20 August 2012

Wisdom and Rules

I don't know about you, but I enjoy a good lecture once in a while. In fact, I've even lectured on lecturing. (I don't want to give too much away, but there was a powerpoint featuring a photo of Bill Gates with horns, because he is, you know, the devil) I've gone so far as to write posts on this very blog about my love of lecture. However, to be fair, that post was mostly an excuse to link to a clip of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

In recent years, lecture has become relatively fashionable again, at least outside of the classroom, through the explosion in popularity of the TED talks. I found the one below particularly enlightening. 

Several things jumped off the screen to me the first time I watched this lecture. The first was how stereotypically academic Barry Schwartz is. Seriously. The only thing he's missing is patches on the elbows of his jacket, and he may have those. For Pete's sake, he gave the whole lecture looking over his glasses like I look at a kid who won't stop muttering during class.

More importantly though was his insistence, somewhere around the 9:30 mark, that rules and incentives are ruining our wisdom. As he puts it, "rules are destroying our moral wisdom". This is especially true in education, not just for students, but also for teachers. 

Students who are constrained by too many over-specific rules are never given the opportunity to figure out their own moral compass. Instead, they are always governed by adults. Then, when they graduate, we fling them out into the world and expect them to not be miscreants. That's unreasonable. Just as schools are a place (we hope) for them to learn social and work skills (in addition to all of the REALLY IMPORTANT ACADEMIC INFORMATION) they should be a place for kids to figure out right from wrong. Teachers certainly play a huge role in that, but not by coming up with more and more rules. I think the best teachers offer very few specific rules, instead relying on a broad set of respect-based expectations. If you get to specific, kids will spend more effort looking for loopholes than they will becoming better people. There's a really great argument to be made in support of the idea that binge drinking is essentially a response to finally being given some freedom in the world. I'm not going to make it here, but I think I could.

However, I will make this argument. That since teachers are facing more and more rules and regulations for how to run their classrooms, classroom teaching is being ruined. In just my classroom I have the following things which I am required to have on the walls; Williams Act Compliance forms in English and Spanish, district mission and vision, Expected School-Wide Learning Results, the "Grizzly 5" school-wide behavior expectations, a poster about the school district, and emergency procedures. I also have a BTEOTLIWBAT sign and every day have to write a lesson objective on the board in a proscribed manner. At a higher level, I have district pacing guides, district benchmark tests, and a curriculum that I am expected to follow. It's almost as bad as the CPS example in the video! It gets worse when it comes to the Internet. Heaven should forbid that I try to show a video on youtube or a clip from the Daily Show! I get the access denied screen more quickly than a kid gets thrown out of class for spitting on the floor.

So what is the result on teachers? Well, teachers act like kids. We spend more time in inservices complaining about the rules and looking for ways around them than we do talking about learning. Further, the strict schedules and heavy emphasis on testing makes teachers less willing to experiment and try creative teaching techniques. It becomes so hard to bring in interesting and fun activities that many teachers just give up. It is just as Mr. Schwartz points out: mediocre. Sure, no one does anything really reprehensible, but no one does anything really great either. In a nation where we're grinding our teeth about being mediocre, imposing more rules on teachers doesn't seem like the way to get to greatness.

Barry says that he understands why there have to be rules, they are there to prevent disasters. I get that. I'm sure if we could show youtube, some knucklehead would show a video with a swear word in it. When you operate without curriculum guides, some people decide that playing Finding Nemo is a great lesson plan for when they're talking about oceans in Earth Science.

The way to fix that isn't to simply put more rules in place. The way you fix it is by hiring better people. Or, if you're stuck with a staff you can't trust, you get into classrooms more often. No self-respecting teacher is going to do something inappropriate if they believe their boss or a co-worker might walk through the door. People will make bad decisions. Giving them a larger set of rules to follow isn't going to stop that. However, when you give them so many rules that it feels like they don't have choices, then they won't think about the decisions they're making, because they won't feel either empowered to make good decisions or feel trusted to make good decisions (in most cases, it's both of those things). 

But I think that the imposition of rules in education goes beyond worries about misconduct and bad teaching. I think that many of the rule imposers genuinely believe that by forcing teachers to do things a certain way, test scores will go up. There is an entire industry dedicated to testing and test prep. The data crunchers who work in education (but not in classrooms) are constantly telling admin teams that there are certain things that will absolutely improve test scores. My BTEOTLIWBAT sign is one of these magic bullets. Studies show that if students know what they have to do by the end of the hour, they will have better scores. 

That's great, but it ignores a larger fact. If that student has an "effective teacher", their scores will improve as well (and by a larger factor). The problem is that we have a hard time defining "effective". You see, different teachers are effective in different ways. I work in a department with 7 other professionals. I know that none of them would teach their class the way I teach mine, and I wouldn't teach the way they teach. I also know that most of them are really effective, and that they get the most out of the kids they teach. (lest you think I'm just blowing smoke here, one of them had 73% pass rate in AP World and another did better than a 50% pass rate on the APUSH exam. They don't suck). 

But since it's hard to put "effective" in a nice neat box, we impose more and more rules on teachers. Because that's easy, and easy is easier than hard. Unfortunately, our educational leaders won't watch Barry Schwartz, because if they did, they would have to examine their own moral wisdom, and I suspect that they would find it was below our expectations for them. 

And now, because this post was far too serious, I give you one of my favorite youtube videos. Ever.

And a picture of a clown with bagpipes. Admittedly, it's no Velociraptor on a bicycle, but it's close. 

15 August 2012

What a difference a year makes

Hey there, loyal readers of the BlazeBlog! Long time, no see. I suppose I should apologize for that, because when we aren't seeing enough of each other, it isn't you; it's me. I got busy, and I stopped writing. I don't think that you really care, but this is all my fault. 

Those of you who have been around the Blaze of Competence for a while might remember what happened to me in the last year or so. The Mrs. and I relocated to California and I got a new job. In fact, if you missed it, you can find my angst-ridden posts about that here and here. Really if you check out this blog from about May-September of 2011 you'll see a veritable ton of sadness, angst and melancholy spread around. It reads like a high schooler's myfacepagespacemblr. All things considered, it was an ignominious beginning to my third major teaching stint.

So here we are, 368 days after that "first days of school" post. The new year began today, and I have to say that things are much better. I have my own classroom, the C.H.I.L.D. sign and Courtney Love are hanging in their places of honor again, and I even have a desk that I don't have to share with a fridge or microwave. To top it off, I have two windows and a board that I don't have to erase when class is over. These things assure that I'm in a better mood tonight than I was a year ago.

