"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Next Logical Step After You Demonize the Teachers...

My friend sent me the link below and asked me what I think about easing teacher licensing rules. This has been on the radar for quite some time now with the advent of charter schools. I think this is a predictable course of events given the last few years in Wisconsin. I am sure this is aimed at luring instructors in STEM to public schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). There was already notoriously low motivation for people truly interested in and proficient in STEM areas to become teachers since they can make buckets of money in the private sector doing what they love to do. Now that our governor has demonized teachers, I imagine there might be a number of STEM teachers out there who have lost the motivation they did have and have decided to chuck the teaching gig in favor of doing science for a substantial salary. This places school systems in a quandary as to how they plan to teach the curriculum.

My mom was an English teacher. She spoke five languages and was an extremely intelligent woman who was educated far beyond her peers of the day. She went to college during WWII to earn her BA, putting herself through school by working at a munitions factory. She HATED "education" classes with a passion only equaled by her hatred of gym class and maybe math class. She thought they were the biggest waste of time on the planet that with zero value added to her teaching credentials, yet she was an outstanding teacher. She quit teaching in the early 70s because she couldn't tolerate red tape (the apple/tree analogy is apt here).  If a teacher says the "education courses" are for the birds, I'm wondering what their use is? My mom got her master's degree when we kids were small, about 3, 6, 8, 10 and 14. Imagine trying to type a thesis on an old fashioned typewriter with five hooligans surrounding her. No wonder she had no patience for idiocy. She barely had time to take a quiet bath!

So, while I don't think this will make that much of a difference in the overall scheme of things, I am skeptical that they will get what they're looking for in easing the restrictions. There may be a few outstanding natural teachers added to the ranks from this, which would be a good thing. There may also be a few clunkers added, but what profession isn't without its yutzes? On balance, I predict that everything will remain the same.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Madison MAP Testing Shows They are Falling Short Too

So, the great and powerful Madison School District has started MAP testing and the results are, well, as they should have expected when viewed as a whole. White kids are above national averages and children of color are below them. MAP testing stands for Measures of Academic Progress. They are taken at the computer by each student and the questions are tailored to the individual student. They keep answering questions until they hit the wall of achievement level and the test is ended. Scores are known immediately and areas of strength and areas that need improvement are highlighted FOR EACH KID. It is supposed to be a tool for teachers to use in order to more adequately provide instruction in their classroom. This is called differentiated instruction, or DI in the education vernacular. MAP results are not really effective for national achievement comparison.

OK, I'm going out on a limb here and going to say to the critics of ECSD that we have been doing MAP testing in our district for 5 years now. My newly minted graduate was in the guinea pig group in 7th grade, so I am keyed in on this topic. We can thank Paula Landers for being ahead of the curve on implementing this tool. What seems to escape the writer of the article as well as our district is this. It's very nice to know how one's district stacks up as a whole against the state (WKCE) and nation (MAP, NAEP), but what exactly does this data provide in the way of improving individual student achievement? Exactly squat. In this world of inclusive learning, school districts must have tools to provide DI for all levels of learners.  If you insist on teaching to some arbitrary mean that various test data indicates as the level of your class, you'll lose the top 30 and bottom 30 percent of the curve. That's 60 percent of the students being lost.  Used properly, MAP results could be a very effective tool for the teaching arsenal to solve this problem.

Sadly, it is my experience that my kids' teachers use it to verify what they already know about my kids, that they are above average, and use their MAP data to rationalize being satisfied with mediocre performance the rest of the year "because they are still above their peer average." I have no data to indicate it is otherwise with other children. In fact, I have spoken to other parents with similar issues. In addition, over 35 percent of the students in the quadrant report that began the school year above their peer group in reading in our district in 10-11 did not reach the achievement goal the MAP test sets for them. It seems that the district thinks it's OK that a child does not achieve to their potential. I am not of the same opinion.

The most recent instance of this injustice for us was during my son's 5th grade "education." This child has an enormous vocabulary due to being the third child behind two extremely high achieving sisters in language arts. He had to learn or forever be a victim of verbal warfare. I never spoke baby talk to him and encouraged this language skill too. However, as with many boys, he is less than thrilled with anything that requires him to read something other than anime and if you assign him to write something, one would think he has been asked to sever a limb or something. Thank you Boy Scouts for the merit badge documentation requirements, by the way. But I digress.

