Tag Archives: education

We Are People, Not Test Scores

Lots of schools in Oregon are having parent-teacher conferences right now. If you’re a parent, you may be asked to sign a form that authorizes your student to take each OAKS test twice. That’s twice for reading, twice for math, and if your child is in 5th, 8th, or high school, possibly twice for science, at 60-75 minutes per test, or 4-7 hours altogether. Possibly longer. Many kids who have the hardest time with the tests take even longer.

You don’t have to sign that form. In Oregon, the school can’t test your student a second time unless you consent. And you don’t have to consent. We didn’t.

In fact, you can opt out of the testing entirely if you want to. In Oregon, this has to be based on either disability or religious belief, and no one is going to give you a religious test. “Judge not lest ye be judged” might  be one belief, for example.

We haven’t decided whether to opt our kids out entirely. There are reasons for doing this; they may be personal (I don’t want my kid under that kind of pressure) or they can be a form of protest (see the Why Opt Out? list down past the images on this page). My initial feeling is that I don’t really mind a one and done standardized test to  show how my kid is doing, and how the kids in that particular school are doing. But I think repeated testing  just encourages an emphasis on coaching kids for the test rather than on real learning, and I think it wastes time that could be spent on real learning.

So, unless we change our minds between now and then, our kids will take the first round of OAKS tests and be done.

The Purpose of Education

My husband keeps asking “what is the purpose of education,” because he is disgusted with the state of education in the United States and thinks the entire system needs to be rebooted.

I’m heavily involved in the system, so I tend to be slightly defensive about this, although I agree that the system needs change, and a reboot might just be the way to go. I’m an instructional assistant/technology support specialist in a K-5 elementary school, plus I’m partially homeschooling my middle-schooler. I’m a union member, a Parent-Teacher Organization secretary and a sometime-attender of school board meetings. And I’m an all-around rabble-rousing type.

Anyway, I do think this is an excellent question, and one I’ve asked myself before while homeschooling, so I thought I’d try to answer it.

I think education has more than one purpose. At a basic level, students do need to learn reading, writing and arithmetic just to get by in the world today. But most students have reached at least a life-skills level of these subjects by the time they leave elementary school. So why continue education beyond that?

One additional purpose is for job training. We want people to be able to get living wage jobs as adults. So education is supposed to teach additional skills toward this goal. It’s become less common, however, for students to leave high school with such skills. We expect students to attend college or vocational schools in order to succeed. We tell them that EVERYONE should go to college.

Another purpose, and one that’s a priority for me, is teaching critical thinking skills. Students need to know how to solve problems, and how to find answers. We need scientists who can figure out how to deal with climate change, and how to get people to Mars. We need writers, musicians and artists who are truly creative. We need people who can figure out the best ways to grow, process and sell food at the local level.

And our founding fathers thought a well-informed and educated populace was essential to democracy (check out this summary of Jefferson’s views). I agree. People need to be able to evaluate what they see on TV and the internet, rather than just believing whatever a favorite talk show personality says. People need to think about those emails before forwarding them. And I think this is something that is sorely lacking.

So as a homeschooling mom, I focus more on critical thinking and problem solving skills than on specific content. The content is out there. It’s available in books and on the internet and in the people we encounter every day. It’s knowing what to do with that content, and how to find what you need, that is important.

My husband thinks that there should be more emphasis on vocational training and apprenticeships for students who would profit from that. We shouldn’t TRACK students, by any means. We have no business saying “you’re not college material, you should take auto shop,” which is what has happened in the past. But for students who are mechanically-minded and WANT this training? Why not?

What do you think? What would you do if you could reboot education in the United States, or wherever you are?



A New School Year

Tomorrow’s the first day of school, but no one here is particularly excited. Well, maybe our second-grader is. She’s excited about being in a class with her friend, and she’s excited that another friend is starting kindergarten this year, so they will be at the same school.

Our fifth-grader likes her friends, and does well at school, but I think she really prefers being with US. She was upset today because she didn’t get to go shopping with either of her parents.

Both of them will likely be in classes with over 30 kids this year, which worries me. A lot.

Our seventh-grader will be mostly home-schooled this year. She’ll take a couple of classes at the middle school (we’re still hoping she can get into band; she’s on the waiting list), but do the rest of her work independently. Middle school didn’t turn out to be a positive environment for her last year, and since I don’t see it as a positive environment either, I’m happy to have her out of school for the time being.

And me? I worked a couple of days last week, and tomorrow will be the first day with students. But my job is changing a bit this year, and I’m apprehensive.

Normally I work mainly with technology — maintaining the computer lab and all of the other computers, printers and audio-visual equipment in the building and helping teachers and students use the technology equipment. When classes visit the computer lab, I work with the teachers to help students with typing, art projects, math and reading tutorials, and more. When we have standardized testing, it’s all done in the computer lab, and I’m in charge of that. And I’ve always had some kind of lunch or recess duty, either in the computer lab or outdoors.

