Some people are upset about Obamacare, some are upset about Government spending, some are upset about the end of summer but it seems most people are upset about the Common Core in Education.The Common Core is a set of Standards and Assessments that have been developed over the last few years by the Federal Government in conjunction with educators, researchers, business people, legislators and beauracrats. The overall purpose of the Common Core is to assure that all public school students are taught a common core of subject matter and then tested on the teaching to determine their level of proficiency. The purpose was not to “make every kid the same” or “pump out robots.” The Federal Government encouraged States to adopt the Common Core and begin holding schools accountable for the teaching and learning of them by giving States large sums of money. Most States accepted the money and the Common Core. A few States rejected both the money and the Common Core. New York State was an earlier adopter and has reaped the pain and suffering of early adoption. Pennsylvania adopted the Common Core but has been much slower than New York in trying to roll them out to school districts. In fact, this summer Pennsylvania held up the roll out while tweaks are being made.Unfortunately for New Yorkers the early adoption and roll out has resulted in what some would call a “disaster.” I am not prepared to go that far, BUT the roll out should have been done much more gradually. Teacher materials were not ready on time to be useful, tests have not been vetted properly and as a result administrators, teachers, parents and some legislators are very unhappy. I have read reports of children going to bed in tears because they feel unprepared by the teaching they have received and worried about their test results. This should not be happening. Teachers are unhappy because they are being held accountable for students test result at a level they have never been before. Apprehension on their part is understandable but early results show they may have been more concerned than they needed to be. Recently released results show that almost 50 percent of teachers outside New York City were highly effective and just under 42 percent were effective. Four percent were rated developing and 1 percent ineffective. Despite the good results on teacher effectiveness if students are feeling so much pressure that it is totally disrupting their well being, something needs to change. I would suggest a little less testing and a little more time given to help students relax and enjoy learning. This should not be done however at the expense of continuing to hold teachers and administrators accountable for their performance.I would encourage parents who are concerned about the Common Core and current practices to politely and with civility take their specific concerns to their local Board of Education. Try not to be overly emotional but state your concerns with clarity and include suggestions for improvement. An additional result of all the uproar has been the call for the resignation of the NY Commissioner of Education. Most of this is based on his dismal performance in Poughkeepsie, NY during a public meeting to discuss the Common Core. Reportedly the Commissioner was shouted down by special interests who were trying to manipulate the meeting. As a result he cancelled the rest of the scheduled meeting throughout the State. This seems like a childish reaction. Since then, the Commissioner has rescheduled these other meetings. Calls for his resignation will go nowhere, as they probably shouldn’t, as long as he continues to have the support of the members of the Board of Regents and the Governor.
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Preparing For Final Exams
The”dreaded” time of year for public school students is upon them, Final Exams. While many students and parents, for that matter dread final exams, it does really need to be that way. It can be a much more palitable time with a little preparation. Here are some ideas that may make the next couple of weeks a little less stressful for all.
1. Spend Time Studying for the Tests that Carry the Most Weight.
Not all final exams and papers are weighted the same. Make sure you know what percentage each paper or final exam is worth to your grade. That will give you some perspective on how much time you should designate studying for each class.
2. Focus Your Time on Difficult Classes
If you’re pulling a solid A in a particular class, then you obviously don’t need to spend as much time studying for that class. Instead, spend most of your study time on the difficult classes where your grade is not as good.
3. Spend Time Reviewing Class Notes Now
Spend at least one hour per class reviewing class notes. Highlight all the areas that are important and look at the syllabus to narrow down the key areas you should spend your time studying.
4. Attend Review Sessions
Many teachers offer Review Sessions. These can be very beneficial and demonstrates to the teacher your interest in doing well.
5. Organize Study Groups
Encourage one or more of your serious classmates to study with you. Often talking through the material with someone else will give you a different perspective and may help your recall. Structure the time to get the most of your study time, and then have fun.
6. Design a Study Schedule and Stick to It.
This is a busy time of year. Sports Sectionals, Proms, Banquets and just dreaming about summer can take up lots of time. Make a commitment to spend at least an hour per week, per class, to focus on the final exam.
