How low can we go?

There have been rumors circulating around the county about our local high school that our is in serious academic trouble with the state. Being the snoop I am, I took the time to do a little research on the issue. It did not take long to find the state ranking of West Virginia high schools. http://www.schooldigger.com/go/WV/schoolrank.aspx?level=3
As I scanned the 113 high schools which were arranged according to their math and related arts scores, I became more deeply concerned. As I drifted through the first 10, then 30, 60, and then beyond 90, with no sign of Hampshire High, it became apparent that we are in considerable trouble. I continued down the list all the way to 111 and there found good old Hampshire High, two places up from the lowest scoring school in the state, Mount View High! Upon further study of the scores I determined that the highest scoring school, Bridgeport High, with a West Test composite score of over 150, almost tripling our score of 60! Local schools like Keyser (score 100) and Moorefield (score 94) almost doubled our scores! It would seem that we are pursuing the honor of being the lowest scoring high school in the state. Let’s be clear, Hampshire High was never an academic powerhouse, but we were never this far down!
So what does this mean? Does it mean that our teachers are bad, our students are not working, our administration is non-functional, or our Board of Education is out to lunch? I think it is a little bit of all of these. I know for a fact that there are teachers who remind me of Ditto from the movie TEACHERS. I know there are students who could care less if they do well in school. I know that there are administrators and teachers who have no clue what academic rigor entails. And for sure, there are board members who are clueless about the state of our schools and what to do about it.
I hope that this issue is as troubling to most others as it is to me. This is the school many of us will send our children or grandchildren to prepare them for the real world. These teachers and administrators are responsible for educating our children so that they will be productive members of society. I sensed several years ago that our high school was in trouble and wrote often about my concerns, but nothing has changed; in fact, it has continued downhill.
I am almost certain that the state has threatened to come into the county to take over with the idea of fixing the problem. There is one unavoidable concern I have with this approach, i.e., at least one of the schools below us is from a county that was just recently taken over by the state. To put differently, the state has no idea how to fix the problem. The answer has to come from within, and there is no one I know who is willing or capable of leading us out of this mess. The problems that our county faces are so deeply ingrained in the local philosophy that it may not be a fixable problem.
At the risk of repeating, here is my solution:
1. Stop this ridiculous, excessive and useless testing.
2. Hold teachers and students accountable.(to be determines)
3. Make class time a sacred time during which there are NO interruptions!
4. Structure classes such that they are a challenge and a worthwhile endeavor.
5. Create competency tests for all grade levels to determine if a child is ready to move on.
Make no mistake, in today’s over-regulated world, this will be a major undertaking, but it is essential, for the sake of the future of this county and country that we take the first steps in a very new direction! The problems we are facing at the local level are being felt country-wide. We are not alone in this arena but are much ahead of the competition in poor performance.

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Why graded school systems don’t work

I have come to the conclusion there are many concepts in our understanding of how the universe works that are rather intuitive.  One of these ideas is the notion of the learning curve. Said quite simply, everybody learns at a different pace. We all know this is true and have experienced it in our own march towards adulthood. We witness people who learn faster than we and those who learn more slowly.  It is what behavioral scientists call the BELL CURVE.  There is a range of physical characteristics that extends all the way from foot size to how fast we accumulate knowledge. If I measure any physical or mental characteristic of any living thing, plant to human, there will be a range of results. The standard percentages are 2% below average, 14% in the next to lowest area, 68% in the middle, 14% above average and 2% in the upper most area. It is important to understand that being on one side or the other of the curve does not automatically mean that that is a good trait. I am not sure that having size 19 shoes, which would put one very far to the right of the curve, would be much help in out-running a tiger on the Serengeti. In terms of intelligence being in the right top 2% of the curve means you are smarter than 98% of your fellow humans. In some cases this is good.

