Tag Archives: public schools

Year 24: A new year in a turbulent time

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The blank slate, fresh start, new beginning of a school year.
But the white supremacist march in Charlottesville and the death of a counter protestor and two law enforcement officers eclipsed all my normal joy.
Seeing those angry people holding Nazi flags, Confederate flags and other symbols of hate while they shouted hateful words including Nazi slogans hurt my heart. Seeing so many of those faces and thinking they're not that much older than the children in my classroom hurt even more.
All day I've felt this darkness, this pain, this awful pollution of the soul.
And then as I sat down to write this, something shifted.
I'm a teacher. A public school teacher. The public school is everything that stands against hate. The public school is a place where playing fields are leveled, where cultural differences are embraced, where kids of all races and religions and genders work together constantly. It wasn't always so, but the world changed, thank God.
The angry hate we saw in Virginia this weekend was loud. It was awful. But those people lost a long time ago, and the public school helped make that happen.
So here I am, sad but hopeful, sure beyond doubt that my job, my mission, is more important than ever.

I Just Thought Fahrenheit 451 Was Sci-Fi

The following CHILLING conversation between teachers, k-12 and higher ed, took place on my Facebook page last week. I’ve included my original post so readers understand what started the narrative. Read it all. It won’t take long.

My original post: From TCEA 2012 Dr. Howie DiBlasi
The skills today’s business leaders say we need to be teaching

•Communications skills
Information and communications skills
Effective Communication
Presentation skills
Use digital technology and communication tools to
Oral and written communication
•Inventive/Critical Thinking
Thinking and problem-solving skills;
Creative problem solving
Critical and analytical thinking
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
“Thinking outside of the box” – creativity and innovation
Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Creativity and Innovation
•21st Century tools
Use 21st Century tools to develop learning skills
Teach and learn in a 21st century context
Use 21st Century Assessments that measure 21st Century Skills
Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
Digital Age Literacy
Technology Operations and Concepts
Ability to apply discipline knowledge and concepts
•Creating global citizens
“Knowing more about the world” – creating global citizens
“Developing good people skills” – teamwork
Learn academic content through real-world examples
Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
Productivity and Professional Practice
Collaboration skills and projects
•Information literacy
“Becoming smarter about new sources of information” – information literacy
Collect and/or retrieve information
Organize and manage information · Interpret and present information
Evaluate the quality, relevance, and usefulness of information
Generate accurate information through the use of existing resources
Information gathering, evaluation and synthesis
Research and Information Fluency
Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
Literacy and numeracy
•Personal attributes
Personal attributes such as ambition, self-awareness and an inquiring mind.
Time management and organization
Interpersonal and self-directional skills
Initiative and enterprise
High Productivity
Balanced lifestyle and capacity to manage stress levels
Emotional intelligence; interpersonal skills
Community involvement
Polly Wagner Birkhead A lot of things will have to change in the education world before this will happen!! But I pray the changes do come and soon!!
Thursday at 8:08pm
Mary Beth Lee Me too! Notice there’s one mention of assessment, and I don’t think it’s talking about TAKS or STAAR.
Thursday at 8:10pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead EXACTLY!!
Thursday at 8:19pm
Brittany Norman Even at the college level, we’re sacrificing communication classes. New curriculum regulations are cutting hours from the core, and the state has mandated that those cuts be made from composition and speech classes. Beginning in 2013, instead of 2 semesters of composition and 1 semester of speech, students will only be required to take one semester of composition and then choose between speech or comp for their second credit. That means that students who have trouble writing will probably opt for speech, and students who struggle with public speaking or are shy will choose to write, ensuring that they never have to face their weaknesses. (Also, without second semester comp, there’s no research component in the core ENglish curriculum… so how’s that for information literacy?) I don’t know how, but we have got to find a way to put people who understand education–who LIVE it every day and see what students need–in charge of crafting curricula and setting priorities. As long as a bunch of career politicians–whose primary concern is ensuring their own reelections–are in control, we’re never going to get back on course.
Thursday at 8:31pm
Mary Beth Lee That’s terrifying, Brittany. Who thought that was a good idea? It’s insane!
Thursday at 8:33pm
Brittany Norman According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (at least the last time I checked), the NUMBER ONE shortcoming of recent college grads–and this is according to some of the country’s major employers–is a lack of communication skills, both written and oral. So what does the Texas legislature do? Cuts down on the amount of written and oral communication training students have built into the core curriculum–and for students in some majors, that’s the only communication training that they get throughout their entire college careers (until/unless they fail the writing proficiency exam at MSU their senior year, in which case they have to take another composition skills course. The exam is given before students can start their “senior-level” hours. This year, the failure rate was absolutely staggering).
Thursday at 8:36pm
Mary Beth Lee The conspiracy theorist in me screams SEE, THEY WANT TO PRIVATIZE ALL EDUCATION. They’re destroying education on purpose. There’s an agenda. But then I shake my head and say, nope, they’re just idiots.
Thursday at 8:40pm
Peggy Browning I agree with the idiocy diagnosis.
Thursday at 8:44pm
Charlotte Wittel Dockery maybe they are idiots with an agenda
Thursday at 8:46pm
Peggy Browning That’s a possibility.
Thursday at 8:46pm
Brittany Norman I think the real problem is that things like communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity can’t be easily quantified, even though they’re very real. The education system in general (at least in the US) has a real problem with misplaced concreteness. If you can’t slap a (grossly inflated) grade on it, give it a percentile ranking, and compare it against “everyone else” (meaning, of course, only other schools in the state/country, because we don’t want to even consider how poorly we’re stacking up against the rest of the world right now) to somehow prove that everyone is “above average” even though that entire concept is ridiculous and impossible, no one wants to hear about it. And as long as the entire system is built around standardized test scores and students, parents, and educators are pressured into seeking “more-than-perfect” GPA’s just to make it into the top 10 percent and get into a state school…. nothing is going to change. You can’t assign a number to critical thinking or communication skills, which means… you can’t attach a corresponding dollar value to it.
And I know I’m rambling and going off on a major rant here, but the education system in the US hasn’t changed a whole lot (other than just becoming more and more grade and test-obsessed) since the 1950s, when a big goal of education, especially K-12, was to train students to become functional and successful cogs in the industrial machine. Our economy is no longer driven by factories. The US exports innovation–at least in theory–and the current system doesn’t provide any space in the curriculum to let students THINK. They learn how to take tests, but the real world isn’t a multiple choice exam–it’s open-ended.
Thursday at 8:53pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead I agree with Brittany! 100%. Well said!!
Thursday at 9:03pm
Brittany Norman This facebook discussion led me back to a paper I wrote in a sci-fi lit class back in undergrad because one paragraph of it fits in perfectly here. I remember re-reading Fahrenheit 451 in that class–I had read it at least a half dozen times already, but had never really focused in on the bleak future Bradbury had been forecasting for education. And… I’m afraid he was right. There are far too many situations these days where our classrooms eerily echo those in Bradbury’s dystopia. The first quote in the following paragraph is one that comes to mind far too often these days.