7. Study Independently the Night before each Exam. This is not the time for all-night cramming sessions. By preparing for the exam weeks in advance, the final night should be dedicated to going over your notes and asking God to help you have good recall.
8. Get a Good Nights Sleep
Be sure to get a good nights sleep and have a healthy breakfast in the morning. Research has shown these are two important factors in doing well on an exam. Before the start of the exam try doing some relaxation techniques, deep breathing, listening to music and praying. All of these things will help you start the exam with a calm, focused mind.
In July 2010 the New York State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core Curriculum. The purpose of this curriculum was to standarize school curriculum across the State. The Common Core requires advanced problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, more aligned to the demands of the modern job market. School officials throughout the State widely agree that adopting the Common Core was the right move. The tests administered in grades 3 through 8 that are required to demonstration the level of student learning of the curriculum however have incited a struggle between state and local communities, parents, teachers and students. Is the uproar really warranted? Not in my opinion!
Isn’t it important that all children be exposed to the same curriculum or knowledge base?
Isn’t it important to measure the amount and breadth of student learning that has taken place?
Isn’t it important that students learn accountability for their level of learning?
Isn’t it important for teachers to be held accountable for the instruction given to students?
Isn’t it important for parents to acknowledge to their children that they are facing a world that holds people responsible and accountable for the investment that others make in them?
My answer to each of these questions is YES! Let’s look at each question individually.
It is important that all children be exposed to the same curriculum and knowledge base. Teachers have stated that in the past curriculum has been”miles long but inches deep.” In other words lots of material to cover but none of it in much depth. Also teachers may have an area of the curriculum that they particularly enjoy and have developed favorite lesson plans to cover these areas but this is done by sacrificing time spent on other important topics.
It is important to measure the teaching and learning that is taking place. How else do teachers and parents know how the students are doing?
It is important to teach students that they are accountable for their learning.
It is important that teachers are held accountable for the teaching that occurs in their classroom and the level of learning by the students. Some would go so far as to say, “If the student hasn’t learned the material, the teacher hasn’t taught it. I know there are multiple factors that impact student learning that are outside the teachers control but within reason there still needs to be accountability for the instruction that goes on in the classroom.
It is important that parents help their children realize that in life we are responsible and accountable for the investment others make in us.
To help readers get a feel for the test questions I have selected two examples. Do your best to give the correct answers. If you are discouraged remember you have not received the instruction that the students will have received prior to sitting for the tests.
Below is a sample question from the 5th grade Math test.
Bob needs to purchase 5.6 meters of tape for a project. If each roll of tape contains 80 cm and costs $5, what is the total cost of the tape that Bob must buy?
Answer $ ___________________
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO CAME TO THE SITE TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION AS A RESULT OF THE CONVERSATION ON FAMILY LIFE NETWORK NOON REPORT TODAY HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO.
Using the Contact Us button on the website send your answer to this question. The first person sending the correct answer will receive a $50.00 Gift Certificate from TLI. In addition to your answer leave you email contact information and we will be in touch via email later today.
Below is a sample question from the 6th grade English Language Arts test.
Which word is closest in meaning to “expedition?”
A - display
B – contest
C – trip
D – report
The tests are being administered to students this week and the week of April 24. Please be encouraging to anyone you know who is involved in this testing and let me know your thoughts on this whole situation.
School districts in Texas have started a “craze” which has turned into the “crazies” in some schools. In these schools students have been given the opportunity to wear a GPS tracking program as part of their student ID card. In some schools prior to initialization both students and parents must give their consent for this feature of the card.
Many schools continue to have serious issues with truancy, and other instances where students cannot be located at a designated time. One stated purpose of the new ID cards is to mitigate truancy and reduce the frequency of this occurring. One school showed average attendance increased from 78 to 90 percent with the use of Smart ID’s. State financial aid in many states is based on student attendance so schools that can increase student attendance increase the aid from the State. In addition, students with frequent absenteeism can be identified earlier and earlier intervention can take place with them. Schools also claim the SmartID would be critical in a school lockdown to account for all students and in moving cafeteria lines more quickly.
