Teenage generosity

Guest blog by Ryan Chandler

Social Studies Teacher

Jesse C. Carson HS, Rowan-Salisbury Schools, NC

Many adults believe high school students are self-absorbed and care only about themselves. I had a recent experience that shows the other side of adolescence. My story is about student generosity.

At the beginning of November, the mother of one of my students was hospitalized. Not long afterward, she passed away.

Once students heard about the mother’s passing, they told me they wanted to do something for their classmate. I thought it was a wonderful idea.

What happened the next few days blew my mind. I could not have been more proud of this class. For several days they took up collections. They even asked students from their other classes to contribute.

I was amazed at how generous the students were, and I know their classmate appreciated it. This also brought my class closer together as they shared their concern for the well-being of another student. It showed me that high schoolers care about others, too.

The sky is not falling

Guest blog by Loryn Morrison

Asst. Principal, Welcome Elementary School

Davidson County Schools, NC

I am a worrier. My husband often jokes with me, saying I am constantly waiting for the sky to fall. I try to prevent myself from worry by avoiding difficult situations. To clarify, though, I do not worry about everything. I worry about money.

My husband lost his job three years ago when we were eight months pregnant with our son. To say that I thought the sky had fallen would be an understatement. We have been recovering from financial hardship ever since, but money worries still haunt me.

While it is embarrassing to put these concerns into words, I am trying to be courageous so others can identify.  For the past year I have been using our hardship as an excuse to avoid giving to others who are less fortunate.

For the past five years, I was in a district leadership position for a rural school system. I worked in many schools, but was never part of their cultures. For example, students on free and reduced lunch were a number associated with Title I funding, rather than people struggling for proper nutrition. I believe I lost touch with the reality faced by many of our students.

This year, I am an assistant principal in a school with many free and reduced lunch participants. This school is teaching me about generosity and humility every day.

I believe in teaching the six virtues, but I have to model them before I can teach them. Specifically, I need to model generosity.

One of my responsibilities is to greet bus riders each morning. This has taught me about our students. Some don’t have gloves or cold weather coats. Some wear the same outfit every other day. When I pass the local food shelter on my way home, I sometimes see our parents in line.

I also met Kim (a pseudonym), when her mother enrolled her in kindergarten. Kim and her mother had just gotten an apartment after living in a homeless shelter. Each morning Kim came to school excited to learn.

In October, Kim’s mom was far along in a pregnancy, and Kim started being late for school. Each morning she would come in and just cry. Many thought she did not want to leave her mother.

In my old state of mind, I would have let someone else care about Kim’s situation, but my new state of mind said I should step forward. I found out Kim and her mother were living in their car. Her mother lost her job because she couldn’t stand for long hours (doctor’s orders). She couldn’t pay the rent, and Kim couldn’t ride the bus in the morning, which meant she missed breakfast.

Kim was crying because she was hungry. She was not eating dinner and now she was missing breakfast. Each morning, it became my mission to get Kim breakfast. Seeing Kim’s face when she got food in the morning showed me that my sky had never really fallen. Since meeting Kim, I have stopped avoiding situations that might cause me pain or worry.

I became an educator because I want students to love learning. I now realize children cannot love learning if their basic needs are not met. Children in our schools need to see that we care about their basic needs as well as their education. We need to model that caring, so others can see that our hearts are in it for all of them.

Our school now donates to the local food shelter on a regular basis. We have maximized our backpack program. And there is a large room where students can get clothes, if needed.

Last Tuesday a fourth grader saw that her classmate needed shoes. That night she gathered several pairs from her closet and brought them to school the next day. She asked the teacher if she could meet with her classmate privately. She and the other girl went into a quiet area during independent reading time. They probably did not read that day, but one girl got to go shoe shopping. The girl who donated the shoes told only her teacher, and the other girl has proper shoes because of her generosity. That is why I am in education.


Losing the war? It’s our own fault. Part 1

In the Foreward to Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education (EC: RTAOPE) Deborah Meier wrote:

And we need resistance to the continuing assault on public education that reduces schools to market-driven factories that select and sort our students, distorting visions of communities of learning and growth and activism. We can’t internalize the norm that’s out there and can’t accept that this is “the way things have to be.” We mustn’t adjust to injustice, losing our visions, our hope and our active resistance. (pp. x-xi)

I’m on the side of resistance because I agree with Meier.

Continue reading →

Are they smart or not smart?

A school board member wrote an email to his friend about taking the Florida tenth grade standardized test:

I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

The friend is Marion Brady, who wrote the blog (updated by Valerie Strauss). Continue reading →

Poll: “Parents back standardized tests”

When pollsters question people who know very little about the topic of the poll, we say they are polling an “uninformed population.” This poll is an example.  Although parents don’t know the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests, and they don’t know why we give the first and not the second, they “back standardized tests.”

From hearing policy makers talk about test scores, I already know uninformed people back standardized tests. I love irony.


Sometimes you just have to ask

Guest blog by Kat Rangel, NC Principal Fellow

Educators feel constrained by the rules and regulations that cover almost everything in public education. We have always had DPI rules and state policy mandates, but now we also have fewer resources, higher class sizes, mandatory testing, bell schedules, morning duties, and more diverse student bodies. When teaching seems overwhelming, the virtue of imagination can lead to solutions and successes.

At a high school I worked at the math teachers didn’t have time to work one-on-one with my ESL students. They said, “How can I teach Algebra to ‘Jose,’ if his English is weak and I speak no Spanish?”

