Tag Archives: blogging

Testing, Budgets, Movies, and Free Days – Oh My!

Since the late 1990’s when the current testing craze first started to dig its heel into the throat of K-12 public school education, I have been an advocate for testing as a means of holding educators and students accountable for learning in the classroom.  I still am, but with growing reservations.  Originally, State Testing was intended as an accountability tool to measure student academic growth and improve classroom instruction; however, regrettably, I have watched it morph into a teacher eating, time wasting monster.  It, along with its local test counterparts (STAR, NWEA, and other commercially designed software programs aimed at remediation, student tracking, and general test taking prep), has become an accountability system of excessiveness void of accountability for the chaos and harm it is causing in the classroom.  I still believe K-12 education needs accountability, but not at the expense of the learning environment and profession it was created to protect and improve.

State Testing, Oh My!

  1. State testing was never intended to cut or waste instructional time! Countless instructional hours are replaced each school year not only by testing but by overboard remediation, test prep, and classroom filler time such as movies and free days.  It is hard to blame school administrators and teachers for short changing instruction in favor of test prep when their careers are judged by marginal black and white data that has little regard for real world data.   Beginning in April, sometimes earlier, and extending to the end of the school year, teachers are busy prepping/remediating kids for the BIG TESTS.  During these months, kids spend classroom time doing little to nothing in class other than prepping for the upcoming state tests, watching movies, and enjoying free days.  What is the use in teaching anything new once test season arrives seems to be a widespread teacher mindset.  As a result, there is very little new material taught the second half of the school year, especially the last quarter.  It could effectively be argued the last two months of the school year are instructionally a waste of time;
  2. State testing was never intended to chase good teachers out of the profession by adding stress, stress, and more stress! Why would any sane young person want to be a grade school teacher or a core subject area teacher in high school?  In today’s test happy, under the microscope world of education, I would strongly consider a non-tested area if I were a young teacher beginning my career.  All teaching can be stressful, but the same money is made for a non-tested area as for a tested area, so taking the less stressful, less scrutinized option makes the most sense; and
  3. State testing was never intended to dehumanize children and teachers. However, data is “black and white.”  It does not consider the gray areas, such as home life, that often have more impact on student success and growth than what the teacher does in the classroom.  I encourage anyone who has never walked in the shoes of a teacher to talk to one or many and hear this all too true side of the testing story.  Humans tend to be much more complicated than the data gathered to represent them.

Testing Budgets, Oh My!

  1. Nationwide, 1.7 billion dollars is spent each year on accountability testing in public schools. Mississippi alone spends over 10 million dollars annually on K-12 standardized assessments.  That does not include the dollars individual school districts spend on assessments such as STAR, NWEA, and ACT;
  2. State testing means Mississippi education dollars are padding the pockets of big testing companies while Mississippi teachers remain the lowest paid teachers in the nation; and
  3. State testing means many school districts, especially larger districts, are forced to hire extra administrative help to handle the volume and logistics of testing. Much of this extra work also falls on the shoulders of counselors and teachers who are already stretched to the maximum limit for time.

Movies and Free Days, Oh My!

  1. State Testing means classroom instruction in many schools basically comes to a stop in April and May as teachers prep and cram for the end of month and early May tests. In addition to the prep time, classroom movies and free days with no instructional purpose are widespread in the days before and after the state assessments;
  2. State Testing means as much as 25% of a school’s Instructional time is wasted on testing each year; and
  3. State Testing means over the course of a K-12 school career, students lose as much as 2.5 years of classroom instruction due to standardized testing and wasted classroom time. No wonder the United States ranks 14th in the world in education behind South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, and Russia.

Questions all Mississippians need to ask about State Testing?

