Thursday, May 27, 2010

Teaching Secrets: Don't Cripple With Compassion

Late last month, my teaching colleagues and I got to participate in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ national conference here in San Diego. We moved one of our teacher workdays so teachers could attend because our principal did the math (so to speak) and found that it was cheaper to send the entire staff on a professional development day than it was to send the six teachers who asked to go and hire subs for the two days they’d be gone. Pretty smart.

We are working on creating a constructivist math program at our school, and our philosophy is that everyone, not just the math teachers, has a perspective that will help us revamp our program. So, even though I am an English teacher, I went along and looked forward to learning.

I attended many great sessions and came away with ideas for my own content area as well as math. I was most excited by NCTM’s process standards that outline the critical thinking required to make meaning of math instead of mimicry as is too often the case.

In a session on the process standards, though, the presenter made a statement that rocked me to my core and absolutely resonated with me: One of the major issues with American teachers especially is our predilection to rescue kids instead of letting them struggle with the content a bit. In essence, we’re too compassionate.

Think about it. How often do we see a kid with a cramped look on his face and rush in to show him how to do something? What about when they whine and say it’s too haaaaaard?

I get how difficult it is to step back and let them struggle, but I also know that it’s in the disequilibrium that kids have to make sense of things and that’s when the learning happens. If we do it for them, why would they be persistent with a problem or give it more than 30 seconds? And how can they become confident, self-directed learners if we don’t ever let them have that experience? Finally, why would they ever believe that they are able to figure it out if we show them by our actions that we don’t believe they can, either?

I’m not talking about failing to scaffold instruction or give kids input. Of course we want to do that. What I’m talking about is resisting the urge to fix things for them instead of asking more questions to get them thinking. I’m talking about sometimes just telling them, “I know you can do this,” and walking away.

For example, I recently passed out four interrelated epitaphs from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters and told the groups to try to piece together the story and figure out the big scandal, using evidence to support their thinking. The scandal is never explicitly stated, but there’s enough evidence in the text to figure it out. Beyond that, there are a number of conclusions that students could make a case for, so there was more than one right answer.

Groups read each epitaph and discussed it for maybe a minute before they started whining. “I don’t get it!” “What’s the answer? We can’t figure it out.” I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t have any clue,” then told them I knew they could solve the mystery. After realizing I really was going to make them suck it up and keep working at it, they returned to the text and started trying to puzzle through it.


I circulated among the groups and listened. When I did speak, it was usually to ask a question to help kids dig deeper into their own thinking. It took some time, but in each group the light bulb would click on, and the kids would get excited because they were coming up with something plausible.

Groups shared their conclusions with each other at the end of it and debated the merits of each group’s result. And my whiny kids? To a person, they all said, “Hey, can we do more stuff like this? This was cool!” They did something hard and prevailed; I think that’s pretty cool myself.

One of my early mentors gave me great advice that speaks to the issue of crippling kids with compassion. She told me, “Don’t do anything for the kids that they can do themselves, and if they can’t do it themselves, teach them the tools they need so they can.” Wise words.

New Push Launched for Education Jobs Bill

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, left, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Catherine Poff, a teacher from Kentucky who has received a layoff notice, appear a press conference in Washington on May 26 that called for legislation that would provide $23 billion to help school districts cope with a looming layoffs.
—Andrew Councill for Education Week


The presidents of both national teachers’ unions joined key lawmakers and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Capitol Hill today to drum up support for legislation that would provide $23 billion to help school districts cope with a looming tidal wave of layoffs.

Supporters say up to 300,000 education jobs—including teachers, support-staff members, and others—may be riding on the latest version of the bill, which relies on a funding mechanism that supporters say is more narrowly targeted than previous education aid under the federal economic-stimulus program.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he plans to introduce the measure as an amendment to the must-pass emergency-spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that his panel is considering tomorrow.

The original plan was for the Senate to vote on the language first, but the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said yesterday he didn’t have the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in order to pass the bill.

But if the language makes it through the House of Representatives, it can be included in a conference report reconciling the two bills. Conference reports can’t be amended, so if Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Senate decided to vote against the measure, they’d also be voting against the entire war supplemental-spending bill and could be accused of defunding the troops in an election year.

The House passed a similar provision on a different jobs bill back in December. But that vote was very close, and the legislation isn’t a sure bet this time around. Moderate Democrats are concerned that there is no cut to offset the new education spending. And many Republicans oppose what they deem a “bailout” for education.