Lo those many months ago, I was in a pretty bad place. In fact, in reading through my plan book as I planned for this week, I saw a notation that showed just how distraught I was. This was written on the first Saturday of the school year:  

That's right, I planned to spend that Saturday "Mostly crying". Did I? Of course not. I retreaded up the mountain to surround myself with comfort and people I knew. Today, I spent my day passing out schedules, sending kids in the right direction and feeling like I kind of knew what I was doing. I even got recognized by teachers in other departments.  On Friday, I'm still going to retreat up the mountain, but for a distinctly different reason. (oh, also because it's going to be 104 actual degrees in the Valley)

Two questions present themselves at this point; first, "what changed that made you happy?" and second, "does this mean you're satisfied and won't be bringing me sadly infrequent rants on the BlazeBlog anymore?". 

To the first question that you I asked myself, I think a couple of things changed. I accepted where I was and made the best of it. This allowed me to focus on teaching, which is really what I love to do. The second thing was that I made friends with my co-workers. The older I get, the harder this seems to be, but it ended up working out, and now I feel like I belong when I walk into a department meeting. It's easier to be happy when you belong.

To the second question, I raise my eyebrows, shrug my shoulders and present this short anecdote:

My campus is currently undergoing a massive renovation. It's also roughly eleventy-billion degrees here in Fres-yes. And our cafeteria is un-air-conditioned. As a result, our administration decided that the cafeteria was a good place for 5 hours of meetings yesterday. I was so dehydrated when I got home that I just laid on the couch and groaned. Do you want to know what the meetings were about? Well, there was a terribly executed Olympics theme, wherein we were all supposed to think about being "gold-medal teachers". (but which was mostly a new format for re-indoctrinating us the usual jargon that our central office loves to send our way).  Then, we talked about the subject which spawned the Dr. Dick Johncock phenomenon. We witnessed a PowerPoint slide so powerful that it (and several adult beverages) started this blog. A slide with an acronym-shape combination so powerful that it has led to literally tens of people reading the rambling thoughts of a thoroughly average history teacher on the Internet.

That's right, we got to see the slide with the PBiS intervention pyramid on it. 

Oh, I'm not out of rants. Not by a long shot. O.O.P.

25 April 2012

May the odds be ever in your favor

This week marks the beginning of my personal favorite time of the year; testing. I, like some the vast majority of teachers, am going through two weeks of special schedules and reading instructions out of books. This week also marks the end of The Hunger Games' four week run as the most popular movie in America. You're hopefully wondering what these two things have in common. Well, dear readers, wonder no longer, because I'm about to draw a long and convoluted analogy between the imagined dystopia of Panem and the very real dystopia of testing in America.

(editor's note: This is probably a good time to mention that if you haven't read all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy, this post will have some significant spoilers. Also, get off the internet and start reading those books. They aren't like Twilight. They're actually engaging and good.)

Imagine, if you will, the scene unfolding as the Tributes are selected for the Hunger Games. Effie s standing on the stage, in front of the assembled people of District 12. However, instead of simply drawing one boy and one girl's names from the many names, she keeps drawing names. In fact, she keeps drawing names out the globe until she has drawn the name of every single child. That is testing today in American schools. The only people not available to be tributes are those whose parents keep them home or opt them out of testing. The stakes aren't quite as high (instead of fighting to the death in a custom world they are fighting boredom in a sterile classroom), but I think that, in this case, popular young adult fiction can help us to illuminate the very real world of high-stakes testing. 

The Hunger Games are State Tests

Let's start at the top, shall we? For what reasons do the Hunger Games exist in Suzanne Collins' uber-successful novels? They exist to remind the people of Panem that they are still under the rule of the Capitol, and that they must sacrifice themselves for greater good. In our elaborate and all-too-long analogy, the tests that students are subjected to are the Hunger Games. Schools that do well are rewarded with awards and assemblies. Plus, as an added bonus, they get to keep their meager allotment of government funds (just as the victors in the arena received accolades, and their districts some extra food).

The tests serve to remind those average people, teachers, (and their unions, which I've attacked before) who is really in charge - the state. Just as the poor districts must be reminded that the Capitol is still in charge, teachers must be reminded that the state is still in charge (and by extension, the voters. Or corporations that use organizations like ALEC to write legislation. You know, whichever you choose). Schools are forced into giving tests because they rely on the state for funding, and the state threatens to remove that funding if the schools don't give the tests. 

But the Capitol doesn't roll out the same Game every year; if they did, tributes would know exactly how to prepare, and that would mean that they would improve. So the Capitol pays a man known as the Gamemaker to create new and exciting ways to challenge the tributes as they fight to the death. In The Hunger Games, this is a man named Seneca Crane. Crane is a true believer in the Game. He wants to put on the best show possible. Seneca Crane in real life is a bevy of reformers led by Michelle Rhee. The BlazeBlog has profiled Ms. Rhee before, and it wasn't exactly glowing. She is the front for testing and "accountability." She wants to move toward more charter and private schools. You might be wondering why I made her The Gamemaker and not the much-more-insidious President Snow. I made that decision because just like Seneca, Ms. Rhee isn't in charge. She's working for someone. 

In the novels, the Gamemaker's boss is the much-maligned and previously mentioned President Snow. He pulls the strings and manipulates the people of Panem. He works behind the scenes to make sure that he will be able to stay in power. In U.S. education today, there is a force just as underhanded and unlikeable as President Snow, albeit much less visible; the major testing corporations. The four major corporations, Pearson, Harcourt, Riverside, and CTB (who also happen to be major players in textbook publication), are estimated to make between $400 million and $700 million annually from administering tests to help the states comply with No Child Left Behind. They have a vested interest in making sure more and more students take more and more tests. So, you can believe that they have heavy interests in lobbying. Yeah, you read that link right; Pearson alone spent more than a million dollars lobbying last year. It really is as clever as wearing a rose to disguise the scent of death on your breath; they take money from the states, then use some of that money to bribe lobby the politicians who then mandate more testing. Genius; really, really evil genius. Was that link gratuitous? Yup, just like most testing. (Zing!)   

But what represents the evil that President Snow serves to lead, the wealth and privilege of the Capitol? Why, dear readers, that's clear to me. No Child Left Behind is the driving force behind this, just as the Capitol is the driving force behind the Hunger Games. And just as the Capitol isn't forced to send any tributes to the arena, the writers of NCLB were never subjected to its onerous mandates for testing.

