The Times Union wants a plan to improve education, here you go

We need three things

1. A realistic curriculum
2. Teacher buy in
3. Discipline

These can be implemented without breaking the bank or reinventing the wheel.

I honestly believe changing the schedule would do the greatest amount of good. If you are not willing to mandate it at all the intervene schools, I would suggest a pilot program for the new intervene schools. We can’t continue to do things the same way and hope things miraculously change.

The district is going to more reading in the content area classes and I think this is an excellent idea. However, the teachers need to be trained how to do this before the new school year begins. If they are trained over the course of the year there will be diminished returns.

Adding more requirements to classes, such as reading assignments, to the content area classes leads to other problems. Teachers feel overworked as it is which means adding more things to their plate will both be met with resistance and often be applied in an uneven fashion. In short, if you are going to put something on their plate and you want it to succeed then you really should take something off of it.

The state mandated word walls, complicated daily agendas, mini lessons, focus lessons, massive data notebooks and two page lesson plans with scripted questions have been insisted on in the intervene schools for years. We can all see how well this is working. I would seriously consider streamlining the agenda and lesson plans and strongly encouraging word walls but not making them mandatory. It also seems to be a huge waste of both manpower and resources to require teachers to keep a telephone book sized ring binder of printed data on their students, when all the information is on the computer; literally at their fingertips already.

Furthermore I recommend making the learning schedules more flexible. If the first third of a class is use reinforcing reading skills then it just makes sense that classes will fall behind on the leaning schedule. Besides it seems to make sense that we make sure kids learn some things rather than just be exposed to many things.

It’s not just reading that should be taught in the content area classes but writing as well. The state just said they are really going to increase the rigor on the FCAT writing tests. Many of our kids are taught format writing for the test not actually how to write. Continuing in years past this has been the one area that the intervene schools have done well in. If these free points are suddenly taken away from those schools I can imagine a scenario where things get worse and do so quickly. If we want to see appreciable gains or at least minimize points lost, imagine a class where a third of the class is spent writing about a topic, a third reading about the topic and the final third learning about a topic.

If teachers then had topics provided to them rather than having to create them themselves they would be more likely to use them. It takes a lot of time and effort to find an appropriate reading and develop questions around them. Also remember many of these kids don’t have the skills that they need which means before we can move them forward we have to catch them up.

Continuing with reading, I think it would be a great idea is all the intervene schools offered at least one section of creative writing, yearbook and/or student newspaper. These writing based classes would help out. At my school I don’t think we offered any of these classes.

Discipline should be addressed. Teachers have become experts of ignoring bad behavior and putting out fires, which takes away from the learning environments. If a teacher spends just ten minutes a class doing these things that’s a month of academic time lost over the course of a year. A few bad apples can indeed spoil a cart and we would have such tremendous addition with just a little subtraction.

I recommend creating mini grand parks at the schools where kids would go to for weeks at a time. If they didn’t do their work they would have another day added, if they missed a day they would have another day added. They would go to lunch after the normal lunch period but not be allowed to sit together and as a group have two restroom breaks a day. In these mini grand park kids would sit individually at tables or in study carrels not allowed to talk. There work would be provided to them and when they had questions or needed help they would raise their hands to ask for it. After two weeks I am sure kids would not want to return and I can imagine it being a powerful inducement to behave especially if they were sent there after just two referrals. Remember for a consequence to be meaningful, it must be meaningful. Right now we woefully lack meaningful consequences.

It could be staffed by academic coaches, assistant principals and by teachers periodically willing to give up a planning period here and there.

Grade recovery should be changed. It should only be for kids that try hard but just don’t get it and need a little more or for kids who have legitimate reasons for missing many days. So many kids use it as a fall back and just show up to cut up. That should be stopped immediately and it should be announced from day one that is how things are. Behavior, effort and attendance must count for something.

After the first nine weeks I suggest regrouping kids by ability. I know this has become a taboo concept in some education circles but it would allow the schools to have accelerated groups and groups that needed extra attention. We scream differentiate our curriculum but doesn’t this just make things harder? It would be much easier to teach one group of kids on the same level rather than three groups of kids at the same time who were on different levels.

Finally I would encourage your administrators to allow teachers to fail students, something we haven’t been able to do for years, and write referrals. Teachers should not be scared to write referrals or fail kids. If a teacher does these things it doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Preparing kids for life, which has consequences for a lack of effort and bad behavior should be the minimum of what we are doing.

By having a realistic schedule/curriculum that better suits the students’ needs, exchanging teacher busy work for work that will assist the kids to learn and catch up and by instilling discipline, I think immediate and appreciable gains can be achieved.

None of this is reinventing the wheel and I imagine most if not all are things you have already thought of. Its now just time we put these measures into our schools.

Governor Scott says one thing does another. Is he the governor of all of us or just the Tea Party?

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Lakeland republican senator Paula Dockery dropped her gubernatorial bid when she realized she couldn’t compete with Rick Scott’s money. Nonetheless, she served on his transition team after Scott’s victory over Alex Sink. In today’s Orlando Sentinel story by Aaron Deslatte, Dockery has some sharp criticism for Scott:

“I think he has governed very differently than what he campaigned on,” said Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who served on Scott’s transition team but has criticized his decisions to kill the high-speed train and cut education and environmental spending.

Dockery says Scott, who had lived in Florida for only seven years when he ran for governor, refused to take advice from experienced politicos and has been slow to reach out beyond his tea-party base.

“He’s going to keep seeing the [poll] numbers where they are until he starts reading the people a little better,” Dockery said. “You have a responsibility as governor to listen to everyone. Unless he makes that shift, he’s going to stay where he is.”

Well Scott is listening. And to be fair, he’s proposal to increase education spending by $1 billion is a step in the right direction. But Scott proved he still is contemptuous of the state’s teachers and the public school institution in his much publicized meeting with teachers in Osceola county:

Scott, holding a roundtable discussion with the teachers, said he is a strong supporter of education. “If we’re going to do well as a state, if our families are going to do well, it’s going to be tied to education.”

But he said the public views the public-education system as one unwilling to police itself. “The perception is that it’s not an accountable system,” he said, and too many people feel “we’re not getting value for the dollars we’re putting in the government.”

Scott said he understands that teachers work hard and knows, given budget cuts and a new merit-pay law, that “there’s a lot of stress.”

But during the nearly two-hour long discussion with Neptune teachers, the governor made it clearly he believes firmly that public education needs to change. He said he held the event because “I’m trying to get ideas from teachers.”

Nobody’s buying that last line. It’s called lip service. Education policy in Florida is dictated by an ideologically driven and ethically challenged legislature. For Scott’s $1 billion increase to actually provide help to districts, a significant slash will be needed to the unfunded mandates the last handful of republican-dominated legislatures have heaped upon them.

Republicans don’t want this conversation to come up as it will unmask their rhetorical talking points. Thus far they’ve been able to sell loosening their stranglehold as “allowing more flexibility.” You can be assured that the mention of “unfunded mandates” by reporters will make more than one republican squirm.