Monday, May 25, 2015

Some Common Sense for Governor Cuomo

Warning: I have never intended for this site to be any sort of political commentary, but every once in awhile I have to share something that I feel is pertinent to the conversation about education today.  A teacher friend of mine just shared something on my Facebook wall that has been put out by a group named Take Back New York.  It's a long read, but it definitely gives a straight up picture of just exactly is going on in the Albany concerning the ongoing teacher witch hunt using standardized tests as weapons to declare teachers ineffective.  If you want to be in the know, here are some highlights that I found pretty pertinent:


The Governor’s plan will fail because he is trying to attain the impossible. He wants all students to succeed at a
predetermined level. While we would all like to see that happen, it is time to admit that it cannot and will not happen.

(By Dr. John Metallo, Slingerlands, NY (The author is a retired teacher and administrator. Among the positions he has held are principal of Albany High School and adjunct instructor at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh.)

The debate surrounding public education in New York State has pitted parents, students, teachers and school administrators against the Governor, State Education Department and legislature. Parents kept nearly 200,000 students out of state testing on the elementary level as a form of civil disobedience to protest the governor’s plan to evaluate teachers and schools using the results of student tests in his quest to “take on the education bureaucracy” in the state. The “opt out” movement as it has become known has less to do with the tests themselves and more to do with parents supporting their local teachers and schools. Thus, the battle lines have been drawn, and the governor has started a war that he cannot win.

It is instantly obvious that the governor’s motivation is not school or teacher improvement. He is trying to break the teacher’s union which is a very powerful lobby in the state. His rhetoric about improving teacher effectiveness and student performance is nothing more than that. He wants 50% of teacher evaluations in the state to be based upon the results of standardized tests students take once per year. If the student scores do not hit a predetermined level, the teacher will be deemed ineffective. There is NO RESEARCH to back any of that scenario. In truth, he wants to use test scores to punish public school teachers and schools in an attempt to advance charter schools and the privatization of education across the state. This will not work. His attack on public schools will ultimately fail. The reason? Because public schools and public school teachers are really doing quite well across New York State...

...Teacher evaluation based upon test scores without controlling for student readiness and preparation is meaningless. A quick look at the medical practice model will clarify this point. The most skilled doctor is useless if the patient will not follow the doctor’s orders. No physician can heal a patient who will not cooperate. Similarly, the teacher can guide and provide instruction, but the attitude and cooperation of the student (and when appropriate, parents) are key elements to success. Education or teaching and learning is a two way street. Student attitude and cooperation are not measured by the tests being used across the state. Further, the results are not manipulated to control for student attitude, attendance, ability, etc. Thus we have a one size fits all scenario regardless of the fact that no test, curriculum or teaching style can fit all students...

...Some [students] cannot or will not attain the highest levels of success depending on their situations in life or their attitudes toward learning. While the Governor wants to blame teachers for the lack of student achievement, he is patently missing the mark. The teacher is only part of the teaching/learning experience, albeit a very important part, but the teacher only teaches. The other side of the equation is the student or learner. That person is as important, if not more important than the teacher. In order to avoid a fire-storm, the Governor and other politicos are quick to never mention students or parents as part of the achievement gap problem. Thus, their attempts at school improvement are doomed to failure. Schools cannot do it alone…ever...

...On a positive note, New York’s public schools, overall, are among the best in the U.S. and always have been. Teacher certification requirements in New York have always been among the most stringent in the nation, and New York is home to some of the finest education schools in America including the entire SUNY system along with a number of outstanding private colleges and universities across the state. It is important to realize that schools and teachers provide the opportunity for learning. They do not provide learning in and of itself or a guarantee that all students will be successful. ..

...As noted above schools provide the opportunity for learning, however they cannot guarantee learning without the cooperation of the student and family. In addition to educational opportunity, schools provide also provide support to overcome any factors which may hinder learning in order to provide opportunity for all students...

...The idea that teaching efficacy can be measured by the results of one test given per year flies in the face of any research conducted on the topic. The thought that a school operates in a vacuum and that teachers pour knowledge into student’s heads is daft. The practice of judging schools and teachers on test results rather than comprehensive, reliable and valid metrics is odious at best. It is time for the politicians to study education a bit more before they try to make policy that will guide it. Right now, they are all going down a path that will lead them, not the students, to failure… once again...

I couldn't have said it better myself!  For the entire post, check out Take Back New York's Facebook page.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Teacher's Rant on Smart Phones in the Classroom

Still collecting these from my students...I tell ya, Gov Cuomo and friends need to take this epidemic into account when they think about rating teachers.

This blog post is a rant, and a well-founded one that I've never heard anyone ever talk about when it comes to the state of our educational system today.  I posted the above picture and caption on my Facebook page today.  It got a few likes, but I think it needs even more attention...  

As you can imagine, over the past several years, smart phones have become a problem in school.  For those who subscribe to the role technology can play in the classroom, the widespread ownership of these devices that we have today can be a boon for learning.  With literally a world of information at our fingertips, that can most certainly ring true, and it is to some degree.  But with today's learner, the learning that goes on via these smart phones is not what it could or should be.  Smart phones are more of a distraction than anything else, and something needs to be done about them, especially if we teachers are going to get bum raps for these kiddies not learning much else other than how to post a Snapchat.  

Cell phones have always been a problem in my classroom.  I can't tell you how many times a day I catch someone with their arms down by their lap, heads bowed, and clearly typing away at their screen.

What are you doing?  I always ask.

Nothing.  They always answer.

I tell you, if it happens in my little classroom, it's happening everywhere.  This year, I instituted a new rule to deter my students from pulling their little devices out during the times when I'm teaching. First of all, if they want to use their phone for school work, that's fine, but they have to ask me first. That's fair, no?  If they do get caught using their phones, texting or checking Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I not only take it away, I take all of the students' phones for the remainder of the period. Three violations and their parents have to come in and meet with the principal to get it back.    

The idea of taking everyone's phones is that the anger resulting in my confiscations will be directed at the violating student, not me.  Genius, right?  Ha ha, I thought so.  During the school year, I've had to take them away countless times already, but either they've been pretty good lately or I've been tired of following through, because I haven't had to take too many away...until today, when I couldn't take it anymore.  

There she was, one of my 9th graders, sitting there in the back of the classroom typing away at her phone right on her desk.  She was sitting behind a bigger kid, so my view was initially obstructed, but once I saw...give it to me!  You see, even with an ingenious plan such as mine, it is still a daily occurrence.  

The use of smart phones in school, well everywhere really, is an epidemic!  But kids are in school to learn.  We teachers get paid to teach, and when students missed the homework you gave out or fail to answer a question because they were distracted while you were asking it, that is a problem.  

When you take the cells away, the kids argue that their parents won't be able to reach them.  Heck, even parents will argue that!  That's part of the reason they're allowed in school to begin with.  God, I remember the days when I was in school.  If my mom needed me for whatever reason, she'd call the head office and they'd come find me.  It's not rocket science.  

Perhaps it's just a sign of the changing times.  But in today's world of mega-testing and teacher accountability, especially in New York, how can I be held responsible if my students are constantly distracted by their cell phones?  I mean, c'mon, there are enough issues in schools and student learning that we shouldn't have to deal with this problem.  Governor Cuomo, are you listening?