He is more than a test score!

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Griffin exploring Tiger’s dug-out during TigerFest16

One of the highlights of my days while I have been on medical leave is when my son, Griffin walks in the door from school. Normally I would be finishing my day at work. He comes in the house excited from his day. Typically he shares about learning in his classes and asks me questions for more information. Then we move to small talk about Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons before he settles in with a snack while doing homework. After that is done, he typically relaxes by watching “Chopped” on the cooking channel, since he has a passion for food. Tuesday was different, the door opened quietly something was different. Griffin had a scowl on his face, dropped his school bag on the kitchen table, ripped papers out to hand to me. Without words he marched over to hand me these papers from school, he almost had tears in his eyes. “HERE” he said, placing them upside down in my hand and rushed away. Was he in trouble? What could these papers say that made him so upset? As I turned the paper over, I realized he was upset with his NWEA MAP scores. Only one of the four test scores had shown growth. Should he be upset? Should I?

Griffin has loved school since he started, even with his struggles. Griffin has apraxia, he didn’t talk until 4 years old. He can’t sound out words. He has always been a struggling reader. Since kindergarten he has been marked below grade level as a reader. He has been tutored  and memorizes words so he can read. His memory is incredible. Since he could talk he could give directions to a house, park or store after only going their once. Griffin works incredibly hard to make up for his disability. He has a passion for science and geography. This year as a sixth grader he won the school geography bee beating out seventh and eight grades. He competed on the school’s science olympics team, winning medals at the county tournament each of the past 4 years. He is a Boy Scout. He plays baseball and basketball. I have coached him in basketball since 2nd grade. His first year he scored 2 points, this year he lead his team in scoring as they cruised to an undefeated season. This is a chid who has grown. He has grown physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. He is more than a score!! Should he be upset about the scores?

I was concerned. Was Griffin doing enough? Would he be ready for a career when done with school? (and I am a teacher just wonder what non-teachers ask?)

Last night Griffin walked in with a smile again, handing me an envelope, his report card. All A’s with outstanding marks for citizenship. Totally different emotion than the MAP test. Grades actually reflect Griffin’s learning efforts based upon teaching. MAP tests are normalized, knowledge based questions that might never have been taught. Which is more valuable? Griffin’s class grades are based on a standardized grading system that he has to score an 85% to meet the standard (A) or he can reassess until he does meet the standard. Not meeting the standard leads to an F. This system has it flaws but stresses student learning. Griffin has worked hard, reassessed when he failed to meet the standard, receiving A’s all year. Does this mean more than the MAP score?

Autism

I hated seeing my son arrive home crying about school. Is MAP testing hurting him? Do students who perform well on this test go on to live better lives with better jobs? Is having a low score going to hurt Griffin? He has already been offered “help” classes to take the place of his electives. On the advice of teachers, we have declined, not wanting take way quality experiences for Griffin. He gets to enjoy Band, Tech Ed, Spanish, Health, and Gym instead. Should students miss opportunities to boost their test scores? Might that turn them off to learning even more?

Schools need to be careful how we use tests and scores. We need to look at the WHOLE child, not just this little knowledge snap shot.

Careers are more than scores, GRIFFIN and every child is more than a test score!!

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Me and My wonderful son, Griffin

 

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Leadership Teachers Need

leadership

Education is at a crossroads. There are more teaching jobs than qualified teachers to fill them. The districts with the most teaching needs are become revolving doors for teachers as many are leaving the profession. This issues are due to the decade long attack on public education in America. Education reform advocates have have attacked teachers, unions and public school in general. Charter school have become an answer because corporations see them as an avenue toward profits. (Please note there are many great charter school, mostly run by non-profit entities) Teachers are looking to their leadership to help return public schools to their glory.  It is time for bold leadership to emerge, our TEACHERS, STUDENTS and PUBLIC SCHOOL need it to survive.

This leadership comes from the top. Many teachers are exhibiting signs of bold leadership but few district leaders are showing it. Maybe it is due to the politics of top level positions that the needed leaderships isn’t emerging in enough places. So what is needed in this leadership?

