Data and Picasso

 

 

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”

~ Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

When I read this quote, I must admit I immediately thought of the recent push for ever more data. Data, data, data. I like the half-days of subbing that data meetings open up, but I wonder what return schools are receiving from those sprawling spreadsheets.

Here’s the thing: Before the spreadsheets, before the endless sharing of data, I knew which of my kids needed extra help. I was writing tests and quizzes that gave me that information. I was talking to those kids. When I had suspicions about reading skills, I was reading cumulative folders stored in the main office, and looking at tests and teacher remarks from past years.

Those spreadsheets are adding a great deal more work to teacher evenings and week-ends, as well as nifty 1/2 day subbing opportunities as teachers attend group spreadsheet-sharing meetings. I’ll admit the new spreadsheets are filled with answers. But are they telling us much — or sometimes even anything — that we don’t already know?

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So-called Lazy Teachers

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Politicians talk about protecting America from lazy teachers. I have known very few lazy teachers. For one thing, kids usually push those teachers out. When a teacher does not care about his or her students’ progress, students detect that lack of interest. They make those teachers completely miserable. Lazy teachers form a miniscule percentage of the men and women who teach.

For proof, we might look at No Child Left Behind. More than a decade into a program that punished schools and teachers for not delivering better test results, test results had hardly risen in many areas. Those results sometimes even fell despite frantic administrative efforts in lower-scoring districts. I attribute that lack of improvement to the fact that almost everybody was already teaching about as hard as they could.

Unions have protected a small percentage of teachers who should have been replaced. I would not disagree with that position. But the idea that our achievement gap results from differences in teacher quality is a misconception at best, and an outright lie at worst. I understand why this lie continues to be propagated. If teachers are the problem, then fixing teachers should fix the problem. We crave a simple, quick fix.

We will not find that simple fix.

Fromhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/survey-teachers-work-53-hours-per-week-on-average/2012/03/16/gIQAqGxYGS_blog.html:

A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week!

These numbers are indicative of teachers’ dedication to the profession and their willingness to go above and beyond to meet students’ needs. It never was, and certainly isn’t now, a bell-to-bell job.

The 7.5 hours in the classroom are just the starting point. On average, teachers are at school an additional 90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average. As one Kentucky teacher surveyed put it, “Our work is never done. We take grading home, stay late, answer phone calls constantly, and lay awake thinking about how to change things to meet student needs.”

These are the teachers I know. More and more often, they are giving up summer hours for continuing education, summer school, and other professional development or committee work. I spent the evening with a charter school professional who sometimes spends 100 hours on her job in the course of a week. But I know public school teachers who are spending their evenings grading 130 math homework papers, and week-ends filling out multipage lesson plans as they chart the next week of 130 math homework papers per night.

Eduhonesty: We seem to have been looking for quick fix for decades. That fix will not be new, different teachers, just as that fix has not been changed standards or punishments for poor test scores.

The only fix I can see involves giving more educational time and resources to kids who have fallen behind. We need to scrutinize the 180-day school year in particular. Some kids are doing great with that short year. Others have fallen behind. Those victims of the achievement gap should not be tossed out the door on May 31st. At the very least, our academically-lower students should attend mandatory summer school until they have a true chance to catch up to the students who have gone on ahead of them.

Blaming teachers takes our focus away from the real problem — the lack of resources available to help catch up those students who have fallen behind. I still remember of year of summer school with no busses.

“If parents want their children to get ahead, they will find a way to get them to school,” an administrator said when I asked how this busless plan was supposed to work.

I can’t remember what I answered. I’m sure what I thought was a version of, “Damn, this is stupid. Those parents work, lady, and most of the kids don’t want to go to summer school in the first place.”

Those busses were critical, but busses cost money no one could find in the annual mostly-in-the-red budget. In the absence of air-conditioning, though, I did not intend to teach summer school for my district anyway, I must admit. I figured younger, healthier, stronger souls could take on those eighty to ninety degree small classes.

I took the summer “off” and took education classes in air-conditioned university classrooms instead.

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving to All My Teachers!

IMG_2714Happy Turkey Day, readers!

Thanks to the teachers,

who are trying to get those kindergarteners to stop poking each other and just listen from their spot on the rug,

who are herding cats and also first graders,

who are listening to second grade Jenna tattle on second grade Anthony, and trying to figure out how to protect Jenna from her own best impulses,

who are trying to figure out the new Common Core third-grade math so they can teach version #253 of the New Math,

who are helping fourth graders who are not sure if they want to be independent yet but don’t want to be treated like a little kid either,

who are surprised by the fifth-grade feistiness popping up in this latest crop of students, some of whom are beginning to believe they are ready to run their own classrooms,

and to all the teachers of older children, children who keep smiling down at their laps at smart phones that they then slip between their legs to hide. Who me? Phone? No way!

