I'm baaaaaaack.

Classroom Cash Expenditures 2014-15: $353.00

01 September 2014

There has got to be a better way to handle the wait pool than a three week carousel roster.

23 August 2014

One week down.

Yay, one week of Kindergarten under the bridge.  My class is enormously cute and bright.  I am hoping that my roster is stabilizing, but I suppose that's unlikely until after the ten day count. Also, I like my grade level team, and being at the same school as last year, and my moderately revised classroom set up.  Additionally, I have some nice new dresses to wear, several Donors Choose projects funded and on their way, a rocking new pair of sneakers, and have been able to maintain a strong organizational system FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK.

That's the good.  The bad is that I do not have enough time for everything I need to do.

Most of what I need is time for planning.  We have a new math program and got a big six hours to learn it!  Sadly, the Kindergarten modules apparently aren't complete, so I can't even get a full sense of what they year in math will look like.  (Don't ask about the manipulatives and reproducibles.)  This is particularly important because the math program is set up so that teachers can use materials they have found effective to teach the concepts as they are laid out in the curriculum.  In my case, that means pulling out materials from a couple of programs I find particularly effective.  However, alignment takes time, and I need to see (and read) the modules to do it well.  While we are on a five year plan to fully implement this program, and it certainly has been extensively revised over the past year, I think implementation would be siginificantly eased if teachers had more time to familiarize themselves with the material before jumping into year one.  After all, a five year implementation doesn't mean we can do poorly by the children who are in our classrooms in year one.

Teachers also need to align their ELD instruction to the new state standards, and the district is not providing a new curriculum or updating the in-house lessons available.  Again, thsi is time-consuming work.

We also have a whole new data system, Amplify.  At least as of right now, we will not be receiving or using Amplofy curricula or tablets, which I think is a positive.  However, using the same data program that powered In Bloom is something I wish had been open to more public comment.

So really, the year is off to the usual start: I really love being in the classroom, teaching, collaborating, and all that stuff.  I really dislike some of the District strictures that make it harder for me to feel prepared and effective.

09 August 2014

Summer Reading List?

Is there a Kindergarten student in your household?  Then read this before school starts, and think about how you can help Kindergarten be a place for happy, creative, brilliant young children.

07 August 2014

Advance Planning Scofflaws

In February, it seemed like a totally great idea to apply for an out-of-state professional development taking place the week before I report back to work.  "This will make me be very intentional in how I pack up my classroom in May," I thought.  "And in August, I'll really need to ready the room in an organized way - as opposed to the usual eight thousand projects going at once two week hysteria!"  What an opportunity for learning I could have, even after I returned!

Now that I'm in New York - having failed to mindfully pack up my room for cleaning and to develop strategic organizational skills over the summer - I'm not so sure this was a great plan.

Plus side?  I will be so ready to implement what I'm learning, without forgetting some of it as I would had I done this training in June.  Also, I'm in Manhattan.  With my back to school money.  After a disappointing year in personal style, one that included enforced orthopedic footwear, I will be returning - nay, exceeding! - my earlier heights of fashion.

And should I spend more than I ought, I'm sure some financial institution will be ready to make money by extending credit that will allow me to purchase school supplies.  Not only do we fail to fund schools adequately, private institutions are ready to profit on that failure.  Neat!

However, I did have an idea for a business which would provide a marketplace for teachers to vacation-swap their homes.  Teachers could get reasonably priced accomodations and be assured that their tenants have passed a background check and are unlikely to break their furniture or host wild parties (probably you would want to lock your closet of off-season sale school supplies, though).

30 July 2014

Cheating Beats Actual Progress.

Pay for performance is a very popular education reform plan.  The fact that pay for performance doesn't seem to work very well - I give you The VA scandal as just the latest failure - doesn't seem to dampen the fervor for it.  I suppose it's popular because it sounds like it would work, and it lets reformers talk about paying teachers more without actually doing that so much, as this article eventually points out, much to its own headline's dismay.

(I also note, as I must always, that the people who are selling pay for performance never want to submit their own jobs to the same scrutiny.  This goes both for the various DC public school central office administrators running IMPACT Plus and the investment bankers making big returns on charter schools and ed reform.)

And we know specifically that pay for performance has had ugly effects in schools already.  Atlanta is one of the saddest examples.  The New Yorker recently ran a story about Parks Middle School, the subject of many glowing articles and education reform joy during its heyday and the subject of forty or so pages recounting widespread cheating in the eventual investigative report.  The article is worth reading, although it glosses over some of the other scandals at Parks (nepotism, sexual harassment, embezzlement, all involving the principal, whose conduct belies his claim that he wouldn't have cheated for money).

Having read the report in its entirety, though, the story that really sticks with me is Harper Archer Middle School's.  (Harper Archer's narrative is in the second part of the report, available at the link above).  Harper Archer had the misfortune of being co-located with a district administrative team, and that team is believed to be responsible for the cheating.  Not the educators at Harper Archer, nor the principal: the Deputy Superintendent.

You see, Harper Archer had been making small but significant gains in performance.  Despite having a disproportionately high percentage of students with special needs, improvement was happening.  In fact, the Harper Archer staff discussed in the narrative seem to share a collaborative spirit, a real commitment to their students, and a shared purpose. 

This was not a popular attitude in Atlanta.  Both the principal and vice principal were put on improvement plans and given a mandate to increase test scores.  The principal was pushed to place teachers on performance plans if their test scores did not increase; he refused to do this and specifically instructed teachers not to engage in any unethical behavior.  He strongly felt that his hard-working teachers had the skills to support their students and that slow, steady progress was valuable.  (The principal also wondered why children were matriculating at Harper Archer with outstanding fifth grade test scores and poor academic skills, which earned him a reprimand from his Deputy Superintendent.)

