Archive | January, 2012

Doubters, Dreamers, People of Faith

4 Jan

Dreamers think of the “wonders and excitement of the opportunity, yet rarely act.”

Doubters begin to mount a list of “Why I can’t,” quickly dashing the notion of things most often quite probable.

People of Faith weigh dreams and doubt, sometimes over-analyze, make a decision, and then thank God for the direction.

When situations arise that present those marvelous and unique opportunities in life, we have to take personal inventory.  We must consider whether we are stuck in the “I just can’t” mode.  We must also consider whether our past choices and disappointments speak too loudly for us to even consider a choice by faith?  Consider that we only go around once in this lifetime and it begs the question, “How many opportunities do I have left to seize those moments?  I am curious about the reader.  So, let me ask you:  What is YOUR first response to new opportunities that come your way?  And what is your ultimate response to the same opportunities?

I would like to go on record as saying we should never make decisions based in fear, or doubt.  Neither should decisions be made by faith only, without using the God-given reason and common-sense, with which we were born.  But there are those unconventional moments, when the world is screaming “No, don’t!”  Those moments aside for a bit, here are a few things I remind myself about decision-making:

  • Making a decision by faith is not accomplished by a strong feeling
  • Stepping out in faith is seldom blind
  • There are promptings, assurances, confirmations, and definite affirmations for us to take another step, then another, and so on.

COMMON SENSE

Never in my life has God said, “Go ahead jump off that cliff unprepared, and I’ll bail you out.”  He has bailed me out of some dumb decisions I have made, but He never encouraged me to make a dumb decision.  He has led to some unconventional decisions and, in retrospect, I see clearly the reasons why.  Jumping off a cliff with a parachute is a bold move, but it is also a move that incorporates the common sense with which God graced us.

The difference between dumb choice and unconventional opportunity is found in the overall purpose and outcomes.  Usually, the former is about the individual and long-term insight is lacking.  Whereas, with unconventional opportunities, the focus in the purpose, but the medium through which the accomplish the purpose might take some special kind of action.  Personally, I have been at the junctures of both.

When it comes to the really big decisions in life, the life or career-changing decisions, I have found that direction and leading had been underway in my life, long before the big decisions occurred.  The decision is just the mechanism to move things along–the “yes button” that, when pushed, sets God’s will and our will in alignment.  I do make state lightly that I believe God is an integral part of the decisions–both prior, in the midst of, and afterwards.

GRACED WITH CHOICES

God allows us to choose, and He is often gracious to allow us second and third opportunities if we make mistakes, “or jump the gun,” as it were.  He knows us well.  Yet, there comes a time when a window of opportunity closes.  It is at those times I ask myself whether I missed the opportunity, did something wrong to forfeit the opportunity, or whether it was simply not meant for me.  Here is where I take consolation in considering God has at least three answers to prayers:  “No, Yes, and Not Now!”

Have you ever sought God’s direction and came to the conclusion that He replied “No,” or “Not now!”  I have been there before.

BABY-BOOMERS

We Baby Boomers feel way too young to be sedentary and irrelevant.  We are just a bit old enough to think about retirement, but we still have lots of zest and vigor left to both work and play.  Yet, many of us have thought about those big life-altering dreams–the “WHAT-IFS!”  I wanted to play professional soccer in the worst way.  I asked God what He wanted for my life and then a knee injury took away the drive for professional sports, at least for a time.  My focus and passion became education after that.

ARE WE AFRAID?

Dare I say, many of us are stuck in the ruts of life’s routines and comforts.  Another issue is the economy, where most of us are settling for what we already have, versus the unknown and what we would give up.  So where does this leave us?  Where does the conclusion, already drawn in our minds, place us in the grander scheme of our lives?  We wouldn’t want to hurt our families just for a selfish dream, would we?

For some of us we are left with unfulfilled lifelong dreams and goals.  Some of these have been voided do to unexpected health and family concerns.  For others, it is just too late to start over.  Still, others, are fearful of branching out, and find all sorts of excuses to stay put.  Those of us in the latter camp make me wonder “What are you waiting for?”  Easier said than done, I understand.

LIKE OUR PARENTS?

There is some truth that we are becoming more like our parents everyday.  The really disappointing part is that they have regrets about life and so will we, it seems.  Maybe regrets are simply a realistic part of life.  Could it be that we humans dream things into reality in our thoughts, and are disappointed that our thoughts weren’t as powerful as we “imagined” them to be?  I think there is some truth to this.

WALKING BY FAITH

A few of us seem to escape ourselves and reach that pinnacle of life’s experiences by choosing faith.  Examples of these kinds of persons are found in the Bible.  Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and other Old Testament saints–including Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego seemed to walk by faith.

Our children have their futures ahead of them.  They look to us for guidance.  Where is it that “we” look?  And what do they see in us when they peer in our direction?  I am still working out these issues, and I am probably not alone.  Bit I am moving more toward faith than apathy.

When it is all said and done, I think most of our dreams are youthful and unrealistic desires–some even bordering on the lusty things of life, hence material and fleshly objects.  We all grow up and our dreams and goals change.  They also shift from “self” to “others,” which is definitely not a bad thing at all.  After all, love does change throughout the years, even if priorities do change.  Somehow, the word “vicarious” takes on entirely new dimensions and different meanings with the passage of time.

