Monday, August 15, 2011

Pearson's Turn to Profit from our Kids

New York State has found a new testing company to pay. Pearson is the lucky winner of a rather large profit, to the tune of $32 million over the next five years, with costs totaling a heaping $8 million for this year alone. McGraw-Hill, our previous publisher of torture-tests was much more affordable for the state, with costs totaling $26 million for the past eight years. Still quite a chunk of change, but about half of what the state plans on paying Pearson with taxpayer dollars, while class sizes are still expanding, teachers are threatened with layoffs, and millions of kids remain below the poverty level. Policymakers have made it quite obvious that those who profit from education will be the CEOs of publishing and testing companies, at the expense of the teachers on the front lines and the students who are filling in their bubbles.

In the eyes of a creative teacher or a disgruntled student, the Torture Tests are all interchangeable as long as they consist of multiple-choice questions. The "differences", however, are: Pearson will be eliminating tricky questions that include the words "which is not...",  (very common and frustrating)"all of the above", "none of the above", (although I haven't seen either of those answer choices on any McGraw-Hill test in years) and will be eliminating the use of bold and italic letters in questioning. I have no doubt, however, that Pearson will find innovative new ways to throw off our kids. After all, their job is to produce data, and as soon as there is either a sharp upward or downward trend, there will be revisions. The test will still be the test, even if written differently. Students will still be perceived as data points, and teachers will still be judged based on that data. Put a pig in a dress, it's still a pig. Take a politician or CEO out of his tailored business suit and silk tie, and put him in some Bananna Republic Khakis and a pink polo shirt, he's still a greedy little snake.

These are not the only changes in the testing content. Quoted from the above cited New York Times article:

"Tests next year will resemble those given last spring, but by 2013 they will reflect new national standards, (Gates-Funded Common Core) and include more difficult reading passages, more open-ended math questions, and writing assignments that ask children to focus not on their own experiences, but on interpreting information from texts."

You may have noticed that the last sentence is in italics. Yes, that was me. What education policymakers fail to understand is that children have a knowledge base that is comprised of their own experiences. These experiences include personal memories and literary content that they have learned in the past. This applies to the learning process of all human beings, not just children. For example, I fancy myself a decent writer. When I tap away at my keyboard writing this blog, my content is a combination of information I glean from articles and studies I have read and my own personal experiences as a teacher and a student, and the conclusions I reach using both knowledge bases. Without using both content and experience, my blog would suck, and you wouldn't be reading this right now. One cannot expect a student to correctly interpret information from a text without allowing them to draw upon their experiences. And we all know, because this will be the format of the writing section of the test, teachers will be expected to teach to that format, so the student data is pretty enough for our state to win The Race To The Top. We will continue to be forced to teach our students to interpret texts in a way that is completely irrelevant to their lives, thus hindering their ability to form unique opinions, and, yes, think independently. 

By now, I can conclude, based on the articles I have read and my experiences in the classroom, that the wealthy politicians and policymakers want our kids to become their servants, empty, unquestioning, and easily programmed.

Luckily for my son, these "revisions" in questioning will be in full force by 2013, the year he enters middle school. And by 2013, there may be such a sharp trend in data under the old model that the revisions will then be, well, revised.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Accountability: Test Prep vs. REAL Teaching

As we all know, the word "accountability" is thrown around like a baseball at a little league game. It's like this new mantra that we hear from the mouths of policy makers and common people quite often: "Educators must be held accountable each day for their students' performance." 

Because of this wave of test-based teacher evaluations (in some states 50%) Educators who are supporting a family can potentially lose their source of income based on numbers that do not reflect the variables that influence a child's learning, or the level of true teaching that has occurred throughout the year

For those of you who are wondering, this is what "teaching to the test" actually is (I am using English Language Arts as an example here) Let's take one passage in a test prep book with multiple-choice questions. I am used to the McGraw-Hill style, but I am thinking that testing companies all conspire together in their competitive, multi-billion dollar market, so in my eyes, they are all interchangeable. Let's take a non fiction text:

1. We are presented with a passage and between 6-8 multiple choice questions each with four answers to choose from.
2. I direct my kids to preview the title, the pictures (if any) the subheadings (if any) before they read the text. I tell them to "activate their prior knowledge on the subject".
3. Then, before reading the text, I tell them to preview the questions, because this will help them to find the answers more efficiently as they read. For example, if there is a main idea question, think while reading about the strategies you memorized about finding the main idea. If there is a vocabulary question, be sure to find the word presented in the question IN the story so you may choose the answer in the correct context.
4. Read the passage with ALL of these things stuffed into in your mind. (Leaves little room for the actual content of the text, huh?) Underline parts of the text that you think answers the questions, and label them with the corresponding question number.
5. Answer the MC questions using the following strategies: (some, not all, are listed)
     -go back to the text several times to make sure your answers are correct
     -use process of elimination. Usually there are two answers that are just silly, and usually there are two answers that appear to be right (or may actually both be right) If you are still not sure, guess between those two answers. Usually this applies to inference questions.
     -In context clues questions, replace all 4 answer choices in the sentence that presents the vocabulary word. (This does not require the child to actually use the word).

These are just some examples of test-prep strategies that are drilled into their heads all year. In an urban environment, ALL YEAR. It comes close to indoctrination. All that matters is the test. All that matters is the test. All that matters is the.....

Bored yet? 

Have you noticed that the child is interacting with the text on a very superficial level? The text is picked apart like a cadaver in an autopsy. The students are expected to make inferences, yet given four answers to choose from instead of forming conclusions in their own words. This is not reading instruction. This is test strategy instruction. The kids are not forming opinions about what they read. They are not making text connections, which is a great way to assess if a student has a deep understanding of a text. The instruction is COMPLETELY centered around the multiple-choice questions. This means that any part of the text that is not covered by these questions is not "worth" teaching, because time is of the essence. Remember, during the test, students are timed. Even if a student stops to ask a question or make a comment about a part of the text that is not included in the questions, we should "bring them back to task".

Of course, in my classroom, we discussed the whole text whenever we could, including my students' connections, opinions, and experiences, because that's how I roll. I believe that a student's unique perspective about is text is invaluable, and having the student verbalize (or write) this is a fantastic indicator of weather or not he/she has understood it beyond literal comprehension. Having rich text discussion is a very intricate part of my pedagogy. I refused to give it up. I dug my heels in. Teaching a text in a superficial manner was simply NOT AN OPTION. Don't worry, my door was closed and the call button under the speaker (squawk box) was on the "off" position. My principal was sitting in her air-conditioned office, doing the budget, I'm sure.

Now, this is ChalkDusters way:

Take any given non fiction text. No multiple choice questions. (I think this goes without saying). One similarity is, we preview the text. But instead of just activating Prior Knowledge, we make predictons, speculate, discuss, and explore the topic of the text. We may even have a full-fledged class discussion on the topic before even reading the text. I pull out vocabulary words from the text beforehand and ask for ideas on what these words may mean, using root word strategies and context, eliciting answers from the kids, and clarify the definitions before we start to read. I make sure this is written down and spoken, and I ask the students to synthesize, using the words in their own sentences. I tell my students to think while they read, to highlight points that seem important to them, to evaluate, and to draw at least one conclusion and form one opinion per paragraph. (I apologize for listing, but if I went into each one, we'd be here all day)

I take a small group of students who need support (I know this because I have observed my students, and assessed their level of understanding of non fiction texts through individual reading conferences)  and read the text aloud as they follow along, stopping to discuss whenever my students need to, I follow their lead. We form opinions together. We may draw a picture to represent our conclusions, or fill out a chart with different-colored markers. This is difficult because most inner city classrooms (middle school) have 30+ kids. My small group lesson is constantly interrupted by the rest of the class. "Can I go to the bathroom?" "He's bothering meeee!" "Can you help me? Can I join the group? Please please pleaaase?" This speaks to how important it is to have smaller class sizes, or a teaching assistant. It speaks to how my kids were thirsty for some individual attention, and weren't afraid to ask for it. It killed me to turn down the child who wanted to join Mrs. Chalkduster's group. But remember, the funds are going to.....the test. Not to the things that COMMON SENSE would tell us how to improve education.

Afterwards, I assess my students' understanding by asking the entire class to write an opinion piece based on the text, using an evaluative question. I expect my students to support their opinions with text evidence and their life experiences if it relates to the topic. This also allows me to assess their writing skills (ie grammar, spelling, punctuation, clarity.) I also ask some to illustrate. Sometimes I throw them the option of writing a poem, especially if the text is political or humanitarian in nature. 

So does this tie into accountability? You bet your sweet a$$ it does! 

I do not need to teach to a stupid, superficial standardized test to be held accountable. The level of understanding my students reach while reading and responding to a text is MY RESPONSIBILITY. Therefore, if I taught to the test as policy makers are demanding, i would not be fulfilling my responsibility towards my kids. Guess what? I actually ENJOY TEACHING!!! Amazing, huh? Not surprising to me, considering that when I was five I played "school" with my Cabbage Patch Kids. 

Unfortunately for Ed Deformers, Chalk Duster's way of teaching is not EASILY measurable, because you can't run the results through a machine. It's expensive and time-consuming because competent, EXPERIENCED administrators need to be hired. I was wondering...would Bill Gates be willing to fund this with his billions, instead of standardized testing companies? Of course not, because no one except THE STUDENTS are profiting from it! 

