I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

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.