Friday, June 30, 2017

The School Years Fly By Like Months by Dr. Michael Flanagan

This week concludes my 31st year in education.

It seems the school years fly by like months, each one faster than the last.

I blink and another year has gone.

Teachers crawl to summer break, and question if we are making a difference at all.

Pack away the books, rip down the bulletin board papers

Wonder how we can possibly do this another year.

Wasn’t it just September?

What could we have done better?

Next year I’ll do things differently

I will be stricter about the cell phones.

I’ll own that Danielson teacher evaluation

“Highly effective,”  here I come!

Or, maybe I will just continue being the best teacher I can be, rubrics be damned

Teachers scramble to find standardized exam scores

They watch the elation of a child who passed, and the devastation of one who didn’t

“I am an awesome teacher!”

“I am a hack”

“Awesome...hack... awesome” for every kid who took the test.

The day it stops hurting is the day you need to pack up and go

I look around the halls and have flashes of students from years ago

They’re still here, with me, sitting in these desks.

I find the letters, saved for years, written by students thanking me for being their teacher.

Still make tears well up in my eyes. As they should.

The prom, the awards, the hopes and dreams

The fear of what they will face.

The tragedies of students taken in their prime, before even having a chance to realize those dreams

We search out our kids at graduation, take some pictures, sign their yearbooks...

Some names almost immediately fade from grasp,

Then there’s ones that we will never forget

They took the bullying

Endured the quiet desperation of a child growing into his or her own

Some will move to jobs, the military or college

And into debt

Where will they work?

How will they be safe on these streets?

Just be happy, kids, and learn.

What kind of world are we leaving for our children?

Tear another page from the calendar.

See you in September.

Stressed Out (A Work in Regress) by Matt Prestbury

I get stressed out
Every time they roll a test out
My parents say "go on and do your best now"
My teacher says "go on and do your best now"
But how can I rest now
When I know this test counts
For nothing
But my teacher's firing
Bring in TFA and pay them so much less now
For test scores teachers gets a verbal hosing
And a threat that this "failing" school WILL be closing
If I don't do better
My parents get a letter
Saying that I'll have to go a charter school boasting
Of rigor, rigor, rigor and high test scores
Man I'm so stressed out I can't take anymore
Momma I wanna sing
Naw, I wanna scream
There's no music department
And they fired Mrs. Breem
I wanna run
Naw, I'd rather sit
Cause there's no PE
Since it ain't in the budget
I wanna paint
But I can't
Cause they shrunk the art department until it just ain't
No time for recess
There's only regress
Uniformity abounds
Right down to how we dress
Conformity surrounds
So I guess it's needless
To say
I wanna go my own way
But I can't cause I got another test to take today
So I crawl outta bed
And I take prescription meds
So that I can please my parents
And so they can please the feds
Who just see me as some data
Just some numbers to be crunched
A no name nobody
Headed to be lumped
With a bunch of other nobodys
Who don't count for $%^&
We're just pawns in a game
And I'm physically sick
Sick of this nonsense
And sick of this testing
Nausea and vomiting and headaches cause I'm stressing
Sick of these business folks
Being overbearing
They're a bunch of wolves
Tailored sheeps' clothes they're wearing
They're a bunch of vultures
Extending in their reach
Leave us the &^%$ alone
Let us learn
Let teachers teach
Matt Prestbury is a father of four, a husband, and educator and mentor. He was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, and is a graduate of Baltimore City Public Schools.
Mr. Prestbury has been in the education field for the past 20 years. In addition to teaching, he also has written a children's book, I Want My Daddy To Do It; started a nonprofit, Focused on Fatherhood; and created the Facebook group, Black Fathers. His passion for fatherhood and family continuously fuels his drive toward advocacy and activism.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bring Your Gun to School – Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Senate by Steven SInger

Originally posted at:

Next school year, I may be able to bring my gun to class.


