Thursday, July 28, 2011

a rant

I was browsing Huffington Post and had to respond to an article... plsu, having not blogged in a while I felt like I needed to do something.

The four witnesses called before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce agreed educators have not come up with an ideal framework to evaluate teachers. They also expressed concern over whether teachers are being prepared for the classroom, and said the right people might not be going into education in the first place.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said half the people that graduate from an education program don't wind up getting teaching jobs.

"I fear that for too many of those individuals have gone into an education school because it may be the easiest program on a college campus to complete," Walsh said.

Okay where to begin? First, teachers are not being prepared for the classroom. I reflect back on my administrative credential/MA courses and most of it was just theory and regurgitation of someone else's research. Very little was application. You can be the most learned about learning and "suck" at teaching. But many forget this. My own husband had suggested, as I'm job hunting, to look for jobs outside education, such as HR or management since "you have an admin. degree ya know...". Yes but I know very little about it. I can tell you about choosing curriculum, or about contracts/collective bargaining things I've read. I can tell you about how I explored my personality type and evaluated great leaders. I can tell you that schools have categorical funds, or fire based upon seniority. But if you ask me to hire the best teacher for the job, or to write a grant, I can't. Don't ask me to calm an angry parent or discipline little Trevor. Don't even think I know how to balance a school budget. I mean, I'll try and do all that. But I never learned or practiced how. And my university even admits to this, that most of their courses are theory based and that practice-based learning is not a focus. As a teacher, I felt the same way. I could sound like I knew my stuff and well, I knew and know a lot but knowing isn't everything. It's how you show what you know. So no. Schools are not preparing teachers to teach.

Teachers in America are in the "bottom third" of their class, the "dummies". Other nations value their educators more so the career is more appealing, and they often pay more. You can get a science degree and go teach for $35,000 or go do...whatever science thing you like and make twice that...and be more respected. Which would you choose? In other countries, their math teachers in middle school majored in math and often worked in math before teaching. Our teachers need just a multiple subject credential which covers math skills up to about 4th or 5th grade. No wonder our country has horrid math skills. Oh so not only are teachers the "dummies" but think of how many hoops we must jump to get a credential, keep it, and keep a job! No wonder so many teachers, 50% I think, leave the profession in the first few years.

Which is part of why half the people getting teaching degrees don't end up with a job- they do some student teaching and realize a) they're not ready to teach b) you mean a kid can hit you, injure you, and you can do nothing but maybe say no no little Billy, but you still get a gold star so you don't feel left out c)you can likely get pink slipped and have to look for a job which lessens your chance of being hired d)hmm if you keep switching schools and district you will never really make enough to support a family and pay off student loans. MANY teachers are on food stamps, can you believe that?

And then...ok there are no friggin' jobs! When I got my first credential back in 03' I applied and applied and interviewed job for my first year. Okay I subbed and was able to live somewhere where I could just pay what little I had to go towards food and shelter but if not, I'd have been homeless or living with my parents. Then I got a job. That lasted a year due to declining enrollment and politics, not enough ADA money to pay for my position. Back to square one, subbing and tutoring for a year. Then I got another job but the district had to pink slip 5 teachers and ta da, one of those was me. Now my resume looked suspicious with all these little jobs, a victim of circumstances but still. "Why do you not stay anywhere more than a year?" Well it is called LIFO, Last In First Out. I have bad luck and well, our state is in, and has been in, financial crisis for quite some time so I get axed. Then I got a job that lasted 3 years whoopee! But due to financial crisis at the sate level, no one could afford me (even though I was only makign a measly $25,000) and so bye bye to my job.

I've applied and applied and no interviews. My job always goes to a "more qualified applicant". I have 3 teaching credentials, a Master's and 5 years experience not counting subbing/tutoring/summer school. I applied to one position, a VP, and over 200 people were fully qualified. Their reqs were 5 yrs+ teaching/admin experience, MA, admin credential, and a teaching credential. So imagine the fresh out of school teacher, no work experience, with one credential. She or he probably is competing with not 200 applicants but likely 1,000 or more per job.

