The Martians from Mars and the Martians from Chicago

States vary widely in the services they provide to bilingual students. Some offer almost no bilingual assistance after the first year. Some, like Illinois, provide intensive, long-term services.

As I start this post, I realize I don’t have time to begin to do my topic justice.

Eduhonesty: Let me just make one observation: I have students who were born in this country who have been in bilingual classes their whole lives. High schools have students who have never exited bilingual programs. With those “lifers” I also have students who arrived here this year from other countries. They are all put together in the same classroom. They should not be.

The newcomers are sometimes literate in their home language. They may even be truly bi- or trilingual. A student may arrive from India who speaks English, French and Hindi, as well as bits and pieces of other Indian dialects. That student has little in common with the girl whose family came from Mexico before she was born, the girl who speaks some Spanish, more English but who can’t effectively write in either language.

Some kids seem to end up in bilingual programs because their name is Gomez, Garcia or Madhubuti. Educational administrators in Illinois would tell you that students are tested to determine whether or not they require bilingual services, but test bias can be huge in these initial screenings. Also, the test tends to be a one-shot experience. If the test-giver or test intimidates the student, the student may underperform due to anxiety and fail to make the needed mark to escape bilingual education.

Regardless, the needs of a newcomer are vastly different than the needs of a lifer. Newcomers frequently leave bilingual programs within a few years of arrival, having mastered the English they require to enter the regular student population. What should be investigated is the reason why all these other students never seem to get to the magic test number needed to exit bilingual programs. The exit test is not that difficult. If we are identifying and channelling a special set of slow learners, we ought to begin to plan a curriculum to meet the needs of this special subset. If we are somehow creating this subset, Illinois bilingual programs need to be overhauled — if not scrapped.

Call of Duty

For the Luddites who have somehow avoided the gaming universe: Call of Duty is a computer/video game that first came out in 2003, published by Activision. The game simulates infantry and arms warfare. As of this date, many versions of the game exist, available for different gaming platforms. Recently, I know Call of Duty Black Ops was hot. My students played this game all night. I think some new version with ghosts and/or zombies is out now. Billions of dollars of Call of Duty have been sold with no end to the franchise in sight.

Eduhonesty: Call of Duty is not my friend. “Barry” recently complained that he was having trouble concentrating because he had been up playing Call of Duty all night for three days in a row. That schedule would whack anybody’s concentration. It might even put a few people in the hospital. I doubt Barry ate much while playing. He’s stick-thin. Gamers don’t stop to eat in the midst of a fierce battle and I suspect Barry’s life is almost nothing but a series of fierce battles except when he is forced to go school. He gives me regular reports on his clan’s progress.

The minimal silver lining to this storm cloud is that Call of Duty can be great leverage. “David” came in for help this week in part because, he told me, if he fails any classes both parents say they will take away his Call of Duty. That incentive, combined with a strict dad and mom, has David passing all his classes.

This post is for parents: If you are raising gamers, I sympathize. I sympathize with my students, for that matter. If I were an adolescent now, I just might be fighting all those battles to get my adrenalin rush. I might be a version of Barry. I don’t want to target Call of Duty specifically, either. I might as easily have written about Grand Theft Auto or a number of other titles.

But I’d like to ask parents to do a study. Keep track of the minutes your children spend on gaming in one week. You might also sit down and watch the games for awhile. There’s a reason why all my students can spell “strip club” and it has nothing to do with the school’s curriculum. Parents used to limit TV to make certain that books were read and homework got done. TV is much less addictive than gaming in my view. We need to put more brakes on the evening gaming, using technology to find out where homework and classwork is not getting done. These kids have 13 years of free education that are intended to lead to college when possible. As it stands, I’m afraid some of my students will be unready to function in college because they were too busy firing assault weapons and stealing cars in a virtual universe when they should have been eating, sleeping or even actually reading their textbooks.

From a brochure for a Common Core symposium

“The implementation of the Common Core State Standards presents countless challenges, and as a result, successful implementation depends on the resiliency and willingness of school staff to grapple with incidents of defeat.”

Eduhonesty: Dammit, you bastards! We are making the children of America into fodder for this latest test machine. THEY are the ones who will need resiliency as we pummel them with yet another test that most of them will find difficult, if not impossible. I may be wrong about this, but I fully expect the Illinois state test that will be our first Common Core experiment to be a general disaster. That’s my prediction.

I’d love to be wrong.

Helping “David”

He stayed after school on Friday for an hour. His mother came to pick him up. A few others were supposed to stay, but the siren call of Friday afternoon was too much for them.

So I worked with David as he slowly, laboriously struggled through his science packet. His cousin has helped him. He showed me a few things she had taught him. Still, the effort was a struggle, a word-by-word fight for understanding. His other teachers and I agree that David might belong in special education. But the process of even getting him considered is a multiday effort with no guarantee of success. I have done it all before only to be told that my student had an I.Q. of 78 and did not qualify for any special services. The magic number is 75, I believe. Almost everyone knows that those tests can easily vary by 3 points, but that one magic number kept my student out of special education. David seems very much like that girl from my past.

