Thursday, August 24, 2017

Open House

Open House, when parents come to school to meet their children's teachers. A year ago, a BAT (Badass Teacher) created this meme to suggest questions for parents to ask teachers. I will answer them.

1.  Which Standardized Tests will be given this year?

Answer: Your child will take the state-mandated End of Course sometime in late April or May. In addition, the District requires two more tests: a 'baseline,' which they take now to see if they know what I haven't taught them yet, the results will be used to judge how good a teacher I am. In December, they will take a 'scrimmage,' so the District can figure out if they will score highly on the state test. If the District is not satisfied with the December results, they will add additional tests to 'monitor progress'. Also, the District does not mandate, but strongly leans on teachers to give unit tests developed by their specialists. These tests do not measure your child's learning; they are used to predict test scores. I refuse to give them.

2. How much class time will be used for these tests?

Answer: Too much, but let me be more specific. The Baseline test and the December test were reduced to one day this year versus two in the past. Add those two days to the two days the State requires and you get a false picture that we will only waste 4 out of 90 (block schedule) instructional days. That is ignoring the necessary review and test prep we will be forced to do--because the District believes we need to teach your child test-taking skills rather than keeping them learning mathematics. 10% of class time would not be far off as a rough estimate.

3. Will these tests be given online or be paper & pencil?

Answer: Online, although research has discovered that online tests result in poorer results than paper & pencil when all other factors are accounted for. So, yeah, the State & District are focused on their needs, not your child's needs. They have never heard a child scream in frustration, "I must be stupid," because the format is too difficult.

4. What is the technology in this building?

Answer: We don't have enough computers. That's why we give the tests over four to six weeks. By the way, when we get a hard downpour, the internet goes out. I would hate for that to happen on the state exam because your child is not allowed to finish the next day. Let's not get started on the bandwidth, when it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get a room of 25 onto the internet and begin the test.

5. When will parents be given the results?

Answer: For a district test, never. For the state test, you do get a report, but it is not detailed enough for you to know what your child did and did not learn. As a teacher, I have no idea. So your child scored answered 3 out of 10 questions correct in Geometric Modeling. Which three questions? Modeling covers measurement formulas for surface area and volume, population density, estimation, and more. I don't have more of a clue than you do. I'm not allowed to review the test or see question by question the scoring results. You will get nothing useful out of it, but then, neither will teachers. If you are now questioning why these tests should be given at all, I have some great groups of people you should join: opt-out networks, parent groups, and there's also this group 56,000 strong known as BATs.

6. What is done with the data from the tests?

Answer: Districts store it on third-party servers that offer data analysis services. In my district, it is Performance Matters. The state keeps the data, the test company keeps the data, the Federal Department of Education requires some reporting ... oh let me put it this way. Have you ever blown a dandelion seedhead into the wind?

7. How will my child's data be protected?

Answer: So my dandelion metaphor didn't explain it. Okay, let me be blunt. It won't.

8. What is the procedure for parents to opt out their children and refuse the standardized test?

Answer: Parents who followed accepted opt-out procedures in Florida last year for 3rd grade reading in punitive districts found that their children were denied promotion to 4th grade. It was pure caprice on the part of the district officials for their schools. The parents sued. They lost. Google '3rd Grade Parents vs. FLDOE.' The real answer is you can't without running the risk of damaging your child's future and happiness as sucky as the actual test experience is. No, the REAL answer is regime change in your state capital. Vote out the incumbents who are destroying public education because they profit from it. Here in Florida, we have a Speaker of the House whose wife started and runs a charter school group, representatives serving on education committees whose family members own and operate charters ... do you get it? Do they get away with their corruption because they are so blatant about it? We will only solve this at the ballot box.

Friday, August 4, 2017

From Russia With Chaos

Yesterday news broke that Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's entanglement with Russian operatives, had convened a grand jury, which enables him to subpoena documents and compel testimony under oath.