And yeah a teaching degree is easy. I will admit. And there is the addage "Those who can't, teach". Perhaps that goes with the statistic of the bottom third becoming educators. And yeah I've known some incompetent teachers. But I've also known some that are like walking encyclopedias, and they have the art of teaching down to a science. But maybe we should make teaching programs more difficult. But given the job market, I highly doubt people are signing up for a teaching degree just because it is easy.

Witnesses told the committee there should be accountability for institutions where teachers are trained. The burden to retain teachers, they said, should not fall on school districts.

Oh. I had to be retrained. I was taught to differentiate, barely touch a textbook, use learning modalities and hands on activities. Egads. You may recall in my post (I think, anyways) that I was asked rather honestly, "where did you learn to teach?" insinuating I didn't learn to teach, because I couldn't follow a scripted curriculum. I kept "not teaching" and bringing in supplementals, hands on activities, other "not teaching" things. I was not taught to follow orders and forget to think or analyze. So yes. In our current climate of scripted curriculum and assessment-driven craziness, yeah, we need to retrain our teachers. Purposely employ the bottom third, the "idiots" who can be brainwashed easily into thinking frequent testing, and robotic curriculum, works.

Walsh said young teachers are often placed in low-performing schools, but because they lack experience, their students tend to not do as well.

Yes. True. Been there, done that. Becuase of tenure and collective bargaining, let's say teacher X is hired fresh out of college to work at what else, but Prison View Elementary, the lowest performing school in the district. Somehow, she survives the first two years by fraternizing with the union president and by blindly teaching the curriculum. Her tenure is announced and she requests a transfer to Muffy McFluffy's Magnet School in the district, their highest performing school. She is granted it and spends the rest of her career there.
One would think, hey, at Muffy McFluffy's there is Teacher Y who single-handely increased test scores by 100 points in one year, won teacher of the year twice, and has been nationally recognized for her curriculum and classroom management techniques; with 5 books authored by her. How 'bout we send her into the dredges of Prison View? But with things the way they are, only she could elect the transfer. The district couldn't transfer her. But let's also say Teacher Z works at Muffy McFluffy's. Teacher Z is that rare teacher that the media and public love, who lets the kids turn into hooligans, playing leap frog on the desks while Z checks his Facebook farm and cafe. Test scores from Z's class are making McFluffy's look bad. The district elects to send Z to Prison View. Yep. Schools can transfer the bad tenured staff to the bad schools, but the stellar staff cannot go and help transform the bad school unless they choose to. And after 30 years of working with McFluffy's finest, who would want to spend their last years teaching at Prison View?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yes, I've not posted for ten days, likely a record. This post is rather pointless but is just to inform you that I am still "here", just taking a break for no reason.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Perfect Storm

Egads! A short post from me! Here goes!

There are many "perfect storms" in education right now, a major one being standardized testing.
Those in power and control of society like to categorize people, thus making us more manageable when they and we know our place. Standardized testing labels us and sends us on a life-long path based on our performance; such a process is intentional and has been in place for quite some time.
Also, the corporations and government run the nation and are essentially one in the same. Testing is not cheap, and management of testing isn't either...someone profits... a lot. So not only can you manage people, but you can make bank while at it. How perfect! To eradicate such an evasive perfect storm requires revolution in a sense because "we the people" must fight against corporations and government whose livelihood now depends on this structure, one they've been shaping and cementing into place for decades, to where it doesn't just exist overtly but in whispers and shadows.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

