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How can New Mexico help its students?

_absolutely_free_photos_original_photos_happy-kid-in-class-5184x3456_29015Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!

Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
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Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education?

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I have tried to stay away from anything that smacks of politics on social media during this election cycle. There is just so much negativity I can let into my life. I followed the issues. I voted. Now we are presented with an appointment that might unite the left and the right because parents, teachers, students, and many others are concerned about the state of education–the overtesting, Common Core State Standards, evaluations based on testing, and ridiculous administrative mandates.

I have done some research on Betsy DeVos and there is much I could say. Today I just want to focus on two things. First, her words. In a video I watched she made two very telling statements about initiatives she supports:

“[they] will empower educational entrepreneurs.”

“entrepreneurial spirit will prevail even in the industry of education.”

I find it troubling that she wants to empower an entrepreneurial spirit to prevail in education.  Big business is trying to take over education for their own profit and to dumb down the 99% so we are not educated enough to stand up for our constitutional rights. We need to get big business out of education.  The accumulating of wealth and warming a seat in the classroom do not qualify one to make educational decisions.

Even more troubling is the use of “industry” and “education” in the same sentence.  Our schools should not be industries; we should not make a profit off of them or produce worker bees for the powerful in our society. We are nurturing growing minds and bodies, and we should be creating opportunities for independent thinking–not that of the right or the left, independent. The goal of our efforts should be citizens with a moral and ethical compass who can find satisfying ways of supporting themselves and their families.

Second, her actions. These “education advocates” like DeVos are big money, big business people, and you can be sure that they have their own bottom line in sight with every decision. DeVos says she does not support Common Core. Just take a look at Jeb Bush’s pet project that she has been involved in for so many years as a board member and “education advocate”: ExcelinEd common core “toolkit.”

I retired after 34 years of teaching in the midst of this kind of nonsense, and I saw and experienced first hand the devastating effects it has on learning, creativity, and morale of students and teachers. Why would we continue down this same path, sacrificing our children, to line the pockets of the 1%?

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September 2016

Why should the arts still be important in education?

Pauline Hawkins

paint-brushesHow can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.

Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:

If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and…

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Purpose of a Data Wall–Seriously?

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What does an experienced teacher turned politician say about the direction of education?

“I saw education before No Child Left Behind. I also experienced education during No Child Left Behind up until I got elected to Congress. Basically, test and punish did not work. Because of No Child Left Behind, I suddenly had to follow a syllabus and a pacing guide dictated by the district office. There was less trust of the teacher, and that’s a mild way of putting it. We began being treated like we were a transmitter of someone else’s idea of what is good education. Effective education doesn’t work that way. Effective education is building relationships with students. It’s about teachers strategizing on how to engage students. You can’t do the canned lesson or scripted content.”

–Rep. Mark Takano of California, U.S. Congressman, 24 years of classroom experience

Three Day Quote Challenge–Day 3

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The message today from school administrators to teachers is “we are always looking over your shoulder and you need to hit the mark every single minute of the day.” The message should be “we are here to support you as you experiment in your classroom. Keep it vital, new, creative and full of growth. Every class you teach will be different. Classes and students will even have different needs from the day before. Keep trying until you find what works for this class. Education is not a one size fits all endeavor.” This message of school being a “no mistakes” zone is passed along to the students. Real learning is messy. Let teachers and students engage in the process!

Three Day Quote Challenge–Day 1

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My new blogger friend, Wendy from Ramblings and Musings, invited me to participate in this three day quote challenge.

The rules for the challenge are:

  1. Thank the person nominating you for the challenge.
  2. Post a quote on your blog for 3 consecutive days.
  3. Invite 3 of your favorite bloggers to join the challenge.

My nominees for the challenge are:

  1. David  from David Snape and Friends, whom I originally started following because of an interesting post he wrote on autism.  It is also through his blog that I discovered the fantastic Kindness Blog.
  2. Shellie  from Shellie Woods who writes about marketing and life, from a Christian perspective.
  3. Kim from  Learn to Love Food. Through her blog Kim has taught me about the need some children have for food therapy and her fun approach to helping those with food issues.