This whole terrible show (killing children for amusement, not testing) has to be sold to the people of Panem. How can it be done? With a slick talk show host, of course. In the books he is Caesar Flickerman; charming, debonaire, and witty- he is the perfect foil for the inherent evil in making young people commit murder. Who fulfills that role here in America? Why, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He sells America on these ideas, even on talk shows. Coincidence? Probably, if I'm being honest.

OK, so we've got the broad analogy out of the way. Shall we delve further into this admittedly stretched comparison? Why not, lets go all English major and see if we can't really get to comparing!

The Participants in the Hunger Games are Students

There are two types of tributes in the Hunger Games; tributes and "careers". The tributes are selected at random to be sent to the arena, without special training or other advantages. The careers, on the other hand, come from districts with more resources and have spent their entire adolescence training to complete in the arena. Obviously, the careers win the vast majority of the annual contests. It is rare and noteworthy when someone from outside the career clique wins.

And so it is with testing. Some schools have enormous advantages. They are in wealthy areas, perhaps. They have large percentages of parents who have college degrees. Their schools are in communities that traditionally value education. In short, their students have great advantages. On the other hand, the majority of schools in America don't have those vast advantages. They are trying to educate students. But they're also dealing with larger problems. Slashed funding. Increasing class size. Kids who come from broken homes. Kids who come to them homeless. And yet, just like in the arena, all of these kids compete directly against one another.

In the Hunger Games, the tributes have people to help them prepare. They have mentors and stylists. In the case of District 12, it is a drunk named Haymitch serving as mentor and Cinna as the stylist. These two men do the best they can to help their charges survive, but they are working with limited advantages, namely the natural abilities of Katniss and Peeta. In our world, the stylists and mentors are the most important people in the room not taking the test; the teachers. Just like Haymitch and Cinna, teachers are making the best product they can with the resources and tools they have. And just as Katniss, especially, resists any change, many students resist change. And just like Haymitch and Cinna, teachers in the end send their charges out as prepared as they can be, but it is up to those children to perform.

(This is admittedly where the comparison starts to fall apart. You see, in the books, Haymitch and Cinna aren't punished (or haven't been punished in the past) when their tributes fail to be victorious. In education, teacher of students who don't comport themselves well are ostracized, criticized, and in extreme cases terminated. However, just like a good English major, I'm going to ignore this small detail and keep on trucking!) 

If you've read all three books, you know that rebellion is coming, aided by former insiders turned rebels.  "How will they fit into this comparison?" you're asking. Well, I'm glad you asked, because here it is:

Bad test questions are Mutts and will cause the rebellion which dismantles NCLB

In The Hunger Games there are creatures designed by the Capitol to help them keep track of their "citizens" and to attack the participants in the arena. They have been intentionally mutated from their original forms, and the outlying citizens call them "mutts". When we look at testing, all we see are mutts, because the tests are made up of them. That's right, the thing that started out natural and good, which is now used to keep the people in check: the questions.

Sure, questions are a natural part of the testing process, but teachers and students have become slaves to the questions. We spend an inordinate amount of time teaching not the material that will be covered, but test taking strategies. We talk about how to eliminate wrong answers. We look at every available released question. On top of that, with the massive boom in the number of tests, the publishing companies have taken to writing questions best described as "mutated". If you haven't clicked that link, it's important that you do so. For my argument and for a good laugh.

And just as the Mockingjay was a mutt that became a symbol for the revolution, so the pineapple may become a symbol of a growing rebellion against testing. You see, as more and more of these epically ridiculous questions become public knowledge, more and more parents will see that these tests aren't actually testing the things they claim to be testing. They might not take up arms against the Department of Education, but they will opt their students out of the tests, which is a small act of rebellion that could have lasting impacts, just like Katniss showing up as the Mockingjay.

In the novels, the rebellion is aided by a Gamemaker who has seen the error of the Capitol and works to fight to bring it down. Thankfully we have a Plutarch Heavenbee in America, a person who helped to create the hated game NCLB who now spends a life trying to undo it's damage. Our hero (or heroine) is Dianne Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch helped to write No Child Left Behind, but has now emerged as a leading critic of the law. 

That, friends (and enemies who read my blog out of spite), is the good news. Just as the rebellion rose up, crushed the Capitol and ended the Hunger Games, American education is poised to do the same. Certainly, there will be lasting damage from our ongoing experiment with testing, but in the end we will probably see the error of our ways and fix the system. 

However, until we do, I'd like to propose a change to those standardized directions I've spent the last week reading. Instead of "you may begin" I think I'd rather use "may the odds be ever in your favor". Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

26 March 2012

The Administration Problem

I recently hosted a former co-worker and current friend who was visiting me here in the Central Valley of California. We took a day to visit Yosemite National Park, played an unbelievable amount of Settlers of Catan, and talked (probably more than rationale humans ever should) about what was wrong in education today. 

This should hardly come as a surprise if you've ever read this blog. This blog has, from the very beginning, complained about education. (On occasion it even offered a solution or two!)

So, as my former co-worker and current friend and I drove down the 405 in Los Angeles today, we were talking about the bane of most educators' lives: the administration. We work in different schools. They could not be more different in culture, location, demographics, or mission. They have basically two things in common: students and administrators. 

As I said at the very beginning of this blog, the students are never the problem, because educators know from the beginning that students are dumb. However, most educators don't realize when they leave the credential programs and student teaching what a massive problem they are about to encounter. 

Job search? Nope, that's something that they'll figure out.

Discipline? They'll figure out what works for them.

Making friends? If they're willing to open their doors, they'll make some. 

The thing that will be the biggest problem for them is the first person they probably met in their interview. Their administrator. 

(please don't think that this is an attack on all administration. I have several dear friends who are administrators. They are great people, and the vast majority of them work VERY hard. I have former co-workers who are now sitting on that side of the desk. It is a thankless job. They are hated by students, parents, and teachers.)

That administrative team isn't going to be a big problem until it comes time for them to perform the task which I think is most important, but which generally gets shuffled to the back burner: the evaluation process.

Let me explain: all of the evidence shows that the best way to improve student learning is to put an effective teacher in a classroom. The best way to make sure that teachers are effective is to evaluate them. However, since administrators have this evaluative role in the vast majority of schools, it generally is problematic. Why?

