Archive for the 'No Child Left Behind' Category

12
Jun
08

A Big Effen Deal!

The staff is still walking around in a haze.  We have Junior move-up day today, and we still have to clean out our building, so reality hasn’t quite set in.  We started out this year with a senior class of 135 and yesterday we graduated 126 of them.   The school District of Philadelphia has a graduation rate of around 50% and we graduated a little over 90% of the students who came to us at the beginning of the year with enough credits to leave by the end.  Not only that, 100% of our graduating class has been accepted to college.  The received about $305,000 in scholarships.  One got a full ride to LaSalle.  Wow!  It seems like a lot more of an accomplishment when it’s written out, especially when you know what’s behind those numbers.

Our kids are the throw-aways.  We have the kids that the City of Philadelphia has given up on.  They’ve been kicked out of their neighborhood schools, dropped out because of pregnancy, street life, or laziness, or remanded to our custody by the courts.  No one wanted them – in many cases, not even their parents.  But we took them, worked with them, counseled them, and taught them.  This year we’ve lost students, parents, and staff members, but we gained strength and courage.  What happened yesterday was a big deal, and nobody knows it but us!  When we say, “No child left behind,” we actually mean it!

11
Oct
07

Jena Six

This is something that is really important to my students, so I thought I’d write about it.  In case you are unfamiliar with the Jena Six controversy, it’s about six young black students who are accused of beating up a white student.  The white student was one of a few who hung nooses from a tree on school grounds where black students hung out.  All students were incredibly wrong, and violence is to be condemned for sure, but the avoidance of the issue of racism in Jena is something tha has been troubling given the many recent ways our government and our current political structure have ensured that minorities are treated differently.

 3,821 US soldiers killed in Iraq.  28,171 US soldiers wounded in Iraq.

14
Sep
07

Where I Work

I thought about writing about the President’s speech, but I decided to write about where I work instead. I am working for a company that has several residential, disciplinary, and alternative schools throughout the country with more opening up yearly. The dedication to educating students that many see as lost (young men and women who have dropped out, committed serious crimes as children, or have severe learning disabilities and mental health issues), is what drew me to the company, and I believe that some of the methods used should be implemented in every American school. They are strict but they are fair. 97% of our students graduate with 97% of them going into college, trade school, the work force, or alas, the military.

The students (ages 16 – 21) must wear uniforms, and if they aren’t properly attired, they don’t come into the building. They go through metal detectors on their way in (this is Northeast Philadelphia, after all) and they may not bring anything into the building with them (including gum, lip balm, candy, and pencils, but excluding lunch brought from home as long as there’s no soda).  Teachers may let school police know in the morning if they assigned homework, and it is put in a folder by the door.  They may not wear jewelry. They must walk through the halls in protocol (hands behind their backs, no talking) and they must be escorted by a member of the staff or a student with status at all times.  If a student threatens himself, others, or school property, he may be restrained by a state approved method that every parent has signed off on.

Students gain status by getting good grades (given daily in every class), staying out of trouble (behavior ratings are given weekly on this scale: positive, neutral, concern, negative), confronting students who are not following school norms (all students are expected to confront others who are talking, behaving badly, incorrectly wearing their uniform or jewelry, etc…), and having a high attendance percentage (90%). Status is taken away for refusing to follow school norms (we don’t call them rules), or a drop in grades or attendance. Students want status because only students with status may serve on the student government and help plan trips, the prom, and other things like the intramural basketball league (though all students may participate as long as they don’t have a negative rating). These students wear a different colored shirt than the rest of the student population. They are the first to leave from the afternoon assembly and only they may use the vending machines, write with pen, and travel through the halls unescorted.

If the students do get out of line, there are consequences. Students are removed from class and sent to In School Suspension for 5 days for any disruption.  In ISS they must complete all of their coursework or be expelled. If they sleep in class, they have to stand. If more than one person has their head down, the whole class stands (it’s all about group accountability). If the teacher has to stop lessons to deal with student behavior and cannot finish his or her lesson, the whole class must stay after school to make up lost time (though many teachers let the students with status leave and make it up later). The school day is very long (7:30 – 4) and the electives are limited (computers, art, gym, SAT Prep, and Spanish). Students may only talk to each other during morning and afternoon assembly (where the teachers announce which classes did well and which classes need improvement), in the cafeteria (where the teachers eat with their homeroom), and during Guided Group Interaction (which is a bit like group therapy).

