This is NOT ‘accidentally on purpose’ – this is absolutely on purpose.

In the last six months, many aspects of my life have gone through ‘change’. My address (a whole new state), my back office for tutoring, my weight. While those items have changed, my very real beliefs and sense of equity have not changed one bit – they just become stronger in conviction.

I know exactly why I left teaching in the classroom and now, 10 years later, when many more teachers have ‘left’ (fled and not replaced), I realize I was just a bit ahead of the curve. It is a challenge to find anyone these days who wishes to become a teacher due to the insanity of getting the credential and the further insanity of making through the first two years- never mind possibly getting through the first five years  and making it work for them, when they are seasoned and can be great.

As education went to  further extremes of the business model (charter schools, for profit secondary ed, small schools within a school, TFA and so forth, supplementary educational services) approach to education, those in charge continued to intentionally overlook and then ignore the most obvious problems arising from a ridiculous system. It is not that anyone has  forgotten or overlooked what we do in schools, it is most often the people in charge selectively choose to ignore, not address or lower the level of the problem until they  are called out.

Teachers are not by nature a dumb lot so one would have to guess administration, school boards and other community members seem to have a hand in the manipulations of kids getting an education. And this is why teachers become frustrated. We know. We know administrators and businesses (all the non-profit charter schools are BUSINESSES) intentionally on purpose have to overlook things so they meet the bottom line, present some sort of numbers to the people interested in their concept and hope to goodness no one catches them. A perfect example is how charter schools are able to skirt ADA rules for special ed students. You would be amazed at the stories, pack of lies and so forth surrounding this aspect of education.

When an article such as the one written by Jeff Guo at Storyline hits my reading, it is impossible to put down. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/09/22/these-kids-were-geniuses-they-were-just-too-poor-for-anyone-to-discover-them/?tid=sm_fb   It is the embodiment of all the things I know are going on and have never had the ‘evidence’ to prove as we don’t talk about this stuff in polite company. It is too unseemly to discuss all the ways we betray students in this country.

What Mr. Guo wrote about is the basis of work looked at by Malcolm Gladwell, Shankar Vedantam, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  It is the not so ‘hidden’ mess right in front of our eyes if we would just pay attention.  What is shocking is the fact this information is in no way hidden at all and that is the largest disgrace.

The result was an atlas of inequality.

We blame money as the cause for ignoring the gifted and talented students within a school district. It is not money. It is will. We know these students are out there and it is our job to find them. We have to do a better job. Instead, we do the opposite of what is best practices.

We give minority students and/or students of poverty the worst teachers, the new teachers, the teachers we can not figure out how to help. We give these same students Supplementary Education Services (SES), which is polite terminology for whatever half-rate tutors we can find after some ‘business’ takes a percentage off the top for hooking us up (trust me – I know the system and have seen it as a teacher, as a tutor and having been approached to work for these organizations). We created state tests which were so low in caliber, when the common core came out, most notably the standard for the economically advantaged kids, we flipped out to see the low scores. Reality met head on with the games we played to try to fool ourselves.

We put the socioeconomically disadvantaged students in charter schools which do not (the statistics prove it out repeatedly) which do not do anything more or better than a good, well run public school.  We do everything in our power to disenfranchise this group of students including evaluating them at the same time, at the same rate for gifted and talented programs.

Is it really any wonder at all education is in a shambles?

What can YOU do?

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As a parent, you can use the SES money towards a better tutor for your  student.    http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/choice/help/ses/description.html  

Districts must make available to parents a list of State-approved supplemental educational services providers in the area and must let parents choose the provider that will best meet the educational needs of the child.

 The school districts do what is cheapest, NOT best. Find an independent tutor to work with a small group of students. They can be paid by SES funds. Trust me, the threshold to be a tutor for supplemental education services is low. You can find tutors willing to work with students for less than their ‘listed’ costs on a website such as https://www.avidbrain.com/

-Stay away from the sites which promise you tons of tutors as you will find it is a numbers game and the sites with the ‘most’ tutors are not the sites with the BEST tutors. There is a difference.  Sites with the most tutors need to prove to investors they have a business model. 20% of the tutors on the site do 98% of the work. The other tutors are window dressing……I’ve been there. I was the 20%.

-Tutors are generally independent contractors.

-If you go with an SES ‘provider’, some business is making money and the tutor is maybe getting $12-20/hr.  Since an SES tutor has a low threshold to meet to become a tutor, you are not getting your monies worth, you are getting what is cheapest for your school district.

-If you go with an independent tutor, the tutor makes the money they are worth, stick with the job and know what they are doing.

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I’m going to be tutoring forever…….

http://www.npr.org/2013/07/05/198442307/education-reform-learns-lesson-from-old-standards

The past days, weeks and months have provided for a great deal of rousing conversation among teachers, administrators and tutors.  The topic(s) morphed from the horrors of NCLB to what is about to be released from Pandora’s Box (the nice shiny little thing which has been keeping the secrets of NCLB, charter schools, Michelle Rhee, etc. at bay…) when we are appraised of the actual disparity between proficiency and PROFICIENCY.

