Monthly Archives: October 2015

Another Spokane Spark Speaks Boldly… Senate Listening Tour, October 21, 2015

Senators,

I have a question no one has been able to answer for me.  I’m hoping you can.

where is all the money going 1First, I’d like to say: We are spending incredible amounts of money on the “accountability movement” and “education reforms”. Reforms like high stakes testing, data mining and teacher and principal evaluations (TPEP). To do this, there’s also hidden costs, in the infrastructure needed to sustain it… in technology and professional development, etc.

Where is all the money going?

So, I want to know, before even analyzing new bills, how much money is going to corporations?  (Corporations like Pearson, McGraw Hill, Microsoft, data mining companies, and the computer tech industry). What about the cost of all the products and curriculums being purchased to get children to pass the tests”, and “practice tests to help children pass THE test“? What about the real cost keeping teachers from being able to teach?

Up to this point, anyone I ask, including many serving in the Legislature, never seems to know.

Isn’t this weird?

Dark Secrets

It’s like a very deep dark secret, and I can tell you this… it’s too high a cost to society. How do I know? Because as a teacher on the ground, watching these policies play out, I see personally in our schools, the horrible price our children are paying, for reforms that do nothing to close the opportunity gap, but plenty to harm them.

Let’s Save Money and Put it Where it Counts

Cartoon on standardsLet’s save money (millions and billions), by doing away with these kind of laws that trickle down into factory models of learning for our children. It’s not good use of money. When implemented, it takes square pegs and tries to pound them into round holes. It weighs the cow and weighs the cow and never feeds the cow. Now you want to move levy money around. I worry this will not actually feed the cow, but weigh it some more.  Constant weighing will not make it fatter. Feeding it will.

Pig in a Poke 1Sadly, I think when tax payers get how much money is going to failed reforms, that turn children into a commodity, with dollar signs on their heads for corporations wanting to tap into $500 billion the education market is said to be worth in America alone, (according to Rupert Murdoch), the more people will understand we are getting a pig in a poke!

Teachers want to teach. Children are naturally born to be curious and learn. Close the tax loopholes for billionaires, fund education and please get back to us on just how much all these education reforms are costing all of us…???!

Thank you.

Linda Gower

Music Educator, Spokane, Washington

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A Mighty Flame Follows a Tiny Spark… Senate Listening Tour, October 21, 2015

Dear Senators,

If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.

      I have lived the role of all three…  at one time a single mom, currently a mother of an 8 year old in 3rd grade, and a 26 year accomplished, award winning educator.  George Orwell said,
“The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”
     I believe we have lost our course in education in our state, as well as nationally.  Now is the time to stand up and speak the truth, even if it is unpopular.  I’m here representing a growing group of concerned parents and educators across our state.   I also spoke on an expert panel in a Senate Hearing hosted by Senator Chase and Senator Roach in April 2015 on common core and the high stakes tests.
Thank you to those who DO Listen
     Senators, I have written to many of you.  Thank you to those who responded back and showed a willingness to listen and have courageous conversations with me about education. The title of this tour is “Senate Listening Tour”.  There are solutions which, from my humble perspective, do address the funding challenges facing our schools today.
Too Much Testing
     Our children are being over tested in the name of “accountability”.  Our children are being used as experiments through the common core standards in the name of “rigor”.  What expense has Washington State undertaken to implement the common core tests?  What validity do they have?  What inter-rater reliability do they have?  Advertisements went out to hire scorers at $11.20 an hour in local newspapers to judge whether our children are proficient at these untested standards.  Do you want your own children’s futures based upon a Craigslist Scorer?  I appreciate the time Senator Roach and Senator Chase have taken to dig into the history of common core.   I encourage each of you to do the same.  In order to accept the Federal carrot from RTTT, the expense of common core is costing more than the carrot itself.
Solution #1: 
SBA withdrawal     Withdraw from SBAC.  Please do not try to convince anyone we can’t.  The tests have been trashed like the second half of a rotten apple in various states.  PARCC used to include 26 states. It now includes seven, with three showing signs they may drop. Smarter Balanced started out with 31 states (some states joined both groups, so the total is more than 50). It now has 18, with at least three getting wobbly.  We are spending millions a year on these tests that do nothing to improve student learning.
NOTHING.
Question #1
     Are you paying attention to what this Testing Regime is doing to our children?  Are you listening to the personal stories?  Eight and nine year olds are sitting in computer labs for full days at a time.  Is this developmentally appropriate?  These young children are taking tests for longer periods of time than college age students on college exams.
Question #2
     What has it cost our state thus far?  $200 million?  $24,000,000 is spent in scoring the test each year, and add the cost of sending out bright colored fliers to every student’s family with the results. Estimates are over a billion, including all the hidden costs.  (Computers, Testing Coordinators, Test Prep Programs… more testing programs like Amplify…)
Budget Report from OSPI
SBAC
Solution # 2:
Senate Bill 6093… A Simple Solution to the School Funding Crisis
     Senate Bill 6093, sponsored by Senators Chase and McAuliffe, would repeal the 1997 huge tax exemption to the wealthy and invest $4 billion per year in public schools to restore school funding and lower class sizes. Corporations like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, etc… would no longer receive tax loopholes.
There is money to fully fund education.
Imagine if we evaluated fireman by how they put fires out and then restricted their water supply and gave them crappy fire trucks… !?
Question # 3:  
Can you tell me how much the reforms are costing… all the standardized testing, teacher and principal evaluations (TPEP), the data mining, and the infrastructure to support it all?
Question #4
And lastly, who are all these reforms benefiting?  The children?  (Nope.)
Who. Is. Profiting?
in-a-time-1074x483
There is money, Senators.  It is time it’s used to authentically benefit children and public schools.
Passionately Submitted,
RAZ ON FIRE

