Monday, July 8, 2013

Dammit, NYSED! We’re educators, not magicians - (originally posted - 06/11/13)

Who says you can’t learn anything from TV? I say NYSED needs to watch a little more. Specifically, Star Trek reruns. One phrase the popular character Leonard McCoy delivered in this series was “Dammit, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a(n)…” followed by a task that was beyond his skill. Jim was Captain Kirk, McCoy’s leader. Kirk was frequently guilty of asking more than Doctor McCoy could do, but he redeemed himself by listening to him and adjusting to the reality of the situation. Unfortunately, Captain NYSED is not listening and is a little out of touch with our situations.

The other day I sat at a table with my principal looking over my teacher rubric form that counts as 60% of my APPR. Because of her workload, we only had 15 minutes to go over the rubric. She has done her best this year to do justice to what she has been asked to do. Unfortunately, even after spending over 5 hours on my evaluation plugging in evidence, through our 15 minute conversation we found areas that were overlooked by her(and by me). The meeting, the whole evaluation process, and several other state initiatives this year have become a rushed product. If Captain NYSED were here, he would say to my principal, “Stretch the 24 hour day into 48 hours.” As the realistic educator I am, I would reply “Dammit, NYSED! She’s a principal, not a magician.” Typically, this is where Captain Kirk would listen and adjust to the reality of things, but Captain NYSED continues to tell her to press on with total disregard for her limitations. She has been stretched paper-thin between her routine responsibilities towards over-tested students, over-stressed staff, an underfunded school and the new responsibilities of several new State mandates.

On a little side note, I do have to sarcastically commend NYSED’s “reform movement” in this area. I foresee that the new APPR will develop a generation of teachers that not only teach to the test, but to the rubric. While an unintended product of testing is a student shooting for a 65, I believe that an unintended product of the APPR is a teacher shooting for their “Effective” rating. Anyway, let us get back on track and talk about Captain NYSED and over-testing.

Over-testing. It’s nothing new. It’s reached a new height. If someone tells you it is not a problem, they are either in denial or not a true educator. My district has put our students through State tests, field tests, SLO pre and post tests, DDI interim tests, our local 20% pre and post vocab tests, and, let’s not forget, quizzes and tests that teachers usually need to give. When you look at each item on the list separately, each has its own justification for being there. However, I don’t care what the justifications are, when you look at the whole picture there’s an overflow. We are over testing and it’s wrong. Captain NYSED says “Create a stress-free test environment.” As a realistic educator I reflect that perhaps, for a test or two I could, but look at the list. I would then say “Dammit, NYSED! I am a teacher, not a magician.” Again, typically this is where Captain Kirk would listen and adjust to the reality of things, but Captain NYSED continues to tell us to test on with total disregard to the negative effects it has on the environment within our schools.

On another little side note, I do have to sarcastically commend NYSED on there bold implementation of the Common Core Curriculum or what I like to call the “teach what we haven’t figured what we want you to teach” curriculum. Who else has the fortitude to promise modules to their teachers at the beginning of a school year and not deliver? Who else has the fortitude to deliver just an outline of Module 1 for 8th grade math several weeks after the State Test for it was given? Who else has the fortitude to tell the public that they adequately prepared their teachers and schools, when they were totally unprepared themselves? I can tell you who, there is only one person who has superpowers like that… Captain NYSED. Anyway, lets end this.

Captain Kirk expecting more than can be expected from his crew is an admirable quality. However, it is only an admirable quality because when he does ask too much, he backs off and develops a new plan. NYSED clearly exhibits the first trait by setting lofty goals and always expecting more of their schools. However, this quality is not admirable if they ask too much and do not react to the limitations they are overstepping. It’s not that Captain NYSED has deaf ears, it’s that he is refusing to listen. Hopefully, the One Voice Rally on June 8th was a loud enough “Dammit” for our Captain not to ignore.

