Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Young Girl Learns Nothing.

I love the caption: "A young girl learns how to hold an airsoft gun during Youth Day at the NRA's annual meeting in Houston on May 5, 2013."

If anyone were paying attention, they would notice that the little girl is probably not learning anything; she's completely distracted by the things on the table.

Pretty much sums up the NRA and its vaunted training programs.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Incorrect Data isn't Useful

The other day I went to the Health Center for a followup checkup. I had been in previously and had gotten some anti-biotics for an insect bite that got infected. Simple, right? As part of the visit, the nurses are instructed to take routine weight and blood pressure measurements.

I know my blood pressure, so I was surprised that her diastolic reading was 20 points lower than it normally is. I remarked on that. Her reply was "Lower score is good, right?" in the tone of voice that conveyed clearly that I shouldn't be questioning her.

I'm thinking, "Sure ... unless it's a bad measurement." I get that BP is inexact, but it's a bit silly to refuse to re-measure it when the patient points it out. 20 points can make all the difference to the doctor's diagnosis of my overall health.

I decided that I would request the printout from the front desk as I left, the one with all of the day's numbers and decisions from the visit. I read the scale ... same weight as two weeks ago. On the printout, though, it was different ... she had obviously transposed digits when entering the data. In two weeks, I had "gained 23 pounds" and then lost it again in the 30 minutes it took to drive home. My blood pressure changed by 20 points, and that's a lot.

Bad data makes for inappropriate diagnosis.

Bad data makes for bad education policy, too.

The state of Vermont is "suffering" through the release of the first round of SBAC scores despite our scores being better than most other states (we're usually top 5).  "Results are much lower" and already my principal is bitching about it, despite declaring at the time, "We don't care what the scores are, we just want to get the process right." (I'm paraphrasing but that was the intent.)

I'm all for improvement, but I hate basing change on the back of bad data.  Our diagnosis is flawed because our data is flawed, and the prescription runs counter to other policies that the State has imposed.

First, the SBAC has measurement errors just like my nurse had.  Many students took that test knowing that scores would not be held against them, that there was absolutely no chance that anyone would see the scores in fewer than six months or act upon them to set courses for this year or college applications. Additionally, the test itself is drastically different in format (and it's all done through the Chromebook) ... a test completed entirely on-line.

There are no multiple choice questions and kids can have scratch paper, but they're not used to doing math that way. There's a lot of "drag the factors to the answer box" and write three paragraphs explaining why you know that this is a straight line .. and few can stretch out an explanation that far.

Second, and just as  important, the SBAC "passing scores" were decided upon after the fact, to make the percent-passing numbers match what the state had decided they should be ...

That's right. Before the kids even took the test, they told us that there would be a state-wide passing rate of 33% on the HS math test. Then they set the cut-score to match.

Third, add in the fact that we are a small school and we pride ourselves on being able to provide a more personalized education that your average public school, including having personalized learning plans that had quite a few students taking Algebra 2 as seniors. I'm sure you can see where this is going: many of our kids were taking a test heavily based on mathematics they hadn't seen yet.

This runs directly counter to another major initiative in the State of Vermont, the Personalized Learning Plan. Sometimes called "Personal Pathway to Graduation", the initiative requires schools to design different course pathways to graduation for each student as appropriate. This includes allowing schools to schedule certain kids into a faster progression for math and others into a more moderately paced path that might not even include algebra 2. It means that "pre-algebra, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2" might be the most appropriate for a student.

Taking that approach and then complaining that they don't know algebra 2 by March of their junior year is silly.

It's the rhetorical equivalent of reading a graph that says that Pre-calculus students do better on the NAEP and then concluding that we must make sure every student takes Pre-calculus by the time state tests are given in the junior year

which a previous principal actually said.

So when the bright bulb in the room points out that we teachers should prepare the kids for college and careers, and should have prepared the kids better for this test, and "If you hold the kids to a higher standard, they'll rise to meet that standard," I will calmly channel Dick Cheney and say that "you go to war with the students you have, not the students you wish you had."

