About admin

Written in 2012(?): I teach. I teach relentlessly. On week-ends, I prepare for classes. I have strayed into middle-class classrooms. I find I prefer my present gig, though, which begins when I drive into a shiny parking lot, avoiding the larger patches of glass, before I make my way to my battered classroom and beloved students, almost all of whom are entitled to free breakfasts and lunches. These students are entitled to a better education than they are likely to receive under the current system. I am documenting some of the reasons why this is so. I am also just venting. 2017: Retired and subbing, I continue to explore the mystery of how we managed to do so much damage to education in such a short time.Where are the resources? Why did common sense flee these lands? Where were the pilot programs? How can well-meaning people come up with so many dumb ideas? What happens when the Data Wall eats Cleveland? Did no one ever teach the concept of opportunity costs to our educational leaders? Where did all these IV lines of the Kool-Aid originate? And why are so many people hooking themselves up to the Kool-Aid? If ideas don't work, why do we keep using them? I only need to hit myself on the foot with a hammer once. So why do we keep giving cruel and useless tests to our students, month after grueling month? How many people have been profiting financially from the Common Core? How did these profits shift the American educational landscape. So many questions, so little time. For many former students, some of them dropouts, answers will come too late. But I just keep writing. Now that they can't fire me, I plan to try a little marketing as well. Writing the Top Secret Blog of Gloom and Doom out here has seemed a bit silly, but getting fired seemed silly too. People who think teachers can't be fired are so mistaken. If nothing else, they can be tortured into quitting. Please read. I have learned so much. I hope to share.

Not Helping Johnny

I could not help Johnny. I talked to his mother. She told me that she worked in counseling and her son was fine.

I changed his seat because he was talking nonstop to one of his few friends. He refused to move. He made weird noises at odd times regularly, mostly to disrupt the class, but sometimes I think he just had to emote in guttural moments of fear. He accused other students of bullying. “Mick called me fat!” he would say. (He was skin-and-bones thin.) Mick denied the accusation. Johnny kept saying, “No!” when asked to do daily work.  He made his class tense and other students complained. In these times, weird noises can be scary noises. The bullying issues became complex. How much of what Johnny said was true? I knew much was not — Johnny lied even when I had been standing right beside him — but kids pick on weak kids, and Johnny was building an image of weakness, bit by bit with random noises and odd behavior.

I sought help, but Johnny could talk a good game. His mother and the social worker did not see the problems I saw. Johnny knew all the psych words. I was not sure if I was watching this boy unravel or not. Maybe he was playing a game, messing with his classes and students’ heads for fun.  My take was Johnny was scared, and in response had launched himself on a mission to disrupt his classes.

Other teachers reported similar problems. They got no further than I did. I think Johnny might have been waiting for one of his teachers to rescue him, but he could always explain himself. He had not meant to blurt out that word or sound, he explained earnestly. He was sorry he had refused to … whatever — and there were a lot of whatevers.  He could talk about emotions and behavior glibly, almost professionally. I suspect he had been reading his mom’s books and magazines.

Eduhonesty: If outsiders want a glimpse into the stresses and struggles of teaching, this snippet may help. Across a few years, I can still see and hear this kid. I hope he is doing well in high school. Not all middle-school emotional dives end badly. But I also want to note that this one kid made a whole class nervous, except for a few friends, and I could not solve the problem.

You had to be there. You had to hear him. You had to watch his face. But outsiders did not see him or hear him, except through the carefully funneled channel of innocent, youthful, “Oops! It was an accident.”

So many accidents. So little time between those accidents. Everything could be explained. Everything was explained. To my knowledge, Johnny never got help. He managed to slip through the cracks.

I don’t know what to add, except this: Moms, dads and guardians — Your kid’s teacher has seen many, many children. When he or she calls you repeatedly, please don’t dismiss concerns with a quick, “He’s fine at home!” I never doubted he was fine at home, in his comfort zone with his loving mother. He was not fine at school, however, and he was building a reputation for weirdness that he will be years putting behind him, if he ever manages to escape that reputation.



The Class Size Conundrum

“In fact, the research that shows benefits from class size reduction finds effects that are smaller than most people realize …”

The above quote was taken from Education Myths by J.P. Greene. Greene goes on to say that smaller classes would require too much funding, taking away from other possible reform efforts.