“Even education is prepackaged and directed toward a quantifiable goal – passing standardized tests. Multiple-choice examinations require no thought or analysis – only memorization. Clarisse’s description of education eerily echoes today’s uninspired classroom environments. “We never ask questions, or at least most don’t,” she laments. “They just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing…. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not” (Bradbury 30). Class, homework, and sports combine with extra-curricular activities, community service, part-time jobs, and SAT-prep courses. High school graduates walk the stage at commencement with a mind full of facts and simplified answers they were never taught to question. No one learns to think because thought cannot be tested, measured, and ranked. Instead, education focuses on tangible skills. College students no longer crave knowledge; they build résumés. Bradbury’s antagonistic fire chief echoed the sentiments of many degree candidates: “Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?” (Bradbury 56). Enrollment in pre-professional programs skyrockets while the arts and humanities flounder. Graduates yearn for assured employment, functional cogs in the corporate consumer machine. Interchangeable parts require only efficiency, not imagination. When that machine inevitably succumbs to obsolescence, there might be no one left to re-invent it.”
Thursday at 9:44pm

Building on the Values of No Child Left Behind

Since NCLB took hold we’ve seen entire generations of children taught to bubble in answers like pros while losing the ability to problem solve and think critically. Our schools are earning “Exemplary” ratings, and yet, the only subjects students learn are those measured by a test. Testing companies and their lobbyists are earning billions while school districts try to balance budgets. Teachers and administrators across the nation are calling for change, but politicians and lobbyists–most of whom have never set foot in a public school–continue to beat the drum of test, test, test. The test in and of itself is not the problem. Having a tool to measure data is a good thing. The problem is politicians bought into testing company lies that the test was the salvation of education. And then they tied everything we do in education to that lie. Instead of investing in great teacher training and effective strategies for everything from classroom management to best learning practices, we invest in hour upon hour of “How to actively monitor a test” and “keeping the test secure.” (more)
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