  1. Is state testing good for kids? Over the years, the testing model has changed frequently, so how effective it is measuring student growth and instructional strengths and weaknesses depends largely on who is asked – teachers or test makers.  Are students better off testing or would they be better served staying in the classroom and receiving the instruction they are currently missing is the question that needs to be seriously studied?
  2. Is state testing good for teachers? The stress of state testing, poor pay, wide spread disrespect for the teaching profession, and lack of or poor administrative support are four major reasons teachers leave the profession and highly intelligent young people choose other professions over a teaching career.  How long can public schools survive the growing teacher shortage is a serious question that needs to be addressed and soon!
  3. Is state testing worth the loss of instructional time? As a grandparent and former educator, the loss/waste of instructional time is my greatest concern with present testing practices.  As a grandparent it concerns me when I talk to my grandchildren about their school day and discover instructional time is being used to review for the state tests.  As a former educator, I understand there may be a need to review the week before the test but shutting down class for a month prior to the test is, in my opinion, bordering on education malpractice.  Also, it concerns me greatly when my grandchildren tell me they have spent a week watching movies and having free time in class!  I am sorry if I step on some teachers’ toes, but that is wrong and unacceptable!  Using class instructional time excessively to prep for state tests as well as waste class time showing movies or allowing classroom free days because teachers feel it is useless to teach anything new during test season is harmful to kids.  Some teachers will argue movies can be educational, and in small teacher guided increments, I might agree, but there is little educational merit in showing whole movies in class or giving students a free day in class for the sake of keeping students entertained and out of the teacher’s hair.  Such practices are babysitting and should be monitored closely and stopped immediately; and
  4. Do state tests hold anyone accountable other than teachers? Under the present accountability model, all accountability lies on the shoulders of teachers and to a small extent the students. For a system to be truly accountable, it must hold all shareholders equally accountable including educators, students, parents, and state and local government.  I bet the state legislature could find adequate funds for public schools if they were held to the same accountability fire as teachers.

    What is the bottom line for State Testing in Mississippi?

  1. State testing has led to wasting significant classroom instructional time that is negatively impacting the education of children;
  2. During the last quarter of the school year, state testing turns the school house into a house of remediation that instructionally short changes all but the lowest functioning students; and
  3. I believe state testing has helped bring about needed improvements and accountability in Mississippi public schools, but I have also come to believe it may be doing kids more harm than good, especially when the loss of instructional time is thrown into the equation. Today’s students may be short in their knowledge of geography, but they can engage in movie trivia with confidence and take a test with the best.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed to say accountability testing in Mississippi may have reached a plateau surrounded by shear drops of rocky hazardous canyons with no bottom in sight and no bridge sturdy enough to cross to the other side.  In the quest for continued improvement, good intentions have pushed public schools to the edge.  Mississippi has grown from a state education system with little accountability to a system so deep in accountability, it has lost sight of what is most important – TEACHING KIDS or DATA COLLECTION?  All too often, too much of a good thing can result in diminished returns, and that is the case, as I see it, for testing in K-12 public schools.  The current state of standardized testing has become too much of a good thing.  Testing has become a good idea gone bad!  As a direct or indirect result of state testing, classroom instruction has been abused.  Schools have traded instruction for data that is compromised by the demise of classroom instruction resulting from an overabundance of data collection.  Some testing is reasonable and needed, some loss of instructional time due to testing is to be expected, but the monster that the present system has become is unacceptable and hurting kids.

Can it be fixed?  Can a device that has morphed into an almost exclusive tool for ranking and calling out teachers be saved?  Is it possible to find a solution that would be more fiscally responsible, learning friendly, less accountability biased, and less stressful?  Is it possible to have an accountability system that doesn’t bring teachers to their knees and public schools to a standstill and maybe to the brink of extinction?  YES, it can be fixed, and it should be fixed.  Like any organization, schools need accountability, but if the accountability model jeopardizes the organization through disenfranchisement of its core practitioners (teachers) and practice (instruction), changes must be made to right the ship before it is capsized, and irrevocable damage is done.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2018

Advertisements

My Top Five Christmas Movies

This Christmas season, I have watched a top twelve Christmas movie list on television, and read at least two other Christmas movie lists online.  There are probably a hundred or more Christmas movies to choose from when making such a list, but if you look closely, most of the lists contain the same twenty to twenty-five movies.  Usually, the only difference between list A, B, or C is how those 20+ movies are ranked.  However, my Christmas movie list is different in two ways: (1) it only lists the top five Christmas movies of all time, and (2) it is based entirely on my preferences and opinion.  If you agree with my top five movies, fantastic, and if not, it’s too cold to go jump in a lake, so instead, go watch your favorite movies and forget mine.  Here are my top five movies beginning with number five:

