Category Archives: Uncategorized

Another RESET idea for public education

Those of you who reside in the Nashville area and have school age children are being asked to once again help the city reset its outlook on education.  Project RESET is another attempt by the leaders of education in Nashville to reinvigorate the community toward involvement in the educational system.  There is a survey they would like you to take about the state of the educational system in Nashville.  Tennessee has a 20.8 percent graduation rate for those who go on to college after high school making us a dismal number 39th in the ranking of states.  Now I’ve no problem with new initiatives, I’ve a problem with abandoning the past initiative, always changing course, never quite making up our minds to just do it!

We need to accept the fact that our students need to embrace the tougher standards, K through 12, not abandon them based on political winds.  Teachers are not only exhausted by these changes they are permanently confused, befuddled.  Yes change must happen; but why not stay the course using the advanced standards they were already preparing for?  Then convene a panel of teachers from all districts to review the status of education, and then slowly make changes everyone can agree on to raise that academic achievement percentage for our students and take control of these and all future changes out of the hands of politicians and political influence.

Negative impact of “Snow Days”

It is past time to develop an alternative strategy for those school days lost due to weather or health issues. Schools already have many internal classroom interruptions, school-wide assemblies, and testing days ( see my blog on effective school days – https://clanofcavedwellers.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/total-effective-school-days/ ) these added disruptions just increase the likelihood of student failure.  To “reschedule” these lost days is absurd.  Students and more importantly families, are not going to give up their vacation/Saturdays to make sure their student makes up time.  Everyone’s main complaint is that teacher’s don’t have enough time to “make-up” educational exercises, and rural schools complain many of their students do not have computer access in their home.

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Both are not excuses anymore.  With the swell of on-line lessons, videoed classes, for all grades even through advanced degree levels, it is inexcusable for any educator to be unable to put together lessons for these rainy days.  In fact it is best to incorporate into the curriculum a percentage of curriculum based lessons at the beginning of the school year.  In a perfect year with no lost school days, with teacher perfect attendance, without assemblies for the entire school disrupting the educational flow, these prepared lessons would be absorbed into the normal curriculum because it is a part of the normal curriculum.

Extraneous lessons would damage the process.  Having students read a novel they would otherwise not read as a part of normal class, would not work.  It must be an integral part of the curricula process.  With just a little professional development geared toward developing this T-school (Tech-school) lesson plans, educators will be able to compose plans for the 1 day loss but also the 10 day loss.  It is a process of learning to incorporate the weekly lesson plan and the T-school lesson plans into one.  One seamless process where students can and must follow along at home if they are sick, snowed in, whatever the case with what would have been the normal school schedule.  Integral to this is the linking of the teacher with the students allowing for interaction, questions, directions on an as needed basis.  The number of “chalkboard” type web sites available to allow interactive teacher-student-parent discussions in just off the chart.  Everyone wants a chunk of the educational business.

OK how about the excuse that students do not have connectivity at home.  The interesting part of my  research on effective school days was to the very last student I interviewed about the impact on their education with the loss of school days, everyone had a smart phone.  When asked about posting to Facebook and other social media if they do not have access at home, they go to a friends house.  Not a one could not get on the internet.  So for that one child that cannot get on the internet there are before school and after school activities that would allow them access to the school’s technology.  Where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.

Like I said this is just past due.  I’m currently watching a local school district as it struggles to figure out how to “make-up” 8 lost school days; some of which they are taking out of spring break.  It is just not possible.  The few students that attend school on the make-up days will not engage in effective learning because the teacher does not want to get ahead of the majority of the absent class member because they would just have to repeat it.  If the teacher is there at all.  As an educator I can relate: I’ve covered many absent teachers classrooms on make-up days.

So if you’re an involved parent, a pro-active educator, fix this issue in your district.  It is a problem with a solution.

Is there an alternative to testing?

