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The commercials run on several channels. Smiling kids. Happy kids. But underneath is a rainy sinister music track. And then the photos of happy kids are covered with report cards showing that 97% of them are failing. Who will save the children? The organization calls itself TEXANS DESERVE GREAT SCHOOLS. A more descriptive and apt name might be THESE TEXANS DON'T CARE ABOUT KIDS. Here is the first sentence on their web site:

Texans Deserve Great Schools is a collaborative effort among leading foundations, policy experts and civic leaders to raise awareness about the most successful education policies from around the nation that – if implemented together – will vastly improve student achievement in Texas.

What is missing from this? Any mention of teachers, for one thing. What is here: an emphasis on student achievement. Here are the key elements of their "bold" (their word) proposal: "Innovation. Rigor. Transparency. Empowerment. Flexibility. " Translation? Waivers, charter schools, online classes with unlimited enrollment (MOOC, anyone?), credit by exam instead of taking a course. That is just point #1. The laundry list of what they propose is a nightmare of charters, district based management, VAM, local pay scales, approval of teacher ed programs based on performance of the students of those graduating from the programs, rating schools on a scale of A-F (just like the wonderful schools in Florida).

And this is what is being proposed to "fix" education in Texas. There is plenty of data here, too (see yesterday's post for more about data). Data that shows that only 20% of Texas high school grads achieve a certificate or higher ed degree within 6 years (do not even get me started on this) and that 80% of jobs require some post-high school leaning. Worst, of course, is that we rank 24th internationally on education attainment in the ages 24-35 category.

Lots of figures, plenty of faux facts, and a soupçon of fear-mongering and alarmist and reformist propaganda. Do Texans serve great schools? You bet! Will this organization ensure that happens? Not a snowball's chance. You can read all about it here: What you will NOT see here are any names of those individuals or organizations involved in this reformist group. They are not to be found on the web site.

Beware of Texans bearing gifts, folks. These packages are deceptive: nice wrapping on the outside but killer contents.
Current Location: home, wet home
Current Mood: questioning
28 May 2015 @ 08:45 pm
Yes, this is another rant about numbers, folks. Feel free to click onto something else. It is that time of year when state test scores are being announced. The general consensus us that scores for the past 5 years are fairly flat, that the gap is not narrowing, and that student performance is not improving despite hours, days, weeks, and more devoted to test prep, benchmarks, practice tests, Saturday school, and more. 28 correct answers out of 52 items was marked as Satisfactory performance this year. That is 54%, FYI. Last year 26 out of 52 was Satisfactory. The preceding year, the cut score was 27 out of 52. What do we make of data like this? Here in Texas, we make bumper stickers about students who achieve high scores (commended performance) on tests. Parents brag about performance on social media. Schools have celebrations. Kids get certificates and trophies. And on it goes.

This is a sort of shell game. Cut scores, passing scores are determined after the test is given and numbers are being crunched. I took some measurement courses when I was studying to be a teacher, but none of the courses covered this.

For the former residents of the back bedroom, there were no prizes nor praise for performance on these tests. In the grand scheme of things, the residents of the back bedroom knew these scores were a snapshot at best. At worst, it was an indication of how much more they could have learned had not much of the school year been devoted to testing. The good news is that we knew the relative value (or lack thereof) of these scores. What mattered more to us was time to read, time to complete homework, time to visit other cities, states, museums, etc. But what about the kids whose parents think test scores are something about which to brag. It is the only thing tangible they get aside from report cards that let them know who their kids are doing in school. And that is a shame.I used to spend hours making out progress reports for each student in the says pre-test-insanity.

Bush Sr. talked about a thousand points of light. His predecessors began talking about data points. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and CCSS are all about data. Imagine thousands of data points replacing the faces of those kids in our classes. Data reduces their individuality to a set of numbers, to proposed interventions, to more tests, to programs and kits. Data takes away the messy human nature of our students and replaces that with numbers. How sad to think that we were worried about becoming a nation of numbers and losing our adult identities when we are allowing this to happen to the children instead.

Here's the sort of "data" that means something to me:
*what makes this child laugh?
*what interests outside of school engage this child?
*how can I connect in a meaningful way?
*what books and other materials might be some of those "just right" books?

I would rather know this. I would rather know the face and the mind and the heart of the child.
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Current Location: home, wet home
Current Mood: worriedworried
27 May 2015 @ 03:56 pm
Perhaps the word play in the title does not work for you, but I hope you can see what I am going for, I have been writing here about lexiles and levels and packages and kits. But there are a few other items that can and should be added to this list.