bell_curve

Here is a picture of what I am referring to.  Notice the percentages in each area.  This could be an IQ chart or a foot-size chart; it really does not matter.  To my point, I want you to consider it as a learning curve chart.  A very small number of people will learn extremely fast and so on and so on.  With this thought in mind, let us take a look at the traditional classroom with students from every point on the curve.  Now, place a teacher in front of these 25 students and ask him/her to keep all 25 children engaged and learning.  Do this for 6 to 7 hours a day, five days a week.  We all know the scenario: the bright kid in the class gets bored and then begins to act out, disrupting the class whenever he wants. The slower children are somewhat lost because the teacher is going too fast.  Then there are all of the kids in the middle who span the distance between the 16% and 84th percentile. 16 to 84 percent is a lot of variation from 16 to 84!  You may ask, why then do we do this?  Why do we feel the need to put all 7 year olds together and all 12 year olds together regardless of how quickly they learn?  The sad truth is that we do it for convenience.  Children are much easier to keep track of if they are grouped homogeneously, based on age.  So, little Johnny who is capable of doing algebra in the second grade will have to wait till he is in middle school.  And little Beth will have to wait untill high school to write sonnets.  Most elementary teachers are not trained to handle the smarter kids in class, and if they are, it is a whole lot more work and they already have far too much keeping up with all the bull-crap the state and county throws at them to waste their valuable time. The idea of a grade-less school system has been discussed many times in the past but has always been pushed aside in favor of the more efficient age-grouped arrangement.

In today’s system we to often tell children of the horrible consequences of failing a grade. We mark them as dumb, uncooperative, attention deficit, inattentive, uninterested and numerous other reasons for not meeting the standards. Rather than label them with all these negative words, why not simply tell them they that they need more time to learn the material!  I dare to suggest an alternative reason for not meeting the standard: maybe the child has a different learning curve! So now this child has been labeled for the rest of his life as a failure simply because we have a strictly (maybe not so strictly enforced in our county!) enforced grade system. Now consider the alternative. Little Bobby needs more time to master the skills of that level and when he is ready, he moves on to new material with his self-esteem in tack and the mastery of that skill set.

Today’s school system is stuck in the mud, and there are no signs of going to 4-wheel drive in the near future.  We are creating a whole generation where a large majority of children are going to be essentially uneducated and unable to participate in a very complex and unforgiving society.  Not only do many of our children suffer from a false over confidence and  inflated self-worth, many of them feel society owes them a THE GOOD LIFE.  Do not misunderstand me on this point, We do have a responsibility to provide a social safety net for all Americans that needs to be fair and cost efficient, but we also have to instill a desire to better one’s self throughout life.  This is where the family and the school system must focus their effort, giving children the desire to seek knowledge, expand horizons, stretch the boundaries of human existence and enjoy the one part of life that makes us so different from any other animal living on this planet- to grow intellectually!

You can take my gun from my cold…..

untitled

I have tried real hard to see both sides of the gun issue. Because of my basic distrust of government and the potential tyranny that has brought down so many societies in the past, I enjoy, even if I do not use the right to bare arms. I choose not to own firearms because of the potential for unauthorized use of weapons. I always worried about our children finding the guns and unintentionally injuring themselves or others. Guns are certainly not beneficial when tempers flare on the bumpy road of life. Despite this, I do honor the right for responsible and sane people to own guns. I hope that they keep them in a safe place away from those who might misuse them. When I talk about guns in the home, I am not talking about military assault weapons but am referring to hunting rifles or multi-shot pistols. I see no need for common folks to have weapons capable of mass killing. I imagine that if I watched MADMAX every night for several years I might become paranoid enough to buy an assault weapon, but I do not plan to spend my evenings in that way.  I am pretty sure that the Founding Fathers could not foresee the sophisticated weaponry that is available today.  And, I am pretty sure that they would see the need to control these types of weapons.

Our most recent unimaginable assault on a school, has explosively reignited the gun debate. Everybody is proposing new ideas in a national discussion, and the gun manufactures are throwing gobs of money with ridiculous ads warning us of the coming apocalypse when the American people are disarmed. I am not certain how many times I have heard people say that President Obama would like to take away their guns. This is the most ludicrous thing I have heard. Right now, most Americans believe that there should be tighter control over who owns weapons and better procedures for monitoring who buys them. With current gun laws, were Charles Manson released from prison, he could hypothetically then go to a gun or a yard sale to buy whatever gun he wants.  This notorious gun user will never get out of jail but there are many other crazies out there willing to take his place.

One has to ask oneself, how many school, movie theater or postal shootings are we going to endure before we decide that we have a monumental problem in this country?  How many times are we going to wake up to the news that another group of children has been killed or traumatized for life by one of these massacres?  Of course, the NRA has a mindless answer: put guns in all school. So, now are children can see real-time shoot-outs in class. Our kids don’t have to go home to their televisions to see someone get murdered; they can see them right in their classroom. Talk about enhanced education!  Is anyone stupid enough to think that teachers would have had a chance with a little pistol against the firepower of this last attacker? Oh, I guess we will have to arm out teachers with Uzis so that little Johnny can get an even better show when the guns are a blazing. I bet the arms manufactures are already gearing up production as they get ready for what I choose to call the CLASSROOM ARMS RACE. The next step to in making our children really safe will be we to send them to school packing so that in every way it will be a fair fight when some nut-bag comes into the school with a Uzi.  Sounds like a new reality show to me…..