My class sizes will be larger because of almost $1 billion in budget cuts the legislature couldn’t be bothered to heal over the last seven years. I’ll have to teach more sections because my district is bleeding money from charter school vampires that the legislature couldn’t be bothered to regulate.

But now I can be fully armed.


Bullets over books, I guess.

As a more than 15 year veteran of the public school system, I can’t wait to get back in the classroom wondering which of my fellow teachers, principals, custodians or rent-a-cop security guards is fully locked and loaded. I can’t wait until my elementary school daughter is finally protected by being in an adult’s daily line of fire.

This is going to make us much safer.

At my school, we fired a security guard for slamming a student’s head into the table. I’m sure having these folks armed will have no negative effects at all.

And the extra stress from added responsibilities being piled on my back will just make me more vigilant in case I need to take out my piece in class and chase away Black Bart with my Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model… uh… rifle.

Maybe I can get one with a compass in the stock and a thingie that really tells time, too!

Seriously, it’s hard to believe that grown adults actually voted on this ridiculous farce of a law. The only positive thing is that it still needs to be passed by the House and signed by the Governor.

Bad news: state Representatives just might be as stupid as their Senate colleagues. Good news: the Governor isn’t. There is less than a snowball’s chance in Hell that Gov. Tom Wolf is going to sign this piece of crap.

This is what happens when you have a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democratic Governor. The kids say they want nothing but candy for dinner and Dad says “No.”

Now, with a reality TV star con man in our highest national office, GOP-controlled state legislatures like mine all over the country have become emboldened to pass even worse excrement knowing full well that it has zero chance of ever becoming law. But at least they’ll prove to their gerrymandered Republican voting districts not to primary them with even further right leaning Tea Party mental defectives.

It’s a game of chicken with our most vulnerable residents held hostage in the middle.

You know, if lawmakers think that guns are such a great idea in schools, why don’t they make them legal at the state capital?

You can’t go in that building without passing through a metal detector. If you try to bring a gun in there, the best thing you can hope for is to be refused entry.

And it’s pretty similar in most states. Certainly at federal institutions. You can’t take a firearm with you to visit your Congressperson – or on a tour of the White House.

Gee. Why are so-called conservatives so darn concerned with making sure teachers are armed, but they don’t want to offer the same “protection” to themselves in government, at their businesses, rallies and places of leisure?

Why? Because it’s bullshit.

That’s why.

Most of them don’t really want guns in schools. They know it’s a terrible idea. They just want to look like they support it. Their propaganda networks spew out all this nonsense that they have to pretend to believe.

When they let protesters enter the capital building open carrying automatic weapons, THEN I won’t doubt their sincerity.

When they let Black Lives Matter activists strapping rifles across their shoulders into their rallies among the angry and confused hillbillies, THEN I’ll know how serious they are.

And when the upper crust private and parochial schools where they send their own children start arming their teachers, THEN I’ll believe them.

Until that day, I call bullshit on this whole ridiculous endeavor.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Teachers Don’t Want All This Useless Data

One of the most frustrating things I’ve ever been forced to do as a teacher is to ignore my students and concentrate instead on the data.

I teach 8th grade Language Arts at a high poverty, mostly minority school in Western Pennsylvania. During my double period classes, I’m with these children for at least 80 minutes a day, five days a week.

During that time, we read together. We write together. We discuss important issues together. They take tests. They compose poems, stories and essays. They put on short skits, give presentations, draw pictures and even create iMovies.

I don’t need a spreadsheet to tell me whether these children can read, write or think. I know.

Anyone who had been in the room and had been paying attention would know.

But a week doesn’t go by without an administrator ambushing me at a staff meeting with a computer print out and a smile.

Look at this data set. See how your students are doing on this module. Look at the projected growth for this student during the first semester.

It’s enough to make you heave.

I always thought the purpose behind student data was to help the teacher teach. But it has become an end to itself.