In Austin Texas a 15 year old student has objected to wearing the tracking microchip device in her student ID card because she claims it is a “mark of the beast” and therefor a sacrilege to her Chistian faith. Her refusal to wear the badge is not seen as a twist on teenage rebellion, but has launched a debate over privacy and religion. When the student and her parents first objected to the Smart ID, the school agreed to remove the chip but still required her to wear the badge. The family refused on religious grounds, stating in a lawsuit that even wearing the badge was tantamount to “submission of a false god” because the card still indicated her participation.
The Rutherford Institute has now filed a lawsuit against the school district and the ACLU is also interested in this case. Reportedly this family is the only one in the district to object to SmartID cards.
I believe Christians should be vigilant in protecting their religious freedom and should appropriately push back against infringement on those rights. In this particular case however, based on the facts as I know them, I think the reaction to the SmartID card is overdone. Particularly with the school being willing to remove the tracking microchip from the offended students’card. I think the school district has developed reasonable rational for utilizing this card system. This may be a circumstance where the “greater good” should take priority over an individual objection, particularly when the stated specific individual objector has been offered a reasonable compromise. After all, ID cards are used extensively in business and industry. Without them employees and visitors would simply not be allowed to enter the workplace.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has delivered his Annual State of the State address. As usual it is long on words, promises and rhetoric and short on details and specifics. For those interested in the portion of the speech related to education there must be huge disappointment. Nothing on the long anticipated and needed mandate relief, lots of old ideas, few of which will take hold in the legislature. Most of his comments and ideas were taken from the recommendations of the Education Reform Commission he created last year. Unfortunately there are no new bold ideas contained in the Commission Report or Governor Cuomo’s speech. There was an acknowledgement that the cost of education in New York State is the highest in the Nation, but no ideas to contain or reduce costs, just programs and ideas that would cost even more.
New York State has a diverse and widely varied public school system. There are 676 school districts spread across the State plus the Big Five City Schools. Unfortunately when any Statewide Commission looks at our schools they lump all types and sizes together. This simply cannot present a workable foundation for dealing with the issues in our schools. The Big Five City Districts have 42% of all the students in the State. The graduation rate in these schools hovers around 50%. There are 496 school districts that have 2000 students or less. Graduation rates in these school districts probably range between 85% and 98%. These differences alone make statewide comparisions and remedies unworkable but this is the tact most commissions take. Regardless, let’s look at the recommendations, the Governors acceptance of the recommendations, and my reactions to them.
1. Extend learning time, either through a longer teaching day or longer academic year.
Most people would agree the current education system has failing aspects to it which result in the unacceptable outcomes in some places. Why would anyone want to continue these same practices, only for a longer period of time, without addressing the issues that cause failure? The State is even offering to pay for the extended period of time. The only ones to benefit from these time extensions, without substantial program changes, would be the members of the teachers unions. That is if they would agree to work longer hours or more days.
2. Invest in full-day pre-kindergarten program.
Research has shown such a program can be beneficial but only if the ensuing elementary grades programs are redesigned to foster growth of skills, not just a duplication of skills learned previously. Increased cost is a major factor to adding this program. No ideas about funding were proposed by the Governor.
3. Recruitment of top high school and college graduates as educators.
While a very high level of academic achievement is very important additional skills and personality traits are needed as well. Let’s consider the ability to relate to children, content knowledge, teaching skill, classroom management and common sense.
4. Creation of “bar-like” examinations for prospective teachers.
College graduates entering the teaching profession are already faced with very comprehensive and demanding examinations which have proven worthwhile. No new exams are necessary. The cost of development and administration of these new exams was not addressed.
5. Consolidation of school districts and development of regional high schools.
There are 241 school districts in the State with 1000 students or less. Consolidation of many of these school districts would prove advantageous for the students and could save a significant amount of money over the long term. Consolidation could also enhance student learning and offer a larger variety of academic courses to students. Currently the only way consolidation can take place is by a majority of voters in the impacted school districts approving such a consolidation. Having gone through this effort personally such a route to consolidation is highly unlikely. District residents, while concerned about the rising cost of education, as reflected in their increasing taxes, often seem more concerned about school colors and retaining their school mascot. State Legislators need to have the courage to either mandate consolidation or not fund building reconstruction for districts which fail to at least attempt consolidation. Perhaps the creation of regional high schools is a more realistic approach. This idea has worked successfully in other states including Pennsylvania. I applaud the efforts of the school leaders who are currently exploring this option. Action by the Legislature is needed now to authorize the creation and funding of these regional high schools.
