updates for 09.28.2011
This is a continuation of my last post which you can read here. In my last post I argued that there is almost no correlation between the progress ranks from one year to the next that New York City uses to calculate the report card grades that are then used to shut down schools. One commenter noted that when you make a graph of the progress scores from 2010 to 2011 rather than the ranks, there does appear to be a correlation. I'd like to address that here and add some more analysis of the data in this context. The commenter says that the city uses the scores and not the ranks to decide which schools to close so it is not appropriate to look at the change in ranks. I think that the unstable ranks actually are the more relevant stat since the number of 'F' schools is based not on an absolute scale of what progress should be, but on the preordained decision that the bottom 5% of the schools are going to get 'F's. Still, the commenter makes a valid point, though one that I don't think will weaken my argument, and actually one that will enable me to find some more weaknesses in the reformers plan. I did make a graph of the progress scores (it is ranked out of 60) comparing 2010 to 2011 scores. As you will see in the graph below, these do correlate a lot more than the ranks. It still looks a lot like a blob of random points, but one that looks a bit like an upward sloping line. If you like this graph better, it proves that there is some stability in the metric from one year to the next. I still don't think that the metric actually measures anything important so it doesn't matter to me that it might be somewhat stable. Looking at this got me thinking about what sorts of conclusions I could make about the progress reports data if I suspend disbelief and pretend that I believe that they are reliable. Reformers might criticize me here saying that if I don't believe in these metrics aren't I a hypocrite to use them to prove other points. I don't see it that way. I see it like the way Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial used The Bible in his famous cross examination. It is great to show how even under their own concocted metrics the reformers still aren't able to cover up what little progress they are making. So under the assumption that this progress metric was good, I looked through the database and found that out of 1108 schools, 67 were charters and 1041 were non-charters. In the student progress category, which accounts for 60% of the report card score, I found that there were exactly 86 F's in this category. Looking closer, I saw that 9 of those Fs went to charters and 77 went to non-charters. This means that 9 out of 67 charters got Fs in this category, or 13% while 77 out of 1041 non-charters got Fs, or 7%. So my first conclusion using this metric as The Bible is that if you go to a charter school in New York City you are twice as likely to get a school that has an F in progress than if you go to a non-charter school. If we include Ds also, there were 175 schools that got either Ds or Fs. 15 out of the 67 charters got Ds or Fs, which is 22% while 160 out of 1041 non-charters got Ds or Fs, which is 15%. So, even by the reformers own metric, a student would have a better chance of making progress at a non-charter school than at a charter school. The next thing I studied was inspired by something I noticed in the progress report for one charter. I saw that their math progress score was significantly higher than their ELA progress score. I'm a math teacher and I love math, but I think that it is definitely over-emphasized in its importance in this standardized testing age. Reading is a much more important skill to develop. But if a school wants to maximize their test scores, they can focus on the math which is easier to test prep for. So what I did was sort the list by the difference between the math and ELA scores. Out of 1108 schools there were only 126 schools whose math progress score was ten points or higher than their ELA progress score. Of those 126 schools, 28 were charters and 98 were non-charters. So 28 out of 67 or 42% of the charters had significantly higher math scores while only 98 out of 1041 or 9% of the non-charter schools did this. On the other end of the spectrum, only 2 of the 67 charters had significantly higher ELA than math scores. This is evidence of the type of intensive (and often mindless) math test prep that happens in some schools. You can see these charter outliers on the bottom right of the blob.
