Samson

Not me. I am a Sampson and the ‘p’ distinguishes the English surname from the Jewish name.

Image result for samson pulling down the pillars

Not that confusion doesn’t ensue. In my freshman dorm (circa 1975), the Jewish guys didn’t understand until I explained it.

Although Samson was a badass and I wouldn’t mind the comparison.

Yes, in his last act, Samson pulled down the pillars on a temple to kill his enemies. It was an act of suicide, but he saw it as a heroic sacrifice.

The temple wasn’t strong enough to survive a catastrophic event.

Our schools are. But the commish is about to change that–if he can–if he gets his way. And Corcoran always gets his way. Two years of Florida legislative history teaches us that.

Corcoran believes that a lot of money is wasted on school construction. This is not a new story although GOT is once again failed by Google trying to find a link.

Now we get this. Corcoran says that teachers deserve to make $75,000 a year (quite an increase from the current average salary of $48,000.)

Where will the state find the money? Stop building expensive schools.

Now to sew up the metaphor or analogy if you will and the news story. The biggest way to reduce school construction cost is to stop making them strong enough to serve as storm shelters.

Charters know this. They don’t bother and when a Cat 4 or 5 approaches the state, they politely decline to be storm shelters. Their buildings are not strong enough. They don’t build to those standards. They don’t have to.

So teacher, here’s the devil’s deal. You want to be paid a salary worthy of your expertise, your credentials, and your value? All you have to do is teach in a school that might fall down around your head at any moment.

All it takes is a Samson or, in Florida, a Corcoran.

Brain Break

As Spring Break draws to a close, GOT has a confession to make. He is a horrible teacher. He did nothing over the last seven days to get the children ready for the TEST. He sent home no Spring Break math packet. He didn’t do it for Winter break, either, a/k/a known as Christmas.

GOT didn’t do it last year, either.

The horror! But every year scores have gone up. (As if that mattered, but when winning at the game, it’s hard for folks to argue.)

The coffee break is a time-honored provision of workplaces as a means of increasing productivity. Surprisingly, by a few minutes of stopping work, the overall output of the work increases greatly. This was measured by researchers at M.I.T., who found that after running a maze, the rats that took a break replayed the experience in their brains to solidify what they had learned.

The same is true of vacations, including student vacations. A break from learning gives the brain a rest. But while students play, their brains work on the subconscious level processing learning.

GOT has observed this many times in the course of his career. A fall unit of middle school algebra goes poorly. Rather than regrind and reteach endlessly, a move ahead in the curriculum produces better results. Somehow, in the Spring, when the class returns to that algebra unit, they do much better.

My geometry classes are wrapping up the third quarter, which contains the hardest topics for geometry students: right triangles and circles. Assessments revealed the usual struggle.

Rather than grind brains and souls to dust, GOT decided to take a break. Let the children have some time off. When we return, the children will be refreshed and ready to tackle anew the math.

We push children too hard these days. We forget development stages and other things in our drive to improve thinking (a/k/a known as reading, but that’s another post) and math skills. We force children to do things before they are ready to the frustration of all.

Often, GOT wonders sarcastically why we don’t teach calculus in third grade?

We push too hard and children do not have the time they need for deep thinking and processing. We include too much in a year of curriculum and children are rushed through important ideas. We fall behind and give out vacation packets of worksheets, create web-based computer assignments, and must-do projects.

We ignore what we know about learning because we are driven by the tests, the standards, and the curriculum that includes too much.

It’s time for a break. Take one now.

A Rose by Any Other Name

William Shakespeare
I said it first.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

–William Shakespeare

The College Admissions Scandal

By now you’ve heard about the test-taking scandal, oops <giggle> which one? For once we’re not reading or hearing about how the high-stakes, your-job-is-on-the-line, your-school-will-close, your-life-is-ruined testing in a K-12 school caused people to collapse under the pressure and break the testing rules states lay down about the Spring ordeal students and others undergo.

This time it’s about parents who bribed test proctors and university athletic officials to gain admission to a prestigious university through changing SAT or ACT test scores or by pretending that someone’s child was an athletic recruit.

While millions of words have been written in the last twenty-four hours about how the scandal reveals the inequity in college admissions with many noticing how legitimate athletic recruits face lower standards, how many lackluster scholars get in as a legacy because their family makes a sizable donation to the school, and how wealthy parents are able to afford the testing coaches that have a demonstrable effect on raising SAT/ACT scores, few have questioned the premise that the brand of an elite university like Harvard, Yale, or USC is worth the money.

It’s not. Here’s a helpful hint to the wealthy: save your money. If you’re not part of the club (Harvard connections are very useful in life but only if your family has had those connections before you got there), going to an elite university is not going to gain your child membership.

Image result for rose
Beware the thorns. But healthy are the ones with Vitamin C-packed hips.

What’s in a name? Not much. The rose does not consist of the name, but of the quality of the program offered. After all, roses come in many colors. A red rose is not useful for a course of study which involves yellow ones.

Parents, teens: first decide upon what your interests are. Then, look for a college whose strengths are in those areas. You may be surprised how strong and well-regarded are the programs at your state universities and other colleges.

