Suddenly sad as I read a thought from a previous summer

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This post requires a bit of back story. Readers may know I am working on a book. I got to a section on RtI (or MTSS as it sometimes called now), otherwise known as Response to Intervention or Multi-Tier System of Supports. RtI was mandated by federal law some years back, an intervention system for students who are falling behind academically. One paragraph references an email written by an RtI expert who helped us set up our own program. I may post more about this later, but for now I just want to copy a few paragraphs I wrote in the past:

“There are many ways for schools to implement small group interventions – and they do not all steal from the teacher’s free time.  Actually, if one thing gets stolen from the most, it probably is Social Studies or Science instruction.  When doing so, schools are making a conscious choice that Reading or Math is a priority over other subjects.”

That was from the email. Here is my then-response.

In the first place, teachers do not have “free” time. Planning periods are used to grade, to plan lessons, to tutor, and for many other tasks that are essential to educating students. My fellow teachers and I had effectively about 45 minutes of planning time at that middle school each day while my students were in gym and specials such as Spanish (we rotated these). Not uncommonly, administrative requirements ate up most or all of that time, time stealers such as missing lunch tickets, calling on incomplete permission slips or discussions with the counselor about depressed students. Many random noninstructional activities take place in a teaching day. If RTI makes it impossible for me to finish my grading, that is one set of papers that won’t be returned until later. When I lose my planning period, I also lose my set-up time. If I am teaching science, this lost time may force me sometimes to move away from hands-on experiments towards bookwork.

I wrote that a few summers back. I am not sure if I ever blogged it. I find writing cathartic and there are scribbles all over this house, on computers, on hand-outs and in journals.

Why was I suddenly gloomy when I read this snippet? Last year, we were not allowed a single field trip until students took the PARCC test in the spring. My sadness was for the lost field trips. No field trips for bad students with low scores! No parties! You have to get those test scores up! Now!

Eduhonesty: In higher-scoring, wealthier districts, I bet they took field trips. I bet they piled excitedly into busses for trips to forest preserves or museums. Maybe they stopped for lunch at McDonalds. Kids in my financially- and academically-disadvantaged district love that McDonalds stop, however nutritionally dubious it may be. (At least they get enough to eat, which is not always true with school lunches.) I bet those higher-scoring wealthier kids enjoyed a few minutes or maybe even a whole class celebration before Winter Break. Maybe they even ate candy or cake, forbidden items during the school day at my school.

My kids were not so lucky, at least until after the spring PARCC test. The administration had made its position very clear: Bell-to-bell instruction at all times or else. That “or-else” had real teeth in it too. Admin seemed clearly intent on cleaning house. The day before winter break, admin was wandering randomly into classes to make sure that we were all on task.