Sunday, March 15, 2009

For success, ask successful teachers

On the March "Start a new post," Cornelius Figgyfin wrote:

Everything about the Broad Program is yet another step in the process of the government getting out of the education business. Read the website and understand what is transpiring in Pittsburgh--our darkest days are being shared in other cities.

If you want to turn around education in this urban setting, bring together the most successful teachers in every school---from every department. Let them come up with real world scenarios in which kids can achieve and academic integrity can be maintained. Let them discuss the real problems our kids face--the real dilemmas each teacher faces each and every day. Let them discuss the neighborhoods our kids come from and the many problems which are there in the home and in the community.

Get rid of the superintendent and his staff immediately. Urban education is no place for corporate types and no place for failed teachers who have matriculated into administration. It's not a place for those who devise policies so grossly out of touch with the realities of the classroom that their beliefs seem to emanate from comic books.This is a crucial time in education, and this is no time or place for pseudo-educators.You want success? Ask the most successful teachers.

Posted by Cornelius Figgyfinn to PURE Reform at March 15, 2009 12:18 AM

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Asking real teachers (the front line) to come up with suggestions and solutions is a great idea (if we listen). But a big problem is that schools have been forced to solve problems that they are ill prepared for. A child can only be taught if his other basic needs have been met. A school can teach if other institutions help with the basic needs of food, shelter, safety... A school can not be blamed for all of a child's problems which lead to a lack of learning. There has been a breakdown in an entire system of services and only the schools are being blamed. Why?

Questioner said...

Information on the Peabody tour is that the school provides free breakfast and lunch to all students; not clear if that is the case for all PPS and/or charter schools. But at some point there is a limit as to what schools can do beyond teach.

She said...

I think that was anonymous' point -- children that don't have food, enough sleep, neighborhoods that aren't safe, etc. are somehow supposed to be cured by their school. It's too much to demand that all that can be fixed in 6-7 total time hours a day, 180 days out of 365 -- or rather, it's too much to demand that you fix all of that AND also teach them!

Society and government need to step up and deal with these issues without involving (and then blaming) the schools at every step.

I would very much like to see the upper administration eat their breakfast and lunch at a high school each day. See if they feel those meals are not only sufficient calorically, but also meals that promote learning in environments that encourage a pleasant meal. After the first week, I'd even just let them eat the meals at the BOE building, but they'd need to eat just that for a month or so. I bet we'd see some changes if they knew they had to keep eating them!

One kindergarten lunch I saw (not in a PPS but a nearby district with lots of free lunch program kids) consisted of bright purple yogurt (4 oz. size container), fruit juice (apple), and a snack size (like those peanut butter and cheese cracker size) packet of graham crackers with cinnamon sugar.

Now, I understand the brain burns sugar and kids need carbs...but honestly, is that a meal designed to encourage learning?!

Questioner said...

If that type of breakfast is typical (and there are likely to be nutritional issues since the school meal program must often use excess food products purchased as part of government price supports), it goes to suggest again how difficult it is for institutions to replace family responsibilities and that these efforts should be last the last resort.

fixit said...

The points SHE SAID are valid. But what can be done when the social supports put into place (Youth Places where the Allderdice students played b-ball) are unable to combat the BIG job before them?

Questioner said...

Maybe more school-based social workers. And an evaluation of what went wrong with Youth Places and a determination of what other youth organizations may be doing correctly.

Mark Rauterkus said...

I do not think that schools are the only institution to get blame for the state of our children.

Nonetheless, the school budget is the largest local public purse.

Mark Rauterkus said...

speaking of cafeteria food, today's newspaper.

http://post-gazette.com/pg/09075/955888-298.stm

She said...

I don't know -- what other institution is blamed for the condition of children? CYS type organizations are often blamed for their results, but rarely for the problem even existing. Schools and teachers while not always blamed for the problem existing are often blamed for not solving it, even if it really has nothing to do with "book learning."

I do think that's one of several reasons why the purse got so big. Every problem that's identified (drugs, suicide prevention, poor nutrition, etc.) ends up as another program or unit in our schools. And when teaching kids about drugs (remember DARE?) doesn't seem to cure the society's problems, somehow the schools and teachers are at fault.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Our schools are open 180 days and 6-7 hours a day (as posted above). Nods.

FWIW, I've heaped a lot of 'blame' onto the County (i.e., Council / Exec Director Onorato / Parks Dept); City (Mayor, Council, Citiparks); and others (Nonprofit Parks Commission, etc.).

Some, like "Just Harvest," are trying to make Chicken Soup from Chicken Droppings. Sure.

But, the facilities are major investments and too often closed to the community.

So, schools get the brunt of the burden -- but -- they are not the only target.

Anonymous said...

I'm just trying to figure how a worthwhile posting got turned into social services and cafeteria food concerns. How ridiculous. What, don't you want to add janitorial services, too?

She said...

The point is that teachers are expected to do many, many other things than teach and they are blamed for results when many salient issues are not under their control.

Ask any (successful) teacher and they'll tell you that if they could "just" do what they are trained to do and do well, they'd be a lot more successful than they are now when they're expected to cure the ills of society along with teaching a kid to read.

Ask teachers how often they are dealing with elementary age students who are, say, yelling out over and over in a class, knocking things off tables, shoving/swearing at/grabbing things from other students etc. during instructional time.