The Deputy Superintendent's other suggestion - outside punishing teachers - was to visit Parks Middle School.  Despite the fact that an investigation had already suggested cheating at Parks, the hard working educators at Harper Archer were told to emulate it.

They didn't. 

The principal resigned after not being offered a contract for the 2009 school year. 

But guess what?  The 2008 CRCT scores came back with double digit gains!  Just like Parks!

When interviewed, not one of the teachers admitted to cheating.  Several mentioned being heavily pressured by the Deputy Superintendent to increase test scores; some believed that the principal resigned because he had been asked to cheat.  To a one, they felt classroom teachers at Harper Archer would not cheat.  Some refused to give the test scores to students because the scores were so unbelievable.

When asked about who could have been responsible for a cheating, the principal, vice-principal, and teaching staff all pointed to the Deputy Superintendent and her staff.  Some noted that the Deputy Superintendent had access to the test and was coming to the building very early and staying very late during testing.  Others noted that their tests were out of order when they received them each morning; one was informed by a custodian that the district staff told her the students were testing very well.

So at Harper Archer, you have a staff committed to working with a high needs population and having some real success.  But because their success is reasonable and measured, it's not enough.  They needed to be more like Parks.

This is the end result of pay for performance, then.  The enormous cheating at Parks wasn't only bad for those students, but students throughout the District.  And when teachers and administrators were unwilling to sacrifice their principals for their paychecks, then Deputy Superintendents were willing to take that step themselves.

Ultimately, this is what pay for performance gets you.  Because Parks was willing to cheat, they created an entirely false standard to which every other school could be held.

Christopher Waller created a toxic climate of secrecy and cheating at Parks.  He turned teachers against each other, firing those who wouldn't get with his program.  He used performance plans and reprimands to rid himself of teachers who did not want to cheat.  He was showered with attention, positive press, and bonuses.

Michael Milstead created a climate of teachers who worked together and believed that their students could succeed.  He encouraged collaboration and ethical conduct and protected his teachers from District demands, because he could see that the students at Harper Archer were making academic gains.  He got fired.

Which school served students better? 

Which school succeeded under a pay for performance plan?

28 July 2014

Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten!

Families Get Ready!
  • Using a permanent marker, write your child's first name in a prominent location on all items of clothing your child may remove at school.  This includes jackets, hats, and shirts worn over tank tops (between the long day and late summer weather, children often strip down to their tank tops, leaving a litter of indistinguishable shirts behind them).  Write directly onto the clothing or its tags as legibly as possible.
  • Then write your child's name on any backpack, lunchbox, or similar item your child will bring to school.
  • Fill out your emergency card.
  • On the first day of school, make sure to give your child's teacher
    • a working telephone number at which you can be reached all day (the first day is very hectic, and if a teacher has that number on hand in the event of an emergency, it saves a lot of time).
    • details about any allergies, illnesses, etc. your child has.
    • information about how your child will get home that day, including the name and phone number the person who will be picking up your child.  (Make sure your child recognizes this person).
  • Plan to get to school a little early and if applicable, arrive to pick your child up a little early.
  • Embrace the chaos that is the first day.  Once the meet and greet portion of the morning concludes, it is a remarkably smooth day.  But that meet and greet - twenty or more happy families, all of whom need to check in with one harried teacher - can feel hectic.  (And please, DO check in with that teacher before you leave.)
  • Even if your child generally does not want snacks, consider packing some anyway.  The first few days of school are really hard work for kids.
  • Anticipate that your child will sleep heavily, even if he or she has been in a full-day preschool or TK program. 
Help Your Child Be Ready!
  • If your child has a backpack, demonstrate how jackets, shirts, hats, and lunchboxes can be placed inside the backpack.  This really cuts down on lost items.
  • Kindergarten readiness skills get a lot of press, but the truly important ones are not academic.  It helps a lot if a child feels confident and self-efficacious.  Some ways to support your child:
    • Make sure your child is bathroom-independent.
    • If your child may feel embarrassed about asking to use the bathroom (hey, it's normal!), let your child's teacher know.  This cuts down on accidents.  Teachers have strategies for this - silent signals, simply sending that child to the bathroom, etc.
    • Speaking of accidents, they happen, even to the most school-ready, brilliant, and wonderful child.  Consider tossing an extra pair of undies and pants in your child's backpack.  (FYI, your child's classmates will be excellently understanding of any accidents that happen, as will your child's teacher.)
    • Make sure your child is wearing shoes that he or she can fasten.  Teachers have only two hands and two eyes.  They may not notice every straggling shoelace or be able to fix it if they do.  Moreover, shoelaces go many exciting places, like through puddles, into mouths, across mud, etc.  No one wants to tie manky shoelaces.
    • It is wonderful if a child knows his or her phone number.
    • If your child does not yet write his or her own name, that's fine.  It helps a lot if they can read it, though.
    • No one is expecting copperplate writing from a five year old, but a five year old who has some ideas about pencil grip (it doesn't have to be perfect) will feel more ready to go.
The First Week
  • In my experience, there is often a child (or even two) every year who loves, loves, loves to go to school Monday and Tuesday, but come Wednesday or Thursday wakes unexcited.  Kindergarten is hard work for young children.  It's a new environment with new expectations, a long day with many activities, some of which seem hard.  Moreover, the child to adult ratio is almost certainly lower than in any prior school experience your child has had.  So while I think children's concerns should be taken seriously, I would not worry overmuch about midweek blues the first week of school.

26 July 2014

This isn't hard to do.

This morning, I read this article in the Mercury News about a database of school district employee salaries.

The database is a little misleading, since it includes all benefits, including possible future pension outlays, as part of a teacher's salary.  Teachers might reasonably object to this; pension benefits are not certain, and a portion of one's salary is deducted each pay period to fund that pension.  So while the average teacher may receive a total compensation package adding up to an annual $85,000, the actual salary is significantly less.

