Sunday, May 31, 2015

"We just want our teachers to teach." A novel idea.

In today's Argus Leader, the paper reported about parents wanting to pull their student's out of testing.  While some claim that it violates constitutional rights...
During an exchange with Sittig, Kvigne refused to sign a form he sent her, and instead defended her right to refuse the test by citing the 14th Amendment and case law.
Others talk about what I consider a much more important issue with testing: does it have any academic value.  As a teacher, I really wonder how much weight I can add to these tests.  There are no consequences for students, so those that get done in 5 minutes on a test that is supposed to take at least 45 minutes, get weighed into and drag down the results of those students that actually try.  There is no consideration for the students that must deal with a very random math problem that has no consequence or basis in their life.  I can not go into any specifics about the test, but ask yourself how hard you would have worked on a test that required a couple of hours of work and you get nothing for doing your best.

Recent news shows that the scores may have some use for those students that care and are thinking of going to higher education.  
Nearly 200 colleges and universities in six states have agreed to let students skip remedial coursework if they reach the college-readiness score on the 2015 Smarter Balanced assessment. 

In the end, the biggest problem is that these tests are not diagnostic tests to help improve schools, but are tools of judgement to belittle schools and teachers.  They only take a snap-shot of a child, but have significant impacts on "measuring" the worth of the child.  There are also several issues with the measurement of tests.  

I wish that we could get beyond the thought of placing so much importance on testing and stay focused on improving education for all.  If politicians would stop worrying about testing and setting standards and worry more about coming up with ways to reduce poverty and  fight inequality, then we could see real improvement in society.  Tim Slekar, an advocate for the opt-out of testing movement was quoted in US News and World Report on March 10, 2015:
"Why are the standards – the first ones we set – not, 'All kids will come to school not hungry, not sick and with access to books?'" Slekar says. "Those are some great standards, but yet those standards we're not allowed to go after."
If politicians would focus on these issues instead of using tests to compare and shame educators, we might see some real progress in society.  I doubt there will be an end to testing anytime soon, but it would be nice for the words of Roger Russell quoted in the Argus Leader to come true:
"I think parents are just getting tired of all the testing," Russell said. "We just want our teachers to teach." (Bold is my emphasis.)
I look forward to hearing what the Blue Ribbon Task Force has about the idea of letting our teachers teach instead of over focusing on testing during the June 16th meeting.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Daugaard Gets an "F" in Understanding Today's Students

Daugaard just doesn't get it.  Despite that his GOED paying money for Lawrence and Schiller to find out what people care about and think about when it comes to choosing to stay and live in our state, he sends out a message of the usual low taxes, and low cost of living drivel to our graduates looking forward to getting out of the state; I mean, getting out into the "real world."

He states:
Most of you probably already have a good idea of what you’ll be doing next – what additional education you’ll seek or what career you’ll pursue. Whether you’ve decided to stay in South Dakota or pursue a career or education elsewhere, I hope you’ll ultimately consider a future here in our state. There are a number of reasons to consider living and working here.

First, we have the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.5 percent, compared to the national rate of 5.5 percent. Job opportunities are better here than in most places.

Secondly, the tax burden in South Dakota is low. We are among only a few states without an income tax, meaning you can keep more of the money you earn. Money that can repay student debt, buy a house someday or replace that car you drove into the ground in school.

Third, not only do people keep more of the money they earn in South Dakota, but that money will buy more here than in other places. According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, South Dakotans experience a very low cost of living in the United States. We don’t spend as much money on housing, insurance, food and the other everyday needs. In fact, we have some of the lowest costs in the nation.  In New York, California, Washington, D.C., or many other places, you will find costs that are 10 percent, 12 percent, even 18 percent higher than the national average.  In South Dakota those costs are only 88 percent of the national average.
Today's youth are not focused on "getting by."  They are not persuaded with talk about low cost of living if that means that you have nothing to do while living here.  His own economic advisor said as much:

"One of our mantras for business is no state income tax," Costello said. "That didn't resonate with individuals. Individuals viewed that as maybe the state doesn't have good education or fire protection or crime might be high or the park system not adequate. That was almost a quality of life deterrent."
The Governor ignores this and shows no sign of being able to think past the tired, old justifications that are not working.  Today's graduating students are concerned about things like getting a job with a decent pay, being able to see a future for themselves, but they are also looking for purpose and opportunity beyond a paycheck.  That may come in the form of opportunity of entertainment, it may come in the form of service in the community, it may come in the opportunity to explode on the scene in a profession.  

Dr. Tim Elmore posted this insight into graduating students in 2012:
Nine out of ten of them think about the future several times a week. They desire a “life of purpose” and want to engage in work that has a higher meaning than to merely draw a paycheck. They’re trying to make sense of it all, but life gives them an anxious eagerness about the future.

While that was in 2012, I believe that is true today.  Mr. Daugaard, if you want to succeed at encouraging more of our youth to stay in South Dakota, you must show them that it is not the almighty dollar that matters.  They can go and get good paying jobs in almost every other state.  You must show them that South Dakota provides an opportunity for life to really matter.  You must go beyond the idea that one can simply live in South Dakota and try and make this a place where people WANT to live in South Dakota.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

In Search of Teachers

Much has been said about the teacher shortage that is happening in South Dakota, and not just by me.  This shortage has some in Pierre worried; unfortunately, the Governor is one of those that doesn't seem to concerned.  Yes, he has set up another panel to study the problem, despite that there was one already done by a bi-partisan group of legislative members last year.  

This problem will not be solved overnight or with some television's ads trying to convince teachers to move here because at least they will get paid more here than on Mars (maybe).  Cindy Long with NEA Today reported that students all across the United States are turning away from teaching as a career option.
The report shows that only 5 percent (89,347 students) of the nearly 1.85 million 2014 U.S. high school graduates who took the ACT® test said they intended to pursue a career as an educator—either as a teacher, counselor or administrator. Both the percentage and number have steadily dropped each year since 2010, when 7 percent of graduates (106,659 students) planned an education major.
Now before Daugaard and others can say, "See, this is not a South Dakota problem.  Other states are having a tough time too.  There is no reason to increase funding!"  It is time for the state to proactive.  Something that this is not always known for.

At Black Hills State, they are a bit concerned too about the shortage.  Jake Nordbye writes on the BHSU site, 
For example, in the Todd County school district there are currently 38 open teaching positions. Thirty-eight is an astronomical number. Traditionally, South Dakota schools have most of their teaching positions filled by the end of May....
The article points to a need to get caught up and we are failing while other states jump way ahead of us.
“Without a major effort we’ll never get caught up,” Monson said, adding that a recent study showed that a South Dakota teacher’s salary has the same buying power as it did in 1969. Low salaries for teachers were one of the main issues cited for the shrinking teacher pool. Monson noted since the 1999-2000 school year Wyoming raised teacher pay by 24 percent, North Dakota 15 percent and Nebraska seven percent. During that same time period South Dakota decreased salaries by 0.6 percent. South Dakota also ranks last in the nation in average teacher pay. 
The article then reminds us the importance of good teachers in the classroom.  
Children living in the United States have the right to a free public education. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen. If our students are lacking competent, well-trained professionals in South Dakota’s classrooms, we are denying them that right, and that’s more than just a national embarrassment, it’s negligence. 
We will be seeing you, Education Blue Ribbon Panel, in June.