Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Last spring a colleague of mine sent our whole staff the link to Kids Count, which collects possibly all of the data you'd ever want on children all over the country. I've spent hours looking at it, comparing the rate of 4th graders who scored below proficient on their standardized test in one state vs another state, comparing the number of children living in poverty in one area of my own state vs another area of the state, or looking at which area in the state has the most parents who do not read to their children more than 3 times a week (Texas) and then comparing that to test scores.
It's an incredible time-waster, yet somehow spending an hour clicking through their graphs seems better than wasting an hour on facebook.
Some of the graphs are no surprise: In 2009 94% of 4th graders who are English Language Learners scored below proficient on the 4th grade reading standardized test.
Some is just heart-breaking: From 2006-2008 19% of children lived in households that did not have secure access to food at some point in a 12 month period.
26% of US immigrant children live in linguistically-isolated households.
40% of children between the ages of 3-5 in Virginia are not enrolled in preschool, nursery school, or kindergarten.
16% of children between the ages of 1-5 in the United States are read to by family members less than 3 times a week.
One thing that got me was when I looked at my specific county. The county itself has a very small percent of children eligible for free and reduced lunch, yet there is a significant number of children at my school are eligible for free and reduced lunch. (These are not the specific numbers, but it would be as though 6% of the children in my county are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but 75% of children in my school are eligible). It is not as though there are not wealthier neighborhoods near my school- it is just how the lines are drawn. Now, to be honest, I probably wouldn't want to work at my school if the lines were drawn differently- I love our population- but something seems very, very wrong with those numbers. Especially when in the end you compare our test scores to those of schools down the road who have less than 2% of children eligible for free and reduced lunch. Especially when you consider this statistic:
In 2009 82% of children qualified for free and reduced lunch did not pass the 4th grade reading standardized assessment. (In Virginia). I don't think their failure rate is only because they are sentenced to go to their neighborhood schools where their teachers hate them and refuse to teach. In fact, I don't think it is because they all have teachers who are just sitting around collecting a pay check.
Not that we want to change who comes to our school only to bring up our test scores. It is not that at all. (After all, we made AYP this year!) But there is something wrong with the significance we place on test scores if we know the trends. Yes, we should know these numbers and we should use these numbers to close the achievement gap. We should be working our tails off as educators to make sure that every child passes the test- we should be monitoring their scores, analyzing them, and tracking them so we can see what works and what does not in terms of teaching. We should be using these numbers to inspire us to do better.
But we, the teachers, can use these numbers. We are capable of using numbers to improve our teaching without politicians standing over us declaring we are failing. How can we be labeled as failing when our students on free and reduced lunch have a significantly higher pass rate than the rest of the state's students on free and reduced lunch? Why are the people yelling about our failed education system only pointing fingers at the teachers and not the resources the communities have access to, the bigger picture, the neighborhoods, early childhood opportunities, and parent education opportunities? I hate to even write this because one could argue that I'm trying to make excuses for failing, and I'm not. Every child I teach can learn to read, and we will make that happen. But in the bigger picture, in the national debate that is constantly giving me a headache- there is more to look at than lazy teachers- what else as a society do we need to do to close the achievement gap? What else is missing?
Play around on the site, check out the data yourself, compare/contrast, draw your own conclusions.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I think my absolute favorite part of going to school is going to the bookstore to pick up your new books. It is, after all, mandatory book shopping. Is there anything better than opening the cover for the first time- before it is a requirement- and skimming through the pages, reading bits and pieces for the pure joy of new information and not because it will be on the test?
These are my text books for one of my classes this fall. I am so excited.
The other class is Intro to Educational Statistics. I can't bring myself to buy those books yet. They are big and scary and expensive. I'm going to pretend that class isn't happening until it is here.
One more week of summer break before graduate school and the chaos of back-to-school begins. I feel like I'm treading water while I wait for everything to come into itself. My days are suddenly filled with mandatory laziness (get it in now since I wont have time to get it in later) and desperately trying to finish all those projects and errands I'd told myself I'd do this summer when school ended in June.
I spent the morning reading in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, followed by frozen yogurt for lunch at one of those new fro-yo places in downtown dc. It was the perfect lazy summer morning. Then I came home and tried to organize our home office. It's not going well, so I'm flipping through my new textbooks instead. :)
one more week.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
She made it possible for us to teach- through her we could understand how to approach parents, they understood us, and we were able to reach the children. She knew what was happening in our families' lives, she kept us updated on their ups and downs, helped our families find housing when they lost their own, helped them set up schedules for their children's bedtime routines, helped them find English classes, parenting classes, and helped them navigate life in America.