What really irks me, though, is that the Mercury News sees fit to inform us that the think tank providing the database is nonpartisan.  This is simply untrue. It is an anti-union, education reform group whose founders have a long history of political action.

This group is the California Policy Center.  Let's take a little look at their website, shall we?  One of my favorite parts is the Prosperity Forum.  The center has many ideas about how to bring prosperity to California.  First off, despite what Nobel Prize-winning economists might write, California needs to lower taxes on the wealthy and get rid of Prop. 30.  We also need to stop our mean-spirited war on the wealthy.  It is our unreasonable jealousy of the deserving rich that holds us back.  The general thrust of the Prosperity Center is that wealth comes to those who deserve it.

(I can't tell whether the Center believes that teachers do not deserve the wealth they receive or what.  Certainly teachers aren't very wealthy, which would argue for us being not too bright.  But the Center also makes teachers' earnings look inflated and suggests that we are too well-compensated.)

A quick look at the "About Us" section of the website is illuminating.  The President of the Center has long involved himself in California politics, particularly in keeping dread unions from exercising their dread power of collective action.  He also likes charter schools.  Board members run the gamut from those who want to destroy pensions to those who want to destroy pensions and the environment too.

This is not a "nonpartisan" group, unless your definition of nonpartisan is so narrow as to be useless.  The group is distinctly partisan.  They have an extremely conservative economic outlook, wherein California will be a far better state if and only if we implement the tax schemes Kansas is usingensure the freedom to pollute, and end the oppressive tyranny of unions.

On school finance and governance issues, the group is distinctly partisan.  The Center's President is Mark Bucher.  He also runs another think tank, Education Alliance.  And he has a long history of shenanigans in Republican politics and school districts (not to mention some financial boondoggles and bad public behavior).

It is irresponsible of the Mercury News to call this group nonpartisan.  If done intentionally, it's misleading at best.  If done unintentionally, it is horrible journalism.  A quick internet search followed by ten minutes on the Center's website was all I needed to do a little investigation.  (I spent an additional five minutes or so looking up Education Alliance.)

Make no mistake.  The Center has a definite partisan bias.  While I am sure its employee salary databases are reasonably* accurate (if misleading), we need to ask what goal the Center has in mind with its press release and data aggregation.  We also need to ask if the Center is a trustworthy source for information, given that its claim of nonpartisanship is laughable.


*I am not claiming that any inaccuracies are the fault of the center.  They are using a variety of public databases, and errors in those are ancedotally common.  I do think the Center's conflation of salary and all benefits is intentional and nefarious.

25 July 2014

Luddite Kindergarten

It's a good thing Proposition 30 passed, because California's schools are going to need it.  Honestly, we had better start the campaign for continuing the Prop 30 taxation schemes, because we are setting schools up to have ever-increasing technology costs.

The Smarter Balanced Assessments are all done online; beyond that, their performance tasks are fundamentally typing tasks.  If every third through fifth grader in a school is going to have the annual pleasure (well, probably thrice yearly, especially at our poorer schools  - how can we know how kids will do on the test unless we waste weeks of learning giving ongoing assessments?) of typing two essays, every kid starting in Kindergarten will need regular screen time.  (Also, SBAC was originally going to make K-2 tests as well as 3-12; if this really happens and the District demands them, they had better realize that one laptop cart isn't going to cut it.)

And since these tests are rather unwieldy and constantly updated, regular hardware and software purchases are going to be annual costs.

This is an equity issue, of course,   Wealthier students have more access to technology outside of the classroom.  Moreover, they have more access to computers that use the kind of interface SBAC does.  There is no Swype typing or touchscreen use on Smarter Balanced.  It demands a keyboard and mouse.  If your home gets online via inexpensive tablet or cell phone, you are less ready for SBAC.

Traditionally, technology is a site-based budgeting item.  Some schools have invested in technology, others haven't.  But between the utter inadequacy of the Weighted Student Formula and the District's ongoing commitment to inequity via PTA, schools with significant tech infrastructure are wealthier schools.  It's a to those that hath shall be given type situation, really.

(Also, there's the whole wifi/ethernet capacity problem at some schools wherein the Disrtict contractor took the money and didn't do the work.  I don't know much about this scandal, but I do know that the schools that have this problem are clustered in poor neighborhoods, probably because the District charges schools to fix the problem.)

Anyway, between Smarter Balanced and the CCSS (Starting in K, the standards demand technology), I think an enormous amount of money is going to end up going to Apple and the like.  Ultimately, I am opposed - not only because I don't think that private corporations should be making quite so much cash off our public system, particularly when they are working so hard to control it, but also because it further warps the school day.

As it is, teachers don't have enough time for everything.  More tech time means less time elsewhere, and I suspect it will be the usual suspects that disappear: the arts, music, physical eduation, even social studies and science (if you don't test it, why teach it?).  Schools serving children with fewer out of school technology opportunities will have to place more emphasis on tech just to get the kids through the test.  So as always, the worst constraints will be placed on the children who most need the freedom.

Personally, I would rather have a sand and water table than an ipad.  I would like my students to spend more time finger painting than typing.  I value parachute play over online learning activities.  Moreover, I believe that the research shows the importance of early childhood play.  I believe getting dirty is a human right, really.

Given our current education path, I sometimes wonder how much longer I really want to work at high-needs schools.

10 July 2014

Snit makes for posting.

FACT: Chi Tschang was found to have physically and mentally abused children while principal at KIPP Fresno.

FACT: KIPP attempted to keep Mr.Tschang in his job.

FACT: Despite corroborated and repeated incidents of child abuse, Mr.Tschang has continued to be employed by charter schools.  Currently, he supervises schools for Achievement First.