These are challenging times, but also fun times. I love to watch those kids with the phones when I ask them to stand up. So many kids, so many stories, so much need for a guiding hand and for a loving lesson plan…

To those who are having a rough holiday, I hope you will take comfort in the children you have helped and sheltered. Many of our kids live in a helter-skelter world, and your volcano lesson or field trip to the Nature Preserve may have been a high point of their year.

Hugs to all.

A Scintilla of Hope

fall sevenI realized a surprising truth as I was thinking about today’s post. One reason why I am not as stressed as many friends about the election results: I am genuinely hopeful. I have lived through many elections, some that left the country reeling. The truth of Ralph Nader’s third-party votes was the loss of Al Gore. The truth of the resulting Bush Presidency was No Child Left Behind, and enormous damage to education, admittedly well-meant. But the Devil is in the details.

However, America let Gore’s loss go. Bush was “good enough” for many Americans who might have preferred another outcome. Also, rebelling against Bush’s policies interfered with daily life and daily life contented most of us. We did not see that we had much to fight for or against.

I’d love to see Americans get more involved in the electoral process and politics as a result of this election. I can see that happening. I hope we carry the momentum from the 2016 election forward in time. We have to stop trusting our leaders to solve all our problems. The people in the inner cities and broad swaths of Michigan already have lost that trust, and understandably so. Why did we elect Donald Trump? Because too many people no longer trust the status quo to have their best interests at heart. That’s the bottom line. Now what do we do next?

I’d like to recommend a NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/opinion/a-12-step-program-for-responding-to-president-elect-trump.html by Nicholas Kristof.

 

 

Suicide Prevention and Politics

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I don’t want to go here. This post brings back sad memories, too many sad memories.  My middle school graduated a dead girl a few years ago, a girl who never made it to graduation but who was included among our graduates  nonetheless. To my knowledge, no one ever understood why she had decided to hang herself. She spent some days in the hospital before doctors and despairing family members gave up and turned off the machines keeping her alive. My daughter had a friend who discovered her brother’s suicide, the first in an act copied more than once in the near future. Families can tumble into the abyss in mere seconds of a child’s life.

From “Study: Adolescent Suicide Risk Can Start in Middle School” by Sarah D. Sparks on December 5, 2011, located at the following site:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2011/12/study_social_behavioral_econom.html

“Educators have long known that puberty is a tough time for students, but a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests the risks for depressed children can start much earlier than expected: Nearly 40 percent of adolescents who attempt suicide first try to kill themselves before high school.”

From “Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Adolescents” by Benjamin Shain, COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/06/24/peds.2016-1420:

“Suicide affects young people from all races and socioeconomic groups, although some groups have higher rates than others. American Indian/Alaska Native males have the highest suicide rate, and black females have the lowest rate of suicide. Sexual minority youth (ie, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning) have more than twice the rate of suicidal ideation.6 The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of students in grades 9 through 12 in the United States indicated that during the 12 months before the survey, 39.1% of girls and 20.8% of boys felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least 2 weeks in a row, 16.9% of girls and 10.3% of boys had planned a suicide attempt, 10.6% of girls and 5.4% of boys had attempted suicide, and 3.6% of girls and 1.8% of boys had made a suicide attempt that required medical attention.7

This post will not be about the politics of trying to prevent suicide. We can take steps to help prevent these tragedies, but we are fighting a holding action most of the time, trying to support children until they get past whatever demons are whispering in their ears, the demons that tell them they are unloved and unlovable, destined to feel hopeless forever, or whatever other demons hurt so much that oblivion seems like a reasonable alternative.

Specifically, I am worried about fragile children and fragile young adults in the wake of the election.

Eduhonesty: To teachers and parents who are grieving this election — please, be careful.

What are the precursors to suicide and suicide attempts? Bullying has always run near or at the top of the list. Unfortunately, bullying that once used to end with the end of school can now spill over into every hour of the day via social media. Other stressors include divorce, unemployment, and emotional states of anxiety and depression. Stress at home has always been identified as a source of suicidal ideation. The other BIG marker: Problems with personal identity, especially those of a sexual nature.