I read Greene’s words and thought that he had captured a snippet of the mess that is American educational research. If researchers could truly control for classroom conditions, I suspect they would find a large effect from class size — in certain populations and specific classes. In districts that historically have sent the great majority of their graduates on to college, class size mostly will not matter since upwardly-mobile students have their eyes on the prize. They do their homework and fight for grades they expect to be reviewed by college admissions counselors. When those districts are included in class size studies, they can be expected to take attention away from schools where class size may make all the difference in academic achievement.

The class size picture in financially- and academically-disadvantaged districts remains murky, but I would like to observe anecdotally that class size has sometimes had a big effect on my teaching life, depending on the class. I found that increasing my math class size from 19 to 24 students caused little disruption. Increasing my high school Spanish class from 28 to 34 (originally 40!), however, was a game changer. Suddenly, behaviors were impacting instruction to a much greater degree. Suddenly, I had firecrackers in bottles in the back of the room and gang symbols etched onto desks.

Research unsurprisingly shows varying benefits from smaller class sizes. Teasing out exact benefits remains impossible, due to variations in teachers and class compositions, among other considerations. I had two of those large Spanish 1 classes, and one was much better behaved and more academically centered than the other. That one class was almost no trouble. The other … Well, I took a day’s absence once, worried about my sub, and when I called to check on him, found the poor fellow’s voice was shaking and the police had been called. (In fairness, a student from the special education department suffering from behavioral disorders had taken advantage of my absence to sneak into the class, where he yanked a girl’s hair hard enough to set off a series of reactions. My students probably would have done fine if not for the unknown marauder.)

Eduhonesty: It only takes one student. Classes of thirty-five students can be easier to teach than classes of 20 students, depending on the students within those classes, one reason why studies on class size keep finding anomalies that researchers struggle to explain. A small group of disaffected kids can keep a large group from learning. The wrong buddies become a teacher’s bad luck. A quick catch may allow a teacher to change schedules and separate Kyle from James at the beginning of the year, but most of the time the best and only option will be a well-designed seating chart that may not work during projects, gallery walks and other group activities.

My problem with educational research can be captured in a snapshot by Greene’s words as he attempts to debunk an idea that ought not to be debunked. Class size matters. I’ve walked the walk that Greene minimizes, and it’s no stroll through a sunny park. While the class size problem cannot be reduced to reliable and exact numbers, dismissing the impact of class size in urban and academically-disadvantaged schools helps no one — not parents, not teachers, not administrators, and most especially not students.


Who Are the Lost?

From a previous post: “80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects,” according to the New York Times.*

Who are these students who leave high school unready for community college? Who face possible extra years of remedial classes and college tuition before they can tackle “real” college classes? They are the high school graduates who spent most of their school lives in that outer bubble above, the kids who tuned out because they could not understand when they tried to tune in.

Education courses teach strategies to convince students to tune back in but kids don’t always respond. We teachers assign extra readings and cross our fingers that the readings will be read.  We rewrite handouts to simplify the language.  We rewrite chapters of the textbook. Some students do our modified homework, while others throw it in the trash. We call home to enlist parental support. We attend seminars to help us learn to do group work while keeping control of our classrooms, knowing that 8 groups of 4 adolescents can easily go from zero to chaos in 60 seconds, no matter how many strategies we learn. All it takes is one, loud put-down of a student’s sister or boyfriend.

Regardless of what we try, though, if our students are too far behind, we lose them. “You can do it,” we say. Whether they can or whether they can’t – and sometimes they honestly can’t – once a kid believes that he or she can’t, the game is over. “Try harder” may be intended as encouragement, but sometimes I’m sure it feels more like an exhortation to keep beating yourself up.

Some kids also believe they are fully capable of doing what we want, but decide to skip all that work and ignore boring adult demands. These students would rather send a few thousand photos and text messages, play videogames, or find other ways to screensuck their days away. Our best efforts combined with full parental support may not alter this addictive behavior. Even if dad or mom takes the phone away, and monitors computer time, students today can find other electronic outlets to replace schoolwork and homework. My daughter used to role play in a “live” computer game online with a girlfriend. They would sit at different computers, sometimes but not always in the same house. Both girls successfully navigated college, but games can easily supplant academics and social interaction. The homework simply does not get done. Studying does not happen. At worst, students skip classes, and even miss midterms or finals. Not all students manage to catch up later.