I used to have eight hours per day to do all of that. Last year it was cut to seven, because, budget cuts. And then I was asked to do after school crosswalk duty, and was granted an extra paid half hour for that specifically. Until they decided to downsize that, too. The principal decided to have the morning crosswalk person do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon, instead of having us both do half an hour. Because, budget cuts.

This year I still have seven hours. But now I have a half hour of front door duty before school, a half hour of recess/lunch duty, and a half hour of crosswalk duty. And no, I won’t be granted additional time for any of those. It all comes out of my technology time.

And sure, I’ll be working with students during that time. But my duties will basically be HERDING students, which is, in my opinion, the least valuable part of public school. Students have to be herded, usually in large groups, into and out of school and from place to place within the school. NOBODY likes it, but under the current system, it has to be done.

And somebody has to do it. And I guess it’s gonna be me. But it’s disappointing.

The Future of Education?

If I could, I’d love to homeschool my kids.  I have enough education and experience working with kids to do it well, even if I’m not a certified teacher.  And as public schools are cutting programs, curriculum, and employees, homeschooling sounds better and better.

But it’s not a good financial option for my family right now, and even if it were, I still care about all the other kids, whose parents perhaps don’t have the time or ability to teach their children, and whose parents can’t afford a private school.  I think every child deserves a quality education.

I wish I could help.  I’d like to create a real neighborhood school.  I could teach my kids, and those from a few more families.  And maybe the other parents could help, either by teaching or in some other way.

We could all just pitch in as a community.

Is that something that’s even possible?  I know homeschooling is possible, but there are laws about creating actual schools.

I do think it’s time to create something new.  Clearly the current system isn’t working, especially financially.

Kids and Parents and Conferences

child-cryingI attended parent-teacher conferences for my two older kids tonight.   My girls are excellent students, and in general well-behaved, but we did discuss a couple of areas of concern.  Nothing big, and I’m not going to dish about my kids online, but of course I keep thinking things over and planning what to do.

I’ve been thinking and wondering about kids in general lately, too.  I work in an elementary school, as the computer lab specialist, so I see a lot of different kids each day, including kids with special needs and kids with behavior problems.

I spent more than two years working in a self-contained special ed class, so I know there are kids who need special accomodations in order to function at school.  At our school, some are in regular classes and some (with moderate to severe disabilities) are in self-contained classrooms.

Kids with more obvious disabilities or needs are, in some ways, easier to deal with.  You know they will behave differently.  You know that you may have to respond differently. Our expectations tend to be lower (and now I’m wondering whether that’s OK).

With other kids, especially those with severe behavior problems, it’s harder to know how to respond.  Is this kid throwing a fit because his brain is wired differently, or because his parents let him do whatever he wants to do at home?  Or is it a combination of the two?  Should I hold firm to my behavioral expectations, or change my approach?

Luckily for me, most of the time it’s the classroom teacher that decides how these things will be handled.  I don’t have to make the decision.  But I still wonder.

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Measure 58: English-only instruction?

Jack Bog just reminded me that there are ballot measures out there, waiting to be voted on in November!  I’m most concerned about the Oregon measures, of course, but I encourage you to look into your local and state ballot measures, wherever you are.  Don’t forget to get the facts!  Don’t rely on TV and radio ads for information.  Ever.

As an educator, one that I’m interested in is Measure 58, which “prohibits teaching public school students in language other than English for more than two years.”  I actually became aware of this measure in July, and wrote about it here.

I’m thinking about it today because of a student who was just in my classroom.  She’s a second grader, and I happen to know that this is her third year here, so she’s already been immersed in the English-speaking environment of school for two years.  At our school, the kids get 30-45 minutes of specific ESL instruction daily.  The rest of the time, they’re in their regular classes.  And even in the ESL classroom, they’re most likely to be speaking English, because students from all different language backgrounds are instructed in groups together, and ESL staff don’t necessarily speak all of the different languages.

This girl, however, is still barely speaking English.  She managed to string 3 words together for me:  “I go here?”.  The rest of the time she was silent.  She also had a great deal of trouble double-clicking a mouse, although that’s not necessarily related.  She did manage to navigate the educational website the class was exploring today.  She’s definitely not English-proficient after two years of school, though.

That’s just anecdotal, of course, but it does demonstrate that different students have different needs.  Some students learn English quickly, and others do not.  Schools and teachers should be able to decide on an individual basis what a student needs, rather than being told by state law.

Ballot Measure on Bilingual Education

Oregon’s statewide ballot measure numbers for November won’t be assigned until August 2, but at least one is already controversial: a measure brought to you by Bill Sizemore which would limit bilingual education in public schools.  Like the arguments about English becoming the official language of the United States (still making the rounds, courtesy of Colonel Harry Riley), this could get ugly.  Read more about it on Associated Content.