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Labeling A School

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Labeling A School

Joe’s comment to my last post is a perfect intro as I continue the story of my metamorphosis. If any of you are of my generation and remember the cartoon Mighty Mouse, you will understand I came to my school with the Mighty Mouse attitude, “Here I come to save the day!” This created much resentment for my being there in spite of what I could bring to the school because I really did not have a clue about what it meant to work in a school labeled failure and the teachers knew it.


My first reality check came the day I had to attend a meeting of schools labeled Tier I. Previously this label had been High Priority School and before that Low Performing. When I was sitting in this room with the others from the area schools, I had several reactions. First, I was embarrassed to be there. I wanted to stand up and say, “This is my first year at this school, I did not do this!” Then I felt this great sense of frustration and I realized this how the teachers in my school have felt for so long. I do not know how they have survived. I felt ashamed of what I expected from the teachers because I do not know if I could have continued to work with this burden on me. Labeling a school as failing is devastating to one’s soul and creates such a depressed climate that I began to feel like I was drowning. I realized this is the culture the students and teachers at Brighton have worked in while trying to make significant gains in achievement. I began to understand this negative climate takes its toll on you physically as I started to have constant headaches, fever blisters, and sleepless nights. I have discovered these physical symptoms are shared by many of our faculty members. This anxiety and stress is increased by the overwhelming sense of urgency for the academic needs of the students. In my journal I wrote, “My sense of frustration and failure is killing me. It is overpowering.”


One gray morning as I was driving to work, I realized I was the only one on my side of the road everyone else was going in the opposite direction into town. I asked myself, “Am I going the wrong way?” Daily, I question myself, “Am I the right person to work at this school? Can I really help and have impact? Do I have what it takes? Can teachers who have been recognized for their work be accepted in hard to staff schools?” I do not know the answers to the questions, I just know that I want to be in this school. I want to help create a positive culture that will enable the students and teachers to overcome this label of failure. I also have learned the key to this change of climate lies within the teachers at my school, not me.

Please continue to send in your comments and questions.

32 Comments

Thank you for this posting Betsy. There are any number of things a person working in a “failing school” can do. Finger pointing, which, of course, is a major league sport in the world of education, is usually the first impulse. The next, is to raise his/her voice in protest, but NOBODY wants to hear from teachers (I dream of the day when I turn on a Meet the Press type of show dealing with education and an actual, honest-to-God, in-the-classroom, working teacher is asked to participate. In my 30 + years of teaching it has remained just a dream). So, a hard working teacher like yourself, rolls up her sleeves and wades in to do something about what she sees. This is what ought to happen and has to happen, but it is also a very dangerous time. It is at this point when the most damage can be done to the students and staff of a school.
It is at this point that “listening” becomes vital. The person who wants to get something done, listens—not to the excuses, but to the reasons, not to the whining, but to the anguish, not to the discouragements, but to the hopes. One of the first things such a person realizes is that the term “failing school” is devoid of meaning.
Schools don’t fail, they just sit there. The custodian can fail to plug a hole and remove the snakes; Suzy Miller can fail to do her homework; Mr. and Mrs. Miller can fail to check to see that it was understood and done; Mr. Bellacero can fail to explain the work sensitively, clearly and adequately; the
Principal can fail to set a problem-solving tone; the Superintendent can fail to allocate resources correctly; the Board of Education can fail to hire a veteran teacher because a new teacher is cheaper; the community can fail to pass an adequate tax bill; the state can fail to set a reasonable standardized testing policy; and
the federal government can fail to back up its mandates with sufficient funding—and the school? It continues to sit there.
The next thing that a listener realizes is that, unlike schools, bureacracies fail all the time, especially when the spotlight is elsewhere. That’s where you come in. I’m really looking forward to seeing how you and your colleagues goose the failing bureacracies into giving Brighton’s students the attention they deserve.
By the way, the more you work together with your colleagues (even the ones who disagree with you) the more you spread the sleepless nights and fever blisters around so you don't have to have them all. :)

Joe Bellacero

Dear Betsy,
Thank you for your honesty and for sharing even the "warts" of your job.

