Our Schools

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The Teacher Zone – Episode 1

Published February 20, 2014 by Vida Caramela

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 5.04.02 PM

You’re traveling through another dimension – a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a strange land whose boundaries are that of the U.S. Educational System. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Teacher Zone!

Picture with me if you will, one Mrs. D’Moralized, a modern-day educator, tasked with a host of duties required by her job.  She performs all of them with great efficiency. Her classroom runs like a well-oiled machine, students are meeting the standards, paperwork is submitted on time, parents are well informed; and Mrs. D. expects that her supervisor, Mrs. S. N. Fare will take notice.

Mrs. S. N. Fare ignores all of the visual evidence,  and without written documentation,  all of Mrs. D.’s hard work goes unrecognized. At the end of the school year, Mrs. D. is rated ineffective. The reason given, neglect of duty.

in the end the only duties that Mrs. D. truly neglected were the those to herself, and to her family.

This story is one with a sad little twist. The type that defies all logic and common sense. And it can be found here only —

in The Teacher Zone.

(Introduction was adapted from Rod Serling’s, The Twilight Zone, Season 2)

Authors Note: In 2013, NYC adopted a new teacher evaluation system called Advance, where 60% of the teachers rating is based on teacher performance (Teacher Practice), and 40% on student performance (Measures of Student Learning, MOSL). The 60% Teacher Practice rating is determined by the following: what the supervisor sees,  what the teacher submits as written evidence, and what the children write in the student survey (which counts for 5 of the 60 points).

Systems like this are being adopted all across the nation, and teachers are now facing a marked increase in the load of paperwork they must do in order to document their own performances. Often, personality conflicts, nepotism, agism, racism, bigotry, resentment, favoritism and other unrelated factors, blind supervisors and students to the true performance of the teacher. Coupled with the facts that student test scores do not always reflect a teachers performance,  and that teachers have not been given additional time to compile written evidence, this will most certainly result in some teachers receiving unfair ratings.

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Common Core Development: A Crumpled Timeline

Published August 25, 2013 by Vida Caramela

A crumpled paper ball made from an A4 sheet

Okay, I investigated those websites, and after scouring through them carefully, I did not see a drop of data. What I saw was a heap of professional development resources for common core.  That was a bit disappointing because I specifically asked to see data. Anyway, I decided to do my own search and I did come up with something of interest. So, here’s what I am going to do; I’m going to post the interesting facts about CCSS pilot testing as I find them.

I’ll start with an article I found on the Education Week website:

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2011/08/weve_been_telling_you_in.html

The article, written by  Catherine Gewertz, and dated August 23, 2011, states that New York City and Washington, D.C., are joining six other urban districts  to lead out in piloting the common core.  Gewertz goes on to mention, “The work is unfolding through the Council of the Great City Schools, which last week announced a $4.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will be used for a broad range of activities to implement the standards in all of its member districts. But eight will play a lead role.

What I found especially interesting in the article was the following statement: “New York has already been at work on a pilot that involves three areas of common-core implementation: curriculum alignment, performance-based assessment, and text complexity.”

Now I have even more questions, like: Where, specifically in New York, is this pilot being done? When exactly did it begin? Has any data been generated from these pilots so far?

Based on this article, the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by the 45 States are in the prototype testing phase as we speak, and are not the finished product. If this is true, are the 45 States field-testing for the remaining five?

Until I find some evidence of pilot work occurring before the adoption of the CCSS by all of these States, I will be forced to conclude that the  engineering timeline for CCSS is fan-folded or possibly just crumpled, so every phase of it’s development is occurring practically simultaneously.

Common Core Effectiveness: Show me the data!