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We’ve beat this to death I think, not the question necessarily but testing itself.  We’ve flattened it, blamed it, stretched it, bolstered it and torn it down.  What we’ve not done is eliminated it.  First of all, why do we have state mandated end of course testing?  The only logical conclusion is — we do not have teachers we can trust. Otherwise why the redundancy?  Why test students on subjects the teachers obviously tested them on already?  What’s the point?  I am probably stating the obvious but the difference is, I’m laying it all out here — the wounds of the system; we do not trust teachers.

iuTesting is very expensive, state wide standardized testing.  Let’s eliminate the standardized testing in K-12.  There’s already a good national testing for admission to college in the ACT/SAT system, paid for by the students.  The only other system of testing that could be administered statewide, is a graduation required senior final exam.  That would eliminate the sciuhool “x”is easier than school “y” so let’s move our kids there mentality.
This is after all, about money.  I don’t care how much the school/principal/teacher says they love the school/students they would not be there if it were not for money.  So with that as the basis, how much would a school system save if it did not have to test so often?  The state pays for the testing but the reality is, they pay for testing out of money that could go to schools if schools/principals/teachers were trusted.  So if on an average testing day, a state pays half a million to test all the states students in a particular grade on a particular subject, what could individual school districts be able to do with the money instead?  School infrastructure?  Teacher raises?

So how would a school insure students received satisfactory instruction?  Teacher testing.  Test for retention, test for promotion, and hire only qualified teachers for open positions not family and friends as is a common practice in rural schools. Testing to hire, retention, and promotion is used in many professional occupations from the USAF to lawyers. Trust the school districts.  Empower them by giving them funds that otherwise would have been spent on the numerous tests.  The saving in teachable hours not spent on testing preparation, testing days, and testing recovery alone is worth it.

Common Core & Al Gore!

I finally watched the 2014 television special on my DVR ( Ann Curry Reports) reporting on the what is now generally accepted truth; that the earth’s climate is changing and it is our own fault. As I watched the show I was thinking of Al Gore and all the flack he took about his predictions. UnknownWho’s laughing now? I’m not sure we “get it” as a people. Despite the evidence in front of us, smacking us in the face, we often times just ignore it because we “can’t handle the truth.” It is not in our culture, we’re not made that way.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is not the government taking over (always a good line to get people upset and revolt against anything the government does as they stand in line for food stamps) it is not a move to fire all teachers and it is not an effort to remove the power from local systems. Local systems and teachers still control much of what is presented and the how it is presented. Common Core is a tough educational statement. Who doesn’t want that? Who would rather send their children to the “easy” school?
I followed the blog of a group of homeschooled parent/teachers out of Michigan I believe, and read several of their blog comments about the subject matter they were presenting and how they went about it; the museum visits, visits to businesses, etc. I read how their children use the internet for research, watch educational videos, and interact with a text they were using that had all sorts of interesting links that kept the students engaged. As I read the blog I noticed that often their goals and projects mirrored Common Core objectives and in several cases went far beyond. Perhaps we need proof of life? Perhaps we need a county in each state to adopt CCSS and follow it and the use tests for a few years to demonstrate?
Al Gore was correct, just premature. We needed Camille to destroy New Orleans and Sandy to smack New York. We needed snowstorms of record amounts, forest fires that were out of control and floods that swept away our cars in order to listen and understand. Is Common Core premature? Are we needing further proof, further failure of the system before we accept the need for change? Are you willing to roll the dice on you children’s future because the tests are tough?

Classroom Technology Choices

God knows there is more advice on the web and educational servers about great things to use in the classroom or things to stay away from and I am certainly not here to advise either way.  I believe, as most experienced educators would agree, that the most important tool in the classroom is the teacher and his/her relationship with their students.  Technology cannot fix a broken or ineffective teacher. A recent blog discussing Learning Management Systems does a good job of reviewing some of the choices available, and he is an advocate of Google app systems that have been recently released titled Google Apps for Education.  

Most technology sections in county central offices are staffed with either a part time individual stuck with the job, to a moderate section with several staffers often with little training.  The main function of the technology section is often to block progress rather than work with teachers to improve educational technology.  Their first (and often the only one needed) wall of opposition is that of inappropriate use of technology.  Always crying wolf and it rings a bell in the ears of the older less technologically informed county leaders, they often are successful at arguing against any new advancement/app/program leading teachers to use older technology or hiding their use of technology from supervisors.  I visited a county recently where they were still debating letting teachers message each other!  As I introduced several apps, websites, programs that they could use to enhance lessons, encourage more dialogue with students, they admitted they use some of them but they do not tell anyone because they “county administration would have their jobs.”