This election has ended with LGBT youth running scared. Many parents remain outraged and some are even working through stages of grief. Children who supported Hillary in Trump bastions and vice versa may be under attack for their minority political views. How could we expect otherwise? We adults certainly modeled attacks, as liberals compared Trump to Hitler and conservatives made extremely sexist remarks about pants suits and talked about Hillary’s nefarious past, especially related to emails that none had personally read. Personally, the whole idea of the “Clinton Death Squads” sounds batshit crazy to me, and I think a lot of dialog on both sides sometimes sounds like the Conspiracy Theorists have won.

But let’s step back from immediate political issues and think about the kids. Imagine being an LGBT kid right now. Think about the anxious kids, like a beloved former student who is having daily panic attacks for fear of being deported, Put yourself in the shoes of that young Trump supporter in an angry, inner-city school. Even Kanye West gets booed by his fans for saying he “would have voted for Trump if he had voted.” To those teachers and parents running scared, I’d like to say, please try to look confident and hopeful for the kids. Please, try to BE confident and hopeful for the kids. Scared and hopeless adults create scared and hopeless children. Teach your children to write letters to their senators and representatives, to start online petitions for justice, and to come out fighting for their own particular versions of right. Teach them to listen to each other, even — especially — when they disagree.

Faltering hope will never be a force for good. We have to protect the fragile children, the ones who may be nearing the edge of that suicide attempt. We have to make sure that election results do not become the final gust of wind that knocks down a wilting reed.

6 Committee On Adolescence, Office-based care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Pediatrics. 2013;132(1):198203pmid:23796746

7 Kann L, Kinchen S, Shanklin SL, et al; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Youth risk behavior surveillance–United States, 2013. MMWR Suppl. 2014;63(4):1168pmid:24918634

 

Please Get Those Children Back to Work

 

manley2005Hi, readers. I’m glad the recent political messages seem to be garnering attention. This post is for the grieving, especially those teachers in classrooms that have spun off the rails and entered an outraged political limbo where pain trumps academics.

Every so often this blog addresses the much greater challenges that exist in certain zip codes, the lack of supplies and hope that pull down struggling students, students whose whole experience of education would be much more positive, illuminating and professionally advantageous if they merely lived twenty miles down the road.

Longtime readers will know that I favor eliminating the 180-day school year in favor of whatever school year works. If students in District X are beating the state tests consistently, and easily going on to college after high school, then 180 days may be all those students need. But when District Y keeps “failing” those tests and students from District Y mostly need remedial education to survive community college, I’d scrap that 180-day year in favor of 220 or 240 days, and I’d consider a longer school day. We keep trying to find magic educational bullets, but no substitute exists for learning time. Students who are behind need time to catch up. No secret educational “quality time” makes up for the vocabulary and learning deficits that dog children in our inner cities, for example. Those kids who have fallen behind should be given whatever extra days and hours are required to catch up.

Eduhonesty: Here’s my wincing observation. I have watched the kids marching with their “No Trump!” signs. For the most part, those kids came from larger districts that rank among the academically struggling or fallen. In the prosperous suburbs near me that always beat those state tests, no one left a classroom to my knowledge.

I understand grief and anger. I understand taking a day or two off to process what may seem like a huge betrayal by the system, especially when the school staff and parents have made their political views clear, and students saw an election result that reflected none of the adult views in their daily lives.

But we only have 180 days in many of our school districts. Two days grieving is 1/90th of a school year. Five days grieving is 1/36th of a school year. America’s academically less-fortunate students don’t have 1/36th of a school year to spare. When the political discussion preempts language arts or mathematics, the gap between our strongest and weakest districts only grows wider.

In search of wisdom

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Best quote of the day: Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.

All we have to do is look at the recent election results if we want proof of this statement. We were drowning in polls. Data was flashing across screens all across America, information being thrown at us nonstop. But we did not understand. When the pollsters said Hillary had to win because 44% was her “floor” but 40% appeared to be his “ceiling,” people nodded as if that made sense, as if they understood the likely implications of the floor/ceiling argument. Where did our wisdom fail us?

I’ll start with that 40%. When 4 out of 10 people admit to preferring a candidate whose very name can decimate some Facebook friend lists, that’s a fierce indicator that the polls cannot be trusted. Hillary’s “deplorables” comment hit many, many nerves but the response was mostly a flurry of funny memes, followed by quiet, too much quiet for a comment directed at such a large chunk of the electorate. I believe that quiet stemmed from a shut-down, from a sense on the part of Trump supporters that admitting their preference could result in insults at best, loss of friends at worst.

I believe the press betrayed America. Not by the truths they told, or by the pictures of the Donald making fun of the handicapped, calling opposing candidates names, or making boastful, sexist comments on the bus. Those were all news.

