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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

It's Late but Interesting Information

Here are the highlights from the April 25th Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting.  (I'm just behind, sorry.  I also don't have the agenda with me so I'm flying by the seat of my notes.)

There was an interesting presentation from district staffer Ruth McFadden (who is a program manager but I'm unclear of what). She was going over student rights changes the district wants.

Among the proposed changes:
  • fighting: schools want to be able to make clear to students if they act as if "they are ready to fight or cause a fight", they will be disciplined even if there is no hitting or pushing.
  • have you heard? There's a new kind of laser (green) that is more powerful than your standard red one. The district wants a ban on this kind as well. (A friend of mine got stopped in Stockholm and question for having one - sans battery - in his possession.)
  • The legal office has been asking repeatedly for help on students who break the rules for riding school buses.
  • Tobacco products - they want to include the new "electronic" cigarettes and flavored nicotine products. This would not include adult staff but, of course, staff cannot use these items on school grounds.  Students would have to have a doctor's prescription to have a nicotine patch.
Peter had an issue with the fighting request. He said as a lawyer that it was hard to prove a fight would occur as the results of threats. (I would think that would still fall under bullying as kids who feel threatened still feel afraid.) He asked what other districts use and Ms. McFadden said she had not researched it.

Peter also thought the laser pen issue was broad. Harium thought "laser pen" was not descriptive enough.

Betty brought up something dear to my heart - school climate and discipline issues in high school. She said it was hard to walk through the halls in the high schools in her region without hearing a lot of foul and crude language. She wanted to know what principals were doing about it.

Ms. McFadden said they did have a policy on language as "interference with school authorities" and verbally assaultive language but as directed at a person, not just conversationally. Harium said they would wind up with lists that would be hard to police. Cathy Thompson said it was a slippery slope and "futile" and we had to decide as a district what we do.

Okay, but how come this language didn't go on when we were growing up? If anyone at my high school had said motherf******, I'm pretty sure they would have had many adults coming at them from all sides. I find it appalling and I believe that we should set a standard AND stick to it. Sure there are bigger fish to fry but really, how do we help students understand what effect language can have our their ability to work and get ahead in life if we have low behavior standards? (I'm old school as you can see and I have told more than one Roosevelt student that his/her language was not appropriate for school. Ninety-nine percent of them look at the floor and say "sorry.")

Ms. McFadden also brought up cyber-bullying and the issue of updating the policy on social networking between teachers and students. Staff thought they might need to ask Holly Ferguson. Peter said Director Carr was working on this issue.

They also discussed the school calendar. What is on the table is to keep the same calendar for 2011-2012 and to change to a 4-day weekend for Mid-Winter break in 2012-2013, (taking the Friday before off with the Monday being Presidents' Day anyway). The advantage will be that instruction will end earlier in June (around the 14th) but to the directors' disappointment, no additional instruction days. Peter said it was important to tell communities the education benefits of this change. Cathy Thompson said it was part of the collective bargaining agreement and so didn't do community engagement on it.

Then there was the parade of teachers and others explaining the various instructional materials. First up was high school social studies. There was concern over both a time crunch AND not wanting to be too hasty.

There was a lot of concern over the science materials (which I note have been dropped from the School Board meeting agenda for tomorrow's meeting). It seems there was not a great concensus on these differing materials.

I was having a hard time keeping up here but it seems there are some courses (it looked possibly Physics and Physical Science) that would have no books but students could reference materials the teachers printed out for them. Harium seemed confused on why the kids had no access to on-line help. I, too, thought this weird because what if the teacher didn't have help printed out for an area one student needed help with? It would also cost quite a bit of money for 3 weeks of professional development for each teacher using this system. So books or on-line learning but only with materials available to teachers. Harium said "there's no free lunch."

Peter pushed back on this one and I was grateful. I don't think you have to have books but there has to be help for students on any and all information presented in class. Betty was not for this either. Peter said he understood the idea of getting away from books with their costs and quickly outdated material but he felt students needed access to help if they had problems with the material.

Cathy Thompson said that teachers who used this said there was better student achievement and teachers found they did less copying. She didn't state one negative to this.

There was also issues in the discussion around middle school Language Arts. Again, Peter pushed back because he felt it was limiting to veteran teachers to only allow a small number of novels (especially in Spectrum and APP even with Robert Vaughn's input and input from Washington and Hamilton teachers). He felt it was prescriptive. Staff seemed uneasy about this pushback and said they could solicit request from teachers. But Kathleen Vasquez said this would be problematic. Peter continued to push for alternatives. Betty also supported Peter's POV. There would be one grade-level novel read by all but that didn't seem to be the crux of the issue.

24 comments:

Sabine Mecking said...

There is an article in this week's Newsweek about the failed attempts of the billionaires (Gates, Broad and others) to substantially improve American schools with their money:
http://www.newsweek.com/2011/05/01/back-to-school-for-the-billionaires.html

Sorry that this is not quite on topic, but I thought this would be of interest.

Johnny Calcagno said...

