Thursday, June 5, 2014
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
We were recently given our SGP (Student Growth Profile) scores, which is presumably a measure of the effectiveness of my teaching based on whether or not my students made expected growth as determined by standardized test scores from third grade to fifth grade. This will be 25% of my evaluation. My SGP score was a 1, the worst score possible, and I am in the 4th percentile, based on some kind of mysterious algorithm. I have long been a critic of No Child Left Behind and AYP rankings. I was told that the scuttlebutt was the reason I hate NCLB is that I am defensive because of my school's AYP rankings. So, if I rant against SGP, I'm sure the same critics would accuse me of being defensive.
I can go on and on about working in a high-poverty school, in classes with high numbers of English Language Learners, about lack of parent involvement, about students from broken homes and difficult life situations. I could talk about the inconsistencies between the third grade test scores and these students' actual ability level when they entered fourth grade. I could suggest that perhaps the third grade test is easier than the fourth and how the fifth grade test gets even harder. (This, it seems, is why my SGP is so low; my students' scores declined from 3rd to 4th grade). My critics would say that I am making excuses.
As long as there is a possibility that I am being defensive, I have little credibility in this debate. Which is why I was impressed by a comment on the Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules Facebook page, on a post about Duncan's visit to Waipahu, using it as evidence that Race to the Top worked!
Andy Jones I appreciate your comment, Anne LaVasseur Mullen. We have become decent test prep instructors at Radford HS, and our improved HSA scores have allowed us to climb from the middle of the pack up to a #2 ranking among high schools in the Strive HI rankings. I have very mixed feelings about this "success." On the one hand, I think it has boosted morale of students and teachers. On the other hand, there's a deeper emptiness behind this superficial glee when I consider all that students have lost just so that they can make gains on test-taking skills.
Here is my response:
Diane Aoki Good job. I had same response to the visit. Andy jones, I appreciate your honesty. This ranking is divisive and perhaps that's by design. Those who get the scores can pride themselves in their rank, and those of us at the low end are depressed. Someone asked me, the one year that we made AYP, shouldn't I be happy about that? My response. Why should I be happy over something that is meaningless? If some thing is wrong, it is wrong, whether or not you come up smelling like roses or poop.
I am looking for a story that honors truth even if you benefit from the lie being told. The closest I can come is about the Blind Men and the Elephant and that truth is a matter of perception. You are not wrong if you happen to be holding the tusk and I am touching the elephant's place of poop delivery. But we do have to realize that this particular elephant is out to trample us both. I guess there are also historical incidences of the days of colonialism and slavery, when the masters had to find an "insider" who benefited from being favored, but who served the masters and helped them to dominate the slaves, or the indigenous, native, people. There are even modern day stories of developers who get a community member to work for them, to be a liaison with the community to convince them to trust the developers. (My play, Ka Ikena, was about that).
As long as there are winners and losers, which a ranking system is designed to do, the system will be divisive. This does not help children, it does not help schools and it does not help public education. I greatly admire the many stories of teachers in states who are awarded bonuses for student test scores and because they disagree with the whole premise of this program, give it away to charity. The Network for Public Education, a group organized to challenge the corporate education reform damaging us nationwide, received two donations recently from Florida teachers.
My rants can only go so far. In order to conquer, we need to be united. If a test-prep centered kind of education is wrong, it is wrong, whether or not your students score well. Hold on to the vision of the type of education you want for your own child. I bet it is not based on the strength of the test prep program. If it is, you got it in spades.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
I remember when I was in my twenties, I was talking to someone about the purpose in life being making the world a better place. This person told me that by my forties, I would lose my optimism. Well, my forties came and went, and I still believed.
When I moved to Kona, I got involved in the union. At some point early on, when the HSTA Uniserv at the time (Now politician Mark Nakashima) explained what the convention process was all about - making change - something resonated in me. At the time, No Child Left Behind was beginning to make its ugly presence felt. Over the years, I have sponsored many a resolution or new business item for state convention. The policy statement on high stakes testing was one I am most proud of. I also sponsored an action item that HSTA would not accept any contract offer that tied evaluation to test scores. So much for that. I also had a proposal to reject national standards, which was rejected by the convention. They had no idea what I was talking about, but I had been studying the emergence of the Common Core. Oh well. Win some, lose some.
This weekend the state convention is being held in Honolulu and I am not there for the first time since 2002 - I think that was my first convention, the year after the strike.