my (evolving) opinion on charter schools part II

What I don't like:
1. Corporate funding - Well money sure is nice and public schools get corporate funding (thanks pepsi for the new pepsi-emblem clad gym!) but yes it is "creepy" when a corporation basically runs a school because they're not educators, they may have ulterior motives, they're tax exempt and yet receiving the public's money, and if the funding source is grand, they might be spending twice the amount per child as the regular public school. Wellthere's nothing wrong with spending more on education if they can afford it, but it could artificially inflate test scores, etc and make a charter look "better' than the public school when it is comparing apples to oranges.
2. Pick and choose students/add drop ability- While illegal at least in my state, charters have cherry-picked students like a private school can do. So, of course that school will have stellar test scores! Also charters can legally drop students very easily whereas a public school cannot. Johnny is failing, distracting all students, and talking about drugs all day? And wait he brought drugs to school? A public school would have to keep him because well, he lives where he lives and can't go to a different school, can't legally not attend, and the most they can do is send him to alternative education in the district. The charter can't kick him out either (unless expelled) but they can tell Johnny and his parents that there are other options for schools, that he's not succeeding here. But wait that sounds like a plus! Kind of, but then Johnny just drops out or goes and causes problems at the public school while the charter, having rid of Johnny and all his buddies, shines as a perfect model school, kind of artificially so.
3. Hiring/qualifications (a like and dislike you see...) Anyone can run the school. Crazy Crandall the homeless guy could conceivably (if he drafts a great petition) run a qualifications needed. Shouldn't a school's administration be qualified?
4. Hours - charters can work from 8-5, M-F if they want. They do not have to offer a prep period for teachers! I don't need to embellish here, the horrors of 8-5 with no prep period mean you then go home and prep there and, well, have no life. This seems to be an abuse when it goes to the extremes.
5. At will- What if your administrator just has a bad day and fires you for no reason? There's no due process, no explanation needed. This opens the door for a lot of things. I've seen a lot of mobility at some charters because of the abuse, meaning, teachers leave mid-year because they can, and because they want to. Other times, a teacher is fired for no reason (but there always is a reason....the principal's child didn't like the teacher because he gave him a B+, the board secretary's brother needs a job, the teacher had different political views...) You live in fear for your job. I've seen a teacher's job posted mid-year without their knowledge, no explanation needed or given. I've seen budget woes mean the entire staff is send unemployment letters and paperwork over the summer, just to "be safe".
6. Salary- Some folks say teachers are overpaid. While I think step and column salary is a bit odd- you can be a stellar teacher (state teacher of the year, won awards for your programs, been on t.v. for your ability to get kids to graduate...) but without a MA degree, having taught 15 years and make less than that teacher they've been trying to fire, with 20 years experience and an MA. But.... in charters they can rid of step and column completely and pay you "whatever". Without divulging too much, I have an MA and a bit under 10 yrs experience. I could go to the district next to my former charter and make nearly $53,000 (yay for California pay!). Instead I was making less than an emergency-credentialed, first year, no BA or MA, intern. And our new teacher, brand new to the profession, was making the same as myself and a teacher with an MA and 25 years experience.
7. Buildings- charters can operate "wherever" so a ramshackle strip mall building can do, as long as it meets fire code.
8. categorical funds- Without them, there is potential for abuse, i.e. a superintendent making $300,000 while the teachers make $30,000 and the roof is leaking onto the 20 year old textbooks. Also, without these funds, title-1 and all the title-funds, used to help students of poverty, English learners, etc are harder to get. Same for a school lunch fund.
7. leadership- As I think I said already, anyone can run the school, no experience or qualifications needed.
8. Curriculum. Yep I love and hate it. I had to develop my own curriculum 100% from scratch- I wasn't given a pacing guide or class set of books or anything and had to thus look at the standards, make my own pacing guide/scope and sequence, exams, lessons, etc. I think I made a darned good curriculum and have test scores to prove it but some guidance would have been really really great and would have saved me hours. I spent probably over 20 hours a week just making curriculum, then add in teaching, grading, assessing....
9. I'm only one person- I've seen it in all charters, where everyone is a jack of all trades. Things never get boring (a plus) but when you're the "English 9-12, CAHSEE prep, RTI, Art, Debate teacher and leadership, assessment, and administrator" or "algebra I, geometry, shop, PE, environmental studies, gardening, CAHSEE prep teacher and dean" it gets a wee bit overwhelming.