Finally, the teachers are not allowed to know what's on the test.  I don't want to teach to the test, but I'd like to know what is included.I'll give the same assessments I would already have planned, but I might change some questions to a similar format, for example.

Also, I'm not willing to just take their word for it that the test is appropriate. We can't check for bad questions that might have tripped up our students and we can't check that the answers they gave were correct or not. We have to take Pearson's word that the scorers actually knew what they were doing.  After reading Todd Farley's book, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry and others with similar tales of the realities of corporate test making and scoring, I'm not particularly willing to do that.

The NY Regents is an example of a relatively open and transparent test-making system, but it has many errors. The NY teachers can catch these problems and get them fixed. If we look at Mr. Honner's long-running series reviewing the NY State Regents exams in mathematics, why should we expect that the SBAC tests will somehow be perfect if there is no chance for oversight?

The SBAC is a closed system with no accountability that scores the tests in strange ways, fails to take into account the realities of the students, will not allow anyone to analyze or even examine any of the questions (unlike the SAT which I can see in its entirely within a few weeks), spits out pre-determined results that do not reflect student abilities, and makes everyone wait an unconscionably long time for those results ... much too long for the school to do anything with them.

I can't use the scores because they aren't detailed enough, timely enough or accurate enough.

I guess I'll just teach math and ignore all that bluster.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I guess we have to talk about cellphones again.

Actually, we need to talk about cops in school, euphemistically called School Resource Officers, as if they were a librarian or something.  This is a bit of a rant, in case you didn't realize.

This came across Facebook.
Sadly, there was a time when kids were taught to respect adults, in general. I work with some amazing teachers, but parents show open disrespect for teachers, so why should their kids be any different? todays parents are so over involved with their kid...
Total and utter bullshit.

"That time when kids were taught to respect their elders" and things were rosy and happy and nobody sassed an adult ... didn't exist except in the fevered dreams of people who think they weren't Royal Pains in the Ass themselves when they were teenagers.

"Back then" kids were just as disrespectful and just as stupid about it. The difference between then and now was that a teacher who made harsh and unreasonable demands could arbitrarily smack a kid - corporal punishment was pretty common - and there was nothing the kid could do. The teacher could be totally and completely wrong and all of society would just fall in line. After the teacher got done slapping or spanking, the parents would probably deal out more punishment when the kid got home, "No Respect for Authority."

After the Tinker decision and other lawsuits, schools began to realize that they didn't have complete and total control of their students and never did, that "students' rights didn't stop at the schoolhouse door", that the Constitution and (in the case under discussion here) specifically, the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments weren't just for adults.

Kids are citizens, too, and have all of those pesky constitutional rights. Smacking them around for looking at a text (the modern day equivalent of passing a note) is ridiculous. Expecting them to hand over a phone to a teacher who will search through it or not give it back until some unknown time ... is likewise unreasonable if you only do it to one student and only when you catch her and only if you're in a bad mood because your day wasn't going well. If you want to apply discipline, you have to be fair and equitable.

Teachers who do something creative, like having the students line up their phones on the "chalktray", have a much better record because it's done to everyone and becomes a habit. Kids can deal with that.

What they hate is the "I'm annoyed, therefore you are wrong and I'm taking your phone because reasons and if you question my AUTHORITAH, I will have you arrested."

Why does the teacher need to make this an issue? All accounts say the teacher asked her to put away the cellphone but she didn't do it fast enough (emphasis mine). How does this justify a harsh takedown by a cop, public arrest, jail and fines? Any teacher/admin/cop/adult who escalates this to the level in that video really needs to take a few psych courses, and do some serious introspective work ... is that student really threatening you that much? Is the student use of a cellphone anywhere near the disruption that the policeman caused?

Nowadays, schools try to slide past the Constitution by using weasel words and police phrasing and lingo to attempt to do this crap. We changed from "Inappropriate Language or Behavior" to "Assault", "Bullying" or "Harassment" ... or my favorite response to one boy shoving another at a locker, "ASSAULT and BATTERY, Third Degree."

