Archive for Curriculum

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.

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.

What are the secrets of high poverty, high success schools?

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What are the secrets of high poverty, high success schools? According to Uncovering the “Secrets” of High Poverty, High Success SchoolsDouglas B Reeves in his piece “Uncovering the Secrets of High Poverty, High Success Schools” the following point provide the greatest impact:

  • A focus on academic achievement
  • Clear curriculum choices “Uncovering the Secrets Behind
  • Frequent assessment of student progress and multiple opportunities for improvement
  • An emphasis on nonfiction writing
  • Collaborative scoring of student work

Teaching as Team Effort: Parents as Players

If teaching was a team sport, the team supporting the education of each would student consist: the student, his or her parents, school administrators, local school board member, the state board of education, and all national player including politicians. So why is it the national burden for education falling solely upon the shoulders of classroom teachers when actually teachers are part of a team effort? Perhaps everyone on the ‘team’ needs ‘professional development’ not just teachers?

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Professional development of teachers now trumps students attending school and there rarely mention about the impact of parents upon test scores. Day after day public school students across this district have missed school due to the professional development of teachers and has meant students didn’t have school AGAIN yesterday! This month has been a checkerboard combo of missed school days due to holidays, in combination with non-school days where-by teachers are schooled in a plethora of duties, most of which have nothing to do with actually teaching students in front of them. One thing teachers need more than anything is more time with students and all the ‘developing’ of the teaching profession runs counter-productive interference towards this goal.

You might ask, “How can all these days off for students be deemed productive?”

Well, usually, professional development is predominantly filled with endless tasks of accountability required by the government, in cohort with local school district mandates with a focus on testing. For three hours yesterday teachers at my school analyzed test scores from the newly minted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) only to discover the test scores reflected what teachers at our school already know about our students because we mark their papers and work with them everyday. Lets get real, these test are for accountability purposes and the only ones being held accountable are teachers.

Professional development could be about becoming a better teacher and further developing skills to reach students.. However, no matter what teachers are told, above all, their endless professional development has been mandated in order to hold them individually accountable for student test scores. The laser-like focus on testing, required by the NCLB law, is blame in disguise as accountability with teachers being held solely accountable for student achievement on test scores. Yes, I will take some responsibility for low student test scores. However, what about the parents? At one time I heard a speech by Prsident Obama holding parents accountable yet rarely do journalists write about anyone but teachers.

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However, to my surprise and delight, Thomas L. Friedman recently wrote an informed piece in the NY Times addressing this conundrum titled How About Better Parents?‎ In this piece Friedman outlined how recent studies indicate parents who are more involved in their children’s education can have significant impact on student achievement.

One study cited by Friedman outlined the Program for International Assessment exams conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.C.D.E.). The PISA conducted a team study of 5,000 parents, across a wide spectrum of socioeconomic levels, about how they had raised their children and then compared these practices with PISA test scores.

In early November, the PISA team published three main findings discovered i their study about parenting practices among the highest scoring students who took the PISA exams: “on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.” Significantly, the score point difference was smallest when parental involvement simply took the form of playing with their children.

The findings of the PISA team where reinforced by the study “Back to School: How parent involvement affects student achievement” conducted by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education and written up in a recent issue of The American School Board Journal by Patti Barth, the center’s director as cited by Friedman:

“Parent involvement can take many forms, but only a few of them relate to higher student performance. Of those that work, parental actions that support children’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact on academic achievement at school.
“Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.”

Friedman has now become part of my team to improve student achievement because he addressed the fact few journalists have addressed: parental impact upon education is significant and teachers should not be held solely accountable for test scores. Parents have always been invaluable ‘team players’ in the complex, collaborative, contact ‘sport ‘ of educating their children in my classroom. In fact, all of my most successful students had parents at home working in tandem with me in the classroom to educate their children.

Parents are student’s first teachers: from the time they are born they learn from their parents and it is parents who provide the foundation for teachers who educate their children. From my view, privileged children are those who have better parents, parents who value education and who support their children’s learning from an early age.

