Archive for January 25, 2012

State of Our Educational Union

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One aspect about teachers and educaation from Obama’s State of the Union stood out last night:

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. (Applause.)

And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making. (Applause.)”

My immediate response was: How do you plan to determine which teachers are to be rewarded? Do you plan to continue using test scores as with flawed NCLB and the equally flawed Race to the Top? If so, how do you expect teachers to do anything but teach to the test? After all, as it now stands, when teachers, and principals, are “rewarded” based upon test scores there has been a steady rise in scripted curriculum and “data driven” instruction, which is just another word for teaching to the test.

When I heard the above, quoted from the union address last night, I was absolutely livid because I feel betrayed by Obama and his buddy Arnie due to the testing based, union busting Race to the Top fraud, which has only served to reinforce the worst of NCLB, or as I call it ETLB, Every Teacher Left Behind.

I’ve worked at a school on probation for the past four years and I’ve watched student after student and teacher after teacher leave my school due to draconian expectations solely based upon making AYP. Teaching is more than training students to jump through test bubble hoops using rigid, fidelity to the curriculum.

The only reason I was able to watch Obama last night and really listen to what he had to say was due to medical leave: after working 12 – 15 hours per day, seven days per week since the end of August – yes, before the summer ended – we teachers do work during the summer yet all hours are put in off the clock – I ended up with serious complications stemming from a an ongoing health challenge.

On Medical Leave, But I’d Rather Be Teaching

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As of last week I finally faced the facts: the symptoms of my acoustic neuroma, a minute tumor along my auditory nerve diagnosed four three years ago, had ballooned once I was transferred from teaching first grade on the first floor of my school up to the third floor teaching middle school language arts in fifth through eight grade.

Even without a tumor growing into my brain cavity – this transfer was a gargantuan shift I thought I was up to. DId I chose to teach middle school language arts? No this was not my choice and it wasn’t even my principal’s choice: she was required to place another teacher – who had taught the language arts curriculum for several years – in the middle school social studies position instead. Because I am “highly qualified” to teach middle school lang arts, due to state certification, but the instructor teaching lang arts the previous years was not, I who had never taught middle school language arts was forced into a position I didn’t choose.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this could be and I assure you my colleague and I wondered the same thing. We were told by our principal her hands were tied yet how did my colleague qualify to teach lang arts the previous years?

It’s a CPS ‘mystery’ or perhaps a way for my principal to get rid of an experienced, expensive , yet excellen teacher (her evaluation of my first grade teaching abilities the previous year was deemed “Excellent”): I have two master’s degrees and enough professional development credits for a doctorate degree. !n fact, at my principals demand (“You are not qualified to teach these children, you must become ESL certified.”), I had undertaken ESL (English as a Second Language) training when I had been transferred from my library position into the first grade classroom three years previously. At over six hundred dollars a class – six classes, four hours every wednesday night, for two years – I really could have used the money I spent on training I truly did not need to pay down my exorbitant student loans from my MAT degree!

Ultimately we were all put under great duress: the principal, who was required to place we teachers where they didn’t belong; the experienced language arts teacher, who was forced to teach social studies instead of language arts which she had been teaching for three years; and me, who was once agin being transferred but this time up five grade levels to teach a curriculum I had never taught before. This is the yet another misbegotten legacy of No Child Left Behind – federally requiring everyone at a local school level to make ‘choices’ which are not best for a particular school.

NCLB Word Cloud

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The Road Ahead: Recommend Changes to NCLB

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After only two days of bogging in response to the predominantly negative NCLB word cloud, shown previously, I feel the need to take a break and do something empowering. Following you will find solidly supported recommendations about changes for NCLB from Fair Test. Take them and use them to help make a difference by contacting policy makers with the link at the end of this blog. NCLB is damaging our educational system and it’s laws need to be addressed – be a part of that and make your views known.

Changes to NCLB are recommended d by many organizations. However, I think the following, recommended by Fair Test: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, are the most realistic and practical.

What to say when you call your senator about NCLB
When you call your Senator to ask him to help overhaul NCLB, here are five suggested talking points, which you can deliver in 2-3 minutes:
Introduce yourself, say what city or town you are from, and tell the person you want to convey a message about No Child Left Behind.
If this Senator is on the HELP Committee say, something like: “I understand that NCLB will be ‘marked up’ and voted on in Committee this week. I am very concerned about the damage caused by NCLB and want Senator [name] to vote to make major positive changes. The Harkin-Enzi reauthorization bill, however, does not improve on NCLB.” Then use the list below.
If this Senator is not on the HELP Committee, say something like: “I understand that the HELP committee will ‘mark up’ and vote on a new NCLB in a couple of weeks. I am very concerned about the damage caused by NCLB and want Senator [name] to call the committee leaders and ask them to make major positive changes.” Then you can use these talking points:

  1. Do not require any additional standardized testing; there is already far too much. The Harkin-Enzi bill will force states to administer tens of millions of new tests, mostly to use to judge teachers and principals.   (Support your argument with examples of over-testing and test misuse at schools in your community.)
 
  2. Do not require the use of student test scores to evaluate educators. The Harkin-Enzi bill does requires this, but the Alexander-Isakson bill does not.  Reliance on exam results, with all their inaccuracies and fluctuations, will result in many wrong decisions: Research shows teachers classified “best” based on one year’s results may be “worst” the very next year.
 