Well, because administrators tend to have roughly 1000 other duties to take care of. They oversee planning the schedule for next year, meet with parents, schedule and re-schedule sporting events, roam the halls, meet with different, angrier parents, go to LOTS of meetings, supervise lunch, take care of referrals, suspend kids, go to truancy court, meet with community members, and ohbytheway that trash can is on fire..... In short, they have lots of much more pressing things to deal with, and so evaluations get put on the back burner. In my experience, this leads to three things:

First, the evaluations generally aren't very good. I don't mean that they aren't accurate (although I did once get an evaluation supposedly for a class that wasn't even offered at the school), but rather that they don't actually help the teacher get better. In general, the form which is used has a lot of bureaucratic language and some check boxes, and then a space at the bottom where some canned comments relating to whatever emphasis is going on in the classroom can be plopped. These forms are great when someone needs to get fired, or when you have to prove to your supervisors that you have indeed been evaluated, but they aren't very good at actually making a teacher better. My experience has generally been that I look at the form to make sure I'm getting rehired, and then I try to end the meeting on a positive note. There's generally not very much that comes out of an eval that helps me be a better teacher. (Generally. I've had a couple of evals that were really helpful, especially early in my career)

Second, the evaluations don't happen often enough, and become dog-and-pony shows. I'm in my first year at a new school, and received a grand total of two formal evaluations. That's right, they made the decision to re-employ me based on watching me teach twice. (I'm not complaining, or really worrying since I think that I'm pretty awesome, but still). Because I know that my job depends on those two looks at my classroom, I really roll out the dandy show, every single thing I do is something that I know they're looking for. This a function of having the evaluation done by people who have many more pressing duties and of a person who wants to keep their job. If we had more evaluations they would be more accurate looks at what goes on in a classroom on a day when there isn't a scheduled high-stakes inspection.     

Third, since administrators no longer teach (and even when they did teach, they only taught one subject, generally), they generally can't give very good feedback about the class that they observed. Teaching is constantly changing, and people who have stepped away from daily teaching tend to forget that. They often offer suggestions that you think you've already done, or question why you're teaching what you're teaching when you're just following the curriculum that is dictated by the state. 

So, administrators doing evaluations is a problem. How do we solve it? I'm glad you asked, because I happen to have a plan. 

I think that there are two reasonable solutions here. For either of them to work, unions are going to have to move away from their current employment-protection mindset and into a school-improvement mindset and districts are going to have to find a way to employ a couple of extra people per school. Since neither of those things are ever going to happen, let's just sit back and enjoy this as a thought exercise, shall we?

Solution the First - Specialist Evaluators

Take the evaluative power away from school administrators. When they have to do it, they put it on the back-burner and having them as evaluators makes it difficult for teachers to confide about mistakes and to collaborate. (it's a culture of fear problem) In this plan, I would hire two people who's only job would be to observe and evaluate teachers. I would want at least ten observations per year. (If you want to get union-y, let's say 3 announced and 7 drop-ins. Don't like those numbers? Comment with what you want. Or get your own blog.)

One of these evaluators would specialize in sciences, maths, practical arts and phys. ed. The other could do the arts, languages, English, and Social Studies. They would be in enough classrooms, and often enough, that they would still be able to identify with the classroom environment and its challenges. By having ten observations, they could build a dossier on every teacher, so that at the end of the year, I could get a really good evaluation, where they could actually speak to strengths and weaknesses. 

Districts might balk at paying "front-office" money to people who were just doing evals, but in reality, if you made the positions Teacher On Special Assignment positions, you could pay teacher wages, and it would work since they wouldn't need to observe over the summer. Everyone wins!

Solution the Second - Peer Observation Cadres

This solution is much less likely to happen, because it gives teachers power over their peers, and in many cases would lead to them having retention or dismissal discussions with their peers. There's so much privacy at issue here that simply writing that first sentence caused two HR directors to have coronary episodes. But, if we could find a way around the employment and privacy issues, think about how peer observations could work: Take a group of 9 master teachers (or 9 really good teachers, you know what I'm looking for here). Divide them into 3 three-person teams. Give each of them an extra planning hour to fulfill their observation duties in. Let them work as a team to make suggestions and provide feed-back. 

I like this solution less than the first one because it is rife with privacy and scheduling problems, but imagine how powerful it could be if teachers were observing and helping each other to become better teachers. There is no more powerful motivator than peer pressure, and if you knew that 7 times during the year a peer was going to just drop in unannounced and evaluate you, you would up your game. Add in the benefits to the observers of getting to see so many other teachers doing their thing, and I think it's a big winner. 

If I'm honest, I know that these solutions are probably too radical for the powerful forces of culture in education. To really fix this problem, and many of the other problems in education, we have to be willing to thing outside the box. Unions and districts have to give up things they're clinging to in the name of pride and work together to make schools better. It's going to take work, and outside pressure. Perhaps the pressure of school choice and charters (which you may have heard I oppose) will force traditional public schools to reform. 

I'm not holding my breath, but I will keep saying things like this here, and in conversations with my co-workers and friends. Someday, maybe we can create some small change for the better. 

20 March 2012

I'm baaaaaaaaaack

There has been a lot of chatter online and in what conservatives call the mainstream media (which the rest of us simply call "the media") about a study released when I should have written this post at the beginning of March that puts teacher job satisfaction at it's lowest point since I was 9.

Obviously there's been a lot of gnashing of teeth, and plenty of people on both sides of the aisle trying to score political points from this. Normally I would get in line to both gnash my teeth and try to score some political points from this kind of story (seriously, read the first parenthetical aside in this post), but I just can't bring myself to do it. Why? Because I think this deserves a serious look at why teachers I work with (and have worked with) are not happy with their jobs.

Also I think that this will be pretty easy to write, what with my history of job satisfaction.

And my wife is watching Dance Moms and I can't stomach Abby Lee Whatshername so I've sent myself to the office to write, and this is what came to mind.

So, with the worst intro in the history of this blog, and perhaps writing in general, here we go:

The study shows that teachers aren't happy because they don't feel like they have the same job security that they once did. They're also feeling attacked, because so much of the reporting is about bad teaching, and so all teachers begin to question their own teaching abilities. Add in the increasing focus on test scores (which, for the vast majority of students don't indicate much in the way of learning), more and more intrusive parents, and all of the usual pressures that go along with changing lives for the better or worse every day and it's no small surprise that teachers aren't very happy with their jobs.

I can't speak for every teacher out there, nor would I try to (at least until I get invited onto some talk show where I can be an educational pundit), but I can tell you why I'm not very satisfied in my job.

1. We hear a lot about good teaching and not-as-good teaching, but I'm not observed enough or given enough feedback to know which category my teaching falls into. I'm in my first year of teaching at a new school for me in a new state. I'm going to get two formal observations. I will also get some much less formal "drop in" observations. That's not enough. If society and school boards of education are going to put more pressure on teachers with more tests, then I want more and better feedback about the work that I'm doing.

