Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesdays with The Subversive Children's Book Club: Evolution Themes

Because far too many of our school children have to deal with ridiculous"science" lessons that actually try to undermine science, today's installment of the Subversive Children's Book Club deals with children's literature with evolution themes.  Enjoy!

Primary and Lower Elementary:

  •  One Beetle Too Many:  the extraordinary adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky
  • Our Family Tree:  An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters 
  • Little Changes by Tiffany Taylor

Upper Elementary and Teens: 

  • Monkey Town:  The Summer of The Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd
  • The Legend of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly
  • Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dangerous Cities

Wow - reports are coming out on the FBI's rankings of the most violent cities in Texas and they are right weird.  When I heard yesterday that Corpus Christi made #7 on the list, I was not very fussed initially - we are the 8th largest city in Texas, only in recent years edged out of 7th largest, so it sounds about right.

The report was not like that, though.  I would have expected the numbers to be linked to densely populated cities with their pockets of dense poverty, but not so much.

The eight largest cities (in terms of population) in Texas, from biggest to smallest, are:

Houston
San Antonio
Dallas
Austin 
Fort Worth
El Paso
Arlington
Corpus Christi.

Of that list, only Houston, ranked #3, had a higher rate of violent crime than we did here in Corpus. San Antonio was the only other city on the list of larger cities to make the top ten in violent crime, being ranked at #9.

West Texas was the worst region on the list, with little Odessa the #1 most violent city in Texas, followed by Lubbock at #2.  East Texas was not much better.  Texarkana was #4, followed by Beaumont and then Amarillo.  Victoria was #8 and Laredo was #10.  

Dallas (#17) did not make the top ten.

Austin (#21) did not make the top ten.

It is worth noting that for all the hype about border unrest, Laredo was the only border city that made the top ten - Neither McAllen (#18) nor Brownsville (#24) nor even big El Paso (#13) was one of the top ten cities in violent crime in Texas.

Interesting.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesdays with The Subversive Children's Book Club: Citizenship

This installment of the Subversive Children's Book Club is about citizenship:  books that help show our children about being active, participating citizens in our democracy.  Enjoy!

Primary and Lower Elementary:

  • Click, Clack, Moo:  Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
  • A Is For Activist by Innosanto Nagara
  • The Streets Are Free by Kurusa
  • Si, Se Puede!: Janitor Strike In L.A. by Diana Cohn
  • You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey
  • Sit-In:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
 
Upper Elementary and Teen Books:

  • The Landry News by Andrew Clements
  • The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman
  • Crash by Jerry Spinelli.
  • Standing Up to Mr. O by Claudia Mills.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

State of The Union

Not so cold anyway. Watch it and play Bingo:

Middle Class
Middle Income
Regular People
Main Street.
 

Bubble Kids: A Timely Re-Posting from Last January...All Still True, Unfortunately, And Getting Worse

Very soon it will be back to school time after winter break.  In this day and age, what that really means in Texas is "back to cramming for the STAAR tests" time. 

I'd like to share with you some things I found out in my years as a public school teacher about how that works.  You might want to get something to bite.

First of all, if you have not worked in a public school in the last decade, you would be pretty astounded at the number of staff hours that are devoted to analyzing STAAR (formerly TAKS) test data.  Regardless of whether your students are so poor and live in such a violent neighborhood that it is a first class miracle that they make it to school hungry each morning or whether your students speak English at all, or whether they will ever have the developmental ability to read a sentence - they are going to have to pass those tests or your school will be severely punished.  Poverty, societal violence, pollution, lead poisoning, head injuries - none of that matters: it is all the responsibility of the individual teacher or school.  Get with it.  The stakes are high.  If you fail, you have to spend more time and money on testing, and more and more....it can definitely get worse.  No one is taking any chances.

Each school has a testing coordinator - an assistant principal or counselor or someone -  who is in charge of testing for that year.  That person spends a whole lot of time that could be spent on disciplining or counseling students or supporting and helping teachers in their classroom goals for students instead sequestered in the Super-Secret-Sam Testing Cave That None Can Enter.  They have to do many mysterious and detail-oriented things to the coding of each student's test, etc.  I do not have a very complete idea of what all of that entails, beyond the parts that are detailed in the really long manual we all have to read, because None Can Enter.  That person tends to have a lot of stress.  And people miss them a lot.  It sure does not stop there, though.

