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Modern School

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Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 02:09 PM
Number of posts: 794

Journal Archives

VAM, Blam, Thank You Ma’am

In a rare moment of lucidity, the New York Times published a piece this week pointing out how even the best teachers (or those with the “best” students) can end up with terrible Value Added (VAM) scores and potentially face reprisals or get fired as a result.

How is this possible?

If 85% of a teacher’s students are proficient in reading but 95% were proficient the prior year, she would earn a low VAM score because she is ostensibly doing a worse job than she did last year. Rather than adding “value” she has supposedly “lowered” the quality of education. Never mind that 85% of her students were proficient—a respectable number that should be honored, rather than punished.

Yet every year our students are different and their scores fluctuate for various reasons that have little to do with teaching, including variations in the tests themselves. Social class is the single biggest influence on test scores. So if a teacher winds up with a less affluent student population one year, test scores are likely to decline. Other nonteaching factors may come into play as well, like how the school structures the exams (e.g., all in two days, or spread out over 1-2 weeks; providing brunch for students; having teachers proctor their own students) or traumatizing social disruptions, like a tornado or earthquake.

One of the inherent problems with the current use of high stakes exams (aside from the fact that they tell us virtually nothing about the quality of teaching or what students have learned) is that they are based on moving targets. Rather than testing if students have reached a benchmark (e.g., being able to comprehend a short passage or use the Pythagorean theorem), they compare students to their peers, with some necessarily always being below the average.

Teachers at a low performing school could help their students make large gains from one year to the next, only to find that similar schools made the same progress, thus precluding them from achieving their NCLB progress goals. Likewise, there is only so far high achieving students can go, resulting in low VAM scores for their teachers when they hit this wall.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Mar 9, 2012, 08:52 PM (0 replies)

Ohio To Retest Teachers for Low Student Performance

The Beatings Will Continue Until Test Scores Improve
In yet another idiotic attempt to force teachers to make poor kids excel on their exams, Ohio will start requiring teachers of core subjects at the lowest scoring 10% of schools to retake their licensing exams, according to Cincinnati.com. The move seems to be purely punitive, as the licensing exams provide almost useful no data on how well a teacher will perform on the job.

Scores on standardized tests are most strongly influenced by students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, with teachers accounting for as little as 7.5-30% of student achievement. (See here, here and here) Indeed, virtually every one of the schools in questions is located in a low income community.

Yet even if we ignore the socioeconomic factors influencing student achievement, as most politicians, pundits and administrators have done, and focus only on what the teachers contribute, forcing them to retake their licensing tests is still a waste of time and money. If a teacher truly isn’t any good at their job, it is most likely due to weaknesses in classroom management and discipline, developing positive relationships with students, designing good curriculum, or the ability to modify teaching to meet unique student needs, rather than a deficiency in content knowledge.

The teachers’ union has estimated that the testing will cost the state $2.1 million a year, money that would be much more effectively spent on professional development and peer mentoring.

Gov. John Kasich argues that retesting teachers will hold them more accountable and give districts and charter schools the ability to get rid of the ineffective ones. Yet if only teachers at the bottom 10% of schools are tested, then ineffective teachers at the other 90% of schools will remain. More importantly, most low performing schools are also low income, which means that teachers who happen to be at these schools will be much more likely to lose their jobs or face punitive and burdensome testing than their colleagues fortunate enough to work at more affluent schools.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Mar 9, 2012, 08:51 PM (10 replies)

Wealth Makes You a Jerk (and this is News?)

As people’s wealth increases, so does their tendency to engage in unethical behaviors, according to researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Toronto, whose work was published in last week’s PNAS. (A summary of the report can be read at Wired).

The researchers conducted seven different experiments. In the first, they found that wealthier individuals were more likely to cut off other drivers and pedestrians at busy intersections in the San Francisco Bay Area, even when controlled for time of day, gender, age, and traffic conditions.

In one experiment, participants were asked what they would do if given change for $20 if they had paid with a $10 bill. Higher SES individuals were significantly more likely to keep the change.

In another experiment, participants played the role of job contract negotiators. They were told that applicants wanted job stability and would accept lower pay in exchange for longer contracts. They were also offered bonuses for hiring people at lower salaries. Under these circumstances, wealthier participants were much less likely to be honest with applicants about job stability.