Still, we are going to have to assault the portcullis, the heavy iron gate at the entrance to the special education castle soon. David needs help.

At one point, I said, “See, you are learning this. You are getting better.”

“Am I?” he answered. There was such pride in his eyes, but behind that pride lurked a scintilla of hopelessness. I could see the doubt mixed into that expression. David now doubts his ability to learn.

Eduhonesty: This kid who reads so slowly is about to take the first Common Core annual state exam. The math problems supposedly will be all story problems with more than one right answer possible. David is going to get annihilated. His reading speed would ensure that, even if he could sort out the math. If he’s feeling somewhat hopeless now, I can only imagine the fallout from the upcoming test.

Right now, my David is a polite, helpful kid who tries to do the work. He always says thank-you when you help him or give him a treat. Sometimes he drifts and talks too much. Sometimes he gets distracted and does not pay attention, especially when he cannot understand the material being presented. I was kind of entertained when I went with him to his locker to get his coat and we found one missing assignment we had been working on towards the top of a crumpled group of homework papers that had obviously never exited the locker. He apologized profusely. We will have to try to work with him on locker organization.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this great kid becomes hell on wheels in high school, though.

February being African-American history month, I’d like to quote Langston Hughes, who expressed my concern for David perfectly:

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

How long can we keep throwing this kid in over his head and expecting him to say “thank-you”?

Wonderful but lazy

I have many delightful students. They are good-natured, funny, creative and helpful. They pick up after themselves. They say thank-you when they receive candy. While in class, they work.

But they hardly ever do the homework. I think the call of Call of Duty is too much for some. Others find friends, favorite shows or Facebook to occupy their time.

Eduhonesty: I need parental help desperately here. Many districts now allow parents to look up school assignments online. Parents, please track homework completion if you are able. Otherwise, if your child is a middle-school or high-school students, check in with teachers if there never seems to be homework. Asking a kid, “Do you have any homework?” may not work. Sometimes the kid isn’t even lying when he or she denies the existence of assignments. I think some kids have a magic spell put on them that makes them forget homework as soon as they place the offending papers inside their lockers.

It may seem a bit elementary school, but a homework log meant to be signed by parent and teacher daily can help solve this problem.

Paula trying to figure out where to place the blame

“Who invented social studies anyway?” Paula asked peevishly. “Why do we have to do this?”

I laughed. Nobody knows, I told her, and gave her a little pep talk. I spend a lot of time being peppy. I figured her social studies teacher could use the help.

Paula did not seem reconciled to social studies when I was done.

Note from an RtI meeting

RtI is an acronym standing for “Response to Intervention.” It’s a new, mandated plan that requires schools to identify students who may be at risk of failure and provide those students with steadily more intense interventions to get them back on track. RtI can be extremely complicated since it requires small group and one-on-one assistance — whether a district has any additional resources for this small-group and individual work or not. But we all have lots and lots of meetings on how to implement RtI, frequently concerned with how to identify those students needing extra help. Then we try to figure out how to provide help without neglecting the regular students more than necessary.

I just stumbled on a note in a journal from some past RtI meeting that I found entertaining:

“We need a wild banshee intervention system.”

Eduhonesty; Students fall behind for many reasons. Behavioral issues create the biggest challenges. Our wildest banshees seldom respond to RtI, but we can leave no child behind. So we leave everybody else behind while we try intensive interventions on students who are wild, loud and out of control. I’m not saying these students don’t need help, but they frequently need more help than anyone except a trained psychologist or psychiatrist can provide.

Not sure what to think of this

The teacher who lost her job was not using the textbook she was supposed to use. She was skipping meetings. She was not following the school’s system for math instruction. She was sometimes verbally sharp with her students. She made them work constantly and criticized any perceived laziness in a manner that some other teachers thought seemed overly harsh.

That said, I think she may have taught a great deal of math, more than the usual person occupying her position.

Eduhonesty: Our current push toward nothing but positive reinforcement is not in the best interests of America’s students. It’s naive at best. When a student has done a lazy, substandard job, sometimes a dressing down is exactly what is needed. Laziness can be cultivated by positive reinforcement for rubbishy nonefforts. I am afraid we are creating a group of lazy students by not calling them out often enough on their blow-off efforts.

The truth is that I’d give that teacher a recommendation based on what her students seem to have learned. I suspect a good teacher just lost her job for not playing the game. She has not adapted to the new approach to teacher/student relations. But she did make her students do a formidable amount of math.

An exact copy of a note from a bilingual student

“I just want to say thanks for everything. You help me alot when I needed your help. You never let me give up with anything. And I’m really apreciate.”

Eduhonesty: This field is awash in bureaucratic interference from people who have never taught or who have taught for a year or two in some wealthy suburb. Sometimes, all these mandates from above are aggravating as all hell, especially the ones that actively interfere with educating students. But a few notes like this can definitely keep a teacher in the game.