Friday, June 30, 2006

Life Skills Center grads defy odds, stay the course

Miami Herald.Com reported on these alternative high schools today. (read entire article)

"The center's curriculum allows teens who have dropped out of a traditional high school -- or are at risk of doing so -- to complete their schooling by attending daily four-hour sessions."

"Don't be fooled: This is no GED class. Life Skills students, all of whom are between 16 to 21 years old, earn a diploma that is recognized by the state. And like other high school students, they must pass the state-mandated FCAT."

"The difference is that Life Skills students do much of their work on a computer at their own pace. They must also work or volunteer at least 360 hours."


Although programs like this are not really new, they are often, in the world of education, reported on as such. When I was in high school, there was a program called work experience. Students would come to school in the morning for their "core" classes, or as KATHLEEN McGRORY calls them, "run of the mill" classes, and then they would leave to go to work in the afternoon.

The traditional high school day of core classes, electives, lunch, pep rallies, and activities is not for every student. Many students cannot find success in this format. Alternatives schools like the life skill center should only be the beginning of the changes needed with the current system. Although I am a proponent of traditional high school courses, not every student will benefit from the education the old fashioned way.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Letter From A High School Senior

I received this letter from an incoming senior, Roland Pilinyi, in response to the Vamos A Cuba editorial below. With the Roland's permission, I have posted his thoughts.

In the wake of the school board's decision to ban yet another book, we are left with an unsoiled mirror in which to look at our ever-corroding society.

The fundamental reason why books are banned is simple: a suppression of ideas or parallax. We can deduce then that the school system is breeding like-mindedness that better suits the masses goals. They are molded into their ideal cogs, ones that are more efficient, thus, providing more for the ones on top. Is this what we want from knowledge? Do we want to be diluted to mere labor, to be put in a centrifuge and have our "unnecessary" parts flung out? If not, then our acceptance of such things is in direct opposition to our self; consequently, they are self-destructive. For is knowledge such a thing that makes us grow and understand ourselves, not what is being done, for the most part, by the school system.

Societies that have banned many books, or ideas, have mostly been totalitarian regimes. These societies are ones that deprive man his own opinions, knowledge that has been reviewed by ones morals, and implant their own ideology to suffice the void. Is that what this society wants for itself? For it is this road that leads to such a place.

When reading, or speaking to someone, people use their own reasoning to obtain information, and their view on reality is then clearer. When reading a book, be it "Mein Kompf", the "Bible", or "Green Eggs And Ham", it is through reason that we obtain the opinions that we have. But if all one is acquainted with is death, than death is their only reality. It is through reading all kinds of books that we get a clearer picture of the reality we are living (for reality is not just death, there are taxes as well).

If one went to college and gained an education, they should know the fatal mistake of repressing ideas. Such then makes one issue the simple inquiry of "Who then is teaching our progeny?" The school board, not the books, should be banned; for they breed people that find books, thus thinking, bad.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

ACLU Opposes Ban of Vamos a Cuba

The results of the school board's vote to ban a book about Cuba based on one parent's complaint illustrates one of the major problems with schools in Dade County. (read Herald article)

Each school has a very distinct hierarchy in place of which the principal is on top. As we make our way down the list from principal, we have assistant principals, lead teachers, treasurers, activities directors, lead counselors, counselors, administrative assistants, and on and on until we finally get to the teachers and the students.

The deeper problem, however, arises when one individual parent's complaint is given so much attention that it ends up on the top of the already crowded hierarchy. We now have a school system, and thus each individual school, making its decisions based on the possible outcries of hundreds of thousands of uninformed, emotional, individual voices. In the case of Vamos A Cuba, this exactly what the school board is faced with. We have one parent of one child unhappy with the contents of one book.

The school system needs to take back the schools. Those of us who have become experts in the field, through education and experience, need to take up the reigns and lead the way through the irrational and politically charged actions of random individuals towards a system that lets the experts be the experts.

A principal, a teacher, and everyone else in the school system who has achieved the level of professionalism required to garner a certificate needs to be allowed the ability to look at individual complaints and say, "I understand you have a problem here, but we will not change our entire school's policy, and therefore an entire district's policy, simply because you are upset with it."

Until the experts are given this type of respect, our schools, and the nation's current school system, does not stand a chance of raising its current standards.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Miami Hurricanes and the CWS

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES RICE 3, MIAMI 2

Canes backed against wall

"After losing to second-seeded Rice Monday night, Miami needs to win three elimination games in a row to reach the College World Series championship round."

Ahh, the College World Series. What can be better than hanging out on a summer afternoon in front of the second greatest college sporting event in the world? Only watching the Miami Hurricanes pummel the Oregon State Beavers to move into the winners bracket of the CWS.

Losing to Rice last night, however, puts the Canes in the loser's bracket. But it is in the loser's bracket that the true value of the CWS format really shines. Every inning, every pitch, every play is potentially a season ending dance of skill, pressure, and guts.

There is nothing more incredible than watching kids, college kids who love the game, play the game they love. Whether you like baseball or not, watching the College World Series is an inspirational event matched only by March Madness.

