Author: Sammie Bell

To Save TOPS From Financial Bankruptcy, LA Republicans Declare Moral Bankruptcy — CenLamar

“Don’t tell me what you value,” Vice President Joe Biden often says. “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” It’s Biden’s riff on the adage that “budgets are moral documents,” which is often attributed to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yesterday, Louisiana House Republicans, led by State Rep. Cameron Henry, made […]

via To Save TOPS From Financial Bankruptcy, LA Republicans Declare Moral Bankruptcy — CenLamar

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I’m Free

Last Friday I resigned from my teaching position. I have another non-teaching job lined up with my union, and I cannot express to you the sense of freedom I feel. Free from countless hours of obligated work outside of work. Free from the feeling of herding cats on a day to day basis. Free from the inevitable feeling of never feeling good enough at my job.

Both assistant principals of instruction at my school came by to speak with me upon hearing news of my resignation. You see, I was deemed one of the best teachers at my school by my supervisors and peers. In fact, I am currently teacher of the year. And I am stepping down. With a smile on my face and optimistic about the future.

I was asked why I was leaving by one assistant principal, and I told her the truth. “Honestly, I’m just not motivated by test scores. Everybody’s on the data crack,” I said. Then I turned away and added, “I’m motivated my my content. I like teaching, but nowadays it’s all about data. I feel like I’m obsolete.” She seemed to understand.

In all honesty I do feel obsolete. I can create magic in the classroom and get my students interested in reading and writing. At the end of the day I want my students to love my subject as much as I do. I like to imagine that I am auditioning my subject to be the love of their lives.

Increasingly more and more I am prompted to teach them how to actually pass the test. Reading, writing, discussing, and generating our own questions about the text isn’t enough. We have to figure out what the testmakers believe is the best answer. It’s just not fun anymore. It’s not creative. And I no longer feel inspired.

So I eagerly accepted a job with the teacher’s union. Before, I was called to be a teacher. Now, I heeding the call to protect the integrity of the profession. Too many teachers are miserable at their jobs, and it’s not because they don’t love teaching, but because being a teacher now carries with it so many unfulfilled desires.

Hopefully, I can help make things better for my colleagues. Wish me luck folks. You’ll be hearing a lot more from me soon!

 

  

Standardized Testing: The Jury is Out

A few benefits of standardized testing is that it gives teachers a framework for instruction throughout the year. Some would say that the grade level state standards are intended to provide this needed framework for instruction, but on the other hand how would we determine if students are actually learning the standards and if teachers are teaching them?

Every job that is done well should have some level of accountability attached to it. However the best type of accountability is one that is self-imposed, and one fatal mistake that our national educational system makes over and over is the assumption that teachers in general are playing the system. Unfortunately we don’t give most teachers enough credit for their pursuit of professionalism; this a problem because those teachers who are driven by work ethic and pure passion are over burdened with all of the precautions put in place to catch wrongdoers.

I’ll admit, there are bad apples in every batch–even in education–and that is what yearly standardized testing is supposed to catch, in a perfect world anyway.

One huge factor that thwarts the perfect solution of using standardized tests to measure student and teacher performance is the test itself. In our country alone, we have different regions with different dialects, and families with different experiences and outlooks on the world. Population pockets and communities in the southern regions will have different values than those in the mid-western and the New England regions. Because of this there will be a difference in teachable moments and perceptions. It is unrealistic to expect a child in a southern Mississippi town to have the same understanding of the same concept as a child who lives in New York City. Nor can we realistically expect their teachers to teach the same way. These factors are in no way the teacher’s or the child’s fault, in fact, there is no fault to be had. We may be the United States, but the only things that truly unite us is national pride and a centralized government. But we are not identical in our perception of the world or what we value most in our personal lives.

So, I said all of that to make this point: each state should have their own set of basic standards, and the standardized test given to the students in that state should be made by educators in that state. I understand the intentions of the common core state standards, and I agree that it is important to teach students to think about the big picture. However, big picture concepts cannot be taught in a multiple choice test in which students must read a lengthy, complicated passage and guess which answer is most right in a list of possibly right answers. If our goal is to determine if our students are knowledgeable enough in the grade level skills to begin the next grade level, why does the test have to be so complicated and frustrating, especially when students know that they don’t necessarily have to pass the test to pass that grade?

I recently spoke to a student who habitually does not make an effort to do ANY work in my class and currently has a failing grade. I informed him that if he does not change his daily behavior, then I will see him in seventh grade again next year. He replied, “No you won’t. They told me the same thing last year, and I passed anyway.” This student consistently scores very low on progress monitoring tests, and he doesn’t even try to do anything academic in class. He is not academically or mentally prepared to progress to the next grade level, yet somehow he skates through the system and there is no objective eye to hold him accountable.