But the news also treated Trump supporters as buffoons and I’d say that, just as they selected the ugliest pictures of Trump they could find for most of their articles and TV reports, they also pulled out what they viewed as entertaining wackiness when showing Trump supporters. Not all that disaffection deserved to be treated with contempt, however, If I lived in Flint, I would feel utterly betrayed by my ruling government. All across the Midwest people feel that betrayal. Those 46% who did not vote? I’m sure many in south Chicago stayed home.

We had some real issues we might have discussed. I might have started with the fact that something like 90% of the people picking our melons are undocumented. If they are sent home, I predict that the melons rot for the first year or two. Then wages go up enough to draw local workers and we start buying our $10 watermelons. I’d have gone on to discuss the many kids who have been raised here, kids who sometimes speak little Spanish and write less.

And the whole idea of a registry… Our government can already track all of us by cell phones I imagine, but the concept of a Muslim registry remains scary and so wrong. I am reminded of the Ben Franklin quotation, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Where were those discussions? Where were the issues? Where are they? In my view, lack of courtesy shut down those conversations, buried them in attacks and ugly pictures and echo-chamber overconfidence.

Eduhonesty: Today’s wisdom for the day will be a return to an earlier post. Don’t panic. When the news has carried as much bias as we have seen recently, don’t assume that the Donald Trump presented on TV and in the news will be the Donald Trump who becomes President. We don’t know who is about to become President. I’m not sure the President-elect knows. The implications of his win may only now be settling in on him.

In January, we begin to ride the rapids of a new Presidency. Trump says he wants to bring American together again. Let’s give him his chance. (It’s not like we have much choice.) Let’s also keep in mind that all those Republicans want to be re-elected. I’d rather we kept the kids in school rather than on the streets, but if we protest let’s not scatter our efforts.

NO REGISTRY! That’s where we ought to begin. The American internment of the Japanese in World War II is not a precedent. That relocation was a travesty and life-altering injustice based mostly in racism and paranoia.

It’s too late for “No Trump!” and protesters might as well put those signs down. Instead, it’s time to tell our representatives, “If you want to be re-elected, you had better vote against X, Y and Z.” Democracy works, at least when people make their voices heard. Our leaders want to be re-elected and this last election proves that even front-runners can be toppled when too many people feel excluded and unheard.

I’d like to make one last plea for courtesy and kindness. Our students need us to channel Martin Luther King, Jr., right now. When the dialog drips contempt or erupts into irrational – or even rational — rage, the dialog dies. We can’t afford those glacial silences. We are overdue for a great many conversations between the Coasts and the Heartland.

 

 

 

Out of Various Closets in the Heartland, They Voted

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“I am reading Killer by Jonathan Kellerman, a mystery novel that started well. I hope I’m wrong about having guessed the ending. On page 141, I hit a paragraph that resonated with me, one I decided to blog.

“In the old days, that resulted from being a gay detective when the department supposedly had none. It’s been years since his locker was stuffed with nasty porn and carved with swastikas. Nowadays the department has regulations that bar discrimination of anyone by anyone based on anything, anytime. What that does to internal attitude is anyone’s guess.”

Eduhonesty: I believe this paragraph captures one source of the fear that has been erupting since the election. What is hiding below the surface? Already a few ugly reminders of the tenacity of prejudice have popped up to create anxiety. I am not sure how many of these racial incidents have been kicked off by the election and how many might have occurred anyway. We are looking for incidents now. We will find them.

However, I’d like to make my observation from years of teaching. The kids of today are not the kids of yesterday or one-hundred-years ago. Most of them abhor prejudice. Most of them have been educated by teachers who worked diligently to make sure classes were safe and kids respected each other. All that anti-bullying, Character Counts and Positive Behavioral Incentive System work has been paying off.

I also believe that if we bring the dregs of old attitudes out of the woodwork with new election results, America may be better off. You can’t fight the attitude hiding in the closet. But you can raise hell once that attitude comes out of the closet. I exploded at a class exactly twice in my teaching career and I’m sure the kids remember those events well. One occurred when almost no one tried the homework. The other occurred in response to an overtly racially-prejudiced remark. America must have zero tolerance for racism and prejudice.

But prejudice peeking out now is prejudice that can be addressed, prejudice that can be tackled. We are not the worse off if our closet racists start talking. We need them to talk. If we can find our racists, we can talk with them. We can help them learn tolerance and respect for alternative lifestyles, choices, and characteristics, differences that might incite prejudice if left to fester unaddressed.