One of my favorite memories of her was listening to her tell parents of 5th grade students how to protect their children from gangs. "Start kissing them on the lips every night!" she declared, laughing in light hearted way only she could do when discussing such a weighty subject. "That way you will smell alcohol on their breath, and they will know you love them, all in one."
I can't begin to write about everything she meant for our community, what an amazing person she was. I can't begin to capture her in words, so I am not going to try.
At her memorial service I found myself thinking- she is the answer to education. It is people like her- not policies, not tests, assessments, accountability, scores published in the paper, debates over curriculum- it is people like her that will save our children, no matter what else is falling down around us. Her dedication to our children did not depend on our SOL scores, whether or not we made AYP, whether or not we were using best practices (obviously we were, but this is not the point). She was there for us, and for our children. She dedicated herself to them, making their lives easier so they could learn to read, write, and prepare to be good citizens. No policy could dictate how she interacted with our families, no politician needed to pass a law to put her in place.
It is people like her, with her love, dedication, and commitment to our children that teach each child to read. We need more of her, whether as parent liaisons, as teachers, as administrators, counselors, or volunteers. Everyone else, all the other noises about what is going on in the field, will mean nothing if we don't have people like this.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
and later, I heard her sigh again on the escalator, "I just want to use my brain, Mom!"
I wanted to hug her. We are long-lost introverted book-sisters. Yet as introverted book sisters we wouldn't actually hug. So she will never know I rejoiced in her proclamation. I hope she got to spend at least part of her vacation with a good book.
Friday, August 13, 2010
The rain left behind puddles and every child took a giant jump somewhere near the puddle in hopes of landing in the cooling water. Only a few managed to succeed in a proper splash. Some jumped over it, some started in the puddle and jumped out of it, others jumped sideways instead of forward. Each child that missed looked down at their feet in sadness and confusion when they landed without a splash, as though their feet had betrayed them.
Two fire trucks, too many metro buses to count, dogs, construction men, brick layers, runners, toddlers, professionals hurrying to lunch dates, we passed them all. One construction worker had left his lunch out on the side of a brick wall while he chatted with his friends, the cap off his water bottle. Quickly the water bottle was in the hands of one friend, but we were quicker and grabbed it away before he could get a sip.
"Look at that tiny car" we announced, trying to distract them- waving at the smartcar ahead of us. The kids looked down at the sidewalk and then back at us, confused because they could not see anything that small. To them a smartcar is just another car.
We finally turned the corner to our own block and headed back to school, exhausted from the adventures and explorations of the short walk. I will never look at those city streets the same way again.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
- Does RTI really help prevent problems in (a) reading, (b) writing, (c) math, and (d) social-behaviorl outcomes? Does effectiveness vary by age?
- Do curricular approaches produce different benefits for students with LD?
- What procedures produce the best outcomes for students with LD when they are 25 years old?
- What specific competencies make teachers more or less successful in promoting learning by students with LD?
- Do consultation teams have greater benefits than school-wide behavior plans in reducing problem behavior?
- Do students with EBD benefit differentially from highly structured classroom arrangements?
- What procedures produce the best outcomes for students with EBD when they are 25 years old?
- How can teachers monitor progress in student behavior across time, a la CBM for academic performance?
- What specific competencies make teachers more or less successful in promoting learning by students with EBD?
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I'm off to accompany my jumpers to Junior Olympics. This is the first year I've gotten to go with them since usually I'm in the throws of the first week of school when they leave. Sadly, due to kids moving this summer this is the smallest group that's ever gone, and we don't have anyone in double dutch, but I'm still excited to see just what happens at a Junior Olympics Jump rope event.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I've gained a whole new respect for anyone who is able to spend 8 hours a day with a room full of 2 year olds.
I can't help but be saddened though when I listen to the two year olds chatter amongst each other, or when I watch them sort colors, count, listen to stories, or ask questions using full sentences. At two, they are so much further along than many of the children who enter kindergarten at my school.
Their language is fuller- their sentences are more complete- they make better eye contact with adults- they seem aware of their world instead of fearful of it.
Many of them come from the same background as the children I teach- the same socio-economic background, as well as the same international background. So how, at two, is their language stronger than the 4-5 year olds entering my school?
