Monday, December 30, 2013

The personal MAP to success

Charter, choice, public and private schools are all in the same boat because they are all under the same artificial guidelines.  The only reason to change schools is to get away from those “other kids”.  It takes more than a name change to change education.

I confess that I support strong teacher and school accountability as well as a proficiency based system of education.  However I do not support the artificial system that has been developed in the United States as well as other countries throughout the centuries.  I support accountability that is fair and honest and is on a level playing field.  I support a proficiency system that does not strip the students of their culture, that does not push students away from school simply because they don´t learn as fast as our elitist desires demand.  A proficiency based system that does not depend on calling kids smart or stupid, weak or strong, fast or slow, just to justify a system of education developed hundreds of years ago.

The joy of learning is so important when we come to the conclusion that kids will memorize when we tell them only to be left with little knowledge. However, they will only learn when they are ready.  They still control their minds as much as we have tried to control them and will open them and close them based on THEIR PERCEPTION of the value of the incoming information. 

Remember, the joy of learning does not just mean play, it means the joy of discovery.  It means empowering kids to work together to research, analyze and draw conclusions.  And do this in a way that is real.  What better way to learn than to take the classroom away from drab walls and into the community.  How do you better learn about farming than visit a farmer and have students put their hands in the soil.  How better to learn about being a Doctor that visiting a clinic and listen while the doctor explains his job and watch the Doctor do his job.  In the process, all areas of academics can be built in assuring an increase in academic achievement.  Of course there must still be standards and progress toward them will be indicated.  But these standards must be guidelines for success, rather than deadlines for failure.  They can no longer be a single artificial test.

As we “even the playing field” for every student, another question becomes, which students have the abilities to do high level jobs?  In the past, those with good grades in some subject areas would learn advanced skills.  Grades being moot, it is time to allow students to tell educators what their interests are and how they want to achieve them.  No longer may we push kids into the streets before they blossom. Here’s how we get every child the chance to follow their dreams.  We introduce students to high level skills via the exploratory workshops.  These are two to three week workshops giving students an idea what goes into a profession of their interest.  Again all students are welcomed regardless of their skills and abilities.  It is important that we never again only seek students the school system decides is worthy.  We never know when genius will unfold, so we must allow it to happen.

So to determine success, each child has his or her own MAP, their guideline to their success.  This MAP takes the form of a proficiency (or learning goal) checklist developed by educators with support from parents and the student.  This checklist is personal as it gives direction to the curriculum and therefore to daily projects.  As they complete this check list, they know they are learning what is necessary for their future.  Each check has an assessment attached to it which may be geared to a group or in some cases an individual.

The student then continuously moves forward making grade levels moot.  If they “fail” a proficiency assessment, they don´t get failed into oblivion.  They learn from their failure, just as we do in life, and they challenge the proficiency when they are prepared. And if it takes a little longer to learn, we wait for them.  They might complete their education a week later, a month later or whenever they achieve real proficiency. 

If students move through the system faster, no longer are they held back just to look good getting straight A´s, those students haven´t been challenged.  They might even move to a nearby university class in the area in which they excel.  Under this plan, the genius in every child will come out when it is ready, and failure becomes a learning experience.  Similar to the university system, students will have time to progress on their pathway to success.  If they take longer to learn, they will be able to go to school longer at an alternative site.  If they drop out of school, they are welcomed to return at these alternative sites to follow their pathway to success.  Their MAP follows them wherever they go and they finish school, as in the university, at whatever age they are ready.

The question then may arise, where do students with special needs fit in?  This group, often forgotten or pushed to the side, will fit perfectly into the new system of education.  Remember, we now take kids from where they are following their MAP and serving the needs of all.  And what is a MAP? It is an IEP used to guide the special needs students on their pathway to success.  Now everyone has that MAP/IEP:  Now students with special needs are no longer branded on their foreheads for all to see.