Not only did my kid fail to reach his personal achievement goal set for him by the MAP test (gain less than they projected he should), but he ended 5th grade at a lower achievement level in reading than where he started. This loss of achievement happened while he got straight As all year long in language arts. I began a slow burn that has not stopped. I went to the principal, I went to the teacher and I went to the administrator in charge. "He started out so high that it was hard for him to achieve." This is an unacceptable response. My child deserves to show some damn achievement after a year of instruction. I don't care if he started out higher than the mediocre goals you set for the masses. This is thievery, plain and simple. That year, as I recall, the entire grade level failed to meet the 50% level, which basically says they have achieved grade level performance. Interpretation of MAP results is a bit confusing, so go with me here. Anything less than 50% for a grade level indicates they have not achieved a years worth of learning. There has been a shake up in the 5th grade teaching team, but I think it goes beyond individual teachers. If there is an endemic attitude that high achieving students are OK to ignore and an insistence on mistakenly using MAP data to compare to national averages (like the article in the Madison paper did) instead of using it for the amazing tool it could be, there will be no dang improvement in overall achievement.

A shift to using this data as it was designed will help every single kid in the district. Students with cognitive disabilities need to feel individual achievement, too. Did I do better than I did last year? They don't want to know how they compare to the average. They already know the answer to that question. They wouldn't be in special ed if the answer to that question wasn't obvious. If each child at the lower end of achievement gains skills, the overall achievement scores will increase. Same for the high end kids. And the middle kids. Basically, teachers need to find a way to engage every student. This is the working definition of both an exceptional educator and differentiated instruction. Go forth and educate. Use the MAP tests for the purpose they were intended. Allow all students to gain academic achievement regardless of their start point.


Friday, August 10, 2012

UPDATE: Agenda and Packet link below. School Board Meeting this Monday, August 13 at 6:30 PM

The school board regular business meeting is scheduled for this Monday, August 13 at 6:30 PM. I'd refer to the agenda, but it's not posted yet. Transition is a bit bumpy. The July meeting didn't have a packet posted until late Friday or early Saturday before the meeting, but at least there was an agenda to refer to until the packet was posted. Today there's nothing active to click on at the website. I do know that Kelly Mosher, rock of Gibralter organizing them over at the district office, was on vacation until August 8, so I suspect that's why there's a big goose egg on the "agenda" and "packet" section of the website. Stay tuned, I'll post on Monday if available.


Cheerleading Not a Sport: Federal Court

Click on the link below to see that Quinnipiac University in Connecticut has been issued a smack down in federal court. They cut their volleyball team to fund the cheerleading squad, but got sued by the team on the basis of Title IX. Huh. Not so fast, said the court. Cheerleading is not a varsity sport and you are out of compliance in Title IX. Sort of like our own district trying to say that, with the addition of a girls' swim team, they now offer more sports opportunities for girls than they do for boys "if you include poms and cheer."  OK then. This is the same guy, who during the great poms debacle of 2009, said poms wasn't a WIAA sanctioned sport and the school could tell them exactly what to wear and it shouldn't look like it belongs on a street corner in the red light district. Ah, yes. It's amazing what can spew from a mouth that can speak out of both sides at the same time.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Now that's what I call ironic!

With apologies to whichever Pirates of the Caribbean movie that's from, I am compelled to direct your attention to the placement regarding tax news in the Janesville Gazette on August 3, 2012. On about page 5 or so of the Sports section, one finds a summary of the outraged bipartisan politicians demanding that Olympic medalists be exempt from paying taxes on their medal stipends the Olympic committee gives them. I haven't filled out tax forms in years because it's sort of like an Olympic sport for my husband. But back in the times when I did, I know there was some minimum amount below which one didn't pay taxes. And let's face it NONE of those sports are cheap so their expenses MUST exceed the pittance the OC gives these folks. Yes, taxes should be levied, but realistically none of those kids will pay much until they score those big sponsorship contracts, which ought to be pretty quick for the likes of Gabby Douglas (She's so cute! I saw her for the first time at these Olympics and I told Bill she reminded me of Mary Lou Retton with that million dollar smile. Then I saw her balance beam back flip twisty thingy-that's the technical term-and knew she was the real deal.)

Situated on flip side of that page, mere microns separating it from the outraged politician article, is an article about how identity theft is responsible for over 5 billion dollars in false tax reimbursements being sent to thieving bastards who often set up direct payments into the same bank account. Hmmm. Wonder if those blinking politicos are outraged about that? I know I am. Eyes on the prize, ya dorks. Maybe if you didn't sent billions of dollars to frauds you could afford to exempt Olympic athletes from paying taxes on their paltry stipends! That is all.