Whether students can’t or won’t do the work expected of them in class, the effect is the same.  Students graduate high school unready for the challenges of a college curriculum. They can’t go forward without a lengthy, expensive detour. They can’t go back.

What not enough politicians and administrators seem to recognize is the extent to which current testing policies contribute to the academic problems and challenges facing America’s schools.

I’ll ask forgiveness for broadly simplifying factors that create my outer bubble above, but let me break down one more toxic effect of testing: 1) All students are expected to take the same annual test on which their school will be judged, regardless of their academic or linguistic competencies. 2) Because of this fact, the curriculum is built with the idea of making certain that all test categories will be covered in class before the test. Teachers may even end up obliged to use identical lesson plans throughout the year. 3) Once all classes are teaching the same material, classroom placements become far less important than in the past. Those placements may even be made alphabetically by a computer. As a result, Sandy reading at a 2nd grade level ends up in class with Marianne who reads at a 8th grade level.

And therein lies the problem: When we put six or more years of difference in levels of academic understanding in one room, we automatically build that outer bubble above, the students in class who don’t understand the work. Teachers are supposed to differentiate to solve the challenges created by our broad range of learning levels but, especially in districts with limited resources, that differentiation may not be enough to fill in the gaps and chasms. Many students who have fallen years behind the pack naturally don’t do expected classwork. Some don’t even open their book by middle school and high school. If a classroom contains enough of these students, after awhile other, more capable students may begin skipping homework and slacking off on classwork. For one thing, those students in the outer bubble can be pretty distracting. For another, teachers often relax homework rules once homework compliance becomes problematic enough, allowing late homework in hopes of getting back more homework.

Struggling schools may even mandate a relaxation of traditional homework rules, requiring that teachers devalue the weight of homework in final grades and accept late homework until the end of the semester. Across America, school districts have begun trying out a grading system where no score falls below 50%. Students receive 50%, whether they turn in the classwork and homework or not.  The last two districts I worked in both flirted with this system. The rationale behind this grading system lies in a desire to keep students engaged in school. If students fall too far behind, administrators explained in a staff meeting I attended to introduce the new grading system, they will not be willing to try to catch up. They must have a chance to succeed. At 50% minimum, everyone has a chance to “succeed.” Under this grading policy, any student who hacks out an occasional assignment can at least pass. Whether that represents a “success” or not seems debatable. But the 50% floor for grading does prevent “F” grades. It particularly benefits those who can’t or won’t do their homework, at least if we define “benefit” as “allowing students to pass whether they have learned anything or not.”

In earlier times, we might have removed students from classes where they were unable to do the homework. When students could not handle Honors English, they were placed in regular English. Larger schools created different “regular” English classes as well, grouping students at the start of the year, allowing materials choices that would be appropriately challenging to the bulk of students within the class, given their documented academic understanding.

Now, too often, screening and differentiation are skipped when administrations fill classes. Instead, teachers are told to differentiate within the classroom. What too often results is an academic free-for-all in which our 8th graders who read at a 9th grade level carelessly dash off homework, sometimes with extension problems to challenge them, while especially lost 3rd grade readers toss that homework on the hallway floor on their way out of school. Special education and bilingual students may be lucky enough to receive help from a resource teacher assisting the regular teacher, but even then, these students may be unable to understand the textbook the class is using.

School districts build at least some of the outer bubble in my graphic organizer because of testing demands. Why do so many New York high school graduates remain unready for community college? Testing and related-data demands have fostered a standardization of instruction that fails to meet the needs of students too far from ready for their year’s state test.

Eduhonesty: Yes, teachers always can and should differentiate. But my last administration  put so many limits on remediation in an effort to make sure that all the topics expected to be on the test were covered that almost no time for remediation remained. Differentiation requires remediation. Remediation requires curricular flexibility. When the teaching to the test destroys that flexibility, students who missed material in earlier grades may never see that material. The result can be seen in my bubbles.

The results can be seen in those remedial math and English classes that pepper the hallways of the New York Community College system.


*CUNY to Revamp Remedial Programs, Hoping to Lift Graduation Rates, Elizabeth A. Harris, March 19, 2017



Planting the Evidence

Data, data, data. Does all that data tell us more than sitting down and listening to a child read? Or more than grading weekly math quizzes? How many hours that might have gone to pedagogy have been taken away so that teachers can make more unnecessary spreadsheets, all in the name of “evidence”?

