Sad but True


In class today a few of my students were looking at maps after they finished a project on the computers. I came over to make sure they were done with their assignments and ask “What are you doing?” One of the girls responded, “Looking at maps.” The other stated “Yeah, I have to show her all 16 of the places I have lived!” This was a 13 year old girl who has gone through the moving process 16 times, more than once a year. After my “Oh” expression she continued “I can’t help it we have been kicked out alot.” My heart continued to break for this girl.  Thirteen years old, frequent moves and evictions filling your life. No wonder she struggles in school.
wordle poverty

Our district was just looking at attendance data. 1,354 of our 3,785 student have been absent from school for more than 10 days. Either the flu was really bad this year or student are staying home in large numbers. Are students sick for all of these days? Over 1/3 of our population sick that much? Probably not. Many times when I talk to a student about their absence, they reply “couldn’t get a ride” or “I had to watch my younger sibling.” Large amounts of absences in general a result of poverty. How are we going to address this issue?

10 days of school is 6% of the school year. I know students that have missed twice or even 4 times as many school days. Missing this much instruction has to have an impact on student learning. How can schools help students catch up when they miss school? Poverty is a growing issue in American schools. Sure it is not as bad as some countries, but it is like never before here. We need a plan to assist these children that are born into their circumstance.

How should we evaluate teachers?

How are teacheres being measure

This is a hot topic in education currently. Students First, The Foundation for Excellence in Education, The Mackinaw Center, and other “education reform” organization feel many teachers are not “working hard enough” or “effective”, blaming tenure for teacher complacency in the classroom. The reform movement seems to focus on tearing down the established public school model and creating an elaborate for profit charter school network.

How do they know the public school teachers are in-effective? The media often reports that the United States is not ranking well on standardized tests compared to the world. This leads to the generalization that teachers are in-effective and lacking passion. It might be the case but how do we know it is the teachers? Schools are a reflection of our society. Could it be to blame?

What research do they have that shows ALL new charter schools will be more effective than their counterparts? None, most reports show that charter schools are similar to public schools in all regards. Some are great, that get plenty of press, others are average and many are failures.

Measure quality

The State of Michigan is making an ambitious attempt to create a fair teacher evaluation system. The Michigan Council for Educators Effectiveness has been set up to design a standard system for all teachers to be evaluated by in Michigan. The council is working hard to create a system that gives flexibility to school districts and focus on the true reason for teacher evaluations: Teacher Growth! I hope the MCEE reaches their goal of creating a quality model.

Many factors go into being an effective teacher. Teachers have to be flexible, skillful trained, and organized. Knowledge of content, student and learning styles. Patience is a must. Teachers must have the ability to tolerate change and be reflective on their practice. Most of all teacher have to always be learning and working to improve their practice. All of these skills help define an effective teacher. How are these skills seen by an observer? Can all of them be seen in 2 observations? What if the evaluator is not trained in the teachers subject area?

Many states are adding student growth data to evaluations. Standardized tests scores are being used to measure growth and connected to teachers evaluations. Many state tests are only in core subjects. Should these test scores be connected to band or art teachers evaluations? Does these create an atmosphere where teachers are “teaching to the test’? Does using these tools for evaluations devalue other important areas of education?

The charter school vendors have lobbied heavily to use teacher evaluations as the primary factor for teacher placement. In theory this sounds practical.  There are so many questions surround how teachers are measure, what makes them effective and how student growth is measured. Would this be a fair system? Would teacher evaluations still promote and be used for teacher growth?

I  feel that setting up this teacher evaluation system the way many have proposed will ruin our public schools. Unless we can tackle all of the hard questions that come with this issue. Teacher collaboration will dissolve as teachers will be worried about their jobs instead of focusing on student learning. Cheating scandals will erupt (Like Atlanta).  American schools will fall apart and not fulfill their mission to provide a free education to ALL students.

After listening to Deborah Ball, Chair of MCEE, last week, I am confident they are working at answering these questions. I like many educators am concerned about how our legislators will react to their recommendation. Why are we letting business experts dictate education policy? Please urge your legislators to listen to teachers about their profession. Teachers need to be allowed to have a voice in how they will be ultimately judged.

Writing comics to activate prior knowledge!

Sometimes students need a quick assignment to help them activate their prior knowledge. Over the years, I have used short warm-ups, review readings and videos to help stimulate my students knowledge base. Often, I have felt that the students are not engaged with watching video or reading an article. Students have even commented “we studied this last year” or “I already know this!”