No longer can we be held hostage to a boxed in world of education.  No longer can we justify an education design that stymies teacher and student creativity.  An educational design must be developed that allows teachers to teach and students to learn. Let´s get down to business and make learning real!  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Reading Clubs Work


Reading is personal and must begin with the student’s background knowledge and then expand to the stars and beyond.  Kids are not standardized therefore learning should not be standardized.  To develop reading skills, first students must be able to read much of what is put in front of them, and it must mean something to them.  And then we take kids step by step, one drip at a time until the light bulb goes off and reading is everyday business.  The materials used must be high interest for them as well as at their level.  As they develop confidence, reading levels move up and up. 

To assure quality learning, there must be quality assessment.  Information gathered must truly tell parents and students how much progress has been made throughout the year.  A good way to determine progress in reading, for example, is with a one on one, small pre and post-test.  These results then must be verified by the progress seen by the classroom teacher using a variety of assessments on a regular basis throughout the year.  Remember, that any test is only a snap shot in time.  It only “sees” the student one day a year while the teacher sees the student every day of the school year. Comparing this small test with a wide variety of information gathered by the teacher gives a clear and honest indicator of reading achievement.

Along with quality assessment for learning, there must be a plan that takes every child from where they are.  At Village School we developed reading clubs designed for every child to learn at their best rate.  Similar to the concept of stop everything and read, the entire school stops classes for 45 minutes on a regular basis.  Every adult in the building became a reading teacher to assure small class sizes for the lower readers and higher class sizes for those with the best skills.  No letter grades were given and there was no competition.  Students were assigned to the levels of their assessment and adjusted by teachers who saw differences in the clubs.  Here is how it happened in the Milwaukee Village School in 1996: 
This innovative public school in Milwaukee Wisconsin was in its second year when a student we will call Johnny, entered as a seventh grader.  He was placed in our reading clubs and given a one on one simple test to determine a jumping off point.  He scored on the pre primer level.  This was confirmed by his class room teacher and we moved forward.  Our reading clubs were designed to bring out the joy of reading.  We don’t brow beat kids, we didn’t tell them they were stupid with a letter grade and most of all, we didn’t have them compete in any way because we knew that the joy of learning would be knocked out of them.  Students were in groups reading high interest articles but with words they could read.  We had no interest in giving them a seventh grade text if they read at a third grade level.  We had no interest in shaming them into learning.

We were told that students would be embarrassed and would act out if they were in low skill groups.  But that didn’t happen.  During the reading club (classes) you could hear a pin drop in the school.  Why, because they could actually read the articles given.  Secondly, class sizes were determined by reading levels.  Low skill students had very small class sizes and as we got to those on level, the sizes increased somewhat.  Those beyond their level had even larger sizes.  You will simply never get low scoring children to read in a mob.  Class size is essential.  And finally, there was no competition.  Competition bleeds the soul out of those who lose.

Now did Johnny miraculously jump up seven grade levels and read into the twilight?  No, in fact for the first three months he wouldn’t even look at a book.  Until one day, due to the individual attention and patience of his teacher, the light bulb went off.  Hearing him in the hall constantly harassing his teacher as to when the next reading club would be was music to my ears.  And the end result was that he gained four grade levels during the remainder of the school year.  Remember, this is a young man who gained nothing in the previous six years.  In this school there were no artificial letter grades, no brow beating, no continuous reminding him that he was stupid if he didn’t progress toward proficiency fast enough, and most important, no competition forcing him to compare himself to other students and no longer is the truth hidden behind letter grades, we simply tell the students and parents what they have learned.

This is an individual example of how a simple test, blended with classroom assessments with appropriate reading skills and individual attention where needed help a child develop reading skills. And it didn’t cost a penny more! We must give children the power to learn, to use their brains to discover and analyze rather than memorize.  They must learn to find their way in life, as leaders down their pathway of success rather than followers like lemmings to the sea only to falter when they splash into the real world of work, community involvement and daily living. 

Greater gains will happen, not necessarily in the next year but maybe the following year and sometimes later.  If we stay with kids they will succeed.  Today the pattern is to push them out of school before they have a chance to blossom.  Pressure them into their own “suicide by street” and watch the cycle of poverty play out as the system continues as its purpose of maintaining the subclass.