So what's up with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign that has so discombobulated the president?

1. The first issue is the meetings that took place between Trump associates and persons affiliated in some manner with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The character of these meetings and the topics of discussion range from mere contact with a presidential campaign through discussion of issues of interest (adoption, the Magnitsky act--more on that below) to a possible collusion in order to obtain damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent. Collusion becomes an issue because if the Russian operatives are handing over damaging material that is unknown to others, two questions emerge: What did they want in return and was the Trump campaign willing to give it? If the meetings were harmless and innocent, why did the campaign, notably Trump's son and son-in-law, pretend the meetings did not happen, fail to mention them in required disclosure forms, offer different versions of the meetings until at last the truth emerged?

Yet these meetings, as unsavory as it may be for a presidential campaign to consort with a foreign power in order to win an election--to use a hostile regime to put down a domestic foe--these meetings do not constitute an ongoing problem for the president. His base of support is not swayed by the disclosures and it would seem that no obvious legal infraction has taken place.

2. A second issue is the alleged file of possible sexual escapades during visits to Russia. It is not known if such a file, including video, exists. This is another non-issue as it doesn't seem to matter to Trump's supporters. His adulterous lifestyle, including a lack of restraint over his hands that is ingrained into every child--keep them to yourself!--his infamous remark that represented the 2016 election's 'October Surprise,' and his overall misogyny have done nothing to undermine the support he receives from his base, including the Moral Majority, better known as evangelical, conservative Christians. It is a mystery as to why they excuse Trump's behavior, but they do, and these allegations that come with a murky undertone of possible blackmail have been generally dismissed by the populace.

3. A third issue could be the sanctions, which Trump despises, and his desire to ease or end them in order to have better relations with Putin's government. Putin's behavior in the world, the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, his threats to his neighbors, and more may compel Trump's admiration, but these are political and diplomatic issues, not legal ones.

From here we now depart what is known or can be deduced from reports and enter into the world of sheer speculation. This is only a possibility. Mueller's investigation will uncover the truth.

SPECULATION: One thing really got Trump's goat in the ongoing inquiries and that was when Mueller expanded his investigation to cover Trump's financial dealings with Russian investors. That was when Trump issued a public warning to Mueller that he had better not cross a line, whatever that line marks off.

To acquire and develop his properties, Trump has utilized Russian investors. What if these same investors are the oligarchs targeted by the Magnitsky Act?

For those who don't know, the Magnitsky Act was passed in late 2012 to identify and sanction persons who were known to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating corruption. The passage of the act enraged Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by ending adoption of sick Russian orphans by U.S. citizens.

What if Russian investments in Trump properties are tied up in the sanctions and that is at the heart of Trump's desire to ease sanctions? Or worse, what if these investments, maybe not directly by the named individuals but by associates, front men or shadow companies, are circumventing the law and allowing the oligarchs to avoid the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act? What if Trump is allowing his properties to be used to launder these assets such that the oligarchs can get them out of the country?

Only speculation, an attempt to look at all the possibilities for why the Russian investigation is driving Trump bonkers. I don't know that any of this is true, nor do I think it probable, but it would explain a lot.

That is why the Mueller investigation must be allowed to run its course. In the end, if Trump has nothing to hide, he will be exonerated.

Whatever the outcome, I believe the Magnitsky Act will be playing a significant role.

In ending, Trump dismisses the investigation and all allegations as fake news, but he has tried to shut down the investigation in many ways. Congress doesn't agree on much, but it has a bipartisan solidarity in standing up to Russia meddling in U.S. affairs, an approach Trump does not share.

He has the Clinton problem. Remember the Whitewater Affair? For two people who maintained their innocence, Bill and Hillary acted like they were guilty. Same with Trump. If he and his people are innocent, what does he fear from Mueller's investigation?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lost At School (Plan B)

As I work to lessen my pile of professional reading, last week I picked up Ross W. Greene's book, Lost At School. What made it interesting, nay fascinating, was how Greene set aside the usual reasons for why many children struggle in school (valid reasons but beyond the control of school personnel) to focus on what adults could do to meet the needs of children and thereby reduce discipline and learning problems.

