Before I comment on what a friend—who is still in the classroom teaching—wrote in a recent e-mail about the district he/she teaches in, I want to mention my own thirty years as a teacher [1975 – 2005] as a way to establish that I know what I’m talking about.
During my early years in the classroom, many of my seventh and eighth grade students won half the poetry awards in a state-wide contest in California. The award ceremonies were held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
The poems that won came out of a workshop I developed, and that success led me to develop a short-story writing workshop where two of my eighth-grade students one-year ended up published in a special edition of a Los Angeles Times Magazine that showcased maybe twenty or thirty short stories out of more than 10,000 submitted from schools in Los Angeles County.
That was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In fact, over the years, I developed most of my own curriculum to teach English and writing that I used successfully for decades.
In the 1990s, when I taught journalism and was the advisor of a high-school newspaper—in addition to teaching four periods of English—my journalism students won national and international recognition for their work. In fact, you can read about it here. Just click on the next link to see what the Rowland Heights Highlander had to say: Extra! Nogales newspaper a five-time winner
In the late 1990’s, a vice principal told a room full of English teachers at the high school where I taught that my students outperformed—by a large margin—the students of every English teacher in the district at the same grade level when it came to writing. At another meeting, another VP would mention that my students—year after year—always showed gains, on average, on annual standardized tests.
I was a tough, no-nonsense teacher who often created his own curriculum units and that included getting ideas from other teachers who I worked with. Some of my best teaching methods were learned from other veteran teacher like my friend.
My friend, who is still teaching—with nearly 30 years of experience—is not happy with his/her school district. I’m deliberately avoiding revealing who he/she is, because I’ve seen what happens to teachers who break the omerta of an American public school district, and I have also been a victim—it shouldn’t be a secret that school districts in America hate bad press.
I’m not saying that the administrators in my friend’s school district will make his/her life miserable if they discover who he/she is but having been a teacher for thirty years, I don’t want to take any chances, because I’ve seen the lives of teachers destroyed by administrators and/or elected school board members.
Public school teachers have due process rights, but they do not have tenure.
A vice principal at the high school where I taught for sixteen of those thirty years, once told me—even with all that I had accomplished as a teacher—that because I was an outspoken critic of what I saw as poor leadership in the school district where I taught, that my name was on a black list, and she had been told to find a way to get rid of me. She didn’t do much to get rid of me and lost her job at the end of the school year.
One trick used to force teachers out of education is to assign them five-different classrooms with five-different subjects to teach. For example, instead of teaching five, tenth-grade English classes in the same room, each class would be different, so the teacher would have five different lesson plans to work on in addition to rushing to a different classroom every period.
In fact, I knew one teacher who had her teaching day split between two high schools several miles apart with a half-hour window to drive from the first high school to the second one after teaching three classes in the morning to teach two classes in the afternoon. And she was assigned to five different classrooms. That tactic worked, because she quit and left that district to find work elsewhere.
As you may see, it is a myth that public school teachers have total job protection known as tenure.
Back to my old friend who wrote in his/her email, “Regarding curriculum, I just attended a depressing workshop. The three-day workshop was about the new Common Core Standards (CCS). The first two days of the workshop were good. I learned about why the CCS was developed, and I also learned more about the CCS in the primary grade levels. It’s worthwhile to know what standards your students were exposed to earlier in their educational career.
This is an ad from the company that developed and sells Synced Solution
“However, on the third day of the workshop, I discovered that my district signed up for a software program called Synced Solution. Synced Solution maps out the daily standards for every day of the school year. Then, our teacher grade level teams mapped out the objectives for every day of the school year. Synced Solution represents the first step in lock-step teaching; moreover, my district [meaning elected school board members and district administrators] thinks it represents the Holy Grail of teaching.”
“My colleagues and I still have some control over the short stories we want to cover with our students but not when we teach them. Synced Solution even has us doing a full-day of teaching on the first day of school when I am telling my students where to sit (seating chart), taking my students on a room tour, and having them interview each other. I do class building on the first two-days of school, which this new program does not account for. Also, I cover a lot of grammar in my class, which is mostly absent from this program.”