You, The Old Man, and The Tree - (originally posted - 06/05/13)

Imagine walking up to a towering tree that has a long, smooth trunk that stretches beyond the clouds in the sky. You notice that its first set of branches begin just before the cloud line. There is an old man sitting at its base and you decide to approach him to inquire about the tree. The old man states that the tree is the only tree of its height and that just above the cloud line is a place where dreams are found. You further inquire how one makes their journey up the tree seeing how there are no steps to take or branches to climb. The man answers, I have a basket and a rope that I can pull to hoist you up to where the branches begin. Once you reach the branches, it is your job from there. You ask, "What is the catch?" He replies “No catch, I will do my part and then you must do yours”. You climb anxiously into the basket. The old man starts pulling the rope and hoisting you up. Your initial excitement soon fades to a subtle boredom as your trip up the tree drags on. You start thinking of other places you would rather be and other things that you would rather be doing. Your excitement begins to build again as you approach the top. Your excitement reaches its peak as you take your first step out of the basket and onto the first branch, only to come crashing down because even though you made it to this point you realize that you do not know how to climb a tree.

Our own worst enemy (written - 01/17/13, originally posted - 03/03/13)

Came across the tweet above in the twit-o-sphere the other night and it touched upon a nerve.

I have this nerve that is often pinched when statements like these are made because I know that when NYSUT makes them they alienate some of its members. Even more of a greater concern of mine is my attendance at NYSUT conferences these past two years. The purpose of the conferences were to inform members of union leadership, purpose, and strengthen ties. At the conference last fall during elections, NYSUT held a rally for Bill Owens. While I appreciate NYSUT’s intention of doing what they believe they need to do for the elections, an unfortunate side affect was the pinching of the same nerve. I stood beside some of my fellow members who clapped and cheered for Congressman Owens, and stood behind others who did not make a sound. At a conference in which strengthening ties was a goal, the strengthening of ties was also being undermined.

So this leads me to ask… in a day and age where unions are under attack and up against many odds, and strong union ties amongst members is a necessity, does NYSUT become its own worst enemy?

Personally, with regret, my answer is yes. I have a feeling that the members I mentioned before and along with myself, are members who are not “all-in” due to our personal conflict with some of the stances our union takes.

So this leads me to another question… Is it possible for the union to run itself in a manner that it could garner the “all-in” support from all its members?

Personally, with much content, my answer is yes. Regardless of what I mentioned before, everyone enters this profession for a reason. This profession has a great purpose. This purpose is what brought us together in the first place and is the one link that ties each one of our members together. It can be a strong link, but unfortunately it isn’t because of NYSUT’s many stances, our members are being pulled in different directions. Our union needs to regroup, step back, and dare I say it, return to its common core. I hope our leadership takes this to heart.

Until then, in regards to the twit-o-sphere, I would advise the following to my fellow union tweeters. Do not stop tweeting for what you believe in. Retweet others if that is what you believe in, but before you retweet what our union posts think of whether it will alienate some of our members or promote solidarity among us. I believe that we can have a union of members who are “all-in” and hopefully this is a start.

Funny - A picture showing an effect of overtesting - (originally posted - 02/04/13)

Zingers from Shimon Schocken's TED Talk: The self-organizing computer course - (originally posted - 10/18/12)

A couple of"zingers" from the video clip that I wish that the people who call the shots in education would listen to...

  • "So one thing that I took from home is this notion that educators don't necessarily have to teach. Instead, they can provide an environment and resources that tease out your natural ability to learn on your own. Self-study, self-exploration, self-empowerment: these are the virtues of a great education."
  • "We are obsessed with grades because we are obsessed with data, and yet grading takes away all the fun from failing, and a huge part of education is about failing."
  • "Well, in my opinion, we went too far with this nonsense, and grading became degrading."
  • "We don't replace teachers, by the way. We believe that teachers should be empowered, not replaced."

It's a mad world - (originally posted - 10/18/12)

Mad World sung by Gary Jules. On my old blog site I gave an interpretation of this through the eyes of an educator, click here to see it.

And so it begins... - (originally posted - 10/14/12)

Here is a link to an article that discusses how parents are starting to have their children skip field testing as a means of protesting the State's use of testing to grade teachers. The article states how community action groups formed by parents are beginning to pop up as a result of the State's new mandates. As a teacher, I have to admit I welcome the feeling of support that I get from reading about these protests. As a parent, I find myself with a new found curiosity of wondering when my sons' school will be holding field tests. Although the action of parents in this article were sparked by the State's use of tests to grade teachers, I believe that another spark will ignite similar protests statewide.