All test administrators - teachers and everyone else who gets pulled in and all the people who have to be trained in case someone gets sick or has to go to the bathroom (bathroom procedures - a whole other post) have to attend a training.  They have to read a manual.  They have to Sign An Oath (I am not kidding) that they have done these things and will comply with All The Rules (All The Rules include word for word scripts that must be read completely accurately at perfectly timed intervals to students during testing and careful instructions on who can touch what piece of paper - again, a whole other post). 

But that is nothing.

Teachers generally get one 45-minute planning period per day in which to prepare their lessons, grade papers, etc.  Some of these are regularly sacrificed for a variety of Meetings.  These days, those meetings concern STAAR data. Teachers and counselors and administrators are expected to run detailed reports on the previous STAAR testing performance of each and every student in their class/school.  They are expected to give the students benchmark tests through which they can hopefully gauge student progress on each and every standard on the tests.  The State contracts with expensive Testing Industry Specialists who help provide templates on how exactly certain forms of past performance will predict future performance. Sometimes teachers have to get subs and take days out of teaching to further analyze this data - always teachers spend hours and hours of after-school time doing this.  These templates provide guidance for the individual plans teachers must make for each student in order to assist each student's progress toward passing the STAAR tests.  Sort of.

Teachers are not afraid of hard work, mind you.  The bad part is what teachers are forced to do with the data. 

All the number crunching comes down to the concept of Bubble Kids.  

See, the Testing Industry has it all figured out.  Some students are obviously going to pass the tests based on their past performance.  Some students - well, they pretty clearly are not going to pass (especially when their teachers and administrators are forced to spend so much time on testing preparation).  It's the other students - the ones with past performance in a certain range of scores above and below passing - those are the ones teachers are told to zone in on: The Bubble Kids. 

 See - if you spend extra time on the Bubble Kids - get them in for after school tutoring, design your classroom lessons heavy on the specific standards with which they need more help - well, you are going to get more results in terms of more kids passing than if you target your efforts equally towards them and the students who are probably going to pass without your help and the kids who probably are not going to pass no matter how much you help.

The Bubble Kids are where you get the most bang for your buck, where you can most effectively raise your school's all-important passing rates.

Teachers are firmly, firmly, firmly instructed to focus their strategies on those Bubble Kids.  

They are color-coded.  

The teachers know them all by name. 

I'm not kidding.  

This is what is going on in your kid's public school, very much against the will of the teachers and other fine folks who work there. 

See why you needed something to bite?

Feel free to talk to your legislators about testing.  Testing has, thankfully, been somewhat de-emphasized in high school since last Session, in the sense that there are fewer tests, but that does not help the elementary and middle school students at all. 

Bubble kids.  Don't forget.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Marching For the Future of Equality and Honoring Dr. King

I took my Girl Scout troop to our community's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March, which I do every year (that illness does not intervene). We really enjoy going.  I see so many fellow progressives there that I admit that there is always a part of me that wants to be running around hugging everyone and catching up as we march, but you cannot do that while minding little kids whose parents do not want them lost, so I stay put with them like a good Girl Scout Leader and remind myself that there is nothing more important I can do for the future of equality in this nation than to  teach children to care about the people of their community, to be sisters, to make the world a better place...that's what I am there for and the best way that I can honor Dr. King's memory and life on this day.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

President Tries To Improve Family Leave

The President announced last week that he is directing federal agencies to offer up to six weeks of paid leave to employees after the birth or adoption of a child.  This is part of a larger federal effort to improve family leave for American families.  The President is calling on Congress to pass a bill guaranteeing seven days per year of paid sick leave for American workers and is trying to set up a fund to help the states start their own paid parental leave programs. 

Yay, President.

Unfortunately, the Republican Congress hates mothers and children so they are not likely to go for any of this and the Texas governor also hates mothers and children and would probably not cooperate with the creation of a state program for paid leave even if the feds kicked in, so, um...I don't know how much good the plan is going to do us.

We mothers and others really need to be voting for folks who would support such policies, though, and who will take our current family leave policies out of the dark ages.  It would be so nice to have humane policies the way other developed nations do.

#Action 2015: Sustainable Development

This will be a very important year for the world, and not just because a new Star Wars film is coming out (should we be in line?).  Our world leaders will be tackling some very important issues this year and they need our help and guidance.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which have been a force for action to end poverty and improve public health across the globe, expire in 2015.  There is still much to do to meet these goals.  

