Tag Archives: education

Fear, Intimidation and Retaliation: The Atlanta Cheating Scandal and You

23 Apr

I promised in my last entry that I would blog a bit about the Atlanta Teacher scandal.  How little did I know how closely this thing would hit home for me, personally.  But you’ll have to hang on for a minute.

As I wrote my last entry, I began looking deeper and deeper into that situation, watching and reading hours of testimony given by witnesses.  There were initially over 170 educators from 40 different schools named in the investigation.  As time went on, educators came forward, confessed and cooperated and in return they were given a sort of leniency.  But it was all predicated on an admission of guilt.  They had to confess that they had some role in falsifying or corrupting the testing process.   One by one they came forward and made deals.  Until there were only 12 defendants left who went the distance and went to trial and all the way to sentencing.

Actually, that isn’t quite true.  There was at least one who could not be prosecuted because she died before she could have her day in court.

As I poured over the history of this unfortunate incident my heart went out to each and every person involved.  Everyone.  Of course the children who were fooled into thinking they were somehow gifted or doing better than they really were and subsequently failed to receive earlier intervention that might have come if the tests were serving the purpose they are purported to serve.  But in truth, these tests have never served that purpose.  George W. Bush made No Child Left Behind the crown jewel of his legacy.   Barack Obama took NCLB and “improved” it by taking the most onerous parts of it and incentivized it during a recession that gripped the nation through “Race to the Top.”  Beverly Hall won her accolades as Superintendent of The Year in 2009– on his watch.

The teachers involved lived in a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation.  Their jobs were on the line.  They needed the benefits for taking care of their own children and to put food on their own tables.  Even if they didn’t cheat, they knew it was happening.  Erasing student scores was wrong.  We all know this.  But I often ask myself, “what would I have done?”  Then I ask myself “What am I going to do?”  Because you see, things have changed but maybe not that much.   Notice that these teachers were sentenced on April 1st– a mere 3 weeks before the state of Georgia goes into its testing season.  Fear, intimidation, retaliation.  Those sentences and this whole story casts a long, long shadow over every single teacher in this state and even across our entire nation.  NONE of us are immune from the fear, intimidation and the fear of retaliation caused by the spectre of the long arm of the law reaching and grasping us with its cold and loveless fingers.

I felt for the judge.  He really pleaded and did almost everything he could do to keep from having to hand down sentences to these educators.  He delayed his sentencing by a day, in order to give them all a chance to make a deal with the district attorney.  It reminded me of the story of Pontius Pilate who did not want to administer a certain other sentence, trying the flogging first and then appealing to the crowds.  I’m convinced he took no pleasure in this.  Everything about this trial was painful to watch.  I know the educators did wrong and deserved some form of punishment.  But are they that much of a threat to society that they need to be taken off the streets and incarcerated with rapists and murderers?  They’ve lost their credentials that they spent a good portion of their lives acquiring and will never be able to practice their profession again.  They are jobless and in some cases indigent, unable to afford to pay for their own appeals.  They are broke and broken.

As I watched the videos of the sentencing and the efforts of the attorneys to appeal for some mercy, I was genuinely moved by the entire thing.  I felt a sense of hopelessness for every single person in that courtroom.  I would have taken the deal.  Any deal.  Whatever it took to wash my hands of this dirty, filthy mess.

And that is what this entire testing culture is.  It’s not about the children.  It’s not even about accountability and it certainly is not about teaching and learning.  It’s pure filth.  And as educators, we all have to swim in this hot, steaming vat of it.  I’m beginning to wonder if there is any pension, insurance benefit or salary that can possibly wash the stink of it off of any of us.  We’re in it for the kids.  But it’s not about them anymore.  It’s all about the data.

In my last entry, I described our testing season.  We are now a mere 3 days into a 10 day ordeal.  I am working with a team of 6 other extremely dedicated educators who like our kids and enjoy teaching them.  And 3 days in, each and every single one of us have had to write at least one incident report, reporting some sort of “testing irregularity” that will put us on the radar of the Department Of Education and subsequent investigations that might just put an end to that.  Most of these things are out of our control.  The new computerized testing administration is full of glitches and problems which are still being hashed out and has caused most of these “irregularities.”  In some cases, entire tests will be invalidated because of these problems.  Some students didn’t get their accommodations and we scrambled to make the best of things.  Only time will tell if we did enough to satisfy all of the oversight.

