Desert Trails and Charters in the News Again

MG_1774-525x350I’ve heard some outrageous things about the “blossoming” Desert Trails in the news lately. I’m still waiting to see if they are all true. They brought national attention to our small desert school district last year when the parent trigger law was invoked for the first time in history. I won’t thank them for that yet. If it ends up bringing good to the school district and to public education as a whole then I will but the jury is still out. Their mvement was fueled by illogical and unfounded hatred for public school teachers and teachers’ unions. Neither are the true enemy of education. Debra Tarver introduced the nation to a new form of organizing parents through fear and lies. In doing so, she advanced her career and income. What happened? A charter took over a public school. I wrote about this about a year ago you can read that here. Basically I was interested in looking at the criteria people use in politics to judge (and prejudge) schools. Gathering data and putting a SPIN on data is a common practice in the media these days. As long as the spin mobilizes enough votes, it doesn’t matter how logical it is.

Brooke Self on Twitter: "DesertTrails Exec. Director Debra Tarver speaks to the AESD board regarding ed code violations related to tax filings from: http://ow.ly/DBoqd
Brooke Self on Twitter: “DesertTrails Exec. Director Debra Tarver speaks to the AESD board regarding ed code violations related to tax filings from: Brooke Self on Twitter

DesertTrails Exec Director Debra Tarver speaks to the Adelanto school board re: a notice of ed code violations

They cite one test and say this percentage of the kids are below grade level and another test to point out they had huge improvement. Recently Desert Trails has reported a 47% proficiency rate for their students in Science. Do they mean the whole school or just grade 5, where the test has been given as far back as 1997, when I started teaching in public schools. If it was just 5th grade, what of K-4th and 6th grade? Besides that, why are we not hearing amazing statistics in Language Arts and Math? Are these not the crux of an education? I might argue they are. In an emergency board meeting tonight I learned there have been written allegations of the school district against Desert Trails including non-filing of taxes. I must say here these are only allegations. Still, watch the news to see where these allegations go.

In the same board meeting a gentleman got up and slammed our city’s schools. He saw no glimmer of hope in them. I found it sad to listen to him. I also found it pathetic and disgusting. If only I could talk to him and explain the “union” is not the cause of his woes. Perhaps he was the most disgruntled person Debra Tarver, the Director of Desert Trails, could get to speak on behalf of the school? It sure sounded that way. I got to thinking about how they are now in a similar boat to the schools they once assaulted with the help of Parent Revolution last year. They must now answer to the umbrella district they fled from. That has to be tough for Tarver and people who follow her. I’m writing about this situation because it is close to home and because I think the charter option, good or bad, needs to be addressed by teachers. Not all charters come about this way. Schools don’t have to be ruthlessly and arguably immorally taken over to go charter. Schools can apply on their own. There is so much to be said on the Desert Trails, Parent Trigger, Charter school topic: What do you think about it? All opinions are welcome.

Priorities and Poverty

IMG_3328I watched The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete tonight and I was illuminated about some aspects of black culture along with the culture of poverty for all races. I love movies that shine a light on a world I don’t know first hand. As I watched the film, I gained empathy for some of my African American students who face similar challenges. I won’t be as hard on some students in my class who don’t perform up to my culture influenced rubrics. For some kids in poverty, we as teachers need to have different priorities. If a child is virtually raising him/herself, we should praise them for applying her/himself even in a lesser way than a child with parents. Are we preparing students for a test or for survival in the real world. I think every teacher would benefit from watching this movie. School is like a sanctuary. When you see how starved Mister becomes, you realize that it’s Summer and if he were in school, at least he would get a meal. Continue reading “Priorities and Poverty”

What Is College Prep?