  •  Voice in educational reform: States have been allowed to get advice in educational reform from just about every sector but education. Educational leaders need to step up denounce reforms that are not based on educational research. Most of the reforms of the past 10 years make many teachers feel they are performing malpractice in their classrooms. Focus has been on test score and yearly growth not the STUDENTS. Politicians are so worried about media reports of state ranking to really examine WHY our numbers are where we expect them. So often district leaders will talk out of both sides of their mouths on these issues. Locally agree with teachers on the problems with testing but then  “We must follow the law”. What if the law is wrong? What if the law hurts our students? Educational leaders need to denounce reforms that hurt our schools. Speak up and tell representative that our teachers are the educational experts, listen to them.
  • Culture of Collaboration: Districts need to work together and collaborate. We can have districts cannibalizing each other. Advertisements for school of choice should not be posted in neighboring districts. In fact districts should collaborate on programing so they can offer true choices instead of same education in a different location. PD should be coordinated so the experts from each district can share with their neighbors. Competition needs to cease if school want to address their true purpose of providing a quality education for all. Funding mainly comes from the same source, lets collaborate to make the most of it. Many teacher evaluation systems have killed collaboration by pitting teacher against teacher to protect their jobs. How is this best for students?
  • Stability: Education is a constantly changing profession. Leadership needs to create stability for as many variables as possible. Make 10 year curriculum commitments, hire principals, district leaders and teachers with long term non-compete clauses we don’t see leaders jumping from district to district every summer. Life cycles of principals average out to 4 years in a building, that is not long enough for all the students to pass through! Should building level leadership be undergoing this constant change? Is it best for students and their learning? Many curriculum targets change every 3-5 years, again while most students are still sitting in the classrooms learning. Can schools keep up with the ever changing goals?
  • Be a relationship based leader: Know those that work under you. Know how their schedule. Know what drives them. Know why they work in education. Know the challenges they face daily in doing their job. Know your students. This knowledge will help you lead. It will help you raise your voice on their behalf. It will create a culture of respect in your district. While you are building relationships you will notice small things that need to be celebrated. Other issues will arise that need to be addressed. This awareness will impact the learning going on in your district.

The best way to lead is by example. These four traits are stress for classroom teachers.

Our schools need this bold leadership, be a positive deviant and add these traits to your leadership style and be the leader our teachers, students and schools NEED!

 

The Myths of School of Choice

School-Choice

Is school of choice good for education and our students? With roughly 7% of Michigan students participating in school of choice program, how is it impacting schools? How does it help students? These are questions the state board of education and education researchers. School of choice may have benefits but many think tanks and so called education reformers are using it so that for profit charter schools can enter the market place taking money meant for students and placing it in the hands of corporations. School of choice is having a unstabilizing impact on most schools budgets. Here are a few myths around school of choice that need to be addressed.

  1. School of choice improves schools: The idea prompted by most proponents of choice is that with choice schools will improve because they are competing for the students. It is sold as a win for schools and students. This is a pure business idea and schools are NOT businesses. Sure schools compete: but not to create better school but to MARKET their school so more students chose THEM. This has forced many districts to hire marketing firms, purchase advertising and divert funds meant for the classroom to attract student. Students equal funding form the state. Many schools create fancy names to SELL the idea that they are better. Names like Leadership Academy or University School draw more attention than the traditional public school named after a president (or local leader). Schools with better test scores market them to attract students but socioeconomics is the leading reason scores are better.
  2. Choice will improve students test scores:  Educational researchers here in Michigan have recently looked at this issue and found NO connection of choice to test score gains. Families might pick a school based on test scores, but that doesn’t mean it will improve their students performance. Students don’t grow just by being with students who perform better, they have to improve their efforts. Parents also need to remember test scores don’t make a school better.
  3. Parents know how to chose a school: Parents often make choices based upon hearsay and marketing tactics. Parents often share negative experience more than positive stories. One negative school experience can greatly impact a school. Even if 100’s of parents have had positive educational experiences with the school. Parents often feel that grades and test scores make a quality school. In reality best schools are created by a community culture built on positive relationships. Parents choose schools for many reason, but often the primary reason is not academic.
  4.  School choices create stability for student: School of choice often creates an unstable learning atmosphere for students. Students who chose to attend a school outside their district often chose to move again later. This unstable, inconsistent learning environment can harm students.
  5. Choice = Different: Often times parents feel that choice will mean they are choosing a different educational process. This occasionally is the case but most of the time they are choosing the same education plan. Many districts attend the same trainings and use the same curriculum materials to teach.