MAKING AN EFFORT

Instead of thinking, “If I had it to do all over again, I would do this or that,”  I have a novel idea.  Why not band together and state, “While I am still able, I will choose to do this, or that.”  Rather than live by “if statements,” let us make realistic plans and goals and strive for them.  Goals do not have to be life-changing.  They can be just as fun if they are routine-changing.

So, Boomers, what are we waiting for?  It has been said about our generation that we have given this nation a lot for which to be thankful.  It has also be said about us that we stumbled along in life, at times, seemingly aimless, self-absorbed, and fearful of getting old.

We have been accused of plowing through relationships, burying ourselves in work, and after the kids are raised we ask “What’s left for me?”  Honestly, what I have found is that it is quite difficult to stumble through life if we are spending time on our knees seeking direction.

Care to join me?  It might be time for that “Yes” answer from above!

Education By The Numbers?

4 Jan

LIFE BY THE NUMBERS

Like many professions and vocations, we have reduced most of life’s complexities and subjective aspects down to one or more numbers.  We operate by a percentage, a significant correlation, and extrapolation, and seek to find security in the larger context of life, in so doing.  Whether in the education business, or the political, sociological, medical, or psychological disciplines, it has become mostly about numbers.  After all, when it is all said and done, our epitaph is summarized by two numbers and a hyphen.  As I begin this piece, allow me to provide some examples.

  • What are your good and bad cholesterol levels?
  • What is your weight?
  • What is the likelihood you’ll contract this disease, or that?
  • Does your DNA have markers that predispose you toward cancer?
  • Are your hormone levels within the normal range?
  • How about your IQ?  Do you still have one after raising teenagers?
  • What is the president’s approval rating for today in the latest tracking poll of likely voters?

See what I mean?  The numbers we seek are seemingly endless.  We’ve reduced our lives to measurements, numbers, and assorted percentages–complete with a range, standard deviations, and margins-of-error.  We do this with prices of goods and we even rate people on a scale of 1-10, and we even paint pictures by using numbers correlated to colors.

Some of these numbers are quite important and maybe even life-saving, most.  For the record, I consider myself a tech-nerd, and I love the toys we use.  Isn’t computer language and programming about codes?  Numbers are ubiquitous!

As professionals, we all have to stop to think about the relevance and importance of numbers qualitatively, as well as quantitatively.  Honestly, some numbers are just plain pieces of data and we seek to validate their application somehow and somewhere.  One of these places where we seek to “fit numbers” is in education.  So much time is wasted on crunching numbers in education today.

SOME POINTS TO CONSIDER

First, an analogy.  Let’s say a person takes an IQ test from a psychologist.  She gets a respectable number, say of 120.  She feels pretty smart.  But what does that say about her intelligence?  What does the number imply?  How long is that number applicable to the person’s life?  In my mind, the number is as good as her blood pressure reading right after the test.  In other words, the number is only good for today, compared to others who took the same test on the same day.  Without a comparative aspect, the measurement means little-to-nothing.  Is she smarter than two others who tested at 110, or 95 IQs?  Maybe so; maybe not.

Second, let’s say different people read these numbers and begin to study to take an IQ test next year. The test is taken and the results are higher than 120 for all three students. Are we to conclude that the current year’s test-takers are smarter than last year’s test-takers?

Well, here is a numeric glitch and misuse in education today.  Using test data from one year’s test-takers, and comparing to a different groups of test-takers, who take different tests proves nothing.  In fact, even if they were identical tests from one year to the next, one cannot conclude intelligence is better one year to the next, because the students taking the test are a different population each year.   The same students scores are not measured against themselves.

Third, to put things in common language, let me say it this way.  Gertrude’s 2010 IQ test of 120 is not at all related to Sandy’s 2011 IQ test of 125.  One cannot say Sandy is smarter, unless one tests Sandy in both years separately.  But if that is done, then a person has just as much of an argument that maturity plays hugely in intelligence, as much as education. It is all smoke and mirrors and apples and oranges in much of education today.  Having said that, so much rides on testing under state and federal mandates.

Next, here is another example of the frustration of using test scores are measures of growth.  The Junior Class of 2011 has taken their national standardized tests, as required under No Child Left Behind.  The 11th graders tested out above last year’s 2010 Junior Class.  What does that tell us?  Nothing really.  Does that show growth to measure two separate entities?  Nope.  It’s just numbers.  Measuring the same entity twice or more shows growth, or not, which is why factoring in maturity, familiarity with content, and repeating the same test would provide more accurate data.  But we cannot test the same students each year on the same tests.  Sheer recognition and familiarity will skew the scores terribly.  But testing different populations and proclaiming we know more than testing the same population twice is a kind of professional silliness that is acceptable.

Finally, schools publish numbers in the newspaper and on their school websites, and parents somehow seem to think schools’ numbers indicate whether or not their schools are of quality to be distinguished.  I have a major concern with reducing schools to numbers.

TESTS ARE SNAPSHOTS

Tests are like snapshots in a photo album–they are not the photo album itself. I know NOTHING about Bobby’s growth last summer, when I photograph Fred’s growth this summer, even if they started out the same age, the same height, and were from the same family.  I have to assume that Bobby has grown, as I look at Fred’s growth.  Would I then change Bobby’s diet, because of something good or bad in Fred’s diet?

Not only are using numbers in ways that cause some of serious concern, what we have in schools today is more than their usage.  We now that this reliance on these very numbers.  We accredit institutions who show growth in numbers, and believe me, I know what I am talking about as recent co-chair of our school accreditation team.

