Archive for January, 2013

Funds and New Tests A-comin’

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Good news for a new year! No cuts in California’s school funds ever since tax initiatives were passed in November 2012 elections. Moreover, Governor Brown has proposed to deliver more money to schools and districts based on need.

What a change a vote makes!

Of the 6 million children in California schools, more than 2 million are below the poverty line so it makes sense to this blog’s positions to provide more funds to those schools with large numbers of English language learners and low-income students. After all, an abundance of education articles have stressed the need to focus on this nation’s poverty levels if we want to increase student education achievement for all groups. For instance, see Business Week‘s September 2012 article.

The mantra in Mike Honda’s (D-California) San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece (January 23, 2013) supports funding for a school’s needs. He offers this outcome: “Our society is richer, our economy is stronger, workforce is better and our outlook is brighter-and, consequently, we witness lower welfare costs, lower crime and lower levels of incarceration.”

Too bad a number of citizens say it ain’t so, refusing to look at the evidence, instead of making it so.

At the same time, the California Superintendent of Schools, Tom Torlakson, has issued a report to detail a move to computerized yearly state tests that are going to begin by 2015. His press release describes the way the plan will be implemented. An estimated $1 billion would update the state’s Common Core Standards curriculum, provide teacher training on testing geared to those standards, and get more computers into more school classrooms.

This blog hopes these potential changes to California schools, funds that provide revised curriculum and testing, resolve the concerns often heard about the quality of United States’ public schools. Still there is one sad question that fills the mind. The children who need the most resources are still often consigned to the most ignored schools that have not and will not without relentless emphasis provide adequate student achievement.

It will take vibrant collective transformation to allow that impoverished “every girl” mentioned in President Obama’s Inaugural Address to rise up.

Teaching Guns

Sunday, January 20th, 2013
a California elementary school

a California elementary school

It’s in the news, but I can’t imagine keeping a gun locked in a desk drawer in my classroom. Why?

I was ten when carnage occurred at the school in Stockton, California. I didn’t even know where the town was although I should have, going to Sacramento every month to see my great-grandma. When I now see news photos of the 25 year old scene with children lying on the ground, I begin to understand the transformation in school safety from 1989 on. I wonder how many other young or old teachers have been thinking about the changes. California’s assault weapon ban didn’t take long to pass in the state legislature after the shootings even though guns are part of the lifestyle for the majority of the state. Gun Free Zone signs are not uncommon in California schools.

Now that I’m teaching and have my own classroom, we have lockdown drills every year. Having memorized the Code Red Public Address notification-not to be confused with a fire drill or earthquake call-, my students are old enough to help pile desks against the doors to make it difficult, but not impossible, to enter the locked room even if the perpetrator must shoot open the lock.

Since December teachers have been revising plans for a lockdown event. The school district is going to buy “wood board and clamp” mechanisms to put on a door when Code Red is declared. We’ve revised our plan to hide in the little storage room between classrooms. Usually used only for tutoring or small group work, it’s not big enough for two classes of fourth graders to hide. Since the school can’t keep all doors locked all the time, each set of teachers has discussed securing all children in one of the adjoining classrooms so just one set of doors can be barricaded, locked, and boarded.

Now I know why our windows are covered or opaque. I know why some schools hire personnel to roam the playground and hallways watching for stray adults. I know why no one is allowed inside the school unless they have signed in at the office and received a Visitor’s Badge.

I have just finished teaching units on fractions and measurement, rocks and minerals, and California missions. The Gold Rush unit is next when reckless gun shooting, banditry, and killings weren’t prosecuted while California lurched into statehood. Why don’t the curriculum standards stress the wild behavior at that time?

Although I’ve gone out skeet shooting once and was pretty good at hitting those clay disks, the thought of any kind of gun protecting my students and me is absurd. Not all teachers at my school are so hesitant. No one, however, has alluded to the “good guy” statements made by adherents of the National Rifle Association. At lunch every day, we talk about the issue. Most of us agree with President Obama’s plans for improved gun registration and background check guidelines. I mean you have to register each car you own, don’t you? Are bullet-spewing arms less dangerous than cars?

No one I know thinks any human who wants to protect himself needs a weapon with a 100 magazine clip to do the job. If you’ve killed an intruder, it’s doubtful you fired 100 bullets to do it. I agree with the proposal to ban mega-magazine clips.

For all those who think their life is no longer free if they won’t be able to buy guns whenever they want, they need to go to school. I’m trying to teach what it means to be free and the responsibilities of freedom for yourself and all other citizens in the United States. We may often say “it’s a free world”, but not true. It’s not a simple word to fling around.