Evidence? Teachers today are told they must sacrifice hours and even days to prepare spreadsheets as evidence of the effectiveness of instruction. Evidence? The word is fraught with threatening connotations, going back through time. We watch To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelve Angry Men, Judgement at Nuremburg, The Caine Mutiny, A Few Good Men and more. Trial movies all, evidence becomes the linchpin on which verdicts will be based.

Evidence requires endless tests and quizzes, it seems, boiled down into passing categories. Grades and projects are not enough. Even that one annual test is not enough. Nothing seems to be enough.

In my last year, I gave six benchmark tests, the then-two PARCC tests, regular, obligatory unit tests written by an outside consulting firm, quizzes designed to prepare students for unit tests (which hardly ever worked since the unit tests had zero to do with my students’ background knowledge), and extra tests and quizzes since my students’ grades were required to be based entirely on tests and quizzes. Other middle school teachers were giving identical tests at the same time. I had to insert extra tests and quizzes because my poor bilingual students could not even read the obligatory tests prepared by the outside consulting firm, much less do that seventh-grade Common Core math.

It’s surprising my students’ brains were not leaking out their ears.

In my area of Illinois, newspapers have been vigorously attacking student stress in recent articles, asking what schools can do to rein in the rising tension and anxiety besieging local students. I can think of one answer. We might stop trying to gather absurd quantities of dubious “evidence,” especially since all this testing is directly stealing from instruction. Why do we need all this evidence?

Are we under indictment? Today’s educational reformers certainly number their evidence, piece by piece. Any one who doubts this fact should spend an hour or two looking through the many boxes in the Charlotte Danielson rubric.

Are we getting ready to go to trial? If so, who will defend teachers when the “evidence” is weighted against them? Given the salaries many teachers make in poor districts, should teachers be asking for public defenders?  Especially those teachers in financially- and academically-challenged districts may end up fighting for jobs, based on skewed numbers, digits twisted to create evidence of faulty instruction. Too  often, educational reformers ignore the actual problems of poor reading skills, poverty, lack of English-language learning, hunger, unreliable family support, emotional and physical illness, etc. — all the many forces that complicate classroom progress.

“Evidence” has been used to push good teachers out, especially expensive, older teachers and teachers who don’t fit the latest principal’s vision of what a teacher should look or sound like. Older teachers cost more money, money they have earned through steadfast efforts put in over time. These teachers are much more likely to refuse to go along with a program when that program does not make sense to them. Given that a regrettable number of principals are all about image today, the image necessary to convince a board to renew their contract, uncompliant teachers will be eliminated if they seem “old-school” — despite the fact that the latest evidence suggests the old schools worked at least as well as the present one.

Eduhonesty: We began the major data push with No Child Left Behind in 2003 and even if NCLB has vanished, the data push remains. Yet where are the improvements our educational reformers desire? We hear all about the new reform plans such as the Common Core, PARCC and SBAC tests. We do not hear about the successes of those plans, the higher tests scores that would demonstrate increased learning. Where are the feel-good stories about widespread, increased learning in urban areas?

I guarantee readers that if those stories existed, they would be all over the internet, television and print media. Instead, our media silence should be considered deafening. Despite the data frenzy, where are the gains? Where is the improvement?

About “80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects,” according to the New York Times.* Recent reforms have apparently resulted in four out five community college freshman being unready to enter community college in New York.

Let’s mull that over.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again – test, data, spreadsheets, test, data, spreadsheets — while expecting a different result, I would say our continued pursuit of the same old reforms could best be called batshit crazy.

The scary question: Can we go back? There’s zero “evidence” that going forward on this data-driven train will benefit our students. Yet a paradigm shift will be required to go back. We might have to put teachers back in control of their own classrooms, for example. We might have to scrap the billion-some dollar Common Core experiment. We might have to scale back on tests and data, replacing these tests with instruction and this data with lesson-preparation time.

Can we do this?

I honestly don’t know.

*CUNY to Revamp Remedial Programs, Hoping to Lift Graduation Rates, Elizabeth A. Harris, March 19, 2017


Muddying the Data

Districts with scores at subterranean levels have been locked into required assemblies, forming multiple committees to solve the problem of resistant test scores. Especially in financially disadvantaged districts, resources commonly been end up being redeployed repeatedly, since money to add new resources can seldom be found. Instead of checking for lead in the water fountains, maybe the district buys Chromebooks instead. Some districts in America are starving for funds.