FACT: Mr. Tschang's conduct is grounds for loss of his credential in any state in the country.  Including California, where you may recently have heard it is impossible to revoke a credential.

ETA: Apparently Mr. Tschang held no California teaching credential.  Nor did he hold an emergency permit.  I suppose one way to avoid revocation is to just ignore legal obligations.

QUESTION: When will the anti-tenure folks take on Mr. Tschang?  Or is Vegara less about teacher quality and more about anti-union activism?

18 August 2013

Internet Holiday

Soooooooo I have been enjoying this really delightful holiday from education news (well, most of the time), SFUSD factoids (haven't read a BoE agenda in months), and so on.  Anyway, said holiday is ending, I think.

17 August 2013

My general method of classroom set-up is to pile everything up in the middle of the room.  This makes it easy to hang fadeless, and I make some trash piles in the corners for discards.  That went double this year since I was moving my things in and removing almost all of the materials in the room (earliest publication date found on said materials: early 1970s).

Anyway, when I went home on Monday evening the trash piles were gone, the furniture was laid out, and even the packing crates were stored away.  That said, before Monday evening the state of the room struck fear into the hearts of all comers.

This is kind of exciting for when your colleagues come by on Friday and are amazed that the room doesn't look like something on Extreme Hoarding (indeed, my mediocre skills at arranging furniture and materials management look incredible when compared to the disaster with which I start).  Of course, families coming by for an early look are probably frightened beyond belief.

(Not to mention that classroom set-up is actually physically dirty work - no matter how clean the classroom is, a good day of set-up leaves the teacher grimy gray and probably bruised from a couple of ill-thought furniture maneuvers.  This calls for ratty jeans, high school concert t-shirts, and hairstyles that do not inspire confidence.)

Oh well, hopefully they will be pleasantly surprised on Monday.

10 August 2013

IN OTHER EXCITING NEWS!

My iPod died spectacularly this summer.  Having recently received my paycheck, I took myself off to replace it and found that the iPod Touch now comes with adequate gigabytes to carry my entire musical library.

Do you know what else it has?  WiFi!  And do you know what that means, especially when combined with my annual summer holiday from ADHD medication?

It means that every cassette I owned in high school can be technologically upgraded and available to me in seconds thanks to the wonder of the iTunes store not to mention eMusic!

This has been enormously successful for unpacking, if also very expensive (and bad for my general disinclination to give Apple money in response to their rotten labor practices abroad and hatred of public school teachers domestically).  I have been shifting boxes and furniture while listening to a wide variety of the best of 90s art rock and alternative music.

And So It Begins. Again.

So I took the summer off from blogging.

Truth be told, I took the summer off from teaching.  Other than two planning days at my new school, a couple of planning days with my last Resident (who's got my old job), a couple of furtive glances at first grade teaching manuals, and several classroom purchases, I spent the summer doing other things.

(Sadly, these were neither pleasant or exciting things, and I really must write a successful Fund for Teachers grant for next summer to ensure a delightful adventure from which I return rested, revived, and in possession of a wide variety of commemorative cocktail swizzle sticks.)

Anyway, I've been back in the thick of it since the last week in July, during which I moved into my new classroom.  Moving in has taken up the bulk of the last couple of weeks; in addition to figuring out how to make my stuff fit, I've been throwing out bales of teaching materials left in my new room.  (For the morally superior record, I left my old room not only in considerably better shape than I inherited it, with all the materials it was supposed to have and only useful things like double copies of picture books and hand soap extra.)  Mostly I enjoy the process.  My room will be in the best possible shape to withstand my lack of organizational skill and I have cleared out a lot of things I don't use/was keeping for sentimental value/are great but broken.  Still, it's crunch time now and I have a mountain of stuff to trash, not to mention eight thousand things on which to write names, a new set of standards to internalize, and all kinds of questions (where's the copier?  Can I throw out the classroom computer with the not-entirely-but-mostly-broken-and-migraine-inducing monitor?  Who on earth keeps six dirty terrariums in a closet?) left to be answered.

(Wow, 'tis the season of the run-on sentence.)

Anyway, I have two full teacher work days next week; the other three are a mix of District and site professional development.  It could be worse: the teachers I know at the Zone schools get exactly one work day.  It could also be better: my colleagues on the west side report that they have three or even four days to dedicate to their classrooms.

This is an example of reverse equity, I think.  The reality of SFUSD is that the teachers at Zone schools are less experienced overall and more likely to be new to their sites (or to teaching entirely).  These are the people who need more time to set up their rooms, but they get less.  Instead, they attend all-day data sessions of arguable utility: K-1 teachers have limited data to analyze (if any), and these data days have been popular for years but don't seem to have done much to improve test scores.  They also attend site professional development.  I speak from experience when I say that this PD is hard to digest when you're thinking about whether you have enough Bordette and if there's any real fadeless paper left and if the school supplies the school ordered will actually be there on the first day of school and if anyone knows how to replace the laminate and is it true BOTH copiers are broken?

Because of the turnover at high-needs schools, I've found there's often a lot of community building at these site development days, and while community is important, the end result is that the teachers at the school are going to begin the year less prepared and more stressed.  Their classrooms will be less ready; they will already be tired out from spending Saturday and Sunday at school.

And the reality of SFUSD is that west side teachers are veterans, likely teaching the same grade level, with little turnover at the site.  The teachers spend paid time getting their rooms ready; the PTA may even be able to organize parents to hang that fadeless paper and make copies (not to mention purchase any supplies not yet on site).  These teachers begin the year more prepared and less stressed, and can spend the Saturday and Sunday before school starts with their families or at the gym or cooking a week's worth of meals - you know, things that will help them keep their stress down over the year to come.

