Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Efficiency and Deep Learning Means Taking Time

Shella Zelenz
Shella Zelenz

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I have been interviewed and the moment I discuss the time I take to get to the root of the concerns of my students to ensure the highest outcomes and performance from them, the interviewer or current teacher (who is looking for a replacement) would immediately say “well there just isn’t time for that.” I wonder how their school year was any shorter than mine. They saw the videos of my students performing, which is why they were so interested in hiring me to begin with. They raved about me as I walked in the door. I couldn’t even believe the manner in which I was greeted in many of these interviews after seeing my CV and my videos (proof of work). Then the interview somehow made them really uncomfortable with my beliefs on how to achieve such results. It seems to me that the results aren’t sufficient. The means have to match their own beliefs in order for the results to be acceptable for them. I believe that if I reduced my methods to fit their beliefs, the results would not have been what they were so excited about when they met me. It is completely illogical.
In the corporate world, results are all that matter. There is no expected norm on how (although many follow similar paths). There are seminars that make thousands and thousands of dollars teaching people how to do things differently and people run in hoards to attend all excited and willing to spend every dime to learn more and improve their results. Why is that not the case in education? Why is there resistance when it comes to children? There is a huge disconnect here and no manner of interviewing could help the interviewers understand that because in my explaining it, they felt self-conscious of their choices and did not want to be put in a position to make themselves feel less than capable. Now THAT is the real issue and it is exactly the issue that the students have. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy which will never end and no manner of curriculum changes, gadgets or gimmicks will change this until the root of the issue is addressed. Guess what, that takes time.
You have to take the time or you may as well admit up front that you are wasting your time. Nothing worth doing is worth rushing. The entire purpose of education is to prepare a nation for the next societal management. If that isn’t important, I don’t know what is. This is why I am an avid supporter of democracy in the classroom. Democracy requires students to self-reflect on their own desires, their own experiences and how they impact one another. Self-reflection is how they uncover their own issues and can self-remedy, which creates a beautiful learning experience in self-control and self-motivation as well as responsibility to group.
Bad behavior ALWAYS comes from self-thoughts. Where do those thoughts come from?
I’ve spent a great deal of time researching and most importantly soul searching to discover the origination of our behaviors and reactions. What has been most amazing to me is that in discovering where the negative thoughts in my head came from, I am able to walk away from them completely. What I’ve learned is that once you realize that the thought that just beat you up in your head was never yours to begin with, there is no need to coddle or protect yourself because you aren’t injured in the first place. Once you recognize that and you see the way you respond to those thoughts, you can process why on earth you would feel that way and feel frustrated about it. In fact, that frustration is the KEY to the truth. Listen to it. It is telling you that the thought isn’t yours. Letting go of that thing that wasn’t yours in the first place includes letting go of all of the trained reactions to please that voice that wasn’t yours in the first place. What’s left – unbelievable happiness and peace, which puts you in a place to only do things that take the best care of you. In taking care of yourself, you choose things that will benefit you. I would certainly think that education would be considered a form of self-care. It’s in our instinct to learn. When we aren’t being self-punished (programmed from external influence) we crave learning. It does not have to be motivated externally.
The key to getting students to succeed is helping them find themselves again. Helping them to isolate where those negative feelings are coming from and why they are feeling that frustration. Once they know they have control over their own feelings, and that you are not another person there to put more harmful feelings into their heads, they bend over backwards to make the classroom experience absolute heaven for everyone. When that happens, amazing learning takes place and it takes a fraction of the time that most people spend “classroom managing.” Imagine if classroom management were no longer a desired skill. It doesn’t have to be. The only reason it is needed is because no one is willing to take the time to clean out their self-thought closets or help their students do the same.
~Shella Zelenz is the founder of Zelenz Education Consulting - a different kind of consulting. http://zelenz.com/

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mental Health Ramifications of the Common Core

Mary Calamia, LCSW, CASAC
1239 Route 25A, Suite 6B
Stony Brook, New York 11790
(631) 835-1824

***For Immediate Release***

October 18, 2013
Mental Health Ramifications of the Common Core
Contact: Mary Calamia, LCSW, CASAC, mcalamiacsw@aol.com, 631-835-1824

On October 10th, I testified at the New York State Assembly Education Forum on the mental health ramifications of the Common Core. The full text of my testimony can be viewed at: http://stopccssinnys.com/uploads/Al_Graf_-_Mary_Calamia_full_text.pdf

My oral testimony may be viewed at: http://stopccssinnys.com/AlGrafForums.html, beginning at 5:30.