Parents all around the state  and country are starting to push back for a variety of reasons.  But one thing they realize is that our education system is hopelessly broken and every effort by our government to “fix” it has made it even more broken.  One of the reasons schools push so hard for students to take these tests is because there is money tied not only to the pass rates, but simply for having at least 95% of the students take the test on test day.    Fear, intimidation and retaliation.  While those Atlanta teachers who cheated didn’t do the rest of the dedicated teachers in the country any favors, the system has not gotten any kinder.  It continues to cultivate the exact same culture that incubated the scandal in the first place.  And it has made teaching a much more difficult and less rewarding profession than at any other time in our history.  And its starting to show.  I would have a really hard time recommending this profession to any student given the present climate.  Back when I got my undergrad degree in agriculture education, only about 2 of us out of 10 who graduated the program that December had any intention of returning to the classroom, with the rest opting to go into agribusiness.  I’ve always liked teaching, and still do.  But so much of the job involves so many other things besides teaching students, and almost all of it revolves around “accountability.”  Covering your bum.  It’s increasingly difficult to survive and thrive in that sort of climate for students and the teachers who teach them.   We’re sowing seeds that will reap a bitter harvest for this country unless we can regain some control over a testing culture that has gotten out of control.

Just remember that whenever you hear the word “Accountability” when applied to education, it is shorthand for fear, intimidation and retaliation.

5/4/2015 Edit: Thank you John Oliver!

So You Want To Be A Student At An Online School?

11 Jul

I have finally finished my first year teaching for the largest charter school in Georgia, which also happens to be part of a larger company that is the largest online K-12 school in the U.S. And it has been quite an adventure on so many levels!

I am working on an article about being an online teacher but realized that I also needed to write something about being an online student since these go hand-in-hand. Since far more people will eventually be taking classes online than teaching them, I decided to lead off with this one.  All online teachers end up being online learners, so this is naturally a good place to start understanding what happens in an online school.

Our school is the largest in the state with over 12,000 k-12 students serving all 159 counties in the state. And we serve students in all grades with most disabilities including some with severe and multiple disabilities.

Families search us out for a variety of reasons, some of which I’ve covered in prior articles about charter schools. I have personally served students who have been shot, stabbed, beat up, ridiculed, harassed, bullied and otherwise traumatized within the more typical brick and mortar setting. Some students were themselves bullies or were kicked out of their regular schools for being disruptive. Some students are professional actors, athletes or have other interests that simply do not work well with a traditional schedule. Some students have extensive medical needs that can not be met in a traditional setting or it poses an undo hardship. Some parents chose this option because, for whatever reason, they found themselves being called into the school to come and get their child, conference with administrators, or deal with other problems in the school often totally unrelated to a child’s education. Some of these are young teen parents themselves who want to take care of and raise their children without having to drop out of school.

Whatever the reason, families are coming to us from all corners of the state from all backgrounds. Over 50% of our students were eligible for free and reduced lunches in their regular home districts. While these students don’t get the free or reduced lunches in our setting, they are eligible to receive free laptops, printers and equipment from our school including the means to access the internet if they don’t already have it. Our school is a free, public charter school which does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, gender orientation, income or academic ability. In general, we have similar admission criteria as any other public school except we also do not discriminate based on ones zip code as long as they live in the state of Georgia. If you live in my state, you or your child can attend my school.

However, SHOULD you or your child attend my school? And if so, what do you need to know?

The first thing any perspective student and their parent should realize is that online education is not easier, less rigorous or less work than a regular school. It is more flexible. In exchange for eliminating some of the problems of scheduling and social pitfalls, it poses some extra challenges that are not present in more traditional educational settings. The work still has to be done, the standards still have to be met and the standardized tests still have to be taken and passed. These are state mandates for all public schools that do not go away just because the bus is not coming to the door.

Parents and students attending us for the first time are often a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work that is expected, having had some misconception that this would somehow be easier and less work. This is probably the biggest misconception of online education and it is the downfall of most students and parents entering our setting for the first time.