Let's begin with the 5 paragraph essay. There has been some discussion lately on Facebook about research and the effectiveness of the 5 paragraph essay. Here is a link to one of the articles that spurred discussion: While some see the form as giving kids scaffolding, I tend to think it is more limiting and narrowing than helpful structure. Of course, with the emphasis by some with "college and career ready," the 5 paragraph essay seems to be the logical form for instruction. I wonder, though, if careers use this form? And I know that colleges, including my own, have moved from this narrow structure to broaden how students address a topic or present an argument.

I think back to all the writing instruction I received prior to the 1980s when I became a writing project fellow. I recall rules like this:

1. Paragraphs have 5 sentences: topic, 3 details, conclusion.
2. Never start a sentence with a conjunction of any kind.
3. Do not end a sentence with a preposition.
4. Use third person, not first or second person.

I break every one of those rules every time I write. I have left the 5 paragraph essay in the dust, deep in the dust, buried in the dust. When I found my voice and style, I left these rules where they belong: behind me.

I remember the residents of the back bedroom heading off to college with the admonitions of their AP ELA teachers about how to write. And I recall when they took rhetoric and composition and discovered that those admonitions, those endless hours of crafting tortuously structured essays were now something they could leave behind as well. Suddenly it was their voice that counted more than the formulaic forms and rules. Let's honor voice and choice and discard the formula-ache.
Current Location: home, soggy home
Current Mood: pondering
26 May 2015 @ 06:50 pm

I could go on. But these are the elements essential to supporting lifelong readers. I say this here again at the risk of being accused of beating a dead horse because today I saw a post about required summer reading where each grade level (it was for middle school, grades 6-8) gave only 3 titles from which kids could select. That is not choice, folks, unless one of the choices is NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Time is a huge factor, and it is something that is lacking in so many schools. Time to read, time to browse in the library, time to browse the classroom collection, time to talk about reading, time to reflect.

Access is being treated at every turn. School libraries and librarians are disappearing in some places. Classroom libraries are being packaged: one size fits all.

Response? In many places, response amounts to a quiz or some sort of "project." Authentic response seems to be endangered as well. So, again, I say, here are the essential elements.

Current Location: home, rainy home
Current Mood: pensivepensive
25 May 2015 @ 05:24 pm
P.L. Thomas explains the fundamental problems of levels in reading here:

He begins by pointing out, as many of us have, the narrow definition of reading offered by those who would assign numbers, measure reading, assess reading, count words and syllables. Reading by-the-numbers basically boils down to comprehension and decoding in these circumstances. Critical literacy, reflective reading, aesthetic reading: those are neglected when it comes to reading by-the-numbers.

And perhaps the most important point: when we level texts, we level kids as well.
Current Location: home, damp home
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
24 May 2015 @ 11:37 am
Yesterday I wrote about the power and importance of libraries. The research also states that the presence of a certified librarian is essential in the role of libraries in terms of achievement. I have been so fortunate to work in a department that educates folks who want to become school librarians for the past 25 years. In that time, I have come to know so many wonderful school librarians including my colleagues: Holly Weimar, Mary Ann Bell, Rose Little Brock, and Karin Perry. My best friend, Lois Buckman is a retired librarian though you would not know that because she simply moved to another state and began doing her library thing in a public library. The colleagues and friends I have met and made at conferences and through professional organizations have also added to my knowledge (and my reading list): Deb Taylor, Liz Burns, Sharon Rawlins, Sharon Grover, Mary Burkey, Jen Huber Swan, Jack Martin, Sophie Brookover, and SO many others have been and continue to be inspirational. These folks have educated me about the role the librarian plays in literacy, in the culture and community of reading in a school.

As a teacher, I might have been able to influence the 150 or so students I had in my classes each year. However, the school librarian has the chance to interact with each and every child in the school. Imagine that influence! And the librarian is not just a fabulous resource for book recommendations; the expertise extends into many other aspects of the library and librarianship.

Collection development, reference, administration, cataloging, advocacy: these are just a few of the other work of the librarian. Unfortunately, there are schools cutting their positions as well as either eliminating or changing the role of the library within the school. This is so short-sighted. These men and women offer much to all the population of a school: kids, staff, faculty, administration, community, parents. We need to support them, work with them, use them as a resource, and advocate for them. Every child, every school deserves someone who can connect kids with books and with the world of knowledge that expands every single day.
Current Location: heading home
Current Mood: celebratory
23 May 2015 @ 07:22 am
Here is a link to a story about the research on the effectiveness of school libraries when it comes to test scores:

Here is the money quote for all school librarians to highlight and send on to supervisors and administrators:

"University of South Carolina Professor Dr. Karen Gavigan outlined the studies five areas of importance at a press conference Tuesday morning.

