Archive for November, 2012

What Concerns Teachers?

Monday, November 26th, 2012

School Budgets? Charter Schools? Common Core State Standards? Turn Around Schools? Tenure? Accountability? Merit Pay? Graduation Rates? NCLB Testing?

Teachers, have you spent your hours and hours of curriculum preparation contemplating these issues? You’d have to be the appointed representative to your district union or take evening time twice a month to attend school board meetings to know which, if any, of those concerns affect your class day. Otherwise, you teach, using the models your school literacy coach, department chair, or principal discusses at monthly meetings.

Have you even heard how many students are in your school district? For a comparison, 90% of American students attend public school, right now that’s about 50 million students. The other 10% attend parochial and private schools or are homeschooled. Now established in forty states, charter schools account for about 5% of the 50 million public school students. Remember, charter schools are paid for with the state’s public school budget and may also be for-profit, charging a fee to enroll.

So, no time to read the staggering number of education reports available on these subjects? Here is a summary of thought that has appeared on this blog about each of the main concerns found in the education journals and newspaper sections on education.

School budgets: As the controversy over the fiscal cliff/hill/slope drifts on and on, most states foresee loss of federal money before tax changes start in the following year. Even in California which passed a tax increase to finally help balance the state budget, bets can be placed to guess the amount of money sent to school districts.

Turn Around Schools: If you teach at one of the lowest-performing schools in the nation, your school may have benefitted from Race To The Top grants generated by the stimulus funds four years ago. Some improvement in student abilities has been reported at those schools in spite of bitter critiques by education reform experts. Reformers want to make change fast and furious, but avoid the massive problem facing those schools in impoverished neighborhoods. The best turn around schools address as many of the community difficulties as possible while using models that institute curriculum reforms to improve learning.

Charter Schools: Reform advocates promote charter schools as competitive drivers for school change and choice for parents. The best charter schools show success for students by trying out new teaching ideas, longer days and school years, small class sizes, and other approaches to improve learning. Never mind that additional tuition money is asked for to provide the tools for success. Studies show that a well-equipped public school is just as successful.

Accountability: If you must choose, keep an eye on accountability issues. The strongest current concern is evaluation of students, teachers, and schools. Testing, tenure, common core standards, and merit pay have their role in the decisions that will be made over several years before accountability is set in place for public schools. For example, in the latest speeches by and interviews with Arne Duncan, the United States Superintendent of Schools, the present emphasis will be on principal preparation and evaluation.

Remember, accountability affects you, your students, the kind of school where you teach, and the entire school community.

Read Fiction or Non-fiction?

Monday, November 19th, 2012

In my last post I wrote about teaching the Gold Rush, one of California’s fourth grade social studies units. It was a great time to read fiction and non-fiction.

reading fiction and non-fiction

reading fiction and non-fiction

Fiction stories galore have been written for students with this theme. Still available are plenty of primary non-fiction texts that explain how to pan for gold, what tools came into use to capture more glitter, and when men of many countries descended on northern and central California before it even became a state.

At the same time, fiction versus non-fiction reading laid out in the Common State Core Standards is the controversy in the education news. Remember, CCS was developed under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association to provide a set of guidelines for all grade levels in every state to acquire consistent learning before students graduate from high school.

What do you know? My master’s degree thesis to study writing improvement when students participate in the study of the non-fiction genre fit in with that standard.

One of the controversial and difficult standards to understand across grade levels is the fiction and non-fiction to use at each grade level. In spite of information in the CCS appendix, I’ve been asked at professional development workshops at my school and district to elucidate how to choose texts.

For one, when students reach the upper elementary and higher grades, does the standard look for text complexity in the story or only the reading level of the text? Some text may score high on the reading level but low on the difficulty of the story. Two, students are used to fiction and have well-developed understanding of inferences and can use personal background to sense the conflicts. In non-fiction works students need lessons in how to find the meaning of new vocabulary, much less inferences or cause and effect of actions.

The Pioneer Institute in Boston criticizes the emphasis on types of literature and primary sources to choose at any grade level. It is the group’s position that fictional literature is the most common type of reading in school and provides a wide variety of skills. The group doesn’t deny non-fiction use such as biography, newspapers, and journals, but thinks that the value of non-fiction reading vs. fiction literature is overrated.