In another study, researchers let participants play a computer game of chance and then report their results. They were told that there were cash prizes for high scores. Higher SES individuals were significantly more likely to cheat or misrepresent their scores.

One of the authors was interviewed by FSRN on Monday, 3/5/12. When asked how he knew that the rich weren’t already jerks or that being a jerk is what made them rich in the first place, he said that they also created simulations in which they made people of modest incomes feel rich and even they were more likely to take candy from a bowl designated for children than were people who were not wealthy nor made to feel wealthy.

Yes, wealth apparently makes people steal candy from babies.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Mar 9, 2012, 12:56 AM (1 replies)

Citizen’s United Leads to Bumper Crop of Lobbying by Corporations and Unions

Over the past year, corporations and unions spent a record $286.6 million to influence politics in California, according to the L.A. Times—a 6.8% increase over the previous year. (You can see the Top 10 spenders on state lobbying here).

The Times, like other media and pundits, has tried to equate union lobbying with that of corporations, suggesting, for example, that campaign contributions won California teachers an important victory with a bill restricting the issuance of pink slips. Yet the California Teachers Association (CTA), which spent $6.5 million, has so far failed to win (or even ask for) anything that would increases revenues sufficiently so that schools could afford to retain teachers and hire enough to lower class sizes, (e.g., end high stakes exams and Common Core Standards, increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations, end the 3 Strikes law, increase taxes on oil and marijuana).

California has slashed over $20 billion from K-12 education over the past three years. Under such conditions, it is inevitable that jobs will be lost, services and programs cut, class sizes increased, and pay and benefits reduced. CTA is supporting the Governor’s tax increase initiative on the November ballot, but this will be a bandage at best. It will not repay the $20 billion that has already been slashed, nor increase revenue to a level necessary to bring California up from the bottom five states in per pupil spending. Furthermore, it will provide almost nothing to higher education or services to the poor and disabled, while unfairly taxing the poor through a regressive sales tax increase.

While the CTA’s spending was paltry compared with what the corporations spent, it was monstrous compared with what it spent on organizing and mobilizing its members to take job actions, such as strikes, that would more effectively achieve its goals. Instead, it spent its members’ dues retaining a team of seven lobbyists and wining and dining politicians and their staffs.

It is true, as the Times points out, that they also paid the travel expenses for its members to visit Sacramento during the State of Emergency (SOE) protests last year. However, they actively discouraged members from engaging in civil disobedience, occupations or other confrontational tactics, instead encouraging them to meet with legislators and discuss their scripted talking points.

Predictably, the SOE protests and “citizen” lobbying yielded nothing meaningful for teachers or their students.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Mar 9, 2012, 12:54 AM (0 replies)

Teen Harassed by School for Comparing Schools to Slavery

In a scathing indictment of public education, Jada Williams, a 13-year old eighth grader at School #3 in Rochester, New York, asserted that today's education system, like slavery, keeps children of color from meaningful learning. According to Good Education, Williams essay referred to a quote by Frederick Douglass, who said that his slave master, Mr. Auld, told his wife, "If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master."

Williams said real learning is precluded by overcrowded and poorly managed classrooms, yielding the same results as Mr. Auld's ban. She went on to point out that her teachers—the majority of whom are white in this white minority district—have the power to determine what she can and cannot learn. Rather than teaching, she said that most teachers give students packets to complete independently, which she argues is pointless since her peers cannot read or comprehend the material.

Indeed, only 19 percent of her school’s eighth graders were proficient in language arts last year. Good Education argues that since this is well below the state average of 60%, “it's clear that the school and its teachers need to change their approach.” What Good Education fails to recognize is that low test scores, literacy and graduation rates are caused primarily by poverty, so even if they do change their approach, they would likely see only limited improvement in test scores and literacy.

What is clear from Williams’ essay is that her teachers created a learning environment that bored her and stifled her curiosity. Relying entirely or mostly on packets and worksheets is a terrible (though convenient) way to teach, especially for children reading below grade level. However, even kids who are reading at grade level benefit from inquiry-based, student-centered pedagogies.