How do I feel about not being there? On the one hand, I'm good. I feel humbled. Life goes on. Other activists persevere and new ones emerge. I don't believe all the work I have done over the years was for nothing. I think I planted seeds and challenged conventional thinking. I contributed to debate. I added to policy. I think my NBIs and resolutions resonated with what was happening in the schools. I tried to voice the concerns of the teachers I represented, not just at convention, but in my role on the Board of Directors.
On the other hand, as long as I was involved, I staved off cynicism. The belief that I could make a difference kept me involved, and also kept me going as a teacher. Going to state and national convention was a big part of my year. Being chapter president and on the Board of Directors was a big part of my identity. So, on this hand, there is a sense of loss. I miss my union friends, but I also feel a loss of belief.
I don't believe in the union as being the vehicle for change. I have learned that both the NEA and HSTA are too conservative for me. The HSTA president and executive director signed on to Race to the Top. NEA has been a cheerleader for the Common Core, and Obama/Duncan, even though the current education policies have been even worse than Bush's. Besides providing for due process protections, HSTA's most important role is to secure a contract, but in that process, compromises had to be made. We had to accept this new Educator Evaluation System, but we negotiated a safety net in the Joint Committee. We shall see if that will prove to be effective, or merely a tool to serve the DOE's purposes.
That paragraph probably reveals a bit of my cynicism and pessimism. However, I want HSTA to prove me wrong. I will rejoice and admit I was wrong if they can pull off a departure from status quo and make significant changes to the system. I don't know what the convention will call for, and how effective any action will be. But I do wish them well. I do hope they will prove me wrong. I would love to get my union juju back.
Though I am no longer a believer in the power of the union, I still believe in public education as a pillar of our democracy. I still believe that all children should have a rich, well-rounded education, and opportunities to explore and develop their gifts and talents. They need strong relationships with adults who care about them as individuals. I believe in strengthening weaknesses and building strengths. I believe that making test results the most important thing is detrimental to the system as a whole. I believe the current focus on teacher effectiveness is more hurtful, than helpful. It is a distraction, meant to turn attention away from what is really needed, real true transformation, rather than this corrupt reform going on now, led by billionaires like Gates and supported by current federal policy.
So you see. I am not cynical. I still believe in making the world a better place. And as long as I believe, I will continue to try. Not necessarily through the union, but through citizen activism. I like what the Bad Ass Teachers Association and the Network for Public Education are doing. I am inspired by Diane Ravitch's leadership. I do think there is hope. But we must awaken. We must not close our minds to the reality of what is happening - a concerted effort to destroy public education. We must realize that the focus on tests is meant to provide data to justify their "reform" and increase demand for their products. We must risk sounding like conspiracy theorists in order to open minds. But always, we must remember the children.
Even in the pressurized world of high-stakes testing, we must try to practice our values and beliefs about what's good for them, that they deserve a teacher who cares about them, who wants them to know and value their strengths, and not have it defined by a test score. I write this last paragraph as a reminder to myself.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
I recently watched a fascinating Ted Talk by science writer Ed Yong, about parasites that specialize in "subverting and overriding the wills of their hosts." For example, there is the case of a suicidal cricket, who swallows a larvae of a Gordian worm, that grows to an adult within the cricket. When the worm needs to mate, it needs water. So the worm releases proteins that makes the cricket jump into water, committing suicide by drowning. The worm wiggles out of the cricket carcass and continues its life cycle.
I think this is an apt metaphor for what happened to my good intentions. I was taken over by the Gordian worm of pressure to perform well on the "test."
I have realized, after working on third quarter report cards, that I have not been the teacher I want to be. I do not have enough grades to justify a grade in science for the third quarter. That is a humiliating confession to make, but I'm sure others can relate.
This will change in the fourth quarter, for sure. On the one hand, when testing is over, real teaching and learning begins. On the other hand, maybe I should just, as much as possible, without being limited by preparing for the "test," do learning activities that engage students and know that there will be learning, even if it is not necessarily test prep.
I would love to be that radical. And that is the whole purpose of this blog, to be the teacher I want to be. Baby steps. Last week, I was determined to get science in at least once. We are studying the human body, system by system. For each system, I plan some kind of inquiry lesson. For the skeletal system, we made cylinders and rectangular prisms (geometry - integration ! ) from index cards and tested to see which could hold the most books. This was a very simple inquiry, but the joy of learning was evident. Students asked questions and proposed ideas of why the cylinder held more books. They made connections to why the cylindrical bone shape makes sense.
It was a refreshing change of pace from the angst of fractions, even if it is with licorice whips (Oh, yeah, that was a good lesson too.) And I did pi Day with Ritz crackers and bits. So, I have not been totally manipulated by the worm.
I'm still alive.