Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

Complacent No More

We got complacent.

We were naive.

We thought that we had made a difference in all of our years of fighting and educating. We thought we were winning the battle. We knew that we were not yet post-racism, post-feminism, post-narcissism. We knew that we had a great deal of work left to do. But we thought we were making gains.

And then the election happened. In one horrible night, we watched in increasingly drunken and increasingly hysterical panic. What had happened to our country? What was happening to us? What in the hell were we going to do? How could we possibly survive? How could we raise our children in a country that was suddenly exploding with everything we abhorred?

You see, we had not won. We had only buried the hatred and racism and extremism and selfishness down into the bowels of our country. And the eventual eruption of all of that horror was caustic.

We have so much work to do.

We can no longer be complacent.

So, what can we do? What can I do?

I marched in Montreal with the Women's March. It was a start. Millions of people worldwide, on every continent, marched in solidarity. I was there. And I vow to continue to participate and make my voice heard.

The women's march now calls for 10 actions in 100 days. It is a start. I will participate. challenges you to make one phone call a day to your representatives. It is a start. I can make one call a day. I will.

Letters2Trump posts a letter to the President every day. In this letter, the writer calls for action. The writer implores our President to think thoughtfully and critically and to do the right thing. It is a start.
Here is my letter.

We were complacent.

We cannot afford to be complacent any longer.

I will not be complacent.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Virtually a Virtual Disaster

we've got to do something different

Virtual learning in educational settings is expanding exponentially. It's cheaper; it's more accessible to students anytime, anywhere, on any platform; it's touted as the answer to the highly circulated myth of the failure of the American public schools system; and in Michigan, it's the law. But it's not working for our high school students in Michigan and it's not working nationally. Unfortunately, because of the nature of academic research, most of the articles and studies I have found related to student success in online learning are all studies of higher education. There are huge differences between high school students and college students related to maturity, perceived power and control, choice, perceived relevance, apathy, long-term vision and goal-setting, self-efficacy, and self-control. Young adults are not "younger adults." Studies related to engagement and motivation and success in virtual higher ed environments are simply not applicable to high school students. We have to do something different. We are losing our kids to virtual classes and they are losing out on a quality, meaningful education.
Rob Kelly, in "Five Factors that Affect Online Student Motivation," posits that Brett Jones' MUSIC theory's factors of "eMpowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring" are the factors that contribute to student success. As per the usual, Kelly's discussion is based on higher ed students, not high school students. And in this way, the MUSIC theory misses the point: high school students don't see the usefulness of what they are "forced" to learn, and it doesn't matter how often they are reminded of "the real world," they don't believe or can't see what the real world is like. Therefore, the other factors of empowerment, success, interest, and caring are absolutely critical for high school students to experience, if they are to be successful in their classes.
Unfortunately, much of the virtual class offerings for our high school students offer none of the remaining MSIC aspects. So much of what the students experience is predetermined, checklist learning. Student interests and student choice are not factors in their courses; in fact, their voices are seldom heard. Much of the course offerings are instructor-free. Someone, somewhere, built a course and it now functions as software, not as interactive learning with human beings. As one of my former students (enrolled in and currently failing an online sociology class) said yesterday, "Sociology is about human interactions; wouldn't it make sense for a class about human interactions to have some?" In addition, the lack of feedback and the lack of interaction creates a student success vacuum: students only know if they got something right or wrong; they don't know why, or what errors in their understanding they have, or how to move in the right direction, or what they are doing well. There is no support, no sense of community, very little connection with their interests, and no caring. Even the students with a "real, live teacher" in their virtual classes report having very little interaction with the teacher and no sense of who they are as people. The interactions they have with other students are stilted and limited; they don't feel "real."
Something has to change. It's not enough for Milman (2011) to insist that students complete a readiness self-assessment before embarking down the virtual path; it's not enough for Kim et al. (2014) to insist that an LMS module that encourages student goal-setting and reflection be a part of the virtual experience; it's not enough for Kelly (and Jones) to tout the necessity for their MUSIC theory to be a part of the learning experience for students. High school students have different needs and different motivations than adult learners. They need to have that personal interaction, and we need to figure out how to make it happen. For my former student who is failing his online sociology class this semester, the solution is for him to bring his Chromebook into my classroom at lunch every day so that I can work with him and encourage him and high five him and nag him and make eye contact with him and remind him that he is worth it. Until virtual classes can figure out how to make this happen, I'll be spending my lunches helping their students try to find and maintain success.