The kid who recorded the incident was also arrested ... for "Causing a Distraction."
WTF, people?
Then, there's the kid who recorded the video on her cellphone: she was also arrested ... for "Causing a Distraction." So a cop in the room who takes a girl forcibly from her chair and throws her against a wall and handcuffs her -- that's not a distraction but a second kid with a phone is? I can assure you that my difficulty keeping the class on task would have a lot more to do with the cop than anything else.

We see this all the time as schools struggle to pretend they're Gods of All They Survey. A girl wears spandex leggings and the administrator calls it "a Safety Issue." It's not.

A kid wears a hat and we call it "Disrepect" and if the kid doesn't take it off instantly it becomes "Refusal To Follow Orders" or "Insubordination" or "Disruption". It's not.

A kid gives an Advil to another kid because of PMS, we call it "Illegal Drug Distribution" or invoke some "No Tolerance Drug Policy" as if that applied here. It doesn't.

South Carolina even has a law against disrupting school, a law that carries a punishment of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.  "Disruption" used to be shooting spitballs and the punishment was a detention. Now it's a major criminal offense if you want to push it that far.

Police need to use specific, precise language that has been scrubbed of as much bias and humanity as possible because they are dealing with adults and a criminal justice system. If the police get involved, there are serious consequences if guilt is proven.

When the situation calls for jail time or extensive fines, we absolutely must call the police. This is not something untrained school personnel can handle. Anything you say can be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney; you have the right to remain silent. The policemen can use DEADLY force if public safety is at stake.

The "School Resource Officer" is still a cop. Every interaction with a student is written up, recorded and reported. He is not a friend and he cannot ignore things.

The other 99.9% of the time, school discipline is not at that point and the cops should not be involved. Schools need to get out of the policeman's mindset, to remove that language from our speech and discipline policies.

We are not cops; we are dealing with children, actually and legally.

Passing notes in class, while rude and should be dealt with by school officials, is NOT a criminal offense. Cops should not be involved.

I don't want kids handing out Advil  - there are medical reasons. So I send them to the office/nurse to get some for free (where the nurse can say "That's enough for today" or "Is there something I need to know about that bruising all over your body? Know that I am required by law to call the state abuse hotline.") This kid in this case is nothing for a policeman to deal with. The abuser, yes.

"If all you've got is a cop ... everyone looks like a criminal" isn't quite accurate, really. He's required to treat every interaction as a possible criminal case; he has no choice. He is a policeman and he must follow rules.

"If a major incident occurs that needs the US Justice System, we'll call the cops"
"The SRO is there to deal with major incidents."

But that has become
"We pay him $90,000 dollars a year and he's not doing anything else right now,
so we'll send him to do this task we don't feel like doing."

and in some cases:
"The kid won't listen to us. SRO, you take care of it."

And that's how passing notes becomes a criminal offense. That's how refusing to hand over a phone can lead to forcible takedown, arrest, and jail time.

School administrations have increasingly becoming a cadre of self-important fools who have never taught a day in their lives and who have no idea what they're doing. 

A Professional relationship or a personal one?
Has the administration abdicated its responsibility to teach behavior and self-discipline to a policeman who must follow completely different and far stricter rules of interpersonal contact? I think so.

Here's a thought: If your SRO is expected to be a friendly guy, messing with kids and always has a smile ... do the kids know he is really a cop? Is the disrespect some claim as a reason for the arrest partly because kids have been calling him by his first name all this time?  Does he have a professional relationship with the students or a personal one?

A final point. Some reports claim the girl was recently orphaned. This is not true, but she was in foster care ... still a traumatic and depressing situation for a girl whose mother and grandmother are still alive. Think about what kind of home life that girl has lived. It doesn't excuse, but it does explain.

Thanks for reading. I've got to get back to work.

Anyone who wants to claim that the cop is there to protect the students from a "Bad Guy With a Gun", please just shut the fuck up and crawl back into your hole ... you have no idea what you're talking about.