Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SHAPPE Letter Questions $ Cuts and RIFs

On this day when budget cuts were due to be translated into pick slips delivered to teachers in every school, the Senior High Alliance of Principals, Parents and Educators (SHAPPE) today delivered a carefully worded letter to the City Council. It called for Council hearings and closer oversight over DCPS to make up for a lack of central planning and accountability that schools need from the system. "The absence of requirements in the law for public process, transparency and reporting has left us wondering whether all this disruption caused by the budget cut to schools was necessary," the letter said. It is posted on the SHAPPE web site under "Letters and Testimony." Also in the letter is a careful accounting of the factors that contributed to the budget cut one month into the school year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Cat's Out of the Bag on Budget Cuts

Over the weekend City Councilmember David Catania revealed privately to "Teachers and Parents for..." member Kerry Sylvia that the purpose of the contrived budget cuts was to get principals to ID their least competent teachers for removal. Today the Washington Post announced the same thing in their lead editorial. So what's the problem with this?

The problem is that the Chancellor has had more than two years to come up with a way to credibly evaluate teachers based on an objective assessment of their competence, according to a commonly held standard of what good teaching looks like. She has failed to do this. She didn't even start trying to come up with such a system until this year. And the budget cut process even bypasses the system she has just recently created. And quite frankly the teachers union has also failed to step up to the plate to offer an alternative way to effectively evaluate teachers.

Telling principals to come up with an arbitrary list of positions to cut to satify a budget cut quota randomly assigned to each school is at best a crude, blunt instrument. Budget watcher Mary Levy questions whether there is a need for cuts at all. Members of the Council also question the need for cuts. It will create ill will, unnecessary instability in every school as students are re-assigned one month into the year, and in many cases the wrong decisions will be made. It seems to us that it will also open DCPS to lawsuits on the part of people who lose thier jobs without adequate rationale or due process. The problem of teachers teaching who should have been subject to a better evaluation system is real, but this way of addressing it avoids the hard work that the Rhee administration was hired to do two and a quarter years ago.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mass Hiring and Mass Layoff -- What Gives?

DC teacher Dan Brown's September 18 Huffington Post article on the DCPS budget cut to schools hits the nail on the head. He explains why hiring 900 newbies over the summer and mass teacher layoffs in the fall is an ill conceived strategy.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Marginalized For Life

Ten years working with students as a DCPS social worker and I can confidently say that David’s situation is not remarkable. Due to concerns about privacy I am not going to discuss specifics about his life but speak about typical circumstances of students like him.

Who shares the blame for David being in the fifth grade and not being able to read? It is a multi-system failure starting with his family. Parents not having the skills to manage their own lives let alone raise a child are disturbingly common among DCPS students. Substance abuse, mental illness, illiteracy, incarceration, medical problems, poverty, joblessness are chronic conditions that plague too many families.

David lives in a city where affordable housing and health care as well as access to adequate mental health and substance abuse services are scarce to non existent. Public schools have been neglected for decades and used as a rallying cry by politicians for everything from scapegoating anything publicly run, to breaking the union, touting change for change sake and shedding mostly crocodile tears.

Yes, DCPS has failed David but promoting year round standardized testing as one of the hallmarks of reform is not going to improve his reading or writing skills. Why make so many children suffer through taking tests where most of the content is completely unfamiliar and if you can’t read, incomprehensible?

Special education in DCPS is a mess and the move towards more inclusion without the proper staffing will only make the chances for David to learn to read, graduate high school and get a decent paying job very remote.

I hate to be so doom and gloom about the future but that is the reality David lives in and I work with every day. I want to participate in a reform effort that brings people (students, parents, teachers and community members) together to discuss these challenges in an honest and open dialogue. While overwhelming David’s challenges are not insurmountable. It will, however, take a collective effort that is not so politically charged.

* This entry is a continuation from "Marginalized Taking the DC BAS" and in response to some of the feedback sent to me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Marginalized taking the DC BAS

Only two days after Labor Day and the high stakes testing frenzy is in full swing across DC Public Schools. At my school students started the first day of the DC BAS today. It is not as long as DC CAS and is supposed to serve as a baseline to track student progress for the April tests.

Without getting into all of the politics of standardized testing, I thought I would share my experience today to offer an inside perspective.

I was responsible for administering the DC BAS to David*, a fifth grade special education student. When I was assigned David, I was told that he may not take long to test because he is so low academically and would probably just randomly bubble in answers.

David was very cooperative and respectful the entire time. We both opened our test booklets and I read the sample question. David got it wrong. “No worries,” I said trying to prevent him from getting too frustrated. “All we want you to do is try your best. It is okay if you don’t understand a question or do not know the answer, just guess.”

With the new NCLB regulations we can no longer read questions or passages to special education students. We are only allowed to read aloud the directions for the reading and writing sections. David’s facial expression went from pleasant to a combination of confusion and fear when I told him he would be responsible for reading the passages and questions. “I can’t read,” he exclaimed in exasperation. Unfortunately, he was not exaggerating.

In the end, without reading a single word he bubbled in all of the answers and did not write anything for the writing passages except for his name at the top of the page. I spent the next hour and a half talking with him about his summer and how school was going thus far. We also did some play therapy with puppets.

The testing not only served no purpose for David, it was also a humiliating and alienating experience. The reality is that there were thousands of Davids today in schools across DC suffering in silence or acting out to cope with feelings of inadequacy. They just don’t fit in with the NCLB standardized testing equation. It is heartbreaking to witness.

* David is not the student's real name