Friday, June 12, 2009

No Child Left Behind, in the Words of Other Professionals

No Child Left Behind continues to loom over public education here in the United States. I think about the law a lot, I have written numerous (unpublished) papers on the topic, and am definitely an advocate against it. I have talked with President Obama's Administration twice on the matter (not that they really listened to me), once at a conference and once through an e-mail exchange. As a parent, I think No Child Left Behind hurts because it means that my son has to sit in the classroom and have the pressure of the law put on his shoulders. As a teacher, it puts the wrong focus on my job and forces me to do things that do not teach students, they teach them to test.

I've discussed this many times, so today, for those of you who are interested in hearing a little more, I'm going to throw a Youtube video titled "No Child Left Behind: Truths and Consequences." It's around 9 minutes long, but has some interesting information that I think most teachers could agree with. So here it is:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Public Education: Yes It's Broken, But We Can Have Hope

Budget shortfalls are the norm here in the state of New Mexico as it relates to public education. Budgets are being slashed, salary raises are being frozen, and staff is being cut at schools all across the state, especially here in the southern part of the state.

Yes, things are bad, and it does not have all to do with the bad economy. Years of mismanagement or outright shady business practices by central office administrators all over the country (especially here in New Mexico) have put us in this mess. In my short career, I have already seen numerous snake oil salesmen come along, unloading their programs upon my district, all because one person downtown was impressed by what they had to say. I've seen millions of dollars spent on a program and a year or two later have seen that program forgotten. I have seen more and more kids crammed into classrooms, while the same central administrators who tell us that there was simply no more funds to hire another teachers gives themselves hefty raises. I've seen school funds funneled into new schools and schools where the wealthier students go while poorer and older schools literally fall apart.

There's no way around saying this, public education in New Mexico, and the United States, is in perilous disrepair. The people who actually do the educating, and the students, who are the point of this whole education thing, have been shelved so far down the food chain that they've been all but forgotten. In this age of standardized testing, with the multi-billion dollar testing industry banking in, and with the government happily playing along, there's not much left to go around. And what is left has been pilfered a dozen times before it reaches the classroom.

So yeah, things are screwed up, but there is hope. Hope lies in the fact that central administrators really don't do much (trust me, their decisions have minimal impact on classroom instruction, they could just sign paychecks and make sure the money is divvied out evenly and everything would work fine). Hope lies in the fact that there are many great teachers out there, who can make a difference without Reading First, Nancy Fetzer, Malcolm Baldridge, Reading 180, and all the other flavor of the moment programs. Hope lies in the fact that there are people out there who care, and who don't appreciate seeing tax money thrown away on nonsense.

There are a lot of reasons to think that public education is faltering, and I would agree with many of them. But that doesn't mean we give up. Public education teachers, support staff, and other interested people will keep caring, will keep working, and will do it even if there is 50 kids crammed into a class and there's not enough money to run the air conditioner. Because after all, at least we know that the head honchos can afford another year of membership at the country club, right?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Some More Technology in Literacy: Finding My Way Under New Mexico's Response To Intervention Model

I've been talking about technology in literacy a little bit lately, so I figured I'd stay on that topic today. My school district, like all school districts in the state of New Mexico, is implementing a "Response to Intervention" model (from here on referred to as RTI). The RTI model does have some MAJOR issues, including the fact that schools are basically left to their own devices to implement it, that it takes instructional time from the day, and that in many cases (whether the state department wants it or not) all students are given the interventions.

If you're not familiar, and I don't want to get too deeply into this, RTI is a mainly literacy intervention where kids are given extra small group tutoring sessions in heterogeneously grouped settings. I can't honestly say that I agree with the model and in the two years we have implemented it I haven't seen it do any good. But that's not the point here.

My grade level implemented RTI by taking one classroom teacher a quarter, as well as support staff, and splitting up the students in need of intervention (we defined them as "below benchmark"), while the other teachers took the kids not needing it and did science. When it was my turn, I had an intensive group of four students.

Rather than beat them over the heads with worksheets and mundane tasks, I pulled out some technology and had them interact with each other and texts in a new way. This was easy because there was four of them and I had eight computers in the classroom. One of the biggest things they did during their 9-weeks with me was they would read Diary of a Wimply Kid on This was basically the same book that I had six copies of on my bookshelf, but they came to me every day begging for more.

We were on computers four days a week during my RTI cycle (the entire 9-weeks). When these four students went to take the MAPS Test, an online assessment, they grew more than any other RTI intensive students that year. Of course, I knew why. They were excited about their reading, they were seeking out more, and they stayed positive. They were in an environment that allowed them to experiment with the text, to interact with it, and to get out of the mundane routine of worksheets and textbooks.

I guess my point(s) here are:

1. Sometimes school districts or state education departments implement programs that are not in the best interest of learning.

2. Sometimes teachers have to make the best of a bad situation (that is more than sometimes in some cases).

3. Think outside the box, even if it's just baby steps. I know that computers in the classroom aren't a "WOW" thing anymore, but they are still out of the routine.

4. Follow what works. Just because it worked for me doesn't mean it will for you. I'm just sharing in the hopes that maybe it will work for somebody else.