It may sound a little extreme, but I have been able to spend more time actually teaching in the past 5 days than I ever did in even the best public schools.  The quality of work is excellent because students know that half-assed just doesn’t cut it at our school.  I’m doing the same coursework with my class as any other 12th grade English (The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, and Beowulf) in the state of PA, which is impressive because most of my students are at an 8th grade reading and writing level.  I don’t necessarily think public schools should adopt every one of our policies, but our education system would greatly improve if students were actually held accountable for their actions (and we got rid of No Child Left Behind).

15
Jun
07

It’s the Standards, Stupid!

For years teachers have been saying that one of the main problems with education is that the standards for what students are expected to learn varies from state to state. This is fine if you move from Massachusetts to Mississippi and you’re okay with having your child learn a lot less, but if you move from Mississippi to Massachusetts, your child will have serious problems trying to catch up.

The No Child Left Behind Act has done little more than make states more aware of the problem, though for states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania the entire initiative has been a waste of money. The Act has also made it easier for states to pretend that test scores are going up because they have the ability to raise and lower standards as they see fit. To have national standards is not necessarily a violation of states rights, especially if the states have full authority on how to achieve those standards.

03
Dec
06

Back to Basics

In the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world it is absolutely shameful that 30% of our students are not graduating from high school. In some minority schools, the graduation rate is as low as 50%. No wonder we can’t compete on a world scale. It has gotten so bad that the United States Chamber of Congress has said that it can’t possibly maintain a lead in the global economy due to the poor education of its workforce.

School standards have been attacked for years, but no one’s actually willing to do what it takes to improve our schools. Not only do we need legal reform, attacking first and foremost the No Child Left Behind Act, but we need curriculum reform as well. The required curriculum in most states is below that of many European nations. Schools are underfunded. Teachers are underpaid, and as a result, underqualified.

So, why does it take the Chamber of Commerce to exact change? Because this country will only make or change education laws if they are effecting businesses or the budget. Teachers have been speaking up for years. We’ve been on our knees begging and pleading for even the tiniest bit of help. We’ve written letters, elected candidates, made speeches, and addressed Congress, but all to no avail. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Tom Donohue and his friends to do what teachers can’t.

26
Oct
06

School Violence

This just in: George Bush thinks that school violence is a problem. Though the No Child Left Behind Act has certainly contributed to the problem because students are bored with practicing for standardized tests that they never pass in classrooms that are incredibly overcrowded. They deal with bullies that the schools can’t get rid of and teachers that are sometimes underqualified, especially when the No Child Left Behind reading program is largely scripted even though many of the classrooms that need them most don’t have enough books to enable students to follow along. And with all of this, Bush feels that it is the job of the teachers to instill character and moral values (and wedgies) in their students as well.

Not once did he mention the PARENTS, who are not only responsible for their children’s lack of moral values and educational drive in the first place, but who do not notice when their children take weapons to school (or when they are taught to ATTACK intruders rather than run from them). Why would they? Most parents don’t even check their kid’s homework anymore. This is obviously a ploy to win votes for Republicans in the next election, but I really hope it doesn’t work. Teachers don’t need side arms and body armor. They need books, supplies, and students who come to school prepared and ready to learn. But no politician is going to say to the public, “Control your own kids, and education will improve.” Instead they blame school violence, bullying, and underqualified teachers.

11
Oct
06

Reading First, Learning Last

The Reading First initiative had only one purpose – to improve literacy in our nation’s schools. It’s difficult to believe that the program, which has spread nearly 5 billion dollars over only 1,500 school districts (apparently many of them in Missouri) could have done so little to reach it’s goal. It’s obvious that this program was designed to help friends of the Bush administration make money. A majority of the 4,800 Reading First schools have chosen one of the five or six top-selling commercial textbooks, even though none of them has been evaluated against a control group or proven to be effective.

Reading First (which has not promised scientifically-based reading instruction as promised)was the Golden Child of the NCLB Act, but, as with many other programs led by the Bush administration, it has been riddled with corruption. The program administrators have refused grants to schools not using the pre-approved method, direct instruction, which requires the use of Reading Mastery (by McGraw-Hill) and focuses mostly on phonics rather than the whole language approach. Reading specialists from state to state, by the way, have seen that instruction is MOST effective when it combines the two. Reading materials were to be reviewed by a panel appointed by the government (of course, many of whom where chosen for their pro-direct instruction status), and anyone wanting to use or promote other reading programs was discredited. In fact, two of the programs excluded from the Reading First program (Success For All and Direct Instruction Full Immersion) have the highest effectiveness rating.




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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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