But...hopefully the "free market" notion of charters will work, meaning, if a charter pays their teachers 30% less than the neighboring district, works their staff 10 hrs a day, fires people if they wear the wrong shoes, cheats on exams, refuses to enroll special needs kids, etc etc etc....ti will either be shut down by the district, county, or state in a timely manner, or it will wither and die on the vine because people have the freedom to say "this school sucks, I'm leaving".

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

my (evolving) opinion on charter schools

It seems there's a ton of backlash regarding charter schools and yet they keep growing and enrolling. I've worked in and with three charter schools so I have some knowledge of what they're like, but the nice and not so nice thing, depending on your opinion or information needed, is that my experience does not reflect all charters as they are, by design, all very different in operation, funding, procedures, law, attendance, etc.

My views and opinions are below. They represent just 3 charters in one state. You will see some things in both categories because, well, life is not black and white. And charters are all very different so someone's experience could be the polar opposite of mine.

What I like:
1. Freedom to choose curriculum. I can choose Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, websites, novels, guest speakers, you name it. I am not bound by the district or state to follow a curriculum, and can say sayonara to scripted curriculum. Well, at least in the charters I've been in!
2. Free market, fail/succeed unlike others - Public schools can be under program improvement for 5 years before anything really happens and even then, after, say, replacing half the staff, they can continue to "suck". Charter schools have to meet guidelines and benchmarks (esp. when overseen by a district, county, or state) and if they fail to meet just one benchmark they have to shut down. Talk about accountability!
3. Choice- You're not bound by geography. What I mean is, let's say your neighborhood school is anything but desirable, with charters you can skip the school next door and enroll in a charter...or at least their lottery. Parents who can't afford private or home school can at least have some schools to chose from. Yes, perhaps the charter performs no better on the state test (many folks' criticism of charters) but tests don't measure everything and if your child is happier, feels safer, etc at the charter than the neighborhood school, isn't that worth everything?
4. Special ed, in my experience- Okay, I've heard charters deny sp.ed students eve though it is illegal. I've had students tell me such-and-such charter told them there was a waiting list (when there wasn't) to avoid serving them, but that's all hearsay. All I know is what I know, having sat in on prospective enrollment meetings, IEPs, and gone through student data. Where I've worked, we never said no to a sp.ed student. We did suggest alternatives to a mother with a severely autistic child but we said we were still an open option too, it was her decision what school best fit her child's needs. We'd had downs syndrome and autistic children before. In fact our sp.ed population one year, was 35%. Most schools in my state can only have I think 10% sp. ed demographics/enrollment (don't quote me here though) and so students are either denied service or shuffled to another school in the district with "room" or sent to a special day school where the percentage isn't a matter. Charters that follow the law accept an unlimited number of sp. ed students as long as they have the services. And if not, SELPA, local districts, and non-district agencies offer sp.ed services so there's no excuse.
5. Hiring/qualifications- Elective teachers do not need a credential. And anyone can run a school because heck, there are some great people out there that could run a school who don't have an MA in Administration (pick me pick me!)'ll see that this is also a negative.
6. Teacher freedom- Similar to curriculum, teachers can teach what/how they want as long as it follows standards and blueprints and the like. That means I can teach long division for one "extra" day compared to the class next door if I need to, no lock-step instruction. I can gasp! Have my students read an entire novel instead of the 3-page things-removed excerpt in the textbook.
7. hours- Not generally unionized, charter are not bound by the contract hours so they can maximize instruction. One of my school's hours were 8:00am- 4:00pm with a half hour lunch. With so many standards, how can you effectively cover everything between, say, 7:00-2:00? Although the verdict is still out if more hours = more learning.
8. Mobility professionally speaking - Ok so in a "regular" school I'm stuck as the 9th grade English teacher for life. I might get to be the English dept. chair or a master teacher with a student teacher after eons of working. The end. In a charter I can be that 9th grade English teacher and then wow, I can work my way up to teaching AP and journalism in just two years because I "proved" myself, no hoops to jump, and maybe I'd land a dean's position later on. In reality, I actually went from grade 10-12 English to 9-12 in half a year, then the next year just 9th but that was a promotion (I was the only one they felt could "handle" the wily Freshman) as I became a part-time administrator as they recognized my leadership and drive. In a "regular" school I wouldn't even be tenured yet, low in the pecking order so there was no way I could move up in the world yet until I was higher on the food chain.
9. Non union/at will - Charters can fire "bad" teachers without the two years and thousands of dollars it takes on average to rid of tenured "bad" teachers. And not having tenured job security, you work your butt off to keep your job. But wait, does that mean you work too hard, I mean there is some nice security to tenured jobs and all teachers work hard.... true. But, all teachers before tenure (meaning those teaching for two to five years depending where you work) are not tenured, at will. No one seems to mention these guys.
10, Leadership - Entrepreneurs and visionaries can lead a school, and it can me more of a team effort, not a top down leadership. Can... meaning, not always.
11. categorical funds - Instead of buying new textbooks (but they're only 3 years old) and snazzy wall borders, a new gym and a pay boost for the superintendent while firing 10 teachers and ridding of the after school program.... without categorical funds, the charter can say "hmmm..those new math books are nice but ours are 3 yrs old, they can make it this year, let's put them off and instead keep the after school program". See the public often doesn't know about cat. funds and complains "why are you building a new gym and yet firing teachers?!?!" and with cat. funds that is a-o-k to do because you might have tons of building funds and no salary funds. Without cat. funds you can move money around.