It is the educational equivalent of navel gazing, of turning all your students into prospective students and trying to teach them from that remove – not as living, breathing beings, but as computer models.

It reminds me of this quote from Michael Lewis’ famous book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game:

“Intelligence about baseball statistics had become equated in the public mind with the ability to recite arcane baseball stats. What [Bill] James’s wider audience had failed to understand was that the statistics were beside the point. The point was understanding; the point was to make life on earth just a bit more intelligible; and that point, somehow, had been lost. ‘I wonder,’ James wrote, ‘if we haven’t become so numbed by all these numbers that we are no longer capable of truly assimilating any knowledge which might result from them.'”

The point is not the data. It is what the data reveals. However, some people have become so seduced by the cult of data that they’re blind to what’s right in front of their eyes.

You don’t need to give a child a standardized test to assess if he or she can read. You can just have them read. Nor does a child need to fill in multiple choice bubbles to indicate if he or she understands what’s been read. They can simply tell you. In fact, these would be better assessments. Doing otherwise, is like testing someone’s driving ability not by putting them behind the wheel but by making them play Mariocart.

The skill is no longer important. It is the assessment of the skill.

THAT’S what we use to measure success. It’s become the be-all, end-all. It’s the ultimate indicator of both student and teacher success. But it perverts authentic teaching. When the assessment is all that’s important, we lose sight of the actual skills we were supposed to be teaching in the first place.

The result is a never ending emphasis on test prep and poring over infinite pages of useless data and analytics.

As Scottish writer Andrew Lang put it, “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts – for support rather than for illumination.”

Teachers like me have been pointing this out for years, but the only response we get from most lawmakers and administrators is to hysterically increase the sheer volume of data and use more sophisticated algorithms with which to interpret it.

Take the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System (PVAAS). This is the Commonwealth’s method of statistical analysis of students test scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams, which students take in grades 3-8 and in high school, respectively.

  • Student scores on each test
  • Student scores broken down by subgroups (how many hit each 20 point marker)
  • Which subgroup is above, below or at the target for growth

But perhaps the most interesting piece of information is a prediction of where each student is expected to score next time they take the test.

How does it calculate this prediction? I have no idea.

That’s the kind of metric they don’t give to teachers. Or taxpayers, by the way. Pennsylvania has paid more than $1 billion for its standardized testing system in the last 8 years. You’d think lawmakers would have to justify that outlay of cash, especially when they’re cutting funding for just about everything else in our schools. But no. We’re supposed to just take that one on faith.

So much for empirical data.

Then we have the Classroom Diagnostic Tools (CDT). This is an optional computer-based test given three times a year in various core subjects.

If you’re lucky enough to have to give this to your students (and I am), you get a whole pile of data that’s supposed to be even more detailed than the PVAAS.

But it doesn’t really give you much more than the same information based on more data points.

I don’t gain much from looking at colorful graphs depicting where each of my students scored in various modules. Nor do I gain much by seeing this same material displayed for my entire class.

The biggest difference between the PVAAS and the CDT, though, is that it allows me to see examples of the kinds of questions individual students got wrong. So, in theory, I could print out a stack of look-a-like questions and have them practice endless skill and drills until they get them right.

And THAT’S education!

Imagine if a toddler stumbled walking down the hall, so you had her practice raising and lowering her left foot over-and-over again! I’m sure that would make her an expert walker in no time!

Abstracted repetition is not generally the best tool to learning complex skills. If you’re teaching the times table, fine. But most concepts require us to engage students’ interests, to make something real, vital and important to them.

Otherwise, they’ll just go through the motions.

“If you torture the data long enough, it will confess,” wrote Economist Ronald Coase. That’s what we’re doing in our public schools. We’re prioritizing the data and making it say whatever we want.

The data justifies the use of data. And anyone who points out that circular logic is called a Luddite, a roadblock on the information superhighway.

Never mind that all this time I’m forced to pour over the scores and statistics is less time I have to actually teach the children.