Have they released a tentative 2011-12 calendar? I'd like yo know when Spring Break is scheduled.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Johnny, they have. I believe it's right on the home page of SPS.

Anonymous someone said...

There would be one grade-level novel read by all but that didn't seem to be the crux of the issue.

Are common books being assigned so there can be common assessments administered, as in Portland?

Read the SeattleEducation2010 May 2010 posting of the "Hurricane Vicki" article by Beth Slovic:

In her first year on the job, Phillips announced a new strategy for measuring student achievement in addition to the state’s writing and portfolio assessments. Sometimes called “anchor papers”-dubbed “anger papers” by some teachers-the additional common assessments gave observers outside the school district the impression Phillips was implementing new tests to gauge student progress.

...How the assignments were unrolled upset teachers as much as what they pretended to achieve. Like a sudden rainstorm, the idea for the new assessments, which were to be put in place across grade levels and in multiple subjects at all schools, came from above with little warning. Teachers immediately spotted numerous problems: the assessments were redundant, they were developed without teacher input, and the prompts on the assignments referred to classes not even taught in Portland.

Anonymous said...

No, just one book is to be read as a class novel in eighth grade as part of a year's end unit: How to get through a book you didn't pick and might be too hard for you to read. It is "practice" for what they will encounter in HS.

A problem the committee faces is that all of the "good books" (relevant books) are taken in the HS adoption and therefore off limits. The list we developed tried to compile titles that lent themselves to the skills being taught and additional resources to support struggling readers. The focus of the unit is SKILLS not a "book's content."

-committee member

Anonymous said...

okay, not "all", but most, forgive my extreme generality...

-committee member

Anonymous said...

Can someone provide input about how middle school language arts works now across the district, and how the adoption will change or improve what's currently done?

I haven't been enamored with Reader's and Writer's Workshop so far in elementary - is this being extended into middle school?

SPS parent

Anonymous said...

From a reviewer on Amazon, about the green lasers:

"SAFETY WARNING: These lasers are extremely bright. I will only allow them
to be used outside the house (and with my supervision), as the green dot is
fiercely bright, and will cause eye damage, when used inside the building.
I have a degree in electronics, lasers, and optics, so I speak with some knowledge on this.
These ARE NOT TOYS!!!!"

I think the bigger concern has been with aircraft - the brightness of the beam can distract pilots in low flying aircraft at night.

Bird said...

Peter said he understood the idea of getting away from books with their costs and quickly outdated material

In high school physics and physical science? Really? I would guess that the physics taught in high school wouldn't have changed significantly from when I was a kid. Sure, physics has advanced, but not in way that would impact introductory students.

I'm somewhat worried that we are continuing a long term trend away from using textbooks or other books in school. Seems like the desire is for everything to be guided by the teacher with hands on learning so knowledge can be "discovered" by kids. That's great to some extent, but at some point, kids need to learn how to study from a textbook. There won't be a "guide by the side" teacher with these kids for everything they want to learning for the rest of their lives.

If you want to continue learning throughout life, you need to be able to figure out how to learn information and skills from a book.

It's funny that there's all this talk of the benefits of distance and online learning. "Distance" learning has been around for several thousand years. It previously was called "studying from a book". It was pretty cost effective and lets you learn not only from teachers far away but one's that are long dead as well.

The other thing that is odd about current education philosophy is that it de-emphasizes book learning at the same time it stresses the importance of reading skills as fundamental to learning.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't the mantra of the Board been that they only approve materials, they don't dictate curriculum?

So if there are no materials to approve, what is the Board approving?

The science alignment continues to get more confusing. A required course - Physical Science - and no texts??

Anonymous said...

Writers and Readers Workshop have been used in middle schools for years.

Writers Workshop is another expensive and defective curriculum originally develped to improve self-esteem for inner city kids in New York. It is appalling as any kind of language arts curriculum.

For example, I was told several times that grammar was optional. Try writing a job app or college app without commas in the right places.

Writers Workshop also leans heavily on "pages filled" both in grading students and assessing teachers. Kids learn quickly how to scribble to fill up pages. And then brag about how many pages they filled up with their scribblings.

Writers Woprkshop is also a very heavy time waster - up to two hours a day which leaves no time to teach academic writing, grammar, etc.

Writers Workshop is not mandated but is being required of teachers by admins under pain of death, or at least sever censor. I know teachers who are trying to actually teach spelling, etc. but behind closed doors.

Even Micheal DeBell admitted at one of his coffe hours that Writers Workshop is a bad curriculum.

Writers Worksop ia bonazana to the private tutoring industry.

-JC

Overwhelmed said...

As a parent, I'm already (re)teaching math at home and reading history at bedtime (because it's so darn fascinating and it's just not taught)- and so I should also be adding writing to my list?

Help.

Chris S. said...

OK, is anyone else discouraged that we're spending central budget on controlling SWEARING??? Blogspot just ate my post, but the gist was that this seems to me waaaay down on the core mission list. Unless there's some study that shows when kids stop swearing they suddenly begin passing the HSPE, going to college, and getting jobs? Not that I would be surprised if some foundation reported that very thing...