I’ve been on my soapbox recently about educating administrative leadership at the county/main office level, but technology is an area that ignoring the possibilities offered through the use of technology, often for absolutely no money ( ScribusGimpLibreoffice ) is the opposite direction we need to be going in education.  Perhaps it’s the perceived threat to technological advisors that they either refuse to allow new technology into schools, or the fear that their ignorance of new and developing educational programs will be revealed.  I’m not sure but I do know one thing: Students already use the technology and are looking for educational leadership to help them make informed decisions.

Until we catch up in education with the technology used by our students and we can provide solid educational guidance on technological programs and equipment, we are failing our students.

Another Nail in the Career Teacher Path

Once again the political and uniformed parties hammer is out to drive another nail in the coffin of career teachers in an attack on teacher tenure using scare tactics and misinformation.  A New York lawsuit against teacher tenure is fast becoming a popular step in the building of presidential platforms calling for educational reform.  Everyone wants a scalpel in the operation of dissecting education but nobody seems to have an idea of what they’re looking for.  As it is the prospect of becoming a teacher is a difficult process even for the most qualified, but the job comes with an automatic caveat.  You might get hired but not into a career path but rather a 9 to 10 month temp position.

The idea of a career is one where after years of study or experience or both, you achieve a position with a company you would  like to work for and stay with as you learn and grow.  Once hired in most career path positions, the expectation is that you will continue to work there until you fail to meet expectations or you decide to move on to another company or position.  Most would balk at the idea of being hired into a position where the job is essentially for a 10 month period with no guarantee of continued employment.  In fact many schools do not make the decision to continue a teacher until the last monthUnknown of the school year when they are either notified by the principal they are no longer need or (gasp) nobody says anything to you and that lets you know that you are safe for another year!  Teachers whisper to each other behind their closed doors asking if anyone been called to the principal’s office! Ludicrous, unprofessional, juvenile behavior  that is prevalent in many schools’ systems.  Tenure gave teachers a goal to shoot for;  survive three years of this type of behavior and you’ll be rewarded with a system of tenure.

Tenure was never developed to provide perverts, ineffective slackers, uneducated dolts a place to hide.  The legal system did that.  The legal system so tangled the arms of the educational system, already a joke of a “system” that individuals who managed to survive three years and achieve tenure and then took advantage of an ineffective management system managed to hide in plain sight.  Quite frankly most educational systems can’t manage a school’s schedule no less the personnel who educate your kids.  In most county central school offices there are people who really operate around the teachers: They run in fear of the parents and public at large and often operate as if the main reason they exist and the central office is even there is for its own survival, not to assist the teachers in the education of the students.  Laughably, the one section of the central office established to help teachers, be their advisor, assist them in improving their teaching skills is the least effective.  In one school district I worked each year the center point of our summer professional development was the same professional development we had received the year before, and the year before that!  They never paid attention to the fact that the training and trainer they were using were the same we had the previous year, until by the third year even the person hired commented that it was really odd to come back and do the same thing three years in a row.

Tenure has been abused.  County educational systems are often incapable of behaving professionally (check and see how many relatives are working together in the school system) because many of them have not been in a school since escaping school to work at the central office.  So if we want to really work at helping students, improving student scores, encouraging children to do and give their best we need to have professional management and leadership in county central offices, or get rid of them.  Start with mandating that office staff are qualified for the position and not somebody’s sister.  Public revelation of the central office’s distribution of funds; not allowing special friends,  relatives/favorite principals, or alma-mater schools receiving a disproportional amount of the annual budget.  Implement a standard employment practice contract statewide ensuring all teachers are protected from unscrupulous hiring practices; enhance the professionalism of the system by treating teachers with mature, responsible and professional behavior that starts at the top and is reflected in the behavior of the central office.  Don’t believe me?  Try a completely anonymous and independent survey of teachers and ask them about how they are treated, how the central office treats them, about professional behavior.  Then let’s have a mature discussion about tenure and teacher career paths.

