I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

28 November 2012

Spreading Joy and Then Not

It was spitting rain today, so no field trip and no outdoor recess.  This can make for sad Ksters, so it was a day of hands-on science (with live animals!) cool phonics project with nifty folding to amaze your friends, and MY BUTTONS.  So actually it was a great day even before it was sunny enough to have outdoor PE at the very end of the day.

Sadly, when I got home I had a link to an ed-reformy survey in my inbox, and already I feel badly for the intern who will have the displeasure of codifying my results, rife as they are with unhelpful comments and leftist sentiment.

27 November 2012

Dents in the Desks from Heads

I think I speak for the nation's ECE and Kindergarten teachers when I say that the study recounted here is perhaps the least surprising ever.  (And also when I say whoever wrote the lead maybe didn't understand Piaget all that well.)

26 November 2012

Unsent Letters, Again.

Dear Katie Yezzi,

Nice job on your New York Times advertisement article for on Uncommon Schools.  As usual, I'm always impressed by the charter cheerleading: without an iota of data and nary a number, it's obvious that Uncommon Schools are far more awesome than the stinky public schools and their lazy teachers.

Without getting into issues around student selection and retention at your charter chain and how that reflects on Uncommon Schools' test scores bottom line of student achievement, I did want to ask how you square your that teacher morale and satisfaction are so high - way higher than that at the stinky public schools - with the increased teacher turnover at Uncommon Schools.  After all, those charter school teachers are 132% more likely to leave because they're dissatisfied.

Best,

E. Rat

23 November 2012

All This and More

This article covers many of the issues that are frustrating me this year.  I am not one of those shiny new young teachers they're profiling, but teacher satisfaction surveys indicate that even veterans like me are dissatisfied in increasing numbers.

Notably, we're not unhappy about our students (although the teachers I know in districts with increased class sizes are not enjoying having quite so many).
A 2007 study by California State University's Center for Teacher Quality found that teachers driven from the state's classroom most often cited bureaucratic frustrations like excessive paperwork, too many meetings, and frequent classroom interruptions. Satisfied teachers most often pointed to having a meaningful role in school decision-making, collaborative relationships with colleagues, adequate planning time, sufficient classroom materials, and supportive principals.
Yes.  This year alone:

  • I had to fill out a series of scantron sheets using test information recorded in student booklets (I record the information from students' oral answers.  My students will never bubble test sheets on my watch).  Then I had to put the same information into the online data system in a slightly different format.  In short: three different formats for the same information.  And since the district data program crashes a lot and I find its spreadsheets irritating, I had to record all that information into my own, cleaner format.
  • I receive at least one non-emergency call a day during instructional time.  These are not personal calls; they're either about school stuff or calls from social workers, field trip locations, lawyers, district administrators, etc.
  • I have exactly twenty minutes of prep time during the school day weekly.  I use this to plan with my Resident.
  • My contract day includes sixty minutes of non-instructional time daily.  I have mandatory meetings which may or may not be useful on two of these days.  I meet with my Resident on a third and do informal mentoring/tutoring on a fourth.  Generally, the fifth is another meeting, an SST, or an IEP.
  • I've spent over twelve hundred dollars this year on classroom materials.  I have received another four thousand dollars of materials through donations and grants.   I write the applications for those donations and grants on my own time.
  • My job does not provide the technological tools I need to do my report cards and complete online data requirements.  I must provide my own tools and do these on my own time.
So my frustrations are not coming from unexpected sources.  The thing is: I AM one of those teachers that we are supposed to want in the classroom.  My students do well and they are happy.  I get my paperwork done.  I scrounge up those grants.  Heck, I'm even training new teachers who have gone on to run their own successful classrooms.  And I do this at a high-poverty, high-needs school by choice.  Shouldn't SOMEONE SOMEWHERE be doing SOMETHING to help ameliorate these predictable frustrations?

(Confidential to SFUSD: Nodding supportively and then explaining how the budget crisis keeps you from action doesn't count.  Remember, when the budget crisis means schools don't receive vital resources, I don't get to decide that I simply won't teach that content.  You shouldn't get to do that, either.)