If we are going to use standardized tests in schools, they should be used as a venue to hold students accountable, not just teachers. I guarantee you that there are teachers all across America who are diligently leading students to the water who refuse to drink.

As a middle school teacher in a Title 1 school, where many of my students are deficient in basic grammar skills, such as identifying different parts of speech and their role in developing sentences, even the basic structure of a sentence, the common core state standards and the “new” method of teaching is not a fan of teaching anything in isolation. As a result, none of these skills are tested in isolation either. After administering the PARCC test last year and teaching common core standards, I realize that the standards and the test do not address reinforcing basic skills.

I do have a problem with the heavy reliance on testing in our current educational system, but I also am troubled by the amount of students who are passed to the next grade without being adequately prepared. I believe that if we are going to use tests in the schools, they should be used in a meaningful way. They should be used to determine the acquisition of basic skills for promotion, not as a platform for mental gymnastics that has no tangible value for the students taking them.

The Bound Hero

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I’m a teacher. Some people think I’m a hero.

When others ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them, “I’m a              teacher,” they get this glaze over their eyes, like the fate of the world lies in my hands.

Because in essence, it does.

I am one of those ones who looks at the future generation of America and think, “One day these kids will grow up and take over.” One day, I’ll talk to them over the phone to negotiate a better rate on my car insurance, I’ll ask one of them for a bank loan, heck one of them my even be in charge of my retirement account. And I, along with other teachers will help them get there.

So yeah, I’m something like a hero trying to save the future of America. But honestly, some days I feel like the scorn of the country.

In general, we’re not respected as professionals. Legislatures and side liners are quick to throw a blade in our general direction if students achieve anything less than a stellar performance on a standardized test. Education has gotten to the point where it’s less and less about the student and more about making someone else look good. I’ll have to admit, I’m a little guilty of this myself. I try not to be. I would like not to be. But the truth is, I like being employed and retaining a job that took six years and $30,000 in student loan debt to get.

In general, legislatures and side liners look at teacher unions like their the enemies of America. Not true.

As a professional teacher, my membership in my local union is the only thing that protects the slither of dignity I have while performing my job. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE teaching. I crave seeing the “light bulb” that pops off when some abstract concept clicks in a student’s head. I love attending meaningful professional developments that show me how to do my job better. I love being creative and thinking of innovative ways to make learning fun, as it should be. But it kills me when I know that I am hurting my students by bombarding them with tests. Nowadays, we no longer teach the child, we teach to the data, and regardless of what anyone says that bright-eyed, hopeful, and naturally inspired child is nothing but a number to anyone in education other than their teacher.

I’ve met teachers who have to negotiate for bathroom breaks, who have less than 10 minutes to eat lunch while monitoring their class while they eat, and whose only planning time during the day is taken up by miscellaneous meetings which forces them to spend hours at home grading papers and doing other work related tasks. Oh, and those summers that everyone outside of the profession that most people think make up for the nine month hardship? A lot of teachers use that time to attend professional development to get better at their jobs, make extra money working summer school or another job because teaching really doesn’t pay that much, or to make up for the lost time that they weren’t able to spend with their families during the year. These days, if a teacher isn’t careful, this job will drive them to a nervous breakdown. Trust me, I personally know of cases where this has happened. And, while I’m on the topic, how much is your sanity worth? 35, 40, maybe $45,000 a year if you’re lucky.

These heroes take it all in stride, knowing the risks, rolling with the punches, and tolerating the bs. Sure, to most people we’re saints, and they’re quick to put in a good word about teachers because it’s a job that most would pass up. But according to Representative Alan Seabaugh (LA), teachers don’t deserve a fair shake. In fact, he made it quite clear that he didn’t give a damn about teachers when he responded, “Hell no,” when asked if he would exclude teachers from a bill that would make it more difficult for them to pay union dues. The funny thing (but not really) is that he said it in a room full of teachers.

The truth is that I feel more like a hero now than I do in the classroom. I’m trying to save an institution that is the fabric of our nation. Public education as we knew it is fading fast. We are not producing life long learners, in some cases we reinforcing systemic failure and an unattainable, fast-fleeting American dream.

