testing what? pt. 2

i by no means intended to convey that the educational system, its successes AND failures, should not be measured. i as a taxpayer also would like to know exactly how my dollars are “working”… much like the fee usage signs around the national parks as of late, which i do stop to read every once in awhile…. short descriptions of how this new project is helping a certain national forest or wilderness area… while the logging truck passes by me, and another, and another…..

but back to assessment. i guess what i intended to communicate was the fact that standardized tests, although cost effective? expensive? – (and i take this moment to make a correction since i did have to take a series of standardized test called the CSET in order to prove my competency in the subject matter of social studies… hurt to pay for those) should not be the “chief determiner” of the success/failure of neither the students, teachers, or the system in general… although i do feel that you can make substantial inferences about an educational system that expects quality yet is obsessed with measuring quantity. this article on the PTA national website brings up some good points for the benefit of parents. the parents being one of the chief determining factors of student achievement. for a less “fair and balanced” perspective, this article by Alfie Kohn speaks about the implications of our nation’s perception, treatment, expectation, and support of our schools and students.

what we should focus on is varied assessment, that may provide more information about what and how our students are learning. assessments that measure not only recalled facts and one mode logical reasoning to bypass trick test questions, but ones that measure students ability to think critical about an issue, analyze and evaluate it, and most importantly create and communicate the fruits of their ideas. we need more ways to see these things. or maybe i just need to read between the bubbles?

testing what?

this rant cannot be original. i can not be the only one to have felt these feelings. as an educator, student, member of the work force, and common sensed person (or so i like to think)… i still cannot for the life of me understand the logic behind the testing craze. what are these 3 day long exercises in tedious, bubble filling measuring? what is the so called quantitative data produced when 23 sixth graders are forced to remain seated and silent, despite all the hormone biology working against one’s “natural” inclination to do what seems so simple to adults? wait a minute… it is impossible for me to sit silently for so long and do tedious and meaningless work…

perhaps it is because i chose a profession that does not require me to sit at a desk all day long doing that type of work, although you wouldn’t know it from the amount of “highly qualified” teachers and substitutes who do surf the internet, read the paper, and conference on their blue tooth wireless devices while delivering “high level and rigorous” instruction to the students seated before them… but getting back to the bubbles. i still have yet to be thankful for the days i spent taking tests… they have not provided me with skills that make me more fit for my work place, and my profession deals with more standardized tests than any other i know of. standardized tests have provided me with no opportunities in my life. i hold a bachelors, and masters degree, neither of which were the result of any standardized test. i did not take the SATs, CASHEE, or any other acronym… what has gotten me this far is my ability to express myself thru both written and non-written verbal communication. never have i communicated to any degree of success (meaning i have never been clearly understood) by filling in bubbles…

perhaps they teach our students how to manage stress… yet i doubt that any one of my students, many of whom have directly experienced some of the most horrifically stressful events need practice in stress management… i however may need it. for as i observe my students cooperatively sharing a limited amount of markers and art supplies after completing the test, communicating non-verbal with much success, creating art and expressing themselves…. all i can do is stress out about the noise level from the creaky, sub-standard furniture and the old wood floors that might be making it difficult for the few who have not finished to concentrate on FILLING OUT BUBBLES!!!!

education has truly become irrelevant… no wonder there is so much frustration from our students in inner city schools, see Locke article

I hate graffiti!!! let’s have a critical discussion.

“indeed…” as omar would say with a shotgun ready. in short this is how many discussion have been generated and directed towards me as of late. yet the trigger happy defensives so common to discussions of polarizing issues have not been the result. and i have to say i am quite thrilled with the beginning of a serious dialogue. when people begin to question, people begin to work towards answers, even if they start out by questioning you personally… your integrity, morals, politics, or even your basic scruples! to discuss critically is to explore possibilities.

without recycling conversations and demeaning the intrinsic value inherent in the moment, i can say with confidence that ideas are being generated and minds are being opened. this is necessary…. from my colleagues, to workshop participants, my students, and ultimately me… the questioning is what keeps us moving forward. for more on this i have to turn it over to my friend antero and his most recent posts on The Homeroom, the LA times education blog…
the first posting on youth culture speaks to the motivation for our current collaboration in curriculum development.
the second post about whether or not graffiti is worth a thousand words shows our small progress in this former endeavor.

basically, its on!

