San Diego – Poll Against City Control of Public Schools

San Diego is the site of ISTE's 2012 conference so I have been watching "San Diego Schools" as a Google alert.

San Diego voters were polled recently on their interest in the mayor’s office potential involvement in city schools. The results surprised me consider political and media messages about the state of education. I know that education provides a polarizing and influential position from which politicians can draw votes. Saying schools or teachers are failing I usually put up with. Students failing? I draw a line there – when politicians start discouraging our kids I worry about the message being sent to my students. Controlled for poverty (at least according to comments on Middle School Matters) our students are not failing compared to other nations. Still these political gambits have an impact.

In recent years political talk about schools, policies, and accountability drained much of my enthusiasm for discussing my job with people. Typically, due to media portrayals and rumors, friends and family ask questions that have very little to do with what I do on a day-to-day basis. Questions about good vs bad teachers and what I think of performance based compensation devolve into accusations about how I am personally responsible for the loss of jobs to some call center in another country. Only some time spent listening to Taylor Mali helps put these rants into perspective. I know family and friends mean well – it is just how distorted all the messages end up becoming and for whatever reason the positive messages end up lost.

These experiences wear you out when you just finished a long day of calling individual students in an attempt to develop a strong connect and hopefully influence higher hand in rates after teaching all day. Or worse – on a Saturday after taking your “day off” to read through the prescriptive curriculum you are required to use. (And the reason for taking the day to read through this material? because you have no time during the week and you are tired of students blaming you for all the curriculum developer’s grammatical and spelling mistakes – and also because it was written five years ago and the software for the computer science class no longer matches the tutorials).

This is why I am sure my family complains that I retreat behind my computer. Behind the safety of my screen I am unlikely to grumble angrily at them about non-education professionals interfering in my chosen career.

Not that I would ever give this up. Working with students brings the greatest joy I have ever known. I used to think that seeing students get a concept was the source of this joy. Those times seem fleeting to me. What truly makes teaching worthwhile is developing the relationship that allows everyone to learn. Creating a classroom environment – cooperatively with my students – makes me giddy. Sure there are times where there are struggles. Those struggles actually make it all the better. When everyone in the classroom feels safe enough to struggle publicly with difficult concepts or disagree with each other I just want to smile. When this occurs I feel like we have reached a zen-like state where students, the community, and teachers have unlimited potential to change the world. I think the same thing occurs with any team (work, sport, or school). When you are on an awesome team – even if you are developing something mundane – there is joy in the interaction.

Due to this the linked article I am sharing gives me hope and joy. This poll’s findings remind me that our communities still believe in education. Political wrangling aside – things are still good in our communities and education is still an awesome career.

Voters Favor Limited City Role in Schools

 

 

 

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Editing Cyberbullying Out of Our Schools

First a definition:

[notice]Cyber bullying or cyberbullying: The use of the Internet and related technologies (mobile devices ie texting) to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.[/notice]

Another definition:

[notice]Cyberbullying is when one or more people repeatedly harm, harass, intimidate, or exclude another person using technology.[/notice]

 

Why am I talking about this on Ed Thought?

Every year I am asked to do some sort of presentation on cyberbullying, the internet and safety, and other discussions for parents, students, and teachers. Each year I try to stress the importance of parental and educator involvement in, and coaching of, students in their online explorations.

Inevitably one parent or teacher stands up and announces that we should just switch it all off. Switch off the internet. Take away student’s mobile devices. Remove the tempting objects and throw them out the window. Each time I want to ask the technology defenestration (throwing things our a window but much cooler word) expert what they plan to do about the rest of the world. And I am serious. Follow my thoughts on this:

 
A student receives harassing wall posts on their Facebook page from another student. The reaction above would be to delete the Facebook account. Okay. The other student still has Facebook up and the comment likely already circulated to a portion of the student body before the account deletion occurred. Due to this the beleaguered student receives a taunting text about their Facebook account deletion. This continues until the parent or teacher removes the cell phone. Even if they took this a step further and removed the offender’s phone from their possession and somehow they were never able to obtain a replacement (and with $20 pay-as-you-go phones this is unlikely) the abuse can still continue behind the curtain of a thousand firewalls.
 