When thinking of a task of causing change in anything, I read something interesting in "Leadership" by Rudolph Guiliani. His approach to being mayor of New York City was to start with the small stuff.

At my school this year our new high school principal did the same thing: targeting tardies to school.

The results were astounding, even to the point of people realizing he cared. That's what people really want to know, want to feel, want to sense - that we in leadership really care.

Keep the blogs coming. We're pulling for you.

Cheryl Hughes

I too am a teacher in a school that is labeled as "failing". I am free to transfer to another school but I chose and continue to choose - (like most of the teachers here) to stay. I set out to make a change or do something to make the world a better place. I am now regularly faced with negative press in local papers and the label that I work at a "failing" school. I know of no other group of teachers who work so hard and are under so much pressure and stress than those in "failing" schools. Thank you for your honesty!

Betsy,
Thank you for continuing to be a voice for children in poverty, dedicated educators, struggling teachers, and determination. Thank you for going the extra mile and sparking hope and inspiration in your world and for those of us who read this blog.

I just came across it, but I plan to keep reading it, and I've forwarded the url to my daughter who is student teaching in a low-achieving classroom.

Don't be surprised to hear from me again. You will have more stories to tell about voices that need to be heard, and I would like to interview you again. Keep up the good work! (from your interviewer and an editor at Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education).

Betsy,
I have long been interested in why we freely label schools "failing" yet never dare to use this term for the communities that surround them. Isn't a school simply a reflection of the community it serves?

As a veteran teacher with experience in urban, suburban, and rural schools, I have found that the single biggest factor in a student or school's "success" is the family. Though America is reknown for its supposed upward mobility, the fact is that most of us end up pretty much like our own parents.

When I left an "urban" (another code word for "bad") school for a posh suburban one, I was shocked at the self-congratulations of the faculty there. They were really convinced that their students went on to top rung colleges simply because they were such outstanding teachers. They believed what most of American seems to believe which is that "failing" schools are not achieving the same results as suburban schools because the failing schools have failing teachers! You now know this is not true--and so do I, but NCLB is now attempting to turn this myth into fact.

It seems to me that the stress and insurmountability of poverty is the biggest factor in "bad" schools. As you mention, parents in a "good" school would have freaked out if even one snake was found in a kindergarten room. They would also freak out if their second grader could not read. And they would do something about it immediatly. But parents who live in poverty are overwhelmed by getting meals on the table, getting reliable transportation, paying for healthcare, and getting enough sleep. They themselves probably did not excel in school and may openly condemn teachers and education in general. These are not stereotypes but statistics--and they are my own experiences.

What are your thoughts about the community's responsibility?

Being upfront, honest, and truly expressing empathy and showing you care will go a long way towards improving the lives of the students you come across. I am a product of poverty and "bad" neighborhoods, but in retrospect, seeing teachers who cared (and being able to easily identify those who did not) and getting a sense of self-determination from them does make an impact, if ever so incrementally. We all are teachers (regardless of age) in unique ways. It is understanding how to learn before understanding what to learn that make the difference. Bring those Brighton parents into the fold.

Hi Betsy,

Each posting reminds me of an important lesson: none of us can be successful alone. We need to cooperate with one another, respect and value one another. As teachers, we need a leader who has a vision for directing work and setting priorities, while also listening and responding to our concerns and difficulties.

Regards,
Mike

Betsy,
I have just finished reading the book Pay It Forward. (saw the movie a while back, but as always, the book has more substance) The concept of "Paying it Forward" is that one person performs an act of good will to three other people and those three continue with three others and so on with the goal being to change to world. A human chain letter of sorts with no paying back. An ambitious goal, and often a disappointing one; but, do we not, as teachers, pay it forward each day? I believe we do and as long as we teach, we continue to pay it forward. The outcomes have the potential to change lives.

Just a short comment to say that this teacher here has done a great job with her article. but sadly enough many of our teachers face the firing squad.......parents. I am a sophmore in college have two more years before getting my degree in education and I am begin to understand why the needs for teachers are great. Why are the parents have hatred against the teachers? Aren't the teachers trying to do their jobs? or Are the teachers babysitters for the parents?

