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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Testing Patience and Understanding

Testing, and the subsequent scoring process, yield important information to teachers. The potential use of feedback for those involved in the teaching and learning dynamic can stimulate corresponding adjustments that can leverage success in future tasks. I understand the benefits and agree with the concept. However, with that said, like most anything else, it should be performed in moderation, not just in terms of frequency, but also in terms of emphasis.

It is difficult to justify to participants, in small desks and large, that the investment in precious resources of time and money is worth the possible outcomes of the high stakes assessments emerging out of the expansive Common Core tests. If any school calculated the amount of time teachers spend outside of their classrooms on staff development activities, conferences, scoring workshops, plus the class time devoted to test administration, it would total a cost that is taxing, even in times of a healthy economy and certainly stressful in a difficult economy. Add the cost of substitutes to cover classes for teachers involved in Common Core related tasks and the concern grows more. No matter how effective the substitute teacher is, it's still someone who finds her/himself in a classroom with far less understanding of the unique needs of individuals and less than a firm grasp on the scope and sequence of the curriculum. This last point exacts an instructional cost that must be factored in to any equation measuring the price of the latest educational reform.

Speaking of reform efforts. Here's an interesting article that draws the reader's attention, particularly those concerned parents with a lot at stake in the Common Core wave via their children but rendered to the sidelines by lacking the perspective on significant actors in the drama who deftly impact the play from behind the scenes. The piece refers to "corporate reform."

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Glimpse of the News

Each school day I receive a list of education related stories from throughout New York via the New York State School Boards Association. Here's a snapshot of education articles extracted from a single day. It should offer you a flavor of issues that are impacting public school education. The first seven articles refer to the state mandated assessments that were administered this week. The final article at the bottom of the collection discusses the fiscal peril facing rural school districts in northern New York.
These are not the best of times in public school education...

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Syracuse Post Standard
Pencils down! Central New York parents tell schools their children won't take state tests
Albany Times Union
New York Times (Paid Subscription May be Required)
Long Island inquiry includes claim of altered high school exam score
New York Daily News
New York Post
Kingston Daily Freeman
Watertown Daily Times
Future of north country public schools focus of SLU symposium

Monday, April 8, 2013

Poor Sports

Let me preface my remarks this evening with a qualifier.

I really enjoy sports, as both a participant and a spectator. I earned varsity letters in three different high school sports and went on to play soccer in college. My son and daughter both competed in intercollegiate athletics as well. One of my sisters has twice been selected as the top high school Track coach in the United States while leading teams to twenty state championships in cross country.

With that as a backdrop, I want to question the perspective of sports in our society.

Despite being a life-long loyal fan of the Detroit Tigers, I had to wonder about the juxtaposition of the news that their star pitcher, Justin Verlander, had signed a contract extension that will net him over 200 million dollars at a time when our school district approaches the final and anxious phase of earning enough public support to approve an annual operating budget of just under 7 million dollars. Put in another way, our public school system could nurture the dreams and sustain the hope of our 320 learners for over two decades (even accounting for inflation over that span of time) with the money that Verlander will receive over the life of his contract. Shortly thereafter, the San Francisco Giants signed all-star catcher Buster Posey for 189 million dollars. It's mind boggling and it will likely continue as teams exert their resources in the quest for championships.

Why am I ranting? Not just because of the extraordinarily large and obscene contracts provided to athletes, not just because in too many public school districts sports remains immune from the same financial threats that have pinched academics, and not just because the heritage and tradition of sports (and their mascots) have interrupted attempts of school districts seeking to avoid fiscal fatalities through merging systems, but, because the latest scandal and cover-up of a large Division I sports program has highlighted the wavering and situational ethics that misguides amateur athletics in college.

Although credible film and print journalists have indicated that the officials of Rutgers University (the flagship of the state university system in New Jersey) had reviewed the film clips of their men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, verbally and physically assaulting players in practice in December, they did not act to fire him until they were shamed when the video was aired on national sports channels. The athletic director of Rutgers has resigned, and he will receive over a million dollars in a pay-out - how long will you have to work to earn a million dollars?). The legal counsel representing the university in the process after the film was first reviewed by college staff in December also resigned. There is an ongoing investigation into the manner in which the attempted cover up incident was handled at Rutgers.

This incident occurs while the terrible experience at Penn State University still lingers over the college sports landscape. You will likely recall that an assistant football coach of the mighty Nittany Lions, serving on the staff of the legendary head coach Joe Paterno, was found guilty of a number of charges involving inappropriate sexual relationships with boys. As the story unfolded, it was revealed that there were apparently a number of Penn State staff members (including Paterno) who were alerted to the allegations, with rather strong evidence, but did not initiate the proper authorities. It seemed that the need to protect the famous football program (and maybe the revenue it attracted) overwhelmed the need to exercise moral courage and address the issue and prevent additional boys from being victimized.

The Penn State fiasco was followed by the "confession" of seven time Tour de France champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong in which he finally admitted what had long been suspected - he used performance enhancing drugs to ride to victory after victory.

The list of such moral losses could go on and on.

When will it stop? What will we learn from these incidents? What can be done to refocus attention on the integrity of sports and the benefits that can accrue from competition, the collaborative team efforts, the goal orientation, and commitment, and many other positive attributes of sports?

One of my favorite quotes regarding athletics comes from John Wooden, legendary basketball coach of UCLA, (the University of California at Los Angeles):

"Sports don't build character, they reveal character."