Go Canes!!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Candidates Focus on FCAT

The Miami Herald gives a snippet of the candidates opposing positions on FCAT.

"Republicans Charlie Crist and Tom Gallagher say they would uphold Bush's education legacy -- arguing that the A+ plan has forced schools to buckle down on student achievement -- while Davis and Smith pledge to dismantle it."

"The two Democrats say that drilling for the FCAT has corrupted the more important goal of giving children a well-rounded education. At the same time, the Democrats insist that they would still hold students and teachers responsible for learning progress."

Regardless of your position on the FCAT, regardless of whether you believe high stakes testing is detrimental to a well rounded education, regardless of whether you believe that the result of the FCAT pressures is teachers teaching only to a test, regardless of whether you believe that the results of the FCAT only lead to the devaluation of all major subject areas, we must all come to believe that labeling entire schools with letter grades is a shameful tactic used by politicians to influence public opinion.

It has become clear that the FCAT test and all of the threats that come along with it still cannot turn a failing student population into a successful one, and a successful student population cannot, sadly, be made more successful under the limitations that this test provides.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hold Students Accountable for Reading

This past school year, I showed a segment of a documentary called "Misunderstood Minds." In this documentary, a young man of high school age has difficulty reading. The documentary links his inability to read fluently and comprehend the material to his delinquency and eventual incarceration.

During the film, the young man is asked to demonstrate his reading skills. He stumbles over words, tries to guess at various pronounciations, and gets stuck numerous times on what seem like simple, common words. He reads in a monotone voice, and chops up even the simplest sentences.

At the conclusion of the segment, one of my students noted that everyone in high school reads this way. And he was right. It seems that year after year, the reading skills grow weaker and weaker. Kids just can't read very well. There are even students who read perfectly, at least to the common ear. They pause when necessary, raise and lower their voices to match emotion, and pronounce every word perfectly; but for some reason, even many of these students can't answer the most basic comprehension questions. The words just aren't leaving their impressions beyond the page.

Why is this? I have spoken to reading teachers, English teachers, speech teachers. Not one seems to be able to answer the question that is most pressing: How do we get high school kids to read better? Is Reading Plus an answer (click here for information on Reading Plus)

It seems that half the kids in high school are in reading classes, yet the majority of these students have repeatedly failed the FCAT. Are reading classes working?

One possible solution that I would like to offer here is the following: Let's, as teachers in the classroom, lean a little more heavily on reading. Let's expect our kids to read the chapters, read the worksheets, read the novels, and read the directions; and then let's base our methods of evaluation on these readings. Let's hold students accountable for reading and remembering what they have read.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

China cracks down on cheats

While China begins cracking down on cheaters (read here), I would like to take this opportunity to survey teachers and administrators about their own views toward cheating.

As new generations of teachers enter the classroom, I wonder how their attitudes toward cheating have changed when compared to older teachers.

The perception is that the problem of cheating has grown worse. The internet has created a vast network of resources for kids to turn to. If they need an answer, they go online. There is no longer a need among kids to read information and extract the necessary data. The internet allows kids to get right to it. Need to read a book, go online. Need a research paper, go online.

As teachers who have benefitted from these resources begin to enter our classrooms, will the stigma of cheating be lifted? Will teachers who cheated their way through school ignore the students who cheat? This past school year, English teachers in my department were disgusted and disappointed by the number of papers that were plagiarized from the internet.

Sites like turnitin.com have become the norm now in colleges and even in public high schools. We expect kids to cheat.

So the question is: What have been your experiences in your classrooms? Is cheating getting worse? Is cheating being ignored more now than in years past? Can cheating be curbed? Is cheating detrimental to the future of education?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Jeb puts seal on a massive education-reform package

Here are some excerpts from article in today's Herald. Read the full article here.

Florida students will soon be required to choose majors in high school, and middle school students will begin planning for college and careers, according to a massive education packagesigned by Gov. Jeb Bush in Davie Monday.

''We recognize that students are not the same, they have different aspirations, different interests,'' Bush said in a speech at McFatter Technical High School in Davie, calling the bill ``the most significant piece of legislation this year, other than the budget.''

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ralph Arza, a Hialeah Republican, increases the number of required core courses middle-schoolers must complete before advancing to high school and establishes permanent funding for intensive reading courses for middle and high school students.

The bill also creates research and career-oriented academies within schools.
High school students must still pass core courses, as well as take four elective courses in their major.

A student could major in a traditionally academic subject such as biology or literature, or choose a career-oriented specialty, such as nursing.

Students would have four remaining elective courses.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Gallagher Comments on Class Size

In Mary Ellen Klas' article, Candidates uncertain on class size, Gallagher noted that while ''everybody wants smaller class sizes,'' they're not the only path to better schools.

''I attended third grade with 60 kids in the class and one teacher,'' he said, referring to his time at St. Ann's School in Wilmington, Del., in the 1950s. ``And we all learned.''

17 pct. at 2 schools practice self-abuse

"Nearly 1 in 5 students at two Ivy League schools say they have purposely injured themselves by cutting, burning or other methods, a disturbing phenomenon that psychologists say they are hearing about more often." According to the article on Yahoo News, "the results of the survey at Cornell and Princeton are similar to other estimates on this frightening behavior. Counselors say it's happening at colleges, high schools and middle schools across the country."

