Posts Tagged ‘cycle of inquiry’

School Opens

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Another school year begins; this time without fear of budget cuts. New Common Core State Standards (CCSS) articles head the news. “Should we or shouldn’t we?” is in the media. Although 45 states have agreed to use the CCSS, it still is argued. I don’t care as long as the tests for those standards are improved and are only one tool to assess the proficiency of students, and definitely not the evaluative tool that overwhelms all others to decide how teachers perform. The question of testing should dominate the media coverage. Why is it not? Too complicated?

California elementary school

California elementary school

I’m concentrating on how to begin the new school year. I have three days to prepare my room so that new kids switch from a low number of classmates in a primary third grade. They enter a fourth grade class with a lot more students and upper grade behavior standards to learn. My goal is to prepare a room that feels comfortable and readies kids to deal with new responsibilities. Then the students will walk in for five days to learn the why and wherefore about literature, writing, math, science, social studies, art, and physical education.

If I have a complaint about how our union negotiates the year’s schedule, it is why students don’t attend for 3 days just to learn and practice the order and schedule. Then have a weekend to relax and come back on Monday ready for a week of curriculum.

I’ve read about state legislatures that have voted for laws of no tenure for teachers. I’ve seen teachers on TV quoted because their state has done nothing to prepare teachers for the new Common Core Standards. Without going into the details of these issues, I’m just glad that California has enough money, and I don’t expect an easy transition. I’ve read articles about capable teachers who have already employed new practices to introduce standards to students. I’ve read about the “cycle of inquiry” as a staff development tool. I’ve also heard complaints about unhelpful professional development already attended.

I may have my differences with the union and the state, but I know that my students do well on exams, and my school will persevere no matter what. It is not like the high school in Oakland (“Lifting up fallen high school” by Carolyn Jones, San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 2013) that has become the center of media attention because it showcases every problem a collapsing school can face: change in community demographics, neighborhood crime, high dropout and low graduation numbers, infrastructure failure. It does have a tight community of alumni who venerate the school and, I hope, stand by its side.

I know that our school is supported by the community too. Fortunately, our buildings are still holding up, our residential neighborhood is stable, and our students are curious, capable learners.

Let’s see? We’ll start with magnetism. Fourth graders love that science unit. I’ll introduce the procedures for reading and writing. They’re always surprised that they can choose their own book to read and join a literature group. My fourth graders love to be given their writing notebook. I make it special because they can keep track of their reading and write their drafts without criticism about spelling or grammar.

A good start.


Mind Your Common Core Standards

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Defenders say Common Core Standards answer the common problem of differing education standards among states. How many students have matriculated to your California school from another state and have no idea about fractions, let’s say, when your class is in the middle of the unit? It doesn’t have to be another state, it could be another California county!

To overcome that reality, for a while California students had to be enrolled in a school district for a specified number of days or their yearly state test was not counted in the final record for the school and district. That happened when Adequate Yearly Progress federal scores were the important measure. After a while, teachers, schools, and districts, in California anyway, stopped fretting about the federal scores and concentrated on curriculum that would improve student success measured by the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) system. You know California’s ambition to take the lead in accountability even when it had no money.

Now that money is available to school budgets, the California Department of Education and the California Teachers Association have begun professional development for the implementation of California’s version of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2014-2015.

When collaboration occurs, many teachers look forward to professional development before the transition to CCSS use. Those who promote the transition focus on the goals of fewer topics and greater depth. The CCSS website stresses that teaching methods are not dictated. Who wouldn’t be attracted to teaching more about one topic, and not worry about all those pages not covered in the textbook? What teacher does not welcome with a good heart the “cycle of inquiry,” leading to strategies that are best practices?

Faultfinderss are now coming forward to name the flaws for the 45 states who agreed to upgrade the curriculum and standards that allow a huge country of more than 50 million children have a chance at better college and career, whether vocational or professional. Critics claim parents have not had the opportunity to understand the education changes. There has not been enough public discussion country-wide. New demanding tests by some states before adequate implementation means student success doesn’t pan out. The House of Representatives bill to finally revise the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” (ESEA) leaves standards to the states, thereby wiping out the work of the National Governors Association attempt to improve learning.

Change takes time and perseverance. Teachers have long been criticized as unwilling to try change and rely on their unions to back them up. However, both national teachers’ unions are strong supporters of Common Core State Standards.

So mind your p’s and q’s. Keep a stiff upper lip! Watch the world through rose-colored glasses.

For more detail, see “Who’s Minding the Schools?” by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus, New York Times, June 9, 2013. See articles on CCSS in California Educator, March 2013 and June/July 2013.

OMG, What To Do?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

So you see (post 7-14-09), everyone in the education world is accountable for helping students become proficient in reading and math.

It turns out that some schools are doing well. They continue to turn out plenty of qualified applicants for high ranking universities. In addition, many schools are still able to hit their targets – just enough students can read at grade level and perform well enough on math exams to reach the yearly benchmark.

The question might creep into your head-what about the students that haven’t reached the yearly target?  Despite NCLB, some schools chronically under-perform.  No matter how stringent or how lax the state standards and exams, a large group of students do not do well in school. Many drop out before they finish high school.

Those students are the ones that schools must figure out how to be accountable for.  NCLB says nothing about how to save those students.  It leaves the nature, depth, and quality of any needed reforms entirely up to schools, school districts, and states.

This blog summarized studies that have analyzed what improving schools look like (post 6-30-09).

To begin a turn-around the federal administration and department of education have enumerated specific basic principles to improve the school day and year for the nation’s children.  For instance, on the Education Agenda of the current White House website, the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind legislation specifically states that money should be provided to support programs to retain and train teachers; provide mentoring and planning time; as well as address compensation for work in schools with high need students.

Teachers examine data

Teachers examine data

With those principles in mind, the blog reader should go to the Partners in School Innovation Foundation, based in San Francisco, for information about the ‘cycle of inquiry,’ one model based on the business model suggested in the previous post which supports mentoring and planning time.

Such a strategy helps teachers and other school professionals be accountable.  For a former “program improvement” school like Grant Elementary in San Jose, California, a continuous ‘cycle of inquiry’ strategy was a major thrust to meet AYP goals.  As of 2008 data, school’s performance was 12% higher in reading/language arts and 22% higher in math than the state benchmarks required.

Ted Lempert, former assemblyman in the California legislature, heads a group called Children Now, which has useful recommendations about teacher compensation.  The group also strongly recommends transparency of funding resources and stable funding for schools, especially those working with high need students.

Speaking of money and teacher training, remember that there are many programs available, even in these tough economic times, to provide inexpensive, but valuable, professional development.  See the flexible DVD model Take Care! on the blog’s website.

The NCLB approach for holding schools accountable is clear.  The expected educational outcomes are clear.  Given the need, it’s unclear why the multitude of models available to achieve student success are so difficult to implement.