The Latest Charter Schools

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Tired of listening to myriad solutions for ensuring the success of all 6 million students in this country? By now you know there’s no quick fix. It takes m-o-n-e-y and unyielding determination.

Here’s one possibility seen on News Hour at the end of 2012 in the middle of the struggle about the nation’s fiscal burdens. A video segment treats the latest in charter schools, institutions loved by some education experts and loathed by others.

Depicted are school classrooms that illustrate the values noted on the Rocketship Education website. Look it over, one of few that offer details for the daily schedule and, moreover, encourages visitation to its various schools.

The Rocketship scheme was founded by Preston Smith and Joel Danner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who you can hear on the News Hour segment talking about the values, similar to KIPP charter schools, encouraged by the model: respect, responsibility, persistence, and empathy. To overcome the criticism against many charter schools in California, each K-5 school deliberately includes students who receive free and reduced price lunch (indicating low-income families) and embraces a majority of English Learners. All teachers have a degree in Humanities or Math/Science. The school day is 8-4 pm and comprises enrichment programs of art, music, Physical Education, and a cultural diversity curriculum. A big enticement is the one hour daily Learning Lab. Rocketship Education charter schools hope to expand by 2020 to 50 U.S. cities, educating 1 million students.

Impressive ambition! So why are the Rocketship schools, so far, just one of many new options offered to school districts? Its website spouts the current education lingo-from “parent empowerment” to “higher-order critical thinking” to “prepare for the college curriculum”-but the model is seen as the latest, not the definite, plan to close the achievement gap.

First, teacher’s degrees in many charter schools are impressive, but they have been recruited from Teach for America which places university graduates in elementary schools with minimal pre-service preparation. On the one hand, these new teachers are provided daily training from experienced teaching personnel and paid well. However, the teachers are only required to teach for two years. Any long time teacher will remind you that, not only successful professional development, but minimal faculty turnover allows a reliable program to continue. Necessary changes can be made more efficiently when personnel are familiar with the glitches that have occurred.

The curriculum outlined on the website suggests use of well-established programs, such as Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) to support second language learners in the classroom. This particular program requires a lot of professional development and supervision. Teachers need at least two years to use the model well as this retired teacher knows.

The Rocketship Education website endorses a wide diversity of curriculum in addition to reading and math. However, the segment on the News Hour noted that no art and music was available yet.

The Learning Lab model is also a well-established tool used for many years as an hourly after school supplement for students with reading/math scores below proficiency. To be effective a detailed analysis of improvement for students using the software must be available to teachers. Not available at Rocketship schools yet.

Right now, the Rocketship Education model shows good reading/math proficiency. Due to California’s open enrollment law, enough high-performing students have already enrolled under the blanket of a county Board of Education quest to close the achievement gap and avoid union requirements, i.e., long-term dependable teachers and a supportive public school administration.

Let’s hope the model survives and replication occurs in regular public schools or it may end up as one of the many models that have been started and discarded when change doesn’t magically occur.

School in 2013

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

We found out what it’s like to be on pins and needles in anticipation of the outcome of each adult’s personal assets. The 112th Congress finally forced itself to raise hands; so now we know who pays and how much.

Soon the country can anticipate the Battle of Spending Cuts. Most important to teachers, what about the United State government’s ability to fund programs for positive student achievement? Will all education funds be cut?

One can thank California voters for decisions in the last election to pass Proposition 30 by a good margin which means that the state will be able to balance its budget and fund public schools and other safety net issues. In addition, Proposition 32 was defeated by a large margin so it can be said that people in California don’t want outside Super PAC money to influence the state and, at the same time, squelching union contributions to support programs that are in its interests.

In spite of constant country-wide criticism from supposed experts who blame unions for all state problems, it can be said in California that there is still a place for group advocacy.

For teachers it’s surprising to find out that in 1865, fifteen years after California became a state and formed its legislature, John Swett, the first organizer of the California Educators Society (original name of California Teachers Association), asked for “fair share” taxation to support public schools. Later the association advocated for the first state-wide school tax. In 1866 legislation to establish free public schools became law. Class-size reduction was legislated in 1895.

Amazing! It’s almost 2013 and the same issues that promote student achievement come around again. While you teach, expect to think about and even volunteer for committees on the myriad issues involving teacher evaluation, quality of learning, and due process.

Teachers, no matter where you are, keep a smile on your face, but be determined in 2013 to remember the past and pursue the future success for all your students.

An addendum to the post on Guns in Schools: It has been noted in the media that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)  has long been without a director, only acting directors and deputies have been in charge of ATF policies. For a strong background check system, a director must be  confirmed by the Senate which has been dragging its feet on approval of all appointments needed by the current administration. Safety in schools depends on swift action.