In exceptional and unpredictable cases, a district may receive a grant. For example, Neal Math Science Academy received a three-year federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) a few years back.  That grant does not seem to have radically improved performance. It’s intriguingly hard to tell, though.  The shift to the new PARCC test makes comparisons with the past tough. In cynical moments, I wonder if the push to go to the PARCC test was aided and abetted by this useful blurring of the past and present.

Is Neal improving? A few years ago, we could have compared Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) results over time to get a fairly clear picture. But comparing PARCC to the ISAT is like comparing apples to pomegranates. They are not at all the same test. These two measurement instruments do not necessarily even test the same attributes. That one shift from pencils to keyboards was enough to impact results, without even considering the effect of content changes and the introduction of multiple right answers.

Eduhonesty: Nice job of obscuring the data, guys, in the name of improved data. Was that intentional?

A Big Truth Buried in Higher High School Graduation Rates

Whatever the number of “functionally illiterate” adults in the United States, these adults are sometimes graduating from our high schools. At worst, America’s lowest readers cannot manage large chunks of everyday life. Five-year balloon mortgage payments wait to ambush them, as they make lower monthly payments they only partly understand, while they pay thousands extra for a $26,000 car financed at a high rate whose implications they can’t compute, even with a calculator.

According to officials from City University in New York, a full 10,700 students –  or 79.3 percent of applicants – failed a test to enter community college without remedial classes the previous year, and were therefore required to study basic skills they should have learned in high school.1 That’s more than three in four entering students! This increase occurred during the full force of NCLB, a sobering reminder that best intentions may not produce even mediocre results when clumsily executed. In the meantime, remedial courses continue to become a growing part of community college coursework at New York’s City University and other community colleges.

Almost all students arriving at community colleges take a skills assessment in math, reading, and writing. If they pass, students are categorized as college-ready and can freely pick classes, subject to other enrollment restrictions such as prerequisites. Other students are labeled “developmental” or “remedial,” and these students must take classes and tutoring specifically designed to get them ready to function in a regular college classroom. Students may have to work through multiple levels of remediation—up to five levels in some cases – quarter by quarter or semester by semester. 2,

We are not talking a remediation course or two, although stronger students will get by with that extra, remedial course or two: For some students, though, we are talking a full remediation curriculum. In the time that it takes for stronger students to get an associate degree, other students are getting ready to start that associate degree program.

Remedial requirements often surprise new community college students. After all, these students graduated from their high schools. Under bright lights, with pomp and ceremony, they walked across a stage and picked up their high school diplomas, shaking the Principal’s hand. When these same students discover that they are facing what may amount to a whole curriculum of remedial coursework, unexpected classes they must complete before they can even begin to accrue actual college credits, I am sure many feel betrayed.

New York City graduation rates have increased dramatically in the recent past – but graduation and learning can too easily be decoupled when the desire to increase graduation rates becomes strong enough.


1 https://nypost.com/2013/03/07/nearly-80-of-city-public-high-school-grads-at-cuny-community-colleges-require-remediation-for-english-or-math/

2https://www2.ed.gov/PDFDocs/college-completion/07-developmental-education-in-community-colleges.pdf Developmental Education in Community Colleges, Thomas Bailey and Sung-Woo Cho

Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Our students are not data. They are children. But educational reformers, state department of education employees, and school district leaders sometimes seem to have forgotten this truth. I spent over 20% of my last teaching year giving mandated tests and quizzes to my math classes, in many cases tests my students could not even read, written by an East Coast consulting firm based on Common Core standards that were four years above the test-documented academic levels of two of my classes. I also gave extra tests and quizzes because my school’s administration had decided grades were to be based entirely on tests and quizzes. The only way to save my students grades became extra tests and quizzes designed to raise their averages.

What did that year of fail, fail, fail, retake, retake, retake accomplish? Not nearly as much as rational expectations combined with desperately needed remediation might have accomplished. But when I stepped off the common lesson plan to remediate, I risked being threatened by my administration if caught. The threats went as high as termination. “Do it or else!” was the mantra of the new Principal (or hired gun) brought in from another state. The Assistant Principal punctuated that mantra with his own, “No excuses!”