On my rush to work (tutoring a Japanese exchange student) I caught just an earful of news on NPR. I could not concentrate fully on the news piece and the traffic so I  later  went back and replayed the piece. The piece was quite short and yet the whole message was summed up in the two sentences said by Arne Duncan.

“For far too long, our school systems actually lied to children and to families and to communities,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a recent speech in Washington. And what made those lies possible, according to Duncan, was the one thing most of these state standards had in common: They were low.

I did not need time to ‘think’ through what was being said by Arne Duncan. He was not saying something new to anyone who is or was a teacher. In fact, we have been saying it for years and it fell on deaf ears while we were being scapegoated for noticing the disparity.

While the drum beat to war was starting up (actually, since  before Desert Storm), Americans were fed a sweetly sour pabulum regarding their children and education.  The sweet part made it go down easily for a long time. The sour is the GERD like (gastroesophageal reflux disease) bit which is going to require us to dose ourselves with some antacids.

You can love/hate Arne; You can love/hate Washington D.C. You may despise the word reform and love The Pledge of Allegiance. Whatever it is which pushes your button regarding education, you can not love/hate literacy, math and the ability to reason – these are only lovable and highly laudable ideas.  It is with this love of learning, knowledge, thinking and the courage to deeply consider, reason and discuss ideas that we,  society, will be able to progress.

The public is on the precipice of learning a great truth…..numbers can be made to tell all manners of untruth if stated in just the right way.  Those numbers represent a large problem as it is not representative of one year, it is year over year. No matter how charter schools tried to spin the numbers, the reality is literacy and math skills have barely changed and the population on which the numbers  changed is very small.

It is going to take years to get back to what was ‘lost’ in all the manipulations. The scary part to me is there are not enough hours in the day and years left for me to do nearly the amount of tutoring necessary to make a dent. Even worse – many people I know who tutor are thinking the same thing.

Throw on some kevlar as you get ready to teach to the common core.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html

A close personal friend gave me this article under a truly hilarious pretense – she went back to look at the author after reading as she was pretty sure I wrote the article for  CNN.  Alas, I did not. I don’t know Ron Clark, don’t know of Ron Clark or his new book and in fact, generally do not read education pieces on CNN.  I felt complimented my friend thought I wrote this piece and at the same time, I am positive I ‘did’. It is the collective consciousness of any good teacher for the last 25-30 years.  It is the same thing we all say and the reasons indeed are why we leave/left education.

In no small part, a huge thank you should go out to anyone who was involved with bringing NCLB to life and Michelle Rhee as well as most charter school companies.  These people/groups helped those of us who ‘knew better’ to put on our walking shoes and leave. Those who remained, well, I often hear their complaints about the same issues, they are just to scared to leave the profession after so much effort and cost to get a credential. Ron Clark sounds like a wonderful man and surely his intentions are great. I can only hope he has staying power as there are many students who will benefit from him.

If anyone thought the past 20 years were challenging, Fall 2013 is going to make it all look easy peasy!  Taking parents from  M/C and T/F test scores to the actual task of  having their child write something compelling AND marshal evidence AND  think/reflect……well, get the kevlar ready teachers. I don’t think I envy a one of you.  Without parents on board, administrators are going to once again do what they always do when backed into a corner – blame it on teachers, take it out on teachers (ask them to ‘revise’ their grades as it were) and essentially kiss up to every parent they see.  Administrators, even those who once were teachers, do little to support teachers.

Teachers are in fact left in their classrooms, told what to do and how to execute it and most of all told to suck it up when the crazy (pretty much all) parents come to solve something for their children.  Teachers are expected to be everyone’s whipping boy/girl to make public education work. If it were not for unions, even limited unions, public education would not exist as anything more than a thought experiment.

Currently I do tutoring and work in ed tech doing a variety of things from soup to nuts, sponge to hose, etc. If a parent contacts me for tutoring and I find our personalities and world views do not mesh, I get to say, “I don’t think I would be the BEST tutor for your child” and walk away from the situation. It does not happen often, yet it does happen. Most of what I find as a tutor is a student who could benefit from some basic things – structure, note taking skills, proper math syntax, organized thinking or graphic organizers, better resources.  Usually after a few weeks to  a couple of months, the training wheels are off and the kid is soaring. I could not be happier if I tried.  Sometimes I find a new or very ‘experienced’ teacher who is intractable and the student suffers. I do everything I can to educate the parent, give them strength to ask for what should be done (and is really reasonable) at school and advocate.  I write notes, send copies of things.  Of the times I meet the teachers, I inevitably find the people mentioned by Ron Clark. The ones who will be walking out of the profession or those who should have and are now so bitter they do not teach well.