No one said improving our education system, while controlling costs would be easy but these proposals, at least in their present form, will not work.
Our country was shaken once again by the violence that occurred recently at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In reflection many questions are being asked. Here are my thoughts in regards to these questions.
1. Could the district have done anything else to prevent this tragedy from happening?
At this point no one knows all the safety measures that were in place or how well they were carried out. It appears teachers and students were well trained and drills had been performed to assure the training had benefitted everyone. The school was in total “lock down.” During the event teachers gathered the students in coat areas, which had been designated as “safe places.” Teachers provided assurance to the students that they would be safe. Students ran in an orderly fashion to designated locations a distance from the school once they were told to do so. If an intruder decides to shoot their way into the school the “lockdown” precautions are of limited value.
2. What additional safety measures, including buffer zones, school resource officers, arming principal and teachers should be added?
Schools are designed to be a safe place for the students. Construction of a buffer zone will not prohibit a determined intruder from entering the building. While school resource officers have proved helpful in some circumstances unless there is one at every door they cannot provide a guarantee of protection. Arming administrators or teachers would be totally inappropriate. These people are educators not armed guards or policemen. If there was an incident and they failed to stop it, would they be blamed?
3. Should schools spend more educational dollars on safety and security measures?
I hope communities and school officials will not overreact to this incident. While it is tragic and we all hope and pray nothing like this happens again, education dollars are already limited. There simply are not enough dollars to do much more in the area of security, although certainly what schools have in place should be reviewed and updated as necessary. According to national data 92% of schools either lock or monitor school doors. 61% use security cameras and 63% use electronic emergency notification systems.
Human minds and the choices people make need to be rooted in the common good not individual desires.
I believe there are other areas that should also be looked at. The entertainment industry has a moral responsibility to review the level of violence in the products they produce. The level and delivery of mental health services in communities also need to be reviewed and adjusted as necessary. The availability of “assault” firearms should be studied and adjustments made as deemed appropriate and necessary by all interested parties. All people need to be reminded of the value of human life and appropriate steps taken to ensure that human life is protected.
Finally, here are 10 suggestions to help children cope with this event as provided by Save the Children.
1. Limit television time
2. Listen to your children carefully
3. Give reassurance
4. Be alert to significant changes in behavior
5. Understand children’s unique needs
6. Give your children extra time and attention
7. Be a model for your children – they will learn from your behavior
8. Watch your own behavior and make a point of being sensitive to the crisis
9. Help children return to a normal routine
10. Encourage volunteer work, doing something for others.
I would add, pray for all the families involved in this tragedy, the first responders, school administrators and teachers, and the community of Newtown, Connecticut, as well as our entire country.
Education is not one of the major issues in this year’s election given the state of our economy and foreign policy. This does not mean however the educational issues are not important. Voters should be aware of the very different points of the view the two candidates for President have related to education.
One of the reasons that education generally plays a lesser part in the discussion during Federal elections is because education is viewed primarily as a State issue. Historically the Federal government has played a minor role in funding education, namely between 7% and 10% of the total dollars spent on education. As a result States have insisted, and with some appropriate reasons, that the Feds leave educational policies to them. This has changed somewhat during the term of President Obama as he has sent billions of dollars to the States to save teachers jobs, and created the Race to the Top Program which forces States to compete against each other for grants.
On the eve of this year’s election here is where the two presidential candidates stand on important issues in education.
President Obama believes that giving education additional money, particularly for additional teachers will improve education. In 2009 this philosophy resulted in States and local schools districts receiving enough money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to retain approximately 300,000 educator’s jobs. In 2010 another $10 billion was given to retain approximately 130,000 positions. Unfortunately when this money ran out the following year many of the educators were let go. The skeptical among us might also think that more money to help retain teacher’s jobs may also make the teachers unions work harder to assure the President’s re-election.