Many schools claim to be college preparatory schools, but what does that title really mean? There are multiple definitions for college readiness and they all seem to work. For example, if a school follows a college-preparatory curriculum, does it automatically mean the students are ready to enter and do well in college courses? If a student attends a school that does not define itself as college prep, but the student gets high grades and does well on placement and admission tests, does that mean the student is prepared for college? Some schools such as the Landon School consider all facets of a students’ growth, including course work, character development and learning good values such as honesty and respect are what make a student ready for college.

Start Early

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit group that advocates policies to increase college level opportunities and achievement, the effort to ready a student for college is a kindergarten through twelfth grade endeavor. The discussion is also driven by statistics that show that almost three-fourths of students who enter college or other postsecondary education, do not finish.

Traditional Wisdom Questioned

In the past, it was thought that if a student passes a specific set of academic courses, they are ready to do college-level work. In some cases, this is true, and some states have modified their curriculum to reflect this for all students whether they are college-bound or not. However, research conducted by ACT Inc., the producer of one of the two major college admission examinations has found that while taking all of the recommended academic courses is beneficial, it does not necessarily ensure successfully completing a college degree. The results may show that the high school courses may not have the right level of rigor. It also shows that along with academic excellence, students need good mental practices when they leave high school and enter college, such as critical thinking and ethical living habits, which provide another example of the Landon experience.

The Value of Mentoring

When teachers connect with students on more levels than classroom teaching, the students have a better chance to develop a healthy mindset. Teachers are mentors and coaches when they help students learn beyond the classroom such as on playing fields, in art galleries and libraries and in performing arts centers and learn to understand and explore all aspects of life. Mentors have the opportunity to model the principles of teamwork, perseverance, practice and fair play.

Other Qualities

Along with academic success and good ethical standards, students also need to develop problem solving skills, analytical thinking, inquisitiveness and the willingness to accept critical feedback graciously. They should also know how to use feedback to improve themselves, but be ready to fail at times also. In the digital age, ways of thinking may be as important or more important than content knowledge according to the study Standards for Success conducted at the University of Oregon.

Students who cannot cope with college level work often take remedial courses for which they get no credit. According to research, these students are unlikely to graduate. It is no wonder that there are different opinions on what constitutes college preparedness. The views of kindergarten through twelfth grade teachers and college professors vary widely.

Common Core and Typing Skills

tumblr_mtibaspb9k1ssyq3bo1_500When I was in school, typing was not as universally required as it is today. The students of today must type in their answers to standardized tests like Common Core. As a teacher, I have to help my students type in their usernames and passwords all the time for reading and math tests as well as other learning websites they are required to use. In the case of some, it takes 20 minutes just to log in. That’s why my school site purchased a typing program for the kids. As tech, my job was to upload the student information to the game. I did so and I think using this game is going to really infuse self-assurance and speed into their typing. In turn, I hope it enables them to test more accurately. Continue reading “Common Core and Typing Skills”

Today’s Teachers Must Find Inner Strength

If you feel you can make a difference as a teacher, ignore the hue and cry of the maddening crowd and teach. It is possible and recommended by this teacher that you learn to find your stability from within.

Now well into the school year I am hearing and reading that more teachers than usual are feeling down. Teacher evaluations are in flux and they can cause some a lot of concern. This in turn can affect the quality of teaching. It’s not surprising some teachers are overwhelmed given all the changes and cuts in the profession. It is causing some college students I know to question their choice of major and profession. One teacher I read about last week quit her job. Another one I know is currently in counseling for hyper-anxiety. Yet another tells me feels depressed once in a while on her recess time after what she hears on the news and from her union.  Yet someone else I know is thinking of quitting at the end of the school year. How can effective lesson plans be made and delivered when a teacher is this down? Well, it isn’t easy but it’s possible. Education is in a state of flux right now, this makes it extra tough. We already deal with an ever-changing set of variables in our attempt to educate children. Shrinking budgets and changing parameters make our profession even harder. I have also heard that the number of students in teaching programs is extremely low.