Since the beginning of my career in education, it has been no secret amongst my colleagues that the emphasis on testing has had a negative impact on schools. Year after year, this message has been a broken record to my ears and theirs. However, other than being vocal amongst our peers, no other action has been taken. With the addition of pre-testing, interim testing, and post-testing to a mixture that already consisted of 3-8 testing, Regents testing, and field testing, the quantity of testing has reached a new height. A height that I predict will cost too much educational resources, energy and time. I foresee that at the end of this year, after all students will be ecstatic to leave school, after teachers rebound and catch their breaths, and after administration sort through all the evidence they have collected, sparks are going to fly... or should I dare say "sparks are gonna hit the fan". We will just have to wait and see, but at least for now, after reading this article, I can think "And so it begins".

Real Education by Charles Murray - (originally posted - 09/02/12)

Finished reading Real Education and the book was reassuring to me. It consisted of five chapters and, for the sake of brevity, I thought I would share a quote from each to show the essence of each chapter. Here they are:

  • Chapter 1 - Ability Varies
    • "It is not Howard Gardener's fault, but the theory of multiple intelligences has become a justification for educational romanticism. The truth that people may possess many different abilities is unthinkingly transmuted into an untruth: that everyone is good at something, and that educators can use that something to make up for other deficits."
      - page 29

  • Chapter 2 - Half of the Children Are Below Average
    • "...our best educational experiences were ones in which adults insisted we could do better when in fact we could do better; our worst educational experiences were ones in which adults insisted we could do better when in fact we could not do better."
      - page 45

  • Chapter 3 - Too Many People Are Going to College
    • "[Teachers,] Guidance counselors and parents who automatically encourage young people to go to college straight out of high school regardless of their skills and interests are being thoughtless about the best interests of young people in their charge."
      - page 96

  • Chapter 4 - America's Future Depends on How We Educate the Academically Gifted
    • "[A] healthier alternative also means making sure that at some point every gifted student fails in some academic task... too many gifted graduates are not conscious of their own limits." - page 131

  • Chapter 5 - Letting Change Happen
    • "In K-12 education, the educational romantics are trying to do what cannot be done and are neglecting what can be done." - page 133
    • "[Children] will have succeeded if they discover something they love doing and learn how to do it well." - page 168

Deal with the disconnect, not the absenteeism (originally posted - 08/23/12)

Click on here to access an article by Time that discusses giving fines to students who skip schools.

My quick reaction is that the fine is a solution to a problem that is a symptom to an underlying issue. Intentional absenteeism is a symptom to the underlying problem of a disconnection between the student and the school. Students skip because school does not matter to them. Somewhere along the line these students have been turned off by their education and become disconnected with the curriculum. We only deal with it when it reaches a boiling point and becomes a problem for us.The fine is an attempt to get the chronic skippers back inside of the classroom. However, if I were to place my best bet, nothing is done to reconnect these students with their education. A more proactive approach would be to prevent the "disconnect" before it reaches this point.

The Need To Individualize Education - (originally posted - 04/18/12)

Here is a link to a podcast I created to express some concerns I have in education.

Whose side are we really on? - (originally posted - 03/12/12)

In a case where a student should drop back a class from the one they are enrolled in, failed once, and currently struggling, logic would dictate the student to be placed in a lower level class in the aims of developing a footing in the subject so that she can step forward. But logic takes a second seat to requirements because the student would not earn a credit for dropping back. In this situation, my observation is that schools do what is best for the transcript, not what is best for the student. This situation brings question of whose side are we really on, the student's or the transcript's?

The level playing field - (originally posted - 03/01/12)

A student decides to transfer to another district because the school he is at does not offer a sport he wants to play. The primary influence to his decision is sports, not education. At a sporting glance there is a distinct difference between the two institutions, one offers a sport that the other does not. However, at an educational glance, no immediate differences appear because the traditional setting levels the playing field in this area. Quality of education is not even considered because you can get the "same thing" from any public school.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Battle between your present and future self - (originally posted - 01/08/12)


A good talk with a great concept, check it out here.

This talk may get you thinking about your decisions and asking "Is this decision for the present me at the expense of the future me?"

Taking this concept into the classroom, I wonder how much of what I do is really for my students' future self. I have to admit, with a sense of a newly conceived guilt, that the main goal for the majority of students is pass the course and/or the state test at the end of the year. It is my opinion that my classroom tends to my students' present need. This need being a check in the box on a list of diploma requirements. What expense does their future pay? One dismal scenario that I have seen: a student passes each course while understanding the bare minimum needed, taking away very little from four years in secondary mathematical schooling, only to fail a college entrance exam and be forced to enroll in a non-credit math course designed to prep students entering college with inadequate math skills.