Hard to imagine

We live in one of the greatest technological societies that has ever existed. Our standard of living is higher than any in the world even though lately it has declined significantly. With our ingenuity and hard work we have designed, engineered and created more innovations than any other country in the world. We consume more energy per capita than any other country. We buy and own more things than anybody else, yet, despite these rankings, we have the highest rate of gun assaults and killings of any developed country in the world!

One of the lines people parrot when discussing this topic is borrowed from Charlton Heston, “You can take my gun from my cold dead hand.” I believe that few Americans understand why gun ownership was so important to the founding fathers. Some of them believed that in order for the government to be kept in check, citizens must be able arm themselves against unwarranted government intrusion into their lives! Some scholars argue that the Second Amendment grants a right of insurrection. A distinct group of historians believe that the Second Amendment was designed to allow citizens to rebel against the government. Thomas Jefferson‘s quote suggest that: “A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing.” The founders knew that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and felt that in order to maintain the balance between government and the people’s rights, the people could take up arms. Moreover, they also saw gun ownership as essential to maintaining a standing army in case of war. For many reasons today’s world has changed well beyond the founders ability to recognize it. Having said all this, I am not against people having weapons in their homes for self-defense;  however I am against crazy people owning guns! Even though the Second Amendment clearly states that we have the right to bear arms, the question lingers none the less, at what cost to society?

So now we have another brutal massacre of our children in a public school by a crazy kid who may have hated his mother. Let’s hope all the mother-haters in our world don’t decide to go to their local school to kill a bunch of kids because they have a conflict with mom. We have also learned that the mother bought the guns which included several handguns and a repeating assault weapon! The question still haunts me, why would a mother buy an assault rifle? I can understand why a woman would buy a handgun for protection, but an assault weapon seems a little off the wall.

Now, we will begin once again this long boring, discussion on gun control, which thanks to the media, could go on for months or possibly years. The NRA will be leading the pack against gun control. Their opponent, which I do not believe is well organized, will hammer it out in every possible venue known to man, and in the end, nothing will change. I will still be able to go to a yard sale or an auction to buy a gun with no concern shown as to whether I am a mother hater or not.

Folks, we have a big decision to make in the next couple of years. Are we going to sit back and watch innocent people die because we do not want government involved in the control of weapons? Or, are we going to come up with a plan that allows normal, responsible Americans to own guns and the crazy or criminal types to have access to guns. This last attack has shown us something important that burrows deep into our soul; we are all vulnerable to this type of violence, and many of us have already been touched by it. The Fort Knox mentality does not work against crazed killers who have no regard for their own lives. As much as I disdain the media for hyping up of this event, (which includes interviewing children immediately afterwards), maybe it will force us to pull our heads from the sand to see what is happening in our country! Maybe, in the not too distant future, we will live in a safer world where we can send our children to school and know they will return home safely. I do not think that this is too much to ask for.

Let’s work together

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the American people are going to re-elect President Obama to a second term. His opponent, Mitt Romney, despite enormous support from the wealthy corporate world and six years of campaigning, will go down in defeat, in my opinion.  Many of my conservative friends are convinced that the future of our country is dire under the leadership of President Obama.  There is no doubt that this country faces many difficult obstacles in the coming years, and I must admit that some of them are very scary.  The Middle East is in disarray, partly from our past history of trying to effect change that is more beneficial to us than the people in the region.  The federal budget is consuming our country like a black hole consumes a planet.  Our public school system is crumbling beneath our feet.  Many of our congressmen have joined the group of wealthy bureaucrats who spend more time worrying about their personal wealth and being reelected than doing what is right for the country. Our social safety nets, like social security and medicare are gobbling up our economic resources at an alarming rate.  The truth is that these problems have been heading our way for over 50 years and were dropped into President Obama’s lap less then four years ago!  Not only did he inherit a major recession brought on by corporate greed, but also faced a divided congress that was and is incapable of making decisions, that would lead us out of this downward spiral.