This student-centered, whole-child, in-depth style of teaching can only be observed through.....wait for it.....the eyes of an ADMINISTRATOR (and peer teachers, of course)! Principals need to be held accountable for the manner in which THEY evaluate THEIR staff. They did the hiring, after all.  It is their responsibility to observe their staff carefully, give suggestions, and, to use "deformer" language, "weed out the baaaaad ones". I have a sneaking suspicion that if there was more emphasis placed on this much more sensible method of assessing teachers, and there was no emphasis whatsoever on boring, superficial tests, not too many "bad teachers" would be found. We would be free to educate our students how we see fit, because we are the ones who know them best (in school) and spend the most time with them. This level of autonomy would cause us to excel even further. We would feel trusted, and our confidence would be contagious to our students. What a concept.

Many educators, especially those who work in low-income areas are forced to teach to a test all year. Even the units that are not labeled as "test prep", are still test prep. 

I have no problem accepting accountability for results that I have complete control over. Unfortunately, High-Stakes Test Scores to do not reflect numbers that truly represent the level of dedication a teacher has towards her students.  They do not reflect the refinement of her philosophy or her craft, they do not reflect the level of understanding she has of each individual student, the relationship she has with her class, her ability to effectively differentiate, her work ethic, or her creativity.  Test scores do not reflect her students' ability to think on a high level, form an opinion about at text, and back their claim up with real-life examples.

If you want to hold me "accountable", then hold me accountable for the things that really matter, do it fairly, and please, stop blaming me for our country's troubles. I have enough on my plate. I came here because I love, love, love teaching, as most of us did.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lillie and the Snakes

Usually my blog is focused on the students. Today my focus is on an 80 year old NYC teacher by the name of Ms. Lillie Leon. Below is a link to an article which discusses the firing of Ms. Leon:,sb=940060,b=facebook

Ms. Leon was fired by the DOE for insubordination after 32 years of service to NYCs children. Her termination, as it stands now, has nothing to do with her teaching practices or classroom management. I am not going to repeat the facts stated in the above article. I will only say that she was exposed to conditions in her school that did not honor the fact that she has a disability. She walks with a cane, and was placed in a kindergarten classroom on the third floor, with no adjoining bathroom. She was not given a teacher's aide, so every time the little ones had to use the potty, she had to walk her entire class of 25 to the bathroom, which was down the hall and through the cafeteria. She appealed to the administration, asking for accommodations, explaining that all this walking back and forth cut into her instructional time, and even requested to teach first grade, because they can go to the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher. Every request was denied, and then she was fired, basically for requesting of the administration to respect her rights not only as a person with a disability, but an employee of the city of NY.

Here is a woman who has devoted her life to children. I saw her on the CBS news last night. She is soft-spoken and intelligent. She dresses with style and has a warm smile and soft, kind eyes. Instead of applauding her dedication to her students, she is disrespected, abused, and discriminated against. I got the impression from the interview that nothing made her happier than spending each day with her students, and she is disappointed not to be able to return to her school in September. Apparently, she chose not to retire because she'd rather be in the classroom teaching than move to Boca Raton. And yet, Ms. Leon will be easily replaced by a young, cheap, inexperienced teacher who will answer to every whim of the administration. Bit by bit, Bloomburg is finding a way to drive away experienced veteran teachers, who are the backbone of this system. I have witnessed it firsthand in my school. I have seen grown women reduced to tears because of the abuse bestowed upon them, when all they want is respect for their experience and credentials, and the opportunity to grow as a professional.

Every paycheck, for 32 years, (that's 768 paychecks) Ms. Leon contributed to her own pension so when she did choose to retire, she would be able to live somewhat comfortably. Now, might have no pension. Apparently, if someone is terminated at the DOE, they lose their retirement. What will happen to Ms. Leon? How will she survive without her retirement fund?? Why did they perceive her as someone so disposable?

I read several articles on Ed Deform every day, and boy do they get my blood boiling, but none of them have affected me emotionally the way this one has. These are the people I work for. The level of inhumanity is appalling. The mayor, the chancellor, and his cronies are disgustingly rich men who will literally steal a job from an elderly person who has shown them nothing but commitment. These men have no business leading one of the greatest cities in the world, because they are driving the very soul of it to the ground. It is shameful and heartbreaking to me, because I am a New Yorker to the very core. The people running the NYC DOE (the whole system) are a bunch of snakes. The principal of Ms. Leon's school is obviously one too. He/she did not defend her. Instead, he jumped on the political bandwagon and exposed Ms. Leon to embarrassing psychological tests, and later in the year, condemned her to teaching in the cafeteria. Then, he moved ahead with the city’s heartless corporate agenda and fired her.

Ms. Leon is suing the DOE for age discrimination. This is an opportunity for her to expose the corrupt nature of the entire system. I hope she fights and fights till she wins. If she must leave her valued post as a teacher, I hope she leaves kicking and screaming. She has nothing but my respect, support, and deep admiration.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Brick by brick, callused hand by callused hand...." And We are Left Crestfallen.

I was unable to attend the SOS March. I am not proud of this. I refuse to spout excuses, and hold myself fully responsible.

Yet, even from my computer screen, following the march obsessively on Saturday using Twitter and Facebook, I felt the solidarity and unbending determination of citizens such as myself who refuse to accept this outright assault on the children of the USA. NOTHING will prevent me from marching next summer, and I'll come with my entourage of Bronx Teacher Yentas wearing flashy red spaghetti-strap tank tops.

When I read that the president would not take 10 minutes of his time on Saturday to step out onto his front lawn and communicate with, or even acknowledge the thousands of people who were exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in defense of our nation's public schools, my stomach dropped. His hypocrisy burned me.

At election time, I understood that this man did not come from a past privileged with material things, raised by a single mom, and his grandparents. He was different from the white, rich, power-hungry presidents that preceded him. At the time, I was a single mom, and through my own child, I identified with him as a human being. I hung on to every word of each campaign speech, especially those about education. My eyes filled with tears when he promised:

"I will listen to you... I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation... Block by block, brick by brick, callused hand by callused hand."

The day after he was elected, we (my dear friend and literacy coach was joining us, we had co-taught this class politics-based ELA lessons for a month before the elections, ironically creating multiple-choice questions on articles about the ineffectiveness NCLB) purchased plastic champagne flutes and some Martinelli's (alcohol-free) bubbly and toasted his victory with my 34 6th graders. Our eyes shone with hope, silently saying:

"Finally, a president who will help us. Who will understand OUR plight. Who will listen to the concerns of the poor, the parents, the teachers, the middle class, the laborers, the soldiers who risk their lives, those working 60 hours a week with calloused hands, those with heavy loads upon their backs and their minds. There is light at the end of this sad, dark tunnel. We have HOPE."

Well, as he has proven on Saturday, he is not listening. His hands, have they ever seen a callous? Has he lifted even one lousy brick? What, exactly, has he re-built? Nothing. Instead, he has taken the power away from the backbone of this country: the public sector. He has placed our children’s' futures in the hands of selfish, ignorant, rich businessmen. A well-rounded education is only good enough for his daughters and the kids of his millionaire and billionaire cronies.

Mr. Obama, what has become of you? I think it's time to revisit your childhood. And your victory speech.

While you're at it, grab a copy of the multiple choice section of the NYS ELA exam, time yourself for 60 minutes, grab a #2 pencil, and start reading those mind-numbing, emotionally-void texts and start filling in those bubbles. Tell me you did not come across at least ten questions that were there just to trick a middle-schooler. Tell me your brain didn't feel like it was just squeezed through a pasta-maker. Then, tell me that a child's worth as a student and a teacher's worth as an educator should be based on that test.

Then, give the test to Milea. She might throw it back at you and say, "DAD, this is stupid and boring and confusing."

THEN, rethink the TRILLIONS of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, many earned by minimum wage employees with calloused hands that YOU (and Arne) SPENT on high-stakes tests, data collection, and test prep materials. And don't give me any bullshit that you are "changing these tests". Standardized tests used to evaluate students and teachers can be dressed up in any pretty format you like, it's still completely inequitable until you address the problem of poverty.

I am crestfallen by your deceit and outright hypocrisy. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Common Core Crime

So, I have been thinking a lot recently about our children becoming independent thinkers with the ability to relate their own experiences to what they are learning in school. When it comes to the teaching of literacy, the life experience that students bring to the table is crucial when it comes to learning how to draw conclusions and make solid inferences. Because each child's life experiences are vastly different, teaching them how to tap into their prior knowledge not only helps the individual student to acquire an in-depth understanding of a text, it enriches the literary experience of the other students as well. In a group setting, students can share their previous knowledge on a topic and actually teach one another to make solid inferences using this skill. In addition, tapping into a student's emotions and opinions is also extremely important, when teaching both fiction and nonfiction. Wow. I am boring myself. I'm not going to go on with this educational jargon--let's make it real:

Let's go back to my much beloved and very challenging sixth grade homeroom of last year. Rewind back to March. At this time, we were in a fiction unit. I was instructed to look at the test data from the previous fiction unit back in October, and see which skills my students were lacking the most, and focus on those skills. Data-driven instruction. We actually had to break down each students' progress (or lack thereof) into Performance Indicators (as dictated by NY State) or skills, which makes the teaching of something as lovely and imaginative as reading into a task that, well, just sucks the magic right out of a story.

Anyways, I looked at the precious, all-knowing Data Report (sound effect: aaa-aaahh---visual---ray of heavenly light) and noticed that, according to the numbers, my kids really did not understand how to identify the theme of a story. Well, of course they didn't. I had to jam so much material into that fiction unit in October that I was only able to teach Theme for a few days, and Theme is the most difficult literary concept to grasp. Why? Because the kids need to place themselves in the story to understand it. They need to make inferences about the characters. They need to bring the lessons THEY have learned in life in order to identify with what the characters are learning, and thus lead themselves to a theme.