My district had to show the State of Illinois that school data was improving. The consensus seemed to be that only by teaching 7th grade Common Core standards could we improve the data — except often those standards were unteachable. My two bilingual math classes both entered my class at an average 3rd-grade-level in mathematics according to their MAP™ benchmark test scores.* English language learning scores came in at comparable levels. No child can leap four years in a single bound.

I persevered. I wanted to keep my job. After awhile, I changed my mind. Nobody in their right mind would want that job, the one where a teacher keeps giving kids impossible work, while under regular threat, and then tries nonstop to repair all the damage she knows she is doing by following scary orders. I finished out the year for the kids, carrying an emergency resignation letter in my glovebox for most of the winter.

Eduhonesty: I’m retired. The damage has been done. I’d like to share a few questions that I think require answers, however:

In the name of data, how many impossible tests did we make “Isidro” take throughout that year? How many Isidros are taking similar tests this year? If Isidro bombs six math benchmark tests, as well as corporately-designed evaluative unit tests, and his big state test, will teachers conclude Isidro must be mathematically challenged? Will Isidro’s test results prejudice future teachers? Expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Most importantly, how will all those incomprehensible tests influence Isidro’s view of himself? Even if Isidro’s teachers manage to keep open minds, will Isidro?

*Nonteacher readers — Benchmark tests are given at designated times throughout a school year to measure students’ ongoing academic progress, especially in English and mathematics.


How Hard Is Too Hard?

“Try different, not harder,” ADHD coaches advise. As an ADHD adult, I respect this advice. I know “harder” seldom works. If I could always put my keys in the gray bowl in the laundry room, my keys would be in that gray bowl. I would not need the special white tile that dings at me when I use my cellphone to ping my keys, sometimes after a phone search that starts the key search. Small objects complicate ADHD life every day. I have created many strategies to manage daily life up to and including emergency back-up lesson plans prepared against the possibility that I might somehow lose the whole day’s lesson. Before I retired, my email was full of documents I sent myself so I would never find myself without materials.

A quick note for all my ADHD former students, friends and family members: You know who you are. You know who you are not. Cut yourself some slack. You burned the toast again? So what? Be as kind to yourself as you would be to any good friend.

For those not part of the club: Please don’t assume your friend or partner could keep track of those keys by trying harder. I promise Penelope does not want to spend her morning shaking out purses, bags and clothing before thoroughly cleaning the car and going through all the pockets in her house. She does not want to shake that laundry basket. You might consider giving a Tile to attach to that keychain as a Christmas or Hanukkah present, or any “finding” device that takes advantage of modern technology.

Back to education, the purported theme of this blog: “Try different, not harder” may be the best advice I’ve encountered for dealing with ADHD. When the first shelter will not do, build again. ADHD students must understand that they will probably need to build many different shelters to survive school.

ADHD kids are often locked in battle with life’s responsibilities, at least until exhaustion sets in. “Not sure if life’s telling me to give up or try harder,” many of our kids may be quietly thinking after the latest “and-I-even-had-it-in-my-locker” fail. Those fails happen too often. Exhortations to clean a locker or organize a folder won’t help, either. Students benefit from being taught to organize themselves — but some students may never be able to manage consistent organization. They will have the best of intentions. But then a firetruck will roll down the street at the end of class, and their papers will end up in the wrong folder, if those papers leave the classroom at all. An IPad will remain behind on a desk. Maybe the whole backpack will stay behind, a clumsy, twenty-pound, black lump somehow forgotten by a kid who may make it onto the bus and home before he stops to wonder why his load has suddenly become so light.

How can we teachers help our ADHD students?

Here are a few suggestions for middle school and high school students:

  1. Identify those students. Seat Jordan and Jasmine where you can see how they handle their materials.
  2. Specifically tell them what to do with those papers or their IPad, breaking the process down into steps if necessary. Yes, they should be old enough to manage without detailed instructions. And I should be able to find my keys without the Tile. Some kids can’t manage, at least not on a regular basis, without those instructions.
  3. Convince them to set a reminder or alarm with an attached packing list for the trip home. Include items like “Put IPad into backpack” etc.
  4. Convince them to set an alarm for starting their homework. The homework alarm should be set for a time early enough to deal with crises like missing assignments.
  5. Help Jordan or Jasmine to create a back-up plan for what happens when they get home and find they forgot their folder or IPad again, or can’t understand the day’s expectations for their IPad — a better back-up plan than “I will play videogames since I have nothing to do.” Who can they message from their class? Can they email you?  What else can they do to solve their problem?
  6. Consider creating back-up assignments that can be done as substitutes for some days’ assignments, at least for those kids who always seem to get lost in the forest of details of everyday school life.
  7. Teach all students to learn to prepare “Plan B” when the occasion requires. When you are making your own “Plan B” work because district internet cut out and you cannot access useful materials, share your thought processes as you adapt to the challenge.
  8. For especially vital projects or assignments, call home. Enlist parents in advance.