I know college students looking at a teaching credential are asking: “Is education a good career choice?” Teaching is an age old occupation and those who seek to do it will probably always have jobs. If you are letting current events affect your career choice, you will always be on a roller coaster. On the other hand, if you feel you can make a difference, ignore the “hue and cry” and go for teaching as a career. It is possible and recommended that you learn to find your stability from within. I see more political storms ahead and it will take inner strength to do your job well.

If you set goals for yourself as a teacher, you can measure your own success. There is no longer a static road map in education. Every teacher must look within to find inspiration and guidance and then measure her/his own progress toward goals. Successful teachers can weather the storms of change but they will have to find inspiration within. There are things you can do to empower your career like meditation, journaling, getting a mentor, and more. Of course one of the best things to do would be to read this blog daily. ;) Do you believe in this profession and in the youth of today? If your answer is no … step aside. If yes, find strength from within, your students (future or present) need you more than ever.

The Parent Trigger and 2 Radical Changes I Suggest for Public Education in 2012 and Beyond

After the reckless voices have waned, people are likely to sit down and discuss real change in education. I think this change will be radical in some ways but in others it will contain common sense that has been a long time coming.

Being a teacher in my area, I’m probably a little more aware of the parent trigger law and the Hollywood movie Won’t Back Down. I’ve watched the media chaos descend into what is now the lowest grossing movie in recent memory. In other words, the movie is no crescendo for the parent trigger movement. Despite that fact, the parent trigger law will bring, and already has brought, some changes to education. I read that education degrees are less sought after than ever. After the reckless voices have waned, people are likely to sit down and discuss real change in education. I think this change will be radical in some ways but in others it will contain common sense that has been a long time coming.


The standardized test needs to go away. I think No Child Left Behind gave us teachers a clear and solid goal and encouraged us to teach to the test. We tried to include all students in this process but as you know, not every kid is a multiple choice test taking success. Like millions of teachers, I got used to this goal however and it became a lighthouse, a navigation device telling me how my kids were doing. It did not guide me to the finer arts like music and art and I had to get creative to get those taught. Furthermore, I even felt at risk of being reprimanded at times when I would incorporate these into the curriculum. Parents are realizing now that they want more than a test for their kids. I am only surprised that the parent trigger law and Parent Revolution don’t measure a school on more than just a test.

Every major news article I read on Desert Trails gives some statistic on how low the percentage is of kids who can “read and write.” Where did they glean this information? I don’t know of any test or company hired that went in to check how many kids can read and write. They are using standardized test results and changing the words from “% proficient on the CST” to “% kids that can read and write.” It’s scandalous really but I would rather look forward with new ideas for teaching than dig in the dirt with this issue. I have a feeling it is far from over. If it shifts focus in education away from the standardized test however, I will see it as having been positive. I wrote a book review on Renewal that discusses some of the possible coming trends in education. Check it out if interested, it has some very encouraging predictions.

To close for now: Student collaboration and open ended questions must be the focus. With our country’s unemployment being as high as it is, we need to foster and teach skills to our kids that will help them find jobs and do them well. The most important skill set one can bring to an interview is the ability to work with others to find productive solutions. After we get a new focus other than the test, we need to be instilling these skills into our kids. As teachers, we need to be brave and address the collaboration piece. There are many times kids can teach something indirectly through a peer group more effectively than when it comes from the teacher. The role of the teacher is to instruct and inspire but we need more now: fostering problem solving skills. The good news is, the Common Core appears to place a high priority on this … awesome! Also, watch for the advent of online teacher jobs. These should be interesting.

Infographic for the Struggle Between Adelanto Teachers and School District

Infographics are a great way people are sharing information online. Below is one I have made for the current negotiations between ADTA and AESD. In you click on the infographic you get the high res version. (ADTA board approved)
ADTAVSAESD_INFOGRAPHIC_SIZE

Readers may use this infographic to spread the word about our struggle. There is no copyright as long as you credit me or ADTAtoday.org as the author and do not modify the content with photoshop etc.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

For placement on your website here is the raw code:

<a href=”https://www.dynamitelessonplan.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ADTAVSAESD_INFOGRAPHIC_SIZE.jpg”><img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-9487″ src=”https://www.dynamitelessonplan.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ADTAVSAESD_INFOGRAPHIC_SIZE.jpg” alt=”ADTAVSAESD_INFOGRAPHIC_SIZE” width=”800″ height=”1035″ /></a>

Should You Get a Teaching Degree in this Economy?