When I noticed that students would need to review the water cycle before studying how humans effect our natural resources, I wanted to find a way to engage my students in a review. After looking at many options I decided on the following assignment:

Water Cycle Comic Strip

 You are to develop your own multi-panel comic strip. It will follow one water drop’s journey through the ENTIRE water cycle (also known as the Hydrologic cycle). You will be graded on:

 A.   Including all 9 vocabulary terms and using them correctly

  • Evaporation
  • Condensation
  • Transpiration
  • Precipitation
  • Run-off
  • Ground water / Aquifer 
  • Infiltration
  • Surface Water

B. Written in story form from the water drop’s point of view

C. Colorful, NEAT, and unique

D.  Title that includes:

  • name
  • period
  • Title of book or comic strip

E.  Spelling, grammar, & Punctuation

Please do your best…and have fun! Project Due Friday May 17!

Here is an online example of a complete comic strip! another simple example.

If you are working on this activity at home this website will help you.

This assignment is due for my 7th grade students tomorrow. They had 2 days in class and 4  nights to work on the assignment. As I have walked around the classroom. I have overheard students having great conversations about the water cycle. Students have been asking questions about how the order in which the vocabulary should appear. Students appear engaged and interested in completing the assignment. I wish we had access to technology to complete the assignment because many have asked if they can use ToonDoo to complete the project. I encouraged them to use the paper storyboard to plan the comic and use ToonDoo at home. This time of year I dread projects since students just want to be done with everything and lack “grit”. After observing the progress this week, I am excited about seeing what my students create to express their knowledge.

Teachers need to keep looking for ways to activate prior knowledge that engage the students in discussions and reflections. By using project that focus on creation, students will have to be engaged. True learning comes when the students create products that demonstrate their knowledge. This is a simple assignment that will help student be knowledgeable and ready to use their knowledge in the next unit.

5 Reasons not to use Student Achievement as a driving factor in teacher pay!

The State of Michigan is currently debating if student achievement should be the driving factor in teacher pay. The Detroit Free Press ran an article today discussing both sides of the issue. I feel this debate is worth having at a district level but very hard to have on the state level. State Rep. Peter Lund, needs to think carefully about this bill he has sponsored. Here are 5 reasons to vote against this bill:

1. Local control – Long a tenant of the Republican party, recently seems to be lost when talking about schools. Districts have locally elected school boards. They set policy, rules and regulations. If “pay for performance” is something a district wants, needs or desires, the local school board can set it up as a policy. One size does not fit all. Michigan has over 500 school districts ranging in size from 20- 1,000’s of students. Our state is also very diverse. Let the local district decide if this is an issue they want to tackle. Would corporations allow the government to step in and set pay standards for their employees? NO! School districts are no different and should not have to be subjected to Law Makers who have no understanding of how schools are run.

2. No Set Standard –  The state wants to pass a law saying that teachers will be paid based on performance but not set a performance standard? No this doesn’t make any sense. Teachers need to know the target they are aiming for! How can teachers reach targets that have not been set? Currently MEAP/MME testing has been show to be unreliable, having social economic biases. The state does not even have a standard for teacher evaluations. Again too complex, all needs to be set at a local district level. With all the laws passing there will be no point in local school boards since all policies seem to be set by state.

3. Create bad environment – Education has been working for years to foster an environment where teachers work together to help educate ALL students. IF teachers feel that they will have an advantage over others, the collaboration will end. Think about it, do salesmen tell others about who and how they get their largest sales? NO! The goal of education is to provide an equal free education to all students. We can’t create a school where teachers keep their best techniques secrets.

4. No enough money –  Merit pay systems work well in a sales environment. Why? Salespeople generate revenue to pay for their commissions (extra merit pay). Schools don’t make extra money by performing well (and shouldn’t). How can a district afford teachers if they all desire the top merit pay level? Bottom line is they won’t be able to afford a true merit pay system that will have any value to the teachers.

5. No value for experience or education – Any teacher will tell you that they are a better teacher now than they were the first year. No matter how students score on the test, teachers do get better with time. Sure, some burn-out. administrators can observe this and take actions. The tenure laws have been changed. Student achievement is a factor in all teachers in Michigan evaluations now. Doctors, lawyers, dentists with a more specialized degree get paid more for their expertise why not teachers?

Well that is 5, I could keep going. Poverty is another larger factor that will create unfair results in this equation. There are just too many factors at play that impact student achievement.

What if student has bad day?  Can they re-take like drivers test? NO

All student growth is not equal, learning today might not impact student achievement for years. Current tests only measure students academic performance, what about social, physical, emotional growth?

Legislature stop killing our public education system and start focusing on helping our poor students. The teachers are the least of your problems.

Thanks for reading, hope it helps you reflect.