What can you do to take action to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty?  To achieve universal primary education? To promote gender equality and empower women?  To reduce childhood mortality? to improve maternal health? To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases? To ensure environmental sustainability? To develop a global partnership for development?  Our work is not done.  As mothers, this work cannot be more important, both because it shapes the world our children will inherit and because it is our job to impart to our children a sense of responsibility for their brothers and sisters on this earth.  What can we do? What can we teach our children to do?

In September, world leaders will meet to develop post-MDG sustainable development goals.  They will need you input, Mamas, on what these goals will be.  We need to be working hard on the MDGs and working to shape the post-MDG sustainable development goals each day.  Let's get on it.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sisters Hand In Hand

I had a lot of conflicting obligations yesterday and I was not very pleased about it. I ended up staying in the Coastal Bend when I really wanted to be/maybe should have been somewhere else.  Last night, though, my Girl Scouts made signs for Monday's March in honor of Dr. King, and I was comforted.  "A force for desegregation" is how Dr. King described the Girl Scouts.


 



Resistance is Useless


America's College Promise

The President's America's College Promise Proposal sounds like the best idea to come along in education in ages.  It would pay for two years of community college for students who have worked hard enough in school to have a 2.5 GPA and it includes both traditional and non-traditional students, and both full-time and part-time students.

Given how completely and totally unaffordable college tuition is these days and how much more necessary it becomes on a daily basis, I think tuition at all community and state universities should be publicly funded and free to students who are willing to make the grade.  This is, at least, a start.  it might also help the cultural issue with college-bound middle class students who think they need to move out and go away to college to be successful but who can by no means afford to do that.  Our old models of the college experience are getting more and more out of sync with what students can actually manage while trying to make ends meet, but the education one gets in college is still needed to create well-informed, well-rounded citizens and the degrees are still needed so that our citizenry can make a living.

Unfortunately, the plan requires states to opt in and pay a quarter of the costs, Mamas.  I don't think Abbott is going to go for that, do you? So much for access to higher education in Texas...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesdays with The Subversive Children's Book Club: Nature & Environmental Themes

Today's installment of the Subversive Children's Book Club is about books with nature & environmental themes.  It is a little heavy on the Carl Hiaasen because he seems to lead the pack on this topic.  Enjoy!

Primary & Lower Elementary:

  • A Prayer For The Earth: The Story of Naamah, Noah’s Wife by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
  • The Big Big Sea by Martin Waddell
  • Three Days on A River In A Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams
  • Pond Year by Kathryn Lasky
  • Wangari's Trees of Peace:  A True Story of Africa by Jeannette Winter

 Upper Elementary and Teens:

  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
  • Exodus, Zenith and Aurora by Julie Bertagna
  • Flush by Carl Hiaasen
  • Girlwood by Claire Dean
  • Scat by Carl Hiaasen
  • Crash by Jerry Spinelli
  • Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
  • The Wheel on The School by Meindert DeJong
  • Owl In The Shower by Jean Craighead George
  • Skink - No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
  • The Carbon Diaries 2015 & The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

R.I.P. Linda Bridges, Hero of Texas Education

I got the sad news today that Linda Bridges has passed away.  She will be sorely missed, especially by the children of Texas whose most tireless advocate she was.  She was also my mentor, many years ago, when she took a chance on a barely twenty-three-year-old and pretty much launched my career in social work.  

She will always be my role model.  Thank you, Linda, for everything.

STAAR Requirements Oppress Teachers and Students And We Can Do Better

Corpus Christi AFT recently filed complaints against CCISD for infringing on teacher planning time in various ways and for requiring excessive paperwork in regards to lesson planning.  The district responded to the complaints, addressing each issue to explain why what is happening in Corpus schools is not a violation of the law.  I have heard these complaints before and expect that CCISD may in fact be obeying the letter of the law.  The spirit of the law, however, just gets crushed more and more each day, as do the spirits of our community's students and the teachers - especially the teachers in impoverished schools - who work tirelessly to educate our children under terrible conditions.

