Sunday links.

Money Talks Too Much, Josh MacPhee, Just Seeds.

Just when we thought our kids were safe, “Fast Eddie” Vrydolyak is back. The convicted felon and former Machine alderman has sold polluted industrial land in his old ward to CPS to build a new school. Any student or teacher would face health risks. The deal smells in more ways than one.

Haven’t they heard? You don’t throw money at schools. An article in this morning’s NY Times describes the trauma facing the One Percent: finding a place for their li’l darlins’ in private schools that are charging $40K a year. I couldn’t help but notice that in light of Rahm’s drive for 7.5 hour schools days and longer school years, the one percent have a different view of things for their own kids:  “Also unlike New York public schools, which are required to be in session 180 days a year, private schools set their own schedules. At Horace Mann, where the parents of kindergartners are paying $37,695 with additional fees, the children attended 155 days last year. For those doing the math, that’s $243 a day.”

As my district’s Professional Development Day approaches, a day of wasted time and missed opportunities, Nancy Flanagan writes about the problem in Education Week. “There are really two big factors at play here. Number one, teachers aren’t considered true professionals–and policy is leading us further away from a professional work model.We’re still talking about “training” teachers, rather than drawing on their wisdom.”

Principals are complaining that the new evaluation procedures based on test scores and numerous observations is overwhelming them. Yes. I can see that.

Richard Rothstein takes on the urban myths of the school reformers.

An LA teacher reviews her review: 

I teach 10th-grade English and journalism. My “10th grade” English classes are actually made up of ninth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders. The 11th- and 12th-graders are repeating the class because they failed it the first time. The ninth-graders are students who didn’t pass enough classes the first time they went through ninth grade to be promoted to 10th.

With my scores, the district also sent a notice that, for reasons not explained, the 10th-grade scores were not considered reliable at this time, and so my overall score had been derived solely from the ninth-graders who happen to be in my 10th-grade English class. Because these happen to be my least motivated students, I was therefore judged not on my best students but on my worst.

With that realization came trepidation because the scores may very well be used to determine my salary one day, and they may also be published for all the world to see in this newspaper, which is suing to have teachers’ scores made public.

It’s hard for those who finished high school 20 or 30 years ago, as I did, to fathom the conditions in a typical L.A. Unified high school classroom these days. Classes are huge. Students face overwhelming family and social issues. Drugs are rampant. Students are incredibly disrespectful, testing authority constantly at the beginning of the year. Teachers must be able to get a strong grip on their classes all by themselves because consequences for bad behavior in class are often nonexistent outside it.

My school has two full-time police officers, a full-time probation officer and several full-time security personnel to handle about 3,800 students. Yet we still have a hard time keeping kids from smoking pot on a regular basis in our restrooms.

Today’s teacher must be highly skilled in her subject matter just to make it into the classroom, more so than at any other time in the history of education. She also must play the role of parent, custodian, psychologist, drug and alcohol interventionist and parole officer, to name a few.

On a recent Wednesday, my second-period class was interrupted by a student who overdosed on alcohol and Ecstasy and nearly died. Earlier in the year, one of our students was shot in the face and hospitalized. Last year, a student was shot in the neck and paralyzed for life; one of my students was standing next to him when it happened. The year before that, one of my students was inside her house when her sister, sitting in a car outside, was shot and blinded in one eye in a gang drive-by. The baby she was holding was struck by a bullet and killed.

There are days, or perhaps just moments, when I feel like giving up. I have had to resign myself to the incomprehensible idea that society has decided to blame many of its failings on teachers. But I know we don’t deserve the rap. I work with an incredibly intelligent, caring, talented group of people. I also work with many brave, sweet, bright, extraordinary teens.

It’s not that test scores aren’t useful to me. I can look at my numbers dispassionately and say that I didn’t challenge my honors class enough last year, or that I could have spent more time teaching the concepts that are likely to be on the standardized test. But test scores alone tell so little of the story as to be practically useless in evaluating teacher performance. The best educators know that. Coleen Bondy


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