As the ESL teacher, I set out to find a solution. I emailed the math and Spanish departments at our local university. Their response was to send Spanish-speaking math majors, and math-speaking Spanish majors, to work with our ESL Algebra students.  The math teachers hadn’t thought to ask.

Testing is now a focus in many schools. All the world stops for TESTING. As coordinator of our school’s ACCESS tests, I needed proctors.  I decided not to ask my colleagues to give up their planning periods. Instead, I contacted a nearby retirement community and ended up with more volunteers than I needed. Somebody just had to ask.

To paraphrase Bishop Michael Curry, in a world where we ask too often “why?” you have to have the imagination to ask “why not?”

Real life applications of marketing

Guest blog by Ryan D. Moody, Marketing Teacher, Ragsdale High School, Jamestown, NC

In today’s school climate of fear and mistrust, it is difficult to teach students about marketing and promotion. Decision makers are wary of allowing students too much leeway in activities. This story, however, is about my principal showing the courage and imagination that enabled my students to engage in meaningful activities.

I was frustrated with just showing my students examples of college webpages promoting their sports teams and programs.  I wanted their learning to go beyond collegiate advertising and branding on the internet.

Therefore, I asked my principal for permission to have our Sports and Entertainment II students take over web page design for our school’s athletic teams.  After some consideration she agreed to take the risk.

Since taking over, the students look forward to their weekly update sessions, when they apply their understanding of successful web page design and imagine new ways to promote the teams. The principal’s willingness to trust the students and treat them as budding “professionals” allowed them to show their true abilities and maturity.

Data-driven schools — Really?

Data-driven decision making is the latest silly idea in the education improvement cycle, which goes like this:

1. Education entrepreneurs, researchers and policy makers come up with a silly idea.

2. Teachers resist it.

3. Teachers are blamed for resisting change.

4. Education does not improve, so everything goes back to Step #1.

At this very moment, someone is saying teachers and schools should be data-driven.

Cut the Crap

Yes, we have more data than ever before.  And yes, this is a good thing — if we understand the limitations of that data. But the phrase “data-driven decision making” signals the failure to understand those limitations. Education decisions are driven by judgment. Good decisions come from good judgments. Bad decisions come from bad judgments.

Researchers, test companies, and publishing houses promote the data-driven idea so they can sell data, data collecting and data analysis tools to schools. And educational administrators and policy makers are so unimaginative they fall for it, proving once again that poor decisions are driven by poor judgment, not poor data.

No matter how much data are collected and analyzed, schools improve when teachers and administrators use good judgment.  They can start by rejecting “data-driven decision making.”

Stating the obvious — again

The six virtues are sometimes criticized for stating the obvious. But educators state the obvious all the time.  Some even get paid to state the obvious to large audiences. Bill Daggett has been getting paid to state the obvious for more than 20 years.

According to him, students are more likely to respond positively to math problems that are relevant to their lives. He gave two examples:

Calculate percentages of advertising in a newspaper. Tour the school building and identify examples of parallel and perpendicular lines, planes and angles.

And district superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt said,

That’s a framework that’s interesting and relevant to students. It’s important to put their work into a context that they can understand.


Cut the Crap

Thirty-five years ago I “tricked” students into learning by assigning activities relevant to their lives. Does Daggett know why educators don’t “trick” students  more often with relevant lessons? It’s not because they disagree. It’s because they lack the imagination, courage, and humility to develop meaningful, relevant lessons within the constraints of a K-12 school.

It’s because today’s educators dutifully learned three vices in their own K-16 experiences:

A. As they sat still, kept their mouths shut, and didn’t ask too many questions; they learned intellectual incompetence.

B. They learned to fear truths like these: (1) Nineteenth century U.S. history is about the government stealing land from native tribes.  (2) States legislate unequal educational opportunity. (3) Our economic system would collapse if citizens stopped making unnecessary, unhealthy purchases.

C. And they learned to be proud — proud to be an American, Texan, Minnesotan, Floridian, etc.

Of course not all K-12 teachers demonstrate these vices, but these are norms among public school educators.

Instead of adopting the six-virtue definition of the educated person, public school policy makers hire people like Bill Daggett and district superintendent Everitt to state the obvious — “It’s important to put their work into a context that they can understand.”  Brilliant.

It’s a test score, not “achievement.”

Educators don’t believe in the six-virtue definition of the educated person. It’s not that they evaluated it and found it wanting; it’s that they believe an “educated” person is one who earns degrees by scoring high on tests. That’s what I call, “schooled.”

Professors of education know the importance of precise definitions. They know that studying a teaching method’s “effectiveness” starts with an operational definition of “effective.” The word has no meaning, until they give it one. That’s why definitions are important. Even social scientists start with the inductive thinking that asks, “What is the meaning of ‘effectiveness’ in this study?”

The most common way to define “effectiveness” is in terms of higher test scores. Researchers realize the shallowness of higher test scores, however, so they report their findings and rationales by saying things like, “The data show increases in student achievement (or performance, or success, or learning).

They don’t say, “Data show increases in student test scores,” because then we would ask:

  1. How much of an increase?
  2. How many more correct answers did students get?

And then we would find out that the answer to the second question is that 25 students averaged fewer than two more correct answers on a 50-item test. In other words, educators spent the whole year teaching students to get one or two more correct answers on the end-of-year, 50-question, multiple-choice test.

High standardized test scores determine a person’s level of “schooling.” More information is needed to know if the person is “educated.” I love irony.