I am a licensed clinical social worker in private practice on Long Island. I work with students, parents and teachers representing more than 20 different school districts. Last year, the New York State Education Department fully implemented the Common Core State Standards in our schools. Since its implementation, I have observed:

a 2-300% increase in new referrals of adolescents who are self-mutilating. The majority of these newly referred youngsters are honors students with no prior history of self-mutilation. They cite the pressures of the increased workload, standardized testing, and feelings of failure as the top reasons for this behavior,
a 2-300% increase in new referrals of elementary school children due to school refusal and anxiety. The majority of these children say they feel “stupid” and “hate school.” These are children with no prior history of anxiety or school refusal. They are throwing tantrums, begging to stay home, and are upset even to the point of vomiting,
a marked increase in self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, depressed mood, school refusal, and suicidal thoughts during the state exam cycle last spring,
children are being exposed to age-inappropriate lessons geared to adult learning patterns, not childhood ones. Children are not capable of engaging in the critical thinking the Common Core requires. Critical thinking requires achieving a developmental milestone that does not occur until early adulthood,
parents complaining that the educational system is driving a wedge between them and their children. They are the ones who have to enforce homework completion and make their distressed children go to school. Also, there are no textbooks to clarify what their children are learning. They cannot help their struggling children with their studies,
a strain on the teachers that is causing a palpable level of distress in the schools.

I will be happy to answer any questions or interview on this issue.


Mary Calamia, LCSW, CASAC

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Sound of Silence

by Dave Greene

I’ve been sitting relatively silently for a few weeks for a couple of reasons. I was out of the country for three weeks. Upon return I began new job. I was growing frustrated with the barking and lack of movement. I have been completing a book soon to be published. Other voices were more important to be heard.

Over the past few days however a number of events stirred the silence within me. First, I read Joe Nocera’s October 14th NY Times column, “A World Without Privacy”. That was followed by a one-two punch of articles in The Local Gannett paper, The Journal News. The first, on October 16th validated what I am currently reading in Diane Ravitch’s brilliant new book, Reign of Error. The second article that moved me entitled “Study faults N.Y.’s teacher evaluations, was written by Gary Stern, a reporter who seems to be figuring out what is really happening in the privatization process of public schools. The third followed a day later also in The Journal News by Gary Stern was entitled, “Local parents seek ouster of N.Y. education commissioner”. Finally, the one that moved me to this keyboard was in the October 20th edition of The NY Times Magazine entitled,“No diagnosis left behind”.

The fact that these articles came out within a week shows me the turn around in mainstream media we have been searching for may be coming sooner than I had thought. It inspired me to speak out again, to end my “sound of silence”.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”. It is haunting and timeless. It speaks to the horrors in societies that are perpetuated when,

“ And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share. And no one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

Nocera’s column tells us how close to Orwell’s 1984 we have become as he compares Dave Egger’s new novel, The Circle to Orwell’s prophecies. Orwell’s, Big Brother government’s Ministry of Truth uses the big lie, repetitious slogans (ominously similar to chapters in Mein Kampf): WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Egger’s private technology corporate world power (ALA Google, Facebook and Twitter) uses similar phrases: SHARING IS CARING. SECRETS ARE LIES. PRIVACY IS THEFT.

My God…. Is that not the strategy used by corporate education reformers and their governmental allies in stealing public education form the public and it’s employees?

“Fools,” said I, “you do not know. Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.” But my words, like silent raindrops fell; and echoed in the wells of silence.”