Eduhonesty: This post goes out with love to all those younger versions of myself.



Skilled Trades Are Not Chopped Liver

Among others, this blog is being written for all the high school students out there who like to work with their hands. It’s for my Tomas M., a small, skinny boy who always seemed too small for his sweaters. Tomas nailed the ugliness of our testing culture and college-for-all agenda with one simple line:

“Woodworking is the only class where I don’t feel stupid.”

I was teaching him Spanish at the time, but I did not take offense. He did not test well and he was being tested all over, all the time.

Our Tomases need to be respected for their talents. If they have reached their sophomore year of high school still operating at a mid-elementary level in mathematics – and our own test scores thoroughly demonstrate this phenomenon remains part of America’s educational landscape – these kids deserve a break. They deserve a set of vocational options that take advantage of their strengths.

American public education has not been supporting vocational education. We have not been supporting our electricians, stoneworkers, masons, glazers, painters, cabinetmakers, machinists, and welders. We have not valued our skilled artisans, craftspeople, and technicians, those men and women who maintain our MRI technology, and keep our oil platforms and bridges safe. An air-conditioning repairman provides a vital, even sometimes life-saving, service in the high heat of summer.

When educational reformers hammer and hammer home the idea that all students must be prepared for college, and insist that all students take a college-preparatory set of courses that don’t leave time for true vocational and technical education,  we devalue the contributions of essential service providers. We subtly and implicitly put down the interests and abilities of students who would rather fix cars than write papers. We add to the confusion and misery of young adults who know they don’t want to go to college, but cannot think of a “respectable” alternative that will not make them feel or seem like underachievers and, eventually, second-class citizens.

P.S. Yes, I know it’s mostly called career and technical education today, but that’s part of the problem. Too many districts changed the name. And then they let the auto-repair and woodworking teachers go.




Thinkers, Feelers, Thinker-Feelers, and None of the Above — Let’s Not Trust Resilience

“That’s why we have to train kids to be resilient,” a teacher said, referring to my last post.

I feel compelled to respond to this quick answer to the problem of testing run amok. Teaching resilience and growth mindsets to our kids has a place, but we cannot keep running up from the lake with buckets of water to put out the fires we are starting in the first place. Yes, students who learn coping techniques for stress are better off than students who are left without that support. But the problem with looking to resilience training and growth mindset as antidotes to a stressful learning climate rests in the infinite variety of kids themselves.

Not all kids can shut down emotionally, but a surprising number can. In Myers-Briggs terms, some kids are thinkers, some are feelers and a percentage hover in the middle. Some go down obediently. Some fight back against the injustice of America’s inappropriate tests and standards. Some judge themselves wanting while others perceive they are playing a loaded game and decide not to play.

Current wisdom wants us to believe that resilience can be cultivated through use of positive-feedback loops, and in my experience that concept stands up to scrutiny – to a degree. The girl who gives herself positive self-messages has a better chance of standing up to the test onslaught than more pessimistic counterparts. “I will study harder and I will do better on the next quiz” certainly beats “I hate this stupid class and I can’t do math.”

Eduhonesty: We have to stop trying to use behavioral strategies to “fix” kids as a means of undoing damage we may be doing to those kids. How much stress is too much stress? Does the stress from testing for as much as 20% of a year ever provide enough useful information to justify the emotional roller-coaster from that testing?

I am not criticizing other educators. Until I retired, I worked constantly to boost self-esteem, create growth mindsets, and teach kids to give themselves positive self-messages. But I also watched certain kids sinking, as their hope fled and their self-images crumbled.

We didn’t start the fire…
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

We are trying to fight it.

We are trying to fix our kids.

We should be reshaping their world — and shutting down this quest for excessive amounts of marginally useless data — instead.