The second thing parents need to know is that they are going to be more involved and doing more work themselves. In our school, they are called “learning coaches”. While a learning coach can be any adult, it is most often a parent or guardian. Students of all ages need a certain level of support in our environment, and the parent needs to be willing, or know someone who is willing to fulfill this role. In the younger grades, this means that the parent takes on the role of being the primary teacher. While this lessens with age and grade level, it is still a critical component even in high school. It is a rare student that can manage themselves alone even in high school, especially if is their first year with us.

The benefit of flexibility is also a pitfall that many students and parents fall into, becoming a crater that they find themselves struggling to escape from. Most students who go back to the regular setting are ones who fell into this early on and struggled to get out of simply because they could not adequately manage their time. Procrastination is the biggest enemy of all in this setting and the online environment makes it exasperatingly easy to find other, more interesting things to do.

This is a new system and environment for most students. There is a new language, new technology, new system and an entirely new way of doing things. The learning curse is VERY steep. Even though we might spend an entire month trying to orient new students and parents, there is a still a lot to learn and the volume of new information can be overwhelming. There is an entirely new language to learn in the ways of the OLS, LMS, class connect, blackboard collaborate, Kmail, and navigating the system.

So if you are considering this environment, both parents and students need to have their eyes open.

– Are you willing to devote MORE hours and time upfront to learn the new language and system?

– Are you willing to keep up with the constant and steady flow of new material and information?

– Are you willing and able to structure your time into a daily/weekly routine that will allow room for changes and disruptions?

– Is the student/learning coach relationship robust enough to endure stress, hardship and trials by fire?

– Are you able to persist through many challenges that extend beyond just the academic material, but also the challenges of technology?

Discouraged yet?

Online learning IS the wave of the future, and just the virtue of reading this blog shows that you are plugged in some how and investing a considerable amount of time in learning and researching. So I hope I can reward your efforts with some advice, if you are still considering this route.

1. Don’t get behind. In fact, get ahead if you can. Things come up and Murphy’s law will be there to frustrate you. One of the biggest benefits of this setting is that you CAN shoot out front and build your own buffer. Do it and you won’t regret it.

2. If things come up and you DO get behind, communicate with the teacher. We always have catch-up plans and can help prioritize to get you back on track. One thing about my fellow teachers and I is that we never give up. As long as you are willing to do the work, we’ll hang with you.

3. If you are new, give the system a chance until Thanksgiving break. Persist and hang with us through the tough learning curve. I found most new families DO feel overwhelmed at first, just like I did as a new teacher. But it DOES get better.

If there are additional concerns or questions, I’ll do my best to address them in the comments. But in just a few days, my summer will be over and I’ll be back working again! And I already have a stack of work waiting for me. But it is a subject near and dear to my heart, which I will address in the next article about being an online teacher.

The Internet and Learning

6 Jan

Today’s Mighty bell asks about the internet and learning.  That task is supposed to take 15 – 30 minutes.  I’ll probably spend more time on it…

  • What sites do you go to regularly to learn new things?
  • Are there authors or sites that you “follow?”
  • When does the Internet or the Web help your learning, and when does it distract from good learning for you?
  • How do you feel about technology and learning?

Where I go depends on what exactly I am learning about.  If I want just a general overview of something I have never heard of, I have no problems going to wikipedia.  I have no idea what a Higgs Boson particle is, so I can go there and learn something about it.  Easy, right?  But I might have never gotten curious enough to learn about it, if it wasn’t for a Youtube video about the subject.  And I discovered that video through this person’s main channel, which is just one of several Youtube channels I subscribe to because, well, because I’m a nerd!  The point of this being that even a distraction can lead to learning.

But the other side of it, is that the internet seems to be built for distraction.  For instance I start this blog post and start looking for Higgs Boson particles, and enter the world of Youtube, the mindless distractions are just a click away.  And it is SOOO easy to say “OH, this is only 2 minutes”…and an hour later I still haven’t finished this because I got lost in videos, Facebook and emails.  This was only supposed to be a 20 minute task!