Friday, July 1, 2011

RTTT (Race to The Top): State takeover of our children

From Huff Po at I just have to give my two cents....well more like few dollars as I have quite a lot to say. The article is in blue italics and my response in regular or italic (stupid blogger acting up) blackish gray text.

A $500 million federal competition for early education money will stress assessment, teacher training and program alignment, according to an announcement Thursday by officials from the White House, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

So first, what does the Dept. of Health and Human Services have to do with education? Cradle to the grave alright. School is good for your health? And why must it be a competition- what, the losing schools don't deserve funding? And our teachers are trained to death, the only way to can get "better" teachers in their meaning of better would be to do a frontal lobotomy. Then teachers would just follow the scripted curriculum, test kids like mad, not complain about wages or crowded classrooms or RTTT for that matter.

"We're really announcing something historic," Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education in the White House Domestic Policy Council, said during an evening call with reporters to announce more details about the government's Race to the Top program. "We believe that this ... can really have the same kind of impact around some of the core challenges that we faced around our early learning community."

Errr....translation....get 'em while they're young, indoctrinate or brainwash or brain-dead 'em early. The family or community is too inept to care for or educate children so let it go to the state. To quote some folks here, and I'll make it in small text to avoid confusion (hopefully), "Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because
he comes to school with certain allegiances toward our Founding Fathers,
toward his parents, toward our elected officials, toward a belief in a
supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate
entity. It's up to you, teachers, to make all these sick children well by
creating the international child of the future." Chester M. Pierce,
Professor, Department of Educational Psychiatry, Harvard University.

"We really don't know how to raise children. If we want to talk about the
equality of opportunity for children, then the fact that children are raised
in families means there's no equality, we must take them away from families
and communally raise them." Dr. Mary Jo Bane: former Clinton Administration
assistant secretary of administration for children and families in the US
Department of Health and Human Services.
(holy moly, now I know why the Dept. of Health and Human Services is all gung-ho about RTTT!)

“Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent.” Elwood Cubberley (I have many posts related to this jerk.) Yep. The kids NEED to belong to the state, an early learning community.

The Race to the Top competition, he said, is a White House priority, as it relates to Obama's goal of producing the highest proportion of college-educated people in the world.

"On behalf of the president, I just want to emphasize how important this Race to the Top program really is to our larger education agenda," he said.

Great. I'm all for educated people, but my fears are if we end up with the highest % of college educated people, will we dumb down college so everyone gets a degree? If so, then our highest-educated status is just a meaningless title.

And the term "agenda" tied to education simply makes my skin crawl.