1a. The observations I do get are bureaucratic crap. There are forms to fill out and jargon to check off. (Good lord is there jargon. When I first made a joke about the "random catchphrase generator" I was taking a cheap shot at education experts. Now? I'm trying to figure out how to put one on the side bar of this website. Might as well have it out there) The evaluation won't provide very much in the way of good suggestions, mainly because there isn't another classroom teacher involved. Listen, there are plenty of good administrators who were good classroom teachers, but they generally haven't been in the classroom recently enough to understand the new era pressures teachers are facing.

I would love an evaluation format that did two things that very few evaluations do today. I want it to happen far more often (but each one would carry less weight) and I want my peers in on the process. I want other teachers to see my class, see what I'm doing, and offer suggestions. You know what I don't want? A form that has been checked off by my evaluator and comments like "You know what you're doing!"

2. Teachers are disgruntled because there is a culture war in the profession. There are plenty of union-loving, worksheet-giving, book-reading, jean-wearing, 2:25-leaving lazy jerks in this job. They will do everything they can to prevent having to work hard. They are doing the job, but they aren't doing it well. Far too often, because they don't get upset about actual education, these people stay in education for a long time. Since education tends to reward seniority, these people then have more sway over the way a department or school is run.

The opposite of this are the teachers who never teach the exact same lesson twice, who bust their collective asses grading, planning and teaching. Even in systems with good merit pay systems (yes such things exist) there isn't really enough money to really differentiate between the lazy turds and the life-changers.

Worse yet, the passionate young teachers burn out fighting against the status quo maintainers, and end up leaving the job. The end result is that nobody is happy. The bad teachers are unhappy because they feel threatened by the ideas and work ethic of the good teachers, and the good teachers want to punch someone because nothing is changing.

3. I for one am tired of the public discussion of schools always being about what's wrong. You know what, cable news talking heads? There are tons of GREAT tings happening in schools. Sure there are problems, but every segment of society has problems. People who see doctors die. People who go to the dentist get cavities. People who use lawyers go to jail. Yet teachers feel singled out for criticism when their students fail high stakes tests.

4. It's the money, stupid. There isn't enough money in schools. For a change, I'm not talking about the money that goes into teachers' pockets, either. No, there simply aren't adequate funds for facilities, books, technology, or training. School districts have become bloated at the administrative level (a function of the increased emphasis on testing and data) and as a result less money is getting to the student level. I realize that what we're asking for is a monumental amount of money, nation-wide. However, I think that it's worth the cost of a fighter jet that probably won't ever shoot down another plane to help do things like have enough classrooms and books for kids.

5. We're tired. Really really really tired. In the past ten years, I haven't gotten any additional time to plan and grade. However, the amount of paperwork, calls to return, and meetings to attend has increased by a huge amount, as have the number of kids in each of my classes. I started with classes of 16-20. Now, I have classes of 38 across the board. More kids come with paperwork (IEPs, 504s, BIPs, and contracts) and that paperwork often has legal ramifications if you don't follow the accommodations laid out within it. Parents want to know what and why you're doing. The stress level is astronomical.

There was always stress, but the job used to be fun. You got to teach something you loved. Now, with high-stakes testing, you don't ever feel like you can do that. I spend my days trying to fill every minute with educational activities. I don't want to have a 3 hour long party while watching Dirty Dancing, but I also don't want to feel guilty when we watch Elvis and the Beatles in class instead of filling out review sheets, outlines, and guided readings.

That, boys and girls is the big lesson. Teaching isn't as fun as it used to be. And that's why teachers aren't as happy as they used to be. Low pay, long hours, dealing with idiots; all of that was ok as long as the job was fun. When the job got serious SERIOUS the rest of it started to suck a lot more.

But hey, that's not a good talking point, so none of those talking heads will be talking about it on the news. Instead, 90 seconds will be spent glossing over the idea that 7.2 million people in this country are less happy than they have been since the Soviet Union was still a viable entity, and then we'll be onto talking about more important things; like who's in a feud with Kim Kardashian

With that sarcastic closing, the BlazeBlog is back, babay!

31 January 2012

The Value of All the Things that Aren't "School"

What was your favorite part of school? Homework? Maybe it was going to the same classes over and over every day. Perhaps you loved the high quality government supported lunch. What, none of these got you out of bed every morning during the heat of late summer or the darkness of those long winter months? What was it then? Why were you going to school?

Maybe you were part of a team. If you skipped, you didn't practice or play. Perhaps you were in the band, or a star on the stage. Again, you had to go to school during the day to participate in the afternoon. Perhaps you were in a club. Those meet at school too. Maybe you went for your friends. Where had you made those friends? Sure, some of them were from "Mommy and Me" classes, but I bet some of them were friends you met at an extra curricular activity of some sort.

These have been the long-standing defenses of sports and clubs; that they keep kids coming to school, and that they give students an opportunity to participate in groups that they wouldn't have during the day, and that they showcased student talents. They are great defenses, but they don't always stand up to the modern education reformer, with test results in one hand and the scissors for cutting the budget in the other.

These "reformers" will decry many of these activities. They especially hate two kinds of groups: performing arts groups and sports teams. Critics will point out that schools place a high value on athletics, and spend small (and sometimes immense) fortunes on equipment, coaches and facilities for teams. The gnash their teeth and rend their garments that performance groups will have to travel and worry that the content in the plays they are performing is out of the depth of mere high school students. 

What these critics miss (yes, even the ones who have so many salient points about the cost of sports in an educational world defined by spending cuts) is the vast, nearly unmeasurable impact these programs, especially sports, have on students. Athletes are different students when they are on a team. An adult holds them accountable, and if they can't pass they can't play. That is a strong motivator. Listen, I don't want to say that this is a better motivation that somehow building a love of learning, because it isn't. But some kids aren't ready to love learning yet. If they learn anyway, so that they can play on Friday night, that's a win

Critics of extra curriculars also miss the great socialization good they do. I've spent some time with two pretty massive groups of not normally socialized students. That's right, I yell at marching bands (a vast topic which will get roughly 73 posts someday) (also, yeah, I just sent you to myspace for a minute. Admit it, it's the first time you've been back in a long time, right?) and have sponsored the Dungeons and Dragons club at a high school. I don't want to play into stereotypes, but a lot of those kids weren't getting a ton of face to face interaction in high school. They tend to be good students without a ton of physical prowess. They don't join teams. Generally, they don't volunteer in class, and they don't have a lot of friends. 

However, you put them in a group of people where they know they won't be judged, a group of people who have a lot in common with them, and they blossom. They make new friends. They interact with a teacher without it being about homework. This is valuable stuff that critics of the spending miss. 

