Friday, November 9, 2007

Aw C'mon

I have to respond to a comment I received on my last blog. The author says I am being simplistic. I am. I am saying that simple is where you start. The reason my old school received an F is they could never master simple. I now get assigned to other schools and I do not see the types of problems I constantly saw at my old school. Generally these schools have money for supplies. Generally these schools have minimal programming problems.

The author of the comment talked about my department. I did not have a department for 4 years. I had a house, but those in power never seemed to get this. The easiest way to move out of the F world is to move the bottom third of the students. You do this in a house, not in a large school. This is what houses were designed for. To talk about my department a year after I left and 4 years after the school changed is ridiculous.

This is where programming comes in. When the previous APG ran programming there were maybe a dozen kids that did not get classes in there house. In my house there were at best 2 kids who did not take lab with their science teacher and these were seniors. When I left there were large numbers of kids not programmed in house classes and a large number of students mis-programmed for labs, even ninth graders who should be the easiest kids to program. This kills science scores and it kills houses. I do not believe my old school will last much longer, but the principal should be honest and kill houses. The only current reason for the existence of houses is to provide a mechanism to blame AP's for the ills of the school.

The first year I was science AP I made sure that my teachers were appreciated and that they had what they needed to teach. I provided a buffer between them and the administration. My scores went up 30%. This was not that hard considering how low they were. I also realized that that was the easy part. The second increase in scores would come from intense staff development. This is much harder and I failed. A few years after I became science AP we switched to houses. My roll was that of consultant to other houses on science issues.

One of the houses in my school put all their labs at the end of the day. The result was predictable, few passed the labs and most of their kids were ineligible for the Regents. Bad programming has bad consequences.

The grades a school receives is based to a large extent on graduation rate and how well you do with the bottom third of your class. One example of the stupid decisions made by my principal is that I had a double period math class that was designed for the lower third of my kids. The class was held in a room that had math posters all over it. It was 50 feet from my office. The principal decided the class should not be in this room. She moved the first period to a computer room that was totally unsuited for the class. Students could hide behind computers. This class was on a different floor from my office. Then she moved the second period to a room On the other side of the building. The one group she should have been putting resources into, she was taking them away. And of course blaming me for doing a bad job of programming. She was upset that she had to fix my error! She had no problems punishing students for my supposed misdeeds.

The second thing I noticed about these kids was that they were not in school very much. When they did come to school they got in trouble and were suspended. Again, the group we most needed to help we created an environment that worked against these kids. My old school had a huge number of suspensions. My college bound kids were not getting suspended. The kids who probably could have missed school and not been harmed were never suspended. The kids who needed every minute we could give them, they were suspended. The school had chosen to emphasis "safety" over academic success for our most needy students. The school chose to see the problems these kids created as moral failings on their part, rather than the inevitable fall out of academic failure. By suspending so many kids we create more failure and more behavior problems.

I am not on a "high horse". I am a person who fought against this every day I was in the building. I ultimately lost and was banished. But I hope that while I was there I did some good. I have been in the trenches.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Random Education

I saw a woman and her kid on the train the other day. I would guess the kid was in second grade. Mom had the kids math workbook. It had addition problems. The mom was working hard to finish all of the problems before they reached their stop. The kid was doing nothing. How can we get the message across to parents that this is a really bad thing to do. I would assume that the mother would rather do the work than get a call from the teacher yelling at her for not making the kid do his homework. (Another unintended consequence of homework). If the teacher uses this homework to evaluate the kid she/he will of course get a false sense of the students abilities.

So, I see that my old school got an F on its report card. This may be the final nail in the coffin. I don't see how a program, such as the one I used to run can possibly recruit students. I have said before that my definition of a good program is one that has a mix of good students and more challenging students. It is a delicate balance. If you fall below a certain number of good students then you are in trouble. You find that there is no leadership. This is very bad.

I feel that the F came because of a lack of leadership in the school. This doesn't mean that all of the teachers are wonderful, but so many of the not good teachers were hired by the current leaders that they must be blamed. Running a school is easy, you hire great teachers, you support them and you leave them alone. My old principal hires teachers out of desperation, and then often hires nice middle class kids who can't teach or she hires someone because they are all that is available that day and she would rather have a body in a classroom then wait for a good teacher.

Resources in my old school went first to security and then to classrooms. Always a bad decision. Supplies were hard to come by, coverages for trips or staff development were discouraged, and most importantly the programming was abysmal. I found the programming one of the most discouraging aspects. Each student is unique. How you program them is critical to their success in school. If you force the student to fit the school and not the school to fit the student you are creating a situation that keeps students from doing their best and therefore gives you an F.

How does she survive?