Advocates of choice argue it is parents money, so they should choose what is best for them. That works for business but not in our current educational system. For school of choice really to work, districts and charters need to work together. Offer true choice differences in programing. Then counselors could work with families, taking stock to students learning styles and educational goals to assist students with the choice.

As school of choice works now: The best scoring schools and best marketing programs win. This takes funding away from students and learning. IT NEEDS to end.

LGBTQ law debates and our students 

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As many teachers deal with difficult issues that this year’s primary election has sprung on them, another major headline is seeping into our schools. How society responds will shape generations to come. LGBTQ rights are taking center stage since HB2 in North Carolina was passed. Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Jimmy Buffet are making statements or canceling shows in response to this discriminatory law.

Our students are watching, looking at their role models to follow their lead on this issue. In school we teach students to except everybody, celebrate our differences and respect others choices. Do we mean it? Our students will know by how we lead in this important conversation. Being LGBTQ is not a choice! It is genetics. How are schools going to lead in making LGBTQ students feel comfortable and accepted?

This issue hits home for me. My uncle Stewart Hazelton was transgendered. I didn’t really know it when he was alive. Fifteen years ago he divorced his wife, grew his hair out and started going by the name Stacey. Since I lived 500 miles away it had little direct impact on me, until I visited him one Thanksgiving and we talked one night. I realized how lonely and confused he was with his life. I knew he was self medicating his depression with alcohol but not the full story. Then one night I received a phone call from my grandmother, my uncle passed away 10 years ago. I travel to his house to help during the time of mourning. Then I realized his struggle. He passed of a heart attack due to all the hormones his was taking for his transition. He just wanted to feel normal as a female.

My Uncle Circa 1963

I wish, Stacey had talked more about his struggle. A few years latter, as my wife watched the Karadashians, I noticed Bruce was going through the same changes Stewart did a few years before. Our society needs to create an environment of love, not hate. Educators need to make sure we make our classrooms excepting of ALL students. It is sad that so many wait years to show who they really are meant to be in life.

Right now the argument is making all feel safe in the bathrooms. I think the answer lies in our schools. Most of our elementary schools have individual bathrooms. Why can’t we have more? We already have family restrooms, why not just call them private restrooms. Fear is not the way to approach this issue. We should not be afraid of LGBTQ individuals, in fact they are the ones that are scared. They are not perverts as hate mongers  want to portray them. All states need to create policies that model the same values we desire in our schools: ACCEPTANCE for ALL!

Is Busy killing learning?

busy

Recently I saw a video by John Spencer that about his “Break up with Busy

It resonated with me. I have made myself consumed by busy ever since I started teaching. I justified it as advancing my career and becoming a better teacher. I participated on countless committees, became department chair, and ended up Union President. Busy and I were constant friends. What was the cost? Was it worth it?

Reflecting on education busy is a precise word to describe our current system. Students are busy being forced to learn at a prescribe rate and order. Homework and assessments are doled out to monitor successes and failures of busy. I look at all the “busy” worksheets by 7 year olds bring home from their 1st grade classroom, keeping them busy in the name of practice and learning. My 6th grader struggles balancing his 6 class schedule. Busy is his friend at school. He has to quickly shift gears from Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Band and a rotating specials class. When he comes home he often forgets most of the learning that occurred. Are our students too busy to learn? After reading a few Shadow a Student Challenge blog post, most observers would say yes.