The article doesn't cover the general media bias against teachers (we unionized layabouts), but I also think that's unhelpful.  I have always been mildly irritated by the widespread assumption that I am not too bright, seeing as how I teach Kindergarten and all.  But this idea that teachers are slimy slime because we would prefer not to be evaluated using biased, unscientific criteria, that we're protected no matter what our crimes by our due-process rights and cushy pensions, that we're too soft because we'd like our classrooms to have no mice, rats, and working climate control systems - all of that gets old, too.

It is very hard to believe that the powers that be want the best for you and your students when they systematically strip you of what you need to do your job and then  complain that expecting necessities means you are lazy and don't care enough.  

The thing is, we care enough to expect more for our students.  We refuse to teach them that they're worthless, that their value can be compressed into their performance on two thirty-eight question annual exams, that they do not deserve the best we can offer.  We demand the right to teach our students how to advocate for themselves.  We insist that they question, analyze, and think creatively.  And we are angry that so many barriers are put in their way.

What the powers that be really don't like is that teachers are not going to roll over and let them destroy our students' futures.   Ultimately, I have to wonder if the piles of useless paperwork, the endless meetings, the lack of supplies, and the disrespect aren't part of a plan to get teachers to opt-out.

I still say the best way to fight back is to fight back, and to make sure that one's own classroom is not a monument to test prep and boredom.  MASKS FOR EVERYONE.

21 November 2012

Ideas for Assessment: Pattern Crowns

Most Kindergarten assessment requires one on one teacher-student interviews, which requires an independently working class that is fully occupied for a long time.  This is the first in an occasional series of suggestions for activities children can do while you assess.

Patterns (recognition, extension, identification, creation) are a key California math standard for Kindergarten.  They are not such a big deal in the Common Core standards, but the Common Core does cover sorting and classifying, and those are foundational to pattern-making.

This activity will provide about 45 minutes of testing time.  If you provide a when you're finished activity, expect to have 60+ minutes for all of your Fountas and Pinnell, DRA, DIBELS, Brigance, PALS, or Reading Lions needs.

This activity is also a nice one for guest teacher days.

Necessary supplies:

  • sentence strips (one per child)
  • glue (ideally one per child)
  • scissors (one per child)
  • pattern pictures (one sheet per child)
  • coloring tools (preferably thin markers or colored pencils)
Pattern pictures: I plan to upload a couple, but basically these are a table with multiple copies of three or four clip art pictures (each picture about 1.25 inches square).  The idea is to provide plenty of pictures so that students can choose to create a wide variety of patterns).  If you make a table and have a decent supply of clip art, you can offer a seasonal or subject pattern crown activity whenever you like.  By placing different expectations on pattern complexity, etc. you can offer a novel academic experience while testing every time.

Once equipped, students write their names on the back of their sentence strip and then cut out the pattern pictures.  They then lay out at least two different patterns before choosing their final pattern.  Before gluing, they must have another child check their pattern for accuracy.  (This is a procedure that needs to be explicitly taught in advance, but checking in with a classmate is something I expect my class to do all the time, and it really helps with proofing their work.  I also teach strategies for helping someone correct their work without telling them how to correct it.)

Once the pattern has been checked, they can glue it to their strip.  After cleaning up scraps and returning scissors and glue to their appropriate locations, students may retrieve coloring tools and go to town on their patterns (I encourage but do not require that they continue their pattern in their color selection or create an overlying color pattern.)

When I am done assessing, I staple the strips into crowns and dub their owners Pattern Princes and Princesses.

The kids LOVE these and will spend a lot of time on fine-motor acuity (cutting very accurately, coloring with real detail) in addition to practicing math skills.  The crowns are cute and the students know what the purpose of the activity was and what they practiced.

20 November 2012

Mean mean Kindergarten teacher

I am so mean I don't have a Thanksgiving party in class (although we do an all-school potluck the last school night before the break, and I always stay for that).

We did have Awesome Afternoon today.  This blended the reliable favorite of crafternoon with some of our better indoor PE toys (the tunnel, etc.).

All of this is just verbiage to my main point:

THE KIDS ALL MADE LITTLE MASKS OUT OF FELT AND THEY WERE SO CUTE.

How cute were they?  So cute they still had the masks at least around their necks four hours later at the potluck.

It is also the time of the year when I pull out this fabulous resource and start writing everyone's name out in cartoons.