I Do NOT Choose Misery… I Choose the TRUTH

On October 9, 2015, 2400 Spokane School District employees sat in front of a screen in each of their respective buildings. They received 7 hours of training via a Webinar and were given a 30 minute lunch. Teachers were told with force the day before, “You must be in your seats by 8:00 a.m.  You may not be late.  You will be given 30 minutes to eat.  It is highly recommended you bring a lunch and do not leave the building for your lunch because you will be expected to be in your seats promptly at the end of the 30 minutes.  You may not leave until 3:30. The District is keeping very close tabs on this time schedule.”

The bulk of the training was around TPEP, the new teacher evaluation system. Teachers sat before a screen and listened to district personnel explain to them the requirements of being an “applying” or “innovative” teacher. The message was clear that teachers needed several data points to prove their students had mastered certain skills and concepts. Amplify was listed as one of those data points. Amplify Testing is now being subtly pushed to be used and linked to teacher performance.  If you are interested in Amplify’s history you can read my chronological compilation here: Amplify… A Modern Day Medusa.

It must be realized the tremendous pressure educators are under. I watched the look on many teachers faces throughout the day. Their training, their creativity, their innovative abilities, their love of children, their knowledge of child development… is being discounted and ignored. It must be understood how the mandates from the Federal, State, and District Level are impacting classrooms. Understand, if anyone desires to see changes in our schools, attendance at school board meetings, willingness to speak at school board meetings, and voting in new school board directors who are willing to be out in the schools, listening and learning what educators and children need… will ALL be critical.

The Cost

I also did some math. 2400 hundred district employees were paid for attending this training. Considering per diem rates range from $222.00 to $366.00 a day per employee, I multiplied 2400 X $300 (close average). It cost the school district somewhere around $720,000 dollars for this one day training. This is tax payer dollars at work. Many educators felt demeaned, devalued, and slapped in the face.

I was mandated to be at this training although I am not on TPEP and have received much of the same training over the past three years. I was told I had to be at the training so I would “know what the teachers are going through and know how to help them.”  With all due respect, I am quite clear on exactly what teachers are going through at this time in Public Education.  I’m in their classrooms.  Their autonomy to do what is right for children is being squelched as they are handcuffed with the Federal, State, and District mandates.

The Hidden Cost

The morale of the teachers.

The Parallel Between SBA and TPEP

As I sat obediently listening, my mind drew a parallel. Educators are spending hours on test prep. This is robbing children of precious instructional hours to get ready for a state evaluation: The SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment). Yesterday robbed teachers of planning time to prep and design quality lessons for children. This training deprived teachers from receiving professional development they personally needed to improve their instructional practice. Why? To prep the educator for the state teacher evaluation system: TPEP.

The full focus has become TEST PREP,  EVALUTION PREP and DATA.