Have the “Emperor With New Clothes” actions of NY Commissioner John King awakened us from our sounds of Silence? Has Gary Stern and Lo-Hud inadvertently become a leader in this new voice calling for his resignation by finally voicing the concerns of thousands of parents, students, and teachers in this article that finally doesn’t attack those voices as King does. Has their expose regarding the improper use of invalid testing to evaluate teachers finally allowed other mass media publications and networks to come out of their sounds of silence and become:

“The sign [that] flashed out its warning in the words that it was forming. And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls?”

Finally, the NY TIMES reports, in “No diagnosis left behind” that:

“High-stakes standardized testing, increased competition for slots in top colleges, a less-and-less accommodating economy for those who don’t get into colleges but can no longer depend on the existence of blue-collar jobs — all of these are expressed through policy changes and cultural expectations, but they may also manifest themselves in more troubling ways — in the rising number of kids whose behavior has become pathologized.”


“The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized-test performance. But various states had been slowly rolling out similar policies for the last three decades. North Carolina was one of the first to adopt such a program; California was one of the last. The correlations between the implementation of these laws and the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis matched on a regional scale as well. When Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward. Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.”

“To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal links. But A.D.H.D., education policies, disability protections and advertising freedoms all appear to wink suggestively at one another. From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, the diagnosis is considered a success if the medication improves kids’ ability to perform on tests and calms them down enough so that they’re not a distraction to others. (In some school districts, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.) Writ large, Hinshaw says, these incentives conspire to boost the diagnosis of the disorder, regardless of its biological prevalence.”

Times have changed. The words are now on Facebook and Twitter and the Blogosphere. They are increasingly in the streets, in the “public forums”, and in legislative, not tenement, halls.

“Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping, and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence.”

And needed to get out! Let’s all of us, let out our sound of silence and change what is happening to us and to our children.

Dave Greene taught high school Social Studies for 38 years, coached football, and presently works for a non-profit, WISE Services (www.wiseservices.org), helping high schools establish and sustain experiential learning programs for credit. He is coordinator of school partnerships for Pace University School of Education, Pleasantville. NY. His book Doing the Right Things: A Teacher Speaks is due out soon. WISE Services www.wiseservices.org

A Social Worker Speaks Out Against the Common Core

Testimony on Common Core from Mary Calamia, a social worker from Brentwood, New York and member at Badass Teachers Association:

October 7, 2013 at 10:14pm
Statement for New York State Assembly Education Forum
Brentwood, New York
October 10, 2013

I am a licensed clinical social worker in New York State and have been providing psychotherapy services since 1995. I work with parents, teachers, and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds representing more than 20 different school districts in Suffolk County. Almost half of my caseload consists of teachers.

In the summer of 2012, my elementary school teachers began to report increased anxiety over having to learn two entirely new curricula for Math and ELA. I soon learned that school districts across the board were completely dismantling the current curricula and replacing them with something more scripted, emphasizing “one size fits all” and taking any imagination and innovation out of the hands of the teachers.

In the fall of 2012, I started to receive an inordinate number of student referrals from several different school districts. I was being referred a large number of honors students—mostly 8th graders.The kids were self-mutilating—cutting themselves with sharp objects and burning themselves with cigarettes. My phone never stopped ringing.

What was prompting this increase in self-mutilating behavior? Why now?

The answer I received from every single teenager was the same. “I can’t handle the pressure. It’s too much work.”

I also started to receive more calls referring elementary school students who were refusing to go to school. They said they felt “stupid” and school was “too hard.” They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home, and upset even to the point of vomiting.

I was also hearing from parents about kids bringing home homework that the parents didn’t understand and they couldn’t help their children to complete. I was alarmed to hear that in some cases there were no textbooks for the parents to peruse and they had no idea what their children were learning.

My teachers were reporting a startling level of anxiety and depression. For the first time, I heard the term “Common Core” and I became awakened to a new set of standards that all schools were to adhere to—standards that we now say “set the bar so high, anyone can walk right under them.”

Everyone was talking about “The Tests.” As the school year progressed and “The Tests” loomed, my patients began to report increased self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and in one case, suicidal thoughts that resulted in a 2-week hospital stay for an adolescent.