Most of the 4-5 year olds who enter my school do not have any sort of preschool experience. For many, kindergarten is their first school experience- and- due to their parents' misconceived notions that they should not teach their child their native language- it is their first immersion into language in general. What happens when a brain develops for 5 years without truly interacting with language?
Another observation I've made is that the two year olds speak in longer sentences to one another than they do to us- and they mimic each other more than they mimic adults. If one of their peers asks, in a full sentence, to use a toy, they will immediately repeat that sentence, and sometimes apply it to another toy. A friend notices three flags flying- they will notice three flags, and then three flowers- and perfectly mimic the friend's intonation as they announce their own findings.
One of their teachers can say something and they will repeat it, but usually will repeat only the last few words in the sentence. With their friends they repeat the whole sentence.
The preschool where I'm working includes children from different socio-economic backgrounds. At first I was surprised by this, and then didn't think anything of it- children are children, right? I started noticing the way the children interact with one another- how that one child whose surrounded by language at home is happily playing with her friends using the language she's learned at home. And quickly her friends copy her language during play. The drama center goes from banging on the table with forks to having a party and pouring out juice simply by that one child adding a full sentence to play. It is something one of the teachers or I couldn't inspire.
This is certainly only anecdotal and true research may prove me wrong, but it seems to indicate some importance between who children's peers are and their language development.
So, for me, who will spend the first few months of kindergarten desperately trying to make up for the lost years of some of our children- how do we use this to our advantage? And when we're discussing the positive impact of preschool programs should we be looking at preschool programs that create an inclusive community to promote language development?
and very clearly it came back
the closet they'd moved my partner-in-crime and I into because "we wouldn't mind, would we?" and desperately trying to set up the classroom on the first day of school with the kids there, because they hadn't given us any time during teacher workdays to set up our classroom.
the closet full of old crayons they told us we couldn't get rid of, we'd just have to work around.
the fact they took away our IA because her desk wouldn't fit in our new closet-room.
and when I visited my old kids in their new classes- chaos. Out of control.
I reached for the closest pure-fiction-pool-literature-non-school-related-book and spent my morning trying to lower my heart rate. Maybe I'm not ready to go back after all....
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Lately, though, I keep reading about The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teacher all over the blogasphere. The article published in the New York Times Economy section on July 27th, discusses the findings of a recent study (though not yet peer-reviewed) that found quality kindergarten programs do, in fact, have a long-term positive impact on students (and in turn, society as a whole).
Previous studies of such programs all have said that quality kindergarten programs may benefit kids in the short term, but in the long-term the benefits seem to fade. By 5th grade students who participated in quality kindergarten programs tend do perform the same on standardized assessments as children who did not participate in these programs.
The new study from Harvard, however, finds that the problem with that argument is that it is only looking at the students' performances on tests, not their overall performance in life. (Shocking, you mean, test scores do not automatically correlate to how a student succeeds in life? I thought test scores were all that mattered anymore... but I digress)
The article states:
There has always been one major caveat, however, to the research on the fade-out effect. It was based mainly on test scores, not on a broader set of measures, like a child’s health or eventual earnings. As Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, says: “We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.”
"We don't really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes" Who are these people, thinking about what actually matters? Looking at how students actually succeed in life?
The Times article continues:
Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.
All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too.Read the entire article (linked above) to gain a full understanding of the study.
Another study by economists that's popped up recently on quality early intervention can be found here, also written on July 27th.
The article by Jonah Leher in Wired ends with the economists' recommendation:
Furthermore, the gains from preschool appear to be so significant and consistent that, according to Cunha and Heckman, investing in early childhood education is just about the most cost-effective way to spend public money. The economists calculate that, for every dollar invested in preschool for at-risk children, society at large reaps somewhere between eight and nine dollars in return. That’s how I want my tax-dollars spent.
Can I get an Amen?
All of this leads me with a lot of questions, that can problem be divided into a lot of different blog posts... but for now, I can't help but wonder, why are economists able to complete these studies while in education we're still arguing over standardized test scores and accountability?
Sure, these studies are new, but they are all based off studies completed years ago. We've had data like this for years- why haven't we acted on this yet? What is it going to take to promote strong preschool and kindergarten programs throughout the country?
I can't help but hope that if the educators and politicians haven't been been able to draw attention to the importance of early childhood education, maybe economists, whose focus is beyond the school walls, will drive a change that will truly close the achievement gap.