So, here I was faced with a quite a challenge. (Picture Chalkduster rubbing her hands together over a pile of Data Reports). I knew the ONLY way the kids would grasp this difficult concept would be to give them a text that they could REALLY identify with, that we could sink our teeth into for an entire week.

I chose "On the Sidewalk Bleeding", a short story by Evan Hunter. In a nutshell, it's about a boy who joined a gang called The Royals and proudly wore a royal purple jacket representing his solidarity. He was stabbed in the stomach one rainy night in an alleyway by members of an opposing gang. The story begins with him lying on the sidewalk, dying and bleeding in the rain. The story ends with him using every ounce of strength he had left before he dies to wriggle out of that jacket. It's really, really sad.

I'm sure you can all see why I chose that story! Gang activity is a way of life for some of my kids. Not to say they are members of gangs, but many of their neighborhoods are permeated by them. When I gave the story to all of my kids to read independently you could hear a pin drop in room 113. A delicious stillness filled the air, and all I could hear was the occasional squeak of a desk, the soft patter of early-spring rain, and the tinkling of little Juanita's bracelets as she constantly flipped her impossibly long, wavy hair. She read intently, brows furrowed, her huge brown eyes focused, her mouth forming the shape of the words. (I can really visualize her now, and it's actually making me miss her.) Juanita reads almost on a fourth-grade level. I know this text is way above her "level". But I also know that Juanita has lived in homeless shelters and has witnessed her father beating her mother. (One day we had lunch together and she disclosed this information to me earnestly, but then reassured me she was safe. She produced a tiny, dog-eared picture of a young man with her brown eyes and said, "He's in jail now.") I know that even now, her living situation is not stable. I know by looking at her tiny, lithe frame that she definitely could use a few good meals, although she is entitled free breakfast and lunch at school. I know she has an older brother somewhere, and she's not even sure where he is.

I watched little Juanita closely and waited for her attention to the text to wane as it usually does after reading for five minutes. It did not. With much wriggling, hair-flipping, and bracelet-clinking, she finished with a flourish and let a few tears leak out. I approached her desk with a little smile. She stared up at me from her small, crossed arms. "Miss! Why you give us such sad stuff to read?? That poor boy! He never shoulda joined them Royals!" I gently shushed her and reminded her that many kids had not yet finished reading. This is not the first time she has cried over something she read. She cried a lot during the Poetry Unit. When we analyzed the lyrics of The Beatles "She's Leaving Home", Juanita had to go to the girls' room and splash cold water on her face. I then leaned down and whispered in her ear, "I give you sad stories to read on purpose so you can feel for the characters. It helps you to understand the story and make good inferences. I'm sorry that you feel sad, but that was my intention. Now I know that you understood the text."

Freddy shot us an annoyed glare. He was still on the second page, a careful, systematic, deliberate reader. Only when reading something engaging did he NOT welcome distractions. "Shut UP, Juanita, I'm trying to read!" I know he wanted to tell ME to shut up, but he knew better.

Once all of the kids finished the story, it was time to drop the bomb that we had to pick it apart, make inferences, and find the theme. We had to answer multiple choice questions. And essay questions. Groans ensued. I looked at my kids. I had their full, undivided attention. Even Fred, although standing next to his chair at this point, about to protest, held his crinkled copy of the story in front of him protectively, as if my manner of teaching was going to completely destroy it to smithereens. I just couldn't do this to them. They were hungry, starving for debate and discussion, dying to express to me, and each other, the emotions this story awakened inside of them.

Suddenly, I 86’Ed the multiple choice and essay questions I had written about the story. I slapped my typed, workshop-model lesson plan face down on my desk. Instead, I simply asked, "So, what did you all think?" I offered them a winning smile that told them their opinions and experiences were welcome. A passionate class discussion about gangs began:

"I got the BLOODS on my block!"

"Yeah, I got the Latin Kings. My ma said never to join a gang."

"My cousin is dead a ‘cause of a gang."

"My mom doesn't let me go outside after dinner. She say I could get hurt by a stray bullet."

"He got stabbed, yo! COOL. So much blood." (that was Freddy again. He has a morbid personality and he thinks it makes him likeable, but no one really takes his bad-ass attitude seriously. He's the smallest kid in the class by far.)

"Why he didn't fight harder?"

"Why he take off that jacket before he died?"

"He wanted to be himself."

"He didn't want to die as a Royal. He didn't want to leave that impression on the world. He wanted people to remember him as Andy." (That, from Sashaya. I wanted to hug her.)

I didn't have to say a word. In the discussion alone, they were approaching the theme and a deeper understanding of the text. I guess this is why education intellectuals say good teaching is really just facilitating. They made inferences about characters: "The cop at the end of the story acted like he didn't care cuz he sees this stuff all the time, He's ---numb---is that right, Miss? He don't feel it because he used to it."

The-new-goal of the lesson, which actually lasted three days, was to act out parts of the story in front of the class and fill out a graphic organizer with different levels of questions from Bloom's Taxonomy. This would eventually lead to the groups of students creating a colorful poster brandishing proudly the Theme of the story: What lesson about life does the reader learn from the story? Of course they had to use evidence from the text to back it up. But they also could use their prior knowledge on the topic of gangs. Those posters were proudly displayed on the bulletin board in the hallway for quite a while. I was so proud of them, but more importantly, they were proud of themselves for grasping a concept they had constantly fumbled on.

During the course of that week, they were in heterogeneous groups (different abilities) of four or five. I did not have to do anything but wander about the room, and eavesdrop, or ask a few leading questions to strugglers. All in all, the lesson was an enormous success. Every child was engaged and having a great time. There were no essay questions or dreaded multiple choice questions. And, on the next unit test, (multiple choice, modeled after the State Exam) their proficiency level for finding Theme rose a whopping 62%.

The reason why I chose to enlighten you all with this heart-warming story is that I wanted to give you perspective on the matter of using students' prior knowledge while teaching high-level literacy skills. I have serious concerns with how the new Common Core Standards approaches Literacy Education. They speak for themselves. Cited from Ed Week:

**Side note: I apologize for not placing a tag to the link here. For some reason, since BlogSpot decided to change their publishing layout, I have been unable to use bold, italics, and underline, and I am not presented with the option of placing a link inside my text. There is no spell-check available. If any of my blogger friends can help me with this irritating situation, I'd appreciate it. So, for those who are interested, here is the link to the article I am referring to:

This article offers a link to a PDF document of the actual Common Core Standards.

“Eighty to 90 percent of the reading standards in each grade require text-dependent analysis; accordingly, aligned curriculum materials should have a similar percentage of text-dependent questions,” say the criteria for grades 3-12.

Ok. Fair enough. A deep understanding of the text is always our goal. But here is where it makes me want to hurl my breakfast, because the murder of independent thought begins in Kindergarten, when children will be conditioned, by the time they are in 3rd grade:

“Materials should be sparing in offering activities that are not text dependent,” say the criteria for grades K-2. “Whether written or spoken, responses based on students’ background knowledge and the experiences they bring to school are not sufficient.”

Whoa. Hold on a minute. What our clueless common-core writers are TELLING us absolutely disgusted public school teachers to do is dismiss the educational value of a student's prior knowledge in drawing conclusions, making inferences, and yes, figuring out the theme of a story. I which case, I'd really LOVE to know how we are expected to teach higher-level thinking skills while reading. For example, evaluating a text is on top of the triangle of Bloom's Taxonomy. How is a child going to successfully evaluate a text when she is not encouraged to think about it in the context of HER world, her individual reality? Our students do not come to us as empty vessels. Quite the contrary, they wander into my classroom brimming with experiences and stories and opinions. They are excited to share these experiences and CONNECT their knowledge to what they read. The first and most popular "text connection" they use in their Reading Journals is the "text-to-self" connection, closely followed by "text-to-world", "text-to-media", and "text-to-text". What will happen to the teaching of text-connections? Will I be fired if my principal walks in and I am teaching the kids to make a text-to-world connection during my Non Fiction unit? Oh, NO.

We cannot, WILL NOT, take this away from them. If we did, they SIMPLY would not learn. It would be like taking their foundation of knowledge right out from underneath them and telling them, "Read this text, but only think about this text. Any prior knowledge you may have about anything in here is irrelevant. What you think does not, and will never matter." This approach is not only demoralizing to the students in the way that they are being told their life experience and previous book knowledge is completely worthless, but it is designed to transform creative, opinionated, independent-thinking citizens into complacent consumers, not questioning any ideas that are thrown into their intellectual path. That, my friends, is Government Control at its very ugliest. Once every public school (if public schools even survive the next decade) implements this abomination of our constitutional rights, we will be finished. Hitler kept his masses uneducated. He did not want his citizens to be independent thinkers. As a result, millions turned their heads out of fear and ignorance while an entire race (and any naysayers) was almost eradicated. Americans need to wake up!!!!

One may think my manner of denouncing the Common Core Standards is extreme, but I want my readers to realize just how DANGEROUS this is to our kids, and the future of our country. The implementation of Common Core Standards is only on SMALL example of the right-wing, corporate stronghold that has sickened my beloved America. Call me crazy, call me paranoid, and call me an over-the-top conspiracy theorist. But at least I've got my eyes open, and I am exercising my rights while I still have them.

"Some commentaries from the Left doubt that idealism has ever been much more than a cloak for darker purposes in educational reform, such as the production of a tranquilized work force that would learn enough--but not too much--in school." Exactly. This quote is from "Among Schoolchildren" , by Tracy Kidder, published in 1989...written over twenty years ago, it scarily holds more truth than ever, today. I highly recommend this book.