This is my first visit to your discussion Betsy and it is a tough situation to imagine. ONE I believe Joe is the real deal and WISH he was given the profile on the Meet The Press because he really does frame an argument nicely. TWO I think it is vital for you to feel that without fault being a part of anything, know that broken bureaucacies CAN be fixed, but it is with vision and incredible commitment in terms of time and energy to make them, um, work. THREE I trust you ARE in a tenuous place, at a tenuous time -- and I'll bet you can only trust the reactions and feelings of ONE group of people (and they're much younger than you). I believe your classroom kids are your best bet for changing attitudes around you.

Are the kids especially troubled too? I will sit by and listen -- and trust that your own spark for learning will somehow start a wee fire. Your kids' fire will fan your flames.

And people will notice.

Betsy,
I appreciate your thoughts. I taught for almost 30 years in inner-city schools in Mobile, AL and in Huntsville, AL. The last school I taught at was a school that was label 'caution' by the state. We had people from the State Board of Education coming to our aide and helping us to re-evaluate our teaching. I had always had challenging classes--since I was good at discipline, I always got the ones who needed a 'strong teacher'. The attitude with which you went into your meetings with is the attitude that many teachers who have taught in challenging schools have resented. Most times it is NOT the teachers in these schools that have caused the problems, but it is their lot to get the blame. I tried for 10 years to transfer to a school that was not at risk because I felt that I had earned my dues in the trenches, but finally a principal was honest enough to tell me that it was not my teaching ability or lack there-of that was keeping me in the at-risk schools, but just the fact that most of my teaching experience had been in these schools. The at-risk schools wanted to keep me there because I was effective and the other schools did not want me because I had mostly taught in the at-risk schools regardless of how successful I had been they did not think I was good enough for their school. I commend you for going to the trenches. I have long thought that if the administration thinks that it is the teachers at fault, then they need to turn the tables and place all the teachers in the high achieving schools in the at-risk schools and place all the teachers in the at-risk in the higher achieving schools. It is my hypothesis that the schools will still achieve at basically the same level. Not because some students are not able to meet higher levels of achievement but because parent involvement is a big factor in student success and the low-achieving schools just don't have it. I am not saying that all teachers in at risk schools are great teachers. I am just saying that just because a teacher teaches in a high achieving school does not make them a great teacher. A great teacher loves what she/he does regardless of the student body or where they come from. They take their students from where they are to a point that is attainable from the methods and materials that are available to them. They love the students and love what they are doing. If you do your best every day and still don't reach the mark, then it is not your fault, and NO ONE should label you or your children.

I was transferred to a low-performing high school and stayed there, voluntarily I might add, for 22 years. Those 22 years were the best years of my public school life. I learned many valuable life-changing lessons while there. One of those lessons involved seeing ALL people as valuable, as contributing members of society regardless of their socio-economic status. All it took to win over the students and their parents was to show that I cared for them (yes, even loved them). Once they knew that, they were open and willing to learn. I had planned to end my public teaching career there, but the county and city systems consolidated, and our little school ceased being a high school. What a shame for the students in that rural community in so many ways. We were family! I eventually retired from the public school system and am now an associate professor of educational leadership in a university. However, my 22 years in that so-called low-performing school shaped my life forever more--for the best. We turned out several lawyers, teachers, maybe even a doctor, at least one artist,and many business people, just to name a few. Yes, even those students labeled by some as low-performing can succeed. They just need to be given a chance and the proper encouragement.

Betsy,you are in the right place at the right time. I admire your decision and wish the best for you; from personal experience, your life will be enriched beyond all measure.