So removal of accounts and phones does not work. At least not for the persistent abuser.

 

In general – at this time I share stories of cyberbullying that horrify and draw pity. At the third story or sometimes the fourth for the emotionally stolid, someone invariably asks where the situations started, or more commonly, how it ended.

Megan Taylor Meier 1992 – 2006
Ryan Patrick Halligan 1989 – 2003
What really works to deal with cyberbullying?

Believe it or not – there is a government website with useful tips. The foremost among them – BE INVOLVED!

Check out StopBullying.gov for full details – here I am going to go over my interpretation of a school’s role in cyberbullying. Yes – they have one.

The School’s Role: and if they are not doing this they are failing.

Assess Bullying – Schools should survey students, faculty, and community member continuously on cyberbullying. The information help inform school’s of widely recognized acts of aggression and also help school authorities understand where students, faculty and community members may be “unschooled” in recognizing bullying behaviors. Informed by these surveys, administrators and counselors can help narrow the focus for school climate campaigns and staff development tremendously.

[important]One last note – these surveys fail when they are a one-shot deal. Polls on different aspects of bullying should occur frequently to stay on top of issues and to broaden awareness.[/important]

 

Involve Community, Parents, and Students – This is perhaps the hardest part of an anti-bullying campaign. The benefits are tremendous however. By involving students schools make them feel safer. Involving the community and parents extends that by helping the school with awareness of broader issues, potential resources for help, and extending the blanket of safety beyond the school grounds. As long as the participants all feel valued and productive things like a school safety committee provides a powerful ally to school principals. In fact – they tend to be the group I speak with most often.

A safety committee does not serve as a forum for specific students or their activities as this violates FERPA and other statutes and policies.

 

Rules and Policies – Rules and policies help staff and community members (including students) understand how they should treat each other. Most schools already have effectively worded policies in place such as “Be Safe, Be Respectful” and other short – easy to remember student rights. The simplicity of these statements makes them effective.

There are several additional things that can be done to extend the effectiveness of these rules. Educating staff and faculty on how to recognize and respond to violations of these rules helps. Giving students an active role in protecting and upholding these rules increases student adherence as well. The final piece that I find the most influential however is the way in which cyberbullying is reported.

There are a variety of methods but the one that I see the most often and feel is the least effective is the student complaint form. Usually this form allows students to “report” incidents “anonymously” yet these forms are typically located in the counseling center or front office – highly visible places – and the turn in is usually a person – often the same person who follows up on the reports. I would encourage schools to try an online form accessible from a computer, mobile phone, or other device. Post the QR code or shortened URL conspicuously and in areas where bullying happens more often. The chances for reporting increase both with the perceived anonymity ease of access.

 

Finally a Safe Environment and Education – Wait – A safe environment? Education? When schools block or lock down social sites and prohibit students from using them during the school day they seem to think they can also avoid teaching students about these resources. Like reading – technology literacy and even more to the point – teaching positive behavioral norms for life online is an often neglected responsibility of the school. It should be integrated into every classroom!

WAIT!!! What do you mean the school’s responsibility – integrated into every classroom?

Well – yeah. You don’t expect students to magically know how to behave online? Their parents? Who wants to lay odds on the parents knowing more about teen culture and online social media than the teens and teachers who deal with it everyday?

 

Too Simple?

Does all this seem too simple? If it does you have been overthinking it. And honestly it is not all that simple. Implementing this takes time, dedication, and involvement from many different groups and areas. Actually – defenestration seems much simpler – it just does not solve the problem.

 

 

Roosevelt High School – Building Success

A school of survivors.

In my last post I contemplated what it takes to change a school’s reputation. Since then I spent some time researching my example school – Roosevelt High School in Portland, OR – and found that they are working hard to adjust perceptions and in some cases succeeding.

