March Fourth

It’s March Fourth.

March Forth for Education. Four years ago I participated in a March Fourth Walk with children and parents from Max’s public school to the Civic Center in San Francisco, where students, parents and teachers gathered to demand (ask?) the state to give money back to the public schools. It felt brilliant to be part of such a large group of public school participants and advocates making noise to stop the cuts to public education. We brought signs, noisemakers, water bottles and strollers. We got off work early, we yelled, walked, and chanted. We took pictures and we marched.

Every year that I have been a public school parent in California, I have worked my butt off raising money, trying to figure out what my son’s school needs, what the teachers need, what books need to be purchased, and figuring out how we parents can best put in our time, skills and resources to help schools.

2014 marks the first year that Governor Brown’s education budget will penetrate the poorer districts and start the process of mending the many years of cuts and neglect. However, it is very little, and it is very late, and now we have new computers to buy. And this is the catch. Schools must now outfit every child with a computer for the purpose of testing during the testing period. Every district must make sure that there is sufficient broadband for hundreds of students to be tested at the same time on multiple computers. Every district and school in California and in the 46 states that adopted the Common Core must now direct their funds and energy to hire computer technicians, buy computers and higher bandwidth, update software, arrange testing schedules, train teachers, etc., etc., etc. Most districts have been given a grace period of a year or two in order to transition to the computerized test. In the meantime, some schools will test students using scantrons and test booklets and some schools will test students using the Smarter Balanced computerized test.

The high school in which I work got chosen to do the computerized test. This means that our two computer labs, our library and our computer carts will be monopolized for the purpose of testing for several weeks. During this time, students and teachers will not be able to use the computers for projects, presentations, research, or writing papers. Our school has one of the highest numbers of low income kids in the district. Our school is the one in which students have the least access to computers in the home. And perhaps, these same parents of our low income kids will be the least likely to complain if their kids don’t have to do a research paper now. Perhaps because they don’t know that this used to be part of high school. Perhaps because they are working two or more jobs. Perhaps because they don’t know that they have a right to ask for more than the low standardized test score that their kid will bring home instead.

Our educational money is instead going to pay for upgrading computers, not for the purposes of computerized instruction and research, not for the purpose of teaching technological skills, not in order to give access for students with no computers in the home, but rather, for the purpose of a very questionable test that will give me very little specific information about my students, or, put another way, a questionable test that will tell me exactly how much wealth and education the student’s family possesses, because the one thing that is known from standardized testing is the information that is conveyed about the family of the child that is tested – family income, highest level of education attained in family, and number of books in the home. Thank you, standardized test! I see that Victoria and Samuel are English language learners! I see that Rodrick has a learning disability! I see that Mounish and Haley have parents who read a lot!

Standardized tests = demographics.

Why aren’t the teachers complaining?!?!?! Am I the only one who sees the irony? the hypocrisy? the waste of time and resources? There is so much good that can happen with computers! But, not another standardized test, this time complete with bugs and a bad user interface and a lack of teacher input!

Okay, I am not the only one who wrote a list of everything wrong with the Smarter Balanced Test (see my last post). I found this article out of a town in New England, whose teachers are also concerned about this test and noticed the same inadequacies as I did:

“The FMS staff collectively believe that the Smarter Balance Test is inappropriate for our students at this time and that the results from this test will not measure the academic achievement of our students; but will be a test of computer skills and students’ abilities to endure through a cumbersome task.”  (emphasis mine)

Why are we teachers, parents and administrators in California not affronted by this? Why are we not asking the hard questions about the usefulness of this test? My good friend who has worked as an ELD teacher for more than 20 years gave me the answer.

We have undergone over ten years of No Child Left Behind which mandated standardized testing every year in every grade from 3rd through 12th in every public school in the nation. (And 2014 marks the year that all students should now be proficient – every single one – but just to let you know, this has not happened, not by a long shot, but teachers and schools are still getting punished for it.)

Teachers and parents don’t remember that there was a time that yearly standardized testing didn’t eat up a month of instructional time. People in poorer urban districs don’t remember that students used to get art, P.E., social studies, music and library time (and even field trips) instead of standardized test preparation. We just don’t remember. And we are demoralized, deflated and flattened. We have come to believe that this is education. That the purpose of education is how our kids do on a standardized test. We are the ones who have “endured through a cumbersome task.” And we have given up the fight.

It’s March Forth.

Maestra Malinche

“Schooling, instead of encouraging the asking of questions, too often discourages it.”- Madeleine L’Engle

Common Core messy messy – a California rebellion and Apple tales

“Those that make test scores and grades the heart of education hit their targets while entirely missing the point.” – Joe Bower

More on the Common Core!

This last week the California legislature voted to suspend standardized testing for all public school students for the 2013-14 year.  (Here’s who voted for and against).  This was based on the idea that we are transitioning from the California state standards to the Common Core standards.  In this transitional year, many districts are spending their money on updating their technology, professional development and practice tests for the Common Core.  Teachers, administrators and districts do not want to test students on the old standards while they are preparing students using the new standards.  Testing kids on both would be a monumental task, stress students, teachers and schools, pull everyone in two directions at once, and stretch districts’ resources – all the while taking time away from actual teaching and learning.

Tom Torlakson, our state superintendent of education, along with the support of CA educators (and me), support the suspension of the CA tests while we ramp up for the Common Core, while Arne Duncan, the US Education Secretary, is threatening to withhold federal funding to California students and schools if we suspend the STAR tests.

Here is a link on the story.

And here is a link to a very succinct Valerie Strauss article on problems with the Common Core, as they are currently being rolled out.  For me, it is dismaying to hear that the new standards, which have the potential to give back more control to local teachers and local schools in creating critically engaging lessons and learning experiences, are much more likely to repeat the problems of the past – teachers teaching to multiple choice exams that are made by for-profit testing companies and the continuing misuse of exam results to blame teachers and students, rather than to allocate more resources to schools that serve poor and/or minority students.  What’s even more disturbing to me is the astonishing amount of money that will now go to tech companies to buy computers and other gadgets so that students can take the tests.  I am very confused by the educational purpose of having students take the tests on the computers (will computers grade the essays? Are 8 year olds required to have decent keyboarding skills?), and I have no idea how even my rich suburban school will be able to afford this, or schedule all the computer labs for such a purpose.

Which leads me to another compelling story on how some districts are attempting to get ready for the technology based tests.  Here are a couple of links on the LA Unified decision to use funds to buy iPads for every kid while class size goes up, art teachers and other “non-tested” subject teachers have been laid off.  As people have started to question the use of such a large amount of a 25 year bond for the gadgets that have, at best, three years of life, the Deputy Superintendant of LAUSD in charge of the iPad rollout, resigned this week.

And an open letter to Apple Computers from an LA teacher:

Of course, my favorite educator, Diane Ravitch, has an editorial in Scientific American about the dubious uses of technology in schools – well worth a read!

Meanwhile, I am so glad to have an amazing Stanford student teacher this year!  She is helping me deal with the 35 students in each of my classes – she works one on one with students who need it, and helps me keep sane with all the correcting of papers and projects.  A German mom of one of my students spoke out at Back to School Night a week and a half ago about the insanity of such class sizes.  I couldn’t agree more.  I think that funding smaller classes would definitely be better than giving each of my students an iPad.  Students really respond better to human interaction in learning language; I’m pretty sure it’s in our genetic code, the way babies respond to live people, but not recordings of live people.

Maestra Malinche

(married to an Apple programmer, and married to my Apple computer, by the way.)