#5        How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

The story is about a green creepy/goofy looking monster who hates everybody including himself.  He sets out to steal Whoville’s Christmas, thinking by doing so, he will take their joy from them.  Of course, he is wrong.  His only salvation is Cindy Lou Who, who manages to thaw his cold heart and bring happiness to his dismal life.  As a child, I enjoyed the thirty-minute animated television special that aired at Christmas every year, but when Jim Carrey brought the Grinch to life on the big screen, I was amazed all over again.  The movie version with its occasional naughty innuendoes was made as much for adults as kids, and it succeeded on both fronts.  Jim Carrey’s over-the-top performance was fun to watch, and the visuals were stunning.  Simply put, the movie looked, acted, and felt like a holiday classic.  It did not disappoint.

#4        Elf:

I am not a big Will Ferrell fan, but his role as Buddy in Elf was exceptional.  I am not saying exceptional in an Academy Award sense, but extraordinarily fun and entertaining for kids and adults alike.   As a human raised by elves at the North Pole, the role of Buddy fit Ferrell like a glove.  His trademark off-the-cuff antics, which are sometimes hilarious, but often just miss the mark, were perfect for his role as a lovable human-elf in search of his identity.  His innocent childlike behavior in a world of Christmas commercialization was funny, charming, and magical.  Elf is a holiday classic that should be on everyone’s watch list.

#3        A Christmas Story:

One of my all-time favorite holiday movies is A Christmas Story!  The story, set in the 1940’s, centers around Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.  Throughout the story, everyone he turns to for help to get the gun, even Santa Claus, tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  Based on a story by Jean Shepherd, the movie is a trip back in time before X-box, PlayStation, Star Wars, and cell phones.  It was a time when kids played outside, and watched Westerns on television where the good guys and buy guys fought for supremacy with six-guns and lever-action rifles instead of laser swords.  In A Christmas Story, Ralphie faces school bullies, learns the horrible truth about secret decoder rings, has his mouth washed out with soap for saying bad words he learned from his father, and through it all, never loses sight of his perfect Christmas gift.  This movie is a slice of life from a bygone era, but it contains everything that makes Christmas special – family, memories, and the spirit of being served Chinese duck for Christmas dinner.  The kids may not fully appreciate the significance of playing outside or getting “double dog dared,” but this is a Christmas movie the whole family should watch together.

#2        The Polar Express:

The number two movie on my Christmas Holiday list, The Polar Express, certainly deserves the honor.  The movie stars Tom Hanks and is filmed in “performance-action animation,” which results in a breathtaking movie spectacle.  Hanks and the visual beauty of the film are reasons enough to see it, but I simply love the story!  The story is about a young boy who is beginning to doubt there is a Santa Claus, and on Christmas Eve catches a mysterious train, The Polar Express, to the North Pole.  On the train, he meets other children like him, a sometimes-cranky conductor (Tom Hanks, who also plays several other roles in the movie), and a hobo.  One of the most visually impressive scenes in the movie (there are many) is the singing waiters.  The first time I saw the movie at home, I stopped the video at least three times to watch that scene again and again; it is simply amazing.  Although Santa Claus appears in the movie, the movie is not about Santa.  The Polar Express is about bravery, friendship, and the spirit of Christmas!  It is a classic that should be shared yearly as a family tradition.

#1        It’s a Wonderful Life:

The Christmas movie that tops almost everyone’s list is It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It is the perfect Christmas masterpiece for the holidays.  The story is about an ambitious young man who sacrifices his dreams to ensure the dreams of others.  Continually hounded by miserly Mr. Potter, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) fights for the right of his neighbors to live a good life, and not struggle in the squalor of Potter’s tenant houses.  Unfortunately, life does not always treat even the best people fairly, and after a disastrous incident, George wishes he had never been born.  With the help of a guardian angel, George learns how his life has impacted the lives of people he loves, and they are not complete without him nor is he complete without them.  It’s a Wonderful Life has sacrifice, redemption, salvation, friendship, angels, and triumph over evil.  It is the root for the good guy, boo the bad guy, feel good movie of all time regardless of the season in which it is watched.  It is the movie that shows us how to get our wings.  It’s a Wonderful life is the epitome of the Christmas spirit; therefore, it is my number one Christmas movie of all time!