Our students are also busy at home participating in extracurricular activities. Having 3 kids, our family has after school activities 4 nights a week, ranging from dance to scouts to sports practice. Many of my students have similar busy lives. Some work, play sports, volunteer their time or have a hobby. What is the affects of all of this busy on our students? 

Maybe the next generation has it figured out. Millennials desire a work life balance more than any generation before. They need instant gratification and recognition for their efforts. My students resist work if the purpose is not clearly shown. Students often don’t see the balance between school and their life or the gratification from their school efforts. Is this busy culture in schools harming them?

Lets move schools away from busy towards mindful purposeful learning!

Singular Education Focus

Iphone upload Oct 2015 1892-ANIMATION
Photo by: T Bloch 2015 advisory

 

Where should schools focus their efforts? This seems to be a frequent topic of conversation from political pundits. Here in Michigan our governor has just released a plan to reinvent our educational system to prepare students for a global economy. Are there some needed changes? YES, our system has pretty much remained the same for our 100 years. Changes need to be systematic. It starts at the TOP with a singular focus on our students. Four major steps need to occur for our state to shift our education system to focus on STUDENTS.

Step 1:

Seek educator input: The state department of education and our legislative body currently hold meetings and often make major decisions regarding education with NO classroom educators at the table. Schedules need to change so that education committees meet during the summer or travel the state to receive educator input. Regular school visits need to be held by any key decision makers. Teachers should be the largest voice heard. We are the experts. When legal reforms are made: Lawyers are listened to, medical reforms listen to doctors, construction reforms the contractors are heard, but when it comes to education it seems that teachers are the last one heard. WHY? All current road blocks to hear classroom educators need to be stripped away. Without this happening our reforms are like asking a lawyer for advice on how to repair our roads: just not going to work well.

Sadly every education commission focuses on having business professionals input. WHY? They seem to only focus on how the education system can benefit their industry, no build an educational system that benefits all students.

Step 2: 

Meet students at their level: Students arrive in classrooms at all ability levels. Some come ahead, some behind and many at grade level. How students arrive in schools is a function of our society not teaching. Many factors impact how students arrive, school have to accept them where they are, show the benefits of growth and help them grow. We can’t expect one-size fits all standards and growth. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Our system needs to promote a growth mindset for students by eliminating the rank and sort system. Sure all students CAN go to college, our system need to reflect ALL career fields and most careers don’t require a 4 year degree. Trade skills are being lost in our country due to our college focused educational system.

Step 3: 

Collaboration: In Michigan our schools compete not only on the sports fields but for students to fill seats in the classroom. With open school of choice and uncapped charter schools collaboration between districts and charters does not exist. Since businesses compete out legislative body (influenced by lobbyists) decided our schools should compete for students. The impact of this decision has drastically widened the gap between the haves and the have not schools. School spend money on advertising and marketing that should have been spent on students. Parent choice decisions are made based on cool school names, flashy advertising, infrastructure appearance, or technology. One school’s gains in another’s loss. With this constant battle for students, districts struggle with long term planning, causes staffing uncertainty hindering district growth.

This model of education system would be similar to ask General Motors to have each of its business units to compete against each other. A companies business units collaborate helping each other with weaknesses so they all can succeed together. Schools need to collaborate in this way, not compete, leave that to the sports fields.

Step 4: 

Equity: From community to community schools vary greatly. This is okay when the variation reflect the community. A school near a GM plant has an engineering focus, school by a fishery has natural resources strand or a school by resorts has hospitality program. Many times these variations are due to funding. One school has 1:1 technology program and the next is functioning on old computer lab model. The state needs to remember that equity does not equal equality.

Equity is often used in the argument for choice, but it isn’t working well. If schools are treated with equity, the choice is easy most would go to their local, closest community school. Sure their would be some specialized charter school but not the plethora of choices that are all the same.

 

EqualityEquity

Let’s build a better educational system! Just remember where our focuses should start, in the classroom, listening to teachers talk about THEIR STUDENTS. This is the shift that needs to happen NOW. End the rhetoric that persists that our schools are failing and it is the teachers fault. Society has been failing our schools, now it is a time for them to be a focus!