You Know Nothing, Arne Duncan.

The following is an attempt to exhibit my personal self-regulation skills. If I was not self-regulating, this post would address each and every cockamamie statement in Arne Duncan’s remarks to the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco yesterday, April 30, 2012. Consider yourself lucky that I am biting my tongue.

Arne said,

“We know from Paul Tough’s outstanding recent book (Grit – and I assure you this gratuitous link is NOT an endorsement), a multitude of studies, and James Heckman’s analysis of the Perry Preschool Project, that the development of skills like grit, resilience, and self-regulation early in life are essential to success later in life.”

Whose definition of success?

My kids and their families know this grit “stuff” (feel free to substitute a more appropriate rhyming word here) intimately. They are resilient and more tough than Mr. Tough himself. Self-regulation is not typically their long suit, but maybe having lived with the pressure of regulation for generation after generation, their families just can’t take any more regulation, self or other-imposed.

Arne continued, “IES (I guess he means the Institute of Education Sciences) is currently funding a project involving 535 children, in 58 preschool classrooms in Tennessee, to develop a teacher rating scale and a direct assessment of children’s learning related to self-regulation skills. It’s a great start—but we still have a long way to go in assessing these so-called “soft skills” that are actually anything but soft.”

Are you saying, Arne, that you are going to rate me on how well my kindergarteners are able to self-regulate?

Are you going to put a popsicle on the table and tempt them to touch it and see who can control their hunger or curiosity?

Are you going to see who is able to sit still for a story and who isn’t?

Are you going to see how many math problems they can complete or how many sight words they can read in a given time and weed out those who can’t attend to the task? (Oh, wait, we already do that).

Are you going to tempt them with crayons and paints and recess and prizes and see who will perform for your dog and pony show?

Are you going to try to control my wildest, but most endearing little guy, because I’ve tried and failed at that one. And once I gave up trying to control him, we have had the best times and learned the most.

Are you going to be sure that before you assess my kids, they:

  1. are well fed
  2. are happy (one can only guess at the criteria by which you might judge happiness)
  3. had a good night’s sleep
  4. are not too cold or too hot
  5. are not mad at someone or something for some perceived something else
  6. are not scared
  7. Should I go on? This list could be ENDLESS…

Paraphrasing the gritty Ygritte from A Game of Thrones, “You know nothing about grit, resilience or self-regulation, Arne Duncan. Nothing.”

So don’t try to assess my kids on their ability to self-regulate.

And don’t try to rate me on my ability to get them to self-regulate.


How to Kill a Summer Reading Program in One Step

A few weeks ago, a discussion was held at my high-poverty, Title I public school somewhere in the south. We wanted to create a summer reading program that would have a real impact on our kids’ lives. A small grant was already in place to fund whatever project we decided upon.

We reviewed our options.

Option 1 – A traveling “read-with-kids” program. For several years, a group of teachers visited neighborhoods and trailer parks in our area and “read-with-kids.” Dismissed because not many kids came to our sites, even when our sites were in their backyards – literally.

Option 2 – A weekly program to be held at our school library. Dismissed because our families have difficulty attending events at our school because of transportation issues.

Option 3 – Think of something new.

And we did. A group of teachers and other staff members came up with the idea of visiting neighborhoods and simply giving books to kids. More books in kids’ hands. Books introduced to homes with little, if any, reading material. Brilliant and simple. But simple never is simple. (Note the use of repetition for emphasis).

We targeted particular neighborhoods, listed kids, found discarded books and purchased new ones, created t-shirts for staff, planned a kick-off party, scheduled book delivery dates and commandeered a school bus. The excitement was mounting.

And then… a question at the latest meeting.

“Should we put comprehension questions in each book?”

*What the bloody hell* thought I in my most sanctimonious, Weasley-ian inner voice. And for some reason, I thought every teacher would have the same reaction.

First, there was a pause. Silence. Then I spoke up.

“I think summer reading should be pleasure reading. No book responses. Just reading for enjoyment.”

And then the cacophany began.

“I think that kids SHOULD be held accountable for the books they read.” “We can put in comprehension questions, book response sheets and questions for parents to ask.” “We can give them graphic organizers to fill out!”

These and other comments were all made with as much or MORE enthusiasm as these teachers had expressed when we came up with the idea of giving books to our kids.

Giving books. GIVING BOOKS. Giving the gift of reading. Of reading for pleasure.

I told my 19 year old, avid, voracious reader about this crazy conversation. “When you read me Harry Potter [insert the title of  any of the thousands of books we read together] when I was little, we talked about it. We laughed about it and cried about it. Why didn’t you give me worksheets, mom?” she smirked.

Why indeed?

Sweet Brown vs. NC Legislators

This morning an article from the Raleigh News Observer hit my twitter feed (thanks, @nancyflanagan).

Apparently, North Carolina legislators collectively decided that two critical pieces were missing from the Common Core NATIONAL Standards.


and multiplication tables.

Times Tables

Yes, I learned cursive writing when I was in school many years ago. Yes, I memorized the multiplication tables to 12, too.