  3. Fund states to upgrade the quality of teacher-designed assessments. This is the best way to refocus classrooms on critical thinking and problem solving, rather than memorizing factoids and filling in multiple-choice bubbles.
 
  4. Hold states accountable for determining the cause of low scores at particular schools and designing/monitoring customized plans to enhance performance.  No more one-size-fits-none, top-down policies that have failed to improve educational quality or equity in the NCLB era. The Harkin-Enzi bill requires schools to use one of several models or “strategic improvements.” These should be dropped.
 
  5. Please read and use the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability, which you can see at www.edaccountability.org.  

To contact your Senators to recommend changes to NCLB through this site:
http://fairtest.org/contacting-your-senators-recommend-changes-nclb

To read the complete publication see:

www.fairtest.org

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NCLB is a Failure

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Following are points, with citations, outlining why NCLB is a failure:

- The convergence of testing, sanctions and inadequate funding means too many children will continue to get a second-class education. A false accountability system based on testing and punishing will never bring about success for all children.

http://fairtest.org/sites/default/files/exec%20summary%20-%20final%20color.pdf

– NCLB groups generally successful schools with dropout factories that don’t teach the majority of their students much of anything. If a generally successful school has only 5% of is students underachieving on standardized tests, the school will be put on probation for not making Anual Yearly Progress (ATP) as defined by the NCLB law.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2104311,00.html#ixzz1jNMdL6q0

My personal experience of NCLB’s failure is its impact upon my classroom practice: in the ten years since NCLB became law I have seen best practice in classrooms be reduced to teaching to the test. Testing and assessment have taken precedence over actually teaching with teachers becoming slaves to accountability paperwork. This is especially true at schools on probation because of the NCLB requirement for unobtainable “Annual Yearly Progress” which is nearly impossible to meet (see above for details in this regard).

What failures of NCLB have you experienced?

NCLB is Flawed

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Based on evidence collected from two years of classroom experience around the nation, FairTest documented a series of basic flaws in NCLB, such as:

- The law falsely assumes that boosting test scores should be the primary goal of schools, an approach that has not improved education when implemented by individual states;


- Widespread school “failure” is an inevitable outcome of NCLB’s one-size-fits-all design because of rigid “adequate yearly progress” provisions, which set unrealistic goals for academic gains, punish diversity, and ignore measurement error;


- NCLB’s school transfer policy undermines ongoing reform programs and disrupts the lives of students and teachers. Heavier sanctions required for schools that do not boost test scores have previously been shown to be counter-productive;

- The requirement that limited English proficient students score “proficient” on English exams is self-contradictory, as is the provision that most children with special needs demonstrate competency in the same manner as other students;

- Education is being damaged as students are coached to pass tests rather than taught a rich curriculum that will help prepare them for life in the 21st Century.

Being a classroom teacher who was fortunate enough to begin teaching four years before NCLB became law, I experienced teaching before the law was enacted.

Pre-NCLB there was much more freedom to develop lessons to meet the needs of all students, now cookie-cutter lesson plans are demanded that scientifically researched results. Pre-NCLB teaching was FUN thus learning was fun because specific ways to teach were not mandated to meet pre-determined test scores, Post-NCLB fidelity to the curriculum has trumped meeting the needs of students because students must be taught exactly what the tests required by NCLB assess.

It has pained me to use a set curriculum with pre-determined weekly tests. Previously all I ever needed to teach were exceptional fiction and nonfiction books, writing and drawing materials, and I only used worksheets for developing math drills. Every classroom or group of students I taught made extensive literacy and math gains and I never second-guessed my classroom practice because my students made significant gain in my classroom.

My students have continued to make significant gains since NCLB became law yet I have been constantly at odds with the administration at our school, which is still on probation. My admin have felt they need to emphasis fidelity to the scientifically researched curriculum prescribed at the district level as a result of NCLB law. In addition, there are specific criteria laid out by the NCLB for schools on probation and administrators must ‘follow the letter of the law’ determined by testing, which seems more important than actually teaching.

Of course this is all my opinion, yet teachers where I have taught the last four years all feel the same way. Moral is incredibly low as we near the spring season of high stakes standardized testing: fear of not measuring up to the impossible Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) of NCLB looms over all of us. Failure for our school could mean closure and if our school is closed we all loose our jobs – EVEN THOUGH OUR TESTS SCORES ARE HIGHER THAN MOST SCHOOLS IN OUR CITY! This is due to the way NCLB calculates AYP of schools and this aspect of NCLB will be addressed in a future blog.

No Child Left Behind

Ten years ago, January 8, 2002, Geoge Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law. Education Week created an NCLB package of multiple perspectives of NCLB on Storify: No Child Left Behind Ten Years Later http://storify.com/EdweekComm/no-child-left-behind-10-perspectives-on-10-years-o

The word cloud image below depicts the most used references to NCLB. As you can easily see, the word “Flawed” is the biggest, thus the greatest term used to refer to NCLB with “Failure” close behind.

How did this law come into being? Beginning on January 8, I am challenging myself to write each week about how the law came into being using the word cloud as my inspiration. I welcome everyone to add their own NCLB stories word by word: How has NCLB impacted your life? What effect has it had upon your school, students, children?

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