I have an iGoogle with all of the news and interest sites in one place that I like to regularly read.  I have an education page and a technology page as well as a general news/weather/email/calendar page.   There is so much information, it is almost impossible to keep up with everything!  Another important tool in my internet arsenal is my podcast subscriptions.  I’m going to be on the road a couple hours per day, and the podcasts are a way to continue to learn while on-the-go.

I’ve made a conscious decision to kind of avoid Twitter for the moment, because I sometimes I feel as if I am already swimming in information as it is with blogs I can’t read, podcasts I haven’t gotten around to listening to and other things I have had to skim over.

To be sure the internet is an incredible resource for learning and teaching, and I’ve done my share of both through this blog, Teachertube and other resources.  I notice a lot of other teachers who have joined in and we are looking for ways to leverage this technology to better reach students.  One of the unique and interesting things about Mightybell is that you can support and cheer on colleague through comments or just clicking the “cheer” button which is more or less like a ‘like’ button on the Facebook.  And I notice that feature on my blog as well.  So I can imagine a time when students might be writing and producing content, posting it on the inernet using it as a sort of virtual refrigerator, and then everyone can view it and ‘like’ on it.  Now that seems a lot a lot more realistically motivating than grades or test scores.

Gov. Sarah Palin

3 Oct

Okay, I suppose its about time I weigh in on the big election race, since that is one of the biggest stories around the nation and around the world.  I am sure there is considerable buzz and excitement within the disability/special education community concerning Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice President.  One of the very first things she noted in her acceptance speech was that she will be an advocate for families of children with special needs.  And this is a very positive thing in her favor, indeed.

But I want to talk for a few seconds about how the candidates have been handling education issues, in general.  That is to say, they have absolutely NOT been handling it at all.  Obama was the first to bring it up at the tail end of his debate with John McCain last Tuesday, and basically it was about funding NCLB.  The primary position of his party has been one of saying that the main problem of NCLB is funding.  I certainly do agree that this business of passing unfunded mandates is an extremely nasty habit in Washington, and education is the most frequent recipient of this shabby treatment.  In fact, if you fail to pony up and comply, they’ll take away what little funding you already get from the feds.  Neither party has everseriously considered fully funding IDEA, and this is something that has been on the books for 35 years.  Why would NCLB get any better treatment?  However, the problems with NCLB go much deeper than just money.  It lacks fundamental fairness and undermines IDEA by forcing a one-size-fits-all approach to education.  It buttresses a factory-style education system developed to produce factory workers.  What is the future of factory workers in America in the 21st century? 

Anyway, neither presidential candidate has bothered much with education as an issue.  Edin08 has been a dismal failure as far as raising awareness of education issues in this campaign.  An opportunity to  lay out new ground and “build a bridge to the future” has been squandered.  If you’re concerned about education, you’re going to have to hold your nose in this election.  I will say for my part, the senate election is actually a bigger one for me, because I’m going to see to it that Saxby Chambliss will not be voting to reauthorize NCLB.

So back to Ms. Palin…

When I first heard about John McCain’s pick for VP, I was as shocked as everyone else.  I figured Romney or even Huckabee would be more natural choices.  Who was this woman?  so like everyone else, I went and searched for whatever I could find out about her.  The fact that her youngest son had Down syndrome was one of the earliest bits of interesting information to come out about her.  Not long after that, there was all the stuff about the state trooper scandal, her oldest daughter’s pregnancy and all that. 

I watched her announcement speech and she seemed pretty…well awfully pretty!  She also seemed very confident and well-poised.  As a former Huckabeesupporter, I was actually happy with the choice on a lot of levels.  Her speech at the convention was truly electrifying in a lot of ways.  But after that speech, a couple of things bothered me.  First off, John McCain was with her every single time she was out on the campaign trail.  It was like he was some sort of guardian angel for her or something.  She never did or said anything without him being right there, and I saw that as him having to hold her hand.  It was just an embarrassing display of paternalism or condescension or maybe even sexism.  Heck if I know.  I actually suspected that while she might be cute and poised, she might also be kind of dumb, like many other beauty pageant contestants.  The stereotype is there for a reason.  Heaven knows, I would rather look at her than Joe Biden the next 4 years, but not if she’s going to be incompetent. 