The reality is that through the reading clubs described in this article, individual expectations are high and standards become guidelines for success rather than deadlines for failure.  This of course would lead to individualized schools which are necessary for success.  The main difference between this new system and the current one is that this one never gives up on kids.  An individualized school with no false letter grades, no artificial grade levels, and a failure system that is part of the learning process will serve all kids well. 

As schools are defined by their required outcomes, we must come to the realization that we cannot standardize kids and individualize them at the same time.  Isn’t it time to at the very least allow individualized schools?  Are we afraid that the last might very well become first when we allow real learning to drive a school?  This is pretty scary to those who want to maintain the subclass.  When it comes to achievement, a new direction must be taken,  A direction that takes students, from where they are, on their pathway to success to their dreams.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

The agenda of children, or how to piss off everyone all at once

Our current system of education is broken.  This shattered system of education was designed in the late eighteenth century by Thomas Jefferson who referred to its purpose as “raking a few geniuses from the rubbish!”  Does that sound like a system designed to serve all children?  Of course not because it was never designed to serve all children. And to this day it is not designed to serve all children. 

But how do we fix this problem?  Those supporting the public sector spew out all the problems with the current testing fiasco, and are correct on many of the issues.  However, their concern for the idiocy of the test fades when the scores show in their favor.  Recent publications exclude some scores and use others to show how public schools are doing better than charter.  The hypocrisy of that is outrageous.  The “test” is bad, no discussion!

“The system isn’t broken, the country is broken” they say in there loudest, campaign style voice.  Poverty is the problem and only if that were fixed, everything would go well.  This is not completely accurate. This is not to say that the effects of poverty don’t hurt many kids.  The insanity of it is the “either or” mentality that drives the rhetoric.  Yes, fix the inequities in this country, but understand the system, designed during slavery, is also broken.  Don’t mold the rhetoric to fit your agenda.  When you support the agenda of children, the whole truth will come out. 
As they march and protest the closing of public schools, they are simply preaching to the choir while leaving the perception that they are self serving in their endeavor. Awareness is, of course, necessary and the speeches do document what’s wrong with the current testing, but where is their plan for a better system? The system of education is broken but it has been broken for a long time.  Long before the testing fiasco, kids were ranked and sorted in the classroom, and drop outs were acceptable. Then there were jobs for those who didn’t finish school.  Now there aren’t!
And then we have those who call themselves reformers but seem to lack knowledge in, among other things, the human growth and development of the child.  As they appear to be stuck in this race to nowhere, they define proficiency as scoring within a range on an artificial test, at the exact same time the test is given.  It doesn’t take much for educators to recognize this is simply wrong. With more than 60 million kids in the school system with a range of skills and abilities from the severest of the cognitive disabled children across the board to those “book learned” students who are good test takers, what nut case would ever think everyone would ever be in the same place on a standardized test on the same day the test is given?  It is not human nature for all to be the same unless we want to develop robots or throw out all that are slower.
And then we have kids who have roadblocks put in the way of learning. They are most often the victims.  Clearly when we look at all students, it is easy to understand the reality that they blossom beautifully at different rates.  Adding to the normal range of skills we add real obstacles that slow learning.  According to Paul Tough, childhood stress literally slows the brain.  Together with malnutrition, chronic illness and a wide range of obstacles, some kids (we don’t know which ones) no matter how intelligent will be slow to achieve.  Of course we want to eliminate the issues caused by poverty, but that won’t happen soon.  Nor will kids all be the same soon. 
Has anyone ever told the “reformers” that whenever a child is first, it is mathematically impossible not to have someone last.  And the first go to the universities, and the last go into the streets where they become invisible.  We celebrate the winners and bleed the soul out of the losers.  And we have been doing that for years, except, of course in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average.
More important is the misconception that kids learn and demonstrate learning solely with paper and pencil in hand.  Learning is personal and begins with the student’s background knowledge and expands from there.  To discover knowledge, is not to regurgitate knowledge.  The limited scope of the artificial test uses a completely different mindset than does the real quest for knowledge.  And often there isn’t one simple clear cut answer to one simple question.
With two sides of the education argument entrenched in their artificial and irrational beliefs, it’s time for a third side, the agenda of children,