"Those offering online courses should provide even more supports to foster the success of all learners. This assistance should involve completion of high-quality orientation by all students, examination, development, and implementation of effective strategies to support students in online courses, careful monitoring of the reasons why students might withdraw from online courses, factors that contribute to their persistence, and also research about factors that promote the success of all students" (Milman 2011).

  • Guo, J., Marsh, H. W., Morin, A. J. S., Parker, P. D., & Kaur, G. (2015). Directionality of the Associations of High School Expectancy-Value, Aspirations, and Attainment: A Longitudinal Study. American Educational Research Journal52(2), 371–402.
  • Kelly, R. (2012, August 10). Five Factors that Affect Online Student Motivation. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from­classroom/
  • Kim, R., Olfman, L., Ryan, T., & Eryilmaz, E. (2014/1). Leveraging a personalized system to improve self-directed learning in online educational environments. Computers & Education70, 150–160.
  • Milman, N. B. (2011). Is online learning for all learners? Distance Learning.

Monday, September 19, 2016

M-Stepping those Results Right into the Trashcan

I received my daughter's 4th grade M-Step results in the mail yesterday. 

I had not seen the results report before; two years ago, I opted her out. But last year, in a co-parenting compromise with my ex-husband, I allowed my daughter to take the test.

You will be happy to know that my daughter is 100% adequate. Or, to be specific, she is making "adequate progress." I was surprised at the naming of this progress indicator, since her scores are in the "Advanced" range in Math and English Language Arts, and at the very top edge of the "Proficient" range in Science. But, for a 4th grader approximately 1/3 of the way through her K-12 education, her progress is deemed as adequate. One must suppose then, that her teachers have also been adequate and her school is pretty adequate.

I question the use of this terminology; does "adequate" seem "proficient" or "advanced" to you? I realize that this word, according to google, means "satisfactory or acceptable."  But I challenge you to use this word in conversation and see how it is perceived. In fact, next time you are eating a dinner that your significant other prepared, I dare you to announce that it is "adequate." And next time you and your significant other are in the midst of...ahem...a romantic physical encounter, I challenge you to announce that he or she is "making adequate progress." I look forward to hearing about the ensuing conversations. Go ahead and get back to me with the results.

I'll wait right here.

While I'm waiting to hear about the progress you've made in your relationship, I'll talk a bit more about this M-Step report. The math section is divided into 4 claims which then report into 3 sections. And the Performance Level Indicators are reported in 4 color-coded bands, which then report out into 3 Claim Performance Indicators, illustrated by pointy-up and pointy-down triangles. Clearly, this report earns a yellow circle (Attention may be indicated) on the math claims of "2/4: Problem Solving, Modeling & Data Analysis" because of the fundamental confusion of the modeling and data analysis in this report.

The report itself is so...ahem...inadequate. For example, the color-coded Performance Bands at the top of each section read from left to right. The left indicator is Not Proficient, and the right side is Advanced. However, the Performance Level Descriptors at the bottom of the page begin with "Advanced" on the left and move to "Not Proficient" at the right. Who created this graphic? Why would a performance band read from left to right in the visual section of the graphic and then from right to left in the explanations? And then, for the sake of clarity, the Science section is broken into disciplines with points earned/possible points reported. No pointy-up or pointy-down triangles in science. Science gets Numbers! And science is apparently so unscientific, that the margin of error spans 3 performance levels. Luckily, my daughter may possibly be partially proficient, proficient, or advanced, but she is not to be deemed adequate in science.

I dare you to ask a 4th grader what is wrong with this report. Have them analyze the modeling and the data analysis. Have them explain to you what this report means. I look forward to hearing about those conversations.

I'll wait right here.

