stephanie jones

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

EmpowerEd Georgia is Tracking the Cuts

In democracy, Education Policy, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, Standing up for Kids, teacher education resources, Uncategorized on May 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm

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Georgia Parents are Searching for Clues and Answers

In Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB on May 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Hey folks – I have literally had hundreds of Georgia parents find this site through various internet searches in the past two weeks. This is definitely the time of year when parents are panicking, often being told (for the first time) that their child is going to be retained because their test scores were too low for them to be promoted. Most haven’t been contacted all year long about academic issues (but constant contact about fundraisers, behavior problems, and returning mountains of signed paperwork giving permission for their children to be in a “trial” run of Common Core assessments or included in photographs, or agreements to “Parent Engagement” contracts is frequent if not overkill).

Here’s a comment I sent to a parent who just reached out today.

Synopsis: her 2nd grade son has performed extremely well on AR (Accelerated Reader) which is something this school apparently values, he has received 90-100% on all of his “tests” he has taken all year (reading tests, spelling tests, etc.) and has done well in math. The 2nd grade CRCT scores came back and his scores don’t reflect 2nd grade level reading and slightly below average in math. Now they want to retain him – but the school has never contacted the mother about any concerns academically. Some calls about behavior (Of course “behavior” is “reported”!!!!! Education has become about social control – not education!) And guess what? This mother is pissed. And I am too! This is happening to hundreds if not thousands of kids right now – and it is absolutely absurd. We know the tests are about money – getting more millions of dollars into the pockets of publishing companies. The tests are not about teaching and assessing what kids know.

Here’s my quick reply to her:

Hi Lisa – You are correct, passing the 2nd grade CRCT is not mandatory for being promoted to the following grade. And actually, it’s not even “mandatory” for 3rd graders to pass the CRCT in order to be promoted. Teachers and parents can always design an alternative plan to retention.

You are correct again – it is inappropriate that you have been contacted about “behavioral” issues and yet you had no idea that retention was being considered until now. This is too late in the game and teachers/principals should be communicating with parents long before there is a possible retention being discussed. I suggest you remind your son’s teacher and administrator of their professional duties to communicate about academic progress and any potential academic concerns across the year. This is not an end-of-the-year conversation!

I also recommend that you take in this “data” you have about other tests your son has taken, ask for the teacher to provide “data” such as anecdotal records, etc. that documented his growth and development across the year in reading and math, and ask for documentation about the various ways the teacher has “differentiated” instruction to meet your son’s needs when any concern emerged.

I’m glad you found the site too. I’m pissed off right along with you as are hundreds, and maybe thousands of Georgia parents are this month as they are “informed” that their child is going to be retained. What is happening is unacceptable, unethical, and not in the best interest of our kids.

cheers,
stephanie

Listen up folks – “Valued-Added” model doesn’t work

In economics and economies, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, justice, NCLB on May 18, 2012 at 2:13 am

We have heard about the “value-added” model as a way to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. It’s strictly a mathematical formula that is designed to result in 50% of teachers demonstrating “value added” and 50% of teachers demonstrating “value subtracted” based on students’ test scores.

That, alone, is problematic.

But the way statistical models work is never as objective and certain as they are made out to be.

One of the best teachers – yes, really, one of the best – can actually land on the bottom of the “value-added” list.

Read this Washington Post essay by Aaron Pallas who describes in plain English how this is possible and how it actually happened to a teacher in New York City.

Then ask yourself some questions:

1 – Why do we keep trying to quantify education when a) the process of teaching/learning is simply not quantifiable, and b) the ways we try to quantify educational processes are completely invalid and are used in dangerous ways that impact people’s lives?

2 – Why do we act like these (seriously flawed) statistics matter and even allow newspapers to publish teachers in rank order based on them?

3 – Why would any smart person want to be part of a profession that is constantly being beaten down, scrutinized, punished, criticized, and blamed for all the ills of the world? My guesses include: 1) That person doesn’t read newspapers; 2) That person still wants to change the world for children, youth, and families and decides to put up the good fight against the machine.