The President has proposed a $30 billion investment in modernizing America’s schools and community colleges in the American Jobs Act, which is still awaiting congressional action. The President also continues to call for higher standards for teachers and better assessments for students. His development of the Race to the Top program has been instrumental in achieving some of these goals already.
Finally the President wants, “smarter data systems to measure growth and success and help educators improve instruction.”
Governor Romney doesn’t see more money as the solution for improving education. He believes that better utilization of the funds already being given will improve education. In fact under his plan to cut domestic spending, education would see a reduction in funds.
The Governor is calling for more rigorous academic standards and higher expectations for students along with more accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers.
Governor Romney supports increasing the opportunities for special education and poor students to attend a wide variety of school choice options. Currently these opportunities are often limited to children of parents with means and no special education needs.
The Governor favors abstinence education that teaches abstaining from sexual activity until marriage over what are often called “family planning” classes.
Governor Romney also supports technical education, family literacy programs and English immersion rather than bilingual education. He also wants to change the designation of “highly qualified teacher” from referring to the degrees the teacher holds to take into account the academic results of the students in the teacher’s classroom.
As stated earlier these priorities and differences between the presidential candidates certainly don’t rise to the level of differences in fixing our economy or dealing with foreign policy issues but they are still important.
I encourage all readers to consider these and others issues in this campaign then most importantly vote for the candidate of your choice.
“The National Education Association will become a political power second to no other special interest group.”
“When school children start paying union dues that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
“The Major purpose of our association is not education; rather it is about the extension and or preservation of our members rites. We earnestly care about kids and learning, but that is secondary to other goals.”
These are all quotes from a variety of union sources as noted in my book, The Sin of Apathy. In fact in this book I called Teachers Unions the #1 enemy of public education. One of my conclusions was that unless and until teachers unions changed their interests and their approach it was going to be extremely difficult for public education to improve. Well times are changing and teachers unions are in retreat. Reports from the recently held Union Convention tell the story.
In 2010-2011 the National Education Association (NEA) claimed 2.25 million members. This coming year they expect to have 1.94 million members. This represents a loss of 300,000 members and a decrease in revenues of $65 million. One former executive director of the organization claims the organization is in “panic mode.” One report given at the recent convention stated, “Things will never go back to the way they were.”
Budget woes have already taken their toll on the national headquarters staff. To avoid layoffs, NEA offered an early retirement incentive for management and staff members in a bid to pare the payroll. About a tenth of the workforce took advantage of the incentive. Other top officials were reassigned, or dismissed. Other benefits, such as a matching component of a retirement plan, conference attendance and travel were decreased. At one point the internal staff of NEA actually threatened to strike.
While NEA top leaders continue to be concerned about maintaining their influence on national politics and policy, state and local leaders are more interested in holding their members to higher standards. The days of protecting incompetent teachers seem to be in decline. Unions want to promote good teaching and good teachers. Some local units are exploring the concept of labor-management collaboration. Others are promoting the idea that performance should take the edge over seniority in lay-off decisions.
As an observer of these changes I am thrilled. Primarily because I believe these changes will ultimately be better for the students. I recognize that in every school district there is a cadre of caring, competent and highly skilled teachers. In many cases these teachers have been more interested in the students than union activities. Unfortunately as a result of state laws all teachers are required to join the union and pay the costly union dues. Hopefully, with the priority shifts mentioned, these teachers will feel more affinity with the union that represents them and its goals and ultimately public schools will have an opportunity to improve as everyone involved puts children first.
Another school year has ended, students are free for the summer, teachers and other school staff are on vacation and school is closed until September. These are the assumptions held by many people. They are however, false assumptions.
What does go on at school over the summer? What do people who work for the school do during the summer? A simple answer would be “many things.” The custodial staff thoroughly cleans every single classroom and hallway. This means moving desks, chairs and other movable furniture and materials into the hallways, scrubbing floors, cleaning carpets, washing windows and blinds, dusting, painting if necessary, cleaning everything and then moving everything back into the classroom. If you were to stop into the school during the summer and see the disruption you might wonder if the school will ever get back to it normal state. The fact that it does is a tribute to the hard work of the custodians and cleaners.