What we should rely on is the overall educational value of the school and its students, families, and product.  Overall school accreditation does look at these factors, but will put a school on probation if test scores are not headed in the right direction, or their API scores do not hit their targets suggested by their states and federal government.

USING TEACHERS’ MEASUREMENTS

Teachers measure students in class, for about 185 days.  They are the best gauges and are best equipped to measure student’s growth and progress.  Why, then, do we default to one test, given over several days, to determine growth?  The fact of the matter is, we even give these tests in March and April, one full quarter before school is out in most cases, and before academic curriculum is even completed.  Does this sound ridiculous to anyone besides me?  You think I have a beef with standardized tests?  You bet I do.

In all of my 32 years of education-related experience, I can tell you that students at the upper grades often do not take these tests seriously.  For example, back to the Junior class of a few minutes ago.  As juniors in high school, they take their last standardized tests, and there is no impact on their college admission, or anywhere of personal import.  The facts are, freshman and sophomores are still naive enough to think that the word “test” means something important.  What is more, Seniors take no standardized tests, that count toward an NCLB measure.  This means the entire school is judged on only 75% of the population being tested, and of that group, one-third are not as highly motivated about the tests as are the underclassmen.

By their junior year, students have figured out that SATs and ACTs are where it is at.  In fact, colleges use their junior year are the true “measure” of most students, in their applications to college.  Senior year is basically when they find out admission or denial.  So, what does the senior year measure?  Great question, and I will tackle this question in a subsequent blog.

Let me address what affects test scores in high school, so he reader will have a better understanding why many of the numbers should be reevaluated.

AFFECTS UPON TEST SCORES

First, if there are any pregnancies of veteran female teachers, which results in a change of teachers for extended periods of time, those students affected will test differently–especially in elementary and middle schools.  Would we conclude that lower, or higher test scores are the result of a teacher’s pregnancy?  Is there mere correlation, or is there cause and effect to consider?

Second, students cut classes today like they are heading for a drink of water–casually.  Cuts affect students learning and knowledge and test scores.  Is it fair that students cut classes and school, and then punish the schools for low scores?  Whose responsibility is it to get kids to school, anyway?

Third, a large population of certain ethnic groups do not value education as some others might value it.  Work, having babies, dropping out, etc. are part of certain cultures.  Add to that migrants and illegals, whose L1 (primary language) is probably not English, and test scores drop.  Is it fair to punish schools with students in these categories that affect outcomes?

In California, illegals in schools are having a direct effect on test scores for many reasons. We cannot be jaded into thinking that the few that have overcome can truly transcend the mass that has not.  Still, we educators are held accountable.

Fourth, how in the world are school expected to raise test scores if students do not have an excellent command of the English language?  If they cannot read, they cannot test well. Case closed.  Yet, schools get tabbed for lower scores and parents see that and compare the numbers.

Fifth, families today, “en mass,” are not supportive of the tests, and spend little time making certain their children are ready to be tested.  The vast majority of parents have defaulted to the schools for the primary education of their child.  The reason students of the past were better educated, overall, in my opinion, is because schools received kids from families who made certain their kids could say the alphabet, know their colors, and do basic math.  Today, with the way many families are in my world, they don’t even feed their kids breakfast.  Depending on whether their families are together, or split up on every other weekend, breakfast becomes optional.  Many parents expect schools to feed kids, and they do.  Tests mean little in the homes described because the adults involved do not necessarily cultivate the importance of the tests.  So, how important are these test results, if the adults do not think they are important?

All of these factors affect test scores. Yet, there are no excuses allowed, no waivers given, and the data are skewed from year-to-year.  Admit it, when you select a school for your kids, or grand kids, you look at achievement test scores.  I know I did!  More and more, today, parents are looking for “safe schools,” for their kids.  The measure of success for these parents is whether their children are bullied or not, assaulted, or allowed to live each day.  Using numbers to measure schools is one thing.  Using numbers to conclude what humans do differently each day, is another.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

All things are glorious if our football team wins each Friday. After all, school spirit is important.  Again, numbers call the shots.  I apologize for putting on my work hat during vacation.  It is just a bit unnerving to be judged by numbers and scores by those who have no clue what is behind them.  For the record, I work at a highly competitive high school in my county, have great test scores, and we rank first in API (850) . . . But so what?  What does this mean?

I will let the reader decide.  I welcome your comments!

Thanks for reading!

The State of American Education?

3 Jan

“The renovation of nations begins always at the top, among the reflective members of the State, and spreads a lowly outward and downward.  The teachers of this country, one may say, have its future in their hands.” 

[William James (1907), Talks to Teachers on Psychology, p. 3]

“Inevitably, a theory (stated above by James) of such radical conditioning requires that power, however used, always emanate from the top down.  Thus James called the school, not common or public schools, but . . . the State school system.” 

[Rousas Rushdoony (1976), The Messianic Character of American Education, p. 112]

This blog is not about seeking Superman.  It is not about becoming Superman.  This blog is not even about putting on a cape.  Beyond momentary inspiration, there is not enough motivational rhetoric that can convince mere humans of the need to be something other than what they are in their own perceived strengths.  Despite all the pressures placed on schools, teachers and educational institutions are not the social saviors of children.

Children are not the progeny of a system, or a state.  This is not the say that each of the former is without impact upon the futures of children.  But education is not the salvation of our nation.  Likewise, teachers are not the saviors of a generation, but both are complementary and quite valuable.  What teacher is his or her right mind would sacrifice one’s own family to do the work of parenting students?  Contrast that with any teacher in his or her right heart that wouldn’t?  So, who or what gets the blame for the current state of education in America?