Students in my high school classes call it "cutting," and some of them do it; almost everyone in my classes knows someone who cuts themselves. As a teacher, it is important that we create a classroom environment where students feel safe and secure among their peers, among their teachers.

This safety can only come from within a room where students are heard. When kids are given a chance to talk, to share what is going on in their worlds outside of schools, they relish that time. Schools cannot be looked to to solve all of the problems in society, but they should and must be a place where kids can seek understanding of their worlds, of their lives, and of themselves. If the learning environment can find a way to allow kids to learn from eachother and about eachother, we just may have a chance to help assist in some of these problems.

"Cutting" is not a school problem, it is a societal problem. Society is in our schools, so let our students participate in it. Schools can no longer exist as concrete fortresses built to keep the world out. The daily pressures and anxieties our students feel is real, and it comes from the world outside of the school. Let's knock down the walls and let their worlds in.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Minority students give bad grades to school climate

CNN.COM shared the results of a poll regarding minority perceptions in the classroom. Some of the results were as follows:

"Minority children in public middle and high schools are more likely than white children to describe profanity, truancy, fighting, weapons and drug abuse as "very serious" problems." What exactly does this mean? What does this say about education?

"Thirty percent of black students said teachers spend more time trying to keep order in class than teaching; 14 percent of white students said the same." What does this mean? Does it mean that black students are more aware of the disruptions than whites? Does it mean that certain racial groups are being treated unfairly? Does it mean that white students do not pay attention to disorder in the classroom?

"More than half of black students said kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language is a very serious problem, compared to less than one-third of white students." What is the purpose of this poll? Why are we getting these results as a comparison between whites and blacks perceptions? The article makes no mention of the effects of these perceptions. It makes no mention of who is treated poorly, of who is responsible for the disorder, or of who is guilty of using profanity and weapons.

"Black and Hispanic parents were more than twice as likely as white parents to call weapons and fighting a very serious problem. They reported bigger concerns about crowded classes and low standards." Does this mean that white parents care less? Does this mean that black and Hispanic parents see weapons as a problem but white parents do not?

I have read so many articles, polls, and surveys on education and they all say the same thing: NOTHING! Polls of this nature serve only to reinforce negative stereotypes. Perceptions do not mean anything if we can't use them to improve the current climate in our schools.

Overcrowding, lack of expectations, and a changing society are all real problems, it is time our education writers and reporters begin to uncover some real problems; unless these real problems are too controversial to point out, which is my suspicion.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Summer Challenge: What is the Purpose of Education?

Every year I encounter students who are willing and eager to question the motives behind the educational system. Although most students, by the time they reach high school, are already numb to the patterns and methods of the system, there are still some kids who are inquisitive enough to look for meaning in their classes.

It is for all of these students, and the students who have numbed to the idea of education as beneficial for their minds, that I propose the following challenge. We, as teachers in the classroom, have the sole capability of transforming the educational experience of all future students. The most important question one can ask themselves, whether a parent, teacher, administrator, or student is: What is the purpose of education? I would like to challenge all who read this post, teachers and parents alike, to answer this question. It is from this question that all educational reform must begin. There are no band aids; we must start from the root of the idea.

Re: Behind the Story:Redondo Elementary by Pinzur

Matthew Pinzur is the education reporter for the Miami Herald. On his blog recently he reported on the successes at Redondo Elementary. One of his comments dealt with the involvement of Mexican immigrants in their child's education. Re: Parent involvement leads to better quality of education...This statement alone has become a rallying cry among administrators eager to get in line with the trend towards privatizing education. Administrators and politicians talk about schools as businesses serving their customers. It is this idea that makes talk of parent involvement just another sideshow for public schools to tout to their neighborhoods and recruitees.Parent involvement can take many forms. Parents often call teachers when students receive poor or failing grades. Parents often call teachers when a progress report or report card shows a failing grade. I have received calls when a student can't get along in his group or can't turn in an assignment on time. Many would feel that a parent who calls is concerned and therefore involved, but these types of correspondence only help to further the gap between the teachers and the students. In this day when students are customers, education is being limited to the lowest common denominator. If the customer is always right, then the teacher is no longer looked upon as the expert.Real parent involvement means the parents are in the classrooms, working with teachers, and relying on the teacher to teach, inform, and enlighten. The parent who is involved needs to reinforce the teacher's lessons, encourage their children to listen to and respect the teacher's knowledge, and finally to question the teacher's motives, lessons, and assignments in order to understand the purposes behind what each teacher does. Quick note on Dade County Policy: I had a student last year bring in her mother for a presentation on her mother's life. The school security guards quickly stopped this child's mother from entering the school and sent her home because she had not been fingerprinted and registered by the school board. If we want parents to really be involvend, we have to find a way to let them in and out of our classrooms at their convenience.

Friday, August 19, 2005

FCAT To Be Seen On Web

The Miami Herald reports today that there are plans to release past FCAT tests online. Read about it here.