4 – When will we begin calculating “value-added” statistics for Fortune 500 CEOs and CFOs, bankers, mortgage brokers, politicians, prison CEOs, and other people and groups of people who do more damage to our citizens and land than any teacher could ever do over many lifetimes?

The spotlight is pointed in the wrong direction folks – and the distraction is keeping us all focused on things that don’t matter much in the bigger picture. We live in a society focused almost entirely on social control: regimented schooling, strict reporting of “data”, mass incarceration, lower wages for folks on the bottom of the ladder and higher incomes than ever for those on the top.

Test scores? Really? We are going to continue to spend billions of dollars on designing, publishing, distributing, preparing for, taking, giving, scoring, analyzing, reporting, reporting on the reporting of test scores? And then act as if it’s not about funneling taxpayers’ money to some of the largest corporations in the country even as wage workers in schools are hit with lay-offs, furloughs, pay-cuts, and more and more fear through the use of invalid and downright false data about them? And then we’ll pretend those test scores are so important that we will ruin kids’ lives by retaining them, deflating their self-confidence and self-worth, hold the test score over their 8-year old and 13-year old heads, and fill families with constant conflict and heartbreak and frustration?

We are missing the point here, distracted by all these absurd details. This is about 1) money, and 2) fear, punishment, and social control.

The insanity just won’t quit.

Go Media Specialists!

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Here’s another great letter about the importance of school media centers!

Cut Funding to Media Centers, Cut Funding to Society?

In class-sensitive teaching, democracy, Education Policy, politics on May 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Another great essay from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective (teachinggeorgia@gmail.com)

Invest in Media Centers, Invest in Society:

The Work of a Media Center Paraprofessional

An Essay from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective

 

“If America can increase funding for libraries and librarians, I can only think that America has found one important way to rebuild itself.”

-Stephen Krashen

            Stephen Krashen, along with many educational scholars, insists that investing in our libraries and librarians is crucial to building a strong and just America. Research points to high quality school libraries and librarians as key to high achievement for students, especially those from families struggling economically. But when budgets are tight, libraries (or “media centers”), librarians, and Media Center Paraprofessionals can too frequently be perceived as unnecessary costs in schools.

The Clarke County, Georgia school district joins others across Georgia cutting funding for Media Center Paraprofessionals. But most people may not even know what a high-quality media center and media center specialist does for student achievement, much less what the job of a paraprofessional is in the media center.

So what does a Media Center Paraprofessional do?

A Media Center Paraprofessional does research-related activities. She assists students, teachers and parents in finding books, resources, and materials. She also pulls books supporting standards-based lessons for teachers, leads instructional centers during lessons, and assists in creating resource lists and developing the media center collection to meet the needs of students and teachers.

A Media Center Paraprofessional carries the heavy burden of maintaining the media center collection. He shelves hundreds of books each week; processes, labels, and shelves new materials; repairs damaged books and materials to keep them in use; inventories all books and materials; creates inviting displays of new materials; and discards unsalvageable materials, runs a variety of reports important to the maintenance of the media center, and tracks overdue notices.

A Media Center Paraprofessional is a supervisor. She supervises the library while the school library media specialist teaches, participates in mandatory meetings or repairs technology. And while the librarian/media specialist coaches students for exciting events such as the Battle of the Books or the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, the paraprofessional takes the lead to make sure the media center is open and available to students and teachers. She works one on one with students, assists with small group instruction when classrooms have lessons in the library (some librarians see thirty or more classes each week), and she supports students while the media specialist focuses on collection development, writes grants for more materials (thousands of dollars of grants were written by Clarke County Media Specialists last year) and plans inservice training for teachers.

As if the Media Center Paraprofessional has any spare time given her or his extensive responsibilities with students, teachers, and materials, she or he also provides critical technical support for teachers. And outside the Media Center, they help to supervise and support students all day during breakfast, lunch, car, bus, or hall duty and in computer labs.