He calls it Plan B, so yes, if you must, make a birth control joke and let's get on with it.

The thesis: Most, if not almost all, misbehavior in school is the result of students not having the skills needed to communicate their concerns and needs to adults. Our job is to detect the skills deficit and identify the predictable problems that occur. Once we do, we can develop strategies with the child to avoid future misbehaviors.

For example, a child may have difficulty in handling transitions from one activity to the next. Therefore, it is predictable that the child will act up during the transition from recess back to the classroom, which teachers experience when they bring the class in.

"Challenging behavior most likely occurs when the demands placed upon a child exceed his/her capacity to respond adaptively ... Some kids have the skills to 'hold it together' when pushed to their limits and some don't."

"'Bad attitudes' tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and overpunished by adults who didn't recognize that a kid was lacking crucial thinking skills."

In other words, figure out what skills a student is lacking to have an understanding of what gets in his way of behaving and learning. Most kids want to do what's expected, they know what's expected, but some cannot do what's expected because they lack the necessary skills.

"When you treat challenging kids as if they have a developmental delay and apply the same compassion and approach you would use with any other learning disability, they do a lot better."

I'm summarizing a whole book. I'm hoping you will be enticed to get a copy and read it for yourself.

On to Plan B.

Plan A is the familiar adult-imposed 'this is the way it's going to be.' Plan A ignores the child's concerns and feelings, shuts them down if the child tries to express them, and sets out consequences. If you throw chalk, you will go to in-school suspension for three days. Plan A is the 'Because I said so' approach.

Plan C is to ignore the situation. Greene makes clear that many kids have so many challenges that Plan C has to be used in some instances--temporarily--to focus on one or two problems at a time. Plan C is not a permanent, but a strategic prioritizing of what to work on.

Plan B is proactive (normally). In Plan B, the adult meets with the child to discuss a problem, a specific, unsolved problem, that is causing the child difficulty.

The meeting must be voluntary, that is, the child is given an invitation that may be refused. Many times, they do refuse the initial invitation for various reasons, including I'm in trouble, I don't care (but why doesn't the child care?), and It won't make any difference.

But once the child agrees to meet, the first step is for the adult to present an observation and to ask the child about it. "I notice you have trouble playing with Jamie during recess. What's up with that?" It is crucial not to be judgmental in this phase. The adult's concern may be bullying, but notice that the adult does not accuse the child of being a bully. The adult merely makes an observation about a problem in two children getting along.

It is important to continue in the first step until the adult believes that the child's concern is fully understood. "Ah, you make sarcastic comments about Jamie because if you do not, you think others will make bad comments about you. If you let Jamie decide a rule about your play, then you believe other children will think they can tell you what you must do."

Only when the adult has a full understanding of the child's concern does the adult place his/her concern on the table. "While you may want others to leave you alone, my concern is that you need to learn how to get along with others in your play. This will be an important skill when you are an adult and have to work with others."

The final step in Plan B is to come up with a plan that is mutually satisfactory and realistic.

This is not a magic solution, a try it once and all is well philosophy. It takes time and persistence. There will be problems and missteps along the way. But a philosophy of discipline that incorporates this approach can turn around children's lives, one by one, then a classroom, then a school.

I am going to commit to Plan B in the new school year about to start.

BTW, isn't this a major complaint of Duval teachers in regards to the recently-departed superintendent? His approach was Plan A, every day, all the way, in regards to teachers. He had no patience to listen to teachers' concerns and then to work with them to find mutually satisfactory solutions.

If we don't like being on the receiving end of Plan A, why would we put children there? No one likes a 'my way or the highway approach.'