Saturday, March 26, 2011

Corbett's Education Mandate Relief Could Harm Our Children

Republican Senators Jeffrey Piccola and Pat Browne (Pat represents my town ) are proposing legislation that could harm our children. One of Governor Tom Corbett's goals is to cut the budget through education "mandate relief." The current educational mandates are the minimum quality standards for public education allowed by law. Lowering these standards to save money is disgraceful. Shame on Browne and Piccola for proposing legislation to meet crooked Corbett's goal. It is hypocritical for the government to set (what they believe to be) high academic standards (NCLB), while at the same time lowering standards for services that certified school nurses perform- crucial services that our children need. We should be hiring more school nurses to serve disadvantaged kids as the child poverty rate climbs. These legislators who make these decisions are not educators and are putting politics before children. The PA School Boards Association is on board with mandate relief legislation.

These genius politicians actually believe that a school district superintendent, who heads an education system, does not need an education degree. A business or finance graduate can do that job! Where is the evidence of this? This is a slap in the face to educators and devalues the specialized work they do.

The genius legislators believe that school nurses do not need to be certified, and that any RN can do the job. School nurses are certified for a reason, because it's a specialized field, they have to work independently, and they must have an understanding of an educational environment and the needs of children in school.

I think these crooked politicians should be put under the same kind of scrutiny as teachers and public school workers. There are even duped Democrats who are on board with this nonsense. A school is NOT a business, it's a learning environment. These cuts, along with the proposed school vouchers, will result in even larger class sizes in urban schools, racial and socio-economic segregation, the loss of experienced teachers, sub-standard services for poor children, more experimental business models that don't work to improve learning, and the closing of urban public schools in order to privatize public education. The ultimate goals of Republicans: keep the poor and middle class down, let the rich get richer, dismantle unions, and allow the Republican ideology of meanness and greed to rule the country. Good people cannot allow this to happen. Public school kids deserve the same well rounded education that the Obama girls enjoy. This is not the kind of hope and change I had expected.

Here's what is being proposed: (Source: The Morning Call)

•Loosening certification requirements so people with finance or business degrees can serve as superintendents.

•Requiring a two-thirds vote by school boards to approve tax increases. The administration has proposed giving voters the right to vote on any tax hike that outpaces inflation.

•Allowing school districts to furlough teachers for economic reasons.

•Allowing districts to sidestep seniority rights as a way of holding onto a skilled teacher with less seniority.

•Giving districts the option of hiring a registered nurse or a certified school nurse. Certified school nurses now cost districts about $60 million statewide. Lawmakers could not say how much districts would save by hiring less costly RNs.

•Imposing a two-year moratorium on continuing education and professional development programs for teachers.

Write to your senator and voice your opposition to this nonsense. It's wrong and will harm our children. Make education a priority and speak out!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why I Can't Support the Overhaul of NCLB (Obama's Blueprint)

NCLB (The Federal No Child Left Behind Act) has been a failed experiment on our children for over ten years. It is predicted that over 80% of schools across the country will not meet NCLB's unrealistic goal of 100% proficiency by 2014. The tests are flawed, and teaching to the test has narrowed the curriculum, stifled student creativity, and demoralized teachers who have been forced to teach a standardized script aligned to one test. It has not improved student learning, and it has not evened the playing field for underprivileged children.

This disastrous law is now being overhauled by the Obama administration, and a new "Blueprint" is being created. This blueprint will be like NCLB on steroids, with more testing (they call it "value added" because now the tests will measure actual growth of individual students, and will cover even more subject areas). Will this result in a dumbing down of the original standards set by NCLB in order for more schools to meet AYP (Annual Yearly Progress)? What is the value of that? Now teachers will be required to spend more time analyzing and collecting data, when that valuable time should be spent on teaching and lesson planning.

