Friday, July 24, 2009

McLaughlin Voted to National NEA Executive Board

Tom McLaughlin has recently taken the "helm" of the National Education Association's Peace & Justice Caucus website, listserv and blog. Tom is excited about his new position that will allow him to work on behalf of the brave citizens of Chiapas, Mexico.

Please take a look at the Campaign of Hope that he has organized at the national level to benefit the citizens of Chiapas, Mexico. They truly deserve our consideration, prayers and support.

The freedoms and rights that we take as "automatic" are a daily battle for them. We salute them for their bravery.

We also salute Paul Mann (a 37 year educator from Des Moines, a friend and foil of Tom's, who has been honored this year with the NEA's Human and Civil Rights Award: the Applegate-Dorros Award for Peace and International Understanding.

Please watch the NEA Peace & Justice Caucuses video honoring "One Mann Who Made the Difference."

Works for Me Starting School Tips by Teachers for Teachers

Starting School and Eating Right

From Joanne Tickner (, a speech and language therapist for Midland Public Schools in Midland, Michigan:

"With the start of the new school year just a few weeks away, you can do yourself a favor by freezing some of your favorite dinners now. As you have (perhaps) a little more time now than you will when the year begins, simply double the recipes you make, and label and freeze for those nights when you come home late and are too tired to cook. It can make the stress of beginning a new year seem a little less. It can also help keep you from snacking on unhealthy foods if you know you have something prepared waiting for you at home."
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Emergency Plans
From Ronda Christoph (, an English teacher at Pulaski School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

"Near the beginning of the year, I make an emergency lesson plan box. I use an empty file folder box. In it, I place a packet of work that will cover a block schedule period. I make enough copies for all my classes, including an answer sheet and detailed plans for a substitute to teach the worksheets in the packet. I then add a copy of my seating chart and class lists. I put this box under or near my desk in case I have an emergency where I am unable to make other plans. I let my department chair know about my plan box, so she does not have to suddenly create plans for my substitute."
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Question of the Week: Using Humor
From the Works4Me Worker Bees:

"We've all heard the refrain, ‘Don't smile until Christmas.’ The idea is to establish classroom discipline early in the school year by being a tough, stern figure of authority. But there is another way. Humor can be a very effective classroom management tool. Humor can diffuse or de-escalate behavior problems, help students relax, and enable students to be more willing to experiment with new ideas and be less afraid to make mistakes. How do you create a classroom that encourages the positive use of humor?"
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A Child is More than a Test Score

Will NCLB Be Left Behind?

By Alain Jehlen

There’ll be some changes made in the No Child Left Behind law if proposals being put forward by officials of the Department of Education win approval in Congress. There's been no formal announcement and not much in the way of details, but some important elements have been reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post:

No more “adequate yearly progress,” which 30 percent of schools already can’t make.

No more “utopian” (Secretary Arne Duncan’s term) 2014 deadline for every student in America to be “proficient.”

Instead, a new goal: All students must leave high school “college or career ready.” What does that mean? A consortium of states is working on common standards to define it.

All in all, the proposal for a new law is expected to be patterned on the current “Race To The Top,” which is part of the Obama Administration's economic recovery program. One feature of Race To The Top is heavy pressure on states to evaluate teachers on the basis of student test scores. Most teachers consider that unfair because student scores depend on many factors over which teachers have no control. NEA leaders say tying test scores to teacher evaluation would also be counterproductive because it would punish teachers for taking on the hardest challenges in the most difficult schools, where extraordinary effort is needed just to get average test scores.

Another feature of Race To The Top which federal education leaders reportedly want to use in a revamped NCLB is a competitive grant approach to doling out the billions. Officials have said they want to move away from formula funding—giving out money according to how many students a state serves in various categories, such as low-income. That’s how most of the money has been distributed since the law was first passed as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

The new idea is to get schools to do what Washington thinks is best by making states and districts compete for the limited federal money.

The Bush Administration strategy was mostly to get schools to change by punishing them. President Obama seems inclined to reverse that. Or as Teddy Roosevelt didn’t say, “Speak loudly but carry a big carrot.”

Earlier this month, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) issued a report titled "Education at the Crossroads" proposing a very different vision of the state and federal roles in education.

The federal government, said a bipartisan panel of state legislators, should focus on outcomes, like cutting the drop-out rate, and let states and local districts decide how to get there. Federal officials are “not very good about dealing with student achievement and school reform because they use a cookie-cutter, top-down approach focused on process, not results,” said NCSL staff member David Shreve. He said some of the requirements imposed by federal officials for states applying for Race To The Top Funds have “little to do with student achievement.”

“There’s a better way to support schools than being involved in day-to-day matters,” Shreve said.

In addition to the major substantive changes he will propose for the law, Secretary Duncan has made clear that he also wants a new name. “No Child Left Behind,” which once sounded so good that nobody could be against it, has become a symbol of federal initiatives gone wrong.

NEA has been running a marathon, online brainstorming session to come up with a good new name. Click here to read some of the entries so far and add your own.

That discussion board is part of a broader forum in which educators are talking about how NCLB affects their students and debating a wide range of ideas for changing NCLB.

Martin Richter wrote:
"Part of the genius of American education has been that [it] encourages creativity and innovation. If we begin to emphasize test-taking and pencil/paper activities, we are likely to develop a nation of people who are good at taking tests, and very little else."

Jane Watson wrote:
"The biggest problem is poverty. Politicians need to realize that parents need to be paid a living wage and that it's not the teacher’s fault if the child is hungry or ill. (In Yakima, the school board gave the retiring superintendent a $300,000 retirement, but has not yet settled with the paraeducators, most of whom bring home less than $1,000 a month.)"

Many of those who commented agree on some important ideas: Stop the test score obsession, one size doesn't fit all, parents and society must share responsibility. But it's a free-wheeling debate with some energetic disagreements.

Join in and speak your mind!