Supporters of the bill were quick to point out what they see as the reasons lawmakers may suffer politically if they don’t vote in favor of the legislation.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that school districts, which have been working to implement changes to improve education, would have to lay off teachers because of problems caused by “financial scandals,” an apparent reference to Wall Street.

“It will be a scandal on this Congress” if lawmakers fail to act, he said.

Administration Backing
Secretary Duncan said that educators play a role in the overall economy, purchasing houses and groceries and contributing to their communities, so the economic impact of massive layoffs could be substantial. He said that the bill’s language has the full support of the White House, and that he has spoken personally to President Barack Obama about it.

The language Mr. Obey is scheduled to introduce in his committee on Thursday differs from other versions of the bill in a few key ways.

Earlier proposals were modeled on the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the stimulus program—which let states use their allocations first to restore state cuts to K-12 and higher education and then distribute the rest of the money to districts based on existing formulas.

Under the lastest bill, money would flow directly to a state’s governor, who would then distribute it right to school districts based on state formulas or the federal formula for Title I aid to disadvantaged students. Districts could then use the money to restore workers, hire new staff, or for compensation, benefits, and on-the-job training. The money could be used for early childhood education and K-12 positions, not higher education.

The measure would require states to sign off on the same four education-redesign-oriented assurances spelled out in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 federal economic-stimulus legislation that provided up to $100 billion for education.

Those assurances—improving teacher quality and distribution, revamping standards and assessments, beefing up state data systems, and turning around low-performing schools—were left out of the bill the House passed in December, but Rep. Miller said the move was necessary to help ensure passage of the legislation.

The measure includes $5.7 billion to shore up Pell Grants for college students. But, while the stimulus law asked states to restore cuts to both higher and K-12 education, the new legislation is aimed only at K-12 job losses.

One of the major complaints about the $100 billion in the 2009 aid package was the lack of strong prohibitions on states’ diversion of the money for education to other areas. Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition of education groups, said the language intended to discourage states from diverting money to purposes other than education appears to be strong.

Supporters didn’t specify another strategy if this latest legislative tack doesn’t work.

“You can’t have a Plan B for stupidity,” Rep. Obey said.

To help win passage of the bill, the National Education Association, with the help of the American Federation of Teachers, is working on a media blitz called “Speak Up for Education and Kids.”

The effort by the two teachers’ unions includes an NEA commercial in which children dressed in suits and carrying briefcases ask whether Congress would be more willing to save their teachers’ jobs or keep their classes small if the children were Wall Street bankers. The NEA has also established a hotline to help supporters of the bill reach their representatives in Congress.

NEA ESEA/NCLB Update May 27, 2010

ESEA reauthorization hearings roundup

On May 19, the House Education & Labor Committee held a hearing on successful turnaround strategies for low-performing schools. Chairman George Miller (D-CA), clearly reacting to policies implemented by the Obama Administration through the Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants programs, stated, “No Child Left Behind dictated interventions to help these schools but what we’ve learned since the law was enacted is they were too prescriptive and unrelated to the real needs of the schools. What most of these schools need is a fresh start. A fresh start doesn’t have to mean shutting down a school . . . A fresh start doesn’t mean firing all the teachers and only hiring back an arbitrary number . . . A fresh start means buy in from school leaders, teachers, parents and the community. It means a team effort to put together the tools to make that school great.”

Chu unveils new school turnaround framework

Speaking of turnaround strategies, in the wake of bipartisan concern over the Administration’s turnaround policies, Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) unveiled a new framework for turning around schools that focuses on collaboration, flexibility and a more holistic approach. NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen spoke favorably about the Chu framework, stating that it was time to put to rest the “one-size-fits-all” mentality in turning around struggling schools. Positive principles of the Chu framework, entitled Strengthening Our Schools (SOS), include: • Flexibility and collaboration as keys to success • Giving schools sufficient time to show progress • Improve learning and instruction by building capacity • School closure and staff firings as a last resort, not a first option

TIF final rules released

The Department of Education has released final requirements for the $437 million Teacher Incentive Fund program, a competitive program designed for LEAs to establish performance-based compensation systems (PBCS) based on student achievement data, classroom observations and other measures of teacher performance. The TIF program has two competitions – the PBCS competition and an evaluation competition, in which selected LEAs would agree to have their compensation systems evaluated longitudinally to measure their impact. The deadline for notice of intent to apply is June 1, 2010, and the application deadline is July 6, 2010. Awardees will be notified by September 2010. Technical assistance workshops/webinars will be held in early June. In conjunction with the release of the TIF final rules, NEA joined with the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Board Association in developing a set of guiding principles for affiliates and members who want to apply for TIF grants. The 11 Guiding Principles could be used for to foster strong collaboration at the local level and appropriately implement this federal grant program.