I do not know of any formal studies that connect these symptoms directly to the Common Core, but I do not think we need to sacrifice an entire generation of children just so we can find a correlation.

The Common Core and high stakes testing create a hostile working environment for teachers, thus becoming a hostile learning environment for students. The level of anxiety I am seeing in teachers can only trickle down to the students. Everyone I see is describing a palpable level of tension in the schools.

The Common Core standards do not account for societal problems. When I first learned about APPR and high stakes testing, my first thought was, “Who is going to rate the parents?”

I see children and teenagers who are exhausted, running from activity to activity, living on fast food, then texting, using social media, and playing games well into the wee hours of the morning on school nights.

We also have children taking cell phones right into the classrooms, “tweeting” and texting each other throughout the day. We have parents—yes PARENTS—who are sending their children text messages during school hours. 

Let’s add in the bullying and cyberbullying that torments and preoccupies millions of school children even to the point of suicide. Add to that an interminable drug problem.

These are only some of the variables affecting student performance that are outside of the teachers’ control. Yet the SED holds them accountable, substituting innovation and individualism with cookie-cutter standards, believing this will fix our schools.

We cannot regulate biology. Young children are simply not wired to engage in the type of critical thinking that the Common Core calls for. That would require a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is not fully functional until early adulthood. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for critical thinking, rational decision-making, and abstract thinking—all things the Common Core demands prematurely.

We teach children to succeed then give them pre-assessments on material they have never seen and tell them it’s okay to fail. Children are not equipped to resolve the mixed message this presents.

Last spring, a 6-year-old who encountered a multiplication sign on the NWEA first grade math exam asked the teacher what it was. The teacher was not allowed to help him and told him to just do his best to answer.From that point on, the student’s test performance went downhill. Not only couldn’t the student shake off the unfamiliar symbol, he also couldn’t believe his teacher wouldn’t help him.

Common Core requires children to read informational texts that are owned by a handful of corporations. Lacking any filter to distinguish good information from bad, children will readily absorb whatever text is put in front of them as gospel. So, for example, when we give children a textbook that explains the second amendment in these terms: "The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia," they will look no further for clarification.

We are asking children to write critically, using emotionally charged language to “persuade” rather than inform. Lacking a functional prefrontal cortex, a child will tap into their limbic system, a set of primitive brain structures involved in basic human emotions, fear and anger being foremost. So when we are asking young children to use emotionally charged language, we are actually asking them to fuel their persuasiveness with fear and anger. They are not capable of the judgment required to temper this with reason and logic.

So we have abandoned innovative teaching and instead “teach to the tests,” the dreaded exams that had students, parents and teachers in a complete anxiety state last spring. These tests do not measure learning—what they really measure is endurance and resilience. Only a child who can sit and focus for 90 minutes can succeed. The child who can bounce back after one grueling day of testing and do it all over again the next day has an even better chance.

A recent Cornell University study revealed that students who were overly stressed while preparing for high stakes exams performed worse than students who experienced less stress during the test preparation period. Their prefrontal cortexes—the same parts of the brain that we are prematurely trying to engage in our youngsters—were under-performing.

We are dealing with real people’s lives here. Allow me introduce you to some of them:

…an entire third grade class that spent the rest of the day sobbing after just one testing session,

…a 2nd grader who witnessed this and is now refusing to attend the 3rd grade—this 7-year-old is now being evaluated for psychotropic medication just to go to school,

…two 8-year-olds who opted out of the ELA exam and were publicly denied cookies when the teacher gave them to the rest of her third grade class,

…the teacher who, under duress, felt compelled to do such a thing,

…a sixth grader who once aspired to be a writer but now hates it because they “do it all day long—even in math,”

…a mother who has to leave work because her child is hysterical over his math homework and his CPA grandfather doesn’t even understand it,

…and countless other children who dread going to school, feel “stupid" and "like failures," and are now completely turned off to education.