To quote historian James Anderson, “We are still trying to develop both the philosophy as well as a system of education which really does respect the intelligence and abilities of ordinary people.”  Stay tuned

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Accountability with Honor
( and yes, we use a small reading test)

Accountability is the main reason the testing fiasco began in the first place and continues today.  However, the reality is the current process leads to a false accountability.  Instead, I present true accountability.  The question is not how many students in your school are proficient on a test.  The question becomes how many students make dramatic gains toward demonstrated proficiency while under your watch and compared with how they have done in the past.  Is the current teacher really responsible for the success or failure of students past performance?  I think not! Yes the test is a convenient way to determine a score.  But other assessments can better give information to determine proficiency success.

When students are involved in debate contests, are there not ways to judge them?  When performers appear on THE VOICE, is there not a way to judge them?  When students are involved in a project that uses a variety of mathematical and scientific skills such as science fairs is there not a way to judge them?  When school bands have a competition, is there not a way to judge them?  As students present a variety of small projects throughout the year is there not a way to judge them?  When students give a speech, is there not a way to judge them?  Of all forms of assessment, the test is the least able to determine achievement

Schools labeled as failed are based on unconfirmed generalities primarily using a singular test that not only changes with frequency but leads to inconsistency based on the students ability to take a test. The solution to a successful school under the current system is, in part, determined by the schools ability to play the education game.  So let the games begin.

We are familiar with the well publicized scandals of recent years.  This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The game of subtly keeping low scoring kids out of school is tough one to catch.  A simple trick is having a lottery where only those kids with readily available support systems apply.  Those in crises or devastated by the economic caste system, or whose parents work 2 or 3 jobs would miss the boat.  And the school that wins can give a sigh of relief as they don’t have to serve those kids. 

A popular trend when “No Child Left Behind” became law was to force low scoring kids out of school just before the test.  Easy enough to do.  And there is the always popular suspending kids for the day of the test or even better yet, give them a “time out”.  That way the absence didn’t show on their record.  The battle for the best scoring kids has been going on for years and it continues.  Do charter, choice or private schools all take kids with special needs?  And that also goes for troubled and low scoring kids.  There are a multitude of games that I don’t even know about, but they are there.  They are there because education is a game about winning, not learning.

Regardless of the games, in order to understand and adapt the current system of education, we must understand natural differences in children.  When we have a range of skills and abilities from the severest of the cognative disabled children across the board to those book learned students who are good test takers, this wide range will never be at the same place at the same time on their academic pathway to success.  It is not human nature for all to be the same unless we want to develop robots or throw out all that are slower.
And then we have kids who have roadblocks put in the way of learning. They are most often the victims.  Clearly when we look at all students, it is easy to understand the reality that they blossom beautifully at different rates.  Adding to the normal range of skills we add real obstacles that slow learning.  According to Paul Tough, childhood stress literally slows the brain.  Together with malnutrition, chronic illness and a wide range of obstacles, some kids (we don’t know which ones) no matter how intelligent will be slow to achieve.  And then we add too low expectations that also slow the learning process and too high expectation that push kids out of school, the reality is that with one single standard the two problems mentioned will exist forever.  Expectations must be individual.  Remember raising the bar?  This is designed to keep kids out of school.  They think it is cheaper but don´t ever believe that sustaining a prison system is cheap.

Remember some of the obstacles that get in the way of learning?  Two that simply do not get in the way of learning is income or poverty by itself and race.  These two issues have nothing to do with the lack of intelligence and that should be made clear.  Of course many kids in poverty are also afflicted by the afore mentioned obstacles.  However, poverty families without those obstacles are fully able to function well.  Thus when someone says “my students are all poverty stricken children of color and they all go to college, the question must arise, which poor children of color are you serving?  We must abandon the racist belief that all poor black children are the same, blossom at the same time in the same way, are struggling and it is the school that saves them.  It lacks ethics for the school to take full credit for what the parents do.  Often said is “my students all come from single parent families and they are doing well”.  There are many great single parents and they should not be disrespected.