NoteSome teachers did need the training on TPEP yesterday.  They are new to this evaluation system and appreciated the time.  The presenter did the best she could with what she was mandated to deliver to us.  I am positive she worked hard. However, many of us, would have preferred to stay home and save the tax payer the per diem pay, OR had the option to choose other professional development.  Many of us have sat through these Webinars and Power Points on TPEP multiple times over the past three years.  Not only was it a bad form of Professional Development, it was not necessary to insult our intelligence and assume we needed the repetition.  Many of the slides in the Power Point were read to us. We sat.  We listened.

“Obedient”.

“Good boys and girls”.

Teachers thinking for themselves

What are Teachers Expected to be Learning and Implementing in the Classroom Right Now?

Let’s examine a list at the Elementary Level:

  1. Journeys (Year Two of the adopted ELA program, but many are first year teachers or new to the district)
  2. EngageNY Math (You may see Eureka at the bottom of the worksheets.  Same Same.  This is a math program that has not been researched.  It is not differentiated.  It is scripted.  It does not align with any mathematical instructional best practices regarding how children learn mathematics.  It does not meet the needs of special needs children.  It does not meet the needs of English Language Learners.  It does not meet the needs of children who enter the classroom several grade levels behind.  Many teachers are floundering trying to implement this program in ways children can access the math)
  3. AVID (A College and Career Readiness Program)
  4. Why Try (A Mindset Program)
  5. Data Study (Five Schools have hired a .5 Data Coach.  The teachers involved in the study are required to attend many additional meetings as well as implement the requirements of the program.)
  6. Amplify Testing (Teachers will need to learn this new testing program, learn new rubrics (designed by non-educators), score performance tasks, enter in the student data, have additional meetings to interpret the data, and include it in their TPEP, teacher evaluation worksheets.)
  7. New Science Standards, Topics and Kits
  8. Social Studies Standards (currently with no program, but with a new program coming soon.)
  9. A new Extended Day Program in which children are in and out of the classroom daily as learning has become more and more compartmentalized and teachers have less and less solid blocks of time to teach a consistent cycle of lessons.  (Something required by TPEP)
  10. TPEP (The Teacher Evaluation System)  which involves 4 Domains, 8 Criterion, 62 Elements, various Components, Segments, and Driving Questions.
  11. And there is more…

Survival Mode

Ever Wonder Why Teachers are Choosing to Leave the Profession?

Ever Wonder Why There is Talk of a Looming Teacher Shortage?

As I drove away from the training the following was spinning through my mind:

Data Data Data. The world will not turn without data. Children can’t learn without data. People can’t eat without data. Schools can’t function without data. Teachers can’t lesson plan without data.  Teachers don’t know how to teach without data.

Data… how did we ever survive before data?

Bill Gates, in the Road Ahead, stated simply, “Data is power, he who controls the data has the power.” That was 10+ years ago. Kids are being tracked cradle to career. They now have the platforms (Amplify to name one) to forecast children’s capabilities for the state labor force… whether scientific or manual. Teachers are not to teach as an art, but to teach to keep the cogs in the machine moving.

My “favorite” message from the training, “We (The District) need your data so we can help you grow.”

Right behind that one, my second “favorite”, was the fifth norm presented at the beginning of the all day Webinar: MISERY IS OPTIONAL.

Hmmmm…  first time I’ve encountered this “norm” in any meeting I have ever attended in 26 years of being an educator.  This begs the question, “Why would The District front load the 6 hour Webinar with this norm?”

Think about it.

Ever read or watched The Divergent Series?  Or how about The Hunger Games… and President Snow of The Capital?

I do NOT choose misery. I choose the TRUTH.

“People are getting rich from data. This is a money grab. How many start ups and software companies are producing apps for CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and Test Prep? More than we can keep up with. They are still perpetuating the lie that US kids are behind the global curve. It’s a crock of $×÷$÷!” -A Spokane Parent (Sent to me October 9, 2015)

I’m Divergent.

I was educated Pre-Common Core, and was taught to think outside the four corners of the text.

The result: I think outside the four corners of the screen too.

Will you?

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

References:Spokane Assessment

  1. Spokane School District is not shy about Data Collection.  Meet “Quasar’… The “never ending forming galaxy of data!”

Spokane School District’s Assessment Page: Assessment and Program Effectiveness

    2.  What is the Core Really For?