Con-Profit Group Continues To Insist Louisiana’s Creationism Law Isn’t About Creationism

Con-Profit Group Continues To Insist Louisiana’s Creationism Law Isn’t About Creationism

Creationism, or Intelligent Design, could possibly have a place in a social studies classroom only if it is taught in conjunction with other creation myths. The biblical creation myth is just as revered in many Christian religious circles Mount Olympus was to the Ancient Greeks. We’ve never assumed that ancient myths were meant to be scientifically proven, and therefore we should not expect the Genesis creation to be scientifically proven either. The Bible is a book of faith and historical documentation, not of science. There are some elements, such as people, places, and even some events in the Bible that we can that we can scientifically prove happened. Yet, there are other elements in the Bible that we should accept as myth. These myths were the Ancient Hebrews attempt to better understand the world before modern science, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When religious zealots attempt to mislabel the creation story of the bible as science, it actually has an adverse effect on those who try to understand the Bible objectively because it does not correlate with years scientific study.

CenLamar

Nearly seven years after it was signed into law and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, David Klinghoffer, a blogger for the Discovery Institute, a con-profit organization based in Washington state, continues to insist that the Louisiana Science Education Act (the LSEA) has absolutely nothing to do with promoting the teaching of creationism and its fraternal twin, intelligent design (which he calls a “scientific theory”), in the public school science classroom.

In 2007, the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious far-right organization that promotes Christian dominionism and has spent the better part of the last ten years lobbying to deny civil rights to gay and lesbian people, worked together to draft the LSEA, which was then introduced by Ben Nevers in the State Senate and Frank Hoffmann in the State House. The Louisiana Family Forum couldn’t have found two more loyal foot soldiers. Nevers, in explaining his…

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Going Rogue

If kids are bored and uninspired out of their minds, are they really learning?

undercoverBAT's Blog

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They’re not my kids anymore, but they’ll always be mine.

True, I don’t see them day in, day out like I did the year that they were in my classroom. But there are still snatches of time during the day where we can reconnect–a quick conversation as we pass each other in the hall, first thing in the morning when my classroom has more former students than current students.

In my mind, they’re just slightly taller versions of the child I saw every day for ten months, maybe with a few more teeth and a different hairstyle. But then I’m reminded that they’ve been thrown into a whole new existence.

The testing world.

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Do Standardized Tests Boost Student Performance? Middle School Students Respond

Once the dust settled after the last surge of standardized testing for the year,students, teachers, and administrators finally got another chance to exhale. Prompted by my own curiosity of how students view education, I posed this question to my students in the form of a journal entry: “Does knowing that you have to take a big test at the end of the year encourage you perform better in class? Why or why not”

Now, I posed this question because I believe that in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle of yearly testing, we’ve lost sight of the fact that actual learning is a three-tiered responsibility pyramid, with a good teacher occupying the top and smallest tier. The next level of responsibility lies with the parent, but the bulk and foundation of the learning pyramid lies with the student in a forgotten area called “personal responsibility.” The standardized testing craze was perpetuated by an assumption that our school systems were flooded with teachers that neither taught nor cared about students, and even I’ll admit that in some cases this was true. However, with the changes in accountability policies that have steadily increased over the last 12 years it is impossible for a teacher to remain in the classroom for any period of time if they do not take the profession or student success seriously. Imagine, if you were only in the classroom to collect a paycheck, how long would you put up with discipline issues, formal and informal observations, test administration, student learning targets, and time outside of work devoted to lesson preparation before you decided that you could find a easier way to earn a paycheck?

So let’s assume that most teachers teach because they are subject matter experts and they actually do care about kids. What happens to a child when he leaves the school? For most of us, we concentrate best when we are in a stable and secure environment. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this blog in the quiet comfort of my home. If there were people arguing or fighting in the background, steadily walking in and out, or engaging in illegal activity nearby you best believe that focusing on writing a blog would be among the least of my concerns. Yet, we have children in our schools that are expected to practice a skill at home under these conditions. It is the parent’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for their children that is conducive to learning and psychological development. Without this leg, the “stool” of learning is unstable.

Lastly, the individual student is the ultimate decider of whether or not learning takes place. Ironically, testing has an adverse effect on learning because after testing is over, from some students’ perspective learning is over. Incidentally every effort made throughout the year is only directed towards a test, not to foster life long learners. As I stated before, I gave my students a writing topic to respond to as candidly as they could. The nature of the responses vary from students who struggle with discipline and those who are self motivated:

“Kind of because I will play (in class) at the beginning of the year and do good going to the end (of the year).”

“I don’t think testing changes the way a person acts, they have to change themselves. I think testing makes a person nervous because there are so many questions.”

“No because you have to wake up in the morning and prepare to take that test, and after the test they try to make us do work. That’s too much pressure on us kids.”

“No because most people come to school for their friends or to bully somebody. Some kids come to school just to get away from the house.”