Preparation for the first day matters.  It matters a lot.  In our need to make sure those high-needs teachers are ready for the first day, we're leaving them with less time to be ready.  That doesn't seem right or wise.

22 June 2013

In today's New York Times, there's an entire article on how naughty educators aren't protecting student data.

The article fails to mention inBloom.  That seems like a gaping hole in the coverage.  Unless you take the opinion that educators around the nation are lazily failing to protect their students and corporate America will do a far better job monetizing education.

03 June 2013

Testing Everything, Twice Annually.

This article- from the New York Times series "Teachers are Crazy Lazy" - irritated me.

I mean, there are some interesting cultural shifts represented within it, I think.  For instance, when I was in school, Physical Education and Art were subjects in which every student could obtain a passing grade, but not every student could excel.  Teachers, students, and families alike assumed that some children had talent in these areas and others did not; a talented student could do very well, but a child without these gifts would, even with effort, show at best an average performance.

If we are now testing these subjects with an eye to assessing teachers, apparently we now believe that all children can excel in these areas, and that natural talent is not important (or at least not necessary).  I don't know that this is positive or negative, but I think it is something to talk about.

Everything else about the article led to teeth-grinding.  Someone neglected to tell the Times that these assessments are already being piloted.  Despite hinting at portfolios and research papers, the reality is that these will be computer-based assessments.  Portfolios and research papers would be an expensive endeavor to grade, and administering such tests to literally thousands of students twice annually would be impossible (not to mention, what do you do with kids who just don't submit the essay?  Is that the teacher's fault?  Eugh, I can just imagine the rhetoric of HIGH EXPECTATIONS and whatnot).

I am appalled by the idea of these assessments not because I am afraid to be evaluated.  I am appalled by these assessments because I believe that any computer-based assessment in Kindergarten means more screen time and less interaction.  It means more individual drill and less collaboration.  It means more teacher talk and less child discussion.  It means less inquiry and more direct instruction.  It means (even less) play and hands-on learning and (even more) pen and pencil work.

I do not believe that children learn best from these methods, and I know they don't instill curiosity, creativity, and a love of learning.  But apparently these things are less important than rooting out those lazy, lazy teachers.

Indeed, if we have to destroy education to find and fire those teachers...well, there's always collateral damage.  That damage will be concentrated in schools not frequented by the children of Times reporters, certainly.

02 June 2013

And that's that.

For the first time in years, I checked out on Friday.  Most of my stuff is in storage; what I needed to get through the last few weeks is piled up haphazardly in my home (along with the chickens and the two chicks I kept).

Now, off to sleep for the rest of the weekend.

29 May 2013

Not getting better.

I am not enthusiastic about the CORE waiver.  I recognize the CORE districts believe their stance is revolutionary, but what the waiver adopts seems to be along the lines of our Superintendent's SSC Saturday speech: Our schools and teachers are not broken, but they need to be fixed with professional development.  Our high-needs schools are underresourced, and now that we have admitted that the problem is solved.

None of the changes made for the resubmit make me feel better.  I'm still reading the peer review advice, because I keep bursting into hysterical laughter.  Who are these peer reviewers who note that community organizations, families, and teachers were not actually consulted?  Working only with education reform groups and anti-union firms like Parthenon while claiming interest in talking to families is definitely on the In List for school districts today.

24 May 2013

Tempting Fate

Today I am deciding if I am keeping two or three silkie chicks.  I have been spending  a lot of time perusing this thread at Backyard Chickens, because I don't have the equipment or moral fiber necessary for a two-roo household.

In other news, I let the class vote on whether to write and perform a play called "Don't Let the Pigeon Go to First Grade" or sing a song at promotion.  They voted to sing, but when they realized this wouldn't be the choreographed, postered masterpiece their "Love Train" was they were disappointed.  They'll survive.

18 May 2013

DID YOU KNOW?

I just found out that motion sickness can endure for a few days after the event that caused it.

In my case, the trigger was our last field trip of the year (thereby bitterly ending my two-year streak of not actually throwing up on a field trip).  Despite leaving school for the comforts of toothbrush, clean clothes, and a dark room the moment the kids left for the day,  Friday brought few improvements.

Luckily, the day itself promised relative ease.  My Resident teacher was celebrating her graduation, so it was imperative to take advantage of her absence by having the kids revise and publish their books about her.  (This is a process of several hours, since they have to draw illustrations rather than sketch them, print their work out neatly, and make covers.  I also pull out the best of our decorative materials, because this is Kindergarten and we have the technology giant sequins and sticker gemstones.}

(I did slightly lengthen the process by providing black construction paper, Gel F(x) markers, and my personal collection of gel pens for cover art. "Fine motor development!" I assured myself while swallowing another dose of Dramamine.  "Far more academic than a last-minute sub day!" I added stoutly as a student walked by, face sparkling with the addition of stick-on rhinestones.  But since their books are involved creations with eight or more sentences, dialogue, sound effects, and besides it's the end of the year, I didn't feel like I had doomed them to failure by enabling their artistic impulses.)

It was also the end of the year talent show.  With over twenty acts, we had to make our way to the cafgymetorium early in the afternoon.  As the kids lined up to go, they realized that they were not performing.  They were shocked.  I explained that we had a bigger performance coming up (at promograduation in two weeks) and that we had not prepared anything.  The class was not appeased, but has a lot of good problem-solvers, one of whom suggested that they sing their "Oviparous and Viviparous Animals" song.  I introduced the concept of a program and, with great if manufactured regret noted that we could not be added to the list of performers.

The class loudly and resentfully sang the song all the way to the cafeteria, although once we got there they became excited to see the bigger kids perform.  Alas, we have nine acts to go on Monday, so I may get to have this discussion again.

17 May 2013

And not excepting chickens.