The truth is, “We teach children, not subjects!” 

(Carol Cummings, 1990, Teaching Makes A Difference, p. 13)

EDUCATIONAL FADS ARE TO BLAME

Educational fads are not the saviors and cures for what ails education today.  New programs are really nothing new.  Those of us who have been around awhile have seen fads come and go.  But wait!  With each new buzz-word, or every new-and-improved program, we are told “this here new one” is here to stay and that it is not going away any time soon.

Education is not a fad.  It is not gimmickry and a process that fishes for results only.  Education is not annual; it is lifelong.  And yes, education is first and foremost about people.  It always has been and always will be.  This is the reason I choose to be part of this profession.  However, I have to be honest.  Lately, I have been examining my personal commitment to the classroom.  Teaching people still rocks my world, but “education,” as an institution, has become quite annoying.

TEACHERS SHARE BLAME

Teachers are part of the problem, though.  All of us share in the problems that have led to the issues in education.  We are easy scapegoats.  Frankly, teachers are not the ones to receive all the blame.  One of the major reasons that education is in such a mess in public schools is because the bureaucrats and secularists have made certain that schools “cater” to children, thus reclassifying education as part of a catering business.  When teaching goes against the catering, teachers are called out.  In secondary schools, for example, counselors are becoming more concerned about the smorgasbord than passing the boards.  States and districts are responding to lawsuits and leaving behind common sense.

SCHOOLS SHARE BLAME

American schools have both undermined and recognized the value of the American family.  However, twenty-first century public schools have done more than support families, as they have done in the past.  Schools have become their families.

Communities are being told that schools are the places where students are raised, fed, and patted on the head for a job well done, kept safe and secure, allowed “free things,” places to excel at sports, and where their true mentors exist.  Then when violence occurs on a school campus, the blame shifts.

For example, during the years, 2009-2010, educators were told about the merits of the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and how they could help students’ test scores.  In 2018, teachers are being motivated by psychology, “moral purpose theory,” social emotional theory, and social justice programs.

Michael Fullan understands this:

“The argument is somewhat subtle, so let me make it more direct.  If concerns for making a difference remain at the one-to-one and classroom level, it cannot be done.  An additional component is required.  Making a difference, must be done explicitly recast in broader social and moral terms.”   

Schools know what to do to raise test scores:  Give assessments along the way.  Teach to the assessments to ensure good results, and the conclusion is that students learn.  Tomorrow, do it again.  Schools also know how to cheat to get similar results, something Fullan and the PLC advocates would find quite disturbing.  But as long as test scores are raised, no one is asking the fundamental questions pertaining to ethics and honesty.  This leads to a final source of blame.

CULTURE SHARES BLAME

Along the way, Caucasian teachers are now being told that they do not understand the cultures of students of color and that it is the white dominant culture that needs to understand, change, and accept responsibility for the past discrimination and unjust treatment of students.  Also, teachers are being told that they are the heroes of kids and that they touch the future.  We are being prodded to learn what motivates students and touch that part of their educational lives.

How in the world did teaching go from a professional learning communities to motivational experts in human development to speaking kindly about fundamental moral problems in our society?  Is that the saving message for families, schools, and ultimately the American education system?

Schools are not the places to experiment with all sorts of things to simply raise test scores and graduation rates.  Such a focus misses the point.  The point is moral purpose, which most teachers come with into the classroom.  But moral purpose comes from home.  It is where teachers learned it.  It does not appear suddenly from within a vacuum, or from thin air, or at graduation for a teacher-training institution.  It certainly does not appear from teaching tolerance of practices that are contrary to one’s fundamental moral upbringing.  My goodness, how things have changed in the past few years–and much of it because of slippage in culture and changes at political and policy levels.

THINGS HAVE CHANGED

Schools that have to raise children will never be the places of higher learning and achievement they need to be.  Certainly, things have changed.  In over thirty years in education I have seen so many changes in schools and families.  Families that entrust schools to raise their kids will never be the bastions against negative culture that they need to be.  Schools are not parents.  If children are supposed to be the focus for us at school, then I ask these same children be the same focus at home.  Parents, they are YOUR kids, after all.  Should we hold parents accountable for their failures to “raise” their kids properly?  No one seeks that policy change (though secretly many educators might wish it was true)

WHAT CHANGE? 

The old gray mare, She ain’t what she used to be Ain’t what she used to be, Ain’t what she used to be The old gray mare, She ain’t what she used to be Many long years ago. (Anonymous)

In 2011, I, along with 1700 other teachers and administrators, were subject to the following topics in required education seminars (see me own sarcasm in parentheses that follow each:

  • Is education good enough for “your own child” principle?  (I’d ask if the children’s home lives were good enough for my own child.  What is fair is fair.)
  • What if we teach like we really mean it?  (I resent the implication that many teachers do not teach like they really mean it.  How many of us are just there for a check?  I don’t know any in my sphere.  What if students were raised by parents that meant it?  What if students studied and acted responsibly as if they meant it?)
  • Norms of a meeting are extremely important and groups should hold each other accountable.  (Norms police, but we don’t dare do that to the students who truly need policing; May we police the parents at home to make sure that students are prepared each day with a stable home life?)
  • Collaboration is a systematic process in which we work together as interdependent agencies . . . (A process established by whom?  “Are Schools, departments, and local “professionals” already knowledgeable and are they free to establish them?  Top-down education is dictating and not collegial.)
  • Focus on results more than process.  (But we are supposed to touch the future?  Is the process of learning honesty NOT more important than doing something honestly?  It is the old give a person a fish and feed him for one day; Teach him the process of fishing and feed him for a lifetime.)
  • Dream a dream and be a kid’s hero.  (I am a hero to my own children and family and that is my first priority.  The moment i forsake my own family for another person’s child, what is the lesson I have just taught?)
  • Ensure that all of our students learn at high levels.  (There is no way possible to do this.  Students miss school.  Families do not ensure what it takes to work together to achieve this.  “High levels” is subjective.  In the “age of measurement,” with multitudes of testing, we must ask what students are learning and to what is this learning attached?)
  • Impart confidence to students.  (They have to choose confidence, take risks to grow it, and demonstrate it.  I can only model it.  I cannot impart anything as a human to another human who must choose to own it.)
  • Analyze small and formative assessments (Piece-learning demonstrates memory for the moment.  Real learning without using linkages from days past is only piecemeal.  I cannot tell you how many teachers review the very material over-and-over-again, that is to be tested.  Then they issue the test.  Is this the learning we seek?)
  • Do all things similarly in pacing, decide what knowledge is important, use same tests to measure these.  (Cookie-cutter education, replicating from an autocrat removes what is probably best for students at any given time.  No two groups are the same, so the pacing might very well be different.  If pacing is different then so too are the tests.  Students are all different and cannot be assumed to think the same way about facts and content.  If a student “thinks” and comes up with a wrong answer, if he penalized for not “knowing” the right answer?)
  • Teachers determine the weather in each classroom.  (True to some extent.  But if students enter the class with the storms from home, then how the “hail” are we supposed to shape sunny-blue skies out of 15-20 gloomy horizons and teach content too?)
  • Motivate discouraged students.  (Motivation is momentary.  Continued motivation is exhausting, assuming most students are extrinsic.  Relationships last well into the future.  People who are not coaches are being asked to motivate?  Think about a football team that did not want to play.  What could a coach do to motivate the players against their wills?)
  • Do whatever it takes and approach work like it’s a religious experience.  (If I could, it would be moral, spiritual, consequential, and purposeful.  So, is “one nation under God” all right to use?  How about teaching against the principles of a local community, in terms of terrorism and homosexuality?  Am I supposed to teach a universal approach, or is there still right and wrong, morally?)
  • How would we rate our own personal intelligence?  (We are to rate our intelligence as teachers, and compare it to the students’ intelligence?  We are now to use psychology to identify with students.  No one thinks they are below average as a teacher or a student, do they?)
  • How do we respond to students who do not care?  (We care.  Do the parents care enough to stay in a relationship to work things out for the sake of the kids?  Or are teachers just asked to stay in a year-long relationship with kids who don’t care?)
  • Build strong relationships with all students.  (Impossible to do in 50 minutes a day, with over 40 per class.  But I would like to know what “strong” means.)
  • Changing mind sets.  (I can change no one’s mind.  If I try to do so, I can be accused of biasing education.  What am I supposed to change from, change to, and why?)
  • Think like a mediator.  (Why?  I am a teacher.  Let me teach.  Let other professionals mediate.  Let parents mediate.)
  • The 100-point, A-F grading scale is flawed.  (Just because someone says so?  I think saying the system is flawed is flawed thinking.)
  • Use standards-based grading.  (Why?  Is there nothing else a student should learn?  The common-core curriculum will be tried and will fail, due to all the states having different educational emphases.  A national governmental education system is not what this nation was founded on.  Private schools will continue to take the best students and get a better product, as long as the national government thinks it has the answers to educational problems.)
  • Create quality instruction. (No, never!  Everyone I know creates crap and teaches that everyone else’s poop smells.)

FAMILIES NEED HELP

Families are not doing their jobs at home.  So, are schools to do the work of the family?  Sending kids to schools from fractured homes in turmoil does not lead to good outcomes.  Is it any wonder that schools can do their jobs?  Look at the following list of facts:

  • Schools and teachers are working harder and harder, with less and less return on their work.
  • Children are coming to our schools with serious and deep concerns.
  • If schools were just failing, that would be one thing.  But there is a decline in the American family structure and it is little wonder that this decline is seen in the children of these same failing families.
  • Teachers are supposed to find ways to go around the real issues that affect our classrooms.
  • Schools represent communities.  Are schools meant to be the places “of” community?
  • Solid families have solid values.  A family that values education is obvious.
  • Families are looking to schools for help today, unlike in generations of the past.  I implore families to stay together until their children are raised.
  • How is this done?  Place personal gratification on the back burner.  Somehow parents expect teachers to center on their kids, yet they do not exemplify or convey this same message.  Rather, chasing personal desires trumps many kids’ as the priorities in families.
  • Sports have become the gods of public schools, and the vehicle to college.  Parents need to stop living vicariously through their children.

WHOM DO WE BELIEVE?

If we are to believe the media, then adults are more concerned about their sexuality and orientations than they are about the effects their revelations have on the families.  If we are to believe the children we teach, then parents are more concerned about their personal relationships than they are making sure homework is finished.  If we are to believe the state, then millions of non-English speaking illegals are receiving all sorts of tax-payer funded entitlements and that this is a benevolent thing.