T.F.A. as a long term solution? not anytime soon…

sitting in the 29 Bar today, deep in Trojan territory watching my Bruins get spanked in the Final Four.  this was not the only  glaring contradiction of the day.  as Antero and i debated about whether or not we could have prevented our mediocre workshop on graffiti from being so mediocre… i happened to over hear another conversation about Teach for America. immediately distracted from my mediocre conversation (no offense Antero, we were both tired) i tuned in to catch a tag line that would give me any bearing as to the the resident opinion of this highly controversial topic… Teach for America teachers. how much of a benefit are they to the education profession and all its ridiculous baggage.

in a moment’s time my fears were confirmed. the patrons discussing this at the table next to ours had said that, “teachers in TFA are positively affecting the classroom more than teachers from traditional credential programs as well as those with more experience.” i glanced at Antero’s face which reassured me that his suspicions had also been aroused (if anything it confirmed the fact that our previous dialogue was in need of a change of topic). i held my tongue a minute longer to see where this obviously misinformed discussion was headed when the lady who had began the discussion (whom i am indebted to for providing me with additional information in the upcoming link – thank you) referenced a study that backed up her assertion. i couldn’t bare it any longer so i leapt into the conversation uninvited. my clarifying question had also confirmed my hypothesis that this lady must have a daughter who was about to enter the program. i asked if shoe wouldn’t mind sharing this article with me and true to her word and my request, she sent the above link….

i pondered before i began writing my rant of a response. i thought about my own prejudices for TFA. my own everyday experiences with very close colleagues and friends who are members of TFA. i wanted to collect my thoughts to maintain the appearance of an objective and fair evaluator of issues, after all i am an educator. yet i could not shake the emotional part of the response i am about to share. the above study cites data from testing scores which everyone who knows anything about education realizes, despite the conventional wisdom, that test scores is not the only nor the best means to assess a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. however i could see how this data could be validated. the TFA teachers i know are far more dedicated to the perfection of their craft as teachers, way more committed to a reflective practice that with time, proper cultivation and administrative support would no doubt lead to a critical pedagogy bent on the transformative type of education so desperately needed by by our students and our country at large.

yet what was no addressed in this study was the saddening fact that TFA teachers are quite often not committed to the long term commitments to the field of education as other teachers from traditional universities, those who knew they wanted to positively affect the youth thru education specifically… those who may have had more than naive expectations on how to survive in the profession for any length of stay above the normal and frightening attrition rates commonly experienced by inner city schools like mine. what is even more depressing is the reasons why they are leaving… ask my friend, a 2nd year teacher who was assigned to quite possibly the most difficult assignment at our school, why she is leaving. one of the finest young teachers i have had the privilege to work with will not be on my time come next year. although she is one of a kind, she is not alone in this trend. another article written in 2004 highlights the issues concerning a program like TFA. before i can whole heartedly believe that TFA teachers produce better results, i have to figure out how to get around the many stories like the ones of my friend and my first mentor teacher, who change our students life for the better only to leave the profession and relegate the students once again to the horrors of a modern education system that provides them with under-qualified long term substitutes that rotate almost everyday, further eroding an already unstable life… one that does not set them up for the kind of success our society insists on measuring with bubble filling. maybe it is the definition of success that needs to be explored when we examine why these amazingly successful teachers choose to leave our profession to seek out struggle and success in others.

Democracy vs. (or with) Anarchy

it should be noted before you read further that i am working off of the following definitions:

democracy – an improbable experiment on the path to fruition of the promise of unalienable rights of citizens (read humans) to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

anarchy – the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without govt. – harmony in such a society being attained not by submission to law or by obedience to any authority but by free agree concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption and also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.

i am not sure which is more viable… or which one is truly what it supposes to be by definition. not even too sure of the definitions or the validity of the available definitions. but they are both systems that i have been trying to get a better understanding of lately. whether through an organized reading circle that meets once a month, or a rebroadcast lecture of sociologist Parker Palmer on the drive back to a friend’s from a solo dining experience consisting of time for self reflection, nostalgia, and sushi….. it seems that my ponderings continue to connect in the oddest places. or maybe the most logical of places. this under utilized blog is another attempt to connect these free floating ideas to each other and perhaps to you…

my thoughts are incomplete on purpose. still digesting the information i have explored of late on these themes.