Study: Parent involvement is important in elementary years
A new study by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has found that children whose parents were more involved during elementary school had fewer problem behaviors and better social skills, but that children's academics weren't affected. When parents boosted their involvement in elementary school (by increasing visits to the school and encouraging educational progress at home), children's problem behaviors (including both aggressive and disruptive behaviors as well as anxiety and depression) decreased. At the same time, their so-called pro-social skills (such as cooperation and self-control) improved.

Common core state standards to be released on June 2

The common core state standards will be released on June 2. NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen will deliver remarks at the release event in Atlanta, Georgia. NEA publicly supported the March draft of the new standards focused on language arts and mathematics , stating that “these [draft] standards are beginning to articulate education goals that encompass high level, complex knowledge and skills.” Two states, Maryland and Kentucky, have already endorsed standards – even before the release of the final version. Starting in June, attention will then turn to adoption and implementation of the standards at the state level. Stay tuned!

Central Falls agreement reached

In February, the Central Falls school district garnered national media attention when it announced it would fire some 90 high school teachers and support staff at the end of this school year. After months of negotiations between the Central Falls Teachers Union and the Central Falls School District, an agreement has been reached that will enable current staff to return to their former jobs without their having to reapply for them. The agreement includes a transformation plan for Central Falls High School as well as provisions for extending the school day and tutoring students outside of class. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel applauded the new plan, stating, “Congratulations to all parties involved in the collective bargaining efforts, and to the students who will surely benefit from this strenuous work.”

Speak Up for Education & Kids Campaign
Yesterday was the start of NEA's National Speak Up for Education & Kids Campaign. With more than 80 percent of school districts planning to lay off staff, it's time to take action. Call 1-866-608-6355 to call Congress and tell your Representative to protect the future of our children by supporting funding to save education jobs in the emergency funding bill. With 300,000 education layoffs expected, our students are the ones who will suffer -- in overcrowded classrooms, with less time in school, and without the teachers and school staff needed to give them individual attention and help.

NEA has launched “Speak Up for Education & Kids” to mobilize educators and others concerned about the budget emergency facing public education. At issue is the “Education Jobs Fund,” legislation that would provide $23 billion in emergency funding for education jobs. See the 30-second television spot on the initiative. And don't forget to speak up for education and kids! Tell your elected representative that you want to be sure students' needs come first, even during a fiscal crisis!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Works for Me May 26, 2010


Teacher Report Cards

From Pam Shetler, an elementary school teacher in San Bernadino, California:

“At the close of the year, my students list their favorite activity in each subject, favorite read aloud and reading circle novel, what they liked best and least about my teaching, and if they had a successful year. Of course I ask them to expand by explaining why or why not. There is also space for additional comments. It is an anonymous report, though most happily sign it (and of course I would recognize their handwriting!). It is insightful and makes them feel valued.”

Use Your Humor

From Pamela M., a sixth grade social studies teacher at Sedgwick Middle School, in West Hartford, Connecticut:

“Humor must be used in the classroom. Joke, laugh, dance, sing, shout. I do it all; I think every teacher should. It helps kids stay focused on the lesson, and sometimes it even helps them remember ideas and motivates them. So stand up on that desk and tap dance while you give instructions, talk in an English accent or sing the answers to a homework assignment. As one teacher said to me, "Teaching shouldn't feel like a job, it should be fun."

Question of the Week: Summer Reading

“Relaxing with a juicy novel might be what you’re looking forward to this summer. What good read do you suggest for the summer? We’d love to hear both professional and recreational recommendations.”