So in essence, I had a bunch of masked superheroes claiming their names were things like "Super Robot Cat Boy" waving scrolls on which I had written out their names in fancy letters.  To top it off, they started doing the superhero hand motions from Readers Workshop.  It was everything that makes teaching Kindergarten so neat in one go, and I am truly thankful for that.

17 November 2012

Oh REALLY? Really.

I have a couple of kids this year who use sarcasm without really getting it - they've picked up on adult phrases (like the title) and don't exactly get how it works.  It's pretty funny actually, and while I generally try to diplomatically explain why such phrases are not situationally appropriate, it's contagious.

Indeed, I found myself muttering the above phrase when I saw this.  Of course, this is a story from Tiger Beat on the Potomac and presumably just the fevered imaginings caused by terminal bipartisanshipitis, but still:

REALLY?  I mean, really.

Arne Duncan's limited experience (and less than limited results in Chicago) are bad enough, but at least he's got enough sense to, oh, not come out publicly against the CTU.  In Michelle Rhee, you get someone who not only has a documented record of abusive behavior in the classroomlied about her classroom impactpresided over a massive cheating binge and its coverupsupports union-busting in and out of education, and endorses bigots.

And that's without getting into her fear of an Obama administration and the horrible things it would do, like possibly talking to Linda Darling-Hammond, back in 2007 and 2008.

If Rhee's a good candidate for Secretary of Education, then I think it's clear that the only reasonable replacement for Tim Geithner is Andy Fastow.  Heck, at least Fastow was the resident Democrat at Enron (although that apparently just meant that you refuse to golf at Augusta National and fail to bundle for Bush-Cheney).

14 down...

So in four days of conferences, I've finished fourteen.  This includes two SST conferences and two 504s.  So the week was a little exhausting even before you figure in that this tends to be a hard part of the year for kids and teachers.  This is the longest part of the year without either a significant vacation or a series of four-day weeks; everyone is a little tired.

I really like my class, but this year for whatever reason the little systemic issues are really getting on my nerves.  Getting interpreters for conferences is almost impossible.  So far, the District has provided either employee or volunteer translators for one conference; all the rest have required relying on friends and/or family.  Given that we are supposed to have a core value of access, especially for our historically underserved populations, this is really offensive.  It doesn't increase access if parents and teachers make an effort to meet and communicate but can't.  Rather the opposite, really.

I'm also involved in a tiresome battle with Special Education which is doing nothing but confirming that "inclusion" is a synonym for "cost-cutting".  At this point, more effort has been put into finding reasons to disregard the strong recommendation of the child's teacher, family, and school support professionals than it would have taken to provide the simple service we requested in the first place.

It bothers me that most of the outlets in my room have been non-functional for two weeks and two work orders, but no repairs have been made.  It bothers me that we have no safe, clean drinking water available for students despite it being a legal requirement and despite the fact we know we have leaded pipes.  And much like Special Education, this stuff costs more in the long run than fixing it immediately would have - although I guess it's my money buying bottled water and a new pencil sharpener for the one that blew out, so the hit isn't accruing to the District.

And this stuff has an actual impact on student performance.  If you want involved families, you need interpreters.  Sharpened pencils are pretty necessary for a functional classroom (and hand sharpeners waste a lot of time).  Water is critical for bodily function, let alone learning.  But when the District reflects on its own performance, they seem far too willing to blame teachers and school sites for not somehow overcoming the obstacles 555 Franklin places in their way.

Learning should really not be a Tough Mudder, you know?

15 November 2012

I'm not sure why the Chronicle thinks they have a hot, hot story in reporting that public schools in California may not be meeting minute mandates for science, social studies, PE, and art.  Don't we already know that?  Indeed, aren't there active lawsuits over the PE requirement right now?  Isn't there a documentary about PE in San Francisco being screened right now?  Doesn't it cover the lack of support for meeting PE mandates?

That said, I think it is HILARIOUS that the District is trying to insist that massive testing mandates and "literacy blocks" and whatnot have not led to curricular narrowing on their watch.  Or that providing PE specialists to a few schools and allowing a few others to use their site budget to buy Playworks somehow means all students are receiving physical education.  Or that science is completely supported even though you can't get live animal cards for certain units anymore, and woe betide you if all the "non-consumable" plastic bins have cracked in the last six years.