So, come September, I will take up my new position as Kindergarten Teacher ( was time for a change) and I will keep you all posted on how the Common Core affects Early Childhood Education. After all, little, cute five year olds come to school armed mostly with their life experiences, and this knowledge means the world to them at that age. Who doesn't know a five year old who loves to tell stories about themselves? For example:

"Um um um yesterday, I went to the park, and my daddy was being so silly, and and and he ran in the spwinkers, and got all wet, and then and then there was HUGE bug on his head, and it looked sooo cool, and I wanna find a book with bug pictures, I wanna find that same bug, do you have any bug books?"

Taking away the importance of a child's life experiences is an educational crime.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Test Data vs. Report Card Grades...and the Winner is....

So I am sure some of you are wondering how some of my students fared on the Torture Tests this year. Five out of my fifty-seven students did not pass the ELA exam, but all seven of my hold-overs did. And what does this tell us? That I did an OK job teaching Test Prep this year.

Yay for me.

You see, one might think that I feel proud, and in a strange sense I do. I feel proud that my students showed the discipline and respect to listen to me and apply the test-taking strategies I was blackmailed into teaching this year, regardless of that fact that it bored them to tears. This really speaks to their growth as the type of students our Deformers wanted them to become: robotic, complacent little drones, learning to read by picking apart small details in a text, viewing poetry as just a bunch of similes and metaphors and imagery, and reading a nonfiction text not for the purpose of learning and applying the content to their lives, but reading it to see if they have "reading skills".

So, I guess, in that sense, I do harbor a guilty feeling of accomplishment.

When the "pass/fail" scores came in in June (We haven't received actual numbers yet, yet they can tell us who passed and who failed? Sounds fishy to me...) I had the glorious job of telling five of my students that they had to go to Summer School, and if they did not pass the re-take in August, that they would have to repeat the entire grade. No Child Left Behind, unless she fails our unfair and subpar test twice in a row.

One of the boys knew he failed because he stopped taking the test halfway through the Multiple Choice portion (See post far below: Bubble Torture for the Kiddies). His mother claimed that she sent him to school with a fever on the day of the test. He shrugged the idea of Summer School off like it was No Big Deal. OK, he was lazy all year and failed my class anyway because he hardly did a lick of work, despite the fact that I kept him for detention, called his mother twice a month, and recommended appropriate and interesting books to him. So if it had actually been my decision, the verdict would have been the same.

Two of my girls passed my class with grades in the 80s. They came into my class reading on a 4th grade level and left reading on a 6th grade level. (See explanation of Running Records: one of my earlier posts entitled, High Stakes Testing: The Measurement of our Worth....)They worked hard all year to overcome the many challenges they faced in the journey of Literacy Education. Yes, they had attitudes and their behavior sometimes left much to be desired. But on the whole, these girls deserved a nice pat on the back for persevering all year long despite the many obstacles they faced living in the inner-city.  They both failed the test and have to go to Summer School, and were devastated. Never mind the grade I gave them. This sends them the message that no matter how hard they work, no matter what good grade their teacher gives them as a result, if they fail this test, they are DOOMED to spend the month of July in a sweltering classroom, faced with all the mundane tasks associated with Test Torture, which they were forced to do all year. In that case, what's the point in trying in class? "I worked hard, my teacher passed me, but I failed this impossible test. What's the point of even trying if I'm going to fail anyways?" Can you see how a twelve year old would arrive at this rationalization?

One girl's family had plans to travel to their native country this summer, and because they were not informed about this until Mid-June, I can imagine that must have compounded what was already a very difficult situation for that family. So now her parents have to choose between leaving her behind with a relative, not sending their family at all, or keeping her from Summer School and forcing her to repeat the sixth grade...WHEN I PASSED HER!!!!!

The final example of this display of mistrust for and disregard of the dedicated folks in my profession I will offer you is that of a student who did pass the test. He was a hold-over. He, too, refused to work all year. He never did his homework, failed many of my tests, and his attendance was terrible, despite my efforts to help him. His mother showed up to talk to me one week before school ended. I had never met her before that day because she never showed up to conferences, and her phone was always disconnected, so it was nearly impossible to reach out to her. I failed him for EVERY marking period. He simply did not, WOULD not earn a passing grade, despite the fact he reads ABOVE grade level. But....he passed the NYS ELA exam, so he MUST be ready to move on, right? He does not have to go to Summer School, gets to pass GO, and collect his passing test scores with no consequences.

Once again, the issue of consistency comes up. The students' test scores are not always consistent with the grades they actually EARN all year. What does this tell us about the measure of assessment that is being utilized in this system? That is is worth less than a square of toilet paper, and holds as much weight to me as the puffs of fur that fly out of my dog's tail in the summertime. It says next to NOTHING about what a child has REALLY learned all year, except that they know how to use process of elimination and fill in the bubble that McGraw-Hill claims to be the right one. And of course, these scores, the DATA has much more weight. About as much weight as a dumbell, or Andre The Giant. But it holds absolutley no value to me as a professional.

So....why am I here? Why do I write report cards? The grades my students earn on report cards are based on essays, class participation, behavior, homeowrk, quizzes, and unit tests. These grades reflect the hard work (or lack thereof) that my students put into my English class all year.  If the grades that I give my students on their report cards are not taken into consideration when deciding to send them to summer school or hold them back, then why am I even WRITING REPORT CARDS?

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Great MOVE

Hello, friends. My apologies for my six-week absence. I needed to percolate.

So, it is finally, finally summer vacation. NYC students and teachers really went to the Bitter End this year...I'm thinking next year we'll be there until the 4th of July. I have a sneaking suspicion that on the 28th, we may have been the only students and teachers in the country still in school. No matter, though, it's July 1st, and my relief is overwhelming. The first few days of summer I always think, "Wow. I came out of June ALIVE and still sane!"

June is quite a month. Aside from the excessive amount of cleaning and paperwork, emotions run very high among the staff and students. Especially at my school, where consistency is a foreign concept to the administration. It may help now to throw in a description of the Dungeon itself.

Our building is a 100 year old, traditional, four-story (five including the basement, which sits halfway above the ground) red-brick monstrosity, spreading over an entire city block. There are metal gratings on the windows and in the stairwells and very high ceilings from which long fluorescent light fixtures hang. The students take much pleasure in throwing their pencils in the air to see if they can land them on top of the fixtures.

The basement is rumored to be haunted by the spirit of a young girl who drowned in the swimming pool, which is currently sealed underneath the student cafeteria and filled with old books. In the basement, there is a long, tiled, skinny, door less, windowless hallway. It runs the entire width of the school and I will openly admit that I do not walk alone through it unless I absolutely HAVE to. I have often seen movement from my peripheral vision and felt the prickle of goosebumps when walking through. Although I digress, the reason for this creepy little tidbit is to add that even the building itself and the spirits within it are very unsettled.

My first year, I had a room on the second floor. My second year, I had a room on the third floor. My third year, I had a room on the first floor. Now I am slotted to teach on the fourth floor, which involved moving all materials up three flights all the way to the opposite end of the building with no elevator. Now, please don't think I'm special, or being singled out. I'm not. This year, EVERYONE had to move their classrooms. Last year, several people did. The program at this school is constantly changing every year.

I am going to speculate about the rationale behind this: keep us teachers on our toes and don't let us get too comfortable. After all, I'm sure we'll do a much better job when we have no idea what is headed our way. What message is this sending to our students? That teachers can be bullied and pushed around, therefore the kids feel at liberty to do the same, to us, and to one another.

In the process of this entire-school MOVE, we were given certain guidelines in writing, and given our new room numbers only two weeks before the end of the year, although we were not allowed to actually start moving until we only had one week left. Once that time came, we only were permitted to move our things during our lunch or prep periods. We could only move our things to our new room when that room was empty (and because of the packed-tight schedule, that was hardly ever). Yes, our students could help us move, but only during their lunch period, so if the new room wasn't empty then, we could not enlist their help. So of course, people felt pressured for time. Everyone scrambled to their new rooms to check the schedules of those rooms, and many people discovered that it would be literally impossible to move in that amount of time under the guidelines that the principal insisted on enforcing with a vengeance.

Imagine a school of over a thousand children and over eighty teachers all trying to move their classrooms all in the same week under those limitations? Oh and of course we are required to have rigorous, engaging lessons planned until the very last minute, don't forget that.

It's absolute mayhem. People are starting to bend under the pressure (and the heat on the 4th floor). People are trying their best to be their wonderful, accommodating selves, but under such stress, tempers tend to flare,  and territoriality may rear its ugly head every once in a blue moon. I'm not saying I experienced this myself, but anyone put into such a stressful situation will get snippy once in a while. As a whole, the staff at my current school is the kindest, friendliest, most supportive group of people I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with. Because we are such good, nice teachers, we sucked it up, dealt with it, plastered smiles on our sweaty, flushed faces and did our very best to do what was asked of us by the administration because, well, we really had no choice. The GREAT MOVE was happening, weather we liked it or not. We had no voices in the matter. So mostly, we accepted it, banded together to make it possible, shut up, moved our shit, and continued to be doormats.

The last day of school, though only a week away, feels completely out of reach and we can't wrap our minds around it. Kids are slinking around the halls and the classrooms with their hair plastered to their heads. Teachers have blisters on their feet. I suffer from two horrible sinus migraines due to the dust that is kicked up during my packing. My hair looks like a Brillo pad. The humidity level is high so students are puffing on their inhalers and begging to leave the room for water every five minutes, but we are "not allowed" to send anyone out of the room 8th period, when the school is hottest and the kids are the thirstiest.