Superintendents, principals, full-time secretarial and business office persons also work throughout the summer. These folks spend the early part of the summer wrapping up the recently concluded school year. This involves completing various reports, updating student’s records and preparing state aid forms. Once these items are completed, preparation begins for the next school year. New textbooks and teaching materials have to be ordered and checked in. Activity calendars, “Welcome Back” newsletters, renewal of federal and state grant applications and creating new payroll records become the focus of the work. In school districts where there have been layoffs or resignations a great deal of time is spent on a variety of personnel issues.
Most teachers are not on the school payroll during the summer, unless they are teaching summer school. Many of them continue to work however attending conferences and training sessions and planning for the next school year. Some take on summer jobs like house painting or working in a variety of situations. It is very common to have teachers begin to return to their classroom once the rooms have been cleaned, to begin decorating the rooms for the fall. Many younger teachers spend much of their summer attending required graduate classes as part of the process to obtain their master’s degree, which is required for permanent certification.
Students have a change of pace during the summer. Some attend Summer School; others attend various recreation programs, camps, hold summer jobs, or just hang out. Despite what students may tell you, they also spend some time dreaming about returning to school in the fall. By mid-August the high school athletic teams begin their practices, so coaches, generally teachers and student athletes return to school for at least half a day, five days a week for practice.
School board members are also busy during the summer. In early July boards are required to hold its Reorganizational Meeting. At this meeting newly elected members take their oath of office and assume their responsibilities. The annual election of board officers takes place and various annual appointments are made. Planning for the school year, which usually involves development of goals and objectives for the board and superintendent, also occurs during the summer. New Board members are required to attend state mandated training programs on such topics as school finances and responsibilities.
Meanwhile administrators and guidance counselors are busy finalizing student and teacher schedules and class rosters. Transportation staff is putting the final touches on bus routes. Before anyone realizes it Labor Day has rolled around and school begins again.
I don’t know about you but I feel like the summer just disappeared before my eyes. Let’s enjoy the summer days we all have left.
Are You Ready To Vote? In all suburban districts throughout New York State the school budgets have been finalized, the school board candidates’ petitions have been filed but YOU still have important work to do. Tuesday, May 15 is the day voters in all school districts, except the Big Five, which includes Buffalo and Rochester, should plan on heading to the polling booth in their district to vote. School Board members, administrators, teachers and hopefully community members have been working hard to develop a budget that will adequately serve the children of the district, yet keep in mind the ability of district tax payers to pay the bills. Once again this has been a very difficult year for schools. Although State Aid increased this year, costs continued to rise faster than revenues and the State imposed Property Tax Cap of 2% is in place. As a result many districts have been forced to lay off teachers, administrators, and support staff again this year. In addition some districts have reduced budgets for sports, clubs, supplies, transportation, and employee benefits. Still other districts have chosen to close entire school buildings and share services with nearby districts. None of these choices are easy but they are necessary in the financial circumstances we find ourselves in. Hopefully you have taken the time to learn about the budget in your district. If not, you have one final opportunity. All districts will be holding a Public Hearing on the proposed budget, either this week or next. This year school budgets throughout our State will total more than $5 billion, yet normally less than 10% of the eligible voters generally take the time to cast their vote on the budget. I urge you to educate yourself about the budget and then exercise your right to vote on the budget on Tuesday, May 15. Tax payers are becoming more vocal about increasing property taxes. School tax increases are a major contributor to the increases in everyone’s property taxes. School budgets are also the only budgets that local tax payers actually get to vote on. Voting for or against the school budget may send a message to other branches of government about the current mood of voters as it pertains to tax increases within their areas of responsibility. On Voting Day voters will also have the opportunity to vote to elect new school board members, or re-elect current members. Board candidates have gathered signatures on a candidates petition, talked to many friends, neighbors and community members, perhaps spent personal money on election materials, prepared position statements and made personal appearances throughout their community. All of this work in an effort to secure a non-paying, sometimes controversial, time consuming position on the school board. You can honor these dedicated public servants by taking the time to vote on Tuesday, May 15.I urge you to find out who the candidates are in your school district and determine which ones share your values and priorities. Board members are responsible to hire all employees, recommend an annual budget, approve textbooks and generally represent the community values and opinions. This is important work.