It isn't just critics that attack extra curricular activities. There are more and more home schoolers and small charters that are "academic only". They have built themselves on a model of educating academic subjects, and academic subjects only. They feel that schools have become bloated societies, and that you need to cut the fat of these extra activities to save some money. These people miss all of the value which is added to a student's life by offering varied co-curricular activities.     

I don't think it will surprise you to find out that I believe I am a big thinker (not Newt Gingrich big, but big picture nonetheless) I think that extra curricular activities provide us an opportunity to peer more deeply at education in America. In fact, extra-curricular activities get at the root of what I see as the division in education today. On the one hand, you have those who bow at the alter of almighty data. On the other, you have "whole child" educators. 

(It should be noted that your humble author was never really driven when he was preparing to be a teacher because he wanted to educate the whole child. In fact, I would say that I spent most of my free time thinking about history, and how much I was going to fill their heads with. However, within 3 weeks of beginning my student teaching, I had been sucked in. I had a 1st hour Senior Economics class. I'm sure none of them remember me, but when I look back, I think that they irrevocably shaped my career. 

While we were studying small businesses and I was following the book, and trying to get them to apply their knowledge. To see if they had learned anything,  I had them propose small businesses. One of the businesses they proposed was selling Ice Cream Sundaes during lunch. In hindsight, I have no idea how I got it approved and what world I was living in where you could sell something that unhealthy to a high school student in a school. But we did. They sold piles of sundaes, and I figured out that kids wanted to learn in ways that were more "real" than the book. It turns out that they engage by doing (like most of the rest of us). That was a valuable lesson that really shaped how I've been teaching for the last 10 years)

Ok, now that we're back from a two-paragraph jaunt down memory lane that probably deserves to be its own post, we should probably get back to talking about the issue at hand: the mission of schools. I know you thought that the issue at hand was the value of extra-curicular activities. It was, but then I realized that the people who assault these clubs and teams differ on a fundamental level from me about what schools are intended to do. 

You see, those who judge and plan schools based on data are only looking at numbers. I realize that it seems like a logical thing. You can draw so many conclusions from data. Data doesn't lie. (Never mind what Stalin said about statistics, which are an older version of "data") I also realize that you cringe when I talk about "the whole child". It seems like something hippies in a commune would say. But it's more than that. By saying we want to educate the whole child, we say that we believe that schools should exist to do more than just prepare students for testing. 

I think, and believe that many of you agree with me, that schools are intended to not just fill heads with knowledge and facts but rather to create young people who can function in society. Society wants people who can work in groups, who can lead (and be led), finish assignments and overcome difficulty. Society wants graduates to be people who can, in short, function. 

We serve this purpose when we offer students the opportunity to be in a club, to be on a team, to connect with teachers outside of the academic setting. When we take that opportunity away from them, we are reducing school to a place where you learn facts so that you can pass a test. That was not, and should not be, the goal of education. After all, Plato wasn't trying to get the students of the Academy to pass a test. He was trying to get them prepared to be functioning citizens in Athens. Our Athens in the world.  

23 January 2012

On being a professional

I have often complained about parents. Parents who take no stake in their child's education, or only blame teachers, or don't know what's going on at school. Parents who aren't, to my view, very good at it. Today, I bring you the story of a proactive parent.

You are rightfully confused. You know what the BlazeBlog is about. The BlazeBlog is about fighting the man, about rants, about making fun of misspelled words. What could I be writing a blog about a proactive parent on? Well, I'll let you in on a secret: it's not about the parent. It's about the person the parent hired.

First, some backstory.

I have a freshman who, for most of the first semester, was not passing. The causes were pretty standard for freshmen: work not turned in, poor quality, not taking advantage of test re-take policies. In short, the student didn't put in the necessary work to be successful. She's hardly the first (nor will she be the last, I suspect) to fall victim to a school where their hands are not held nearly as much as they have been in the past.

So, this student's mother decided to take action. She hired a tutor. I'm on board. This is great. The tutor comes in and meets with me and three other teachers of classes where aforementioned student is failing. We discuss. An action plan is formulated. I add to the tutor to my weekly "hey here's what's going on in Geography this week" email. (It's a real page turner. This week, conquistadors! Next week? Brazil and deforestation!)

So far I've given you 1,000 words and none of it has been anything out of the ordinary. So far, this seems like a success story.  It is for the kid - kind of. She's still not coming to retake tests or turning work in. But I email her tutor 3 or 4 times a week. 

And that's where I start to get spun up. Not about the communication. She's polite and we're on the same page about student responsibility. In fact, I suspect that if all parents were as active as this tutor, there would be far fewer failing students nationwide. 

No, my complaint is that this woman; a woman who has a master's degree (I know because it's on her business card. Fancy!), a woman who is a for-hire education professional and advocate, a woman who is communicating with clients and teachers has terrible email habits. The two that make me the maddest? She hasn't capitalized her name in the "sent from" field and she has a lack of grammar / punctuation that makes me want to stab myself in the ear with a pencil until I hit my brain.
You know what? Let's take a look at an edited screen shot to see what has me seething.

You know what? This deserves a list of things I would point out if I had this open at an establishment that served beverages made of hops and barley. If you know me, read the following in my "worked up pounding a table mode". If you don't know that mode, I encourage you to watch Lewis Black, and imagine him with a goatee. That's what we're going for here. Alright, enough preamble. Let's get it on!

See up there at the top? Lower case j and lower case m. I've taught freshmen not to do this in email addresses. It's right up there with having the actual address be something like sexxybuttzinsweatpantz@gmail.com. When this shows up in my inbox, I'm judging you. Not just a little bit either.I've pretty much formed my entire opinion of you. You're in a hole, "j[redacted] m[redacted]".

OK, now I'm into your message. I'm not going to begrudge you the pleasantries, even though I think you hate me and don't hope I am doing great. I'll let that go, this is a societal thing. However, that lack of a capital letter? Well, now I think we have a larger problem. Oh, also, I don't care for your use of an exclamation point there. You know better. Don't waste that mark.

Now - "just checking if E[redacted] retake the test...". 

1. Shift+j is the key combination you were looking for.
2. Retook - that's the past tense. 

"please let me know...." - Again, you want the shift key. That and I think that a read receipt is the more polite way to do this. Or, since I've replied to basically every email you ever sent me that warranted an email, you could trust me, as an education professional, to reply to you with the answer you requested in the line about this one.

And then we finish up with your sign-off, "Jm". Really? These are your initials. Let's give the M the credit it's due. It represents your entire last name. I think it deserves equal billing along with your first initial. 