Teachers don’t need more paperwork and schematics. We need those in power to actually listen to us. We need the respect and autonomy to be allowed to actually do our jobs.

Albert Einstein famously said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Can we please put away the superfluous data and get back to teaching?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Are You Going to Educate the Children of This Nation or Not? by Cheryl Binkley

After teaching for 18 years, and being a volunteer defender of schools for the last 5 or so, it amazes me sometimes that I am still surprised by the remarkable conversations and lack of perspective that we as localities and districts have about teaching our kids what they need to know to survive and thrive in the world.

These are a few of the realizations that shock and amaze me:

1.       We allow the question of “What should the government do, and what should private enterprise do?”—a totally ideological concept – to get in the way of providing collectively for our children.

The question of whether everything should be managed by private enterprise has been the driving decision maker for policy at least since the Reagan years, and though it’s tempting to lay that concept at Republicans’ door, that would be overlooking the massive promulgation of that idea by both the Clinton and Obama administrations.  We have reached the point that many in our society (especially among our policymakers) believe government serves little or no purpose , other than to militarily protect us, and even that can be privatized.  But the corollary of that idea is that business’ goal is and should be profit, not providing for the “greater good” when it does not profit the business.  As a result we have a system where no one wants to fund the local government schools, and businesses only want to run schools if they provide substantial profit, a situation which does not serve our children well, and leaves many out.

There have been other ratios of blended government-private management of the nation in other times, than the current extreme view that holds only private enterprise will work.  

In the case of education, who manages it, local governments or private businesses, should not be the major question.   The major questions are:
•         Do ALL children get equal access to a strong, vibrant, positive education?
•         Does the education we provide, provide for the current and long-term  social and economic health of individuals, our communities, and the nation?
•         Are the children and their/our future the first and compelling reason for how we run our schools systems?

2.       We allow non-education “experts” to hang up shingles and pretend that we do not know what works,
(In today’s work landscape it takes considerably more credentialing to become an Interior Designer than to be an Educational Consultant),  and we allow our schools to be sold  packaged products that fly in the face of what we already know.

We know what works in education and it’s more utilitarian than glamorous.  Here are a few items:
•         Regular attendance and consistency.   
o   The single highest predictor of success at learning and life is showing up.  Beyond that, a regular well-organized plan of instruction is needed. That means a student has to be able to get there and when they get there, it’s best if they have a known person they can rely on, who has decided what to do next.
•         Students who are ready to learn—
o   ie healthy and well-fed, not hurting, not tired, not traumatized.
•          Optimum (small) class sizes,
o   not too large, not too small. We know that over 25 is too many, and under 9 or 10 can be useful for some types of learning, but not optimum to all tasks.
•         Well-trained teachers who believe the students can learn.
o    Teachers who have both substantive knowledge in subject fields and pedagogical skills, such as classroom procedures and organization of tasks, and developmental knowledge of students at a particular level.  
•         A space that is conducive to the work of learning.
o   Clean, safe, not too hot, not too cold, with enough room for activities, and reasonably well kept including provision for human requirements like food, water, and bathrooms.
•         Materials that enable the work—
o   chairs, tables, writing & reading materials or subject area materials such as labs and lab supplies, and in today’s world some technology resources.
•         Programs that include a broad range of interests  and a plan for students to pursue,
o    ie  students learn best when they Want to Learn.  Both well planned content and electives that provide expression of their learning, hold their interests, and hook them to liking school.
•         Integration of subject fields
o   so that students can see how the world fits together.
•         Teaching of both metaskills (including design and critical thinking)  and subject specific skills
o    to enable students to learn basic knowledge and know how to learn on their own.
•         Assessment to guide both the student and teacher
o   to understand what they already know and what they have yet to learn.

Seriously, all these items are well studied and documented-- those are the basics.  The rest, many of which are pushed these days, are often not well-researched or serve other purposes than learning.