I will conclude by adding this thought. Our country became a superpower on the backs of men and women who studied in one-room schoolhouses.I do not think it takes a great deal of technology or corporate and government involvement for kids to succeed. We need to rethink the Common Core and the associated high stakes testing and get back to the business of educating our children in a safe, healthy, and productive manner.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thoughts on My Students' Reflections

I spent some time inside the heads of some of my students this evening. Every Tuesday I collect reflection journals from half of my seniors and (with the help of a 5 hour energy shot lol) stay in my classroom until I'm done reading and responding. And because I put in the time and dialogue with them in writing...

They tell me everything.

They love their grandparents. (Omg how they love their grandparents.) They miss their grandparents. They cry because it was their "last night under the lights." They complain because the athletes get all the attention. They worry they'll lose their friends. They worry they'll keep some of them. They love some of their teachers. They wonder how others are still in the classroom.

All my seniors are scared. Just yesterday, they were freshmen. They miss their childhoods. They miss their dogs. They are wrestling with depression. They are exhausted. They are strong. They are angry. They're afraid of failing. They're afraid of succeeding. They wonder why their fathers are asses. They're hurt and angry because their mothers have drug problems. They tell me their parents are the most important people in their lives and thank them and thank them and thank them.They tell me about their first taste of death and the birth of their nephews and nieces. The freedom of driving. Their heartbreaks and the love they apologize for because they're "young" and don't know what love is when they really do. Or really don't.

Alone, with their voices in my head, the shy, quiet ones are not shy and quiet. The rowdy ones are soft and reserved.

Every Tuesday I am awed and humbled and I stay in my room until I'm done because that's what they expect from me now and that's the only way they will write and write and write to me as if I were a priest.

And every page I read reminds me why we do what we do. No one who hasn't can ever understand

Michael Lambert - Badass Teacher

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dear Public School Teachers of Oklahoma:

From a mom named Shelly in Oklahoma

"Dear Public School Teachers of Oklahoma,

I am sorry. I am sorry for my lack of concern for the state of the Oklahoma Public schools until this past week when it affected my child directly. I have always been “pro-teacher” and been firmly on the side of funding education above special interests, but until this week I didn’t know the rage that you must feel at the lack of control you have in educating your own students.

I am sorry that we gauge a child’s value, and your worth based on a test score that is taken from a test that cannot be administered properly because the technology needed to support an entire district during testing time is underfunded and therefore , unavailable.

I am sorry that the solution to this problem is more tests and more training for these tests that will become useless once the powers-that-be decide that we need a different test, and you have to lose days and months and years of your time in training for tests that will be deemed “invalid” because of factors beyond your control.

I’m sorry that phrases like “merit pay” even factor into discussions involving your profession when you are wiping my child’s tears away or spending your own money on classroom materials.

Most of all I am sorry that it has taken me this long to get angry. Angry that my child is viewed as a statistic during an election year, and angry that your ability to do your job is secondary to test results.

I hope my apology isn’t too late and you will continue to believe in your value to our state and in the impact that you have on every student’s life.

Thank you,

2nd Grade Mom"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Can You Blame Them?

by Kristine Weishaar

We often hear the phrase "teach to the test," but the phrase that needs our attention is "learn for the test."  Teachers are forced to teach to the test as a means of professional survival.  Likewise, students are forced to learn for the test for their own academic survival.  Public school teachers and students (and many administrators) are simply doing what they can to survive.  Not thrive.  Survive. 

Today's teaching professionals have been backed into a corner.  Stripped of resources, attacked by the media, blamed for social inequities, educators are forced to teach to the test.  If their students perform poorly on the mandated tests, the teacher's reputation and career are immediately jeopardized.  The teacher does what she must to survive; she teaches to the test.  Can you blame her?

Our current students and recent graduates have been trained in a culture of short-term learning to simply perform on a test.   They learn skills and content in isolation in order to score well on an exam.  They are not able to see how rudimentary skills and basic content can lead to higher level thinking and a deeper knowledge base because our system does not provide opportunity.  Students do not value their education because, quite frankly, the culture does nothing to encourage them. Today's students are simply trying to survive the system.  Can you blame them?