Wow, that was depressing!  The truth, as I see it, is that our country became great on the backs and hard labor of our forefathers and their forefathers.: men, women and children who worked in mines 12 hours a day or worked in one of Henry Ford’s factories for next to nothing, with no benefits or job security in what could be extremely dangerous conditions. There was no safety net when one became too old or too sick to work, and unless the family could take care of you, you became a homeless person left to waste away on the streets until you passed away or froze to death.  During these times a few individuals became richer that anyone had ever imagined possible, while the average American lived badly from day to day.  There was little difference between this and the Pharaohs using slave labor to build the pyramids!  This is what the corporate world would have, and often did foster, if it were not for the emergence of unions which allowed the poor to have a voice and to take a small amount of the wealth and disperse it to hard-working Americans.  In today’s world unions have often lost their way and sometimes no longer serve the people they represent, but in the past they played an integral part in the development of the middle class.  Enough with this boring but essential history because I am sure many of you already knew this from watching the Friends on Fox channel.

In summary, President Obama did not create this nightmare but he inherited a dynamic near catastrophic situation which is going to take decades to fix, not three years.  His response to these problems are right on target.  We must fix the very thing that allowed us to rise to greatness, the education system, so that we can again be the innovators and creators of new technology.  Without Americans who are properly educated, we as a country will fall off the proverbial cliff to become a second class country with little to no impact on world affairs. When Steve Jobs met with President Obama before he died, he told the president this: if there was one thing he could fix, it would be our education system so that American industry does not have to go overseas to find competent workers.  Finally, health care for everyone!  I hear so many people ranting about what has become known as OBAMACARE.  The most important fact here is that before OBAMACARE our medical costs were growing at an exponential rate and were becoming an ever-increasing economic burden on our country.  The problem, as usual, is a small group of people, who we know to be the insurance companies-not doctors-getting extremely rich from a system meant to keep people healthy.  OBAMACARE is health care for everyone, not just the ones who can afford it.  Sure, it is expensive but as a Christian leaning nation, isn’t it our responsibility in the eyes of God to care for our brothers and sisters?  Finally, who do you think pays for the people who do not have health care, WE DO in the form of higher rates and fees.

So, let’s get together behind our President and work together towards being a better country.  After the election, we can shake hands and find some mutual place in the future where we would all like to be.  If we do not come together the results will not be good for any Americans regardless of who is president.

Mineral County 6 for 6, Hampshire Count 4 for 9

I am sure Hampshire county is not known around the state for its test scores, that is, unless you are referring to the fact that they tend to be one of the lowest in the state.  Certain I am, however, that we are the butt of many jokes by administrators down in Charleston.  Recently I read the lead story in the Hampshire Review that stated we were improving.  The numbers they were referring to were pretty dismal to say the least.  When I looked at the state data on the test, it showed that only four school in the county met the standard.  When comparing Mineral county to Hampshire county, one has to wonder what is going on in our neck of the woods!  A mere 20 miles away, every school in the County met the state minimum state standards.  Below is the data from the state education site:

Here is the link if you would like to see the state statistics.   http://wveis.k12.wv.us/nclb/public12/replist_Y.cfm?cn=028

WVEIS Code School Name School Type AYP
2012
AYP
2011
AYP
2010
AYP
2009
AYP
2008
Hampshire COUNTY
1. 028 – 201 Augusta Elementary School Elementary Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP
2. 028 – 204 John J. Cornwell School Elementary Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP
3. 028 – 206 Romney Elementary School Elementary Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Did Not Meet AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP
4. 028 – 207 Slanesville Elementary School Elementary Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP
5. 028 – 208 Springfield-Green Spring School Elementary Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP
6. 028 – 209 Capon Bridge Elementary School Elementary Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP
7. 028 – 401 Capon Bridge Middle School Middle Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP
8. 028 – 402 Romney Middle School Middle Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Did Not Meet AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP
9. 028 – 501 Hampshire Senior High School High Made AYP Did Not Meet AYP Made AYP Made AYP Made AYP

For those of you who are not familiar with state testing, it is somewhat complex.  First off, every couple of years the test is changed so that there is never a continuous data stream to compare to the past.  I have witnessed this first hand when trying to put together some long-term data on the direction our county is going.  Second, testing is a huge money-making scheme for several large companies.  The county has to pay for most of these tests. Further more that is money that could be used for supplies and teacher salaries.  More to the point, which company would you buy your test from?  Would you buy from a company whose tests made your state look bad or would you buy from a company that made your state look good?  If I am under the gun to meet some standard that the federal government has set, I better find a company that is going to enhance our status!  Third, you will find a majority of professional teachers in today’s classroom that do not approve of the mountain of testing our children endure.  It was always a challenge for me to get a class hyped up for the end of the year test.  Can you imagine what it is like to spend about one-fifth of your school year testing?