The draft criteria for the early education competition, which is the third round of the Race to the Top program, stress quality programs, teacher training with a clear set of credentials, family engagement and assessments of student learning from a young age.

How young? Will we be giving standardize tests to pre-schoolers now?

“The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge can transform the quality of early learning programs across the country,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “The proposed criteria aim to establish a comprehensive approach that better coordinates, implements and evaluates high quality early learning and development programs with a focus on giving families the information they need to select the best program for their child.”

Little Billy, do you want this indoctrination- err, program with scripted curriculum, or this one, or look, this one? What Billy? They're all the same?

The criteria are open to public comment, and the final guidelines will be released in August. States must submit applications in October and grants ranging from $50 million to $100 million will be rewarded before the end of the year.

"I think it is the beginning of the breakthrough," said Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University. "The fact that they're putting money into early education is a good thing."

Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said in an email statement that federal dollars "can help offset some of the dramatic state budget cuts we have seen over the last few years, particularly in state-funded pre-K. We are optimistic that Race to the Top will help states expand upon their existing spectrum of programs or give a jump start to those states who have not yet prioritized early learning."

Aaah the goold old dangling of the money carrot with strings attached, how very government-y of them. And as you may deduce, I'm for early learning, but a schooling agenda for our toddlers, no no no and no.

Earlier iterations of Race to the Top stressed education standards and teacher evaluations, resulting in a slew of new laws that, in some cases, tied educator management to student performance on standardized tests. Michigan's RTTT-inspired law enabled a recently announced state takeover of Detroit's lowest-performing schools. The teacher review legislation created in New York as part of the earlier RTTT application sparked a lawsuit over its implementation this week.

With nearly $4 billion in funding, the competition has had a tremendous impact -- but has been met with mixed reviews. "Simply making more money available to states when they're so desperate is a good thing. Focusing on underperforming schools is a good thing," Noguera said.

"The bad thing is prescribing the remedies they have, which are way too narrow and don’t get at the underlying causes of school failure," he continued. "I don’t like the idea of a competitive grant process when all the states need help. I don’t like the idea that the federal government is dictating strategies that are based on little research. There's very little research on judging students based on test scores."


This time around, the focus is on unifying a disparate system of pre-K programming, improving the quality of educators and expanding accessibility for impoverished children.

"We know that disparities in access to high quality early learning programs pose a significant challenge to our economic competitiveness moving forward," Rodriguez said.

According to the new guidelines, state applications must also establish metrics for kindergarten assessment. While Noguera said assessment can be important, he added that too much assessment could distract from the bigger picture.

"Collecting data is good. What's more important is to get kids the help they need," he said. "Some means of tracking is certainly important. These days, we spend more time tracking and monitoring than we do actually helping. I hope we find the balance we need."

Yep. Testing toddlers, nearly. We as teachers do need to know "where" kindergartners are academically, to help them succeed but that is different than testing. Sure, maybe RTTT means for us to informally assess kinders. However, I highly doubt "they" promote that, and instead promote standardized tests as the textbook and testing companies profit and those profits funnel into campaigns for the government and money talks. Teacher-made free assessments do not.

And tracking...I've got some posts on that, too. Yep. Let's decide little Susie is a moron in kindergarten because she drew a flower across her test instead of bubbling in "B". Now Susie will be tracked in the vocation bound track for life, denied chemistry, French, and the like because that's not her "path".

The guidelines give budget caps for each state and emphasize a focus on "states with large, high poverty rural communities," even if those states' applications rank lower than others.

“Meeting the needs of our youngest children so they are healthy and learning is critical to our nation’s competitiveness,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “This public comment period will provide us with vital input from states and communities, from child, family and education experts, and from teachers and program directors. Together, we can work to improve standards, promote health, engage and support families, and provide children with the building blocks for success.”

"Together" my arse. Your little education experts are running the show, and is it the schools' job to promote health? Just more state takeover of our daily lives my dear, as we're too stupid to know what's good fro us so best we hand it over to the omniscient state experts.