And here, my friends, is the cherry on top of the sundae:

No one can adhere to the impossible MOVING GUIDELINES and still get it all done in time, so naturally, in the last few days, the rules went out the window for some who simply had no choice. I suppose the Principal picked up on this, and decided this was her cue to go on the loudspeaker each day and loudly, obnoxiously berate us about not following her "guidelines for moving as stated in the memo", for all of the students to hear. Her tone of voice reminded me of a mother telling her four year old to get his finger out of his nose. This occurred three times during the final days. I was wondering at which point she would venture out of her little air-conditioned office and maybe pick up a box or even a roll of fade less paper and hike it up to the 4th floor to give someone a hand, considering is was SHE who created this abominable situation. I mean, EVERY teacher on the first floor was slotted to move up to the fourth. Why not chip in?

Usually, the end of the year is the time when we really get to enjoy our kids. You know, we are shoving standardized test prep down their throats all year and this makes it difficult to truly bond or strike up a meaningful conversation that doesn't involve the State Learning Standards. Let's face it, the State omits important educational components such as compassion, confidence-building, and self-expression. I've always loved June because of the open curriculum, the opportunity to teach whatever I want, such as kindness or poetry. Every year I love reading aloud and having meaningful political class discussions, even if my room is 95 degrees and the kids are at their craziest. At this time, I know my students well, we trust each other and have formed a family-type bond. Each morning I am greeted with a hug by some, a high-five from others, or a homemade card. One of my girls called me Ma by accident a few times. Well, this year, that went out the window too for EVERYONE. No time to bond or relish in relationships we have formed. We had to PACK and MOVE, now, now, now. As a result, our students lost the opportunity to see us in full free creative mode. Some didn't even say good-bye.
Please don't think that I am ungrateful. I am lucky to have this job that keeps a roof over my family's head. I am ETERNALLY grateful for the summer off, so I have the opportunity to collect myself and reboot and plan for the next year, because the curriculum constantly changes too. I do not like representing myself as one of those whiny teachers who "doesn't know how good she has it".  But SWEET JESUS, June was made much more stressful than it had to be, than it already is, by an administration who wields power like it is blindly throwing bricks at our heads all year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Have you ever felt so hungry you are ready to gnaw off your fingers? Your stomach is turning in on itself and making tortured bubbly growls. You feel light-headed, perhaps you have a nagging headache. You can't focus but press on through the day regardless, knowing that you will eventually be able to eat a full meal, just not right now. Maybe, that day, you were too queasy for breakfast and too busy to eat lunch. After running around all day, you come home absolutely ravenous. So, you fix yourself some dinner, and fill your belly with some nutritious food. Lasagna, perhaps, Or chicken and rice, or some salmon with veggies. Something nourishing. On some nights you may even treat yourself to a brownie, or a little cup of butterscotch pudding.

Immediately you feel better but think, "Wow. I should have made the time for myself to eat today. I couldn't concentrate. It would have been so much more productive if I had just taken care of this basic human need.” The difference between you and millions of children in America today, is you have the resources to do so.

Now, imagine this. Feeling this hungry all the time. Every day. Knowing that the only meal you will have is a mass-produced lunch slapped onto a Styrofoam tray, canned veggies, oily meat, greasy pizza, or squished PB&J. You eat it because it's there, because it is all that's available to you. Sometimes, if you can wake up on time, you get on an earlier bus or leave the apartment a few minutes in advance to walk the several blocks to school by yourself. You eat the breakfast the school offers, which is usually a tiny carton of milk or juice, and small, dried-up muffin or bagel.

Now, imagine this. You have been starving for most of your life. You are eleven years old and your body needs nutrients to grow properly and fuel your brain. Malnutrition has detrimental and cumulative effects on the brain, nervous system, and digestive system. Light-headedness, confusion, queasiness, and headaches are a part of your normal routine, especially in the morning when your last meal was maybe 20 hours ago, and if it’s a Monday, more than a day or two ago. You are too thin and your skin has a pale yellow pallor, and you are fully aware of your teacher's awareness of your constant hunger by the way she slips you a cereal bar from her lunch or looks at you with helpless sympathy in her eyes. You feel shame.

You do not have the ability to go out and get a job. You do not have the courage to complain about your hunger to your parents, because they are hungry, too. Maybe there is a baby to feed in the house and all available funds go to feeding her and keeping the apartment. Maybe all there is in the cabinets is rice. Maybe your parents are too proud to ask for help or go to a food pantry. Maybe your mommy works two jobs and it’s your responsibility to scrape whatever is in the cupboards together into a meal for your little siblings. And you feed them first, because they’re, well, little.

Now, imagine this. In school, you are expected to sit in your seat for several hours and concentrate on test preparation work that confuses and bores the life out of you, but images of that lunch on the Styrofoam tray are dancing in front of your eyes. Your teacher tries to help you as much as she can, but there are 29 other kids in the class, and some of them are rude bullies who are cursing and yelling, and that makes it even more futile to even try and focus. Dreams of a successful future are forsaken by the fact that you try as hard as you can in school, put in your very best effort, but can't focus on your work because you are always always hungry.

One day, your teacher takes you down the street to a food pantry after school. She gathers information and tells you to give the phone number and address of the organization to your mom. When you take the information home, she refuses to go. She is too proud, too humble to take charity. Where Mommy comes from, there are many people much hungrier than you are. It would not be right to take food from the mouths of others. The next day, you go to school and your teacher asks, “Did Mom call the food pantry?” You bow your head down on your desk, knowing she was trying to help. Your mother’s pride is making you feel shameful. Your teacher starts giving you a cereal bar every day.

(This is a true account of a student in my class. She is ONE example of MANY hungry children I have taught.)

So, faithful reader, what do you think happens?

For healthy, well-fed people of all classes, races, cultures, and creeds:

Put yourself in the position of this hungry inner-city child. At what grade level would YOU have completely checked out and stopped caring? At what age would you have joined a gang out of desperation of support and belonging, or sold drugs or your prepubescent body in hopes of acquiring some cash to feed yourself or your hungry baby sister? At what point would you have relinquished your childhood dreams of being a veterinarian or an artist or a teacher? When would YOU give up on yourself?

I write this post because it is a REALITY for some of my students. Every day I look that hungry child in the eyes, I pray with every inch of my being to God that she does not relinquish her dreams because of her constant hunger. I hope beyond all hope that it does not suck the hope and life and joy out of that amazing, poetic, imaginative mind. And then, I come home, eat a good, home cooked, healthy meal with my family, and thank my lucky stars.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Week: Bubble-Torture for the Kiddies

As we all know, last week was the dreaded State ELA exam. My observations were as follows:

*Students were completely whacked out right before the test. It was a challenge to calm them down. Pancakes seems to be the popular test-breakfast this year.

*As I was attempting to reassure and quiet these poor souls, getting them to take a nice deeeeep breath, an unfamiliar woman wearing a visitor's tag and a puss on her face peered unabashedly into my classroom. I said,  "Can I help you?" and she said, "I'm just here checking on things." (Oh, she must have been one of those teacher-checkers. Right.) This sent the kiddies into hysterics. Becuase, that's how they are. Things I find infuriating, they find funny. "Man, Miss! You told her!" Screech, screech.

*Kiddies are finally calm. I hand out the answer sheets. Ali's is missing. What do I do? The test is timed. We all have to begin together, otherwise, Bubble Test Law #417-1330 will be violated and I may be incarcerated for Altering of Official Torture Documents. I call the testing office to let them know of Ali's missing Torture Sheet, and the kiddies see I am distracted by the phone so they start babbling again. In my head, I become convinced that my class is the only one in the school that has not yet begun.

*In a few minutes, someone comes in with a blank answer sheet and directs me to direct the unfortunate Ali into bubbling her name, birthday, astrological sign, shoe size, head circumfrence, and Student ID# onto the sheet. I have to provide this number and look it up, so this takes a few minutes. The rest of the class is anxiously waiting to get started. Buzz, buzz. Tick, tock.

*Finally, finally, I am able to hand out the booklets and allow the students to begin. They have 70 long minutes and 7 passages and 42 multiple-choice questions, and 42 little round bubbles.

*Five minutes into it, someone comes in and hands me Ali's answer sheet that has her name actually printed on it. She sighs loudly and rolls her eyes. Twenty-eight pairs of eyes tear themselves away from the first passage and watch, distracted, as she recieves the correct answer sheet. The sheet she so carefully filled in herself is promptly discarded.

*There are exactly enough test booklets for the amount of students in my class. Fortunately for me, one of the kiddies is absent, so I have access to the booklet with the passages and questions, out of pure default. If I did not have an absent student that day, I would not have been able to actually see the test I was forced to teach to all year. The second day, for the writing portion, I did not have a booklet to look at. I peered over my kids' shoulders. What a slap in the face.

On to the passages and questions:

-The questions were clearly written to trick and misguide the kiddies.  There were at least one or two questions per passage that were very difficult or almost impossible to answer.
Now, I am obviously a good reader, otherwise I wouldn't be an English teacher. I blow through at least 3-4 books a week every summer. But, so help me Jesus, I could not answer some of these questions myself. There is something really wrong with that. I know tested, mind-numbing reading "strategies" inside and out. I've been shoving it in between their ears all year long, and have had plenty of professional development to guide me in doing so.

-Some of the questions were negative: "Which one is not the answer?" I saw more of these types of torture devices than I had ever seen before. There were none in the test prep book.