But to mandate that we teach these “skills” is ridiculous.

When is the last time anyone wrote anything of length in cursive?

And if you forgot the answer to 8 x 9 when you were buying multiple items at a store, did you whip out your phone calculator or did you just round up to 8 x 10? And do the legislators not realize that multiplication IS part of the Common Core NATIONAL Standards?

From Grade 3 Math Standards – page 23

Multiply and divide within 100.

7. Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers. 

Have NC legislators been in classroom lately? Are they aware of all of the programs and lessons that we have to teach to fidelity? Do they know what that word means in an educational context?

Fidelity means that every single program and mandate that is thrust upon teachers has to be done/taught/performed/implemented exactly to the manufacturer’s/publisher’s/government’s directions. Consider that we are using math, reading, phonics and phonemic awareness programs; standards-based grading and instruction; common-core standards; common grading and assessments; progress reports; Response to Intervention; school improvement plans, or SIP; positive behavioral intervention and supports, or PBIS; and soon, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC. (This incomplete list – only incomplete because it is in a constant state of flux and also I probably left something out just out of sheer forgetfulness – is partially paraphrased from here to reflect my personal experience).

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And we’ll surely need new materials.

Materials for learning cursive writing include paper – sometimes specific paper – and pens. Will the state be providing these materials? Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Unless you are a teacher like me who provides most of the supplies in her classroom because supply funds have dwindled to ZERO and our kids come from homes where food is a luxury and school supplies are not even on the radar.

Do teachers now have to be trained in penmanship techniques? Will there be a run on Ebay and Amazon Marketplace as teachers rush to buy Palmer method books? Will publishers scurry to find cursive writing manuals and workbooks in their storehouses and reposition them as “new and improved?”

Multiplication tables are a bit less driven by the educational products market, but surely there will be lots of flashcards, workbooks and computer programs pushed on teachers.

Ain’t nobody got funds for that!

And won’t these initiatives have to be tested? How else will the legislators be able to prove that their brilliant legislation was a success?

So there will be a market for cursive writing and multiplication table tests. Training for teachers to administer those tests. Security to make sure that there is no cheating on those tests. Software to analyze the data from those tests. Etc. Etc.

Ain’t nobody got time or funds for that!

Don’t even get me started on what else we ain’t got time for. I’ll leave that for another post.

Between the Lines

I read this article tonight and wanted to respond to the authors. I chose to just write up a between the lines commentary from this simple teacher’s point of view. My rude comments are in red.

The Elements of a Quality Teacher Development and Evaluation System

a complete fantasy By Vicki Phillips  and Randi Weingarten

It can seem difficult (impossible) these days to find broad (any) agreement on important public policy issues (using sarcasm in this case is not funny at all. Oh, they didn’t mean this sarcastically? My bad), especially on thorny issues like how to improve education. So it might be surprising (shocking), to hear that an influential teacher’s (teachers’) union (PRESIDENT – NOT THE UNION) and the world’s largest philanthropy (self-serving tax-shelter) are finding plenty of common ground. For example, we agree (to say) that teaching is the most important thing that schools do, and that every student deserves an effective teacher in every class (because we agree that if we say otherwise, no self-respecting teacher will continue to read this article).

Here’s something else the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers agree on: A thoughtful and reliable (reliable? Out of all the words they could have used here, they chose “reliable?”) teacher evaluation and development system (created by Gates and friends) is crucial to making that a reality for children everywhere (in those horrible public schools).

Like all professionals (not professionals like doctors and lawyers who would never put up with this sort of thing. More like professional wrestlers or roller derby teams who have to do whatever their managers tell them to do), teachers need (MUST HAVE) lots of high-quality tools (purchased from Mr. Gates’ company and the company he keeps – read: Pearson), targeted support (provided by [see prior parenthetical comment]) and actionable (do it NOW, or else) feedback (direct and indirect via the press) to continuously improve their skills and performance (or you will be replaced) and help ensure success (which will be measured by OUR tools and criteria). Which is why both the Gates Foundation and the AFT are concerned (yes, we are VERY sympathetic to the needs of teachers) that states and districts are changing their teacher evaluation systems on the quick, instead of taking the time to do it right. (Wait! WHAT? We changed them because your hero, Arne Duncan, told us that if we didn’t change our evaluations to rely on TEST SCORES, which is what Mr. Gates wanted, we would lose funding and be forever known as the states who refused to change our evaluations to rely on TEST SCORES…)(oops. Let myself go off on a tangent. Sorry). 