Betsy,

This blog format is an odd kind of thing. It seems nicely set up for a statement/response situation, but I'm not sure it lends itself to actual conversation. Also, I think sometimes there are things one might want to say that are not meant to be public either because they are not interesting to the general group or because they are dangerously interesting. In any case, I wanted to talk a bit about the change in your position from teacher to Curriculum Coordinator but I didn't want to do so here. Perhaps you might email me directly or give me a call so we can talk.
Related to that, are you familiar at all with the National Writing Project? If not, I think looking into the Alabama Writing Project would be beneficial for you and your colleagues. My own involvement in the NYC Writing Project has been a transformational experience. For one thing, it's an organization that is not selling anything--no packaged learning, no textbooks, no "How to Be the Greatest Teacher Ever" tapes. For another thing, it is a network of teachers teaching teachers. As a Curriculum Coordinator I am sure you would find your local Project to be an invaluable resource and I know the teachers in the Project would be pleased to learn from you.

Jo

Interesting analysis. I too believe that I have a lot to offer under the heavy cloud of accoutability with everyone around me on edge. Hang in there!! As a nurse leaving this profession to teach, I understand your apprehension. Although I lack the years of experience, my desire to go where no one wants to go is ever so strong. Personally I don't think seniority has as much to do with expertise as everyone seems to think. I must admit that I have meet veteran and novice teachers who are inspired by children. Yes! We must level the playing field, but NCLB is not the answer in totality. As a matter of fact, it is in many instances an insult to teachers who have vowed a life of poverty and at times total disrespect from parents, students and administration. But we choose to become educators for a reason. That reason is the love of children, regardless of race, color, creed, religion and so on. Those of us who truly see children for chilren without the biases of the world I commend you. You are one of those individuals. I applaud you for having the courage to leave your comfortable surroundings and venture into the unknown with what I perceive to be determination. Stay the course and rest assured that their are many teachers like yourself doing the same thing day after day, with the hope of making a difference.

I am new to this "blog" format, but delighted to read both Betsy's reflections and the responses of other teachers around the country. Joe, please make your comments public... they are of interest to all, even if blogs are not quite "conversations" as are listserves. I agree that local and national Writing Project groups are a wonderful resource! I also agree with Wendy's comment that schools are part of communities and think it's critical to reach out in a variety of ways to understand, appreciate, support and BE supported by families.

I am currently a fourth grade teacher at a small Boston Public School with a wonderful staff and, unfortunately, a dramatically changing population... we actually have MORE professional, white families now than we did when I first came here (part-time, while working on my doctorate) 10 years ago. The "achievement gap" is alive and well at my school, and something I struggle with every day... along with the stress and frustration that all teachers experience.

I (and many of my colleagues) end each day more aware of our failures than of our successes. I wonder... is this part of our nature as "caregivers" in public service, or just me? I wonder... what we can do to make schools nurturing places for kids AND adults? I wonder... how can I create balance in my own life when the work is all-consuming? I am also interested in hearing more from Betsy about the differences between being in a quasi-administrative, school-wide support position rather than in a classroom. I sometimes think that the most effective "teacher leadership" comes from modeling within our own classrooms and sharing ideas... and yet full-time classroom teaching leaves little time/energy for much else... at least this seems true for me in my 60th year!

Thanks to EdWeek, Betsy, and all respondents for the inspiration to write SOMETHING in a public forum. I wish I could find/make more time to write for local papers about our kids, the work we do, and the learning that goes on every day in every school. Teachers' (and students') voices MUST be heard!

Warmest regards, Amika :)

Assessment practices that fail people have got to stop! We are spiritual in our essence and motivation doesn't come from failure.

Why do we, the most intelligent humans produced by the cycles of evolution, fail our children? Why aren't we providing loving, nurturing environments as our first priority, and reaping the results in academic achievement as a result?

Why do we expect a human reality who walks at his own pace, who talks at his own pace, who is uniquely endowed with talents and faculties, to perform on the same test on the same day like anyone else? Who says that is 'success'???

Assessment practices that fail people have got to stop! We are spiritual in our essence and motivation doesn't come from failure.

Why do we, the most intelligent humans produced by the cycles of evolution, fail our children? Why aren't we providing loving, nurturing environments as our first priority, and reaping the results in academic achievement as a result?

Why do we expect a human reality who walks at his own pace, who talks at his own pace, who is uniquely endowed with talents and faculties, to perform on the same test on the same day like anyone else? Who says that is 'success'???