-The passages were extremely male-centered. It was actually my principal that pointed that out. All of the fiction and nonfiction passages had protagonists who were males. The nonfiction passages were about basketball and lawn mowers. The illustrations were all of males. Even the personification in the poetry was male-centered. It must have been extremely difficult for my girls to relate to the texts and activate any prior knowledge on those subjects. Sheesh. Or should I say, Balls.

-The last "passage" was a blank volunteer application. Although the directions stated for the students not to fill it out, many had never seen an application before and were completely thrown off, and wasted their time trying to fill it out before realizing they only had to answer four questions about it. Mind you, nowhere in the school's curriculum, test prep books, or on any previous state tests was there any sort of application. How is an 11-year old supposed to  successfully answer questions about something they've never seen before?

-Finally, the timing. They had only seventy minutes to finish the test. That's ten minutes per passage. This does not encourage the students to read slowly and carefully. One of my boys is a very slow reader, however is reading on grade level, and when given the appropriate amount of time, can be very successful. When I passed his desk about 45 minutes into it, he had barely finished half of the questions. He had also completely stopped working. I quietly encouraged him to move on. He looked at me and said, "No. I don't want to take this stupid test, and I'm not finishing it." I was powerless to help him because, well, we're not supposed to be talking during the test. Ooooh-kay.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is proof, again, that the Education "Reformers" are setting up students and the teachers who devote their lives to education, to fail miserably. It is nauseating, infuriating, frustrating, demoralizing, and a completely backwards way of educating America's Future. I feel powerless to stop it and the only way I am maintaining any semblance of sanity regarding this matter is by continuing to write this blog. I am so relieved there are others who share my views who are willing to expose the truth as well. We need to continue this fight for the sake of our children's rights as American Citizens. Not a single day goes by that I don't fret about the disgracefully poor quality of education my son and my students are exposed to as a result of these ignorant, clueless, racist, sexist, filthy-rich policy makers.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Social Studies...NYC's Sad Casualty of Standardized Testing

This morning, during independent reading time, I was discussing a book with one of my students....and he was a little confused. It was "Dust Bowl", a poetic account of a little girl living through the Great Depression. I asked him, "Vinnie, have you ever heard of the Great Depression?" He said, "Ummm, noooo....".

Feeling very discouraged and trying my hardest not to show it, I sat next to him and quietly gave him a quick explanation of that time period.  I ended my little lesson with, "The great Depression ended in the late 1930s under the presidency of FDR, his New Deal really helped. Soon after, World War II began." By now, three other boys had put down their own books and were candidly eavesdropping with great fascination, and it dawned on me that none of then knew about the Great Depression, either. I know this because they had their I'm-hearing-new-information faces on.

Andy, one of the listeners, piped up, "Is World War II still going on?" Poker-face. For a second, I thought he was joking.
I kept a poker face, too, but I'll admit, it was difficult to hide my shock. I said, "No, Andy, dear. WWII ended in 1945."

He frowned, deep in thought for a second, his big preadolescent brown eyes shifting. "Well, is it WW III now, then?"

Again, I responded calmly. Mind you, it takes years of experience with children to master this skill when inside, you are bubbling up. I was actually bubbling up with sympathy and frustration. It was bubbling up so much that I closed my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and then pushed on. This helps me to be sure the right words come out, and I don't say anything that may insult my students. "No, there is no WW III."

(Hmmmm...I seem to be overusing the word "bubbling"....coincidence?)

The boys went back to their books. I tried to recover. Andy is a very bright kid. He is a talented dancer, artist, and poet. Although he lacks self-control, he is respectful to adults and puts a good effort into his academics. Vinnie excels in math, is reading above a 6th grade level, and is very well-spoken and as sensible as a twelve year old boy can possibly be.

And yet, one of them knows nothing about WWII and the other knows nothing about The Great Depression. NOTHING. In addition, until I informed them myself, a large majority if my class did not know that our country is at war. At the beginning of the school year, we were reading a passage about Anne Frank. Just to assess my students' prior knowledge before reading, I asked, by show of hands, who had heard of The Holocaust. About half of my class raised their hands.

I mulled over this during my lunch period, finding myself distracted from the massivle pile of papers I was attempting to grade while eating my bologna sandwich. Recently, I have (obviously) been writing and reading a whole lot about about Education "Reform". I know this "reform" focuses primarily on Language Arts and Mathematics because the NYS Standardized tests supposedly assess childrens' abilities in these TWO areas of academics, denouncing Social Studies, Science, Art, Music, Enrichment, Conflict Resolution, and Creative Writing.  Although Social Studies and Science are testing sbjects as well, they are only tested every few years, usually on fourth and eighth grade levels. Teachers, such as myself, who teach either ELA or math on the sixth-grade level are under a microscope that Social Studies teachers, for example, are not. Don't worry, I'm not blaming them. Their passion and inspiration is being stifled as well. In fact, the Social Studies teachers at my school MUST take an ELA test-driven approach to teaching their content. The research projects and engaging activities that involve the use of technology and art supplies in the classroom have been replaced with DBQs (Document-Based Questions) and multiple-choice passages based on the Social Studies curriculum.
So, what happens to History? Do our students grow up without the information that teaches them empathy? Will our students grow up only to repeat history's disasters because they were deprived of understanding the key elements of humanity? How is this system going to shape them into thoughtful adults? It isn't. The education they are entitled to today is meant to turn them into drones.

As and English teacher, I have found ways around this. We read historical fiction. We research and discuss the non-fiction passages in test prep books that are related to history.  I do what I can. But I am not equipped to teach both subjects, because I am not allowed the time to do so. They have a Social Studies teacher, and his pedagogy is being squelched as well.

This is an emergency!!

My own students are clueless about crucial eras in American History, WORLD history, because their elementary teachers had to focus on the subjects that are tested as per the policies of education "reformers". Suddenly, in the past 10 or so years, history and social studies have been placed on the back burner. The proof is in my students. How could we, as NYC teachers, let this happen? Are we so afraid of the system's repercussions on us as professionals that we have compromised our own pedagogy?

Our NYC students are being robbed of a Social Studies education. Are suburban children deprived as well?

My son is in the third grade in a suburb outside of the city. He has learned, on top of test prep of course, a decent amount in Social Studies this year. He has studied economics, the Bill Of Rights, Native Americans, The Great Wall of China...the list goes on and on. His teacher is doing a great job teaching the subject so that it is engaging, and as a result, my son has learned about current events, who he is as an American as well as the value of other cultures.

Do you see a marked inconsistency here? Students who live in fairly affluent areas seem to have more of a right to a decent Social Studies education than those who live in poor areas of NYC. Yet, my students NEED this education more than anyone! Learning about History and Social studies is a vital element to self-discovery. My kids have no idea who they are. We don't even have to time to educate them about their OWN communities or cultures!

When I was a little girl, I learned about the Holocaust in Elementary School. I can't remember which grade. I learned about the Incas, the Myans, Ferdinand Magellan, The Chinese New Year. We did projects that not only involved writing, but arts and crafts as well. We built mini pueblos, constructed dioramas.

Every Friday, I would climb onto a school bus with my 5th grade class and volunteer at a Senior Center. I'd sing and dance and play cards with my senior citizen "buddy". I learned to dance the Charleston from the 1920s, and the song, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" from the Depression Era. I heard firsthand accounts of soldiers and survivors, and reacted emotionally. This is how  learned the history of the 20th Century.

I remember turning in my homework and speaking to teachers respectfully. That was very important. I remember taking Enrichment class and building a cardboard robot with a tape recorder inside her, and recording my voice so she could talk. I invented a velcro book cover and grew plants and painted murals. I remember in 4th grade, writing a 60-page novel while my teacher encouraged, inspired and supported me, telling me that one day I could publish my own book. She never stopped me to fill in a bubble sheet or asked me to identify the Most Relevant Details in my writing. I did take a standardized test here and there, but I don't remember them being all that important. And when I did take them, I panicked during the test, because I am not a good test-taker. It was understood that the tests didn't define my true abilities.

I went to NYC Schools until the sixth grade.

Guess what? I turned out rather nicely, if I do say so myself. I grew up and went to college and earned a masters' degree and became a teacher in the very same school system that educated me when I was little. What a rude awakening. It was like stepping into a completely different world. What haaaapened??? It was unrecognizable. Gone were the rainbows of my childhood. They were replaced by the gray clouds of Corporate Education Reform.

It's mind-boggling. Bloomberg and Klein and GWB and Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee managed to single-handedly DEMOLISH the education of MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of children, exploiting their parents by keeping them poor and misinformed, WHILE bullying teachers into completely dismissing the most valuable components of education (History, Social Studies, science, music, and art) that are so obviously vital to the intellectual growth of their students. Innovative teaching practices that have been proven effective by numerous research studies, professors of education, and scholars have been thrown to the wind. It's terrifying. What will become of our democracy if our students don't even know what democracy means?

That's all, folks. I've worked myself up. I'm too furious to write. It's Friday night. No more stress.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My rebuttle to an article, "The Joys of Jargon"....this not how we choose to speak, write, or plan.

Dear Mr. Murrow,
I am an educator. Upon reading your article about educational jargon, , I feel the need to clarify a very important point: it's not the actual teachers who enjoy using jargon such as "academic rigor" (whatever that means, really) or "data-driven instruction" (looking at test scores and basing our teaching on it as if it were the Holy Bible) Please understand that we hate it just as much as you do, but are forced to use it by "reformers" and administrators. Please allow me to quote your article:

"Do some educators obfuscate because they think it makes them sound more professional? Are some educators so deep in the weeds of their profession that they have forgotten how to communicate with ordinary folks?"