My friend’s e-mail went on: “I feel like teaching has become ALL science-based. Education officials [elected school board members and district level administrators] forget that teaching is 50% of an art-form and 50% science. This curriculum does not allow me time to conduct classroom debates, infuse my curriculum with health science-based activities and articles, and to teach grammar in a systematic way …
“I think the Synced Solution software program would be good for a first-time teacher. New teachers could use the guidance and structure, but I resent it. I think there has to be more flexibility. For example, I think the program should say which standards should be covered on a weekly basis rather than on a daily basis.
“My district wants to script my teaching; also, my district can now see if I am covering the standards using its timeline. We will have unit tests, and there is an area in the software program that we are supposed to check off (checking off the objectives and standards).
“The other teachers and I concurred that this software program will add at least an hour to our teaching day. Instead of technology assisting us, it is making our jobs even more cumbersome. Synced Solution is very cumbersome to navigate.
Teleparent is a program that teachers want and need. Who teaches students? Who makes the most phone calls to parents?
“I would rather have my school bring back TeleParent. I don’t know if you ever had this automated phone program when you were teaching [I didn’t], but we had it for two years, and then my school took it away.
“TeleParent allowed me to contact a group of students having the same negative academic behavior.”
“For example, 20 students forget their textbook. I could just go through my class list on TeleParent and check off the names of students who forgot their textbook. Then, I could check off the reason for the phone call, Forgot textbook. Teleparent would contact my parents in their primary language (Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, etc.).
“Also, it would use a different phone number so that my students would not know it was Teleparent; this prevented students from intercepting the corrective phone calls [which some students would do—believe me]. It exponentially increased my number of parent contacts. Negative classroom behaviors changed very quickly. Teleparent could easily raise the test scores for a high school. Every time my colleagues and I want a software program that makes our job easier, the district and/or my school rejects it. We wanted Turnitin.com, but my school refused.
Another valuable tool for teachers that teachers want.
“Turnitin.com is a powerful software program that detects plagiarism in essays and also in research papers. This software program would make my job so much easier. I would not have to hunt on the Internet to locate the research that a student copied into his paper.”
My friend teaches in the Chino Valley Unified School District.
I wrote back to my friend and said what was happening in his/her school district was nothing new. During my thirty years as a classroom teacher—especially after standardized testing became one of the gods of public education in the United States—what I call magic-pill programs like this Synced Solution thing came along and always promised to revolutionize education boosting the school’s standardized test scores.
And from my thirty years of experience, I can tell you that all of the magic pill programs teachers were often forced to use failed miserably—so bad that they often caused test scores to drop instead of increase—and a few years later these costly programs would be replaced by another magic-pill program.
I worked with some excellent principals and vice principals, but I do not have much praise for administrators who worked out of the district office.
In October 2000, The Los Angeles Times ran a piece about Education’s Failed Fads. The lead paragraph says, “Misguided and bumbled attempts to fix schools are nothing new, as education historian Diane Ravitch relates in painful detail in her new book, “Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms” (Simon & Schuster, $30). I recommend that you click on the LA Times link and read about all the failed education fads to see what I’m talking about.
It is obvious to me that Synced Solution is another fad that will fail mainly because a majority of the teachers were not allowed to be part of the final decision.
For example, there was the Whole Language Approach to teaching reading in the 1980s and 1990s—that supported the idea that children can and should learn to read text in the same easy, natural way that they learn to understand speech. But in Finland “reading instruction is intense in grades 1 and 2, and is uniformly based on teaching phonemic analysis and phoneme-grapheme conversions. Source: THE GLOBALIZATION OF EDUCATIONAL FADS AND FALLACIES
It was my experience that teacher generated programs worked best the same as many of the programs I developed for the almost six-thousand students that I taught over a thirty-year period. This is what teachers in Finland do and Finland has one of the best school systems in the world.
Finland’s public schools—that include a powerful teachers union—are among the best in the world. In the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment — test scores:
Reading: Finland was in 3rd place vs. the United States at 17th
Mathematics: Finland was in 6th place vs. the United States at 31st
Science: Finland was in 2nd place vs. the United States at 23rd
Synced Solutions is nothing more than another popular, politically correct fad supported by another elected school board to be implemented by administrators with no job protection in a do-as-your-told-or-else educational environment adding another nail in America’s mediocre public-education system.
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.
His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to kill Americans.
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