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Friday, January 30, 2015

 A Florida public school counselor tells the truth:

When scheduling children for an upcoming school year--and without standardized test scores in hand--we always schedule our level one and two students for....our upcoming intensive reading class. We do NOT EVER assume that our intensive reading class made any difference.  We just keep doing the definition of insanity--the same thing over and over.  

When the standardized scores come out in the summer--when none of us is actually working; when the only twelve month employee is the principal and by God he's not going to sift through that data--we always find that we were right--with a few exceptions of course.  It's as if we assume that our "Intensive Reading" class efforts of the previous year won't have a chance in hell or in our hallways of making a difference for that child.  We ASSUME status quo.  We ASSUME...and we are right.  The same vulnerable children with low reading scores will be in the same classrooms--loaded up with our English Language Learners and our special needs children. It's a hot mess of a grouping.  It's enough to send our fine teachers into doctors' offices looking for relief.  

"Gains."  Let's talk about gains.  Children do not care about gains.  They're still in the same classrooms with the same exhausted teachers.

Let's talk about the intensive reading classes; their makeup; their numbers.  Here's my experience: fthey're chock-a-block full of our lowest performing children; our level one and two English Language Learners--maybe Spanish and French and Hungarian speaking--giving our teachers opportunities to use their "ESOL strategies."  And THEN, oh then, Yea!  ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY in the same classroom!  They get to use their newly minted ESE endorsements as well!  What good news!  How wonderful to be so well trained!

But how, on God's green or purple or yellow earth, can any of that be done when there are 30 children in a room?  When there is no support?  Oh there's a name on paper somewhere and muckies pretend that base is covered.  And maybe it is...maybe it's covered in the sweat and tears of that medicated teacher, for she is alone in spite of documents.

Good God.  This is madness.
5:05 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Skin in the Game..."

A friend of mine, when he was building a movement, once said to a group of us who'd volunteered to help: "You gotta put a little skin in the game." It was a "yeah, yeah, yeah, volunteerism is great and everything, but I need more than your time, I need your money" kind of statement.

I "put up" and I haven't "shut up" since. He's doing good work. He needs my and others' support.

I got "skin" in a different game now. I got real skin covering real people. My kids' skin as they lumber into their public school buildings every morning; their sleepy eye lid skin covering their sleepy eyes; their calloused skin covering their typing and writing finger tips; their dimpled skin covering their "locked-into-the-sitting-position" buttocks (I'm not sure about that skin, I can only judge by my own and that skin for sure is dimpled...)

I don't want to "put up" the "skin" I have in the standardized testing game. I'm a parent. I want real choices for my children. I do not want to even sit at the table of this cheatin' game. It's played , it seems, in a smoke filled basement of high rollers with their fat political bellies popping out of their barely button shirts.

These are the kinds of men from whom I normally keep a distance. They're the "know it all" guys who don't know a thing about public education yet they make all the decisions. Or maybe they do know one thing: that there is a whole lot of money to be made from the skin of the backs of my children and so there they sit on the fat and most definitely dimpled skin of their dimpled derrieres and make decisions that skin the future right off of our children.

"Skinning the future right off of our children..."

"No diploma for YOU, 3.7 GPA tenth grade girl! You were not one of the 21% of students who passed the test!", the organizer of this stinky game might say. "What? You want to do WHAT?! You want to go to college and learn to care for children with special needs? You have the patience for THAT? Get a life, girl of potential; girl of enthusiasm; girl. We don't want your kind 'round these high school graduation parts.

No fourth grade for YOU, third grade boy who lives in a shelter!; Boy whose family made sacrifices none of my or my high-falutin' buddies' families will ever have to consider because we are rich, rich, rich! What? DON'T YOU DARE QUESTION WHY MY BOYS WENT TO THE $40,000/year PRIVATE SCHOOL! So what my children did not take any standardized test?! You make an issue of that, third grade boy, and I will make your school life as miserable as your personal life. Don't think I won't do it.
I already have...

No electives and career preparation classes for any of YOU, you level ones and twos! No physical activity either! Get off of your fat asses (well, continue to sit on them) and LEARN TO PASS THE TEST! What!? I don't care if you actually LEARN you say?! I and my buddies just want you to take the test you say?! Actually, you'r right, go ahead and don't learn! Just take the test over and over again.


It's a velveteen nightmare. There they are the cigar smoking education big whigs. My president, my governor, my educational commissioner (she's a girl and good for her! She enjoys a stogie with the best of the men!), superintendents, principals--there they all are beckoning me to the table. "C'mon!" they call up from the basement, "Put some skin in the game!"

"I'll raise your rigor and double the accountability!" they gaily proclaim as they toss in a state's third grade students.

"I'll call your accountability for children and raise you accountability for teachers", they chortle as they "pony up" VAM formulas and teachers' careers.

They all look at me standing on the first of the basement's stairs? "Whatcha got? Just skin?! Well bring it on down here!"

Puff, puff.
11:32 am est          Comments

Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Oh mom, please don't make me do that."

 "Oh mom, please don't make me do that." This from my fifteen year old. This when I told her that she would have to take classes outside of her traditional school day to meet graduation and university requirements.

