Monday, October 24, 2016

Things I Actually Said

For anyone considering going into school administration, I have here a glimpse of what that might look like. Yes, these are things I actually said as a high school principal -- some of them thankfully only once and others over and over and over.

  • Let go of that woman!
  • Everyone to the gym.  We have a chemical spill.
  • Have you already talked with the teacher?
  • Sure, I came to the Xmas Bazaar just so I could help you find the paper towels and the megaphone.
  • Go to the office and sit down and wait for me.
  • The ticking sound is coming from this locker.
  • Put that away before the bell rings.
  • Let's move!  The tardy bell rang yesterday, it rang the day before that and I think it's going to ring today too.  Hurry!
  • Why are there 600 people in that dark building and only 10 outside on a gorgeous day like this?
  • Could I get you to pull your pants up please?
  • How did you get a zip tie on your thumb?  Oh my god, it's turning black.  Just relax!
  • Root beer flavored milk?  Is this for real?
  • A good day is one when we're not standing across the street staring at the school.
  • Do you have your college logo today?
  • If you film his backside in that open gown, I swear I'll break your camera.
  • We'll start the meeting with a pop quiz.
  • Are you available Saturday to wear the duck costume?
  • Every one of us has a worst-thing-we've-ever-done. No, I won't tell you mine.
  • How else might you have handled that?
  • No, you may not wear the coconut bra to class.
  • During a financial aid workshop:  None of you can divide 5000 by 10?
  • I appreciate that you're the family's attorney but I run the meeting.
  • Don't escort him out in handcuffs until students are back in class.
  • Please zip your sweatshirt up over your exposed breasts.
  • As a teacher:  What are your hands doing in your lap?
  • Every one of you should plan to go to college.  And every one of you can.
  • Whose class are you out of?  Where's your pass?
  • Language!
  • Before you open your mouth, remember that some time in the future you may really need me to believe you.  Now's a good time to start building that trust.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Time to Dump the Accountability Regimen

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I've written about the problems with the school accountability movement before. Now that we have the latest national testing results (NAEP*), there is even more reason to dump much of what we have done in education since the implementation of the federal NCLB** in 2002. And the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an insufficient reform.

The goal in 2002 was to ensure that every American student achieved at a minimum level in math and reading. Testing was the yardstick but also became the tool, as more and more classrooms converted from dynamic project-based explorations or inquiry formats to drill and practice for the tests. Both the shame, as the test scores for schools became public and led to school ratings, and the negative consequences for schools that fell short, amped up the emphasis on teaching to the tests, creating huge divides between poor schools (that worried about their scores) and rich schools (that didn't have to).

If this accountability revolution was an effective thing, at the very least you would expect leaps in test scores -- regardless of whether that meant more learning or not -- in the 13 years since.

But let's look at the results.

1. Test scores have made no significant changes since 2003.
4th Grade Math scores climbed 22 points from 1990 to 2003 but only 5 points from 2003 to 2015
4th Grade Reading scores -- the one place with positive results, increasing just 1 point from 1990 to 2003 but 5 points from 2003 to 2015
8th Grade Math scores climbed 15 points from 1990 to 2003 but only 4 points from 2003 to 2015
8th Grade Reading scores climbed 3 points from 1990 to 2003 and only 2 points from 2003 to 2015
12th Grade Math scores (began testing in 2005) increased only 2 points from 2005-2015
12th Grade Reading scores actually fell from 1992 to 2015 by 5 points

A line graph shows that the national average reading score in 2015 for grade 12 students was lower compared to the score in 1992, the initial reading assessment year, but was not significantly different compared to 2013.
12th Grade Reading

2. Neighborhood schools in poor neighborhoods -- per the punishments written into NCLB -- have closed at an alarming rate. The negative consequences are discussed in this Teaching Tolerance article.

3. The comprehensive high school has disappeared in many high poverty communities, with the arts, business and vocational education programs displaced by more and more math and reading remediation.

So what should we do when our well-intentioned accountability efforts are not accomplishing their goals after more than a decade and are hurting other positive educational efforts? I'm not sure there's any argument really.

*National Assessment of Educational Progress
**No Child Left Behind

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

But Do They Understand the Disciplines?

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For most of my career, educators focused on the content and skills to be imparted to students. It was what they needed to know and what they needed to know how to do. Some of us had content-rich courses. Others focused more on skills. Either way, we missed something crucial.

Today's world presents challenges to citizens ranging from climate change to income inequality to genetic manipulation to new epidemics like Zika. Perhaps you would assign the first two to your social studies teachers and the second two to the science department. Not me.

Let's hearken back to the days of thematic instruction. You may recall that there was a push in the 1970s and again in the 1990s for school-wide themes that each subject area could teach from its unique perspective.  An entire school might be studying China -- China's history, language, art, ancient scientific breakthroughs. Then the focus was on what we were learning about the brain and on inquiry processes. All that is good but there's a more fundamental reason to think thematically.

Most of us see content areas -- math, English, science, social studies, business, the arts -- as independent silos. We need to see them less as categories of knowledge and skills and more as unique ways of understanding and solving problems.

Consider the example of Income Inequality. Each discipline can bring something unique and important to our discussion of this issue.

Mathematics: What are the trend lines? Is it a line (regular progression), a curve (exponential growth) or a cycle (regular intervals of increase and decline)? What can we project into the future? What other factors precipitate or interfere with rates of income inequality?

History: When in history have we seen growing inequality? What factors contributed to eventual equalization? In China, Mao allowed rapid growth, then cracked down to flatten disparities, often brutally. Did the industrial revolution increase or decrease inequality? How about free trade? Does warfare play a role? What do historical sources tell us about perceptions of wealth and poverty?

Business: What are the costs and benefits of growing inequality? What happens when large blocks of consumers are shut out of markets? What opportunities and pitfalls do inequality and equality offer?

Sociology: What motivates people to either accommodate or attack inequality? What social forces level the field or encourage individual competition? Is individual wealth a positive good?
Writing and the Arts: How can we communicate in literature, clay, music or dance the impacts of inequality? Are there analogies to nature we can use? Think Animal Farm, The Jungle, or Dorothea Lange's Dust Bowl photographs. Think of songs like Living for the City or Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?

Too many of our students graduate with a bag of knowledge and skills but without the realization that every discipline is a unique way of interpreting the world and solving problems. Artists and mathematicians may use different tool bags, but both help us understand our challenges in important ways.

This is different than thematic instruction or ITI. We're not just looking for the content connections, but digging deeper to use the mindsets and the tools of each discipline to understand issues.

Imagine a school where students understand that every discipline contributes to solving important contemporary challenges. Imagine a country where citizens understand the same.