THE TRUTH

The truth is that students come to school unprepared in many places across this nation.  Families are frightened in inner cities just to let their children go to schools.  These things are not the schools’ fault.  How does one even talk about a “professional learning community,” in terms of academics with so much community-at-large baggage?

There is no teacher and no school that can make up the deficit that exists in communities such as these.  Families make up communities.  Men and women have children.  Children have children.  Families break up.  Abusive relationships, along with addictions and cultural cycles mark educational terrain across this land.  Whose responsibility is it to ensure the success of a child?  What professions are stepping up to ensure such success?  President Obama wants “Win the Future.”  But is winning the future with such a diverse and heterogeneous population just more rhetoric?  China, Japan, and Korea are quite homogeneous and place the teacher in roles that are quite unlike where teachers are in America.  Where the student is front and center, and not the teacher, what is the result?  I went into teaching to do just that.

Schools are expected to teach students by somehow meeting the needs that are best met by families, minus the discipline and self-control that are required for adulthood.  How in the world can students learn these very important traits, if they are not being modeled at home, and we are forbidden by law to do what is truly necessary to endure their occur in the classroom?  How can we inculcate and motivate beyond cultural differences, when we are told to celebrate cultural differences?

Teaching right from wrong is supplanted by secularism.  Judeo-Christian ethics are replaced with “it’s all about the child-centered environment” of self, and not love your neighbor as yourself.  Cultural differences breeding loud-mouth kids that back-talk and show belligerence–all while being told teachers don’t understand and appreciate certain cultures–press things beyond the pale.   Generally, students show disrespect for adults, they use language that, at one time, would get them expelled, come from families that have been taught to “tolerate and mediate,” rather than discipline, and own a host of “technological toys” that are their rights to use as they see fit.  Contemporary pop-culture impacts students more than classrooms and teachers.

Teachers know all of these things and yet we are told that we are responsible to make sure students learn and that they learn at rates that show marked improvement.  Does anyone ever stop to ask us what is needed?

WE NEVER GIVE UP!

Please note very clearly that I love my work, I love my students and hold the highest of affection for my colleagues and the school where I am employed.  I am not alone.  This is not about one or two localized issues, or schools in the inner city.  There are real battle zones in this nation, that’s for sure.  No place is perfect and as long as I am anywhere in this world, imperfection will be the norm.  But make no mistake about it; I will never give up on anyone.   The school at which I am employed happens to be top-notch in many areas, but the problems addressed throughout persist each and every day.

However, this is about so much more that those that care and refuse to give up.  In an area in which I agree with Michael Fullan, he writes:

“The Building block is the moral purpose of the individual teacher.  Scratch a good teacher and you will find a moral purpose.” [Michael Fullan (1992), Change Forces, p. 10.]

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

It is no great secret that I have spent my entire working career in the field of education, in various positions.  Most of my years have been spent in secondary education, with adjunct work at university a close second to that.  However, I have taught every grade level from first grade through graduate school, in my tenure as an educator.  I have been privileged to have spent time in both private Christian and public schools.  I have a vast array of education experiences, personally and professionally.  Although I feel somewhat qualified to address common issues across the national landscape, I always keep in mind that experts are labeled by others, not selves.  Be that as it may and take it for what it is worth.  I am about to embark on a serious critique of my “profession,” so-called.  Such a critique is not the first and it certainly will not be the last.

A CRITIQUE

We have many problems in our nation today, and education is just one of many.  Problems are not the same at all levels of education, so a one-size fits all is not the answer for what ails of national’s education system.  But, unlike other areas, education affects children and adults, families and friends, and touches the present with implications for the future.

EDUCATION IS ABOUT PEOPLE FIRST

Education is fundamentally about about and should always be as such.  I am afraid that today’s brand of education is becoming less about people and more about people as a “product,” and “new-and-improved” commodity to refine into a better product, all supposedly measurable by a formulaic process.  So, this is about the latest educational fad to come down the turnpike.

THE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY

A professional learning community is made up of team members who regularly collaborate toward continued improvement in meeting  learner needs through a shared curricular-focused vision.  Facilitating these efforts are:

  • Supportive leadership and structural conditions,
  • Collective challenging, questioning, and reflecting on team-designed lessons and institutional practices/experiences and
  • Team decisions on essential learning outcomes and intervention/enrichment activities based on results of common formative student assessments.

http://www.wcpss.net/evaluation-research/reports/2006/0605plc_lit_review.pdf

The PLC movement that is sweeping this nation is top-down, autocratic, and uncompromising in its expectations and foisting of requirements.  We are being told in education that this model is the only way to get students to where they need to be.  Elementary, middle and high school districts are adopting this model.  There is also great resistance to this model–particularly at colleges where there is a movement toward professional development schools, in teacher education training institutions–where schools and universities partner, especially from grades 6-16.

THE EDUCATION PROFESSION?

Has anyone stopped to ask whether education is a profession, or not?  Has anyone ever stopped to consider who decides what is to be learned at schools, and why someone’s notion of community is better than someone else’s’ notion of the same?  Consider Fullan, as he writes about “change” in education:

. . . the old and dead wrong paradigm is still being promulgated, such as Beckhard and Pritchard’s (1992) recommendations for vision-driven change.  There are four key aspects, they say:  creating and setting the vision; communicating the vision; building commitment to the vision, and organizing people and what they do so that they are aligned to the vision.  (p. 29)

Fullan describes the PLC phenomenon quite well in his words above and he describes such a model as “dead wrong.”  After adopting the PLC model, districts are told to adopt others models to massage into the previous model.  RTI (Response To Intervention), ILPs (Incentive Laden Programs), CAHSEE and SAT Prep and tutorial programs, etc., are all safety nets for a variety of students.  It is all about passing a test to raise rates.  Massage, massage, massage . . .