The value of a college’s education lies upon the strength of its programs. The world is far too large to be swayed by a mere name. After a few years, no one cares anymore. It’s what a person does with the education that enhances their value to future employers and life prospects.

Affordability matters. Look for institutions that will not require taking on student loans that will total more than a mortgage.

Demographics matter. Look for a campus with diversity. One rife with opportunities to try new things, to break out of one’s bubble, and to see how different people live their lives.

As the college years will also be the first place young adults will experience serious love affairs, make sure the college offers what interests the student has.

Image result for skunk cabbage
A rose of a skunk cabbage.

Choose carefully and wisely. The name means nothing in comparison to what the college offers in academics and experience. After all, consider the skunk cabbage. It moves upward in the early Spring because of its ability to melt the ice and frozen ground above it.

Isn’t that what all parents are after? Upward mobility for their children? The skunk cabbage may not have the name, but it has the capacity to deliver that.

So do the many, many universities and colleges that don’t possess elite status. Check one out.

The Problem and the Echo Chamber

Image result for echo chamber
Life in the Bubble

Recently GOT was meeting with a financial advisement firm to review plans for retirement. It’s always good to get an outside viewpoint and GOT looks forward to their analysis and recommendations for his investments. Not having been a teacher for an entire career with the result retirement savings are in four different accounts with four different firms as well as the fact that GOT has borne the market risk for his career means that careful review every so often is good. GOT will not retire with a traditional pension.

As we did the obligatory small talk to get the meeting underway, GOT mentioned the legislative action in Tallahassee and the increasing difficulty for public schools to continue to exist given the new voucher program moving through the legislature. The business people couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t imagine the threat that increasing voucher programs and charter schools pose to the public sector.

They have the belief that public schools will be around forever.

That’s the problem. The public simply doesn’t believe, not yet anyway, the behind-the-scenes machinations of groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and Americans for Prosperity to bring about a libertarian dream to end what they call ‘government schools.’

(Other views for ALEC and AP can be found here and here.)

When GOT told the advisors that the true goal of Florida Republican politicians was to enact education savings accounts, in which parents would be handed the money and they would choose where to spend it, charter, private, home, or public school, further, that public schools would have to compete for the money like a business merchandising its wares, they were against the idea.

Unaware, but opposed. That probably sums up most of the public.

Bloggers write and write and write informative pieces. GOT is gratified that his modest effort has gotten some notice over the last ten months by some of the greats in the educational blogger ranks. But it must be noticed that the typical blog lives in an echo chamber.

Great pieces are written and shared in the usual social media groups. The likes and shares pour in … to like-minded other social media groups. It’s an echo chamber.

We join groups where the members think as we do. We like their comments and flame the people whose comments we don’t like. Those people eventually go away unless they enjoy trolling the group. We settle into a small (sometimes not so small) community where everyone thinks alike.

Here’s a good piece by the Washington Post about the echo chamber and how news media can counteract it.

Back to the problem, the public doesn’t live in the educational blogosphere. If we want to pull in their support before we lose our schools, we will have to find ways to escape the chamber and reach them.

That’s what GOT is working on–a strategy to attract readers outside his echo chamber. It’s got to include a way to get onto other platforms, traditional media, maybe some wacky promotional ideas, and even (shudder) some social media advertising.

Think about it. The latest action taken in Florida was to send postcards to lawmakers pleading for the destruction of schools to stop. The effort was sincere, but perhaps the audience did not care?

Let’s take the leftover postcards, send the same message, but address them to our neighbors and fellow citizens. Get out of the chamber and reach those who support public education but don’t understand the urgency of now.

The New Normal

One year later, while the Florida legislature meets to tweak the well-intentioned, yet hasty, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Act, districts and schools are still trying to figure out how to implement the full act. Schools have been hardened, guardians have been hired, threat assessment teams … well, read on.

GOT has previously reported that he was placed upon his school’s threat assessment team (TAT). He went to the mandatory training in youth mental health, and since then, well no one seems to know what to do.

While Tally (short for Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, and usually used to mean the politicians that gather there to pass laws and govern the state) debates what to do next and the governor received his wish fulfillment for the empaneling of a grand jury to investigate school districts regarding their implementation of the MSD act, which will be sited in Broward County, thus it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the targets are, GOT has tried to move forward.

This is not a critique of anyone, but as guidance is not forthcoming, GOT has worked to find resources for school TATs and wants to share them with you.

These are only a few. But, as GOT told his administrator, if guidance is not forthcoming, we need to get on with the work anyway. We’ll do the best we can through research, discussion, and action.

If you are also a part of your school’s TAT and don’t know how to move forward, GOT hopes this has helped.

What Educators Want

Recently a frequent poster in the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook (Facebook group) asked the question, “What do educators want?” with a link to a podcast outlining the proposals of Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis.