Education’s Netflix Moment

Education find itself at a critical juncture. Fettered to old school calendars, schedules, methodologies, social significance, state and national testing mandates, it is measured as a community and found wanting. Every other organism changes to fit into the current environ but education. Everyone outside the system feels qualified to pass judgement. The public calls for change. Demands it. Yet still wants snow days. A parent’s recent comment was just add the days on the end of the school year! What’s the big deal? Got to have a summer vacation, fall break, holidays off, spring break. Need to get your kid his lunch? Just make an announcement disrupting class, it’s only school? Threat of snow? Yes, out of school but they must go to work, mall, the basketball game. What can local education administrations do? What do they have power over to make the type of impact demanded by the public?
Ever wonder how many actual school days a teacher effectively gets to teach? I did, several times. The average is 150 to the end of school: That is not an effective number in and of itself because as many a senior in high school will ask you immediately after taking whatever final exam is required, why am I here? Their gpa is reported in the spring, the ACTs were taken the year before, the state tests were in March or April, so why delay the agony, strain the very limits of teacher classroom management skills and disturb the school environment with a quarter of the school’s population really upset at being required to sit in classes that make no “real time” sense just to “wait it out” until the end of the official school calendar year? Yet from April through the end of May or beginning of June we force students to sit in classes where the videos play, nap time is normal, and not much of anything is accomplished.
If you were to ask every student in school if they got up at 4 this morning to feed the chickens, and when they got home do they have farm chores, do they plant during spring break? Do they harvest during fall break? My guess is perhaps not, yet we have an entire school working around their calendar. State tests occur in March and April primarily. That is for the state’s convenience, not the schools. In a heated debated at a school board meeting recently in a community suburb of Nashville, TN., the local small business leaders had formed a coalition against proposed changes made to the school’s calendar because they relied on the part time workers and the change would negatively affect their business. The entire length, breath, and depth of the school calendar is in the local school authority’s power to change. Here is a place that right now much good can be done to eliminate the worry about providing students and teachers with enough preparatory time to become successful at taking these state tests and to bring the school into a more realistic schedule reflecting today’s values.
First a test. This test determines whether your district needs go any further. The first and most important question to ask is, is the primary goal of school a social developmental staging area with educational benefits secondary, or is education, specifically academics, the primary goal? If it is a social development staging area go no further, keep the pep rallies, sports focus, existing school calendars and beg out of national testing and evaluations.
If it is academics then the next question is, does this ( social v. academics) apply across the board, K-12? To me I don’t think so but that’s a subject for another time. With academics as the school’s focus (duh) then the business of identifying a start & end date of school is next for the traditional calendar and if there must be specific dates it should revolve around the final testing dates for the school year as dictated by the state. The school calendar as a whole ought to take a holistic view of academics and begin building the senior class for the next year for example, in late April or early May after the annual tests with the current year seniors out of the building, the juniors “move-up” and the next school year begins! (I’ve actually seen this practiced at one high school) The summer ” break” should not be dictated by parental vacation needs as much as school building maintenance and education cycle schedules. With this approach, with school running year-round, a better prepared student body can take the ACT test in March of every year that impacts not only college entry but future employment possibilities. This schedule does not include snow days. This schedule has plenty of preparatory time for all students to meet the requirements of the scheduled testings despite weather issues.
If the school system is inflexible in changing the actual calendar, they can still change the promotion of students schedule to allow them to begin classes in late Spring in their new grades thus eliminating the dreaded ” Senioritis” a disease that spreads throughout the school building infecting students and faculty alike. Elimination of “snow days” by requiring every teacher to have on-line coursework established that students will do during the course of the academic year because it is a CCSS converted into a “flipped” classroom reserved for those days lost to weather. If there are no lost weather days the “flipped” classes are still used because they are an integral part of their curriculum!
Across the nation there are a number of school districts rebelling against increased standards and the rebellion is based on simple truths: They cannot accomplish the current curriculum given the schools already crowded calendar how can they “do more with less” time available?
There is not a business that can successfully operate and produce if they had to operate under the conditions that teachers currently must utilize. If you want a quality student product you must look at the amount of time put into the production, the education time, allotted for the student. Fall, winter, spring and summer breaks are archaic. Constant classroom interruption for class rings, pictures, assemblies for sports, recovery time from school breaks, weather issues, are educational mine fields. A year round schedule that would accommodate educational needs, professional development for teachers, first designed to maximize student learning and not student social advancement, is the first step in reaching the goals the nation so desperately needs.