That’s what I’m screaming about Pt. II

i am so sick of “revolutionary” or “social justice” urban educators saying that there are more important things to worry about in the hood than global warming. the environment is not a priority issue. or, “people of color don’t go camping! we don’t belong outside!” yes i have actually been told that. in however much serious a statement like that was intended to muster, there are serious implications behind it. the environmental movement is accepted as a movement primarily for affluent white culture. the green media hype (Planet Earth, An Inconvenient Truth, 11th Hour, etc. – not to mention hurricane Katrina) has lessened this somewhat. realizing that even though you may be part of an urban community, there is still another larger community that needs to be experienced in order to appreciate and subsequently to assist. i am glad this middle school teacher in Harlem knows what’s up!

teachers of the year… and the winner is…

what makes a teacher worthy of a title like teacher of the year? one of my colleagues was nominated and subsequently dubbed a teacher of the year for a certain region. i love him. he is my department chair as well as my friend. but i doubt that these were the reasons for his recent title.

so what does make a teacher qualify for teacher of the year. i am not going to lie and say i looked up the criteria for this. i wouldn’t do so not because of lack of interest but for fear of navigating a district website. but even if i were to find out the criteria, which i could just as easily ask my friend, i wonder if i would agree with what makes a great teacher.

my wife is a great teacher. she cares genuinely about her students, or should i say authentically as the theory suggests? she works very hard to serve her students as best as she can. she strives to improve upon her practice and is very reflective of such a process. she is dedicated and willing to see error as an opportunity for improvement. yet recently she was to share her periodic assessment data (the standardized tests our district has our students take in between the state standardized tests periodically) with a room full of principals. this protocol, which was facilitated by UEP and designed to analyze the data reflected from the tests to begin to develop ways to improve test scores (which maybe the problem right there) instead took on a hostile tone towards the sharing teacher, who was present while these principals apparently forgot the previously stated objectives of the protocol. but more importantly what they forgot was that we are dealing with human beings here. human beings that have feelings, needs (both emotional and physical), prior experiences, desires, all that goes along with human nature.

which brings me back to my original question; what makes a teacher a great teacher, worthy of recognition for teacher of the year? are they looking for teachers who can produce data that “they” tell us we want to see? how close are we then to mechanized teaching done simply by numbers and “objective” data? or is a great teacher more than that? are they in fact measuring teacher greatness by human beingness?

That’s What I’m Screaming About!!!

This is what I have been waiting for, why i barely write in this blog, and why nobody visits it neither… I have been waiting for this talking point. It is so much easier to quote somebody else who says what you want to say. I learned that while doing my thesis… which by the way sounded a lot like what Congress is just now learning. Can’t remember if I sent a copy to them. Now, to send a copy of this to Super Nintendo Brewer to see if he will remain true to his 5 point plan. -g

A chat about Congress’ effort to restore environmental education funds | By Amy Linn | Grist | Grist Feature | 26 Sep 2007: ”

No Child Left Inside

Graffiti: Art, Vandalism, or the next victim of Coporate Capitalism?

a panel discussing the cultural importance and educational value of graffiti and you invited a Caltrans head? oh this ought to be good… and for the most part it was…save a few things mentioned below.

there is no doubt that the conference held at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy was in the right city to discuss these issues. the event began with the coordinator of the program addressing the audience (many who joined the event an hour into… gotta love LA, and comprised of super egos, talent, self appointed experts and martyrs, and just your average educational enthusiast trying to see if they could learn something and bring it back to the youth) disappointedly… within the first ten minutes of the doors opening someone had tagged the building, historic and sacred to many who do work there.

avoiding a close call of cancellation, we continued on the bumpy road. the highlight reel should read.
1) Caltrans representative Dan freeman plays the part of the “bad guy” to a T, but not before dosing off a nod or two while participating in the panel… to his defense, the panel wasn’t exactly begging for his continued input.
2) former President of the Cultural Affairs Commission of LA timely points out the “we need to take the existentialism out of graffiti..” i mean seriously folks.
3) O.G. cholo stylist and native of East LA Chaz Bojorquez hands out one of many “disses” of the day when he fuels the battle of the coasts with his comment that “… NY is still doing bubble letters…”

other highlights included artists Slick and Retna responding to inquiries on their proven credentials, as well as defending themselves and members of other crews, artists demanding answers to questions that undoubtedly left the lay person in the audience more confused… and a distaste for the high level of ego necessary? in graffiti…

bottom line. the discussion must continue. questions to be answered. what is graffiti? is tagging the same thing? what is art? what is vandalism? why do graffiti? does the intrinsic individualism equal embedded capitalism? and can we have this discussion without addressing political, social, economical, racial, and the other multitude of realities and issues…

what did we learn? that our students need to be a part of this dialogue. they need to help us answer some of these questions and help us creatively formulate solutions to some of the “problems” graffiti creates while it addresses, consciously or not…
p.s. suggestions for curricular ideas surrounding this topic welcome… without the existentialism!
p.p.s. couldn’t really comment on LA weekly and their important role with the excess of promoting that went on at the event but… read the article coming out soon by Shelley Leopold