Williams’ teacher and school, needless to say, were not happy with her criticisms and engaged in a campaign of harassment that ultimately led to her withdrawal from the school. The conservative Frederick Douglass Foundation, however, was impressed with her essay and her courage and gave her a special award, saying that her essay demonstrated an understanding of Douglass’ autobiography.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Mar 8, 2012, 12:36 AM (3 replies)

LAUSD Lost Records of Accused Molester

Collective Punishment for Teachers and Children to Obscure District’s Culpability
As LAUSD continues its lame attempt at damage control, collectively punishing everyone at Miramonte Elementary School in a mass firing and banning blindfolding and food consumption throughout the district, more evidence is coming out that the district was asleep at the wheel, allowing potential molesters to continue working in its schools.

Paul Chapel recently pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of lewd behavior and sexual abuse of four students at his school. All were under the age of 14. In 1997, Chapel was accused of molesting an 8-year-old friend of his son who was sleeping at his house. LAUSD records show that the district alerted the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing CTC), which suspended his credential, while the district suspended him from work without pay. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict due to lack of physical evidence, prompting the CTC to reinstate his credential and LAUSD to give him back a job with back pay. Chapel’s LAUSD personnel records were incomplete when examined after the most recent allegations, as was the district’s response, according to the Los Angeles Times,

Personnel records of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who was accused this year of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students, are also incomplete, containing no records of prior sexual abuse allegations, despite the fact that there were at least four unrelated past sex abuse allegations against him. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reports that LAUSD has no record that it ever conducted an internal investigation.

The Times article also mentioned the case of former Assistant Principal Steve Rooney, who allegedly waved a gun at a student's father. The Time suggests that a follow-up investigation would have revealed that Rooney was having sex with the student. Rooney eventually returned to work and was later convicted of molesting several students at Edwin Markham Middle School.

While the CTC and school districts have the obligation to honor teachers’ due process rights, they also have the obligation to fully investigate allegations of misconduct and to monitor the fitness of teachers. In Chapel’s case, his acquittal was due to incomplete evidence and the fact that it was only a child’s word against his—not a very compelling vindication. One would think that under these circumstances, LAUSD might have monitored the man closely and warned his site administrators to do likewise.

One would also hope that school districts would do a thorough job screening applicants prior to hiring them. This does not seem to be the case with Chapel, who was sued for making inappropriate and demeaning comments during a sexual education class at a school in the mid-1980s, prior to working for LAUSD. Though he eventually won a settlement with the school, he was compelled to leave. He listed the principal of his past school as reference when he applied to LAUSD, which either failed to talk to the principal or accepted incomplete or deceptive information.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Mar 8, 2012, 12:34 AM (3 replies)

Mock Test Woes From a Teacher Who Opts Her Own Child Out of State Tests

elp! My principal (new to the school) wants us to give the students a mock test to prepare for the CST. It’s supposed to show us which standards students are struggling with. The tests are the released test questions. The 6th grade Language Arts mock test has 114 questions and is 26 pages, front to back. The 6th grade math mock test has 96 questions and is 12 pages, front to back. The 3rd grade tests each have 96 questions with 13 reading passages on the Language Arts test. I was literally speechless when I saw the tests, though choice words quickly followed. If I found out that my own children were forced to take a mock test like this, I would be furious. I opt my oldest out of the CSTs every year (youngest is only in 1st grade) but I wouldn’t know about something like this until it was too late to do anything about it.

It is my opinion that these tests are abusive to children, a waste of money and instructional time, and a violation of test prep guidelines.

To read the rest, go to United Opt Out http://unitedoptout.com/uncategorized/mock-test-concerns-from-a-teacher-who-also-opts-her-own-child-out-of-the-state-test/

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Wed Mar 7, 2012, 12:19 AM (2 replies)

Thousands of Sacramento-Area Teachers to Receive Pink Slips

Thousands of Reduction in Forces (RIF) letters will be issued to teachers and other school employees in the Sacramento area by March 15, the Sacramento Bee reported this week. The Sacramento City Unified school board voted to lay off 700. San Juan Unified plans to lay off 616. Elk Grove Unified is laying off 239. Center Unified has plans to reduce its teaching staff by 10%. And Placer County officials say they will need to lay off 125 teachers.