I do feel badly for the teachers who apparently have high-level district administrators pouring over their lesson plans to make sure science, art, and PE are happening, though.  The pressure to short students in these topics comes from far above the classroom teacher, but it is apparently the classroom teacher who will be blamed for not choosing correctly between competing mandates.

I do eagerly await the day when District leadership is held to the same standards District teachers hold for themselves.

11 November 2012

Naughty San Francisco Unified

The pension destruction reform crowd talks a lot about pension spiking: manipulating one's rate of pay so to increase pension benefits.  An easy way to do this is to have significant pay increases - warranted or not - in the last year before retirement.  Since many pension funds use only the final year salary in pension calculation, this can reap huge dividends.  On a massive scale, it can also negatively impact the fund's bottom line for all retirees.

Teachers in the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) aren't pension spiking; we work to contracted pay scales.  Any extra pay comes with extra work and there's not much of the former; making some massive increase to one's final annual salary would be nearly impossible.

Even the state agrees.  In their recent STRS audit, they noted that the certificated employees really can't spike their pensions, but their bosses can.

And some bosses in San Francisco Unified did just that.

The state looked at five districts; San Francisco was one of the two naughty ones.  Fifteen executives and managers received a collective 6% increase in pay in their final year.  Not a big deal?  Perhaps.  Let's quote the report:
Although that rate may not seem excessive, we noted that rank-and-file employees were experiencing furloughs and paycuts at the same time.
 Some of those managers made out very well.  One got a 26% pay increase six months prior to retirement; another got a 20% raise a year before retiring.  Sure, the increase could be justified (although again, unseemly in a budget crisis).  The District didn't justify these raises, though: the state audit found a decided lack of contracts noting positions, responsibilities, and salaries and no record of written documentation (evaluations and the like) explaining the increases.

Again, all of this is happening in a District in crisis, asking all employees to make sacrifices.  It's also happening in a District that was at the time seeking Race to the Top cash and the evaluation-by-test-score RTTT requires of its rank-and-file.  So apparently when managers and executives are demanding more for less from their teachers (and from their students receiving less instruction), they need to receive more pay personally.

And in a time when pensions are being attacked, these managers and executives chose to feed that fire by enriching themselves.

This isn't just a failure to show solidarity.  It is not just offensive, or bad optics.  It's indicative of a disconnect between District administration and the work of the District.  Our work is our students.  Our work is ending historical patterns of inequity.  Teachers and schools are committed to the goal, and they show that as they  do their best with less.  These managers were committed to ensuring their own material comfort at our expense.

08 November 2012

Unconsidered Job Dangers

A little-known risk of one on one assessment is that the child being assessed will suddenly, uncontrollably, effluviently sneeze in the assessor's face.

This cold is bad.  I understand why my students have been so cranky with it.

05 November 2012

Alternate Reasons to Vote Yes on Prop. 30


  1. By voting yes on Prop. 30, you pay homage to the Kindergarten state content standards in math (number recognition, counting, and writing to thirty!) in their last year of use.
  2. Arizona: land of Sheriff Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and SB 1070.  Arizona-based groups are dropping millions to defeat Prop. 30 in California.  Do you want to let them win?
  3. Jerry Brown is not going to be such a happy guy if it fails, which will make "California Uber Alles" a whole lot less fun to sing.
  4. Sixteen extra furlough days, massive cuts to social/emotional services, and at least one hundred teachers laid off in San Francisco Unified.
Whyever you do it, vote YES on 30.
Dear San Francisco Unified,

Ouch! Surely there have been far worse hits to ADA cash, but this is pretty ugly.

My suggestion?  If this were to happen again, the District office should remember that instruction on Halloween is limited at elementary schools anyway (whether you embrace the holiday or demand fealty to the daily schedule, costume hysteria eats time) and move an existing furlough day.

This will additionally gain the goodwill of baseball-loving teachers, who will not be irked that the people at the central office, who can already use the restroom whenever they like, also got to take in some parade on their lunch breaks.

Best,

E. Rat

04 November 2012

The Charming Millionaires Behind Proposition 31

Proposition 31 starts promising: a two year budget cycle for the state.  Then it gets a little dicey (Governors can declare fiscal states of emergency, giving them broad powers to slice and dice with little control) and then just odd (community committees with an enormous number of poorly-defined powers).