“No because the test is big, but it’s really not a big deal because we pass by our grades.”

“Yes it does encourage me because I don’t want to fail the test, so I will try my best not to associate with my friends so I can pass the seventh grade.”

“Why wouldn’t it? You need to do good to get into a good high school.”

Yes, it encourages me to be better and to test myself on my skills.” 

“No because the test really doesn’t depend on your behavior.”

And the list goes on…

The truth is that legislators and board members see big, standardized tests as a way to determine if teachers are worthy of their paychecks and if students are benefiting from the system. Ironically since teachers have been trained to see “the test” as the determining factor of their employment, students have been trained to see the test as the sole purpose of learning.

The trickle down effect at its worst.

Tipping the Scale: HB 418 and How It Affects the Average Teacher

Last month, I had the honor of standing with my union to oppose HB 418 before the House Labor Committee. This passing of this bill would eliminate the teachers, firefighters, and police unions from collecting membership dues through payroll deduction. Despite hours of testimonies from teachers, school superintendents, firefighter and police chiefs, and other taxpaying public servants, the House Labor Committee voted in favor of the bill. Common sense would say: The members of these unions choose to have their dues deducted from their payroll, so why is this an issue. The counter argument posed by Alan Seabaugh (R) on the House Labor Committee was: Union dues should not be paid with taxpayer dollars (like we’re not taxpayers). What’s wrong with having the dues drafted from the members bank accounts by filling out this simple form?

I’ll tell you why. As a public school teacher who is constantly bombarded by the state to prove that I do my job in six different ways, a simple form can be literally tip the scale.

By the way, that “six different ways” comment made in the previous sentence was not an exaggeration. We have student learning targets (SLTs) that we have to complete at the start of the school year, in which we administer a benchmark test to the students, and then use those results to predict what gains will be made at the end of the year. We have two formal observations throughout the year, and evaluations based on these observations. We are also expected to allocate 20 minutes of class time to Response to Intervention (RtI), in which the teacher works directly with a group of about four students, while the other 24 students are working independently on an assignment. Wait, let me restate that in a way that paints the picture more clearly. The other 24 middle school, seventh grade students are doing exactly what they’re told, and working on an assignment while the teacher pays special attention to a small group. Needless to say, in a best case scenario RtI can be a beautiful thing, but in a typical low-income populated middle school it can morph into a mental nightmare. Along with RtI comes progress monitoring, for which the teacher must test the small group students every two weeks, record the data from these test, and make a separate set of lesson plans to teach the small group. We also administer a DAZE, CARI, or DIBELS reading test three times a year which must be scored and analyzed. Finally, we have the godfather of test-mania, the PARCC, or iLEAP, or whatever the next assessment “savior” is that will rescue student achievement from the depths of idiocy.

If you read the previous paragraph closely, you may have noticed one thing missing–actual teaching. My students are so mind-numb from excessive testing that learning is a burden, not a joy. Sadly, teachers are feeling the same way about teaching.

As a public school teacher, I feel as though my voice is muffled by the heavy political donors of the state. Which is why I need my union to be a strong, well represented voice in the legislature. HB 418 took away my union’s option to deduct my membership dues from my payroll in efforts to weaken the membership of the union. I now have one more form to fill out, on top of the many other forms that legislators have tacked onto my profession and one more red number on my online banking statement.

The most disheartening aspect of HB 418 is that it costs the state nothing to allow unions to deduct membership dues from payroll. Our legislators have used taxpayer money to focus on taking away an option to pay dues to organizations that specifically exist to protect the workers that serve our communities.

Keep in mind that our systems work because of the workers, but if we allow legislators to continue to pander to wealthy donors instead of listening to voices of those on the front line the future of our state will be in extreme peril and we will fail as active citizens.

Common Core: It’s Cheaper to Keep Her

Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) has proven himself to be an ambitious politician who is persistently faithful to a conservative political agenda at all costs, even to the tune of $25.2 million according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

Picture it: Wednesday, March 18th, 2015. The eyes of about 99% of Louisiana’s public school students are skimming white pages pages with black writing. Their brows slightly wrinkled as they navigate through the language of a new test, the first of its kind they’ve been told. In the weeks leading up to this moment, their teachers have made hundreds of copies of sample questions and writing prompts, emphasized test vocabulary and question comprehension, evidenced based selected response questions, and covered the walls of the class and the school with motivational quips: “Rock the Test!” “It’s a Walk In the PARCC” and “We Are PARCC Ready!” Now, after all the bells and whistles, rallies, and cheers have quieted down, these students are finally putting pencil to paper to test their understanding of the fully implemented Common Core standards on the infamous PARCC assessment while teachers and administrators pray that their students performance reflects the time and work they have invested in this venture.