3.       We pretend there is not enough money to do the job well, while throwing money at outrageous initiatives that don’t contribute to learning, and while spending large proportions of our budgets on measuring rather than learning.

The fact of the matter is that we are the richest nation that has ever existed on the face of the planet.  If we do not have enough money to graciously and completely educate the current and future generations, no one ever has or ever will.   We hide money in tax deferments and exemptions, in poorly conceived but well-sold initiatives, and in 1000 boondoggle crony deals and made up spending needs outside the education arena --rather than just paying the bill to provide for our children.  As a nation we have become the worst kind of derelict parent, refusing to pay our child support.

4.       We allow businesses to demand that schools deliver specifically trained employees to their door with certifications, licenses, core skills, and work ethics to reduce their cost of doing business, but we do not ask them to pay their fair share to educate the workers they will need.

It’s become popular for some businesses across the country to complain that workers are not career ready, yet companies that do their due diligence in workforce training do well—only those who refuse to do the needed job specific training are without the kind of workers they need, and some businesses that object to paying US citizens are more than willing to hire non-U.S. workers who were often U.S. educated, at lower pay and pay immigration costs, along with training supports for them – rather than hiring our own STEM graduates.  Demanding schools do career specific training is a bogus and ill-calculated set of requirements that cannot be effective in a working environment that is expected to change at the speed of light in the present and near future.  Do career electives fit in, for heightening interest for students and helping them career select? Sure it does, but providing an ever rolling set of workplace training programs for businesses while relieving them of responsibility for job training is hardly appropriate.

5.       We insist we want to educate all children equally well, but sabotage poor districts when they do well.

We accuse poor districts of cheating or demand they change what they are doing when their kids do as well as those in affluent neighborhoods, and often deliberately destabilize schools to provide business opportunities for edu-preneurs.  We quite frankly, won’t allow them to succeed, as though it would somehow hurt our more favored children if those with less thrived.

I have watched this in person, as schools in poorer neighborhoods developed programs and sought and received  grants to raise the quality of school for their children, only to be blocked or accused of nefarious means when the district or state saw the scores. It is one of the ways bias creates a no-win situation for poor kids and their teachers  daily in our society.

6.       We know from studies that the quality of teachers is the primary determiner, outside of quality of homelife and basic health, in whether a child/children learn well.  Yet, we continue to micro-manage, undermine, underpay, and refuse to listen to teachers who have consistently performed well.

The members of the one profession which has delivered for over 100 years a populace educated enough to bring us to the pinnacle of nations as innovators, workers and creators in virtually every field. Yet, we rarely believe teachers have anything to contribute to management decisions or the public conversation on education.

7.       We continue to report and accept reports of school performance based on invalid and useless test scores as though they meant something, when in fact the measure of a good school is in the quality of their teachers, the breadth and depth of their programs, and the sustained time and monetary investment of the community they serve.

8.       We allow people to publicly lie about our schools, the children in them, and the people who work for them without contesting or refuting what they say on a regular basis—even as we know they are lying and know it is with malevolent intent.

From the constantly circulating memes that imply or openly say that schools do not say the pledge of allegiance to the much more sophisticated state cut scores that are decided after the tests based on how many children test proponents have decided Should fail; people lie constantly and pervasively about our schools.  From accusations that we are values bereft, to those that we are academically bankrupt the enemies of locally run and funded public schools say and do outrageously dishonest things, but expect to be credited with having the kids’ needs at heart because they are holding teachers accountable.  The master lie, is that it’s about the kids.  Whether you are a philanthropist, a consultant, a vendor, a trainer, a schools company executive, a politician, policymaker, or an upper level manager,

If you lie in order to denigrate others based on ideology, or to make money—IT IS NOT BECAUSE YOU CARE ABOUT THE CHILDREN.

So I would ask as loudly as internet etiquette and the gods of human decency will allow,

Are you going to educate the children of this nation or not?

Because right now, Or Not, is winning.