 Please don't think we actually feel validated educationally or professionally in any way using this repetitive, ambiguous language. It sucks the life out of my planning and teaching. You may want to consider revising your article and replacing every word "educator" with "reformer". As much as I agree with your outlook on jargon, I feel that you tone is very anti-teacher, counterproductive, and a little ignorant of the fact that teachers are in the MOST precarious position in this fight against Education Reform. It is surprising to me that you would use this language when you have been interviewing educators for 35 years. American Citizens, especially parents (I'm one, too and I am very careful not to blame my child's teacher for the idiotic educational practices and rhetoric of today) need to stop blaming us for what we are being blackmailed into and look to the real source of  the tyranny: Corporate Education Policy Makers. You know, those disgustingly rich CEOs and politicians who impose high-stakes standardized testing on our students to the point that they are so stressed out that middle schoolers are drinking vodka in school and hiding feces in classrooms three days before the test. Those same "reformers" who sell their expensive testing materials to public school districts and pocket millions in the process of violating our childrens' right to an interactive education.

Please, do not put myself or my comrades in the same intellectual category as the Corporate Education Deformers.  Trust me, most of us politically informed teachers want all of them to go to Hell, too.

All The Best,
Mrs. ChalkDuster

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

ChalkDuster's Future: The Inside Story

So, Spring Break has come to an end. I know I won't sleep well tonight. Anxiety sets in. Sometimes, my loved ones say, "Why do you worry so much? Remember, it's just a job."

As much as I love my loved ones, I have to admit, sometimes they just don't understand at all. No, it is not just a job. Teaching is a way of life. Even when I'm not actually in the classroom, my mind is. My mind is thinking about whether or not my next lesson will be sufficient to teach my kids to the standards yet still leave them with the sense of wonder and creativity they should have as sixth graders. .My heart is wondering if my students are safe right at this moment. My stomach is in knots over the next meeting with my principal to review an observation or my dreaded "professional portfolio". WAIT! Definition time!

Professional Portfolio (pro-fess-shun-al port-foh-li-oh): A rather large binder full of three years of formal and informal observations, lessons, community contributions, student work, letters, and, of course, TEST DATA that NYC teachers hired in 2008 need to put together RIGHT NOW so we may be reviewed for tenure.

I was informed in March that I had to put this portfolio together for my tenure. One would think that I would have been told three years ago, when I was hired, so I would have been able to gather the items needed for my portfolio over the years. Just this year, the state has changed their tenure evaluation process. We now need to prove ourselves worthy of the Due Process that tenure entitles us to.

So, essentially, in the past six weeks I have tried like hell to have this portfolio ready for review. Of course, this was dropped on our heads two short months before the state test, and the due date for the portfolio is right before the test. You would think the Bigwigs would see that our priority is our students at this time, but I suppose we are expected to use every second of our personal time constructing this professional portfolio. Teachers have families and lives outside of our jobs, and this is not considered whatsoever. The common misconception is that we have tons of time off. We don't. If we're not grading papers or planning (or putting together last-minute portfolios) at home, we are thinking about our students, lessons, and administrators.

To compound this frustration and pressure, I found out just how drastically tenure guidelines have changed. The most monumental "adjustment" aside from the professional portfolio is that the three years of probation that precedes tenure can now be extended....FOREVER. So, my question is...what's the point of tenure at all if a principal has the power to never grant it, but also does not have to fire the teacher if she won't grant it?

This basically means teachers can be led around on a stick for as many years as the principal sees fit, will always be disposable and exposed to subjective scrutiny without the protection of Due Process.

My future as a teacher seems quite unstable st the moment. Anxiety sets in. I have a family to support.

Good night.

Teacher Dies While Preparing Students For Standardized Test...NO JOKE!!!




Sunday, April 24, 2011

The "Hold-Overs": Suspended in Time

This post is dedicated solely to my "hold-overs". My sixth-should-be-seventh graders. I believe some of them may even be sixth-should-be-eighth graders. They are, in no particular order: Sashaya, Ray, Steve, Andrew, Rielle, Kara, and James. The "veteran" eight in this class of thirty. So, you may think to ask, how does this happen? We thought no children were "left behind"?! This post will describe the educational experiences of one of these children, Sashaya. I'd love to write about them all tonight, but my fingers might fall off from typing so much.

I have a true teacherly affection for Sashaya. She's not one of those girly-girls, more of a tomboy. She wears baggy cargo pants, no makeup, no big earrings or piercings. It's evident that her family doesn't have much in the way of finances, she wears the same two or three shirts, doesn't have a cell phone, and is entitled to free lunch. She has long bangs that hang down her face, hiding beautiful, dark-brown eyes. I often fight the urge to push her hair away from her eyes, and I wonder how those bangs don't tickle her cheeks and eyes. Her hair is always a mess. She has a loud, boisterous personality, speaks her mind honestly, and asks profound questions at random times. She's funny, dramatic, intelligent, and I will never forget her.
Well...this is how repeating grades works. State tests, mainly. The kids are made to think that if their math or English teacher fails them, that would be the cause of the delay in their educational career. But really, it's all about the state tests, of course. I mean, why take my word for it? If a student of mine is failing my class by not producing any work or flunking the tests and quizzes I (or the ELA department) create, one would think that I would be involved in the process of deciding if they should repeat the sixth grade. That would just make way too much sense. Instead, this life-altering decision (and repeating a year IS really life-altering for students) is based on their math and ELA scores.

So, here is Sashaya's story. Last year, when I was not her teacher, she passed the ELA exam. Not with flying colors, mind you, but enough to "show" that she is barely "proficient" in the subject. Although she was reading below grade level, she managed to get a 2 (out of 4).  She fails the math exam. Miserably. So, they send her to summer school for math. She takes the math exam AGAIN in August, and fails it again, therefore causing her to repeat the entire year for sixth grade: math, ELA, social studies, and science. She may not have failed anything but math, however.

This means that Sashaya COULD and SHOULD be learning seventh-grade material in every subject BUT math, but I suppose it's just easier for the system to waste her time. I think this is a completely asinine way to try to improve a students' performance, but I saw in Sashaya what the administration did not see: a student who really wants to learn, who really struggles in math, and who, after years and years of rigorous standardized testing (Sash is not a good test taker, she freezes up) has completely lost her drive and confidence as a learner.

I began the year with Sashaya by assessing her reading level with a running record (please see previous post for definition) and wound up discussing her reading abilities. She "tested" at a high fourth-grade level.

Sash:  "The words just swim around on the page. I hate reading, I can't focus. I read and read and don't understand any of it."
Me: "Well, what are you reading? Does it interest you?"
Sash: "No, it's totally boring."
Me: "Well, let me help you find a more engaging text first. then we need to figure out how to keep you focused. What else may be causing you to be distracted while you read?"
Sash: "I have lots of trouble sitting still. It's really hard for me."
Me: "Ok, well, during independent reading time, you may get up and stretch, or take a short walk around the room."

What was crucial for Sashaya was for her to realize on her own what was preventing her from focusing. Now, when she takes a reading test in my classroom, I allow her to stand at the back table while she takes the test, She can choose to stand, crouch, kneel, sit in a chair, sit on the floor if she pleases. having the ability to move freely actually helps her focus. Although this is far from the case for many students, it's what works for her. The problem is, during the state test, the ones that dictate if she will repeat the grade yet again, the one that "measures" my teaching ability, she has to sit still at her desk, two days in a row, for waaaay too long. Hours.

In December, I had another reading conference with her. We are now in the nonficiton unit, where I am to teach kids test-prep: basically how to understand a text based on the details presented, and the careful analysis of the relevance of said details as it relates only to that text.

She was clutching a book called Chew on This (sorry, author slips my mind). This is a book (I believe it's 6th or 7th grade level)  that explores what is REALLY in food, especially fast food.

Me: So, how's this book going for you? What have you learned?
Sash: "The chickens!!! I can't BELIEVE what they do to the poor CHICKENS!! Mrs G, I gotta tell you, I'm never, ever eating at McDonalds AGAIN!!" Her face is twisted with rage.
Me: I'm trying to hide my amusement, because the last thing I expected Sash to become passionate about was chickens. She does not like animals, unless it is a cute furry kitten or something. She's really skittish. "What do you mean, Sash? What happens to the chickens? Why are you so upset?"
Sash: "OMG. They keep 'em in tiny cages so they can't grow. They keep baby chicks away from their mommies. They chop their heads off and the chickens can still FEEL THE PAIN afterwards and they run around without their heads. Then they grind up their bones and cartilage and everything...and that goes into the CHICKEN NUGGETS they have at McDonalds. That is so so so sooooo gross and I am never eating them again. Those poor chickens!" She is close to tears.
Me: "Ooooh, now I see why you didn't have to get up while reading. You were really engaged. You know, some people choose not to eat meat for that very reason. Apparently, this book has helped you form a strong opinion on animal and consumer rights in this country."
Sash: "The author is trying to tell us what is really in food, so we can make healthy choices."

I won't go on with the rest of that conversation, but my point is, in a few short months, my student realized there was a very profound purpose to reading. Reading to learn facts about life that helps us shape our own choices and convictions. She was able to conclude by gathering facts and details that the Fast Food industry is feeding her complete crap and has now made a conscious decision, at thirteen, not to buy into it. Now, THAT'S learning. You would never see this type of text, a RELEVANT text, on the state test.