So my spraddle-legged chick lost the splay after two physical therapy sessions and has been renamed Baby Fave (from Baby Splay).  Collectively, the chicks are now too big to be The Chicklets and are The Chicksters.  The chicks are currently nicknamed:

  1. Baby Fave
  2. Gray Wing
  3. Brownie
  4. #1 (the first to hatch), aka Baby Nuthatch
  5. Spot
  6. Super Puff
  7. The Other One
Baby Fave is the universal favorite of teachers and children throughout my site and is therefore mandated by custom and law to be female.  I remind all of the chicks that they are all girls regularly, because everyone knows that totally causes spontaneous gender mutation in chickens.

Since I can keep my chickens school-based next year, I can keep all the chicks at my home if I choose to do so.  However, it would really be better if I didn't, so I have given myself a hard deadline of next Wednesday for making all chick-dispersal decisions.

14 May 2013

may flowers, may baskets, may packing cartons

Sooooooo I'm moving to a different school next year.  It's another high-needs school, but its particular needs are somewhat different than my current school's.  I'm also going to be doing something a little different for the year.

I have mixed emotions about this.  Learning a new school culture is hard and I am not very good at it (ADHD and social cues, bad combo).  On the other hand, I'm mostly cheerful, generally polite and very harmless, so my enormous pratfalls, inadvertent copier destruction, and so on will hopefully not doom me.  I also had some other job opportunities,  including some working in fancy schools and some that would be teacher coaching (since I've done it, I think I have experience sufficient enough to state authoritatively that coaching is seventy million times easier than teaching).  I think I feel more nervous about whether or not I made the RIGHT CHOICE (although technically I could still make a DIFFERENT CHOICE, but that could lead to unparalleled mental confusion and anxiety so I would rather not, I think).  Throughout the process of deciding to leave, which was months of consideration, I became pretty certain that staying at my site would be the WRONG CHOICE that would sooner than later lead to BURNOUT and GOING BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL OR SIMILAR.

I am not presently deeply saddened about leaving my current school site; what I feel right now is relief.  My current class just mowed their way through the end of the year assessments and they are more than ready for first grade (more than half of my students are above grade level in reading and nearly all hit the benchmark; the only real difference to account for their performance is that their writing was better aligned with the reading).  They were (are, for three more weeks) also the most difficult class I have ever had, full stop.  While I could consult with site experts, this year I was absolutely stymied in receiving district support.

This was especially frustrating because

  1. I was asking for pretty minimal assistance;
  2. There was 100% agreement among professionals at my site that the services I sought were necessary;
  3. We are supposed to be doing inclusive practices, which is supposed to include serving kids BEFORE they need an IEP.
Anyway, I will have lots of time this summer to reflect on what made this class such a particular challenge, and to experience the five stages of grieving over leaving.  Right now I am trying to enjoy the end of my time at my school with my class and colleagues while not freaking out about how much stuff I need to move out of my classroom.

10 May 2013

I don't get why SFUSD is proposing spending $30,000 buying ten Teach for Americans for the next school year.  SFUSD is a popular district; it maintains an active job pool and has plenty of fully credentialed candidates who don't get hired.  Why pay TFA to do what the district has already done itself?

Moreover, the district is anticipating TFA providing some Special Education candidates.  Since I read ALL the board agendas, I know that many probationary Special Education teachers were removed without cause this year.  I don't think the answer is to replace them with entirely uncredentialed if well-meaning candidates, especially candidates who the state of California is unwilling to consider "highly qualified" no matter what the feds say.  Moreover, these candidates are also for hard to staff schools.  Hard to staff schools generally have a lot of English Language Learners.  The state is at present also unwilling to unleash alternatively credentialed-ish teachers on ELLs.  So where are these expensive recruits going to work?

Not to mention, sending two-year missionaries to "hard to staff" schools is unlikely to make these schools easier to staff in the future - unless you anticipate a never-ending chain of Teach for Americans, each link lasting two years.  Not that that means easier staffing, exactly, or ensures that students have trained, able educators who have been there long enough to build relationships with them, of course.

Additionally, there is an its/it's typo in the reso, and I strongly believe that such errors demand not only correction but utter destruction and contempt for the reso in question.

06 May 2013

Operation Chicken

Hatch Count: Seven healthy chicks in a variety of cool, fluffy colors.  (They are all silkies).

One has a splayed leg.  I'm 99% this was caused by its membrane drying after it had freed one leg and its rear end, which caused it to flail around a lot.  It can walk, run, eat, and drink despite the leg so it is getting short bursts of spraddle leg treatment (tying the legs together with self-adhesive gauze).

(Eight chicks actually hatched, but one of these may have been hatched/heavily assisted by Baby Splay Leg (I have video of chicks pecking industriously at other chicks' shells, and Baby Splay was the only chick in the incubator at the time).  Anyway, this chick had serious deformities and would not eat.  After two days of intensive care in a clean incubator at my house, we humanely euthanized it.)

I want to keep ALL THE CHICKENS, which means I need to get Mickey and Minnie (last year's hatch) adopted.  Or maintain them in two separate homes.  Or get insanely, miraculously lucky and have had an all-hen hatch this year.  Mickey and Minnie are socialized.  Minnie lays more eggs than the average silkie and Mickey is a show-quality rooster, so I figure I may be able to entice someone to adopt them.

30 April 2013

No Carrot But Plenty of Sticks

(h/t Diane Ravitch.)

Shorter coalition of education reform organizations masquerading as civil rights groups:  If the Department of Education grants the CORE districts a waiver,  California will be inadequately punished for failing to elect our candidate State Superintendent of Schools, will take vital funding away from our friends providing for-profit tutoring services at PI schools, and the glorious prospect of 100% schools failing their way into transformation into union-free charters.  And that would be bad for the children.