Schools have been labeled as failed schools and closed or lose money under the premise that their students are ill-served and would do better served in a more successful school that has better teachers and a stronger curriculum.  Instead, resources are cut, the curriculum is narrowed to avoid the strengths of many students and students that need us the most are gathered, by elimination into a few schools, hearded like cattle, just to be seen as stupid and their schools called failed, no matter the gains that they make or how intelligent they really are.  

The fundamental question becomes, do we really know which schools are successful and which teachers are successful?

Has the current process of test based assessment consistently closed schools that are seeing real progress with a high percentage of students?   This test “sees” a student for a couple of hours on a single day where the teachers see the student every day of the school year.  Which do you think better understands the child?

To ensure kids really learn on an even playing field and schools and teachers are held accountable we now explore how to transform the current shattered system of education into one that serves all children well.

Start with simple pre and post-tests given one on one for the variety of skills needed for reading.  Short and simple tests are valuable as we are simply looking for a snap shot in time.  A test serves no purpose if it doesn’t reach kids in the way they best respond and certainly if it doesn’t give information to the classroom teachers in a timely manner.  To assure an even playing field, the data gathered for school assessment purposes must be only from students who took the pre-test at the beginning of the year and the post-test at the end of the year.  Now, of course, subtract the pre-test scores from the post-test scores to determine yearly gains.  However, it is extremely important not to compare student scores with other students no matter how similar or dissimilar.  This isn’t a sporting event where all a child has to lose is a game.  This is education where what a child has to lose is the rest of his life.  Using the seventh grade as an example, first it must be determined whether or not accurate tests were given in the past.  If not, take the pretest information and divide by six to determine the average gains in those past years.  This will then give you an idea about the student’s progress. 
If, you have a record of individual tests confirmed by teachers, you can chart actual progress and also determine if the student had ever reached the levels that your school is now seeing.  For example, if your school observes a child gain one grade level that had never been seen before, don’t let anyone tell you that your school is a failure.

Here is an example of how the school assessment might read: 
75% of students gained one year or more in reading.
15% of students gained two years or more in reading.
Of the 75% who gained the full year in reading, 50% were lagging two or three years behind on the pre-test.
Of the 75% who gained a full year in reading, 20% were lagging four or more years behind on the pre-test.
17% of all students gained less than one year in reading.
Of the 17%, 100% were lagging more than four years on the pre-test with 80% being chronic truants.

Clearly understand that tests are only a snap shot in time.  Therefore the teachers must confirm the scores from their wide range of authentic classroom assessments.  If there is a contradiction, consultations must determine the actual skill level of the student.  This might include the use of a variety of assessment tools.  (Just a side note for those who are obsessed by the possibility of cheating, if the post-test scores were inflated, the next years teachers would raise holy hell when compared to the new pre-test.  And this test is not given by the classroom teacher.)

Some might have a concern that one full year gain doesn’t allow students to “catch up” to their peers.  Consider this, first kids blossom in different ways and at different rates. (Given, of course that they are human) Crediting author Susan Ohanian for recognizing kids learn like sap from a maple tree, one drip at a time.  Secondly, in the wealthier suburbs, where most students are on level, a “successful” school is expected to see increases of one year in reading, why would it be different in urban schools.  Of course we want students who are behind to gain more, that’s what students do when we trade winning for learning.  However, if schools bring a high percentage of students up by one level and in previous years those same students averaged .33 of a grade level gain, it is highly probable that the light went off and the student’s level would continue to grow.  Remember, to bring students up to level, they must learn faster than the better students.  This can be done, but one drip at a time.

The test is only a snap shot in time.  When the test is taken out of the realm of politics and a wide range of assessments are used to educate the student, then, and only then, will assessment have value.

The question of accountability is extremely important.  No one wants an educator in their school who is doing damage to kids.  And, yes, we can use a simple test score as an indicator.  However, by itself, the test does not show the value of a teacher or a school.  There are way too many variables such as previous teachers, environmental causes, physical health, mental health as well as natural differences in all human beings.  However, if you couple slow progress by many students in a particular class, with the test, there would be reason to be concerned. This concern would lead to a full assessment to determine if the teacher is using the correct methods as well as creating the right atmosphere for learning.  To get rid of teachers or close schools utilizing artificial means is just a power game with a political agenda.  Simply by switching the child’s school accomplishes nothing.  But to make changes based on an even playing field and valid facts is essential.

