How to Teach Reading, Management,
30 Years of Charters
I often bookmark an article that I’d like to use as a basis for a blog entry…and then a week later, it seems like there are more important things I have to do so it gets pushed down the list until I forget about it completely. So today I’d like to look back at some still-relevant articles from the last few months that I found interesting, but got buried by other things on my to-do list.
HOLD POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE
The Every Child Succeeds Act still requires states to test every child every year. There are no longer federal consequences to “failure,” but the federal government still requires the states to tell them what the state-level consequences for low scoring schools are.
Here’s an idea…we know that test scores “correlate with family and neighborhood income” so why should all accountability be dumped on teachers and students? Why should third-graders who fail IREAD3 in Indiana be forced to repeat third grade when it’s possible that the child’s academic struggles are caused by the effects of poverty?
So how about if we put the accountability and consequences where they belong…on state and national politicians and legislators.
As John Kuhn wrote a few years ago…
…where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”?
Politicians and legislatures are “failing” when poverty is unaddressed or when progress towards easing poverty isn’t enough to qualify as “adequate yearly progress.”
Politicians and legislatures are “failing” when they sign or pass laws such as third-grade retention laws, or laws which misuse standardized tests, which force educators into doing things that are educationally questionable.
It’s time to attach sanctions to states which allow their public schools to suffer while wasting billions of dollars on misused standardized tests, on vouchers, and on charters.
It’s time to attach sanctions to states which spend more money on wealthy schools that poor schools.
It’s time that we stop blaming teachers for things outside of their control and hold accountable those who can help change things…but don’t.
Decades of research show that, in the aggregate, standardized test scores correlate with family and neighborhood income. In a country where segregation by race and poverty continues to grow, it is now recognized among experts and researchers that rating and ranking schools and districts by their aggregate test scores merely brands the poorest schools as failing. When sanctions are attached, political regimes of test-based accountability merely punish the schools and the teachers and the students in the poorest places.
A code of conduct for the people making pronouncements on education…good idea.
-In fact, you know what? Don’t use standardized tests at all to assess student learning – especially not connected to high stakes. Instead rely on classroom grades and teacher observations for student assessment. Use indexes and audits of school resources to determine whether they are doing their best to teach students and whether lawmakers have done enough to ensure they are receiving fair and equitable resources.
TIME FOR SCHOOL
Blogger Peter Greene has retired from teaching and recently discovered that time in school is different than time outside of school.
As an elementary teacher, I had to learn how to use time to my advantage. The biggest problems were daily interruptions. One year I had to keep a list of where and at what time I had to send students out of the room.
Student A was diabetic and had to go to the nurse three times a day to have his blood sugar checked.
Student B had to go to occupational therapy three days a week and speech twice a week.
Students C, D, E, F, and G had to go to speech at a different time and different days than student B.
Students D, F, G, and H went to the reading specialist three times a week.
…and so on. In addition, I had to get my students to Phys. Ed on Tuesdays at 9:47, Music on Thursdays at 9:47, and Art on Fridays at 10:02. Library was on Mondays at 9:47, and lunch was every day at 11:20.
I also had to make sure that I picked my students up from their classes on time. The Art teacher had my students from 10:02-10:42 and another class at 10:45, which gave him three minutes between the time my students left and his next class arrived. Time to go to the bathroom? Not likely.
I had to arrange my in-class schedule so that Students A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H, didn’t miss anything important when they were at speech, occupational therapy, the nurse, or the reading specialist. And I had to make sure that when they came back — all at different times — I was ready for them.
Our days were scheduled down to the minute…
This is one of the things about teaching that non-teachers just don’t get. If you have an office job and someone says, “Hey, I want you to work in this little project some time this week– it should just take a half an hour or so,” then nobody gets excited because, hey, you can always find a spare thirty minutes here or there. But teachers are desperately sick to death of all the politicians, policy makers, administrators, and public spirited folks who propose, “Here’s a worthwhile thing to do– let’s just have teachers add it to their classroom. It won’t take much time out of their day.” If teachers are feeling polite or restrained (or just resigned) they’ll smile and say, “Sure. Sure. Just send me the materials.” If they’re feeling undiplomatic they will say, “Sure. Please tell me exactly what you want me to cut, because every damn second of my day between now and July is spoken for.” And we’re not talking about blocks of “an hour or so.” Teacher time is measured out in minutes. It is one of those things that you just don’t get if you haven’t been there.
HOW DO YOU TEACH READING?
Do teachers not know how to teach reading? Are schools of education at fault for not teaching education students how to teach reading?
It’s my opinion that the one, proven “scientific” way of teaching reading, which works for every child, doesn’t exist. We don’t understand enough about how the brain works when it comes to reading and therefore it’s difficult, if not impossible, to develop a way to teach reading that works for every single child. The word “dyslexia” refers to “trouble with reading.” It’s not any more specific than saying “upper respiratory illness.” In other words, we know something is wrong, and we have seen this difficulty before, but we don’t really understand the exact source or a way to treat it that works for every student.
There are a host of variables which can come into play when a child learns to read; ability, environment, personality, temperament, socio-economic status, experiences, interests. Perhaps the best method for teaching reading is the “try this…” approach which is simply defined as, “Try this. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Repeat.”
What’s most important, however, is that the teacher is familiar with different ways of approaching the teaching of reading and familiar with her students.
The ability to teach reading consists of acquiring the understanding of a large number of ideas, techniques, and concepts related to the reading process, and the ability to choose the correct path at the right time, with specific students.
Almost every day there’s another report attacking teachers for how they teach reading. It divides parents and teachers. It’s also dangerous at a time when there’s a teacher shortage and teachers are banding together to try to save not only their profession, but public education.
I don’t like to see my profession criticized so harshly by those who don’t teach and who have never taught. I fear that with this animosity towards teachers, those with minimal teacher preparation will end up in classrooms pretending to be teachers.
However, I also know parents with children who have dyslexia or reading and writing difficulties. Having taught students with such disabilities in middle and high school, I understand how frustrating it is for young people to struggle with reading and writing.
But everyone focuses on phonics while there are many other variables that could be problematic for children when it comes to reading instruction.
“Reformers” love to complain about bad teachers and how the union ” protects” bad teachers, yet teachers don’t hire or retain other teachers. Administrators do that.
An administration’s number one job is to make sure that the district’s teachers are working in the conditions that make it possible for them to do their best work. Every bad teacher represents a failure by a principal and a superintendent. That teacher you want to fire is a sign that either your hiring process or your teacher management process is broken.
THIRTY YEARS OF CHARTERS ARE ENOUGH
As Diane Ravitch recently said,
There’s only one pot of State money for K-12 schools. Dividing it three ways makes all sectors suffer.
Charter schools are not public schools. They are private schools which get funding directly from the state. A public school implies public oversight. In too many cases, charter schools miss that feature.
It is time to acknowledge that what may have begun as a sincere attempt to promote innovation has given rise to fraud, discrimination and the depletion of public school funding. Thirty years of charters have resulted in an increase in profiteering far more than it has resulted in innovation. Democratic governance is disappearing.