The bureaucrats are trying to fix the nonsense with even more nonsense, with no regard for the children. It is all about appearances, and framing data so it looks like there is improvement, so the politicians look good. And money that could be spent on hiring teachers or teacher's aides will be spent on pointless testing. This new "value added" (A Bill Gates idea) data will be tied to teacher performance. Jesse Rothstein, a top economist, has determined through his own research, that the "value added" model is highly flawed. It does not take into account all the other factors that influence student performance- little things like: high student mobility rate, high rates of absenteeism, lack of sleep, poor parenting, lack of nourishment, influence of other/former teachers. Why not JUST ASK THE TEACHER ABOUT STUDENT GROWTH? Teachers have been trained to conduct formative assessments of their students. It's what they do. Is all this new data collecting and testing really necessary?

Until the real problem of child poverty is addressed, all these mandates and experiments in data driven instruction, scripted curricula, standards aligned systems, and teacher accountability are a complete waste of time and money. The bureaucrats should spend some time in an urban Kindergarten classroom of 26 needy children. It is obvious that what is needed is more teachers in the room/or smaller class size, and a more meaningful curriculum that teaches the whole child. That curriculum should include hands on authentic learning experiences, recess, the arts, and developmentally appropriate practices. If budget cuts result in loss of extended day Kindergarten programs and preschool programs, firing teachers, and larger class size, then we are doomed. Cut the testing, cut administration, and hire more teachers. Let the teachers teach. I cannot support Obama's "blueprint" which is just a continuation of NCLB. Dear President Obama, please listen to education experts like Diane Ravitch, who speak for teachers. Parents, speak out against more testing!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Money Wasted on PSSA Pep Rally Could Have Been Spent on Kindergarten

According to The Morning Call:

"Teachers did not seem happy Tuesday as they filed in and out of Trexler. Most had stern faces while waving off media. Those who spoke expressed anger and frustration at Zahorchak. They accused him of spending wildly on new administrators and gimmicks like Monday's virtual PSSA pep rally, which cost at least $20,000 in equipment and man-hours but did not work properly because computer equipment could not continuously stream the rally from Raub Middle School to all other district schools."

This is unbelievable. That money could have been used to hire 2 paraprofessionals (grossly underpaid teacher's aides) for an entire year, to help in overcrowded Kindergarten classrooms. Now that would really improve learning. High stakes testing and test prep is not teaching, and does not improve learning.

ASD must focus on meeting the needs of Kindergarten students. It is crucial to reach these children at a young age so they stay in school, graduate, and become productive citizens. Many ASD children are unprepared for school, lacking proper nutrition, social skills, basic cognitive skills, and listening skills. They are extremely needy. I have seen 5 year olds curse, punch and bother other students, run around classrooms throwing dangerous objects, even jumping on tables. This is reality. Some parents are not doing their part. Teachers need help so they can teach the majority, remove extremely disruptive students, and keep kids safe.

Costly gimmicks and rewards to bribe students will not work to improve schools. Learning is the reward. Even if test scores improve, AYP (Annual yearly progress measured by PSSA test) is not a true indicator of overall student progress. Don't be fooled by appearances, or the latest jargon from the corporate ed. reform movement. These are not evidence based approaches to improving learning. I have been in several classrooms across the district and believe it is important that citizens know what is really going on. I challenge school board members, city councilors, and business leaders to spend a day as a "guest teacher" in a Kindergarten class of 25-28. Maybe then they will understand the daily challenges teachers face while being forced to meet unrealistic goals, to comply with a "standards aligned system" mandated by politicians who demand "accountability"' (code word used when clueless people outside the classroom want to tell professional educators what to do inside their classrooms). It's putting politics before the needs of students. It's a scary Orwellian "one size fits all" approach that is not working. It's harming our kids. Parents can fight it.

Support ASD teachers. Demand recess for all elementary students, and NO cuts in arts programs and MORE electives for high school students. Let the teachers teach what they are trained to teach, and how they are trained to teach.