Why I hate spelling tests – they exist in the gutter of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Today I walked out of a voluntary meeting where our principal was lecturing us on our unacceptable performance during an unexpected walk-through of our school by a new, non-elected, mayoral appointee of our city board of education: a draconian woman who stalked into my classroom on her walk-through with her shoulders hunched like a linebacker and her face frozen into a snarl. She marched into my classroom, took one look at what I was doing – a heinous spelling test I have cringed at giving since teaching at my current school – and then marched right back out with an even bigger grimace than when she tromped in.

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Now, let me make one thing clear from the beginning: I DESPISE SPELLING TESTS! In fact, I have never given a spelling test any of my students in my entire career until working at my current school. Yes, I taught about word patterns, but never gave a traditional spelling test until my 13 year of teaching.

The sole reason I was forced to administer them? I was told to give spelling tests weekly because it was part of the designated basal reading curriculum. A curriculum, by the way, that has been deemed the only reason our test scores have risen by our assistant principal who, replying to my inquiry about why our school’s reading scores rose a whopping 14 %, adamantly stated “Our tests scores have risen because to due diligence – fidelity to the curriculum.” By they way, fidelity to the curriculum has included weekly spelling tests for the past three years at every grade level, or so I assumed a I have never taught fifth and sixth grade using the curriculum before.

The principal held up my classroom as an example of what not to do: the school board harridan’s visit to my classroom was held up to be exactly what the board member said she didn’t want to see in our classrooms. Hating spelling tests as I do – this made me see red! After all, the only reason I have given spelling tests is because I, and every other teacher, have been told give them! And did I mention I HATE giving spelling tests?

Anyway, when I brought up the fact teachers have been required to give spelling tests as part of the mandatory curriculum, the principal ignored me and acted as if I hadn’t said anything and went on to give a brief lecture as to why spelling tests SHOULDN’T be given – AND THIS IS THE SAME RATIONALE I USED TO JUSTIFY NOT GIVING SPELLING TESTS FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS – BUT TO NO AVAIL! Succinctly, she expounded upon the fact students can receive 100% on a spelling test and then chronically misspell words while writing, another thing I have said to justify not giving them, to no avail.

This is exactly the type of situation that makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland as an educator because, like Alice I am pointing out gross inconsistencies in administrative directives and I am completely dismissed – just like the Queen of Hearts saying “Off with their heads!” In the book, no matter what Alice says to justify heads not being cut off she is ignored. In fact, when the assistant principal asked who told me to give spelling tests I simply replied “You” to which she quickly shoot back “I never told you to give spelling tests! Your aren’t teaching first grade anymore, you’re teaching middle school!”

This is when it became apparent I had to leave the room because if I hadn’t walked out I could have said something in anger I would have regretted such as “Well, taking spelling tests has been a part of my lesson plans for a month now and no one has mentioned this. Did you even read my lesson plans? Did you ever tell me ever NOT to give spelling tests? Why have you approved my lesson plans containing spelling tests since school began this year? I’LL TELL YOU WHY – BECAUSE YOU HAVE NEVER READ MY LESSON PLANS – YOU’VE ONLY GLANCED AT THEM TO SEE HOW THICK THEY WERE! “ But of course, I left the room fuming, demoralized and mortified an administrator had used me as an example of what not to do. After all I’ve taught first grade the past three years and have never taught middle school language arts before. Could I have a little guidance here?

Now, you might wonder what the big deal is about spelling tests and why I just can’t let this go. For me, the big deal is the difference between higher order thinking and lower level thinking based upon a little hierarchy of knowledge called Bloom’s Taxonomy. To simplify things, following you will find a diagram of Bloom’s Taxonomy. As you can see, “Remembering” is at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy because it is the lowest level form of knowledge and remembering is exactly what a spelling test relies upon because a spelling test creates nothing new. Unlike the crowning glory at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy – creating -spelling tests are mere rote memory and do not require students to take information and create something new with it – which is the true test of a student understanding what they have learned.

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And this my friends is exactly why I hate giving spelling tests and why I have NEVER, EVER administered them to any of my previous students before working at my current school and why I have spent this entire blog ranting on about being called out for giving a spelling test when I don’t even want to giving them in the first place. Luckily, now I WILL NEVER HAVE TO GIVE A SPELLING TEST AGAIN! At least not while the current school board member who visited my class today has her way…