Wow.  I am not even a big fan of the CORE waiver.  The waiver itself is pretty reform-filled too - heck, getting the waiver requires the CORE districts to try to get teacher tenure tied to test scores.  I would've thought EdTrust would be eagerly cosigning it.  But apparently, the CORE waiver represents an insidious attempt to hold educators responsible for the pervasive opportunity gaps in California.

The letter doesn't actually cite any examples of accountability being laughed right out of the waiver.  It focuses solely on what a naughty state California has been, what with its disinterest in Race to the Top funding and slapdash waiver application.  (And its Democrats!  Naming DFER as a non-Democratic group!  Can they not read?  Probably not, because teachers unions.)

This is the true nature of NCLB, I think.  It's a lot of talk about accountability of our teachers for our children.  But its essence is punishment: punishment for teachers in the form of mass firings, punishment for students in curricular narrowing and test upon test, punishment in school districts in demanding they do more with less so that they can hire ineffective tutors.

And according to these nominal civil rights groups, California will not be adequately punished until all of its schools have failed to meet the 100% proficiency goal NCLB sets.  That this may have real and ugly impacts for the children they claim to hold such concern for is not important; until the state gives in, it can watch its schools be destroyed.

29 April 2013

Eggs! Hatch!

ETA: Two chicks are fully hatched and two more were actively unzipping when I left today at 6pm.  Fingers crossed for happy living chicks dry and ready for the brooder tomorrow morning.

So this is my third year hatching eggs with my class (my first year with my new, beautiful, fancy, scientific, calibrated incubator).  My experience has been that Day 21 is pretty boring - a little pipping, maybe a single chick at the tail end of the day, while Day 22 is hatch-o-riffic.

Today was day 21.  A couple of eggs are maybe pipped.

I am really crossing my fingers for big action tomorrow, since it would be very hard to get another batch of silkie eggs hatched before the end of the year.

...This would be the year that I had a big countdown chart and everything.  I'm worried, and going to school early to see if anything has happened or if I can get eggs to set before Friday.

21 April 2013

Shorter New York Times: Parents need to stop freaking out about these Common Core tests.  If we don't fail more children today, how will we know which teachers to fire?

Also, we didn't read any of our own coverage about the test's problematic content, the stress New York children are evincing due to these tests, or Pearson.  Our kids go to the kind of schools that don't allow these tests, so it wasn't relevant to us.

And stop complaining about the private concerns making big bucks off the Common Core.  They're totally research-based AND no one is making you buy Pearson materials.  Wow, you all are conspiracy theorists or unionists or something.

Mandatory Matters

In California, Kindergarten isn't mandatory.  If parents so desire, children need not be enrolled until first grade.

Despite the increasing rigor in Kindergarten - and let's note that the Common Core changes, but doesn't increase the difficulty, of what the state required of its five year olds - the law still assumes that Kindergarten is nap time, play house, and social skills development.  All of these may be useful, the state opines, but they aren't mandatory.

This has some real and unpleasant effects on Kindergarten classrooms.  It is often the  reason given when students who appear to need extra supports are denied them.  "Well," specialists begin.  "Your concerns are reasonable.  But this is Kindergarten.  It isn't mandatory, you know.  Why don't you write a report for the first grade teacher so the process can begin next year?"

I feel confident that first grade teachers absolutely LOVE receiving these reports.  No, wait : I don't, although I suppose a report is better than nothing.  I know that writing these reports is time-consuming.  And I also know that we are failing to give children what they need.  A small intervention in Kindergarten can mean no expensive interventions later.

Not to mention that the child who needs support in a modern Kindergarten may be struggling with skills that are absolutely required for first grade.  Not just turn-taking, but reading: Kindergarten students must read by the end of the year.

Another issue is attendance.  I am not a big fan of some of the more punitive measures the District uses to improve student attendance (truancy officers, courts, fines, and so on).  I do approve of schools coordinating supports to increase student attendance.  But since Kindergarten isn't mandatory, chronically truant students do not receive any kind of attention.  They are not required to be there, so the fact that they come to school less than half-time may be difficult for the teacher, but it doesn't call for intervention.

Since Kindergarten teachers are teaching actual academic content children need to be successful in first grade and beyond, this strikes me as short-sighted.  Moreover, as we move to Smarter Balanced assessments that Kindergartners will take - and, waiver approval pending, the use of test scores to evaluate teachers - it strikes me as unfair that no attention is paid to Kindergarten truancy.

In the absence of a mandate, apparently low academic performance due to truancy is a teacher's fault.  Actually, I think many teachers (I am one of them) do feel vaguely hurt by low attendance.  If the child isn't in school, it feels like their families don't see value in attending.  The teachers I know internalize this as "if I were doing a better job, they'd be here."

Still, at a certain level of absence, these feelings evaporate, because no matter how hard you are on yourself, a child who is present less than half-time certainly has bigger issues than whether you are providing engaging, exciting, no-fail lessons all day every day.  And it is a struggle to plan for a child who is habitually absent.  That child is likely to need extra academic support and be less familiar with classroom procedures and routines.  Yet plans for remediation fail when the child isn't there for the intervention.

But hey, Kindergarten isn't mandatory.  So even though the child receives neither the academic content needed nor the supports to ameliorate the truancy, it will all somehow work out.

Obviously, I think it is far past time to mandate Kindergarten attendance.

10 April 2013

London Bridge is Covered in Animals.

...Or, The Things I Think About While Waiting for the Bus.

All of these can be sung (more or less) to the tune of "London Bridge".

Oviparous animals, animals, animals
Oviparous animals
Hatch from eggs.

Snails, snakes, and dinosaurs,
Chickens and frogs,
Ants and isopods,
All are oviparous,
And hatch from eggs.

Viviparous animals, animals, animals
Viviparous animals
Are Born Alive.