Comment on This Tip »

Teacher Inspiration

From Gowhar Badshaw:

“What inspires me as a teacher is the desire to inspire my students to want to learn in my classroom. I believe students are willing to discover and apply new information if it is presented in an interesting, challenging and relevant way. I strive as an educator to apply rigorous teaching methods across a broad range of informative, innovative, and interactive assignments. I structure my classroom in ways that take into consideration students' diversity -- as a class, as learners, and as individuals -- and encourage collaboration and active learning experiences. The successful classroom is one where students enjoy learning, accept responsibility for their own learning process, and are capable of integrating their new knowledge and skills in multiple ways outside the classroom.”.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Iowa's 5th Congressional District Report Card

May 24, 2010

In this MegaVote for Iowa's 5th Congressional District:

Recent Congressional Votes
Senate: Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
House: Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass; America COMPETES Reauthorization Act
Upcoming Congressional Bills
Senate: Supplemental Appropriations bill
House: American Workers, State and Business Relief Act
House: Defense Authorization Act, FY2011
House: America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010

Recent Senate Votes

Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act - Vote Passed (59-39, 2 Not Voting)The Senate passed this bill that would overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system. The bill ust now be reconciled with the House version. Sen. Charles Grassley voted YES......send e-mail or see bio. Sen. Tom Harkin voted YES......send e-mail or see bio.

Recent House Votes

Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass; America COMPETES Reauthorization Act - Vote Failed (261-148, 22 Not Voting)The House fell short of the 273 votes needed under suspension rules to pass this bill that would reauthorize science research programs. Republicans argue too many of the $48 billion bill’s programs are duplicative while Democrats argue the bill will increase economic competitiveness.Rep. Steve King voted NO......send e-mail or see bio

Upcoming Votes
Supplemental Appropriations bill - H.R.4899 The Senate is expected to spend most of the week working on this supplemental spending bill.

American Workers, State and Business Relief Act - H.R.4213 The House is scheduled to take up this bill to extend certain tax cuts and benefits extensions that are set to expire soon.

Defense Authorization Act, FY2011 - H.R.5136 The House is also scheduled to work on this $760 billion measure authorizing defense spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 - The House may also vote for the third time on this bill that would reauthorize science research programs.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Texas Board Adopts New Social Studies Curriculum

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga shows her frustration at the numerous amendments under consideration during a meeting of the Texas board of education regarding state social studies standards on May 21 in Austin, Texas. — Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas schoolchildren will be required to learn that the words "separation of church and state" aren't in the Constitution and evaluate whether the United Nations undermines U.S. sovereignty under new social studies curriculum.

In final votes late Friday, conservatives on the State Board of Education strengthened requirements on teaching the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers and required that the U.S. government be referred to as a "constitutional republic" rather than "democratic."

The board approved the new standards with two 9-5 votes along party lines after months of ideological haggling and debate that drew attention beyond Texas.

The guidelines will be used to teach some 4.8 million students for the next 10 years. They also will be used by textbook publishers who often develop materials for other states based on those approved in Texas, though Texas teachers ave latitude in deciding how to teach the material.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said after the votes Friday that such decisions should be made at the local level and school officials "should keep politics out" of curriculum debates.

"Parents should be very wary of politicians designing curriculum," Duncan said in a statement.

But Republican board member David Bradley said the curriculum revision process has always been political but the ruling faction had changed since the last time social studies standards were adopted.

"We took our licks, we got outvoted," he said referring to the debate 10 years earlier. "Now it's 10-5 in the other direction ... we're an elected body, this is a political process. Outside that, go find yourself a benevolent dictator."

GOP board member Geraldine Miller was absent during the votes.

The board attempted to make more than 200 amendments this week, reshaping draft standards that had been prepared over the last year and a half by expert groups of teachers and professors.

As new amendments were being presented just moments before the vote, Democrats bristled that the changes had not been vetted.

"I will not be part of the vote that's going to support this kind of history," said Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat.

At least one state lawmaker vowed legislative action to "rein in" the board.

"I am disturbed that a majority of the board decided their own political agendas were more important than the education of Texas children," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, a San Antonio Democrat.

In one of the most significant curriculum changes, the board diluted the rationale for the separation of church and state in a high school government class, noting that the words were not in the Constitution and requiring students to compare and contrast the judicial language with the First Amendment's wording.

Students also will be required to study the decline in the U.S. dollar's value, including the abandonment of the gold standard.

The board rejected language to modernize the classification of historic periods to B.C.E. and C.E. from the traditional B.C. and A.D., and agreed to replace Thomas Jefferson as an example of an influential political philosopher in a world history class. They also required students to evaluate efforts by global organizations such as the United Nations to undermine U.S. sovereignty.