(continued) The test has done nothing to improve teaching other than helping teachers learn to analyze data. While that’s not a bad thing, when it comes at the expense of actual student learning, it’s terrible.
Has their been some success in closing the achievement gap? Yes. Would that success happen without NCLB and its test driven theory that has created big business for Pearson, et al? Yes. We were already working on best practices before NCLB. True best practices, not best test taking practices. Reading this post, I have to wonder if the author has even looked at the exit-level tests we’re giving children today. If not, he should. And then he should take a released practice test, publish his results and then talk about how the test translates into real world learning and how NCLB saved education. Talk to professors and they’ll tell you the truth: today’s students aren’t prepared for post-secondary learning, but they are expert standardized test takers. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see standardized test taker as a great career path for any student, regardless of socioeconomic class.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

The End

The end of the year is always so busy. It’s a time for reflection. I have a lot of that to do. It’s easily been the toughest year of my teaching career. I’ve had some of the best kids ever, thank GOD! I’m not sure what happened to make things so incredibly difficult. I think I spread myself too thin. I have this amazing kid on staff who does too much, and I’m always telling her she has to make choices. For the last year I’ve wondered why she has so much trouble making those choices and now here I am once again at the end of the year questioning whether I can do everything, knowing something has to change.
The big stress came when I took on the video class at the same time my staffs started dropping in size.
Last year I tried recruiting more students instead of only using kids who came to me on their own or through my J1 class.
Kids think yearbook and newspaper are going to be all about fun. They don’t realize what all goes into that one spread.
And this year I didn’t handle their shock so well.
Same thing for the kids who didn’t do. After a semester of trying, I made them get their schedules changed.
I’m ready for this year to end.
I’m excited about what I already see happening for next year. We’ve set camp dates, we know San Antonio conference. Over half the yearbook staff is made of seniors.
These days I keep hearing politicians talk about how lazy teachers are, about how we’re part-time employees and how we have summers off, so our jobs aren’t that hard.
As I look forward to this summer in a way I never have, I wish more than anything a few of those politicians could spend a year with me. It might be interesting to see how they feel in May.

The Problem With Testing….

Most teachers are amazing at their jobs. Simple fact. I know it’s hard to believe in the face of all the “bad teachers are ruining our country” politicking out there, but it’s true.
The thing is most teachers are teaching to a test right now. Not because we want to but because we’ve been told we have no choice.
I’m not against a test. I think it’s a good idea to have a checks and balances at the end of the year to see how kids are doing. I think it’s a good idea to have a set of standards your supposed to cover. The problem is politicians have embraced the idea that the test holds all the answers.
The test was supposed to “fix” public education. Unfortunately, that’s like going to the doctor because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and having the doctor pull out the stethoscope and saying “all better now.”
The test is a diagnostic at best.
It’s not a cure.
REAL education reform is hard. It’s messy. And it takes a lot of time and planning and hours of teacher input.
Real education reform isn’t a test.
Real education reform is measured in multiple ways.
Real education reform needs to be developed and implemented by teachers and championed by politicians.
But for now, education reform is eduspeak for a new, more expensive set of tests that will continue us down the path to mediocrity.

Save Texas Public Schools Rally!

To show support for Texas public schools, teachers and WFISD, a non-partisan Pro-Public Education Rally will be held THURSDAY, April 14 from 8-9 in the Memorial Stadium parking lot. Please bring a flashlight or cell phone with light.
If you would like to speak at the event contact Mary Beth Lee: marybeth@marybethlee.com
Who’s invited? Everyone who believes in a quality Texas Public School System, public school faculty and staff members, parents and students.
Feel free to bring signs showing support for public education.
For more information, feel free to contact me marybeth@marybethlee.com

Vote Set for Tomorrow

I’ve written my letters. Tomorrow the House vote on public education funding. It’s not the end of the battle, but it’s going to give district’s a little more direction. So far it’s looking ugly. Today I judged a prompt about a new kind of secondary school. Only core academics, no electives, no sports. It’s the wave of the future if something doesn’t change.
Until the state govt. realizes they made changes in 2006 and haven’t funded us fully since, until they solve the problem they created then, things will only get worse.