Published August 25, 2013 by Vida Caramela
Four-color map of the united states

Four-color map of the united states (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was sold on the idea of common core standards from the first time I heard that they were being developed. The low level of expectations, I had witnessed in some of the schools where I’d worked  in the past, was appalling. Whenever I would try to introduce rigor, high expectations and authentic assessment, I would be attacked and criticized. It seemed as though the school leaders and parents were more interested in appearances (high grades on report cards) than in actual student growth and academic excellence. They believed that the level of instruction and the way the students were being evaluated was perfectly acceptable. In fact, they were proud of the level of achievement that their students were reaching. Eventually, I got a position at a screened school where everyone truly understood the importance of rigor, and high expectations. My 7th graders were performing at higher academic levels than the ninth and 10th graders were in my former schools. My constant thought was, these kids could run circles around those kids. The most interesting thing is that my current school is a Title-one public school, located in an urban neighborhood. The majority of students are members of underserved populations, and for the most part, do not seem to be more intelligent than the students in my former schools, they just seem to be more motivated, and committed than their counterparts. I see the implementation of a common set of standards as a way to ensure that all U.S students are on a level playing field, and can compete globally. As for the question of how effective the Common Core Standards we’ve adopted will be, we have yet to find out. As with all new concepts, the way to answer that question is to prototype it, field test it on a small scale and work out the bugs, then refine or rework it and test it again. The process can be repeated until the desired outcome is achieved. Only then is the concept introduced to the wider public and monitored for effectiveness. Here’s the part I really like. Even after it is tested on the population at large, if it doesn’t work, it does not have to be considered a failure. There will be lessons learned that can help in making revisions, or in selecting alternatives. I do not know anything about the prototyping and pilot testing of the Common Core State Standards. Maybe that’s partly my fault, because I haven’t made it my business to know. Today, I checked out the comments section on Diane Ravitch’s Blog post entitled “The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core Standards: No Evidence” ( http://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/24/the-biggest-fallacy-of-the-common-core-standards-no-evidence/ ). I read a comment from a Dr. Jen Anderson which asserted that the CCSS was piloted for 3 years in Michigan and was effective in preparing teachers and in making students more successful. I replied with a request for hard evidence (data from the pilot), to which Dr. Anderson responded by sending the following links: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yBubzrVI3jd4HZhCnEM7lGQyMgrf3cXjsT1Ji2ezErE/mobilebasic?pli=1#id.wk3t0pnso2ld
http://Www.mielanetwork.weebly.com

Other commenters on the blog insist that there are no pilot studies and/or no valid data that proves the effectiveness of the common core standards.

Hopefully the sites Dr. Anderson shared will provide me with some answers. I’ll let you know later

What Have We Left Behind?

Published August 14, 2013 by Vida Caramela

For the past two decades, a combination of budget cuts to education and No Child Left Behind has “left behind” some areas of instruction that are fundamental to a well-rounded education. Many public schools have “trimmed the fat” by eliminating what some consider to be low-stakes programs. These programs usually include the Performing Arts and Science, which are often the first to go. They are the unfortunate casualties of our National accountability measures for math and English Language Arts (ELA), which have triggered a brand new tunnel vision approach to American education.

In NYC, for example, it is quite common to find a high school which doesn’t offer any performing arts classes, or science electives. Music and art teachers have been excessed in exchange for literacy and math coaches. In the middle schools, students are often scheduled for two classes per day in ELA or math, but for no classes in science. The rational for this being that the school ratings are based on math and ELA scores, and there are no New York State exams in science for the 5th-7th graders. This practice of neglecting science instruction in grades 5-7 has been to blame for New York City’s 54% passing rate on the NYS 8th Grade Science Exam (a low-stakes test) in 2011. Science education is suffering throughout the nation as a whole.

In a time when U.S. scores in science have fallen far behind those of countries like South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China and Canada, we should be asking ourselves, what is being done about it, and is it enough to make an impact?

Student interest in the performing arts and science have not waned over time. Neither has our society’s need for individuals with expertise in these fields. For a good picture of how educational program choices for students have dwindled over the years, one needs only skim through a few yearbooks. Compare the schools of the 50’s, 60’s, 70‘s and even 80‘s to today’s public schools. One thing you will notice immediately is the disparity between the number of programs, clubs, and events related to the performing arts and science, then and now.