Former board chairman Don McLeroy, one of the board's most outspoken conservatives, said the Texas history curriculum has been unfairly skewed to the left after years of Democrats controlling the board and he just wants to bring it back into balance.

Educators have blasted the curriculum proposals for politicizing education. Teachers also have said the document is too long and will force students to memorize lists of names rather than learning to critically think.

Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely

The Editor
Summertime in Cyberspace: Helping Kids Make Safe Choices
As the school year rapidly comes to a close, teachers and parents should consider the fact that children and teens will soon have plenty of time on their hands -- frequently unsupervised. They will have ample opportunity to explore many nooks and crannies of cyberspace. How can the adults in children's lives make sure their online activities are safe and responsible?
Read Full Article

The Editor
Use the Summer to Get Tech-Savvy!
Paula White is an Albemarle County, Virginia gifted resource teacher. Paula shares with bNetS@vvy readers her own experiences with technology as well as practical tips she uses with her students as they begin their summer vacations. Paula's insights provide educators and parents' with ideas for keeping kids smart and savvy when using technology over the summer.
Read Full Article

The Editor
Summer Time Safety Line
Summertime means vacations, time at the pool, and for today's youth: time on the Internet and cell phone, often away from the eyes of parents and guardians. During the school year parents and teachers may disagree about whose job it is to educate children about how to be safe online, but in the summertime, it is clearly a parent's job to keep his/her own children safe.
Read Full Article

The Editor
How Typical Kids — One 11, One 15 — Use Social Technology
Two typical kids, four years apart in age. What kind of role does social technology play in their lives? How do they stay safe online? bNetS@vvy editor Mary Esselman interviews her nephew age 15, and bNetS@vvy Teacher's Desk contributor Paula White interviews her grandson, age 11.
Read Full Article

From the Editor
The Editor
Summertime Safety Online
What will your kids be doing this summer? Heading to camp, splashing around the local pool, working a part-time job — and maybe still managing to spend oodles of idle time online? How can caring adults keep up their kids' online summer activity and behavior?
Read Full

Thursday, May 13, 2010

LCEA Executive Board Meeting Minutes 05/13/2010

LCEA Executive Board Meeting
May 13, 2010

Place: High School
Time: 4:15

Roll Call: Barb Motes, Kim McLaughlin, Jennifer Doorlag, Dave Bergman, Tom McLaughlin
HS Reps: Allison Towne (absent), Ruth Kreger (absent), Sharon Crawley (absent) MS Reps: Margot Argotsinger, Beth Frank, Al Lorenz, Dot Sillau
TH Reps: Lisa Scieszinski (absent), Joanna Stenlund, Kathy Dorsey, Farah Guetter
Kreft Reps: LoriAnn Brougham, Lee Dwyer, Angie Tucker

Secretary’s Report (Kim McLaughlin)
• Frank moved that the April meeting minutes be approved, K. McLaughlin seconded it, and the motion passed.

Treasurer’s Report (Jen Doorlag)
• There were bills to be approved. T. McLaughlin moved that the bills be approved to be paid. Bergman seconded it. We have 25 dollars left to spend on retirees—for frames, matted, etc. The motion passed.

Building Reports
• Kreft: Discipline problems are no longer to be sent to the office, and teachers are losing duty-free lunch time.
• Titan Hill: There may be a battle about whether there is library time available (and therefore planning time) in the last week of school.
• Middle school: A teacher is being told to give up her planning time to tutor a student. This seems no different than subbing for a class, and we are paid for that. The suggestion is to keep track of hours and submit them.
• High school:

Committee Reports
• Negotiations (Beth Frank): Our last proposal is $350 added to the base, and theirs is $325. They want a salary schedule with three columns—salary before TSS, TSS, and total. We need a vote on whether to accept their $325 to the base. Stenlund moved that we accept the $325, Brougham seconded the motion, and the motion passed with a roll call vote of 12-1.

Old Business
• Retiring teacher awards: Stenlund has the drawings from Kari Lewis.
• Teacher of the Year awards: We have the names, but we need to order the plaques.
• High School Senior award: Lauren Petri won the award, and T. McLaughlin will present it at awards night.

New Business

• Bergman moved that the meeting be adjourned, Dwyer seconded it, and the meeting adjourned at 4:40.