It's the first major initiative sponsored by California Forward, a theoretically non-partisan but wealth-heavy organization.  (You'll be happy to know that they also advocate reforming the initiative process so poorly constructed initiatives don't make it to the ballot; whether or not they would exclude things like 31 is unstated.)

While nominally non-partisan, its board is corporate (heavy with venture capitalists, hedge funders, and McKinsey types with a smattering of Hoover Institute-y researchers and previously elected officials) and strongly in favor of bringing the market to the commons.

Therefore, it's not a big surprise that California Forward also supports pension destruction reform, despite the preponderance of unearned golden parachutes on its Board.  They also support block grants to (I assume) counties to run programs.  This sounds quite a lot like block grants to the states, which have functioned more to cut safety nets than to create innovation and efficiency (although to be fair, I am assuming that cutting said nets was not the innovation and efficiency planned in the first place.  If it was: nice job!)

And it almost goes without saying that they really believe what California's schools need are more accountability and performance targets.  If this means something other than more technology, fewer teachers, and more testing, they sure aren't saying.

Whether or not you think 31 is good policy (obviously, I find myself unconvinced), I think it's important to understand what its proponents ultimately want.

We'll eat you up, we love you so.

The witty, debonair and no doubt very good looking educators over at Students Last noted with dismay both Romney's final debate pandering to teachers* and the moderator's world-weary assurance that everyone does indeed love teachers.

And they note very eloquently that if we are indeed loved, it's not a healthy relationship.

*although arguably, teachers are an appropriate topic for a debate on foreign policy.  Our penultimate GOP Secretary of Education did claim that we were a bunch of terrorists. Given the fevered imagination of the GOP, presumably our leadership plots from the darkest forests of socialist Canada or something.

Unsent Letters, Again.

Dear Justine Kennedy,

If on Tuesday you follow your inclination to vote against Proposition 30, I hope that you anticipate your career in epidemiology to provide you with ample funds for your  baby's eventual private school education.

Your vague sense that school funding is waste or perhaps corrupt may not be much more than that, but the ruin 30's failure will visit upon California schools is quite real.  Your no vote supports the continued decision of California taxpayers to rob our children now.  This will of course eventually cost us dearly, because the outcomes of a poorly-educated populace are far more expensive than education.

And indeed, even if you provide your own child the best education possible, all those children you voted to ignore will be your problem as we send them into a six billion dollar pit.  At the bottom they'll find only the PreK to prison pipeline and increased safety net costs.  We'll all of us, including you and your child, pay those in the end.

I hope you think better of your vague and unsourced sense that a quarter cent tax increase is highway robbery, and that schools will find a way around your selfishness.

Best,

E. Rat

03 November 2012

Short.

I love EduShyster so much I am tempted to drink wine just so I can follow along with the recommended selections.

Yes on 30, But Man Those Union Teacher Thugs.

WARNING: SO LONG.

The San Francisco Chronicle is recommending a yes vote on Proposition 30, but based on their recent water-carrying for ed deform consultants reporting, I think they must be having second thoughts.

A few days ago they published this story.  In brief:

  • SFUSD and OUSD have given up on Race to the Top funding.
  • This money would have purchased incredible math education.
  • And TECHNOLOGY.  Which is awesome.
  • By "technology" we mean data systems for administrative offices, but we could mean technology for schools.
  • The money in question is fifteen million dollars over several years $100 million.
  • But there will be no money because teachers don't want to be held accountable.
  • Which proves teachers don't care about children.
  • And apparently teachers think there's just plenty of money around since they turned down this cash.
  • Not that this has any implication for upcoming elections.
  • We're just reporting some of the facts.
Anyway, the myriad problems with this story are noted decisively in UESF's response at BeyondChron.  That is no impediment to me adding my comments on this story.  More specifically, I'd like to comment on its assumptions about education and its innumeracy.

Let's start with the latter.  Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money indeed.  In the context of school funding, though, it's nothing.  The district budget is hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  This money provides a few million for a few years.  Moreover, it will leave in its wake new unfunded mandates: the programs it supports in their infancy are to be continued by the school districts, now on their own funding.