"The presence of librarians and library support staff, instructional collaboration between librarians and teachers, traditional and digital collections, library expenditures, and access to computers," she explained.

The study found that the schools which had these five components had better performance on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards."

And for more of this research go here:

While test scores are important, school libraries and librarians can do much more than assist in testing: they can play an essential role in creating lifelong readers. Look at the writings of folks like Stephen Krashen to see more about the role of a collection and a certified librarian. It is even more important to keep this research at hand as more and more districts are opting to close libraries and eliminate librarians.

As someone who works in a department of library science, I have learned much about the role of school librarians. AASL (American Association of School Librarians) discusses 5 standards for excellence in librarianship. Take some time to read about standards here: Unlike some OTHER standards, these might actually support readers and reading and books and librarianship.

One more tip, follow some librarians on Twitter and Facebook. If you need suggestions, just ask.
Current Location: California reality time
Current Mood: peacefulpeaceful
22 May 2015 @ 04:31 am
Each day I discover that I have won a lottery, that I have been selected to help someone smuggle money out of her country to the US, been told I am a long lost relative of a billionaire, or that I am one of the lucky few who will have the chance to hear about an exciting new product, property, or venture. Because I am staying on the west coast right now my Facebook feed has tons of ads and postings about real estate, spas, and other "opportunities" for me. These are "tailored" for me right now. Of course, I also receive ads and see posts that assure me that Facebook and Twitter do NOT know me as well. For instance, this morning, Twitter suggested I follow myself (should I?).

Allowing some algorithm to dictate my feed makes as much sense as some of the other idiotic things I see happening in my field. Most recently, I discovered something about classroom libraries that set my teeth on edge.

Classroom libraries are key to the development of lifelong readers, those reads Donalyn Miller helps us create in READING IN THE WILD. Research indicates that, even if the school library is across the hall from the classroom, kids are more likely to stay engaged with books and reading if the classroom also has a collection. And herein lies a problem. There are companies who will put together that classroom library collection for you. No need to know what your kids like to read or books that would have a potential audience, just let the company send you the KIT and, voila, you have your library. No muss, no fuss, no having to consider the needs, interests, preferences, and habits of your students. You can even get them leveled and lexiled (and BTW, autocorrect changes "exiles" to "exiles" each time I type it).

When I began my classroom collection back when T-rex was roaming the planet, I added books as I could afford them. The books I brought into the classroom were the ones my students talked about when we discussed books. I had series books (Sweet Valley High was hot then) and some nonfiction (always a well worn copy of Guinness Book of World Records and the Draw 50 series) and books I had read (YA) and thought might be of interest to my students. Each year, the collection grew, though I also took time to weed titles that did not find readers. Each year the collection changed a bit. SVH had a few diehard fans, but the Orphan Train books were supplanting them in my 5th period class while 3rd period tended to still want from Babysitters Club books, etc. When I moved to my university position, I gave away books to me middle school colleagues and started a new collection for the undergrads who would be taking courses from me. Then, when the courses went totally online, I invited the student teachers over so that they could begin to build their own libraries. I still float books on when I do PD. But I do not try to package books for individual classrooms.

I wonder how well any expert would do in selecting books for your classroom? Perhaps if I spent some time with you and your students I could recommend some titles to add. But, if I am sitting in my office far away from you and the students, how can I offer you a pre-packaged "starter" kit of 300 books? This is what I encountered recently: every single grade level had exactly the same books in the classroom library. So, if I entered a 3rd grade classroom in, say, Houston, that collection would be identical if I drove hundreds of miles to McAllen (south) or El Paso (west) or even drove just 75 miles to Conroe or Willis or went to Austin. That is implying that kids from these different locales all want and need the same thing in books just by virtue of being in 3rd grade. And therein lies the problem.