My daughter is a resilient kid. She is a "silver lining finder". "Well," she said when she found out she'd missed a level three FCAT score last year by one answer, after working really, really hard, "well, Intensive Reading maybe will help me read better."  

The state of Florida requires remedial reading for all students who did not earn a level three or above on the FCAT (that test is now obsolete).  School districts can "infuse" the remedial piece into Language Arts/English courses. or, offer a separate Intensive Reading class.  My daughter's district has decided to go with the separate class as a required elective for all middle and high school students who did not score at a proficient level.

I don't think "those in charge"  in my daughter's school district have thought out thoroughly the consequences to children of a stand alone remedial reading class.

Having Intensive Reading as a separate elective is a sacrifice.  In my daughter's case--and unless we get some understanding and help from her school--it's a potential sacrifice of Florida Bright Futures
scholarship money (my daughter currently has a 3.7 weighted GPA): a potential sacrifice of her chosen career prep program; a potential sacrifice of college credits; and most troubling of all: a potential sacrifice of an on time graduation. She's going to have to give something up or add to her already full life to accommodate this separate remedial reading class.

That's a big sacrifice.

More on my wonderful daughter:

My daughter's got it going on.  In a recent Honors English II assignment she describes herself as: "Funny, lively, spinning."

Here's the whole piece: "Loves color] guard, food and friends. Feels happy, excited and joyful.  Needs food, love, and friends. Gives love, smiles and kindness.  Fears roaches, needles and rats.  Would like to see Russia, Paris and California."

When asked why she wants to visit Russia and not Kazakhstan where she was born and adopted at two, she said: "Russia's easier to spell,"

I think she pretty much knows herself and I am hoping she gets a good grade on the English assignment.  Now, I found the assignment crumpled up on her bedroom floor and so we have to smooth out the paper and hope the teacher will see the content and not the condition.

My daughter, in addition to being, as she writes: happy, excited and joyful, is not organized.  She's a wonderful and creative mess.  She can spend hours in her bedroom. She paints her fingernails, applies henna to her forearms and decorates her closet mirror--sometimes working out math problems right there.  She, I imagine, watches her reflection--tongue clenched between teeth;--as she starts on tippy toe and ends sitting with legs crossed as she shimmies the marker across that reflective place and watches her geometry formula grow like a waterfall.  It begins with a trickle of an idea and blasts on down the mountain of her bedroom's mirror.

I'm thinking another course--this one on line and at home between homework and Color Guard practice--will not work.  

More--why my daughter is in this predicament and how I feel about what her school and district are doing--coming up.

7:42 am est          Comments

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Trash Mountain"

In schools and districts, muscled up arms vigorously sweep, sweep, sweep dirt, dirt, dirt under rugs, rugs, and more rugs; and if there ain't no rug then they just spread the dirt around...

The sweepers are district big whig wanna-bees; buzzing and humming through the honey combed hive of downtown offices.  They sweep in tight skirts and high heels.  They sweep in well cut suit jackets and glossed shoes.  

They all sweep.

"Uh oh!" they say as the "Here-comes-more-dirt" alarm sounds.  Here comes another load of the state's dirt: new standards and tests and requirements and "not-yet-determined-cut-scores." "My God! Where will we hide the consequences to children of this?!," they cry in alarm.  And then they get back to the business of even more vigorous sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.

The concept of "spreading dirt; sweeping it" is not entirely accurate.  The "dirt" in our school districts is not just spread, it's dumped and then it's spread.  It's dumped from the tippy top.  In my mind I see a dump truck making its way up a mountain of trash. The truck is driven by a school district's superintendent, but in the passenger seat is a state's governor or, maybe, a presidential candidate.  They're dressed in fine suits.  The governor and the presidential candidate don't want to be truly "in the driver's seat" because then it would look like they were responsible.  They've been telling parents that this is all good for children! That this heap of  eighteen year olds with "Certificates of Completion" instead of high school diplomas, and sixteen year old eighth graders who've been held back at least twice--let's hope they've learned their classroom and life lessons!--is "good for the nation!"; that another and bigger load of computerized testing and "Common Core" standards will have our/your children "college and career" ready.

But those children can't even drive the dump truck, for to do so requires a high school diploma and they, even though they've met all graduation requirements except the standardized test, have only "Certificates of Completion" to show for their four years. 

These children have done everything right. They've passed their course; they've served their communities with plants planted and preschoolers tutored and magazines passed out at hospitals.  The only thing they've not done to earn the hard earned diploma, is pass the finely dressed superintendent/governor/presidential candidate's and the superintendent's/governor's/ presidential candidate's millionaire buddies' test.

Schools' employees and the children they teach--are at the mountain's bottom. The employees are going through the trash looking for some one thing of real value that maybe those at the top dumped in their dirt dumping.

They're also, at the same time, trying to protect the children from the stinking mess of standardized tests and accountability and lack of infrastructure and "who-cares-if-you-know-how-to-type?"and the "no graduation/promotion-for-you-even-though-we-know-that-less-that-40-percent-of-you-will-pass-the-test-because-that's-how-we-designed-it" stench of the standardized testing sludge oozing down trash mountain. 

The dump truck, though, never stops.  It's on its way down the mountain of trash for another load.

10:12 am est          Comments

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