I can hear you now dear readers. You're saying "give her a break, she probably sent it from her phone". I don't care. Your phone has a way to make capital letters. Maybe you think it's OK because it's only email. I certainly have worked with people who sent far worse emails that this one. That doesn't make this one OK, because those weren't OK either. Email is quickly becoming our primary means of written (and recorded) communication. Just because you compose it quickly or on a keyboard doesn't mean it should be slovenly.  

Moreover, she's a tutor writing to a teacher. I would never send this to a parent. I would be embarrassed. I hope she is better with the parents she emails, but then again, if she can't be bothered to go back and capitalize her OWN NAME in the "sent from" she probably isn't.

21 January 2012

Just because you say it........

I think that as teachers, we have a duty to teach more than basic facts to our students. We have to teach them valuable life lessons. 

Believe me when I say I have a lot of life lessons I want to teach students. I want to teach them about using a professional email tone and address. I want to teach them about the value of doing something on time. I want to teach them to use deodorant.

Since I want to teach them these things, and have taught many of them some of these things, I'm going to start running a series of posts that expand upon my ideas of what, outside of academic content, schools should be teaching. Think of it as the alternative to the discontinued U-boats series. 

Today, start the list with teaching students that just because they say something, it doesn't make it true. This is a HUGE pet-peeve of mine. For example, kid walks into the classroom after the bell has rung, and says "I'm not tardy". I generally respond with a sarcastic "No, you are. You see, that sound that comes over the speakers indicates to me (and the rest of humanity which can hear) that if you are not in the classroom you are tardy. Simply claiming that you are "not tardy" does not make it true." Kids are sometimes shocked that after saying that I still mark them tardy. They genuinely believe that they aren't tardy.

At one point I wondered where kids had learned that simply saying something and believing it to be true would make that belief fact. I realized they had been looking at public figures for their entire lives who did just that. So, I'm getting this made for the front of my classroom, once I get a classroom:

I know they won't get the joke, but I'll chuckle every time I get to point at it and mark a kid tardy. Enjoy your weekend!

20 January 2012

Ben Franklin Had Something to Say about this......

Friends, the BlazeBlog is an avid consumer of news. I read the Interwebs, watch the TV news and even manage to subscribe to a couple of news magazines. One of these is the insanely good The Week which offers summaries of the week's major news stories and editorials. The other magazine that we take at the house is the old stand-by TIME.

You can say what you want about the media (I, for one, refuse to call it the "mainstream" media. It's not the mainstream media. It is the media. FoxNews, you count in this too. Liberal or conservative, well written or trite garbage, it all counts as media. If you want to call it "well-funded" media, I can support that, but MSM just gets me riled up) but TIME is a classic standard; well researched, reasoned and balanced. This week, they feature an interview and article with/about Warren Buffet. Besides liking ice cream and living in Omaha, Mr. Buffet is famous for being really really really rich. Oh, he also thinks that really really really rich people such as himself should pay more taxes and he sent all of his kids to Omaha public schools. Needless to say, this guy and I are basically in ideological  harmony.

Midway through the story, Mr. Buffet mentions the need to raise the top tax rate. He says that taxes are near an all time low, and unemployment isn't changing. This made me wonder if he was right. I mean, I think that we realize that in this country there is an ideological divide between the left and the right, and that in hard economic times like these, that divide seems to mostly be about taxes.
On the left stand people like Mr. Buffet who think that by raising taxes, we could afford more education and social programs which would help to boost employment by making a better educated work force, who would earn more money and then spend it, and then you would have started an economic recovery.

On the right stand people like Mitt Romney who believe in something Ronald Reagan called "trickle-down" economics. They believe that if you cut taxes for the rich, the rich will spend more of that money investing in companies (hence a low corporate gains tax rate), and then those companies will expand and employ more people, and at this point you're at the same place as the Buffet-ites and those people are spending money and that's helping the economy.

(bitter aside: I'm not touching the fact that the system is so broken that both Romney and Buffet make substantially more money than I do and pay a tax rate about half of the tax rate I pay. Someday, but not this day)

Both sides love to say that they're right, but neither of them ever seems to ever produce numbers to back up what they're saying. So, since I had the need for speed data about tax rates and their correlation to unemployment rates, I went ahead and did what I had yet to see a politician do: I crunched some numbers. Sure, a quick Google search turned up some loaded articles and some dense economics dissertations, but I wanted to figure it out for myself. I took the BLS statistics for yearly unemployment and the National Taxpayers' Union's statistics for the top income tax rate by year.

Then, I fought with Excel for a while to make the graphs look like I wanted them to. Then, I started typing this blog post. I'm going to plop the graphs in here and talk about what I think I see for each of them. If you're interested in the raw data, you could click here and check out the Google docs spreadsheet. The charts are accessible by clicking on the tabs on the bottom.

Ok, let's start with the beginning, 1920-1938. This covers the initial implementation of the income tax (at 73%! Eat that Mitt!)(yes, I feel like I can use the familiar address at this point. It's not like anybody is reading anyway. Be honest. You're skimming) through the latter stages of the Great Depression.

Ok, what do should we see? (I fear my former econ students just had a collective seizure). Well, if we think that Warren is right, then we should perhaps see a drop in unemployment the year after a spike in taxes and the opposite (taxes down = unemployment up). In other words, the lines should form a series of X's. Well, we don't really see that. In fact, the data at the end of this graph tends to bear the Reaganites out. At taxes fall, there is an decrease in unemployment.

Obviously, job creation during the New Deal was driven by a lot of things other than just the income tax rate. All in all, I don't think that we can draw any real conclusions from just these numbers. Let's move on.

Up next is the period from 1950-1966. I skipped The War because at that point both jobs and taxes were determined by the needs of the nation as it killed Nazis. However, after the war the nation saw unprecedented private and public sector growth. Can we find some correlation between tax rates and this new-found prosperity?
If we can make any claims here it might be that a lower tax rate actually caused small spikes in unemployment. However, if we look between 1954-1964, the tax rate is unchanged, but we still see fluctuations in unemployment. 

So far, so inconclusive. Let's get down with some disco. That's right, we're headed to the Swingin' Seventies!
What do we see in this period of Nixon, Ford, and Carter? Well, in 1969 and 1970, tax rates fell, and unemployment climbed. After 1970, taxes stayed flat and there are substantial peaks and valleys in the unemployment numbers. However, if the cut-taxes people were right, these lower taxes should have at least caused steady declines in unemployment. That doesn't seem to have happened. 

