Category Archives: Games

What a School Could Do with $100,000 a Day…

Before morning recess on day two, the salaries and benefits for two experienced full-time teachers would be fully funded for the whole year.

That was my first thought when I read that the Washington State Supreme Court is fining the State of Washington $100,000 a day for failing to establish an acceptable plan to meet the 2018 deadline for fully funding schools. (Actual Court Order here.)

Since I’m in a financial position where a mere speeding ticket could put my family over the edge (and thus is enough motivation for me to ease up on the lead foot), the idea of a fine of $100,000 per day seems like it ought to inspire action. But will it? Continue reading

HB 2800

boxesBy Mark

I strongly believe that civil consideration of all sides of an issue are important for a literate society.

So let's take the Inslee/Dorn joint venture, House Bill 2800, which adds to RCW 28A.405.100 at section 2(f) a passage that begins on line 31 of page 3:

"Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, when relevant to the teacher and subject matter, student growth data elements must include results from federally mandated statewide student assessments."

This language is also inserted elsewhere in the document where it is relevant to define student growth.

Based on what I am reading, I hesitate to boil this issue down to a simple pro v. con. This issue, as are most, is more complicated that our society's convenient dualistic reduction.

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Inslee and Dorn: “Can,” “Must,” and “Will Not.”

George is watchingBy Mark

I'm not sure I understand. 

Did Jay Inslee travel to Washington, D.C., solely to tell Arne Duncan that our Washington will do whatever the USDE wants? And this was initially heralded as "progress"?

The Governor's office has issued this press release, which is thin on details and basically says a bill will be proposed soon by Dorn and Inslee that will include requirements for statewide assessments in 2017-18 (which I thought was already the works) and a recommendation from the TPEP steering committee (about what, it is unclear) by 2016-17. The media seems to interpret this is as a victory for "must" over "can" which, as I've already pointed out, does NOTHING to actually make our teacher evaluation system better for kids, nor does it make teachers more accountable."Must" over "can" only means we have to budget to spend more money on standardized testing instead of more money on making student learning happen. My weak metaphor, considering my goals to get healthy this year: we're buying a very, very expensive scale (and an invalid and inaccurate one at that) instead of investing in healthier lifestyle.

As of my groggy pre-workout-and-coffee reading this morning, the Dorn-Inslee bill doesn't appear to have been released for me to examine the text. If the bill holds back on changing the law, and the waiver is granted pending the TPEP steering committee recommendations in 2016-17 (a.k.a. kicking the can down the road), then I suppose I'm satisfied–I just hope the steering committee has the guts to do and say what Inslee apparently didn't. If the bill proposes the same word change as the bills that already died in the legislature, then the fight picks up again. But seriously, everyone: Stop playing games and give us the waiver. We're doing the right thing. 

With renewed focus on "can" and "must," I guess I'll repeat: Our teacher evaluation system may not be perfect (though I think the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses), but including a "must" around test scores will not hold more teachers accountable, will not impact student learning, and will not improve the profession.

Playgrounds and Education Policy

File52eec04d490efBy Mark

This story was circulating on social media recently, and despite my initial reactions, it appears to be true.

A primary school in New Zealand has changed rules around recess as a result of research conducted at local universities. The essential finding: fewer rules on the playground resulted in "a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing" (from the article linked above).

At my own son's elementary school, students are apparently not permitted to run during recess. That's right, no running during outdoor recess. Only brisk walking. And forget about tag, let alone touch football. I am not an elementary school teacher or staff member, so sure I can sit over here and judge, but the findings from this (albeit small) research project where children were allowed to be children during recess seems to me yet another indicator of how our drive to protect children from harm actually harms them more than the bumps, bruises and grass-stained knees we want to spare.

Sadly, this article above also makes this statement:

[M]any American school administrators do not feel they have the freedom to eliminate playtime rules the way Swanson [the primary school in New Zealand] did. And they certainly don’t see it as a zero-cost game. Parents drive our nation’s tendency toward more restrictive playground rules because parents are the ones who sue schools when their children get hurt.

It is all very interesting to me both as a parent and as an educator.

I wonder: what if a whole education system had no externally ascribed rules? Would the flaws we are trying to eliminate with laws, rules, and policies diminish (and achievement increase) as analogous to the positive changes witnessed on that playground in New Zealand? 


File5561335491384By Mark

Of my seniors, some may graduate, some may become a statistic.

Of the total FTE in my building, some may have jobs next year, some may be RIF'd.