In some states, there are tests being administered to students that do not match their grade levels, so as to enable passing rates.  This is not sensible.  Students are coming to us with a host of problems never seen before, yet test scores rising is an indication that our school is “performing” well?

May we please step back and ask some serious questions?  I know the “powers-that-be” get their way, but we do have a responsibility to question validity.  In all of my years in education, I know without a doubt that programs come and programs go.  I also know that not one idea or “revelation” fits all schools in all states at all levels.  Would anyone want to dispute those pieces of history?  I doubt it.

Some states are adopting the education model in question, others are not.  Leaders are raking in millions of dollars writing books and training the masses in things they have always done, yet somehow it is all brand new.  Administrators are the ones who always seem to present at seminars.  Teachers are never asked to present.  I have my reasons as to why this is the case.  One of these reasons is that teachers view hierarchies from the bottom up, and work together.  Administrators in the PLC have already said it is top-down requirements that work.  Think for a second.  How professional is it to tell teachers it is all about their importance, require them to make it all about student learning, and do not live them a say as to whether they wish to be lock-step in such a “community”?

PLCs AT COLLEGE?

Colleges are not concerned with the PLC model, as it does not fit their “style,” of education to their students.  So, what do students benefit from when they go to college and realize that testing is not the measure of their learning and that from one year to the next is suddenly is not all about them?  Many high schools do not like this model, as it is quite restrictive.  As a secondary educator, an education expert with a Ph.D. in teaching and learning, I have personal and serious reservations and major concerns with the “Professional Learning Community” model.  Allow me to explore a few of these concerns.

CONCERNS WITH THE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY MODEL

I ask one question at the front of this critique.  If bureaucrats removed annual test scores, or NCLB went away–or teachers did away with conventional grades in favor standards’ achievements, what then do we make of the PLC phenomenon?

We are told that the teacher is the most important person in the classroom and in the lives of students.  We are told this, yet education is all about the student, student-centered this-and-that.  Student learning is important–so much so that if they do not learn, it is our fault, as teachers.  I find this ludicrous.  Is it the coaches fault when the quarterback did not learn his plays, or throws an interception?  How about when the quarterback knows everything and is the best athlete, but gets sacked by a better team’s defense?  What is the conclusion then?

What I really think rhetoricians mean by their double-speak is this:  Teachers are the most important person in the classroom and this importance is demonstrated by their environment that caters completely to student-centered learning. Teaching is not the focus, student learning is the focus.  Silly teacher that I am.  I thought both were important and came with responsibilities implicit in both.  But the responsibility placed upon the teacher is greater.

I cannot hold tardy students accountable for work.  I cannot hold absent students accountable for work if their parents excuse them for a trip to an amusement park on a school day.  I cannot hold students accountable for their lack of attendance in class.  Suspended students must be able to make up work, even if the reason they were suspended was a refusal to comply in one of my classes.  You know, it’s all well and good that people say the most important person in the classroom is the teacher, but it is not the truth here in California.  So, how do these realities play into a professional learning community?  Is this the way professionals act in the business world, or at college?

ILLEGALS AND THE BUDGET

In California, we are legally responsible to educate so many illegals that it is no wonder the budget is a mess every year.  Other states face similar issues.  Education is just one of the many entitlements that illegals receive.  Governor Brown has threatened to cut education to the bone, reduce our incomes, and affect our pensions if we do not vote in favor of increased taxes this next election cycle.  So, as illegals sit in our classes and receive all of the educational and health benefits of American citizens, including mandated foreign language communications, conferences, and many other perquisites, does anyone want to argue it is NOT all about the student?

Would anyone please point to another profession that gives transportation to illegals, feeds them at no-cost, or little cost to them, and provides text books, allows them to participate in athletics, graduate, and occupy seats in colleges, buy homes, etc.?  If you say medicine or law, then the state pays for these considerations as well.  It only adds to the problems.  But what profession caters to students–both legal and illegal–then wants those who lead to believe they are most important in the process?

LOVING PEOPLE; DISLIKING THE STATUS

I am not against people in any way.  Legal status is the issue.  There is no teaching strategy that can overcome students going to Mexico for 6-weeks just because family wants to.  There is no legal accountability for students whose families keep them home, excuse them from school for a variety of reasons.  So, please do not even imply that the most important person in the classroom is the teacher.  The student is the most important.  Students do not even remember what we teach them the previous week, let alone the entire year.  But there sure remember their dances and games, the jokes and social fun times.  You see, education has become all about them.  We are told “just get them in class.”

THE PLC FAD

Along comes this professional learning community and tries to sell us a bill of goods that teachers are the focus.  Just look at the name of this fad.  Why is it not named “professional teaching community”?  We are professional educators, or professional learners?  Student learning is what it is all about.  Boiling student learning all down to a test, or series of tests called common formative assessments, is the focus.  And if a student does not do well on tests, he or she can take them as many times as needed.  In addition, we are all supposed to consider changing our current grading system because Yale University came up with it many years ago and it is unfair to students.  Notice the emphasis on “students”?