Betsy, I too have taught in an urban school and we saw huge changes with the introduction of a Character education program. A character education program could literally change your school in a very short while. We saw it happen in just 9 weeks at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Cleveland, OH.
You definitely have the passion needed to create this kind of program that will fit your school.
Remember: "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care." I don't know who said that, but it helped me so much.
You are there for a purpose.

Betsy, I applaud you in your decision to go to a school that is at-risk. I too work in a school in a suburban district in Michigan that has a large at-risk population. Joe's March 9th comment hit me like a "rock". Many of his comments are exactly what is going on in my building and district. What bothers me is that too many of us do place blame on each other, the administrator(s) and the district. What we fail to see is that we have got to stop all the madness and come together as a group and do what we love (I hope)and that is teach to the best of our abilities and stop all the negativeness. As they say misery loves company! I see too much of this in the building that I work in. It makes me sick to my stomach.

Betsy, I will continue to view your blog as the year goes on. Much success to you.

As a product of GOOD Detroit schools, and a board member of an excellent suburban public school district, I applaud your efforts. We need literally thousands of teachers like you! Perhaps you can recruit some to help; but I feel the most important thing you can do is get parents on your side, and get them active in school governance.

Might I suggest a book that seemed to me to put together all the various things that we have tried in my 30 plus years of teaching. Various things have been tried and fade away, because there is nothing to hold it all together, and individually, each of the attempts to raise achievement, in and of themselves, do not work. If there is a framework that each piece ties into, then you can start to see progress. Anne Dotson's note (above) related to character education is a piece that fits into this framework.

The book is Dr. Ruby Payne's "A Framework for Understanding Poverty." (www.ahaprocess.com)


When I read it, I had an "aha!" revelation - I recognized that the kids that we were having problems with were coming from a different set of hidden rules than those hidden rules that we have in schools. So how do we handle them? Those rules are related to economics and resources. I saw how we could start to make a difference in our interactions with students and get them to learn that choices they make can result in a positive outcome for them.

There are parts of the book that also address parents and issues related to dealing with them.

Good luck - and I hope that you can read this short but very revealing 150 page book.

I decided that I would like to try to work in a Special Ed department where they had trouble finding teachers and I could be of assistance. If you think it's bad in an underachieving school, try being in a Behavior class in a so-called good school. Every mistake that is made is yours and you are colateral damage in their attempt to get the program moved. and they wonder why it is so hard to get Special Education teachers.......

Being a teacher is the hardest job in the world and people fail to realize it. Betsy you are to be commended for taking on the task that you did. I too worked in a school that was labeled "At-Risk." All of the physical changes you experienced, I too felt. By the time I got home I was physically and mentally drained. In your journal you didn't discuss the behaviors of the children which I know also had to be an issue. I feel that many teachers need to have the experience of teaching in an underachieving school since most of us get comfortable in our schools that are successful. They need a taste of what its really like to work and give your all, when your all isn't good enough. Many teachers get set in teaching their grade levels or gifted children and don't know what's its like when little Johnny is in third grade reading on the pre-primer level and has no support at home. I really commend you on what you did so that others know its not that easy out there.

I am a first year teacher in a middle/lower middle class school. I myself attended numerous failing inner city schools, I even dropped out in high school to support myself. Despite that I went on to college, earning a B.A. and an M.A.E. both with honors. I just want to encourage you, that despite the challenges there were teachers that touched me, inspired and encouraged me. There were a few special teachers that taught to my strengths and interests, that made me feel special and smart, that made me feel a sense of possibility in the face of overwhelming poverty and parental neglect. Those teachers connected with me as a human being and as a learner, they looked past my dirty face and thrift store clothing. They gave me a vision of myself that I could look to, an alternative to the one presented in my transient communities. I don't know that those teachers even realize the positive and profound impact they had on my life. They were just great teachers doing their best in difficult circumstances. And for that I thank them, and I wish you the very best.