Surely conservatives who have read this far will point out that a Democrat was in office and that the Arab Oil Embargo has a significant impact on joblessness in this country. I'm not going to try and refute that. However, I think that this graph starts to debunk the idea that low taxes = more jobs. How will I refute it? With a graph featuring the man who really brought this idea to the forefront: Ronald "Jelly Belly" Reagan.

The election of 1980 represents the first time that so called trickle-down economics were spread to the electorate nationwide. The Republican candidate, Ronald "the Gipper" Reagan advocated cutting taxes on the rich as a way to stimulate the economy. He also advocated deficit spending on military budgets (making him a bit of a "kloset Keynesian" if you ask me). However, the idea of trickle down has stuck with us. 

Well, did it work? Ronald "I do not recall" Reagan was in office from 1980-1988. It doesn't appear that his plan initially worked, but by the middle of his term, the jobless rate is sinking in tandem with the tax rate. Perhaps he was onto something. He was. He was cutting taxes and then borrowing money to spend not on social programs but on the military. The military developed new technologies, employed more civilians and in general spent piles of money. This stimulated the economy. It is also generally ignored at the Alter of Reagan.

The 12 years following his presidency were marked by stability as the nation adapted to a post Cold War world. Taxes and unemployment for most of the decade are largely unchanged.

2000 brought us the rise of the Neo-Con. These new conservatives had the Social beliefs of James Dobson and Pat Buchanan and the economic beliefs of Ronald Reagan. President George W "Mission Accomplished" Bush pushed a set of tax cuts through Congress with the express argument that they would stimulate the economy post 9/11. 

Did it work? Not really. There is a dip in the unemployment rate that one could attribute to the lower taxes, but the continuation of those taxes doesn't seem to have stopped unemployment from climbing since 2006. 

Listen, I'm not an economist, and I'm not all that bright, but I think I can draw two or three conclusions from all of these graphs.

1. Nobody is right if they think taxation will largely impact employment on a national level. Certainly taxation policies impact individual businesses, but nationally there is no evidence to support any claim of a strong correlation between a lower (or higher) tax rate and increased (or decreased) unemployment. 

2. Politicians are liars. 

3. It's fun to make up nicknames for Republicans. 

4. This is probably the only study of taxes and unemployment to ever reference a Quintin Tarantino movie. What, you didn't see it? Go back and search.

16 January 2012

I have a dream

I'm home from school today as the United States celebrates one of only two days dedicated to individuals, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (The other, incidentally, honors Christopher Columbus. Ah, the power of politics and special interests!) As I was spending my morning doing some reading about Dr. King and his legacy, I was struck by one of his most famous quotes
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I'm sure that the vast majority of you are familiar with these words from Dr. King. How could you have gotten through a high school history without at least being exposed to the famous "I have a dream" speech? He was of course talking about racial equality. However, as I look at it, I am (in my own special conspiratorial way) driven to thoughts about how we judge not people; but schools.

As I've talked about before, schools are living in a new reality. This new reality is one where parents, armed with the ability to shop between schools control where their children go for education. Many states, especially those where charter schools and school choice legislation has made it exceptionally easy for kids to move from school to school (I'm looking at you Colorado), have taken to issuing "school report cards" which give grades based primarily on test results and growth.

While I tend to be of the opinion that more information is better for everybody involved, I view these cards with trepidation. You see, they can go one of two ways. The first way, which seems to be more and more common, is to present every possible tidbit of data, and allow parents and community members to decide for themselves what it means and what is important. This is dangerous because even as a person who's been working in public schools for the entirety of No Child Left Behind, I still don't know what some of the numbers mean. Additionally, other numbers may seem skewed to the non-educator. The second path for these report cards is to have an outside company evaluate all of the data and issue letter grades. (This is a classic example. Look how pensive the kids in the pictures are! Drama!)

This second path is obviously more dangerous. What weight is given to what scores? How is the letter grade determined? Is there any value given to improvement? Are parents consulted? In short, what does that letter mean?

To be honest, I don't care for either of these forms of reporting. I think there must be some middle ground. Additionally, I think that reports in general are far too data-dependent. I realize that in the modern era of all-data-all-the-time this makes me a Luddite and a heretic. Bear with me. I will be more than willing to agree that using data to drive instruction is a key to improving test scores. I'll even grant that data can be used very effectively to shape instruction and actually help students to learn (which is not the same thing as improving test scores).

However, most of the data that schools have is only tangentially related to what a good job they are doing. For example, most school reports have information like attendance and expulsion rates, and how many teachers are "highly-qualified". They also are full of test scores from mandatory tests. However, most don't (for reasons of privacy and difficulty of obtaining) offer average SAT/ACT or AP test scores. Rarely will you see numbers of students engaged in extra-curicular events listed on a school report. I have yet to see one that measures school spirit or number of hours students spend in community service each year. Just like standardized testing these reports spell out those things which are easy to measure and quantify.

And that, to me, is the problem. Schools aren't like other businesses. There is more to what we make than those things which hard and fast numbers show. What data shows that a kid feels better about themselves? What data measures that a student learned to love science, and cured a disease? What number in a report tells us that more kids actually thought, or drew, or learned how to interact with an adult?

I feel like we, as a society, need to figure out what we want schools to produce, and then we need to measure that. Right now the way we evaluate schools indicates that we want schools to produce good multiple choice test takers, but I refuse to believe that this is the truth. I know that parents, teachers and the nation as a whole want us to keep producing that which has made America preeminent in the world; hard-working, creative, well-rounded young people. Also, they should probably be good citizens who believe that they can make a difference.

And that, my friends readers brings us back to Dr. King's quote. He wanted his children not to be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of the character. He wanted them to be judged based on what they did, not what they looked like. And so I'll take a risk and spell out my dream that we would do the same thing for schools.

I have a dream that one day, schools will be judged not on the content of their standardized test results, but on the content of the minds of their graduates.

I have a dream that one day, we won't focus on rote memorization of facts for a test, but we'll focus on learning skills like analytical thought.

I have a dream that one day, we won't dread the release of a report of numbers from a small sample size, but will celebrate the release of an accurate picture of what we're doing

I have a dream that one day, reports won't be created by faceless number crunchers, but by the experiences of students and parents.

I have a dream that one day, schools will be stop being judged on the test results of their freshmen and sophomores and will start being judged based on the critical thinking skills and work ethic of their graduates.

That one day schools will be recognized as the most important key to the future success of the nation.

That one day schools will do what is best to serve students, not the interests of testing companies.

That one day, we as a society can stop doing what is easy, and start doing what is right.
I'm not saying it will happen. But on a day when we remember a man who led a movement that dared to dream that hate could end, that the races could live side by side, that America could change; I'll hold out hope.