Below are a few snippets from newspapers about Roosevelt High:

A dramatic turnaround at Portland’s Roosevelt High School – Oregonian

Student succeeding under pressure and difficult situation.

Roosevelt High School made its 2012 Rose Festival Court – Oregonian

Young woman inspires others with her success.

Roosevelt High troupe prepares to make school history at Oregon Thespians state conference – Oregonian

Getting their artistic, competitive, and community groove going.

So what does this get the school?

Unfortunately not a lot has changed in the greater Portland perception. Locally though – the school offers a beacon. Perhaps this is the first step towards changing a school’s reputation? I think they could use a well placed social media campaign to help illuminate the school’s successes to the rest of Portland and the state as well. They are doing amazing things on a daily basis – if only I heard about it via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+…

Portland & the Globe

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Portland, Oregon, despite the NBC drama of “Grimm” drawing attention to the cities secret society of malicious fairy tale characters, draws many young families. An abundance of parks, a great zoo, child friendly restaurants and interactive museums cause the entire city to feel like it was designed with children in mind. Nevermind the hay days of shanghaied sailors and discrimination – this city has turned this history into diverting tours led by barefoot tour guides. Add in an obsession with cleaning up trash and recycling anything that cannot be reused and I can see why families are attracted to this town.

What I wonder now – how do the educational environments (schools) reflect on the city? Portland monthly magazine posts a yearly review of school statistics which paint an overall picture of health.

There are plenty of public school options, several private schools including a couple independent schools of decent renown. The public schools have litters of charter schools and there are quite a few online options.

I wonder what makes a school a positive attribute in a community? Sellwood Middle School and Llewelyn Elementary both seem highly regarded in the neighborhood I live in. Roosevelt High School, on the other hand, gets a lot of negative attention even though from everything I have read about their programs they look like a school coming up in the world.

Perhaps I am a little too jaded by my experiences in New York but this school seems like it has the potential to grow into a jewel of effective practices. How can they get over their reputation? What needs to happen for this school to go from, “Oh keep my kids out of that school,” to community feature?

How does any school go about changing their reputation?

Questions to haunt me for the next five years as I pursue my doctorate at Portland State University.

Formative Assessment Thoughts Today

 Formative Assessments Available in the Curriculum I Am Required to Use?

Over the last few months I have been looking at how I can use the assessments developed in the online curriculum that I am required to use. Frustratingly most of the assessments ill-suit using the data to improve learning outcomes. Most of the quizzes and tests deliver a summarize evaluation with data that does not address decisions I should make about learning goals.

This is not to say the curriculum I am working with is bad. The content attempted shows exemplary value. Pedagogically the format leaves room for more engaging experiences yet still offers some level of interaction. The assessments that would better enable me to examine whether students grasp the exemplary content packaged in substandard formats provide little useable feedback. Data pulled from the daily quizzes, biweekly labs, and end of unit exams test student semantic skills rather than content understanding.

Another thing that seems out of place is the brick and mortar style of assessment and instruction in an environment where students move at their own pace. In a Traditional school the style of instruction and assessment could be used to develop interventions on a daily basis but in this situation data about student understanding of concepts can sometimes take a month to collect. Instead of providing student with immediate feedback or allowing me to spot discrepancies in content and understanding and fill the gap – the content plunges onwards and leaves students with gaps in their understanding.

What I would love is to have several months to take the current content and redesign the student user experience so that they are constantly assessed and when they miss some component of the knowledge – they have immediate feedback that loops them into further lessons on the deficit area. I try to do this on several levels by providing discussion forums for peer evaluation and by developing interactive live-labs.

The problem is that many of my student do not show up or have yet to participate in any of the live curriculum. In these cases I have no clues to their understanding except through the assessments already in the course. If I were able to invest some time into better formative assessments I think I could pick up these students. It would also refine the decisions for all students and hopefully derive improved outcomes on the summarize assessments.

Still working on it all – with high hopes too.