Sashaya's reading and writing abilities have improved dramatically this year. I do not care what any state test will say, because it is not a fair or accurate measure of her hard work or ability to comprehend a text.  I am not her math teacher. I can't be sure if she will pass the sixth grade this year, but what I can do is try and fight for her to be in an appropriately challenging, seventh-grade ELA class next year. I do not feel there is any need to hold her back any more. This year, she has grown socially because she is a leader in my class (being one of the oldest girls, and probably the most outspoken when it comes to her convictions) emotionally (she now expresses her personal suffering through poetry) and academically (she is self-aware as a learner). but then again, who am I to assess, to make decisions? Oh, I'm just her teacher. What do I know?

Friday, April 22, 2011

High-Stakes Testing...the Measurement of our Worth as Students and Teachers.

Hello, I'm back! I apologize to my meager number of readers for my three-month silence. I'm fighting the anger and frustration that causes writer's block. So much to say, I'm all backed up!

Recently, I have made a wonderful, inspiring discovery. Tons and tons of concerned citizens like myself are starting to fight--engage in battle, an all-out-war-- the ruthless attack on the Public Schools of America. It is so relieving to know I am not alone in this battle, as a teacher and a parent. It also helps me to feel more secure about publishing my opinions about the subject on the may of us Ed Advocates are now using blogging as our outlet to exposing the very ugly truths about corporate-driven education policies. Some even have called it Education "Deform". How creative!

To me, the most monumental part of this battle is the fight against high-stakes Stanzardized Testing. Many parents and students in many states, particularly Pennsylvania, are "opting out" of standardized testing. Parents have had enough! We feel that we are losing autonomy over our own childrens' education. We feel it is a form of neglect. Some of us will even go as far as to say we feel it violates child labor laws in states where merit pay is involved.

Wow I wish the parents of MY inner-city students would consider that...but the sad fact is they are in the process of being brainwashed by this system. They are made to believe these tests are GOOD for their children. Also, they are so busy trying to survive (you know, keep a roof over their kids' heads, put food on the table, and protecting their kids from gangs and stray bullets) that fighting this good fight is a mere intellectual morsel in the backs of their minds. After all, it is so easy to brainwash people who are distracted by the fact that they need to work 50 hours a week at a minimum wage job in order to feed and shelter their familes. It is even easier to distract those who (understandably) want their children to have a better life than they do...and college is the goal. And how do we get into college? WE SCORE WELL ON TESSSSTS! Wahooo.

What many parents fail to realize is that exposing their beloved offspring to high-stakes, developmentally INAPPROPRIATE mindless testing that focuses on strategy rather than content and rich literature is not the ticket to this "better life". It's a one-way ticket to their child becoming another oppressed member of this society, forever bound to serving a corporate rich man (ok...or woman...must be PC here...) who does not question authority, has no real-life skills such as project-buliding, problem-solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, compassion, or creativity. And yes, I believe compassion is a SKILL.

So, in this post, I will explore these pressing questions:

Is this an accident? A big ooopsie on the blip of modern education? Are today's educational leaders aware of the grave mistakes they are making, numbing the minds of the lower and middle-class children of America? Is high-stakes testing just an easy way to measure schools and teachers?

NO, it is no accident. Think of it this way, it is so much easier to keep the wealthy rich and the poor SERVING and impovershed if the kids who go to underfunded public schools are forced to "learn" this way, and teachers are forced to teach to a test, rather than to the intellectual, mental, emotional, and individual needs of her students.

Private schools do not emphasize high-stakes testing. Private schools implement cooperative lessons, interactive units and project-based learning. And although public schools in wealthy areas of the counry are still required to test, they have more resources (money) to make the experience much more well-rounded for their students. Meaning, students can achieve high test scores through innovative education, regardless of wether they are taught "to" the test, through accountable talk, skill-building, and the implementation of Bloom's Taxonomy.

Upon graduating, wealthy students have these important skills that are needed in the business world. Their parents either can afford to send them to private school or live an area (predominantly white, like Bronxville or Scarsdale) where schools are properly funded because of the rediculously high taxes in those towns.

The kids that go to underfunded urban and rural public schools (hopefully) graduate High School armed with reading strategies like finding the "main idea" and "relevant details" within a text, or discovering the "authors purpose". Great, wonderful reading strategies, but there are only four answers to choose from. In many questions, two of these answers are so close to "right", or it seems none of the answers are right, and it becomes more about multiple choice strategy than the actual text itself. Because there is such an emphasis on this "testing strategy", and we spend 90% of our instructional time teaching this way, students will not graduate armed with the REAL strategies they need to survive in the work force, in college, or in adult life, where one needs to learn how to be creative, problem-solving, compassionate and build strong relationships.

That's only for the children of wealthy people.

(Funny, though, compassionate wealthy people barely exist, anyway--how ironic)

See, it's no accident that I have no time to teach important life-skills. I have a test-prep course to teach my 11-year-olds. Fill in those bubbles all the way with your #2 pencil, do not form opinions when you write,and regurgitate text details. The only reason why I need these skills now as an adult is becuase I have to teach them to my students.

Just to clear it up, there is a writing portion on the NYS English Language Arts test--it is very unfairly timed and does not involve any sort of persuasion, problem-solving, creative, or opinion-based writing. It's still all based on texts the students read, and they are rushed through it. I KNOW for a FACT that if my students were given more time on these portions of the test, they would be more successful.

Sure, it's important be armed with reading strategies. I'm not knocking the NYS standards, although I think some key educational components are missing (such as compassion). I'm knocking the way I am forced to teach them. I run a test-prep course. The skills and strategies outlined in the NYS learning standards CAN be taught differently. Hey! I have an idea! How about reading a REALLY GOOD book with my students ---

(For example....hmmm...Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli--a fantastic historical fiction on the 6th grade level book that eloquently tells the story of a little boy living in the Warsaw Ghetto.)

---and actually DISCUSSING the book? Having debates on the deep issues of hatred and prejudice the book stirs up? But no. I have been repeatedly told by admin that a whole-class book is out of the question. But, IF, I aquired the all-coveted PERMISSION of my supervisor, and was "allowed" to read a whole-class book, If I REALLY want to be an effective test-teacher, I would make up tricky multiple-choice questions about the book and have my students explain why they chose their answer. In other words, I'd suck the joy right out of the experience of reading (and teaching) great literature.

So, no, it is no accident. Educational leaders ARE aware of the grave mistakes they are making, and do not care. Are these "educational leaders" listening to the advice offered by other countries who are on top of the Education World, such as Finland or Thailand? No. Are they cutting funding to public education while demading unrealistic test scores in the most poverty-ravaged areas of this country? Yes. Are they making it impossible for ELL students and Special Ed students to go to (uuuuugh) Charter Schools (ie test prep factories)? Yes. Is that blatant discrimination? Yes. Is any of this an accident? NO.

OK...on to the second portion of the question : Is high-stakes testing just an easy way to "measure" schools and teachers? OF COURSE IT IS!!! Measure me, please! Measure away! Why not? It's just one test that my students take on one day of the school year, regardless of the fact that they may be sick that day, or may have had a fight with their mom, or their dad may have walked out that month and they are sad, or that they didn't eat breakfast or dinner the night before, or they may have been distrated by the random rucous noises in my Middle School or that they simply cannot sit still for the amount of time it takes to fill in the little bubbles, or, the most likely option, they've been under so much pressure all year long to perform on this test that the day came and now they are ----literally----frozen with fear. I have no conrol over ANY of these factors. So, please, why don't you JUDGE my teaching abilities, based on this test.

After all, my family's livelihood and the carrer I worked so hard for (and still am paying student loans back for) depends on it. And while you're at it, judge my school, my collegues, my supervisors, my district, and my city. Send that bubble sheet right through the computer, and measure my worth as a public servant. Sure, you can judge me, but you will NEVER keep me quiet about the manner in which you choose to do so. Remember, folks...that's the beauty of America, we have Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Assembly.

Moving on, much of education funding depends on the test results of your specific school or district. That's why underperforming schools are underfunded--it's a viscious cycle. Remember that corporations are now in full control of much of the country. The CEOs at McGraw-Hill Corporation are making a killing selling their mindless tests to public school disticts.  So, high-stakes testing is a simple and very economic way to measure "teacher effectiveness" .

Hey, corporate leaders of America...I'm sure your teachers taught YOU this when you were in school: the simplest way is NOT always the most efficient. It's just the quickest way to put more hard-earned taxpayer money into your already overflowing pockets.

The saddest part is, somehow in this fight, we have lost sight of who we are fighting for, not for ourselves, or our money, or our benefits, or our unions or political parties. We are fighting for our students, who have been brainwashed to the pathetic point that they think they are represented by a number. "Yay, I'm a 4."  "Oh, I suck, I'm a 1."  "Do you think I will be a 2 again this year?" It's very sad. I have actually taken the risk of telling my class that they are not definable by a score, and that a number cannot truly represent who they are as students, as people, as children. I was met with gaping mouths. Do their parents not tell them this? Do their parents not see that this is how society is measuring their childrens' intellectual "worth"? Well, I'll tell you what, not MY kid. There are many parents who are aware and educated who have their eyes open to these injustices. However, as I stated prior, may are not, becuase they are too brainwashed, or too busy trying to survive in these impossible economic times.

Final mental picure for you, dear readers:

Me: OK, everyone, the test is soon, be sure to review the notes and strategies I gave you during your spring break. Don't forget to do the 15 pages I assigned you in your test prep book!

Aisha: Miss, what do we do in May, after the test? Does school still count? Is school over then? Do we get to come here and do nuthin'?

Me: No, school still counts after the test. We're going to have Book Clubs and write poetry. We have a WHOLE MONTH to do that!

Class: (Reallllly noisy, rucous joy) YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHHHH!!!

They are just dying for a REAL education. True Story.