Nor is this free cash money the Districts can spend any way they want (you know, by buying back furlough days or reducing class size or providing legally-mandated clean drinking water to students).  The money is available only to fund a certain set of new programs.  So it doesn't even free up existing money for other uses.

And then there are the core assumptions, which rest on no evidence but are so basic to the education reform mindset they don't bother providing any proof of them.  One of these is the assumption that TECHNOLOGY IS THE ANSWER.

It's not.

Beyond the reality that technology has been THE ANSWER for decades now - I speak as a survivor of BASIC programming, LOGO, and old-school, Apple II Oregon Trail - without making a noticeable difference to education outcomes, technology is a massive cash outlay.

If TECHNOLOGY IS THE ANSWER, schools need technology.  It is provided by for-profit private interests.  Schools are a huge market for tech corporations.  Moreover, it is an ongoing expense: great for corporate profits, not so great for classrooms.

For instance, THE ANSWER in my classroom is one eMac.  It is eighteen years old and can no longer access the internet.  Every other piece of technology in my classroom - from the electric pencil sharpener to the listening center - is either a donation or something I bought.

My school has been given two laptop carts full of THE ANSWER.  My wing of the school can't use the carts because they would overwhelm the electrical system - as it is, four outlets in my room are presently blown out because I attempted to sharpen pencils while charging my phone after school on Monday.

Even if we had the juice, THE ANSWER could still not be networked and used.  The District attempted to contract out wifi installation a few years back.  It ends up the contractor installed some nice boxes and colorful wires but no wifi.  (Really: the contractor went to prison).  My school is one of those caught in the scam, so we don't have working wifi in my building (we use phone cords and ethernet - not a solution for laptop carts).

Even though we did not hire the contractor and we are not responsible for the lack of wireless, we are expected to pay the District if we want it: $3,000 a classroom.  Our school budget does not have $24,000 sitting around for this purpose.

What I'm saying is that today's ANSWER is tomorrow's unafforable upgrade.  When ed reformers tell us about the wonders of interactive whiteboards and online courses, they should not just show the research that these interventions work (they don't have any, but the media isn't asking).  They should also explain how keeping technology functioning and current is budgeted in their plan.

The other big issue is the usual "bad unions don't want accountability".  Hey, I'll be the first to say that I find it interesting that my job should rest on my students' performance on tests alone, whether we have two furlough days or ten, twenty two learners or thirty, functioning heat or not.  Apparently, such is my power that no matter what the District throws at me, I will inspire ever-higher test scores in my students.  Moreover, the District is never accountable.  I mean, it kind of sucks I'm in my sixth year without a working heating system, but Kindergartners have coats, right?  And sclerodactyly isn't so bad, right?  I'm a teacher: I'll find a way around it.  And that bootstrap-pulling needs to start young.

That said, I AM ACCOUNTABLE.  The first grade teachers count on me to make sure their incoming students are prepared.  My students' parents trust their babies to me and I am accountable to them.  My students are bright, capable, and in need of my best: you'd better believe I feel accountable for their safety, happiness, and academic  progress.

BECAUSE I feel accountable to my students, I am not interested in any scheme that links my job security and their pay to their test performance.  All data show the same predictable results of this strategy: curricular narrowing, widespread cheating, lowered student happiness, and Scantron for five year olds.  Moreover, performance is never improved.

I assess my students because I need to know what they need to learn and what they've mastered.  The assessment is centrally reported and has been for ages (it's not the southeast side schools freaking out about the new TK/K assessment).  The kind of one-on-one observational assessment I do is not compatible with the reformers' accountability schemes - it's too time-consuming, requires too much knowledge to administer and interpret, and does not prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions.

So really, what the Chronicle published was some of its usual anti-union nonsense dressed up as reporting.  It's not really a surprise.  Given the current climate and the absolute importance of 30 passing, it's a real disservice.  I also have to wonder about the math teachers of Chronicle reporters: is it too late to go back and hold them accountable?  













02 November 2012

Oh look, I have internet again.

I've had a busy few weeks, and I have had plenty to complain about: the Chronicle's sudden anti-30 campaign, Williams violations, really weird central office schemes - but no Internet.

For now, I must just cross my fingers that the Ksters finished their candy hoards Wednesday night, but I have secret plans and clever tricks for posting and things this weekend, truly.