Again, let’s look on the positive side. Honest expressions of anger and even bias leading to honest dialog between people who disagree could be one of the best results from this election. We have to begin talking. Too many scary ideas have been stuffed into lockers, hidden from view, as adults and children avoided conflict.

That conflict has come out into the open now. Let’s use this time to find out what others are thinking. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s get out of our echo chambers, the echo chambers that led to all those faulty polls and stunned reactions. We may encounter many teachable moments along the way.

For the Frightened LGBT Students

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Rudy Giuliani has said that he will never be President because he favors gay marriage.

Check out http://www.cosmopolitan.com/politics/a8293084/who-is-rudy-giuliani-trump-cabinet/ for more information, but Rudy even moved in with a couple of gay friends after he left one of his wives. From the article:

4. He supports same-sex marriage and presided over the wedding of two men.

Giuliani’s view of same-sex marriage is similar to that of President Barack Obama’s: It has evolved over time. He supported civil unions for same-sex couples but opposed marriage until 2015, when he publicly expressed support for same-sex marriage by calling on the Supreme Court to make it legal, according to Time magazine. A year later, Giuliani officiated the wedding of two men, according to the Washington Post, which said one of the men was Giuliani’s close friend and adviser.

This man obviously has been part of Trump’s inner circle for awhile. For that matter, Trump has said on CBN’s “The Brody File” that gay people are “tremendous” — a word that sounds so like the Donald — and that “there can be no discrimination against gays.”

Eduhonesty: To LGBT readers, I completely understand the Supreme Court fears driving concerns. But please don’t decide the new administration is allied against LGBT citizens. So far, evidence of that anti-gay slant remains thin on the ground, despite a few scary characters in the current cast.

Don’t Panic! The Kids Are Too Scared Now.

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Yes, the kids need a great deal of reassurance, some more than others, depending on where you teach. You can be sure that some bilingual and immigrant kids are terrified, even those too young to understand the issues.Suddenly, we are living in uncertain times. Racism has crawled out of the woodwork in a few venues and that ugliness has to be shut down fast and hard. Trump himself said, “Stop!”

The agenda may be about to shift under us rapidly. But before my teacher-readers get too scared of this change, I’d like to continue a theme from a few posts back: Has education been going in a direction that you like? Meeting, meeting, meeting, data, data, data, teacher evaluation rubrics over 20 pages long? Have you been watching lesson plan preparation, grading and even tutoring-time yanked out from under you for yet another paperwork requirement?

During the last year before I retired, I tutored in McDonalds on Saturday mornings because all the other rational, in-school time kept getting sucked up by meetings. That worked — for the kids who were willing to get up on Saturday and come to McDonalds. If I’d held that tutoring in the library, I doubt I could have ever gotten more than three kids, but middle-schoolers will get up if breakfast tacos and frappes are thrown into the mix. A lot of kids never got up, though. They also got very little tutoring. We did have a couple of afterschool classes slated for this purpose but sometimes twenty-plus kids were seated with friends in a room with only one teacher. I could send them for tutoring, but in a setting like that tutoring only happens if you are an extrovert willing to force your way to the front of the line. I would walk in with classwork for my kids to do, look at groups of chatting girls, silently curse and run off to my meeting.

I know I worked in an NCLB-reformed, academic disaster of a school. I’m sure most scenarios out there would look better, often much better. But those kids needed my time, time stolen away by government intervention and oversight.

Eduhonesty: We are living in scary times, but I’d like to ask readers to give the Donald a chance. Honestly, if he starts returning schools to local control, will we be worse off? Centralized, government control of education has not helped the kids in Manley (See previous post.) to get on the college bus. Some kids in Detroit might get a better education if they lived in a rural area in a developing nation. And let me go out on the big limb: Maybe charter schools are not always bad. I am a union supporter — oh, do I think teachers need unions – and a public school fan. But if all the public schools where you live genuinely offer a substandard education — then you need a choice. I have had many parents tell me that local schools were not intellectually demanding enough or even physically safe. I believe those parents, and desperate times may make people believe they need to take desperate measures. I have not looked at the statistics, but I’d be stunned if Flint, Michigan, did not vote for Trump.

Please, please, readers. Let’s notch the fear back. Trust each other. Trust that the vast majority of people remain basically decent and kind. The election is over. We must come together for our kids. Rather than taking to the streets, let’s get started fighting for the amendment to make America a true democracy, a simple democracy where the one with the most votes wins. Let’s get started working on the social studies lessons that were preempted to make more room for math and English for No Child Left Behind.