Wish I could add more background, but I'm just going to put three mini-posts in one. Day of the Funeral Today was our dean of students' funeral, at 10am. To accommodate all the teachers that wanted/needed to go from our school, we put the entire student body in the gym to watch a movie during the service. The movie was Toy Story, projected onto long pieces of white banner (I call it butcher!) paper taped between two volleyball poles. Interesting, and hard to see. I expected something along those lines, and expected my students to be miserably bored, so I made a point to let them bring paper, pens, and silent reading books in case they were disinterested. This proved to be mostly effective. After the movie, we were left with 25 minutes to kill and only two sixth grade teachers to supervise all 120 students. Ms. Reading Teacher and I were nervous about what to do with them for that much time, without chaos breaking out. I kept thinking about how our kids didn't have any time to process or talk about our dean's death, so we improved. Earlier in the day, one of my students said we should make a banner for Mr. Dean, to say we love and will miss him. Ms. Reading teacher and I collected a long piece of banner paper, about 15 markers, and gave instructions. Super last minute, I told the students the next 20 minutes were for them to be very mature (buzzword), and to act like seventh graders. This was their time to sit and think and remember Mr. Dean, to remember the impact he had on their lives and Dumas, and to silently say their goodbye and thank you. Then, in groups, they came down to write messages and sign the banner, which we'll hang in the gym for everyone to see tomorrow. When this idea was explained, I had no idea how the kids would respond. They tend to get into an uproar when sitting in the gym for five minutes, let alone 20. They also are on the boarder when it comes to dealing with death. Some understand it, and some don't. (Hell, do I even understand or deal with death?) But the response was gorgeous. The students were serious and considerate. The students who had been put on the wall during the movie for bad behavior kept asking to make sure they would be allowed to sign the banner, too. I felt proud that they understood the gravity of the situation, and that they had enough respect for Mr. Dean to behave during the activity. I'm also glad we'll have a physical reminder of his presence for the next few weeks. Football Tonight, after an amazing ICE group in Pine Bluff (LOVE ICERS!), I went to the last 14 minutes of my kids' pee-wee football game. I spent the entire time talking to a man sitting two rows in front of me, who is the great-uncle of a student I had last year. It was an awesome conversation. He talked about the decline of our population here, and how the demographics have changed. He told me about earning his GED three years ago, and was proud and excited enough to pull out his wallet-sized diploma to show me. He explained the test and the classes he had to take, and how hard some of the material was. I really, really enjoyed talking with him. Good Things There are so, so many of them. I try to make a point to remind myself daily how much I love my life as it is right now. I am so blessed/lucky/overjoyed to know how many people in my life love me, to know I am a capable human and teacher, to know I have the ability to improve lives, to interact with 120 beautiful smart students every day. It's easy to get stuck in the mundane-- but just tonight I was talking to Ben about how strange it's going to be next year. No matter who stays or leaves, there is no way this dynamic will exist as it does now. I want to savor every last second in this house, in my school, with the people I love and respect and admire. It's the most cliche and horrible thing to say, but I definitely know from personal experience that all these things just don't last. Gotta love em while we can. <3
Today I reinvested my students in their classroom shared vision. I did this for my "3rd grade homeroom," Level 4/5 Math and Level 4/5 Communication Arts. I enjoyed spending the whole day listening to my students nominate their fellow "good" classmates and having them share out why their classmates are labeled "good students." I hope this is the beginning of building more positive culture in my classroom. We also now have assigned line spots. Maybe this week will get better.
"Be not the slave of your own past -- plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience, that shall explain and overlook the old." -Emerson
The first-year science teacher on my team is having a really difficult time, just as I was this time last year. I stopped by her classroom after-school today to try and offer some suggestions and support. Sadly, for every idea I gave her about behavior management, she provided two reasons as to why that idea would not work. She mentioned mumbling the words "I hate this school" under her breath in front of the kids and also requesting a transfer to a difference school. After reflecting on the discussion some, I realized how much teaching is like a "create your own adventure" or "choose your own ending" comic book. You can stay after-school for an hour with your worst three kids in detention, or you can spend that same amount of time preparing your 30 best kids for a high-school entrance exam. You can call 5 parents in a half-hour and explain how their children chew on gummy bears in class and then throw them to stick to the ceiling (true story), or you can call 20 parents and rave about their child's respectful behavior and hard work. The choice is yours-- focus on the positive or focus on the negative. Having said that, I recognize that it is impossible to focus on the positive all the time. In reality, there are challenges everyday that must be dealt with day after day. Furthermore, focusing on the positive may actually not improve your classroom management-- there is no magic trick-- but I can say for a fact that it will help you maintain your sanity and motivation. If you spend all your energy on the kids that rip up the worksheet you made or break the scissors you bought with your own money, you will not last through the year. You won't want to do anything for the kids because you'll feel they don't deserve it. You'll want to quit, to give up, to say it's not worth it. Instead, my advice to any teacher struggling with behavior right now is to step back and find the kids (even if it's just one) in each class that do exactly what they are supposed to do every single day and are always respectful. I guarantee there's at least one. Make those kids be the ones you work for.
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