My own kids were never defined by lexiles, levels, gender, or "ability." Their books were selected by interest and preference. How can that happen when we have cookie cutter collections? Kids are not cookies cut into identical shapes and sizes. They are kids who are wondrously diverse and individual. Let me extend the cookie metaphor just a bit (I have been off sweets for over a year now, but I love using sweets as metaphors for the "flavor"). Do you prefer the uniformity of a packaged cookie or the sweet variations of cookies made by humans? Consider this the next time someone sends you an email about solving all of your classroom problems and meeting the reading needs of all your kids. YOU are the one who knows best what to bring to your readers. Don't allow someone far removed from kids to do that for you.
Current Mood: preachy
21 May 2015 @ 08:01 am
Yesterday, there was a post on Facebook about the reading levels of popular songs. Ling with the math was the usual wringing of hands about the decline in readability in song lyrics over time. Really?

The time has come to cease and desist with this pointless "analysis" of ANYthing using syllables and sentences (and syntax and semantics, too. I'm looking at you, lexiles). Using this part to whole kind of thinking is like using a paint by number approach to art. I used to love those paint by number sets. But my finished product NEVER looked like the one on the cover. How about placing a Picasso on a grid and reproducing it? Ditto for results. And even when I draw the Pigeon along with Mo Willems, my bird is not the Pigeon.

We need to stop trying to boil down these elements as if they were some sort of magical formula that would help us match books to readers. I have posted here time and again the absurd results that can come from counting letters and words and sentences in an attempt to come up with a number value for a book. I offer instead these questions to consider.

1. As I am reading this book, am I imagining the reader(s) I will hand it to once I am done?
2. Is this a subject of interest to readers?
3. Do the characters ring true?
4. Is the plot well constructed?
5. Does the author have her or his own style?
6. Does this book offer insight to the reader?

The list could go on, but you get the drift. When it comes to matching reader to text, we need to eschew levels and lexiles. Mathematical formulae cannot do this. Charts and graphs and lists cannot do this. Computers cannot do this. Programs cannot do this. Only readers can recommend books to other readers. Teacher need to read, read widely, read deeply. Those who do are placing books in the hands of kids who are so eager to read they snatch books. Want proof? Look at blog posts and Twitter feeds and Facebook posts from Katherine Sokolowski, John Schu, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Karin Perry, Travis Jonkers, Liz Burns, Jennifer Huber Swan to name just a few.

Let us avoid talking about parts (yeah, I like Picasso, but I think there is too much blue used in this painting) and pieces (I like it, Dave, but I can't dance to it) and concentrate instead on the WHOLE.
Current Location: California coast
Current Mood: angryangry
20 May 2015 @ 06:00 am
I apparently get on lots of lists. I know that my posting this week from California has caused my Facebook feed to explode with tons of ads for real estate, stores, and tourist ideas. However, I am talking about the mail I receive from various groups. Some of it comes from organizations who sell my name (and thousands of others) on mailing lists. I can tell because of how I am addressed in the mail, the account that receives the missive, and other clues. I delete much before I even open it. It is part of being in an online community. I accept that I will receive a ton of email that is not for me personally.

In the last few months, I have somehow become subscribed to a newsletter for college faculty. After 25 years of teaching at the university and 15 more spent in middle school classrooms, I am often astonished by the content of these newsletters. A recent one focused on research and how it informs teaching.

It starts with educational research. The article says most of us do not read it nor do we understand it (and maybe we are not even supposed to understand it). Here is the quote that disturbs me: "But educational research remains largely unexplored by those who teach, partly because there aren't strong norms expecting college teachers to grow and develop their instructional knowledge, but mostly because the journal articles describing these studies and their findings aren't written for practitioners. They're written to inform the next round of research."

It seems to me that the quote suggests that teaching faculty and research faculty are two distinct entities. I can assure you that this is not the case where I teach. We are expected to teach, yes, but the expectation is that we also conduct research and contribute to the profession. Why do these need to be mutually exclusive. That's sort of like saying that I can teach writing without being a writer or reading without being a reader. I am amazed at the research done by my colleagues and how it informs my teaching daily.

I have to remind myself periodically that I work in the College of Education. Most of us have strong backgrounds in teaching, teaching in PK-12 settings as well as university classrooms. So some (much) of what I read about teaching in this and other newsletters and blogs is about teaching practices. Think of it this way: you have been teaching for almost 40 years, and the PD at the beginning of the school year is about how to plan a lesson or how to assess learning without using tests. Don't you want to roll your eyes just a little? That is how I feel sometimes when I read these newsletters about effective teaching.

This is not to say that I know it all or there is nothing left to learn. There is much I learn each and every day by reading blogs, posts, articles, books. I have "teachers" online who inspire me to know more, to do more, to want to be more. Thanks to all of you who provide me with the knowledge that helps me build my own teaching. Thanks to all of you who teach.
Current Location: Newport Coast
Current Mood: reflective