Along with the layoffs (assuming they aren’t rescinded in May, as sometimes happens) will be mushrooming class sizes, program cuts, and several school closures. As terrible as it is for those teachers who will be forced to join the ranks of the unemployed, students will suffer from more crowded classrooms, less one-on-one attention from their teachers, less access to electives and special programs, dirtier campuses due to cuts in custodial staffs, shuttered libraries, and longer commutes if their neighborhood school happens to get closed.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Wed Mar 7, 2012, 12:17 AM (2 replies)

LAUSD Bans Blindfolding and Eating in Class

Last week I compared the situation in Los Angeles Unified School District to the Satanic Child Care Abuse hysteria of the 1980s and 90s, suggesting that a few high profile abuse cases could lead to excessive and absurd responses by the district. Of course the most obvious and egregious example of this was the mass firing of all staff at Miramonte Elementary School, even though there was only evidence linking two of the teachers to abuse.

Now LAUSD is banning the blindfolding of students, the Los Angeles Times reported this week. The reason for this new rule is that it "may be perceived negatively," Deputy Sup. of Instruction Jaime Aquino wrote in a Feb. 23 memo to principals, in light of the accusation that one of the accused teachers, Berndt, blindfolded his students before feeding them his semen.

The image of blindfolded children being spoon fed semen is certainly disturbing and one that the district would understandably want to go away. It could also reasonably be argued that blindfolding children, particularly younger children, is unnecessary, risky and inappropriate. Yet the district’s new rule seems rather superficial and silly in light of the fact that it allowed a supposed monster to slip through its fingers for years and was incapable of dismissing him despite at least four prior abuse accusations. The new rule does nothing to improve the districts’ ability to monitor or discipline abusive teachers, nor does it make schools any safer for children.

One might ask what justification could there be for blindfolding students in the first place? There are, however, numerous situations in which a “blind” test would be reasonable and appropriate, including for K-5 children. Most of these can be done simply by asking students to close their eyes. For example, during a unit on the nervous system, I have students taste jicama and apple with their eyes closed and noses plugged, to demonstrate how other senses, like olfaction, contribute to our sense of taste. Apparently a fourth-grade reading activity that is part of the new California Treasures curriculum also involves making sensory observations and suggests that students be blindfolded. This would be forbidden under the new rule.

While many “blind” activities can be done without blindfolds, LAUSD’s response to the hysteria goes so far as to entirely ban the consumption of foods prepared in class, even without blindfolds. The Times says that substitute teacher Prentiss Moore teaches elementary-school students how to make butter, which they later eat on crackers. According to Moore, "It is a standards-based lesson with elements of science, social studies, language arts and art." However, in the wake of allegations that Miramonte’s Berndt served students tainted cookies, Moore’s butter lesson is now prohibited.

Keeping children safe should be the first priority of schools. This is not what LAUSD is doing. They are looking for cheap PR victories to mollify anxious and frightened parents and cover up their own incompetence.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Wed Mar 7, 2012, 12:16 AM (10 replies)

San Francisco School Board Waives Seniority

The San Francisco School Board voted 5-1 this week to do away with seniority protections in order to save the jobs of 70 low-seniority teachers in 14 low-performing schools in the “Superintendent’s Zone.” They also voted 5-1 to issue 485 layoff notices, including 210 teacher and counselor layoffs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

An editorial in the Chron lamented that “low-performing schools won't improve if their most dedicated young teachers are the first to get pink slips.” This commonly believed and parroted delusion is based on the illogical premise that young and inexperienced teachers are somehow better than their more experienced peers. This is like arguing that an eager but inexperienced heart surgeon is better than an experienced veteran. In virtually all endeavors, experience improves one’s performance.

It also ignores the overwhelming causes of low achievement which are primarily socioeconomic in nature and have very little to do with their teachers. Even if we could staff low income schools entirely with the best teachers available and ensure that they were never laid off, low income students would still be coming to school sick, hungry, homeless, stressed and far behind their affluent peers in the requisite skills necessary for academic success.