Teachers are trying to survive.  Students are trying to survive.  Do you remember a time when young people did more than survive?  When they wanted to learn?  I'm sure you do.  Think of a moment when you watched a young person "do" for the sake of doing and not for a test.  Here's an example: You give a three-year-old building blocks and ask him to build a tower, and he does.  Once we see that he has mastered the task, we don't take away the blocks and move on.  We let him build taller towers and bridges and fortresses and anything else he can imagine.  We are amazed at his ingenuity and discovery of balance and physics.  We allow him to explore and learn.  We also don't require all children to create the same tower at the same pace with the same materials  (or significantly fewer materials) because we know that would be unreasonable.  Besides, do we want only one type of tower in our culture?  Sometimes the child's towers fall.  But we don't blame him.  We know block towers will fall, and we give the child the time he needs to rebuild. 

Why then, do we ask school-age students in public schools to learn something, write (or bubble) it on a test, and then put it away forever?  Why then do we punish students and their teachers for doing what it takes to survive in this culture?  Why? Because we have put too much emphasis on the test.  In our current system, designed by politicians and profiteers, there is very little time for true teaching and learning.  Those in the trenches are merely trying to survive.  Not thrive.  Survive. Can you blame them?

Let's turn back the clock before it's too late.  Let's create a system where children have time to "do" for the sake of doing.  Learn for the sake of learning.  Build for the sake of building. Let's create a culture in which teachers are trusted to teach their students.   Teachers  are regarded as experts.  Teachers have authority in their classrooms.

We need to change the culture and the system. Teaching to the test doesn't work.  Learning for the test doesn't work. Given opportunity, teachers and students will learn to thrive again.  Will you still blame them then?

Kristine Weishaar

Oct. 14, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bill Gates Speech--With a Brooklyn Accent (of Course) - Parody by Mark Naison

"We have 19th Century Schools for 21st Century Conditions. If we don't radically transform the way schools are managed and teachers are monitored, our country will lose its position as a global leader. We have to move quickly before the opposition builds and apply reforms quickly and ruthlessly. Yes, we will drive the best veteran teachers out of the profession, but we will recruit talented young teachers because their other job prospects are so grim. Yes, we will demoralize a generation of students who can't adapt to the more demanding standards, but that is the collateral damage we have to accept. In fifteen years, when the smoke has cleared, we will have a world class education system in every state of the union, even in high poverty neighborhoods. We cannot falter in our mission to implant these Reforms. The future of our nation is at stake"

Monday, October 7, 2013


Four Fallacies of Educational Policy

Originally posted by Jeff Bigler on the blog, Waterboarding the Horse

One of the easiest ways to make a parent angry is for people who do not have children of their own to give parenting advice.  Now suppose that those childless people were given the power to make rules that parents had to follow.  This is the situation in education—educational policies are forged and enacted by people who have an agenda and zero classroom experience.

Educational policies that have given us the current climate of test-and-punish are causing the very failures they were allegedly enacted to protect us from.  As our students become more and more ill-prepared for college, the laws and standards become more draconian and unrealistic in response.

The entire argument is based on the premise that we have assessments that can accurately measure the quality of education that a student has received.  There are at least four basic fallacies that work to create this premise.

  1. If a student can get the correct answer reliably on an assessment, then the student has a deep knowledge of the subject.  While it is possible to construct assessments that make this statement true, such assessments are few and far between.  Most assessments—certainly the ones that can be scored by a machine—are testing snippets of knowledge rather than deep understanding.  Students can be taught to recognize patterns and to select a correct answer with little or no understanding of the concepts that the test is supposed to assess.
  2. If a student scores highly on an assessment that tests at the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, that student must have a similar level of understanding at the higher levels. Standardized tests are tied to state frameworks.  States use standardized tests to generate data that show how students perform on each of the standards.  For this reason, almost every question addresses one and only one standard.  Because the standards are broken down finely, a question that addresses only one standard will almost certainly require recall or understanding, and not any of the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  While a student with a high-level understanding of a subject can certainly answer low-level questions, the reverse is, of course, not necessarily true.
  3. If the students from a given school or district score highly on an assessment, then the school or district must also be living up equally well to its other responsibilities, and the test scores can therefore serve as a proxy for evaluating the school with respect to those other responsibilities.  Whether we believe this or not, most rankings and evaluations of schools and school districts are based solely on test scores.  Society tacitly assumes that a school with high test scores is a good school, and it therefore must be doing a good job with everything that schools do.
  4. If the students from a given school or district score poorly on an assessment, then the school must be doing a poor job of living up to its responsibilities. If this is the case, the cause must be that the teachers have too much academic freedom, and are spending too much class time on things that don’t matter.  Again, the tacit assumption is that a school with low test scores is a failing school, and it therefore must be doing a bad job with everything else that schools do.