To take politics out of the teacher and school assessment we must also take politics out of teacher observations.  School administrators have their hands full managing a school and lack sufficient time to fully assess a teacher.  Consider using retired teachers to be assigned to these duties.  Rarely is it that a retired teacher would tolerate an unsatisfactory teacher in the classroom.  The costs would be significantly less than hiring more administrators and they would have more time in the classrooms.  In addition they would be more suited to understanding the needs of the teacher and available to help.  And they certainly would have no hesitation to recommend that administers “pull the plug” if the teacher was unsuccessful. 

Seek out information with quality assessment in the classroom, in everyday lessons not on one single day of high pressure tests.  And taking off the pressure allows room for the unquantifiable.  The path to demonstrated proficiencies will easily include those skills that can't be quantified.  Build these into every lesson!

A child is more than a test score.  Currently we push kids out of school for blossoming different than the norm.  In the process we lose so many brilliant students.  How do we know who will become the next Dr. Temple Grandon, or Dr. Ben Carson or the next Albert Einstein, all who experienced difficulty with the current school process?  How do we know when genius will unfold if we lose kids to the street before they blossom?

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Friday, December 6, 2013


Let's take a look at the big picture to see how our disasterous policies may be stumbling and bumbling into something interesting.  Of course NCLB was a disaster. But consider this, it is the first time in the history of the United States that we even glanced at serving all students. 

NCLB was an obvious failure so we move to RTTT.  Many disagree but look at the big picture. Since it requires all students to be the same, there are strong grounds to oppose this. However, it does move us to a proficiency style of education which is a positive thing.  Important to moving to the next step is that those who understand education must keep up the fight, for the kids.

And now Common Core is upon us.  Another concept that, as it is implemented  it survives under the false assumption that all kids are the same, progress at the same rate and learn best only with paper, pencil, or computer in hand. But look at the big picture.  Pete Seeger talked about the folk "process".  Education real reform is also a process. When Common Core is implemented several dominoes will fall.  First will be the realization that letter grades mean nothing and student advancement using the proficiencies will be the direction taken.  Dr Thornton, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools has already made this step. With proficiencies a student gets an A or will get an A.  No other options.  THIS IS A GOOD THING BUT NOT WITH A TEST! Not all kids learn the same artificial way.  How about assessment that is real.  We assess science fairs, orchestra performances, singers on "The Voice", debate and forensics meets and many more.  Get a grip guys, the test is the worst form of assessment and uses a completely different mind set to determine success. Although on line tests give students a chance to do manipulatives, this still falls short of reality. Assessments must blend into the daily lessons, confirmed by teachers on the ground who see kids every day of the school year, not just one day

However, failure is still at hand. What happens when they discover students are all over the board with their "scores".  How valid are grade levels and how damaging is our system of failure.   Soon they will discover that grade levels can not be the indicator of advancement through the system of education. THIS IS ANOTHER GOOD THING.  Of course we must keep students with their age peers, but through "centers", projects, learning in the community, differentiated learning, cross curriculum and many other strategies, good teachers know how to reach their students.  Real teachers do not teach to the test very well, they teach to the child.

So the bottom line is keep up the fight against standardized strategies that do damage to kids.  Keep up the fight against a competition system of education that bleeds the soul out of the losers.  Keep up the fight againts those who have no concept of human growth and development. Keep up the fight against a slavery based system of education referred to by Thomas Jefferson as "raking a few geniuses from the rubbish", designed to keep a people down.  This isn't only unethical and racist, it is immoral.

But keep an eye out for the time when, purely by accident, trial and error and more error, they stumble upon the way schools should be.  Be prepared with your own assessment that truly measures the needs of kids. Be prepared to provide their own MAP guiding them through their educational lives, not in lock step but as individuals.

Stay strong but observant.  Children are depending on you..