No obligation–just fun, inspiration and exposure to bloggers you may not have encountered before.

My first quote has been my favorite for years.  It was my signature quote on my work email.  I wanted it always there as a reminder to the “Standardistas” that accumulating facts is not what education is all about.  Many education policy makers and enforcers (in my former school district and around the country) have forgotten that education is inspiring children to be lifelong learners.

I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 4) Technology—14 years of growth

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 11.43.27 PMDear Former Students,

What do I hope you remember about me as your computer lab teacher?

My enthusiasm! I was so fortunate. In the middle of a job I loved, teaching first graders in a school that valued developmentally appropriate, early childhood instruction, I was given the opportunity to create a computer lab and the curriculum to go with it. I loved teaching kids and I loved technology. What could be better?

Our beginnings were quite humble. We pulled together a lab using one Mac computer from each classroom, but also leaving computers for classroom use. Children had to share computers in the lab, and computers had to share printers. We’re talking primitive sharing, not networking; I unplugged the printer and plugged it into the neighboring computer so you could print your stories using tractor pin feed paper. And I did it very carefully. If one of the pins in the Imagewriter cord got bent, it could be a minor crisis. No printing from two computers and no spare cords. Over time, the lab was continually updated, expanded and kept state of the art.

We were a school where few students had computers at home, but you had a reputation for being able to use computers better than other students in the district. Your teacher joined me in the computer lab, and we worked together, learning and teaching. It was exciting for me and for you. It was learning at its best. I used my knowledge of good teaching to integrate what you were learning in the classroom with our technology projects. As the standardistas took over education, that became more difficult to do. Learning became focused on skills instead of knowledge. The computer lab became “child care” for teachers so they could attend Professional Learning Committees. It was a welcome release of pressure for you as a student. I tried to give you what you needed: mouse skills for K while you learned about jellyfish and celebrated holidays and paint programs for first grade to work on math and writing. In second grade you wrote and indulged in clip art in PowerPoint. Third graders, do you remember the excitement of beginning keyboarding and using Publisher to create visitor brochures about the state of New Mexico? Some of you even got to proudly present them to legislators when you visited the state capitol. Older students, we worked on projects too, but we also dipped our toes into the emerging world of blogging, emails, and Internet safety (which I see many of you practicing today). Our district was trying to enter the digital world in a safe and thoughtful way. To look back now, it appears to have been baby steps, but that was the beginning and it was an exciting and important time. We also struggled with learning about the confusing world of copyright laws and fair use. I hope all of that helped you as you moved on to middle school.

Testing—the Beginning of the End

For many years in the computer lab we always had a word of the week, a technology term that we learned to expand our vocabulary. At the end, even that got put aside. Three times a year, the schedule was thrown out the window as we had to take the required Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. It was quite high pressure. When you were younger, most of you didn’t understand and were thrilled with the seemingly high score. As you grew older, the “cut score” reality set in. Regardless of how well you scored, it was rarely high enough and you could have always scored higher. There were rewards given by individual teachers and by the school. Even more pressure. Some of you must have felt like failures. You weren’t. The system failed you. What you probably didn’t know was that people above your teacher were telling your wonderful, hardworking, caring teachers that they were failures as well.

At some point I became too expensive as a certified teacher. The only written qualification for my replacement was that he or she should be able to use Microsoft Word. Seriously, that was what was viewed as necessary to do my job? This “assistant” (who she was assisting?) was charged with the care of you, two computer labs, scheduling, ordering equipment, preparing reports, training staff members, and a lot of technology maintenance. I worked with my replacement on the transition, and she is very capable and wants the best for you. The hardest part of this transition was moving my focus from all of the students at the school to only a classroom. I felt so responsible for all of you. I was also a little disappointed that the administration did not announce this change to students. Many of you felt I had abandoned you. This was definitely not the case, and nothing made me happier than to see you on campus and get one of your great smiles and maybe a hug.