Cats, Dogs, and Grizzly Bears,
Monkeys and Mice,
Elephants and horses,
All are viviparous
And are born alive.

ALTERNATE (substitute in animal/genus in question)

We are viviparous, viviparous, viviparous
People are viviparous
We are born alive.

Amphibians are oviparous, oviparous, oviparous
Amphibians are oviparous
They hatch from eggs.

Mammals are viviparous, viviparous, viviparous
Mammals are viviparous,
Except platypi and echidnas.

EVEN MORE ALTERNATES:

Snakes and lizards and dinosaurs,
They are reptiles and hatch from eggs
Snakes and lizards and dinosaurs,
Reptiles are oviparous.

Dogs and Cats and Chimpanzees,
They are mammals and are born alive
Dogs and Cats and Chimpanzees,
Mammals are viviparous.

09 April 2013

Chicken Season

I'm not at school today (doctor's appointment), but I went in to set twenty four silkie eggs in the new, fancy, donor-provided incubator.  One is from the hen and rooster we hatched last year; the rest I ordered (genetic diversity and all that).

If this incubator is half as excellent as its advertisements, I may need a third chicken adoption site.

07 April 2013

CORE: We Can't Edit That Well, But We Have Powerful Friends

This morning I read the "California Office to Reform Education" No Child Left Behind waiver request.  It is available here.

It is not a very interesting document.  It offers a new accountability plan that will definitely require more student testing, and teachers will absolutely be evaluated on that assessment.  (Waiver requests require this; SFUSD at least has been rather quiet about this.)  In theory, the CORE districts will also take into consideration social-emotional well-being when judging accountability; this definitely means student surveys and possibly means building repairs.

It is also not a very well-edited document.  I suppose the redundancies of language are to be expected in a waiver application; the more you sound like Arne Duncan, the better your chances, right?  There is also some confusion about the number of districts making up the CORE; ten Superintendents sit on the Board but most of the documentation refers to eight districts. (Also, someone forgot to remove editing notes, so that on page 44, there's a parenthetical asking if eight should be changed to 10?? (question marks as shown here).

More interesting are the people and foundations supporting CORE.  Its Executive Director is Rick Miller of Capitol Impact.  Capitol Impact engages in "non-lobbying" activities that include providing "access to policymakers and opinion leaders".  Capitol Impact works closely with the Gates Foundation and the pension-loathing millionaires at California Forward.

Among those associated with and funding CORE's work is the Parthenon Group.  They most recently came to my notice when they anonymously tipped off the San Francisco Chronicle that teachers unions hate school districts getting money.   Actually, it ends up that the story was more that school district officials and union leaders do not agree with the Parthenon Group that accepting small sums of money in exchange for larger, permanent cash outlays is a great idea.

Anyway, my brief examination of CORE's founders, friends, and associates confirms my general opinion of the CORE waiver: there may be some good ideas in there, but despite the local rhetoric, it's more untested reform at the behest of the powerful.

06 April 2013

For What Are You Responsible?

Edited to add: I just saw this accountability rubric for Bill Gates.  It is a wonderful start to sharing the responsibilities more broadly; I hope it guides the Gates Foundation in its work!  I also hope for a pony!

My student teacher starts two solo weeks on Monday.  I feel partially responsible for how it goes: did I provide enough feedback on her lesson plans?  Have I been proactive when I've noticed potential sticking points in her management?  Have I been open about the things teachers do that aren't obvious (why we pick a certain response strategy at a certain time, say, or how I know that child needs, needs, NEEDS the bathroom whether or not he or she says so).

I am a veteran teacher.  One of the perks is finding classroom management easier than a new teacher.  That said, I am responsible for making sure my students treat guests, substitute teachers, and our student teacher with respect.  Even in situations where my students aren't sure what the expectations are, or in which they are disengaged, confused, or just being five years old, I expect them to act with kindness and self-respect.  It is my job to set that standard.

And of course, I am responsible for their academic progress.  I am responsible for creating a classroom that is safe, comfortable, and engaging.  I am responsible for providing scaffolding and support in academics and in social-emotional development.

So whenever I hear that teachers at high-needs schools like mine need to raise their expectations and holler "NO EXCUSES!", I feel frustrated.  And then I wonder: for what is the "no excuses" gang responsible?

Very few Superintendents, after all, are subject to pay for performance metrics.  Indeed, some of our most vocal education reformers have had at best checkered successes while leading districts.

Nor are district leaders held accountable to their schools.  When California cuts school budgets, Superintendents do not need to purchase their own copy paper and sticky notes.  I do.  When a district chooses to cut art, music, and physical education teachers, it becomes my responsibility to teach those standards.  No one is holding the district accountable to advocating loudly, fearlessly, and actively for better student funding. (It gets in the way of the cozy meetings with Governor's aides if you go all civil disobedience on them, I suppose.)

High-needs schools are hard to staff.  Teacher churn is horrible for student achievement.  Who is taking responsibility for making high-needs schools places where teachers feel supported and effective so that they can thrive where they are needed?

I do not see education reformers holding themselves accountable.  Lots of foundation money went into creating the teacher evaluation systems that aren't doing much for learning in DC schools.  The Gates Foundation put millions into small schools, then decided to cut those schools off.  Why aren't they responsible to the children left in those schools, or those who discovered that a small school gets you fewer electives and more overhead expenses?

It gets very tiresome to hear that I am failing students with my lazy lack of responsibility and my desire to blame structural inequities rather than my own inherent ones.  But the hypocrisy of those demanding I make fewer excuses really stings.

03 April 2013

Unsent Letters, Pre-Dawn Edition

Self,

It is bad time management to spend eight weekday morning minutes drafting a comment to a New York Times article, no matter how silly that article may be.

Yours in Impulse Control,

E. Rat.

P.S.  Writing this note wasted another three valuable minutes.