I am glad that Betsy is bringing attention to the experiences associated with schools and the devasting impact that a label can have. In working in a failing school, it is important to consider that there are many factors that contribute to this inability to achieve success that are outside of the school's control. It is also important to note that even though a school may be low performing, the teachers in that school expend lots of effort and most likely rise above. Also, I think that it is important to note that one teacher alone may not be able to create significant change. Howver, there is strength in numbers and if one teacher can serve as a catalyst to invoke change in school, then it can happen. There must be significant support from all educators in the building but there must also be strong support from parents and the greater community. It is imperative that the resources of the greater community, regardless of how limited they may be, be utlized to the benefit of the children. We must be careful to realize that change can be a lengthy process and may not occur overnight. I applaud Betsy for her frankness regarding this experience and admire those teachers who continue to serve their students to the best of their ability. It is important to note that even though a school may be labeled as failing, it doesn't mean the staff and students are failing. The quote "success if a journey and not a destination" would apply to this school.

Hi, Betsy, thank you so much for starting this dialogue. Thank you for the courage to go into a "low-performing" school. I have only taught in low performing schools during my 16 year teaching career, by choice. I have NBC and have won local teacher of the year recognitions, etc. I have learned one thing, labels, and calling a school failing does not help anyone, least of all the children. But quite frankly, often one feels like a failure. There are so many kids you can't reach and so much that needs to be done and no priorities in our society to do it. I hope to continue to follow your blog and the comments. It helps me sort out my sense of failure and just being overwhelmed by all that the kids need and I can't provide.

Ms. Rodgers,
It is with delight I stumbled upon your blog. I may only be a sophomore (elementary education major- IL), and have just a preclinical of experience, but I admire your strength, and the support from so many teachers that have responded with positive and encouraging feedback. I also share a common strength of Mighty Mouse- I want to save the day! I gaurantee you, I will teach in a school of need, and maybe I can't save the world, but I can definitely save my corner.

Every child deserves an exceptional teacher, and the best teachers understand this- they take the challenge, and turn it into an opportunity.

I thank you, and all of your fellow teachers, for being the leaders our field needs. It sounds like this school and its students have already gained much from your experience and ideas..I'm still a kid. Anyone who feeds me and lets me watch Multiplication Rock would definitely have my attention and respect. It sounds like you have established a successful basis here. I will definetely be reading :)

Betsy,
I am a former medical assistant who after 12yrs in doctors' offices needed a change. I had spent my last few years as an M.A. working only part-time in the office and part-time in a preschool teaching 4yr olds-were I am currently still teaching. I have found teaching to be one of the greatest blessings in my life. I decided 2 years ago to go back to school and get my B.A. in teaching.
Like you I remember the days of "Mghty Mouse" cartoons. I admit to having the "Here I come, to save the day" mentality and optimism. If everything goes as scheduled I will graduate from ASU-east in 2008.
I am encouraged to read your articles and the feedback from other readers. Although I don't know where I will end up teaching in the long run, I do know that I want to teach those children who don't have every advantage as most.
Keep up the good work and know that your task and your school will be prayed for. Only with God's grace can we truly make a difference in someone else's life.

Betsy,

I can't thank you enough for documenting your experience in this school. I appreciate the fact that you decided to do something about the problem, rather than say something about the problem.

I work in a school system that is ranked third in the state. The schools are "three star schools" which is great! However, we have two schools labeled as "schools in decline." Both are elementary schools with great reputations and good test scores. My concern is the label itself. Parents, when researching schools, see the "school in decline" label and then relate the label to the type of education their child would recieve if he/she attended that school. However, the school is a three star school! Thus, the many explanations, conversations and defending of the school's character insue. There has to be a better way of identifying/labeling schools. I hate to see a school "strapped" with a negative label when it meets and exceeds state standards.

Dear Betsy: Congratulations on choosing to teach at Brighton.

With respect to improving performance among at-risk, underachieving students, and all children, several observations, which I hope will prompt your response and thoughts on these topics.

First, the power of the school (as a team) as compared to individual teachers.

Yes, it would be wonderful to have a school of individually expert, effective teachers.

With respect to team work, one consequence of reasonably well-planned, team-based school site improvement initiatives is that student performance in subjects outside the target subject usually improves (without any direct attention).