Cutting Media Center Paraprofessionals from the Clarke County School District – or anywhere else in Georgia – is risky business. Beyond losing the most basic hands-on contact and support of children, youth, and teachers, this loss could result in limited implementation of initiatives for 21st Century Schools. These educators are central to a school’s ability to provide technical support and professional development for teachers.

Maybe folks don’t care about that fancy-sounding initiative, but they might recall that special feeling you get when you find those just-right books and wait patiently in line to check them out for the week, or that just-right software program or website for your project. The daily work of the Media Center Paraprofessional makes sure that the school library is still that extraordinary place where books, materials, technologies, and all kinds of fascinating resources are displayed to pique students’ interests and support teachers’ learning and teaching. And importantly, they provide encouragement, smiles, and comments on your latest great finds.

Public library usage is up across the State of Georgia, something our state can be proud of. Economic times are difficult and having access to information and resources is an important goal for any democratic society. Cutting funding for school libraries in this critical time of making sure all students have access to the materials, resources, and technological innovation they need to be the best they can be just doesn’t make sense. Surely there are places to cut the budget that wouldn’t impact so directly on the daily lives of children and teachers.

Let’s make sure children have access to the best public school libraries now and help them build library habits that will positively affect their achievements in school and their experiences in life.  And as young children and our youth are building strong habits, we adults can invest in our libraries inside and outside schools – one important way to re-build our communities and invest in a better society.

Getting Back to the Basics – Social Class and Poverty vs. Accountability

In anti-bias teaching, class-sensitive teaching, classism, economics and economies, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB, poverty, social class, Standing up for Kids on May 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

The State of Georgia is following the footsteps of other states (Florida being one of those) requiring potential applicants for welfare, foodstamps, etc. to pass a drug screening. If they test positive, they are denied benefits and recommended treatment – though not, of course, helped to pay for treatment. If they test negative, they may be allowed to receive meager state benefits to help feed and shelter themselves and their families.

Those struggling to make ends meet in our country are constantly subjected to much more scrutiny, and much more punitive situations than those who do not struggle economically. If this didn’t have lasting (negative) effects on people’s lives and dignities, I would call this a fascinating practice. It is fascinating – how those in a society with the least are also “given” the least and more heavily scrutinized…yes, fascinating.

And damaging.

And absolutely unethical and immoral and just plain wrong.

This is not only evident in “state benefits” such as food stamps, housing subsidies, etc., but this trend has been evident since the beginning of documenting educational practices. Working-class and poor kids are almost always perceived as coming in with “less” and then – shockingly – provided with “less” but under the conditions of greater scrutiny.

One example of this is the great piece from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective that has gone viral – there is no doubt that most of the kids “projected to fail” the state standardized test in Georgia will also coincidentally be from working-class or poor families. And will they fail? Well, everyone has projected them to do so, and if we know one thing in education it’s that the “self-fulfilling prophecy” is alive and well. Expect someone to be smart and you will see his or her smartness; expect someone to fail and you will see his or her failures.

Again – damaging, unethical, immoral, and just plain wrong.

Paul Thomas is a fabulous scholar and advocate for working-class and poor students and families – check out his latest post that can help us all point to “research” (in this era of accountability) about why we should be paying attention to social class and poverty rather than accountability measures such as “tests.”

When conversations spiral out of control – end of year Blitzes, testing bootcamps, expecting all “gifted” kids to score in the highest range of the test, etc. etc. – try to keep the conversation where it might make a difference:

How are our kids’ basic needs being met?

How is the state, county, school supporting families who are struggling to make ends meet?

What are we doing as educators to inspire creativity and deep connections with school for our most vulnerable students?

And who – based on our current practices – is always “privileged” and getting “more” out of school? And who is getting less?

Does the evidence point to an issue of classism in our school? County? State? Country?

What are we going to do to act in an anti-classist way?

Getting back to the basics can help us out of this daunting situation we find ourselves in and we can do that if we constantly work to change the conversation.

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