The interviews she had with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson were partially journalistic hack jobs.  Bush Doctrine?  I’m not sure I even agree with how that is being pinned on GW.  And it is perfectly reasonable that intelligent people can say that it is possible for the earth to cool and warm regardless of what people do i.e global warming.  The passport question was dumb at the outset.  While the questions about foreign policy were sort of on target, no questions like that were everasked by the media about Obama’s experienced.  And then when Palin couldn’t give exact answers on McCain’s record of asking for more regulations, Couric just kept dogging her on it over and over. 

Having said all that, Palin’s repertoire of answers have been narrow, at best.  She talks about energy, she talks about giving power back to the people, she talks about being a hockey mom.  She talks about being a maverick and she talks about reforming Washington.  Those are her talking points.  In light of that, her mention of education in the debate was a breath of fresh air from the usual agenda and script.  She did bring up some hostility toward NCLB, which you’ll notice Biden simply said was underfunded.  I give Palin high marks for not calling it “George Bush’s No child Left Behind.”  She’s the only one on the ticket of either party who didn’t vote for it.  That alone gets some support from me.  But at the same time, she was too vague about what she might do and Trig isn’t old enough yet for her to know much about how IDEA has been gutted and disemboweled by NCLB.  I thought she held her own in the debate okay, but I would really like to see her more on her own before the election.  Sure she might be an advocate for the special needs community, but she’s not going to be much of an advocate if she’s seen as being dumb and incompetent.  She really hasn’t proven much to me and I’m not sure if she’s proven enough to get my vote.  I’ve swung to third party candidates more than once before in order to escape having to make such a stinky choice. 

If Obama could make a spirited effort to address education beyond just spending more money, he could still get my vote.  But I think it was the federalization of our schools that has gotten us in this mess in the first place.  Obama is not going to lessen federal involvement and regulation because he has consistently chosen MORE regulation and federal management.

I think I’m going to hear someone say something about bank regulation and the need for more and how our current financial crisis was caused by the lack of oversight.  Let’s nip that right now.  There was actually TOO MUCH oversight in the form of of the Community Reinvestment Act, that actually rewarded banks for making these bad loans.  Mainly, it was more regulation and interference by Washington that caused this crisis in the first place.  Regulation by the feds in order to combat one form of abuse resulted in an abuse of a far more serious nature. 

D.

eLearn Blog

11 May

Amidst the death march known as IEP season and the end of the school year, I took time out to to attend a workshop on eLearn, otherwise known as Moodle.  I like using the term Moodle better than eLearn, but that’s just me.  Newton County has its own ideas.

I had a chance to see what others were doing from around the county on their eLearn sites.  We had elementary and middle school teachers represented with one other teacher representing another high school.   Most of the time was spent actually working on our Moodles, with basically everyone getting theirs better ready for a fall roll out.  Some of us have not been very active on our sites for a very long time.  In fact, according to our illustrious instructor, Beth, that would be most teachers.  I would be one of them, up until a couple of months or so ago when I decided to take on this new project where eLearn would play a prominent role.  Even then, it was a bit of time before I tackled putting together modules since I have to generate all of the content by myself.

Other teachers can use Google, PBS, United Streaming and various other sites to put their content together.  Mine is mostly self-generated although I am starting to see things appear on TeacherTube that might be useful that I can use.  If any readers are generating content and posting, let me know!  My stuff is available and out there for the taking/viewing/using and I have more stuff I’m getting ready to put up.

Back to eLearn/Moodle, I did manage to pick up most of the things I wanted out of the class so that I can [roceed to develop the site.  One think I quickly learned is that my site was looking visually impoverished as everyone else had all sorts of nifty graphics and animations on their sites.  I thought I was doing well on original content and even some interactivity, but still have a long way to go.

I plan on taking the advanced course this summer, so perhaps I’ll be blogging that, but no promises, especially since I have a backlog of posts that need to be rolled out.  But it was nice to be around another techno-nerd in the school system, as we seem to be relatively few and far between.  It would be neat to get self-identified propeller heads together for a one day convocation/conference/confab before school starts, sort of like a mini SXSW for teachers and teaching.  It could be done in conjunction with new teacher orientation.  Nothing too heavy, but just getting tips, tricks and contacts before school starts.