Both the foundation and the AFT have been investigating (browbeating our programmers to determine) how to measure (with tools provided by “the foundation” and their friends at Pearson) effective teaching (as defined by “the foundation” and their friends at Pearson) and how to best help teachers improve (as defined by criteria defined by “the foundation and their friends at Pearson) (Is there an echo in here?). From our research (everything MUST be research based and “we, the foundation” and our friends at Pearson have the research we paid for to prove it), and the experiences of our state and district partners (cronies) (do NOT confuse “partners” with “educators in the schools), we’ve learned what high-quality (as defined by… oh just repeat the echo from above) teacher development and evaluation systems look like (I strongly suspect the evaluation systems will look like something designed by Pearson and will be stamped all over with the Pearson logo). They have several common elements:

  • Good (not GREAT systems – they’re based upon something else completely) systems are based upon clear expectations (Common Core NATIONAL Teacher Standards) that spell out what teachers should know and be able to do (because every teacher across the nation should be exactly like every other teacher). (These Stepford) Teachers receive regular, timely feedback (data, data, data) on their (terrible) performance and the targeted support to get better (or else).
  • They use a balanced (in favor of the corporation and NOT the teachers) approach to assessing (data) teacher performance (and you’d better perform/dance) and do not rely too heavily (no more than 90%) on test (created by – yes, you know) scores (data). These systems (data systems) include multiple measures (data), such as observations (by trained data entry specialists), student work samples (samples can’t be random because that wouldn’t be good DATA – so they will be VERY specific “samples”), student surveys (wait, can’t students get angry at a teacher and say things about a teacher that are exaggerations or flat-out lies?), and student assessments (oh here are those pesky, i mean VALID, yeah, VALID data pools, I mean, assessments, yeah, assessments).
  • They aim to improve a teacher’s skill and practice (as determined by… “is there an echo in here?”), not to shame (oh definitely NOT! We the undersigned are here to praise teachers, not to bash) them. (It’s more productive to hold principals and districts accountable for the continuous improvement of their teachers.) (As IF accountability doesn’t run downhill at a breakneck pace directly impacting teachers). 
  • Principals and administrators are well-trained in evaluating teacher performance (but when we tell you next year or sooner that they are NOT really well-trained, we and our friends at Pearson, will create the training that will bring them up to speed – for the low, low price – worth every dollar). This means using a valid rubric (insert echo) during an observation, certifying (by a panel of outside (read: Pearson) certifiers) that observers can use the rubric accurately (test the observers), and requiring multiple observations by different people (because your principal certainly is not qualified quite enough to suit us), including administrators and master teachers (and Pearson will be HAPPY to certify these master teachers, too, for an additional ongoing fee).
  • States and school systems continuously (on our schedule) judge the effectiveness (echo… echo) of their (our) teacher development and evaluation systems, and adjust them accordingly as more (of our) research and experiences become available (on our whim).

Officials must (emphasis added) INVEST in these kinds of quality systems because (we are selling them to you! And we say you cannot function without them) when we help teachers be their best, we are also helping students reach their full potential (and we are making inordinate amounts of money for ourselves and our stockholders). The importance of achieving that goal is something (that we say) everyone can agree on.

Please excuse the excess parentheses. I get parenthetical when I’m angry. Just be glad that I didn’t create this to match the long-version of the article

Leprechaun Fun

Today was SO much fun!

We came to school only to find a HUGE mess in our classroom. Chairs were tipped over. All our green crayons had been pulled out of our boxes and thrown onto the tables. Every green item in our room had been taken from its rightful place and tossed hither and yon. It was a sight to delight any 5 or 6 year old!

Apparently a leprechaun had come to our room on St. Patrick’s Day. He had checked out ALL of our leprechaun traps and didn’t get caught in ANY of them. Quite the clever boots he must be!

He took the fake gold from some of the traps, knocked others over and made a general hubbub of the entire classroom.

leprechaun pee

That trickster even peed in our classroom toilet! And he left his footprints on the seat. We could only imagine how he looked standing up there! Ewwwwww!

And he left us three packages of “magic powder.” The words “DO NOT TOUCH” and “DO NOT MIX WITH MILK!” were written on the outside of each one.

We didn’t care. He touched all of our things, so we thought we should touch his special powder.

We put the powder in a BIG bowl and smelled it. “Cheese?” “Birthday cake?” “Sugar?”

We mixed in some milk even though the leprechaun had warned us not to. At first it turned yellow!!! and the mixture was really thin and watery. “Eggs?” “Scrambled eggs!!!”

But SUDDENLY the mixture started turning GREEN!

*squeals of delight*

Then it turned VERY, VERY green and it started to get thick.

Pudding! He left us magic green pudding!”

It mixed up so fast. We spooned it into green paper cups and topped it with special all-green Lucky Charms cereal. Nom Nom Nom!

It took us a LONG time to clean up the room but we had SO much fun making things right again.

Tomorrow we’ll draw and write about what the leprechaun did!

Elementary principal speaks to parents about distorted reforms

Elementary principal speaks to parents about distorted reforms.

Just wow. and wow. and WOW!

Assessment – It’s Not What ‘They’ Are Selling

It’s this…

Found on Cherry Carl’s Assessment Alley page

In their book, Windows Into Literacy, Rhodes and Shanklin (1993) make a profound statement that summarizes how I feel about assessment. “Knowledge about how to gather and analyze useful assessment data to make decisions about instruction is crucial to teachers in socio-psycholinguistic, child-centered classrooms. In such classrooms, cues about instruction come largely from learners themselves rather than from the next lesson in a textbook. Through assessment, teachers can discover students’ interests, strengths, and areas of developmental need to help them become more literate.”