Elsewhere, Gov. Jindal is unveiling his plan to rid Louisiana of the Common Core and the accompanying PARCC assessment that students and teachers have been brainwashed to accept. When Common Core finally trickled its way down the pipeline, teachers were told that Common Core was here to stay. In other words, protests are futile and this is the irrefutable future of education. Now, just one year after the full implementation of Common Core in all of its muddy glory, educators are now discovering that Common Core may not have a permanent place at the table of education. Its like a step parent that educators have begrudgingly accepted, only to find out that its not going to work out after all.

In the interim of deciding which course of action Louisiana will take to redevelop its educational assessment program, the state will return to the grade level expectations from in 2004-05, along with the LEAP and iLEAP assessments. Furthermore, to ensure that Louisiana is never plagued with another Common Core situation, Jindal proposed new restrictions to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (BESE) ability to enter contracts and other agreements with third parties. According to Jindal, his plan will help ensure that “Louisiana parents and teachers create Louisiana standards and curriculum.”

This “plan” as Jindal calls it, amounts to nothing more than dusting out an old play book from years past. The only difference now is that he plans to cut the referees out of the game to ensure that he can lead restructure Louisiana’s public education system without a sure strategy. Jindal’s rash decision to toss out the same Common Core standards that he fervently supported in 2012 is an obvious long shot ploy for the White House in 2016. Jindal began expressing doubts about the Common Core standards after an overwhelming tide of criticism of the standards flooded the educational conversation.

His former political ally, Superintendent John White, disagrees with Jindal’s plan. White proposes that the state should adjust the standards over time rather than scrapping them all together. One thing is for sure, amid the projected budget cuts to school districts and higher education in Louisiana, an additional $25.2 million price tag on a change of heart is one thing we can do without.

Parents, Get In Their Business!

Children: happy,disgruntled, enlightened, ignorant, joyful, frustrated, despaired, hopeful, excited, depressed young human beings who have not reached the legal age of adulthood as defined by the state. I’ve often pondered about what truly qualifies a person to be classified as an adult. Does true adulthood begin when a person takes on adult responsibilities, such as working, living independently, or raising their own children? Or for some, does a secondary childhood continue after the age of 18 due to his or hers lack of mental maturity?

Eighteen is the age at which is person attains the right to vote, which in essence means that he or she should be literate and able to cast an independent vote based on their interpretation of the candidates’ platforms. In other words, our nation is practically saying to the fresh-out-of-childhood adults that we trust you to have a direct hand in the future of our democracy, which is a pretty big deal if you think about it. This is also the age when the individual is held liable for their own actions; they can choose to risk their lives for their country and be a representative of the United States abroad through military service without requiring parental consent. An eighteen-year-old can even walk into a convenience store with thorough knowledge of the adverse effects carcinogenics have on the human body and still buy a pack of cigarettes of his or her own free will.

Once a person turns eighteen, it is no longer the parent’s legal responsibility to support or be held responsible for his or her actions. So you’re on your own now, kid!

But before we jump that far in the future, let’s focus on the development of the child and the social skills they learn at school from professionals and peers. Which, depending on the student population, you may not want them to mimic the social behavior of the children with whom they spend at least third of their day most days of the week.

For some working parents, especially single parents, the schoolhouse itself is the equivalent a magic curtain that changes the well-behaved child that they know into the severely disrespectful wild child that teachers call home about. Children demonstrate the values he learns at home around his or her parents because the consequences are more swift and personal. On the other hand, while they are at school in a completely different environment they will more than likely adjust to match the behavior of their closest friends. In some instances, this is not a direct reflection of the parents’ parenting skills. It is a reflection, however, of what the child deems most important at the time: integrity or acceptance.

One way that parents can intercept the adaptation of negative behavior by association, is to monitor the company they keep. Make a point to not only be aware of what their child is doing on a daily basis, but what their friends do one a daily basis. Get to know where their friends live, who their parents are and what they do for a living, what other family members live in the household and who or what influences them. When children see their parents place importance on the company they keep in their youth, they will have a model to follow in choosing their associates when they are older.

Obviously kids may find themselves a bit perturbed with an increase in parental involvement, but if a bout of adolescence annoyance saves them from a potentially toxic relationship or friendship, they will look back on this learning experience with gratitude.

Anything a child does and anyone they spend a considerable amount of time around is the parents business. Until these young ones turn eighteen the government, and society for that matter, will hold the parents responsible for their actions.

Stay safe, informed, and wise.