Ask what their recourse is for this behavior -- send them to the office, to have them back in the room again within 20 minutes, call a parent during a break and hope that settles the kid down for a period or two, etc. In the first instance, that's often a black mark for the teacher -- no matter how serious the kid's problems are, if the teacher can't deal with it in a classroom setting, it's somehow their fault.

Annette Werner said...

At today's public hearing a parent made observations about this type of behavioral issue at one of Pittsburgh's K - 8 schools, explaining that disruptive students were transferring in under NCLB (she wondered if principals other schools were actually sending their problem students elsewhere when possible), and then at the new school fighting, showing no respect for teachers, etc. She was also concerned that some students were incorrectly classified as special ed, giving them protection against disciplinary measures that would otherwise apply to them.

PSCCer said...

It seems pretty hard for anyone to be incorrectly classified as special education. It is true that an IEP covers a broad range of limitiations and it is possible that reform needs to be done with degrees of need defined, but that is the job of the PDE and would also mean changes to PA School Code, right? I am just a thick-skinned parent so if there are any professionals out there willing to gently educate me, don't hesitate. I should say that I have a student with an IEP, so I am not competely clueless.

PSCCer said...

I almost forgot, the HIGH SCHOOL FUTURES program very new to PPS relies a lot on the expertise of experienced teachers. It seems like somebody will be asking successful teachers a few questions.

Questioner said...

Reportedly at some schools something like 20% of the students are classified as special ed (not gifted), so there seems to be some discretion involved.

Anonymous said...

Well, I know that in the past, people came to the city to get sp ed services for their kids, because they were better than in outlying areas. They'd send their non-sp ed kids to private schools. Schools that do well get a reputation for that and then often end up with larger numbers of whatever kinds of kids they do well with, too. Parents of all sorts of kids have always played the system!

On a different note, as more schools become magnet/specialized at 6th grade, there are going to be more kids coming out of them and returning to their default assignments...if they can't keep up their grades or if they have enough behavioral issues.

That's what I see coming down the road with high school reform. As other HSs are closed, the kids with the grades and the motivation will populate the choice/lottery schools (and City Charter) and the successful programs at bigger high schools if there aren't too many more riots.

But, if only, say 4 or maybe 5 big comprehensive high schools are left, they're going to be where all the kids rejected/ejected from the specialty programs are going to end up, too, and the fewer the schools the higher the concentration of kids who've not made it elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Also, it's not that discipline doesn't apply, it's that it has to be more clearly given, documented, etc. A lot of times that translates to it not being done, but that's not actually because of the label or the IEP.

Questioner said...

It's too bad there wasn't more discussion of the impact of themed schools on remaining comprehensive schools before the themed schools were created- perhaps this impact could have been reduced be spreading the themed schools out geographically, or by not having them stand alone.

Re: labels affecting discipline- what parents are reporting is that special ed students can for ex only be suspended for a certain number of days, so that after this maximum is reached suspension is not an option whereas a non special ed student could still be suspended.

Keith Moon said...

I think the handwriting is on the wall to a great degree. Schenley has IB students. Allderdice has the school within a school and everything is fine as long as the "twain ne'er should meet." CAPA has the artistically gifted. What you'll have left is, well, for the average kid on downward. Carrick can be called a business magnet and Brashear a computer magnet, but truth is, they will be populated by kids who'd normally go there anyway. Perry is the northside school. I'd bet that Oliver, Peabody and Westinghouse will fade away and morph into still something else. Langley--is anyone's guess.
We've come a long way since the days of Dick Wallace and Louise Brennen, and that long way has meant a great many unnecessary changes, in retrospect. To a large extent, this district has failed the city's children and families over the past two decades, and it is continuing to do so.
Someone mentioned HS Futures and to be sure, the jury is still out about what they will do. On the surface, it certainly looks like yet another outside entity being brought in---at a price.
This superintendent should look to politics, as it appears that he believes deeply in lobby groups, contractors, specialists, and consultants. He is quite adept at spending money that is not his own.

Anonymous said...

He seems to keep searching for the magic bullet- ALA's, K-8, Kaplan, this consultant, that program...

fixit said...

I feel the need to have the discussion around IEP students to be very clear. From my own observations kids end up with IEPs as the result of a parent requesting an evaluation and the process is rigorous with teachers having to respond to questions on the student and fill out multiple forms. Psychological and IQ testing done. The IEP process includes annual reviews and very specific goals. I don't know much about the discipline issues. Ms. Estomin presented to parents at an EFA last year where the topic was hot, but I can't recall where we left things. I do remember that several parents reported kids using their IEP as a shield against being disciplined. At least the kids spoken of seemed to think it was some protection and told other students that.

I have heard that many, many years ago when the entire funding for special education came from the state, there may have been kids testing into special education who could have just as easily been mainstreamed. The funding is different now and it is unlikely that gross over-identification has taken place. I would welcome any special education teacher correcting me if I have misunderstood anything.

Jed Clampett said...

fixit, while your comments are worthwhile, you strayed from the main point here, as many apparently did. It seems to say that no one knows the students' needs better than the teachers, and in this district, the teachers' viewpoints are squelched.

What a shame.

I HAVE noticed that PPS and the PFT will unveil their method for evaluating teachers in early April. Mark posted the video of Roosevelt falling all over himself to discuss teachers a month or so ago.

To Roosevelt--and apparently with John Tarka's blessing--school would be a wonderful place if it wasn't for teachers.