Texas Legislature Chipping Away At Public Schools

The Texas Legislature has written two pieces of legislation, HB 2543 and SB 893, misguided companion bills that would give the commissioner of education free rein to mandate that local school districts base teacher evaluations largely on student test scores. This legislation also slashes minimum pay for classroom teachers down to a mere $27,540 for every teacher, regardless of experience or advanced degrees.

Teacher appraisal should be based on measures that are proven valid and reliable, confirmed by independent analysis based on empirical evidence. HB 2543 and SB 893 would allow the misuse of standardized tests for evaluation imposed by the commissioner of education statewide, negating local authority to rely on better measures. Promoting this guarantees excessive emphasis on standardized testing at a time when parents and teachers alike increasingly view the current testing obsession destructive to teaching and learning.

It’s difficult to imagine another way to lose high-quality, experienced teachers than to tell them their minimum pay under state law is now reduced to $27,540 a year; yet that is exactly what HB 2543 and SB 893 would do. This devaluation of teaching experience is a serious policy mistake and will deter efforts to recruit and retain the very dedicated and talented individuals we need in our classrooms.

In addition to these two bills, the Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 4 that funds vouchers for private schools. These schools are not held to the same accountability as public schools, and furthermore we should not be diluting public funds for private entities.

The hostility of this legislation towards public education is palpable. The Legislators promoting this travesty wish to erode the very foundation that allowed many of them to reach their current educational status.

Teachers deserve better. Students across Texas deserve better. Texas deserves better.

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Parent Horror Story from BASIS: Charter school chain “bullying” Black parents?

Still think Charters are the answer? Here’s just another example of how BASIS tries to weed out students who don’t meet their academic standards. If you are not dedicated to serving public education, don’t accept public funding.

Cloaking Inequity

Everywhere you look there are wonderful stories and elegant arguments about why charters are GREAT for kids… especially poor Latina/os and Blacks. Today Cloaking Inequity has an exclusive— another horror story from a charter parent. I first discussed the BASIS charter schools, a quasi for-profit charter chain (see What BASIS?: Nepotism and aggrandizement in charters?), in the post Parent Horror Stories from BASIS: Corporate Charter Hurting Children? It is still one of the five most popular posts ever on Cloaking Inequity.  Here at Cloaking Inequity we can deliver the counter-narrative.  Without further ado, here is an open letter from a concerned parent.

Public Charter School Board

3333 14th Street, NW, Suite 210

Washington, DC 20010

Hello Ms. [BASIS administrator],

The purpose of this email is to establish a formal complaint against the Public Charter School Basis-DC. My son, [student name], is 12 and in the 6th grade. He is a Sixth grader that has…

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Cultivating Voluntary Reading in the Classroom

One of the greatest gifts my family bestowed upon me was the love of a good story. My mother read to me daily, as did my grandmother, and my father created stories in which I was the main character. Mom will still sit down and read 3-4 novels a week. (I usually finish 3-4 per month, but I’m not retired.)

Early in my teaching career it became apparent that not all families were like mine, and I dare say we are becoming somewhat of an anomaly. Finding this unacceptable, I have always incorporated free reading time into my classroom in addition to reading aloud daily to my students. Today, however, many teachers feel pressed to teach so many test-taking skills that the reading test has become a genre.

We have lost the idea of balance and as a result are losing a generation of readers. But how do we regain that balance and still maintain rigorous standards? Believe it or not, the research supports reading for choice over direct instruction.

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) means reading because you want to. No book reports, no comprehension questions, and the book is one of your choosing. And while class novels are preferable over the reading passage/question worksheet, this will not have the same impact as FVR. Research has shown that FVR improves comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, writing, and grammar (Krashen, 2004).

Having students talk about their reading is critical. Sharing the books they’ve enjoyed through Book Talks, Reviews, and Journals promotes comprehension and is more authentic than asking low-level questions (Atwell, 2007; Miller, 2009). Teaching direct comprehension skills has its place, but it should not be the crux of your reading lessons.

So as you look at your classroom schedule, make time for silent-sustained reading, free voluntary reading, or DEAR time. Regardless of what you call it, just make the time.

“It’s all in my Head”

Was reminded today of one week several years ago when it seemed all my students had discovered hidden talents.

One young lady had accomplished the near-impossible task of completing long-division with remainders without showing any work whatsoever!  When I inquired about her work, she simply replied, “I did it in my head.”  Pretty amazing considering math was usually her most challenging subject.

Another young lady read aloud her rather creative spelling story.  When I asked her to share one of her more remarkable sentences with us, she gave me the deer-in-the-headlights pose.  Upon further inspection, her spelling composition notebook was completly blank.  Her reply?  “I didn’t write down my story – it’s all in my head.”  Sigh…

Tip to parents:  please, please, please review your child’s homework each night to ensure that it’s not all still stuck in their heads. 🙂

Communication

So I spent last weekend with three male family members and it occurred to me that communication could have been better.  Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed many well-meaning parents answering for their children, ordering their meals, finishing their sentences.  It’s so important that a child learns to speak for themselves.  That means that when a waitress looks at me and asks what my child would like to drink I kindly tell her to ask him.  And yes, I say the same thing to my husband when he wants to know what our child would like.  How would I know?  Ask him.

 

In educational settings it’s important to offer many opportunities for students to speak up for themselves.  Teachers call it wait time and we are pretty patient, but often other students speak up.  All young people must be instructed in giving “wait time” to others so they may collect their thoughts, processing information at their own rate, and decide what they want to say.  Easy?  Nah.  Important?  Absolutely.

 

Next time you find yourself in the presence of a young person, please slow down and allow that child the opportunity to speak for themselves.  It may seem like eons to you, but remember that it’s time well spent.

Thoughts on Writing (republished from my former blog)

My son is a 4th grader this year and is learning how to be a better writer.  He’s enthralled by all the elaboration techniques available these days.  Things sure have changed, y’know.  We used to study/teach similes, metaphors, etc. out of an English textbook.  His enlightened teacher doesn’t use a text, but chooses activities like showing movie clips and allowing him to respond in writing, giving the perfect authentic opportunity to practice these elaboration techniques.  We are even throwing out “trash words” from our daily communication.  He’s growing as a writer and a thinker.  I like that!

My own students struggle with basic reading and writing skills.  They are simply trying to formulate a basic sentence, so the idea of trying to get them to expand on their ideas is daunting at best.  Cop out?  Nah – I work with very special young people whose strengths are not always of the academic sort.  We need to embrace the different learners out there who will undoubtedly add to our society in their own unique way.  Yes, some are meant to be thinkers and some to be workers.  Some to build, some to create, and some to write.  There’s not a darn thing wrong with that.

So what are the elaboration techniques my son is being encouraged to use?  Your basic literary elements are there:  simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, but he is also encouraged to create “thought shots” which share his feelings and to hook them with a really good beginning sentence.  Sometimes it’s contrived; other times it’s pretty good!

Will he be a famous writer?  Probably not, but he sure has discovered a new appreciation for the written words.  And for that I am truly grateful.