What do I hope you remember about me in the computer lab?

A teacher who cared about you as a person and not a number on a test.

A teacher who cared about where you came from and what you went home to. A teacher who helped you learn about writing, language, art, math, science and developing technologies as well as about computers.

A teacher who tried to share with you things that would help you in your classroom and in your life.

A teacher who loved school and tried to provide opportunities for you to love learning as well.

A teacher who respected you because YOU are a person worthy of respect.

I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 2)

Ready for the first day of school and student input!

Ready for the first day of school and student input!

Dear Former Students,

What do I hope you remember about me?

Our Special Learning Space

I hope you remember our room. Bright, colorful, creative, inspirational. Most years, our room and our studies focused on a theme which varied from year to year. It might have been dinosaurs or space or animals. Maybe you were with me when we explored the rainforest. Whatever the topic, it was real; it didn’t just provide decorations. It was the springboard for learning—reading, math, language, science, social studies, art and music. We did it all centered around our theme. Sometimes we jumped outside the theme and that was OK. Creativity, learning, and children—none of them belong in a box.

I spent the summer vacation dreaming, planning, and creating for our learning base for the coming year. Until the Testing Monster emerged to swallow up the joy and adventure of learning. After that I spent summers investigating Common Core State Standards. I learned that first graders should be ready to do what had always been expected of second graders. I learned that a Kindergartener was a failure if he or she was not reading by the end of the year. I had nightmares of angry administrators and nonsense posters and charts. I tried to make sense of a disjointed melange, a mishmash of portions of reading programs, books, and plans stuck together by an “expert” to create a hideous and unworkable mess. BUT even then, I tried to create a warm and welcoming place to learn with a fun reading corner and an area for some messy art and forbidden science.

I know you must have felt my efforts. You would come into the room before school (and again at lunch) when you should have been on the playground.

You wanted to put your things away.

You wanted to say hello, to find out what we were going to be doing that day, not from the required posted chart, but from your teacher who had big plans for you.

You wanted to be reassured that despite your problems at home, you were safe at school and could have a good day.

Then after a hug or a smile or a moment to chat, I shooed you outside and we were both happy and ready to begin the adventure.

Opt-Out of PARCC???

perfect-score-mdThe Internet and news reports are filled this week with articles about the PARCC test and about the advisability and consequences of opting out of taking the test.

One of the strongest arguments seems to be that if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, then the school’s grade will be low. For example, according to the Zannesville Times Recorder, “The consequences, however, mean the district and child’s teacher will not be given credit for progress that is made, affecting the school’s department of education report card and educators’ individual evaluations.”

So, it’s always good to ask yourself, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” In this case if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, across the board, then the affected districts and state departments of education would have to admit defeat and develop a new plan. And that sounds like a great plan to me!

Who seriously thinks a state is going to give a rating of “F” to all of its schools?

High school students, teachers, and parents are being told that instead of civil disobedience, they should take their concerns to school administrators, school boards, state legislators, the governor, and the Department of Education. That advice sounds really good except for the fact that people have already written letters and made phone calls to the appropriate people and their concerns have been ignored. School districts publish official statements provided by state departments of education that attempt to explain why they are wasting so much instructional time on testing and contributing so much to Pearson’s coffers. Pearson constructed the PARCC tests and the test preparation materials that support the test. They are also the ones that mandate a blackout on test discussions. The people who need to make changes, from the district level all the way up to the political powers in each state, are ignoring the real problems in the name of better education for our children and are lining their pockets at student expense.

Opting-out is not an easy decision. Parents receive a lot pressure from school districts to “do the right thing.” Students are putting themselves at risk for a variety of unspecified punishments. Since the decision makers obviously underestimated the anger of the people, they have not yet decided what the consequences of this civil disobedience will be. Threats have included not being allowed to graduate and suspension. Teachers are caught in the middle between a system that financially supports their families and a career that focuses on doing the right thing for students.

Opting-out has certainly gotten the attention of policy makers at all levels. Now what will they do about it?

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