I know my classroom needs a change, here are a few steps that I am taking in a better direction.

Resistance to a High-Tech Push in Idaho (originally posted - 01/05/12)

This article is a perfect illustration of the growing pains that schools are currently facing or will be facing in the near future. I am not going to rehash the article, you can read it for yourself at this link. I am going to highlight some inspiring points and points of concern. Lets start with the inspiring. It is inspiring that:

  • The teachers do not object to the use of technology
  • The superintendent of schools has a vision of the next step in the evolution of the teacher as a guide
  • the superintendent also has a vision of students being able to move at their own pace

The first point is inspiring because any teacher who objects to the use of technology is a hindrance to the growth of their classroom. The fact that the teachers do not object is a good sign that their classrooms have the opportunity to grow. Teachers who do object can be good teachers who do great things over and over again every year. However, this comes at the expense of the growth and evolution of their classroom.

It is comforting to see with the last two points that the superintendent has an awareness and vision of what is occurring within the educational profession. The question is “can this awareness/vision be used to help him guide districts into progressively taking steps forward?” This is where the superintendent’s leadership skills will truly be tested.

Now onto points of concern. It is concerning that:

  • the push seems to be part of a statewide plan
  • a traditional mindset amongst the faculty, students, and community will be an obstacle the district will have to overcome to progress

The first point of concern worries me because anything can be easily tainted by or seen to be tainted by politics. The article mentions that lobbying by Apple and Intel influenced lawmakers into forming policies. The question that arises here is “Did the lobbying create the vision behind these policies, or was the vision preconceived by lawmakers and is now funded by the lobbyists?” I am hoping that it was the latter.

The second point of concern worries me because the articles illustrates a strong traditional opposition to the high-tech push. The two examples that illustrate this are the 75,000 signatures gathered to stop the legislation and the lunchtime walkout protest staged by students. Both are impressive civil acts of protest that are to be commended , but this also worries me the most. The next step in the evolution of schools is occurring whether we like it or not. My fear is that in this case, the time and energy that is being spent trying to save the sinking boat that is the traditional classroom is not being used to creatively mold the aspects of the traditional classroom that we hold dear to us so that we can carry them on into the future. Online learning can replace teachers. There is no doubt in my mind about that. However, online learning is not the best learning environment that a school could provide for a student, but it is slowly becoming a better environment than what schools currently provide. Until teachers focus on what they could do, we should be worried about how online learning is going to replace what we traditionally do. We need to shift our energies from resisting the change that is inevitably going to occur and become an active agent, not a passive embracer, to change and guide it into a direction where it should head to.

The Wrong Kind of Banking - (originally posted - 01/03/12)

Faced with borderline enrollment for kindergarten, a district withholds the decision to create another section of kindergarten based on the gamble that enough students will transfer out of the district over the summer. The district is banking on the hope that if enough students transfer out, the maximum size accepted in existing classrooms would not be exceeded. Therefore, the district would not need to create another section of kindergarten. A question I pose is “why doesn’t this district have the attitude that it provides an educational experience that students can not receive from any other district?” My answer is that for most districts they don’t. Most public schools provide a typical, traditional approach that does not allow for this attitude to develop amongst themselves.

The Game of Risk - Public Education Style - (originally posted - 11/07/11)


Recently I have been playing Risk, “The Game of Strategic Conquest", with my two eldest sons and the other day I decided to put a spin on the rules. We played Public Education Style. First off, each player had to conquer at least 3 territories a turn even if they did not have the manpower to do so. If a player did not have the manpower to do so on their primary turn, then the player was given an extra turn to use any manpower left over from their previous turn to conquer the required amount of territories. Secondly, when rolling the dice, if any player is unsatisfied with the “rolling results” they may use the following scale score for die rolling:

  • Rolling a 1 equals a 1
  • Rolling a 2 equals a 3
  • Rolling a 3 equals a 4
  • Rolling a 4 equals a 5
  • Rolling a 5 equals a 6
  • Rolling a 6 equals a 6

Thirdly, to conquer a continent, a player only needed to control 65% of its territories. Fourth, each player was expected to master all these rule changes after the first turn and produce better results on each following turn. Lastly, and this was an unspoken rule, after ten turns of players slowly adjusting and growing comfortable with the new rules, I would switch them up again on the eleventh turn.