Another argument that has been made in favor of protecting teachers at low income schools is that their schools tend to have the highest turnover rates and the largest numbers of layoffs during budget cuts. While this is true, it is important to look at the reasons for this tendency and find solutions that address the root causes, rather than slapping on ill-conceived bandages that do not really solve the problem.

SFUSD, like most urban districts, has high levels of low income students segregated in a portion of its schools. In San Francisco, the majority of these are located east of Twin Peaks in the Mission, Bay View-Hunters Point, Tenderloin, and OMI districts. And like most urban school districts, these low income schools tend to have the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates and the greatest pressure on teachers to work harder and longer to erase the achievement gap. Furthermore, the students at these schools tend to have greater emotional, intellectual and physical needs, placing further stress on the teachers. As a result, these schools tend to have higher attrition rates for teachers who burn out from all the extra demands or who transfer to less stressful teaching environments.

Consequently, the schools with the greatest need for quality teachers also tend to have the highest turnover of teachers, as well as a disproportionate number of young and inexperienced teachers who have low seniority. This is true even when budgets are healthy. However, during budget shortfalls, the lower income schools also generally lose more teachers to layoffs than their more affluent neighbors because they have higher percentages of novice teachers.

There is no question that this is unfair and a disservice to students. However, the solution is not to shred teachers’ contractual rights, nor to give younger teachers preferential treatment, as is being attempted in SFUSD (and as occurred in LAUSD this year). For one, there is no reason to believe that protecting those teachers’ jobs will solve the problem of high attrition at their schools. They will continue to face the same challenging students and be expected to raise test scores by impossible margins and implement a variety of new policies and curricula, without being provided the time or compensation to do it well.

Another reason why this strategy is wrongheaded is that it only protects teachers at 14 struggling schools, leaving open the possibility that teachers at other low performing, high turnover schools will still get the axe, including some highly effective veteran teachers. El Dorado, for example, which is not in the protected zone, will lose more than one-third of its teaching staff. The plan is ostensibly being done “in the name of social justice,” UESF President Dennis Kelly was quoted in the SF Chronicle. He went on to say, "You don't have justice for some," which is what will happen if the plan goes through. The union is considering filing a lawsuit to block the move.

One solution would be to reassign students more equitably, so that no schools are made up of mostly low income students. Unfortunately, the problem of Apartheid-like school systems segregated by social class seems to be intractable. It is one thing to offer lower income families the opportunity to bus their kids to a school far away from the gangs, drugs and poverty of their neighborhood, but quite another to tell affluent parents that their kids have been assigned to a ghetto school. Many of those with money will simply jump ship and invest in private school. Indeed, in San Francisco 29% of San Francisco kids were already in private schools in 2005, according to SF Magazine.

However, from the perspective of the teachers, a lot could be done to attract and retain the best and most experienced at challenging low performing schools, thus reducing the percentage of novice and low-seniority teachers. Perhaps the most important would be an abandonment of the accountability and testing mania that has been destroying public education for the past decade. This would take considerable pressure off of teachers to fix problems that are beyond their control and do wonders for the morale and climate at these schools. Simply “allowing teachers to teach,” combined with ample paid collaboration time and paid professional development, would also be strong incentives for retaining dedicated, high quality veteran teachers.

Teacher Seniority is a Labor Issue for All Working People
The final decision to deviate from seniority in the layoff procedure must be decided by an administrative law judge according to state law, which means the decision could stick, regardless of the unions’ position. Since seniority rights are collectively bargained between the union and SFUSD, such an outcome would be tantamount to the state ripping up the teachers’ contract. Keep in mind, teachers bargain with local districts, not the state. Allowing the state to trample on contractually agreed upon rights opens the floodgates for it to trample on other rights and protections.

It is also important to remember that seniority protections exist to prevent arbitrary and vindictive layoffs. Without seniority protections, higher paid veteran teachers can be laid off to save districts money. Teachers could also be fired for their union activities, being outspoken advocates for children or teachers, or for their extracurricular activities or lifestyles. Allowing the state to step in and override seniority could be used to balance continued budget cuts with a mass culling of the highest paid and most experienced teachers. It could also be used to weaken teachers unions by ridding districts of the most active and vocal union members.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Mar 2, 2012, 09:05 PM (0 replies)
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