Of the courses on the master schedule, some classes may be scratched, some may be cobbled together.

I may decide to stay in the classroom. So much depends.

All of these this-or-thats will be decided in May. How appropriate.

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When I’m Happiest

File5971332208838By Mark

Everyone has probably heard about, or actually read, the New York Times website article that discussed the supposed downward spiral of teacher morale. It highlighted how teachers working in struggling schools had the lowest morale, and the teachers with greater satisfaction tended to have "more opportunities for professional development, more time to prepare their lessons and greater parental involvement in their schools."

Travis recently shared his one cent about how morale can easily crumble in our present atmosphere. Tamara shared some thought provoking questions, too. And Tom found himself indigo and then entered stage five.  

In my meetings and phone calls and emails and faxes (yep, faxes) with legislators the last few weeks, I've found myself repeating the phrase that I feel like I have "a target on my back and the blame for all society's ills on my shoulders." In quiet moments in the car or after my kids are in bed, I too have thought about what other jobs I could apply for.

But the next day, I walk into my classroom, close the door on it all, turn to face them and breathe a sigh of relief.

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The Four Point Scale…. again.

Elephant-clockBy Mark

I sat at a table with two other teachers, two building administrators, and the top two admin from the district office. We'd spent the better part of an hour sorting through the assessment rubrics and frameworks associated with the new teacher evaluation system mandated through legislative action in Senate Bill 6696

Silence settled on us all at once. The weight of what we were examining suddenly became overwhelming. 

Like so many things in education, the ideas and philosophies behind this new evaluation system (in brief: a shift from the binary satisfactory/unsatisfactory on a menu of teacher behaviors to a four-point continuum of evaluation using as many as sixty individual descriptors of teacher practice) we could all agree were sound, necessary, and powerful both in terms of evaluation and potential professional development.

But as we began to picture how it all could transition from philosophy to action, the beast began to be revealed.

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Tech Guru, Tech Skeptic

Ibm_pc-jr  By Mark

I've inadvertently, and inexplicably, become a guru of sorts. I sometimes feel like I barely have myself figured out–but nonetheless, my willingness to experiment with technology and use it in my instruction has led other to seek me out for advice. The dirty little secret? Most the time those confident answers I offer are simply my willingness to offer conjecture and speak it with authority–I have no special training to back it up other than the time I spend on my own just playing with these "cool toys." 

The dirtier little secret? When it comes to incorporating technology into the classroom, I may be computer savvy and a digital native, but more than that I'm a technology skeptic.

Too often, when I see technology for the classroom, I only see ways to go the long way about accomplishing a goal which could have reasonably been accomplished "the old-fashioned way." (Full disclosure: I'm a 31-year-old education blogger who came of age with the internet…so I may be entering my curmudgeonly years a little early.)  

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The Inevitable Cuts

G4ZHay  By Mark

So let's face reality. Something's got to give. 'Tis the season of budget cuts.

We can rail all we want against the flawed system of funding for public education–we can complain about cutting this and that and those as well–but there comes a point that tough decisions must be made.

I recall last year Washington Governor Christine Gregoire posted a website with the bold challenge "You Balance the Budget," where she openly shared the state's budget and the state's needs and challenged the taxpayers to find a solution. I don't have that audacious a charge, but I do have a question:

Since we have to cut somewhere, let's be solution-oriented: What can schools afford to cut?

Go ahead and say "nothing," and then rejoin us in the real world. Since sacrifices must be made, let's line up the lambs. What do you suggest should be first to go when it is time for schools to cut spending? How do you suggest that schools prioritize what stays, what goes, what is sustained and what is starved?

The Reason I Didn’t “Fix” Your Child

U30451904 By Mark

It was at a intervention meeting, where her child's teachers (including me) and the grade-level counselor had gathered to strategize how better serve her child, that she said to me from across the table:

"You didn't do your job. You were supposed to fix my child. Why didn't you fix him?"

She said it with steel in her eyes and barbs in her voice. She was simmering near her boiling point and I started wondering if anyone else in the room knew the extension to reach the school resource officer.

Everyone was flabbergasted. She went on about how at the summer orientation I talked about all the things I do in class to help struggling students: extra support to break down complex tasks, face-to-face writing conferences, online resources, peer support, modified texts…the list went on. In truth, I had done all those things for her son. I had offered these to her child, yet her child still was failing.

Isn't it always the case that we think of the right thing to say well after the moment has passed? That moment passed six years ago, but here goes:

"Ma'am, I'd be more than happy to share with you the reason I didn't fix your child…

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