Whether you have a Christmas list of your own, or use one someone else has put together, the bottom line is grab someone you love or want to make friends with, and pop your favorite Christmas movie in the DVD and share the Christmas spirit.  I double dog dare you!

Merry Christmas,

JL

©Jack Linton, December 22, 2017

Teachers and Administrators don’t Enforce Rules:   A Case against School Dress Codes!

 

Teachers who do not consistently enforce school rules are not always bad teachers or irresponsible individuals; sometimes some of the best most dedicated teachers in a school do not follow the rules.  Some teachers, like some school administrators, hate confrontation, and enforcing rules means confrontation with the student, confrontation with parents, possible confrontation with the administration, and often negative vibes from students as well as other teachers.  For some, enforcing rules makes their lives messy, uncool, or even unpopular.  Others don’t enforce the rules because they feel they have more important things to do, and then there are those teachers who do not agree with the rule, so they simply ignore it.

So, why have rules in school?  If so many teachers look the other way rather than enforce the rules, why should schools bother with rules in the first place?  The textbook answer is that rules ensure a safe and orderly learning and teaching environment, but do they really?  It can be argued that rules provide a fighting chance to bring order to the chaos; however, is that what educators really want?  No!  What teachers really want is for kids, parents, and school administrators to leave them alone.  For many teachers, rules are tools of convenience frowned upon as an inconvenience and waste of time that creates negative confrontations.  They see teachers and administrators who dodge the rules as the smart ones.  Maybe, they are right, and if so, maybe, rules are not needed in schools!

However, regardless of what some may think, there must be rules!  Rules are necessary to enable teachers to teach and students to learn.  Unfortunately, like all things, there are good rules and rules that are questionable or make little or no sense.  For example, rules dealing with dress codes most definitely fall into the questionable category.  As a former teacher and school administrator, I believe dress codes are necessary, but it has been my experience few teachers agree with me.  Very few teachers really care what students wear to class.  I say this because very few teachers write up students for dress code violations, and the ones that do are often ridiculed by their colleagues.  So why have rules, especially a dress code?  Why hold a student accountable for a dress code that five out of six teachers in the school day ignore?  What is the school administrator to do when the sixth-period teacher turns a student into the office for coming to class naked when that student attended five previous classes in the buff and not a word was said by previous teachers about exposed wingydings in class?  The only option the administrator has at the end of the day is to give the kid a hat and send him home.  Now, I am slightly exaggerating, but when it comes to dress codes, it is truly almost that bad.  I realize correcting a student for a dress code violation shaves precious seconds off teaching the test, especially when there is not a single question on the state assessment that deals with student nudity, unless, maybe, someone slips in a liberal writing prompt.

Over the years, as a school administrator, I developed and enforced more than my fair share of school rules including rules governing dress codes.  To this day, I have forty year old former students walk by me in the mall and intentionally pull their tucked shirttail from their pants with a wink (tucking shirttails was probably the most despised rule I ever implemented as a principal).  I was a stickler for rules, and maybe too much so, but I believed then, and I believe now if you have a rule it should be enforced.  I also believe using a rule for any reason other than its original intent (i.e., allowing students to break the rule as a reward) is counter-productive and sends a mixed message to students, parents, and the community.

Therein lies my issue with current dress codes in schools.  Instead of teaching a lesson or addressing a safety issue, dress code rules in many schools today have become a part of the school reward system.  If students exhibit good behavior for the month, if there is a big district game, if a student collects the most Popsicle sticks, if a student brings a dollar to school, and the list goes on and on, they are allowed to break the dress code rule on a specified day such as Friday.  For example, they are allowed to wear clothing such as jeans or apparel outside of school colors.  That may sound innocent, but if the rule was important enough to be created, it should be important enough to be enforced consistently five days a week.  If it is okay to excuse students from the dress code on a game day, as a fund raiser reward, or for any other excuse, why have the rule?  It is counterproductive to the intent and purpose of a rule to permit students or adults to break a rule as a reward.  I am not against rewarding students, but don’t reward them by allowing them to break school rules!  Schools always talk about teaching kids to be good citizens; how can teaching them it is okay to break rules be good citizenship?  We have enough rule breakers in our society without training more.  If it is okay to reward students by letting them break a rule, maybe that rule is not relevant and should be done away with for every day of the week and not just on special occasions.   If eliminating the rule for one day is not a problem, the odds are good it would not be a problem if eliminated completely.