Allow me to be honest:  if you wanted to make education meaningless drudgery that did nothing to prepare a child to take her place as an informed and critically thinking citizen of the world, you could teach a monkey to pass the old TAKS test.  It was easy enough that students from literate, educated, privileged families - the sort that get bedtime stories and ballet classes - would pass it no matter what the teachers and schools did or did not do to prepare them (other than explaining about how to properly bubble in the answer documents).  Students with fewer advantages could be drilled endlessly and drearily and they would pass, too - schools could just shove garbage in, and kids would spill the garbage out in neat little bubbles and pass.  Of course, they would not learn about thinking or citizenship or the love of wrapping your mind around an issue and expressing yourself and exploring the expressions of others that way.  They would hate school that way.  No educator ever wanted to run her classroom that way.  But they could all pass, even the ones who come to school hungry and homeless and years behind in the vocabulary of middle class success.  If you stick your thumb on their teachers and make them do that to the kids.

Enter STAAR:  it is harder, maybe a nod that more critical thinking was needed, sure, but no nod to the fact that abstract thinking develops slowly throughout childhood and is often mostly missing until mid- to late- middle school or early high school.  No nod to the kids who come to school scared and hungry and afraid.  STAAR the privileged kids will not pass automatically.  It takes careful attention to certain parts of the curriculum to prepare even them but they mostly can be prepared with hard work.  They have a head start in the language of success.  The kids who start school without the vocabulary of bedtime stories and thousands of words spoken to them by age three and warmth and safety, though?  You are not going to be able to drill the STAAR into them.  It just is not going to happen.  That kind of abstraction is not possible for most humans when survival needs remain unmet.  Basic Maslow - read Abe's books, guys.

The corporate reformers who have shaped No Child Left Behind at the federal level and the public-education-averse types who have shaped the TEA accountability system do not bother with basic psychology and sociology and early childhood development, though - they do not want to be distracted by the facts - they want miracles.  They think if you are a good teacher, that the environment of your students should not matter.  Forget the hunger and fear and that they come to you years behind what these corporate types consider to be grade level - a good teacher should be able to make up for all of the ways that society has failed these children and get them passing that test in no time! 

These unrealistic expectations are passed down from the corporate reformers to the feds and the states to the districts. The districts then press on the principals and assistant principals who, I am very disappointed to say, seem to drink the Kool-Aid really quickly for the most part, with a very few shining exceptions.   Then school administrators oppress their teachers with lots of extra trainings that do nothing to help, endless "data" meetings, less planning time, tons of requirements and frequent walk-throughs and expect the teachers to oppress the students with endless drills and boring preparations that frankly are never going to get most of the students to pass anyway.  

These unrealistic expectations are hard enough in the schools that are populated primarily by the privileged.  I have heard even south side teachers from rich schools saying that they have about had it and are looking for other ways to make a living lately.  Teachers in rich schools have privileged students who they can get to pass but it ruins the students' educational experience to do so and they just do not want to create joyless test-taking machines - no one who goes into education wants that.  Teachers kind of love learning, you see.  It is much worse for teachers in low-income schools, the schools most likely to be on the dreaded IR list, risking being let go from their jobs over test scores while their school is re-constituted, as if the districts are going to be able to find anyone better at teaching than the dedicated professionals who spend their days nurturing the children who our society treats so shamefully.

Texas has over 7.5 billion left over from last year's budget.  Over 7.5 billion.  As the gavel falls today to mark the start of the 84th Legislature, Texas is expected to have over 18 billion in new revenue this budget cycle and the Rainy Day Fund is expected to reach over 11 billion dollars by 2017.  

We could be using this money to help the children of Texas grow into the citizens they should have the opportunity to be, rather than forcing them to be failing pawns in a ridiculous accountability system.  

We could return school funding to its pre-cut levels to start and then we could add some more funding.  We could have small classes in our low-income schools, school social workers at all of them, good food, family health clinics - we could do so, so much.  We could regulate the refineries and clean up the pollution where our children live, provide high quality daycare so their parents can work.  We could lift our children out of poverty with humane support systems, public health and real education.

Instead, we will probably keep blaming teachers for poverty and grant more corporate tax cuts.

Probably.

Unless we act.  Unless you act.

Unless you elect people who care more.  

Unless you stop electing people who just keep cutting and cutting the funding for our schools because they don't really believe in public education and democracy at all - they just want an oligarchy of people who can afford private school or to stay home and home school their kids - we, the people need not apply.

We can fix this, Mamas.

Elect people who believe in public education and who care about our children next time.  

Ahora, tell today's legislators that you stand for our children and teachers and families and that they will have to stand for children and teachers and families to get your vote.  Start today.