By this I mean, successful teacher collaboration in a well-planned school-based activity to improve student performance in a single subject (e.g., identifying student learning needs in reading (literacy); planning activities to meet the identified needs; collegial curriculum redesign; team-based, mutually supportive staff development; classroom implementation with collegial observation and feedback; etc.,) usually has two results:

1. Student reading performance improves (primarily, because: there is a closer relationship between instruction and student learning needs; increased instructional consistency prevails at the school; teacher team-work; and a more focused effort among teachers); and

2. Student performance in other subjects, such as math, science, etc., also improves (when instruction time in these subjects is not decreased as a consequence of increasing it in the target area).

Why do we get improved student performance in the other areas, even areas like math and science, where improved teacher expertise in the subject and instruction is, generally, a bigger need than in reading?

My conclusion is that it results from the general benefit of working as a team; supporting each other; collaboration; building esprit de corps; etc.

I've spent 45 years as a school reformer at the federal, state (California) and local levels. A failed career when we look at current student performance levels. This leads me to the following observations.

We will not produce significantly more equity in performance or universal student proficiency (a goal I welcome) without redesigning curriculum to achieve three outcomes:

1. Every lesson unit begins at each student's individual skill, concept, vocabulary, factual and application level and is designed to build upon that beginning capability to reach the next level standard;

2. Each child receives whatever amount of instruction and practice she or he requires to achieve mastery (proficiency) in the lesson unit; and

3. We make sure that every child achieves and maintains proficiency in all essential learning capabilities. For young children this includes:

a. Academic English, the college level, concept-based language instruction and textbooks employ (most students are never exposed to or taught this language (beyond hard to understand teacher talk);

b. The conceptual and vocabulary capabilities of successful students (elements of Academic English); and

c. Learning skills and thinking skills.

Who succeeds in our schools? Three groups: first, precocious students; second, students whose natural learning pattern is closely aligned to the curriculum/instruction program; and, third, students near to this group in learning patterns/pace and whose parent(s) provide or can retain extensive support services (tutoring, etc.)

Precocious students are those who, on the natural, are early readers (pre-age 6); able to follow directions; task oriented; numbers oriented; etc. These students enjoy the advantage a higher level of beginning skill and substantially more teacher attention and affection.

Most of these students succeed and because they come from every income and racial/ethnic group they provide the example of the exception about which we too often generalize to suggest that everyone can succeed in the existing curriculum.

Second, students whose natural learning pattern/pace is reasonably well matched to the teacher's operative curriculum (or the school's curriculum in the few places where teachers have built a unified, consistent curriculum/instruction program).

Because early learning skills (age 0 to 5) are so critical to the school success of this category of students most are the children of college graduates (the children of parents with graduate degrees do even better).

Third, a student whose natural learning pattern/pace is just outside the well-matched circle of the curriculum/instruction program and for whom patents provide/retain extensive support (tutoring) services.

This said, we must recognize that nationwide (and statewide) two-thirds of students, K-12, are not proficient in the core curriculum. This includes half of the students whose parents graduated college and 90+% of students from low income families.

We need a new curriculum/instruction program that is capable of achieving universal proficiency. The existing curriculum/ instruction system was implemented 100 years ago when only 6% of student went to and graduated from high school (and college). It's not designed to achieve universal proficiency and is not capable of doing so.

Best regards, Les Birdsall

I was just reading through your Blog and find it to be so interesting. Yesterday I actually cried reading some of your comments. This one though I wanted to comment about. My school is not one of those "failing" schools. However, there is a huge push here at our site to make teachers feel as if they are failures. This of course is all related to "change". I and others at my site have gone through so much the past two years where our voices are ignored or we are told "you" are the only one who feels this way," etc. or "not everyone is like you, not everyone has the same skills as you, etc." All of this is used to put into place programs or grading procedures that do not reflect the developmental levels of our students. The needs of district members come before the learning needs of students. I have gone through the gamut of feeling I am a failure as a teacher. As a result I decided to go through National Boards simply as an affirmation of myself. Even if I do not attain that certification, I know I am a better teacher than before, and that I was and have been on the right track all of these years. These are hard times to be a teacher, and even harder times to be a student. Thanks again this blog!Patricia

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