When it comes to school rules, it is fairly simple.  If a school is going to have a rule, it should be enforced consistently across the calendar.  If a teacher signs a contract to work for a school district, the teacher should be up to the task of enforcing the rules of the district or look elsewhere for employment, preferably in another profession.  Enforcing rules is not a fun job for administrators or teachers, but it is a necessary job made more difficult when a rule is used contrary to its intent.  If a school ever finds it okay to allow students to break a rule, it is time the school re-evaluated that rule.  If wearing jeans to school is okay on certain days as a reward, then it is ludicrous to ban them on all other days since it is obvious jeans do not pose a threat to a safe and orderly school environment.

If a school rule can be suspended as a whole or in part as a reward, then the rule has little if any bearing on the orderly function of the school and should be eliminated from the student handbook altogether.  The purpose of a school dress code is not to teach kids that rules are made to be broken or to provide a cash cow for local clothing vendors.  The purpose of the code is to enhance school safety and student learning five days a week.  Giving students permission to break a rule periodically sends the message to adults and students alike that the rule has little to do with safety and learning – at least not every day of the school year.  The bottom line is enforcement of rules must go beyond convenience; teachers and administrators should enforce the rules (dress code or any other rule) or dump the rules!

JL

©Jack Linton, February 12, 2017

A Short Blog on Nothing in Particular

Blogs are not literature! Blogging is rarely an attempt at literary greatness. A blog simply conveys information, observations, shares a viewpoint, and may even tell a story. It may range from factual to pure nonsense or from thoughtful to offensive. It is what it is – a device to entertain or give people pause to think about a topic or issue. Most bloggers fall somewhere between a true writer and a hacker. They write because they enjoy writing and enjoy the occasional responses and interactions with readers.

Blogs can be very short or very long. It depends on the topic and the writer’s skill with the economy of words or disregard for the economy of words. Some bloggers like to hear themselves write and carry on about nothing page after page while some bloggers are concise and to the point. However, length should not be an issue; there are excellent short blogs as well as excellent long blogs and when it comes to bad blogs the number of words or pages cannot save a stinker. Sometimes it is more effective to write a shorter blog than creating a long detailed blog. A paragraph or a short list can often convey all that needs to be said. Or, the short blog might simply be the result of one of those evenings when the author started writing while watching “The Blacklist” and woke up several hours later to “Judge Mathis” dealing out justice on late night television. Either way, the short blog saves the writer and his reading audience time, which in some respects may be merciful to both.

Hopefully, this short blog will offer readers a little mercy. Heaven knows, they deserve it! To be honest, I don’t have much to say, but I do have a few general observations that I would like to share. Who knows, one of these observations might be the catalyst that changes the world. Probably not, but I am going to share them just the same. Truthfully, I hope for what I always hope for when I write – someone reads the blog; someone reacts with WTF (What the Frog); someone simply enjoys it; someone nods and thinks, “I never thought of that,” or someone smiles and says, “Bless his heart.” Regardless of the response, I write not because I enjoy inflicting pain on people, but because I enjoy writing. So, if you have a few minutes, I have a few observations to share.

Observations on Nothing in Particular for People with Nothing Better to Think About:

  1. When did giving up become someone else’s fault?
  2. There are two types of people you should never turn your back on – people who think like you do and people who don’t.
  3. Sometimes the best way to cope is not to take yourself so seriously.
  4. Prayer in the South is an artistic marvel of rhetoric steeped in the juice of bread and butter pickles.
  5. In today’s world, you are entitled to everyone’s opinion but your own.

As a writer, I hope something connected, even if the connection was little more than a sigh of relief that the blog was not longer.  Although I am tempted to add another thousand words of explanation and filler, the closing credits are rolling for Judge Mathis, so it’s time to shut the computer down for the night. As always, thank you for reading. At the Oscars, Leonardo DiCaprio said, “I do not take tonight for granted.” Likewise, I do not take readers for granted.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD     March 1, 2016