TEACHING PEOPLE

Teachers teach people.  Students are taught by people.  Who is directly responsible for the learning?  Right now, it is teachers who are directly responsible for the learning.  Annual test scores have to show improvement or the community thinks the teacher, or school is “bad,” or underperforming.  The state sets parameters of growth and targets of this growth.  If schools do not hit these targets, then can they be considered as underperforming?  Teachers and schools take the hit for students who underperform.

TESTING

We were told that students should be able to test the “essentials” as often as then need in order to pass.  We were told that this places the learner first, and is the way it is in the real world.  Learning does not present itself on multiple choice tests, or in one-to-five questions every session.  Many times second chances are not offered.  Failure occurs. Success occurs.  We are late on bills and we are most often fined when we are caught speeding.  I teach high school, so this “retaking” concept is viewed a bit different than it would be viewed by elementary teachers.  Brain development and human biology will both play differently into the picture.

I have a serious beef about tests.  I had this discussion with a colleague who said that a teammate wrote a serious of tests in language he used, rather than in language the rest of used.  Good luck coming to a consensus on language for assessments and questions.  Add to this the possible answers and everything can be confusing.  Can you see how a teacher’s style of teaching, use of terminology, and style of thinking, can cause others who take the test great concerns?  It is not true that students who know material can answer pretty much any question on the way it is worded.  All students are different and such outcomes can cause teachers to think students do not know the material, all while they do.

Another point to be made is that I have absolutely no idea whether students have learned material, by getting the right answer on a multiple choice test.  I learn by asking students in person, or as they explain on paper, something I ask them about.  Common formative assessments are too often in multiple choice, easy-grading format.  Then the data is tallied, discussed, and many times we conclude something about which we speculate and other times have no idea.  Giving all students the same test, after the same length of time of learning, and concluding they learned something is way too risky.  I contend all students are not common, even if the information is.  I contend they all test differently, and that real-life does not throw the same tests at everyone on the same day to provide learning opportunities.  Colleges do not do this, and we are doing a disservice to high school seniors especially, if we do not wean them from the CFA (common formative assessment) quick-approach.

DROPOUTS

Students drop out for a variety of reasons.  The numbers change according to certain ethnic and racial groups.  I will use California for the sake of discussion.  Observe the following recent data:  http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr09/yr09rel073.asp

Comparing Dropout Rates Chart

Type 2006-07 2007-08
African American 35.8% 34.7%
Asian 9.0% 8.4%
Latino 26.7% 25.5%
White 13.3% 12.2%

Tracking California Students Chart

Type Percentage
Graduates 68.1%**
Dropouts 20.1%
Other*** 11.8%
Total 100.0%

INTERVENTION

Beyond PLCs, we are now being told that unless there is a program of intervention for students, that our school and PLC is coming up short.  It is not enough to endure student learning.  We must now directly intervene to make certain of school attendance, assure every effort possible to enhance student achievement, improve graduation rates and reduce dropout rates, and a bevy of other “social” awareness prompts.  What is not a centerpiece is that the groups in trouble need to step up and do their part, as well.  Regardless of race and ethnicity, dropout rates are problematic.  But can I ask the magical question:  Where is it written that everyone should finish high school and go off to college?  If parents do not seem to care enough about their students, and teachers do as much as possible–and STILL dropout rates remain high, what are schools to do?  Is it the school’s fault?  Is it the student’s fault?  Is it the community’s fault?

There are many factors for student’s dropping out of school.  For a large group of them, I think the sitting in rows model just isn’t their thing.  For others, gangs are alternatives.  I could go on.  But what does an intervention program and a PLC have to do with students making choices, at the legal age and without parental guidance?  Should we spend more time on those who learn and want to learn? I am just asking the questions.

PLC/Intervention groups now want to burden schools to ensure that kids graduate, as well as learn.  Where the parents are and what shall they graduate to?  Colleges do not care one iota about the group that high schools lose every year.  The work force does not care.  Families do not seem to care.  I submit that something has to be done way earlier than at secondary levels.

SOME OTHER PLC CONCERNS

  1. PLCs cannot change poor attendance habits by students.  Absences and cuts drag down entire classes and reduce overall learning.  This show up on each and every assessment.
  2. PLCs cannot force student to do anything against their wills.  Students today are soft when it comes to studying.
  3. PLCs cannot change family dynamics for students.
  4. PLCs cannot work all that well across content areas, as standards at the secondary level and grade levels are not consistent.
  5. PLCs cannot convince colleagues of certain temperaments to buckle down simply by enforcing norms.
  6. PLCs cannot expect that using previous data of old adequately informs instruction for new students.
  7. PLCs cannot expect that test results actually indicate what students learn or did not learn.

GOOD THINGS ABOUT PLCs

  1. PLCs force colleagues to meet with each other and participate in discussions.
  2. PLCs use data, attempting to analyze problem areas and issues across schools.
  3. PLCs can assist toward changing instruction for the better, if a student group is identified as below proficient.
  4. PLCs enable colleagues to become better at writing common formative assessments.
  5. PLCs promote team-oneness across content areas and bolsters academic purpose.

In closing, I offer the following terms for consideration:

  • For Teachers . . . Practical and Relevant Teaching Community.
  • For Students:  Purposeful and Responsible Learning Community.
  • For Parents:  Hold You All Accountable Community.
  • Psychology as it is, moving anyone from the “I choose not to do something, ” to “I choose to do something,” is no small matter.  Owning the choice after it is made is another story altogether.

“The future ain’t what is used to be.”  (Yogi Berra)

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