GOT’s answer:

  1. A salary (not bonuses) that is commensurate with the pay of other professionals and that allows every teacher to live in their district without the need for a second or even a third job to afford the cost of living. Teachers aren’t looking to get rich, but like everyone else, they would like to make enough to afford basics for their families and themselves.
  2. Job security. Teachers want the stability of a position that does not depend upon fluctuating enrollment, the whim of legislative funding, or an arbitrary evaluation process based upon invalid data and administrative checklists.
  3. Respect. An end to all the ‘bad teacher’ tropes.
  4. All of the above for everyone who works for a school system, not merely teachers, but support personnel, counselors, media specialists, paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria workers, maintenance, clerks, secretaries, and even school administrators. Think of the change in leadership that would take place if school principals knew that their job did not depend upon annual test scores.
  5. Wrap-around services to meet the real needs of children, including school nurses and medical screenings, enough counselors to handle the load of children carrying trauma and other emotional problems, social services to address hunger and neglect, compassionate truancy officers who will find and solve why children don’t come to school (sometimes it’s as simple as they have no clean clothes to wear.)
  6. Full funding by states as they take seriously their constitutional commitments to provide a system of public schools.
  7. Equity and fairness for all students that includes maintaining or increasing the diversity of student populations at every school, providing the resources needed by schools located in impoverished and minority neighborhoods, and keeping the buildings in good repair. The surrounding neighborhoods need attention, too.
  8. An end to bogus evaluation schemes that no serious researcher, expert, or professional statistician supports. VAM may help a farmer to understand how to get a cow to produce more milk, but GOT knows of no teacher whose instructional practice consists of putting cups on teats to maximize achievement.
  9. Realistic class sizes that allow teachers to give every student the attention they deserve. For Florida, that means respecting the will of the voters for once and giving schools the resources needed to build classrooms and hire teachers so that no high school class exceeds 25 students; middle school, 22 students; elementary, 18 students. Florida voters were given a chance two times to alter the amendment. No dice.
  10. True accountability that measures all we ask a school to do. Riddance to a flawed, narrowly focused measure of test scores. An acknowledgment that testing does not yield a true measure of student learning. Teachers do not want to escape accountability, but they would like it to actually measure how effective they are. Test scores cannot do this and never will.

Prince Caspian

He loved the days of school before state testing began and sought to bring them back.

Better known as the Telmarine who revolted against his own people to side with the Narnians.

Continuing the series about technology–look here for the first introductory post, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The drive for “personalized learning,” also known as competency-based education, is the hot, new reform pushed by those who believe that technology will save the day.

The dream is for warehouse-style buildings to house students for eight hours a day to sit in front of computer screens and learn from the programs presented to them.

Reformers tout the benefits: continuous testing, data generation, cost-effectiveness (no need to pay professional teachers, the computer will do the work, and all that’s needed is a minimum-wage paraprofessional to monitor behavior of 50 to 100 students), students learning at their own pace, and profitability of the new model because businesses can open and run these schools. No need for messy democracy, local control via an elected school board, and every other obstacle that stops them from raiding their state treasuries for the tax dollars.

This is a scenario worthy of Isaac Asimov: which is better, the silicon-based teacher or the carbon-based teacher? Reformers want a silicon-based teacher for your children. Their yearning for a teacher-proof classroom is a wish to remove a carbon-based professional from the room.  But the carbon-based teacher has an advantage over the silicon-based teacher that the silicon will never obtain.

You see, the silicon-based teacher, that personalized learning a/k/a competency-based education, is provided by a machine powered by artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that were written by a human being.

That fact is not a refutation. AI algorithms, more commonly called bots, run off on their own and soon their human creators can no longer control their data collection and their reactions given their analysis of their data set.

Isaac Asimov tapped into humanity’s deepest fear about technology and machine-like humans a/k/a androids and wrote his three basic laws of robotics:

  • robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The vision of the reformers violates the first two laws.

Technology must not harm a human being, either through action or inaction. Yet technology concerns abound:

The idea that human teachers can be replaced by technology and children can learn from spending hours online violates the first law.

Technology is a tool that should be used by the teacher, not controlling the instructional decisions of the teacher. Even iReady, a much panned educational program from Curriculum Associates, has its software written to turn off a learning module if a child fails it twice. It alerts the human teacher that intervention is needed. It is the teacher’s job to determine the next steps and provide appropriate instruction.

Yet, as an iReady associate admitted to GOT one time, district officials cut off her presentation when she was about to tell teachers how to modify iReady’s instructional pathway if the teacher decided a student should work in a different sequence or needed work in a different topic.

Without human teachers making those decisions, children are at the mercy of the technology. As technology feels no emotions, said mercy is not likely to exist. The vision of dozens of children in a large room, supervised by a paraprofessional whose job is to control misbehavior and keep them on task, having their learning controlled by the AI bots of the software, violates the second law.

Rather than having robots obey humans, children must obey the software bots.

Bill Gates writes software for computers, Laurene Powell Jobs is the widow of the creator of Apple computers, Jeffrey Zuckerberg runs the world’s largest online social media platform, Reed Hastings provides entertainment via internet streaming … the list goes on. Everyone of these self-designated education experts believes in technology because technology is their life and they have made billions of dollars in personal wealth from it.

It’s only human that their beliefs would be swayed into thinking that technology is the best method for educating children.

They are wrong. The tech-based vision of technology violates the laws of robotics, which even AI bots should obey.