Who knows?  Maybe I could become a sort of Scoble for education.

D.

Welcome eLearn!

6 May

Yes, I will SO be blogging you!

Yes, this Thursday is my refresher session for what our county calls eLearn, which is actually Moodle. Moodle is actually the centerpiece of the course that I’m developing for paras and teachers of students with severe and profound disabilities. The videos, the podcasts and this blog are all resources that I’ll be using and Moodle will help provide the instructional format, content organization and assessments in order to actually put it together like a real course.

At least that’s the idea.

Last summer, I attended an eLearn class and was sort of excited about it. Trouble is, I had no idea of how to use it, because my kids can’t read, write and most can’t manipulate a mouse well enough to navigate around even with Moodle’s efforts with accessibility standards because most are reliant on single switch access and do not attend or track with that level of detail. It was a bit depressing for me, because I saw all sorts of possibilities with this great tool, but I wouldn’t have much of a chance to develop it or to use it. This lack of application and interface with the web 2.0 technology that I know and love has been a big driver in pushing me out of the SID/PID setting and driving me toward a higher functioning population. I want to create content and be out there, which I’ve sort of been doing the past couple of years with my blog. But I want to leverage the internet as a platform to provide students with the opportunity to access content easily and repeatedly at their own pace.

My audience in this course is not kids, as much as it is other adults which hopefully will have some sort of multiplier effect in helping many more students with severe disabilities learn. In a sense, it’s just me, self-marketing myself. Otherwise known as pimping myself out… for the greater good. I could see some parents tapping into this material, too. And for anyone out there so inclined, you could also contribute to the cause by posting some content that might be useful. You can read this post to see my wish list!  So maybe some folks will tune in from the workshop and get turned on to blogging and maybe some of my other readers will find some of this interesting.

I’m looking forward to getting out of class for a day, and it will be a nice break from the hectic schedule and noise and chaos that seems to go along with this time of year. I was here until 8:00 in the evening doing a bunch of IEPs last night. I think one more big push and I’ll have them done for the year.

I look forward to the day when I have time to read more posts by the good folks in my blog roll!

D.

Up to my neck in IEPs

1 May

IEP season started ’round these parts in February, but really it has never ended. As soon as school started, addendums were being written to adjust services and schedules from those written just months earlier, while transfer students were being put through the process from scratch.

I’m visiting several middle schools this week, representing the high school for 8th graders transferring into the high school next year and without exception, I haven’t seen a familiar face yet. Every one of these teachers are new and I’m seeing brand new folks lead the IEP process. In many instances the LEA, the graduation coach and the regular ed teacher are also brand new. What this means is that a lot of parents are the most experienced people in the room when it comes not only to their child but to IEPs in general. These new teachers all use the same word to describe their experience with writing and delivering these IEPs:

Overwhelming.

In addition to attending and LEAing meetings for other teachers at this school and attending several others, I’m busy writing IEPs for my own students, which is no small job hence my lack of posting around here. It is THE most stressful and busy time of the year for special education teachers around the country. My blog gets a tidal wave of hits as my IEP series pops up on other blogs, search engines and discussion groups. I hope y’all find it helpful.

This business has put a crimp in my TeacherTube video postings but I have new footage that will be edited and posted at some point. I hope to shoot some more in a couple of weeks as the paperwork craziness slacks off a bit. I hope it slacks off a bit.

I do have some good ideas, courtesy of those new teachers that I talk to. Lesson plans, data sheets and data collection are towards the top of the list. I’m also looking forward to taking some classes this summer or maybe attending a conference or two and blogging those. I’d also like to get my online course up and running at least for our own county. I’ll be attending a class in a week that wraps up my Moodle training.

To all of you new teachers looking for resources, ideas and help; hang in there. Experience has taught me (if nothing else) is that every year it is crazy towards the end, and every year I am exhausted at the end and every year I some how make it through the experience. Just take it a day at a time, one step at a time and things will work out. Things will get crazy and sometimes very, very ugly. But you’ll make it if you’ve made it this far. Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying.

D.