The real difference between the high-performing vs. low-performing schools is usually that the effects of poverty make it impossible for students in low-performing schools to get as much out of their education as the students in high-performing schools.  My own experience bears this out—the second year that I taught AP Chemistry was in a very high-performing, high socioeconomic status (SES) town.  All of my students passed the AP exam, most with scores of 4 and 5.  If I had stood in front of the class and picked my nose all year, most of those students would have learned the content on their own and passed the exam anyway.  The following year, I was certainly a better AP teacher, and my students certainly got a better AP Chemistry class.  However, I was teaching in an average-performing school in a much lower SES city.  Approximately one-fourth of my students passed the AP exam, and those who passed earned a 3 or 4.

The “fix” that is often applied is to give teachers in low-performing schools scripted lessons from teachers in high-performing schools.  The problem is that the teachers in the high-performing schools are generally no more talented at teaching than the teachers in the low-performing schools.  (I have taught at high-, average-, and low-performing schools, and my observations support this claim.)  Moreover, lessons that are designed for students in high-SES districts generally do not work out-of-the-box for students in low-SES districts.  If the teacher is not permitted to modify the lessons to suit the students’ needs, the scripted lessons fail to improve the performance of students from low-performing schools.  When this happens, everyone assumes that the difference must be caused by the difference between the teachers.  The obvious conclusion is therefore to fire the teachers in the low-performing schools.  Unfortunately, not only does this not solve the problem, it results in the low-performing school having to hire new teachers, who actually are less talented at teaching, due to their lack of experience.  When the students fail to improve under the new teacher, the cycle repeats itself, again and again.

The problem of how to make education work for students living in poverty is pervasive, and any solution will need to be multi-faceted.  However, in the short term, if we give teachers in low-performing schools the freedom to teach students the way they need to be taught, we might at least stop losing so much ground.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
This license gives you permission to copy, share and/or distribute this post or portions thereof, with attribution, under an identical, similar, or compatible license.

Letter From The Front

It has been a tough year so far. I have been very discouraged with what is going on nationally as well as with my own campus and the administration of my particular area. I have been discouraged with how immature and disconnected this year's group of upperclassmen seem to be. I have been upset with how my hands have been tied this year. I am upset that what I know to be good teaching (track record proves it) is being discounted and criticized into oblivion. It has been hard to get up in the mornings to face yet another day full of constant negativity, implied threats and ever increasing bogus paperwork. This is the most discouraged I have felt professionally in many years.

Yet on Friday night, while my school and an opposing football team were notoriously making national headlines, something happened. I was home preparing for the imminent grading period, writing test questions and trying to figure out the statistical strategy to use in the rigged evaluation game we in Indiana call "RISE". I got a text from an unknown number. It was a former student who graduated two years ago. She had left her apartment without her wallet (as teens sometimes do). Her phone was dying. It was dark. It was getting late. She had run out of gas in a less than desirable neighborhood. She had called everyone she could think of to come to her aid. Her mother said she would be there shortly- that was two hours earlier. This student texted me. I went. I was greeted with a rushed dissertation of all the terrible things that had been happening recently. Then she told me how she had called everyone she could think of before calling me. She said, "I knew you would come. You always do." I hugged her, put gas in her car, sat and talked with her for two hours about her future and did a lot of listening and affirming- just as I had done the night before when a classmate of her's had reached out to me on Facebook with an emotional crisis.

It was a nice reminder of why I do drag myself out of bed and face the institutional negativity each day.

Michelle Coy