There are many prominent scientists and artists who owe at least part of their success to their inner-city public school education.  For example, here are some accomplished alumni of New York City public schools:

  • Barbra Streisand- Singer/ Actor,
  • “Shaggy”- Reggae Artist,
  • Eric Kandell- Nobel Prize Winner,
  • Albert A Kruger- Scientist/ Inventor,
  • Clive Davis- Founder of Arista Records,
  • Lena Horne- Singer,
  • Isaac Asimov- Scientist/ Writer,
  • Babara McClintock- Nobel Prize Winner,
  • Stephanie Mills- Actress/Singer,
  • Irwin Meyer- Producer/ Tony Award winner,
  • Beverly Sills- Opera Singer,
  • Aaron Copeland- Composer,
  • Larry David- Producer/ writer and comedian,
  • Harry Belafonte- Singer/ Actor,
  • Woody Allen- Actor/Film director/ screenwriter,
  • John Corigliano- Composer/ Pulitzer prize winner,
  • Martin J. Fettman- Astronaut,
  • Marisa Tomei- Actor,
  • Spike Lee- Actor, director/producer/ screenwriter.

If students, thus society, have benefited from the well-rounded public education of those earlier years, why are we shortchanging this generation of students now?

Greater incentives for achieving high scores

Published August 8, 2013 by Vida Caramela

Here’s an article from the Washington Post, entitled

Gates pours millions in new grants to change teaching profession

It will provide some frame of reference  for Group #2 in my post “Standardized Testing Debate”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/08/gates-pours-millions-in-new-grants-to-change-teaching-profession/

Standardized Testing Debate

Published August 6, 2013 by Vida Caramela
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the nation, the lid is lifting off of a boiling-pot debate over high stakes standardized testing.  What started out as a relatively small argument in the academic community is turning out to be a bit of a hullabaloo. Increasingly, test-cheating scandals are being uncovered and widely publicized, as in the criminal indictment of 35 school officials and teachers in Atlanta, Georgia, and all parties are coming out swinging. The arguments involved are many, and with the recent introduction of the National Common Core Learning Standards, the new standardized tests that are based on these standards, and the new teacher evaluation systems that are partly determined by student scores, it seems there will be even more to come.

It’s going to be a while before the issues with standardized testing in the U.S. are resolved, but can we really afford to drag this matter out for very long? While the warring factions bicker on, the controversy grows ever greater, the pitfalls get even deeper, and generations of students are being affected. So, how do we fix this problem? The answer to the question varies depending on who you ask.

I’ll start with some of the views I’ve heard expressed by those appearing to be most vocal on the issue, or at least the one’s who have gotten the most news coverage, and hope you, my readers will help me to identify more for later blogs on the subject.

In one corner you GROUP #1:

The people calling for the elimination of high stakes or standardized testing. This group includes those that  believe that standardized tests are stacked against certain student populations and that these students can’t possibly pass them. It also includes those who argue that high-stakes testing causes people to cheat by promoting a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation. There are still others who identify these forms of testing as  disruptions to the educational process which limit a teacher’s creativity. The membership of this team are primarily made up of teachers, students, parents, and advocates for minority populations.

In another corner there is GROUP #2:

Those pushing for greater incentives for achieving high scores on standardized tests, or more punitive measures for those who have not made the grade. Proponents of incentives like No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, some government officials, educational reform groups and philanthropists fall into this category.

Then there is the partnership of GROUP #3:

The attack on public education and the bust the unions groups.  Several educational reformers, and politicians fall into this category as well. They often use the debate on testing as an opportunity to demonize teachers.  They say the teachers who cheated with their students’ scores did so, because they were bad people. They paint the average public school as a haven for lazy, ineffective, uncaring, and self serving teachers. They are all about firing teachers and closing public schools. The union busters take that argument further, explaining how badly we need to get rid of the Unions, which only exist to keep those bad teachers employed and failing schools open.

Now that I’ve started off the list, please feel free to add your comments, views, and/or solutions.

Below are some links to related articles: