Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Education President


The Education President:

"Is our children learning?"

"Childrens do learn..."

Yes, the president really said that.

"As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Guest Blog by Tonya - the University Perspective on NCLB

Hi! I'm Tonya, B's roommate. If you've been reading B's blog regularly over the past year, you know her feelings about NCLB, or as I like to call it, All Children Left Behind. I'd like to take this opportunity to provide another perspective on the repercussions of NCLB, and B has kindly let me do a guest spot on her blog (since I don't have one of my own).

I've been teaching at a large, respected university for eight years, first as a graduate student and now as a member of the faculty. I am an alumna of this same university, having received my BA, MA, and PhD from the institution in question. Obviously, since it is my alma mater, I would like to say that it is the best university in the world (certain European publications would agree with that), but I have to say that over the past eight years I have seen a change in the abilities of the students who have come through my classes, and not for the better. In other words, since NCLB took effect, I have seen a steady drop in my students' preparation for university level work.

To give you a little bit of context, I teach courses in the Reading and Composition series, intended to refine students' skills in academic research and writing. My training is as a linguist and medievalist, so my topics are often somewhat obscure, and I understand that medieval literature and history is new and intimidating for many of my students. Additionally, some of my students are not native speakers of English, so I understand that they have issues with just getting through the material, let alone expressing themselves coherently. What surprises me is that I see many of the same issues with my students who ARE native speakers of English, and that is just sad.

First there are the grammar issues. Some of these are understandable. I mean, does anyone really know how to use a semicolon? And commas can be hard to get in the right place. But come on, people, how hard is the apostrophe to understand? Possessives, not plurals! The real issue I face with these students is that no one has ever tried to teach them grammar. They have no idea what I mean by "subject-verb agreement" or "direct object." I seem to recall having learned all of this in elementary school, and I distinctly remember having to diagram sentences in eighth grade. Apparently, this is no longer done, with the result that students have no concept of the structure of their language. Since they don't know how their language works, they don't know how to use it. They know lots of big words that they memorized for the SAT, but they have no clue how to use them in a sentence. They also, apparently, equate "proofreading" with "spell-checking," with the result that I see sentences like the following: After Beowulf inherited the thrown, he rained for fifty years.

A larger problem I face with these students is that since they have been tested to death for the last few years, all they know how to do is regurgitate information. They have been taught how to take multiple choice tests, not how to think critically or analytically. Many of them do not know the difference between an opinion and a fact. For example, I have had more than one student claim that Beowulf cannot be considered a true hero, since almost every time he speaks in his epic, he boasts, and boasting is wrong and selfish. When I tell them that the statement "boasting is wrong and selfish" is an opinion, not supported by the textual evidence, and certainly not an opinion held by those in the world of the poem, they look at me as if I have suddenly started speaking Icelandic and they don't understand the words coming out of my mouth.

But the issue I see in my students that worries me the most is that since there has been such an emphasis on reading and math in their educations, many of them have no concept of history or geography. I provide here a sampling of claims made by my students (apparently fact checking is not a skill they have been taught.) Beowulf was written by Chaucer. (Uh, no, unless he lived for 700 years). Before the invention of the printing press, literature did not exist. (Hmm... ever heard of The Iliad? How about The Odyssey? Or how about anything that the student purchased in the bookstore for the course, the topic for which was Medieval Literature?) In the early 1900s, slaves worked for rich white men in the American South. (Remind me again, what year was the Emancipation Proclamation?) Constantinople is in Italy. (They obviously don't know the song by They Might Be Giants, which by the way is impossible to get out of your head -- if you were in high school in the late '80s or early '90s, you're humming it right now, aren't you?!) Denmark is known for its tulips and windmills. (OK, I'll admit that one can be confusing)

Did I mention that these students are at an exclusive university? They belong to the top 10% of high school graduates in California. If this is the top 10%, then I shudder to think about the other 90%. I do want to make it clear that these are not unintelligent people. They are intelligent and, for the most part, hardworking. But we have lowered the bar so far in K-12 that when they get to me, I have to spend my time teaching them what they should have learned before they got here. The name "No Child Left Behind" is a good one, a stroke of genius by whoever named it. If you are against NCLB, then you obviously want American children to be left behind, or so those who have framed the discourse would have you think. But the reality is that under the current system all children are being left behind. By testing them constantly and focusing on math and reading only, we not only teach them the wrong things, we don't teach them very well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Updates.

I have some updates on various fronts, so here you go:

  • The gecko is doing fine, but appears to be bored. Or maybe just not neurotic. I'm not sure.
  • I'm going to visit my kids next Friday. With gecko in hand. They are all in the same class and that teacher told me that they are far ahead of the other class, especially in math. Yay!!
  • You can still vote for my blog. You have to register with them and get one email message but they don't send you junk after that.
  • The administrator for the 4th & 5th grade school (did I mention that the school was divided into three schools?) is apparently really good and reasonable. Awesome. My evaluator from last year was supposed to have that school but I believe she left the district because she was (obviously) not happy.
  • Stephanie has received $400 so far toward her trip, with another few people promising money for her. You can still help this wonderful girl go to the leadership conference in Europe. This experience will not be wasted on her. Any little bit helps!
  • The district continues to mess up the payroll. Remember that paycheck I couldn't figure out? Now they want part of it back. I don't have the energy to explain it all again, so I'll just copy and paste the email I wrote to the union about it. Which, by the way, has not contacted me. I emailed 4 union officers and left a phone message and they haven't gotten back to me. I HAVE PAID ALMOST $8000 IN DUES TO THE UNION DURING MY TIME IN THIS DISTRICT. Shouldn't they be willing to, you know, do their job?? I have never had great feelings toward them. Maybe because I've never seen them actually help anyone. Maybe there's a big conspiracy to ignore all emails from me. Anyway. Here's the email:
I was a teacher last year, and we had an issue with overage hours. We got an email in July saying that we would receive a $600 check in mid-July and a $400 check in late July for the time.

I received $1200 in mid-July - the note was "OSTP." I received no additional money at the end of July. I called payroll to find out 1) what the $1200 was for, and 2) where the $400 was. After calling twice and going in once, no one could tell me anything other than "If you don't know what kind of time sheet you submitted it on, we can't help you." Obviously I don't know what kind of time sheet it was, because I don't know why I got the $1200 and the union submitted the time sheet for overage hours.

Now I've just received a notice from the district saying that they overpaid me by $600. They say (in not a very nice letter) that I need to immediately send them $600 or request a hearing. I requested a hearing, and can bring a union representative. I'd like them to explain to me why they paid me $1200 in the first place, and - especially now that they're taking $600 away - where my other $400 from overage hours is!

I hope all of this makes sense. Please let me know what I should do and how I can bring a union rep to the hearing. This district tends to make me feel like I did something wrong even when the mistake was theirs!

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Either I'm living in the Twilight Zone or educational entities - public and private, rich and poor, central district personnel, administration, and union officers - are SERIOUSLY MESSED UP. I'd use stronger language, but this is a family-friendly blog.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back to Our Regular Scheduled NCLB Idiocy

This is just ridiculous.

A school that is "a California Distinguished School in recognition of its good scores, stellar performing arts programs, and success at helping needy kids" including one kid who was profiled who came from Mexico, not speaking English, ended up taking AP classes and keeping a 4.0, eventually getting into Brown... anyway this school - No Child Left Behind gives it an F.

They only achieved 21 of the 22 goals set. Hmmm.. shouldn't that be commended - 21 out of 22? and the last one missed by a very small margin?

Did I mention that our president couldn't pass some of these tests? I mean, seriously, the leader of the free world and he gets OPEC and APEC mixed up, along with Austria and Australia?

I am so over his folksy charm.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Girls Dressed as Women

Read this, then come back.

Disturbing, no? But anyone who's worked with kids lately shouldn't be surprised. I've seen little girls in halter tops, cropped shirts, low-rise jeans, "curvy" jeans, mini-skirts, platform sandals, high heels, makeup, hairstyles that took a full day to do, off the shoulder shirts... need I continue?

It disgusts me that clothing manufacturers make these styles. A six year old does not need curvy jeans. A six year old is not supposed to be curvy unless they still have the baby fat stomach. I don't want to see the kids' underwear because, while they are wearing low-rise jeans, apparently (thank God) they still wear normal underwear. It breaks my heart to see little girls at school who can't jump rope or run like they want to because they'll break their ankles in the ridiculous platform sandals they're wearing.

It also disgusts me that parents buy these clothes. I know it's getting hard to find clothes appropriate for children, but it's still possible!! Some parents say that their children won't wear anything else. Hmmm... you're still the parent, right? Last time I checked, parents are generally bigger than their elementary school aged children, and they definitely control the money, activities, and transportation. I have no patience with parents who give in to their child's every whim.

If you want to dress your little girl up so that she looks cute, buy her a little girl dress. Buy her overalls and a cute blouse. But please, stop trying to make her look like a voluptuous woman - she really turns out looking like a six-year old hooker.


Addendum:

Apparently, there are now thongs (underwear, not sandals) for children too? Anyone heard of this?