Despite the economy, our civilization will always need intelligent and passionate individuals to teach its youth.

To those curious about a career in teaching: Being a teacher requires a certain type of personality. I think I have the teacher personality. For one thing, I am most happy in a job where I feel I am making a difference. I believe I am making a difference so therefore I enjoy teaching. I also believe the teachers around me are trying to make a difference. Are you thinking about teaching? Do you want to make a difference with your job? If so, read on.

If you are looking at a teaching career and thinking: “Wow, teaching looks secure financially, maybe I’ll go get my credential.” You’re somewhat deluded. There is talk of pulic schools as they are becoming something altogether different in the coming years. But even if it was secure, all the security in the world will not get you through. Only vision and passion can guide you through this demanding profession.

At present there are discussions going on all across our great land about how to make cuts in the classroom. The money just isn’t there any more. It is possible classes will go from 30:1 to 40 or even 50:1 some predict. The resolve of teachers now in the profession will be tested, there is no doubt about that. The people in school now to become teachers should be excited about the career but also realistic that it could years before we ever see hiring like we have seen in the past. The backlog of teachers who are out of work grows every day. These people will be needing jobs when education gets robust again. Don’t let it sway you however if you have a vision to teach. Our civilization will always need intelligent and passionate individuals to teach its youth. It may not have the best pay or conditions but teaching will always have the reward of helping children to grow.

Therein lays the secret of why to become a teacher. A visionary teacher will make it through these tough financial times by putting kids first. If you are new or old or medium or whatever, you can be an excellent teacher if you want to. To those who have the intelligence and passion, I applaud your decision to teach. Go for it.

Opting out of Testing Gaining Favor with Parents? My response

Another educator I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article on this topic. I want to thank him for posting it. Since a comment would have been too long for Facebook, this is my response:

“I think in any profession there are measures that professionals aim for. I have enjoyed the state test as a target most of my 14 year career (I say most because when I first started down in Santa Ana in 1997 it wasn’t yet such a polarized focus). Anyway, I wrote a song called “Get on Board the Standards Train” and did a countdown every year et al. It’s not such a bad thing, you can see it as a sport. When you are running your classroom with that as a corporate goal for improvement, you don’t want parents to opt out. I wouldn’t (and won’t) opt my three kids out because It’s a measurable goal we can celebrate the results of and/or use them to improve given areas. Anyway … I dig all your posts and links so keep em comin’ – just thought I’d give you a perspective where the test is kind of cool and may even be missed. Having said that, I am really looking forward to the transition into common core and the more holistic sort of assessment on a computer that will bring. I agree that the test can produce stress for some kids, that is where the teacher as coach idea comes in. The relaxation of the classroom is just as important as the rigor. A great teacher needs to work at fostering both throughout the year.”

Below is an excerpt from the article that prompted my response:

A small but growing number of local parents are deciding to have their children opt out of the state standardized tests in English and math.

Some parents say they don’t want their children subjected to the stress tied to the tests. Others say they are protesting a school climate they say has become too focused on standardized tests, at the expense of critical thinking, hands-on learning and nontested subjects — from art to social studies.

And some say they don’t believe the tests are even reliable.

“It’s all about the test scores. I’ve seen so much time and so much money spent on this. And they’re not really a valid measure of student progress,” said Chris Cerrone, a social studies teacher who kept his own third-grade daughter home from state tests last week.

via Opting out of testing gaining favor with parents – City of Buffalo – The Buffalo News.