Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Zero stakes.

So I just read this article on the SF Gate about SF and Oakland losing out on federal funds because their unions refused to sign on to the strings attached--evaluating teachers based on student test scores. The virulent rhetoric being directed at teachers as a response to the article belies the actual reason teachers objected to those terms.

What is objectionable to teachers is adding stakes to a test for teachers and schools when the test has no stakes for the students. The CST does not affect student grades. The CST does not affect a student's chance to graduate. The CST does not affect a student's college application. In other words, students have no motivation for doing their best on the CST, despite school efforts to inspire them to do so in an attempt to raise scores.

I am a teacher, and my CST scores were the highest for my grade level subject matter at my site. That said, two of my classes vastly outperformed the other two, leaving me with an impressive average but really showing the luck of the draw of it all. I taught the same content, using the same strategies, and yet two classes were full of high performers and two were full of low performers. 

In an effort, however, to motivate students, we spent a lot of time talking about past CST scores and plans of attack for the test. When asked, on a scale of 1-10, how hard they had tried on the previous year's test, none of them gave scores above 7. And why should they? Zero stakes. 

Instead, we have a test for graduation (the CASHEE) and two tests for college (the SAT and ACT). Students try for those tests because they have motivation. They want to graduate. They want to go to college (at least some do.)

We need a single test. One test that determines graduation, college entrance, and student performance on the standards. Perhaps then, when there are SHARED STAKES, teachers will feel more comfortable having meaningful conversations around test data. Until that time, the answer is emphatically no.

In no other business model do we evaluate employees the way we evaluate teachers. When a manager is held accountable for sales results, the sales team has a stake. When a coach is held accountable for games, the players have a stake. We need to create a stake for the students.

That said, you might think: Well the money is the stake. But it's not. Not for the students. Because the students aren't being asked to sign on. The students' scores aren't a part of the conversation. The students aren't a part of the conversation.

Fix the conversation. Then we can talk. Fix the agreement. Then we can agree. 

Last comment. Despite monstrous cuts, our school's API score went up 14 points. Imagine what we could have done with more support. Not just in funds, but in faith from our community. This anti-union sentiment is still anti-teacher sentiment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On my honor...

On honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physical strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

I don't know how many times I repeated those words in my youth. Enough to remember them some fourteen years or so after my decision to part with the Boy Scouts once and for all. I wasn't kicked out, and I doubt I would have been by the troop I was in, but I would have been kicked out by the institution of scouting for being gay--a policy they recently chose to affirm. I wasn't surprised by this decision, and I normally wouldn't give it a second thought, but I'm buying a house (hopefully) and might be moving in about three weeks, so I've been making preparations. Just now, I found my old Scout uniforms, including badges I'd earned from years of Scouting from Cub Scouts in Texas and into Boy Scouts in Oregon and California. Badges from a plethora of Scouting events, massive summer camps with hundreds if not thousands of my fellow scouts from across the nation. And I held these things in my hands and thought, should I throw them all away?

Even though I left the Scouts of my own accord, I left in no small part because of this very issue. At the time I was thinking only of my reasons, cognizant of the fact that I did not want to be a part of an institution that wanted no part of me, and yet holding these relics I feel that I lost so much more than my opportunity to become an Eagle Scout (I quit a rank shy.) I feel that the Scouts with their discriminatory policy have robbed me of so much of my childhood, tainted my memories of my own experiences by making me feel unwelcome in my own past.

Both my parents were very involved in Scouting. My mother was a wonderful den leader in Cub Scouts, my father was born to be a Scout Leader. They took my brother and me to countless meetings, camped with us in the best and worst of conditions. (One time a tornado touched down near our campground and instead of trying to pack up the gear and head out in the middle of the storm, my parents simply put on a pot of coffee.) Even when my dad had to travel for business, my mother was just as much of a wilderness survival parent as a boy could hope for. She braved sub-freezing temperatures with us while snow camping, and was never short on great ideas for Scouting arts and crafts.

To throw away these items feels like throwing away memories. Throwing away the love and support of my parents. Throwing away my childhood. And yet, to keep them is a reminder of the fact that somewhere, behind closed doors, a secret panel of men feel that homosexuality is so dangerous that I should have had no part in these memories, no part in my own childhood, no part in that love and support of my parents. I should have been left out. Is that what it means to be morally straight? Is it morally straight to deprive a boy of his childhood? Is it morally straight to so thoroughly taint a man's memories?

I have always tried to help other people throughout my life. I became a teacher, I would say my life is mostly about helping others right now. Even outside of my career I try and do what I can when I can. I might not be a religious man, but I think I'm square with God, and I might not be a soldier, but I think in my line of work I have serving my country covered. I should perhaps hit the gym a bit more to accomplish that physical strength, but I certainly have strength where and when it counts. It seems I've lived my life by this oath, Scout or no. I said it so many times and I never thought about it or the deep reaching implications of the Scout's position against me and my people because there is one thing I am now that I was not then--mentally awake. My mind's eye is wide open to the deep reaching hypocrisy that is the Scouting organization. They would turn away good people like me and my family simply over the minor detail of personal relationships. Is that morally straight?

Scouts provides this platform for families to raise their kids. It's all about family, community, trust, dedication, wisdom, courage, and so many other traits. They build it all up and then in one sweeping motion tear it all down. The worst part is you don't even think about sexuality until you start to come of that age. So you wind up with an entire childhood, years of memories, years of physical reminders, and then you find out that you weren't supposed to be a part of any of it. Somehow that realization, now that I am fully mentally awake, is the hardest part.

So here I sit, typing instead of disposing. Thinking, remembering, feeling far too many feelings for a Thursday night. To throw away or not to throw away? And if I don't throw them away? What do I do with them?