I attend IEP meetings and help parents get more than the minimum written on the IEP – the more specific and defined you can be, the more likely the chance of IEP being followed and incremental success. I educate parents on having another set of books at home,  how to parent conference, how to check in with teachers, what should be going on in a SPED classroom vs. a mainstream classroom and what mainstreaming looks like, feels like and how it ‘goes’.  I help parents in the vernacular of ‘teacher’ for the benefit of their child. Again, if parents do not demonstrate they are on board, I can leave. There is only so much I can do in this lifetime and parents need to work on ‘change’ as opposed to thinking all teachers need to change for their child.

There are students who need help with SAT/ACT studies, AP course work, etc. Not only have I worked with these students, I have found the number of students really able to do AP course work were students who got their game on before Grade 4 and mom and dad were not excuse makers.  Students who do not do well are those who are shocked by the amount of reading and work necessary for AP.  Students and their parents,  prepping for SAT/ACT end up learning  the sad facts regarding inference and analogy, grammar and algebraic reasoning are not something you can be taught in a cram course – it comes from reading, writing, discussing, thinking since forever. All I can offer them are strategies for how to take the test and think about it.  The time when parents would have done far more to help their child by enforcing SSR (silent sustained reading) at home, encouraged studying atop assigned homework, etc. was wasted and I can not come in and splash that information on their child – nor can Princeton or Kaplan Review. SAT/ACT prep works for students who made learning their priority, not blaming their teacher(s) when they did not succeed every time.

Change is incredibly difficult for parents as they believe they ‘know’ it all. They would never question a dentist, doctor, lawyer (even court appointed), Apple Technician at Apple Store…….yet questioning and blaming a teacher for any ‘less then perfect’ grades, etc. on behalf of their child MUST be the teachers fault as parents have been taught and shown how to scapegoat teachers (Michelle Rhee actually brought this to an art form). Teachers do more ‘change’ in a day then anyone other than flight traffic controllers and ER doctors.  Unfortunately, with all the change teachers do, parents are the ones who need to redouble their efforts the most.

I think next school year will be interesting. If nothing else, people such as Ron Clark will become ever more popular and revered for what they are saying – whether or not parents come to terms with reality. Thank goodness there are Ron Clark’s and hopefully I will be thankful there are parents who will read this and do those things necessary to change for their child’s benefit. It is a long road filled with cliffs, channels, hikes, bike rides, hang gliding, zip lining and all the rest of out doors metaphors.

The Price of Tutor A and Tutor B

The more I tutor, the more I confirm some of my worst fears regarding educational practices.

Each time I have a student with a teacher who tries to teach a cute ‘story’ method for doing an actual math procedure I wish to just puke.  The most recent technique I have been ‘learned in’ is the cake method or cupcake method as new terminology for being able to discern factors and use the factors to obtain a product….as in doing multiplication.  I have already been ‘learned in’ the ‘flip it over, flip it over’ song for the word reciprocal as in, “I am dividing one fraction by another and need to use the multiplication sign AND the reciprocal of the fraction”.

It is not clear to me which is worse – the teachers not being comfortable enough with math and the appropriate vocabulary to use in describing a math process, the inability to explain a process via analogy and then use the appropriate verbiage or the idea of teachers dumbing it down.  No matter how you look at the situation, it is unfair to our students.

In light of STEM (M is for math!) and the common core standards rolling out in at least 40 states, it is going to be increasingly important for teachers to step it up. I do not know if this means teachers going back to school to be ‘learned’ in the ways of math or what it will take, I just know it is wrong to short change our students.

In addition to using made up words and phrases to teach math, many teachers do not expect habits of mind from students so they can go to algebra and progress further. Students should have syntax by Grade 6 – this means you solve a problem/equation down the left side of the page and not across.  It means things such as writing neatly, not skipping steps and doing the ‘scratch math’ on the far right side of the page so the actual work of math looks neat, tidy and can be ‘read’.

I had a student upset and angry with me for NOT writing out the equation from the word problem in algebra. I asked the student to pick out the three most important words in the word problem and we would assign the variable and construct how to do the problem.  This was upsetting as the ‘tutor’ at the library read the word problem to them and gave them the equation.  The student was being ‘cheated’ by the tutor as the tutor clearly already knew how to do the math – the student needed to learn. Skipping the ‘thinking’ process for the student did not make them better understand math and it did not make the tutor a better tutor since the student just had to solve the equation.

As a tutor, I have to explain what I do and why my rates are what they are versus the tutor at the library or other tutor who will charge far less.  Tutor B can charge less as they are not actually teaching math.  In fact, sometimes I think teachers are not even teaching math and so tutors don’t feel obligated to do more themselves.

We should not teach misconceptions in science and we should not try to shortcut the thinking process in math. These mistakes, along with multiple choice tests do not benefit our students.  School reform has many trees to clear from the forest of my disbelief.  It would be different if I had this situation once in awhile……I have seen it across the bay area of  N. California and now in S. California. I saw it in New York. Places I have not seen this messiness: Namibia, Kenya, Sweden.  I know this messiness does not happen in many places as the students excel at math.  We need to meet the competition and  in our training, there can be no short cuts.