. According to the article "Whether it's used to teach special needs children to express themselves or for demonstrating accelerated learning, PowerPoint is proving a real hit." The rest of the article is found here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The loss of wonder in school

As we all know there has been an enormous controversy regarding the teaching of evolution in schools. I think one, among many, of the things that bothers me with the secular fold is the loss of wonder. I am a Christian. But, I don't have a problem with evolution because I believe that God did it all. I also see the holes in evolutionary theory. I think I found an article today that puts it better than I could ever hope to do. The article is The Death of Wonder by Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I didn't know what to do with this from the start

Hopefully, I will now. I really hope I am a little less bitter now than I was a few months back. A lot of things in education seem unjust to me and in fact, they make me mad.

I am going to be restructuring this blog to include much more related to home schools. I really believe in them. I am very drawn to the independent lifestyle it affords. I am also keenly aware of the traps that can be set. I am going to try to keep this local as much as possible, offer teaching tips and support homeschoolers as much as possible. I will also be scanning the news for items as they come up.

Henry Cate asked me if I would mention the First Carnival of homeschooling. So, the First Carnival of Homeschooling is up and can be found at: http://whyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2006/01/carnival-of-homeschooling-week-1.html

I am more than willing Henry. There ya go!

I hope everyone has a great and happy New Year. I hope God blesses you really well.

Monday, May 23, 2005

If you have kids in a public school pray for them.

I just viewed the videotape of the attack on two teenaged boys on a schoolbus by an out of control adult. The article and video can be viewed from this link. The parents handled themselves extremely well in the interview I heard. The bus driver is a very fortunate man. The child he attacked wasn't mine.

Why do parents put up with this kind of behavior from anyone associcated in any way with a school. The bus driver clearly struck the student first. I don't think he feared for his life. If the story is correct as it has been reported (and as we know pigs are flying regular routes around the country) there was a kid who may have been disrespectful of the adult in charge. There also may have been an adult who took God's name in vain in front of the kids, called police then proceeded to go ahead and kick the crap out of the child who came to his brothers defense before the police got there. There is nothing like seeing a jerk about the size of the average gorilla grab a scrawny 15 year old by the neck and shake him like a rag doll. Yep, this winner is real powerful with kids. I wonder how he would be with some of the dock workers I grew up around. They were good men filled with love for their wives and children. But, I shudder to think what might have happened to someone who grabbed one of their kids and nearly broke his neck. There were very good reasons why no one sexually molested a kid in the neighborhood where I grew up. Can you
say vanishing off the face of the earth?

These parents need to get themselves a better lawyer as well. That guy basically apologized for defending the kid. What he should have said in response to some of the stupid questions is something like "Stupid, pathetic, cretin, you don't throttle a kid for being a cheeky kid under any circumstances where there is not a deadly weapon and the threat of immediate death. They need to get a lawyer who hates schools and would love to pull some creep through a propeller backwards. Fire the suit.

Does it matter if the kid misbehaved? Certainly. Do the kids need correction? Yes. Did a kid say something cheeky that started this travesty? Does the sun come up in the east? Were the kids who watched this happen abused? Yes. Should the boys be charged with a felony and spend the next five years of thier lives in juvie? Not in any universe. Would I have blamed any dad who came up to beat the stuffings out of the bus driver? No? If I were one of the authorities in question would I have leveled charges at such a dad who defended his kids from an out of control animal? No, based on defense of ones offspring. If you are a parent who can put yourself on that bus when the driver was shaking the kid by the neck who would not use a tire iron to drive the point about not strangling kids home to him then may your kid have many guardian angels. They will need them. They are not safe around you.

What happened to adults maintaining control of themselves? What happened to adult influence? What happened to adults being able to get along with kids? What happened to the idea of talking to kids. What happened to the archaic idea of teaching the kids as if each one of them was the apple of your eye?

Have we finally come to a time when an adult can actually assault a kid and basically skate while the kid gets a felony. If these two boys have to go through the special hell of a trial, being sentenced to five years in juvenile, and basically lose their youth then this school district should just be closed, it's leadership fired, it's buildings ripped to the ground and the earth salted under it. They have no business being anywhere near kids. Actual human beings should then come to build a real school where kids are taught right from wrong, instructed until they have mastered what it is they are trying to learn, and treated with the respect that comes with birth in this great country. By the way, if anyone wants to reply that I am talking about being weak on discipline go submerge yourself for about an hour. We gave up corporal punishment in most places not because we thought it was bad for the kids but because we were such disgusting pukes that we were afraid we would get sued. We replaced that with running every kid who chews gum through the court system. You think that's an exaggeration? If you do you know nothing about zero tolerance.

Education is in a flaming nosedive.

Kids have to be taught. You see it goes like this. If you want your child to be respectful, treat the child with respect. If you don't want your child to smoke, don't smoke around the child. If you don't want your child to drink, don't drink. If you want your child not to do drugs, don't do drugs. If you want your child to be of high moral character, be of high moral character yourself. If you want your child to show respect to the opposite sex, then show respect to your wife or husband. If you want your child to be honest, don't be dishonest. If you want to be able to tell your kid not to have sex as a teen, then you had better be sure you didn't. Kids learn by example. News flash - if you work in a school you are one of the examples. Join up and get over it. If you can't accept that responsibility, get your sorry butt out of the school business.

The same goes for teachers. It also goes for school bus drivers, teachers aides, secretarys, office workers and the copy clerk. Get over it, if you work with kids you ARE held to a higher standard. You are the example when the parents are not there. Teachers are the only good example in some cases. Everyone who works with kids has a commission given to them by God. We work with precious cargo. We have a higher calling. And, here is a news flash for any simpering jerk who wants to argue that we just have a job then you need to get out of this sacred profession now.

I believe it is time for people who give a care about kids to say ENOUGH. If you want to know why kids in this country seem to be out of control look in a mirror. Our popular culture is just so much crap.

That is why I find this bus problem so horrifying. An opportunity to lead young people was missed. An opportunity to show how an adult responds to stress was missed. An opportunity to show a group of kids that school is not some wretched place they have to spend their days was missed. I can't think of anything that was done right in this situation from the inoffensive lawyer to the gorilla on the bus. We in education are in deep quicksand with the limb over our head more than an arms length away. The time is almost too late. We have to say ENOUGH - NO MORE. Heaven help us all.