Chris S. said...

And also, in my world, an "almost-fight" scenario would be a perfect opportunity to model de-escalation techniques, rather than a opportunity to punish.

I am soooo 180 to the current ed system...

Anonymous said...

Bird, I wish there was teacher by the student. Yes there is a teacher in a class, but my kids who are easy going, follow the rule, do well on tests just don't get much teacher time. Their teachers have their hands full trying to help the kids that really need "help".

In anycase "learning" science via science kit, reader and writer workshops has been more of a group discovery thing where if the majority of the kids thinks the answer is right, then it must be right. I spend a lot of time correcting certain scienctific "facts" via this democratic process.

As far as writing, except for captializing the 1st letter in the sentence and learning to put a period at the end of the sentence, my 4th grade does not really know what makes up a proper sentence structure. So 2 days before the MSP test, we are discussing what is expository writing and how to write a 4 paragraph essay. My 4th grader hates me right now. Sigh!

So Melissa's note on the C & I meeting frustrate the h*ll out of me. Is it asking too much to get a coherent curriculum plan? Why do we have to rush the decision making if the teachers are saying (and Board members) not so fast?

Maybe the CAO or whatever new acronym that person is wearing these days (as I can't keep track anymore) can spend some time on this. After all, that is why I send my kids to school to learn, not for me to have to re-teach after my 12 hour shift.

-Sorry, have just turned into a "ranter"

Jennifer said...

I’m wondering about where your information about Writers Workshop comes from; experience teaching it or have a child doing it? At many schools it is being implemented BUT grammar, spelling and handwriting are ALSO being taught. In fact the TC writer’s workshop model recommends using two different spelling/phonics programs through middle school. When using the workshop model the other components to a balanced literacy program must be included in the day. At my building we are using Words Their Way as well as readers & writers Workshop. It sounds like you have experienced a teacher who is MISUSING these programs, if that is the case, it doesn’t matter what program they use.

Anonymous said...

Help, you better start now and not 2 days before the MSP as we are doing. My child who does well in school does not really know what makes up an essay. So at home, we are reviewing expository writing and how to write a 4 paragraph essay. I have my 4th grader write an essay for me each day explaining something.

The kid hates me right now. Sigh!

As for Me, I am p*ssed because I have very little patience left after my third 12 hour shift this week for this sort of thing. Don't get me started on the science kit where kids learned by the democratic process. Majority votes determine what is a scientific fact. If an experiment didn't work, well it is because it was a "bad" experiment. ARRGH!

-have turned into a "ranter"

anonymous said...

I'm with Chris on this one. Why would we waste time or money policing swearing? If a kid swears in front of a teacher (or anyone else that is offended by it for that matter) a raised eyebrow, or a quick chat about why it is offensive should be enough. An official rule and punishment would be a joke. How would a school police and punish swearing? And don't even get me started on what is a swear word and what isn't?

Same for an "almost" fight. That is a learning opportunity if I ever saw one. And in some cases it might even be praised. For instance if their was an "almost fight" where a student postured and could easily have fought, but instead used self restraint to walk away and NOT FIGHT.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, I think Betty Patu would invite you to walk the halls of RBHS or Cleveland and not think, why all this swearing allowed in the hallways? You don't have to punish the kid but make him/her know it is unacceptable in civil society, either at work or school, and if their behavior doesn't change, maybe they would like lunch duty.

We do students NO favors by turning a blind eye to behavior we would not accept in our workplaces.

Anonymous said...

Replying to Abby G about Writers Workshop - I experienced an entire middle school mis/using the program. The "rules" are being dictated by the principal. The "coach' backs up the principal. Teachers are forced to fall in line.

And it still remains a very bad curriculum - I have spoken with high school teachers who are frantic and can't cope with students who are nearly illiterate from years of WW.

-JC

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennifer said...

"And it still remains a very bad curriculum - I have spoken with high school teachers who are frantic and can't cope with students who are nearly illiterate from years of WW."

WW can’t make you illiterate, relying solely on a curriculum and not the grade level expectations (standards)can leave kids with gaps in their learning. Don’t blame it all on a program, any program is only as good as the teachers, supports and student buy in.

Anonymous said...

I would question where WW is being taught. What are the feeder programs for the HS teacher(s) to whom you have spoken?
When I have encountered students who manifest EXTREME literacy challenges it has been as a result of a "hands off" approach to writing instruction. It would be difficult for a student not to learn ANYTHING in a WW setting that involves 160 potential mini-lessons and numerous one-on-one writing conferences annually.
I have not heard such feedback from HSs in my building's pathway. Though we notice when students come in from Elem. feeder schools that are not using it. Kids coming out of programs not using WW cannot write nearly as well as those who do. Students coming from either, however, are not illiterate.
-ttln

Linh-Co said...

Abby makes an interesting comment about programs being only as good as the teacher. This is the same argument about Everyday Math,and how good teachers can teach math from a phone book.

I don't buy it. Wouldn't any teachers good or bad benefit from better textbooks vs. the educational fad crap that we've had lately?