On the other hand, corporations and college professors stress the need to be well-versed with non-fiction text as it plays a role in business and research.

In my opinion, one hopes students enjoy learning, whether the Gold Rush in California fourth grade, or rocks in the Earth Science unit, or Euclid’s first axiom about equal ¬†things that can influence human understanding about equality in all its forms (Abraham Lincoln used the axiom to explain the need to pass Amendment 13- abolishing slavery-to the Constitution).

Why controversy? Choose all kinds and genres of text to strengthen understanding.

The Youngest Child

Monday, November 12th, 2012

In case you don’t realize…the youngest child entering first grade is now expected to read and comprehend simple text. The Common Core Standards have promulgated this expectation for first graders (agreed to by 46 of the 50 United States).

No longer can a first grade child just know which way is up for a book-that’s for Kindergarten or better yet, pre-school. It’s a given for the parent, pre-school leader, or Kindergarten teacher to read to and with a child before he/she enters first grade.

Did you know that only 10 states and Washington, DC, provide full-day Kindergarten? Half-day Kindergarten is mandated in 34 states and 6 more states have no requirement at all for a Kindergarten program in public schools. Note that in California which is starting a 2-year transition Kindergarten program for children not turning 5 until the last four months of the year, the main focus is to prepare young students to be ready for reading.

The 50 states complain constantly about the cuts that must be made to school budgets because of limited state revenue. A sardonic eye looks for the next crisis, hoping not to hurt the low-income 5 year olds that fill many public school Kindergartens and need the benefit of reading readiness.

So, no library reading program for 3-4 year olds near your home?

No affordable pre-school at your local school?

No Head Start? Remember, the federally supported and well-documented successful program for low-income pre-school students, only has funds to treat 1/3 of current 3-4 year olds.

No Kindergarten in your area?

Nevertheless, every parent takes their child to the pediatrician.

That’s where the parent can find “Reach Out and Read,” begun in Boston, Massachusetts. The program can be found at 5000 pediatric medical sites in the United States. It provides books to 5.1 million children under 5 and shows parents how to introduce books to their sons and daughters before they enter formal school training.

In California alone there are 615 sites, 601 thousand children, and 900 thousand books of benefit because of the model. New York’s Belleview Pediatric Center was featured on the Newshour, Thursday, November 8.

You can volunteer! Go to the website and find out how to offer support.

Teacher Evaluation-It’s Happening Cross Country!

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Hidden among the news on Super Storm Sandy and the election are education newswriter’s stories about states across the nation that have developed and are implementing public school teacher-administrator evaluation models.

Good news! After years of indifference about student progress, in 2-3 years a different way of evaluation has suddenly developed. New practice has been called for by the current federal administration. And so, state legislatures have written bills that authorize a new model. Colorado and Massachusetts are examples in the news.

Who is involved? If you look at the articles, good models have asked teachers and teachers unions, administrators, boards of education, and the community to add their outlook in order to devise a plan.

The use of student proficiency on yearly standardized tests, once claimed to be the measure that identifies high-quality versus poor-quality teachers, is now only part of Colorado and Massachusetts evaluation systems. The assertion by some education experts that dismissing poor teachers will of itself improve low-performing schools has been put aside.

Furthermore, no school district will use the model until professional development has been realized. The order for support when receiving poor evaluations has been meticulously detailed and approved by teachers.

Overall, the goal is to devise an evaluation model that improves teaching, rewards good procedures, offers leadership, and, above all, increases student success. See The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Some states have jumped to the “merit pay” issue, called an incentive so teachers agree to a new model of evaluation. In Newark, New Jersey, the American Federation of Teachers’ union agreed to the scheme as long as teachers had say in the development and implementation of the new evaluation model being devised in New Jersey. It will take a long while before teachers can see the value of teaching for money. After all schools are not run like hedge funds. Change in salary plans are a difficult issue to bring up in a poor state budget economy.

This blog asserts that teacher evaluation must be revised first. Salary change debates come next.

However, teachers should realize that the current administration has put education on a front burner and wants to improve the lowest performing schools. Evaluation is a tool to ensure that goal.