Monday, June 18, 2018

Enough is Enough; We Must Stop Trump's Abuse of the Presidency!

I am hereby changing my long standing policy of limiting this blog to educational issues because I am convinced that it is necessary for ordinary citizens to publicly object to the insane actions of our president.  I do not intend, by this to criticize the many good citizens who voted for President Trump. I believe they supported Trump in good faith based on his promises and the belief that he was a businessman who could fix our problems. But he has proven to be dishonest and harmful to our country and those of us who see that should speak out and try to make a change.

This video by economist Robert Reich explains very clearly why President Donald Trump and his style of governing by the use of dishonest demagoguery is so dangerous for our country.

I do not believe that Trump really cares about the many ordinary citizens who voted for him based on his many insincere promises. Unfortunately many of his claims were unrealistic (like bringing back coal mining jobs) and he simply conned many people into electing him.  As Reich points out in his video, this presidency could be disastrous for our county and its citizens.

Look, I think I understand why so many people have put their complete faith in Trump. The world economy is changing more rapidly that ever, putting many jobs in jeopardy. People naturally hate change that could adversely affect their families' security. That's why Trump's message of going back to our old obsolete economy  was so comforting. But it is a false message from a cruel con man. There is no way that Trump's false promises will make "America great again". The only significant achievement of the Trump presidency is a tax cut that is a huge gift to the super rich that will be paid for by our children and grandchildren. Trump went bankrupt 4 times by wasting other people's money on phony schemes, and he is getting ready to do it to the entire country.

Trump has lied to us about almost everything. He started off his political career by claiming that he had investigators in Hawaii, and "they can't believe what they have found" (About the lie that president Obama was born outside the U. S.) And Trump has only gotten worse from there. His latest lie is that the Democrats are making him separate children from their parents at the Mexico border. I am not going to repeat the 3,000 large and small Trump lies in between those two. Just look carefully at the Reich video, because he is summarizing it very well.

Regular Americans need to start speaking out about the Trump lies and bad policies and then we need to vote against all politicians who would continue to support Trump and his dishonest policies.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Scripted Lessons: A Great Way of Killing the Joy of Teaching and Learning.

Pat Austin Becker is a writer and a teacher who writes the blog And so it goes in Shreveport. Pat Austin is a highly experienced English teacher who should be listened to when she offers an opinion about what works and what doesn't work in teaching English to our present day students.

Here is Pat Austin's latest post on the subject of scripted lessons. It seems that Pat's school system has adopted a strict step-by-step mandate for teaching English II. Each English II teacher in the system is expected to follow the same script for each lesson in lock step, "with fidelity". One of the stated reasons for such a mandate is that it assures that if a student transfers to a different school in the parish, he/she will continue English lessons with no gaps in the instruction. But we know the real reason is an attempt that is becoming a trend in many school systems to "teacher proof" instruction. It is an attempt to try to guarantee that all teaching will prepare all students for the all important end-of-course test. Its all about test prep.

Here is another excellent post by a teacher from another state who was driven out of teaching by the standardization of teaching.

Much of this trend to scripted teaching has happened because our Louisiana Department of Education has created a system of rating and grading schools based almost totally on the test scores of students in certain required subjects. The School Performance Score (SPS), the school letter grade, and the entire image of a school depends on the test scores of its students. The natural result of such a system is to force each school to do almost nothing but test prep all year long. As a result teachers in some school systems are now expected to teach a scripted curriculum.

The scripted curriculum looks to me like a mind-numbing, boring exercise that has almost no relation to the life and needs of a typical student. This entire curriculum based almost totally on the Common Core standards was developed by what many have concluded was a group of elitist thinkers from the world of standardized testing and college prep for-all. It ignores the fact that the majority of our students will not attend four year colleges and who cannot, and will not, relate to many of the abstract concepts these elitists feel are so vital. A good example is the lesson described by Pat Austin in her blog, on the unit for teaching the concept of rhetoric in various written and spoken passages. I could barely keep my eyes open while reading the scripted lesson the teacher is expected to follow with fidelity. Here is an excerpt:

"With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:
Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.
The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It's a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of "What is Rhetoric" by Gideon Burton."  

Another part of the lesson looks like this:

"Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
 Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
 Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
 Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
 Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
 Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
 Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
 Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
 Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
 Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system)."

How do you think the typical 15 year old student will respond to this drivel?

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today's world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the american education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

Need something to smile about at this point? Here is a little YouTube jingle written and performed by a teacher from another state who was also suffering through the creativity killing mandates of constant test prep.

This almost fanatical push to continue the standardized testing based implementation of Common Core is incomprehensible! Since the adoption of Common Core, Louisiana has seen the biggest drop ever in academic achievement of our students compared to other states as measured by the NAEP. Why is our business supported state level management of education so intent on continuing to double down on a failed policy that is harming our students?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Court Throws out VAM Teacher Evaluation System in Texas

This article describes the basis for a court decision in Texas throwing out the VAM based teacher evaluation system there. The same arguments against VAM are valid in Louisiana.

Here are the key findings in Texas against the use of VAM for evaluating teachers:

  • The VAM system which was originally designed to measure farm efficiency is not comparable to teaching effectiveness.
  • The American Statistical Association found that the impact of teacher quality on student scores was 14% at most. All the other factors such as socioeconomic deficiencies make the teacher portion almost insignificant in determining VAM.
  • Some administrators were found to be basing the teacher observation portion of the teacher evaluation on the teacher's VAM score which totally invalidated the observation portion.
  • High stakes tests which are used as the basis for VAM were never designed for teacher evaluation.
  • The stability of VAM scores was found to be so erratic that it could not be relied upon to reliably evaluate teachers.
In addition to the flaws found in Texas, other states have fired teachers based on VAM only to find out later that the teacher from the previous year had cheated or otherwise improperly boosted student scores causing the next year VAM to be artificially low.

The major proponent of continuing to use VAM in Louisiana is the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). LABI has appointed itself as the expert on teacher evaluation, and uses its power over the legislature to keep the VAM evaluation going. LABI likes the VAM system because it results in stack ranking of teachers, with the bottom portion of the ranking being subject to dismissal or humiliation leading to resignations. It is interesting to note that when stack ranking was used in private business it was quickly abandoned because it resulted in productivity losses. Why then is LABI insisting it be used on teachers?

LABI also does not take into account that only about 35% of teachers are subject to VAM because the other 65% do not teach students taking state tested subjects. This fact puts VAM rated teachers at a disadvantage in receiving merit pay or facing dismissal. Why would Louisiana want to continue a system of evaluation that punishes only certain teachers teaching core subjects? This is serious discrimination!