Do not think for one moment that I am letting Hampshire county schools off the hook for these terrible scores!  Regardless of whether we meet the federal guidelines or not, we are one of the worst scoring counties in the state and one of the worst scoring states in America, we ought not even think of comparing ourselves to the rest of the developed world when we are way down on the list!  Making a state-by-state comparison is fair since everyone in the state takes the same test and functions ( I use the word function reluctantly) under the same leadership and financial guidelines.  The national percentages are somewhat more difficult since every state uses its own testing guideline and procedures.  If you look at the national rankings, you will see that we are close to the bottom!  Here is a site where you can look at the stats to see how we as a state are doing.  Notice that the graphs are adjusted to the scores in each state.  The bars that show the national averages are different in every chart but actually represent the same number.  This makes it more difficult to read!

http://nationsreportcard.gov/science_2011/summary.asp?tab_id=tab2&subtab_id=Tab_1#chart

As you can see below, I have written extensively about education in our state and county and am appalled by the level of achievement we have settled for.  Make no mistake, we are in a crisis in this state as well as many other states, and our children are the ones who are affected the most!  Below is a list of the many other posts I have made that you are welcome to read:

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/how-crazy-can-it-get/

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/testing-in-our-public-schools/

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/hampshire-schools-close-to-the-bottom/

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/graduation-gone-to-the-dogs/

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/how-to-fix-public-education/

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/what-education-is-supposed-to-do-and-not-supposed-to-do-part-two/

https://streisel.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/how-to-fix-public-education-part-one/

I have said it many times and to many people, we need to transform education into a working model that trains our children to be competent and responsible human beings.  Sure, it is a different world and sure, we face many complex issues but the solutions are easy if we just get back to basic education.  We must make a decision: is education just about replacing the dysfunctional home and society or is it a place of academic rigor.  My teaching motto has changed little since I first stepped into the classroom: Expect a lot, get a lot; expect a little, get a little!  Right now our schools expect very little from our children and guess what….that’s what they are getting.

Save the Children

As a 30+ year teacher, I can tell you that something in our society has drastically changed in the last two decades; something so deep and pervasive, it is changing our way of life.  This is a pretty dramatic claim, if I say so myself, but I believe it is true, and many people in our society are beginning to think along the same lines.  Have you noticed how hard it is to engage a young person in conversation?  Have you noticed that many people, young and not so young, are actually missing the events that take place around them because they are totally engrossed in some kind of electronic media, whether it is a phone conversation or music?  Have you noticed the absence of children playing outside, riding their bikes or playing in a sandlot ball game? Have you noticed that the attention span of our children is decreasing at an alarming rate?  Have you noticed that many children seem to be more docile and easily swayed to do things that they probably should not?

If you have experienced these behaviors, then you yourself have probably not succumbed to the lure of electronic media.  Make no mistake about all of this; the lure is powerful and as addictive as any narcotic out there! There have even been thorough and credible studies done that show the endorphin levels of a person rise every time the cell phone rings.  (In case you are not familiar with endorphins, they are the body’s way of making us feel good.)  To make matters worse, we live in a very stressful society!  The evolution of modern technological society is moving faster than our-only-left-the-cave-10,000-years-ago body and brain are capable of comprehending.  This could be the reason we are in the middle of a drug war that we are losing, and an electronic mind numbing-experience we do cannot afford to acknowledge!  A large percentage of the population is running away from real life and burying its head in the proverbial sand.  Our children are being indoctrinated at a young age to accept modern technologies as part of every day life.  Teachers cannot compete with the undeniable, alluring excitement that a computer game can offer; instead, educators have introduced the computer in the classroom to replace some of the instruction.  I have no problem with computers, in the classroom but it is important to remember that the computer is a tool, not an instructor.  The next time I hear that we need more technology in the class room, I will get sick!  An example of the first experiment done with technology is the calculator.  With its insertion into the classroom, students’ ability to use their multiplication table has fallen to the point that very few high school students can even tell you what 8X7 is. I believe that a student should not even touch a calculator until he is doing algebra.  Lasting learning is about experiencing the world, interacting with people, experimenting, falling down, getting up after a fall and looking at the stars at night and saying “WOW!”  Learning is NOT about i-phones and computer screens; it’s about real life experiences!