As an avid reader and an English teacher, I was highly relieved to learn that my daughter is also making adequate progress in English Language Arts. But, before you congratulate me on her very adequate score, I would like to question what this score is actually an indicator of. Any English teacher knows that this score is not a reflection of progress and preparation. This score is a measure of how many books are in a student's home. This score is a reflection of what the child ate for breakfast, and what the educational level is of the child's parents, and how many jobs those parents have to work to put food on the table. My daughter lives in a home that has 4 full walls of books. She has access to fresh produce daily and she gets 3 full meals a day. Between her parents and her grandparents, we together hold 10 post-secondary degrees. Her ELA score is an indication of exactly that.

I challenge you to go into the homes of the students who are pointy-down triangles (most at risk of falling behind). I challenge you to count the number of apples in their refrigerators. I challenge you to count the books in their homes, and the number of advanced degrees their parents hold. And then I challenge you to go into their communities and count the libraries. Count the grocery stores. Count the parks. Count the museums. I look forward to hearing those numbers. I would like them reported out in real numbers, not in pointy-up and pointy-down triangles, please.

I'll wait right here.

The State of Michigan, to its credit, is very concerned about the M-Step scores. Students are scoring very poorly on this test that has been redesigned two times in the two years it has been administered. And so, the State, based on M-Step scores, is threatening to take aggressive action and "rid the state of failing schools." Instead of spending time and resources making sure that schools have the resources they need, the State will close those failing schools. They might also create a new test, administered 3 times a year, to replace the current test that replaced the old test that replaced the test before that one. Because clearly, the answer to poor test scores is more testing.

I would instead challenge the State to do something truly revolutionary. I would challenge them to go into those failing schools and make sure that there are enough teachers there to teach the students. I would challenge them to make sure that the schools had enough funding to buy chairs. I would challenge them to make sure that students have access to community supports and a standard of living that allows for walls full of books and access to museums and to higher education and to apples.

I challenge the State to actually do something about it, instead of forcing students to sit on milk crates to take more meaningless tests that result in poorly designed nonsensical reports. I challenge the State to make adequate progress.

I'll wait right here.

Friday, July 8, 2016

This is Not the Appropriate Time

This is not the appropriate time to write. The appropriate time to write would be after deliberate reflection, studious investigation, and thoughtful processing. This is not that time.

I cannot deliberately reflect. I cannot find the peace of mind or the space or the energy to come up with pithy summative statements encompassing all I know and believe.

I cannot studiously investigate because the facts are not in, and even if they were, our current media design does not allow for pure truth. Half-truths by omission are the journalism standard. No longer can satire be recognized as a separate entity; our talking heads only know sarcasm. Our debaters only speak in “gotchas.” We The People only know how to point at others. We do not seem to know how or want to know how to look at our own reflections in the mirror. We cannot bear to stare hard enough into our own eyes.

I cannot thoughtfully process because there is no time. There is no silence. There is no breath. Moments before the idea of one more murder sinks in, another senseless killing occurs. I cannot catch my breath.

There are not enough words in the English language to describe this cesspool of emotion.


This is not how people should be. This is not how we are.

And yet, it is so clearly how we seem to be. We insist that All Lives Matter. But the evidence proves otherwise.

If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t arm ourselves so eagerly in order to destroy our perceived threats. If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t shoot first and ask questions later. If all lives mattered, we would make the personal sacrifices we needed to make in order to keep us all safe. If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be tempted to say “all lives matter.”

All lives don’t fucking matter. It is clear.

Only my life.

Only my life matters. That is what we really mean. That is what we really believe. We pretend that we are arming ourselves in order to protect our families, even though the statistics alarmingly show that more people die in houses with guns. We are not protecting our children. We are putting them in arm’s length of their own suicide. We are putting them at the mercy of the whims of their hormones. We are putting ourselves at a terrible risk.

But, we have hubris. We believe that we are rational at all times. And we believe that, in any event (robbery, arrest, psychosis, depression, loud noises in the bathroom) we will be the rational one, with a calm head and a steady hand, and we will save our own lives. Because only that: only our own singular insular lives are what truly matters.

I dare you to prove otherwise. I dare you to put down your gun and stop insisting that you have all the answers. I dare you to turn off the pundits and put down your phone and sweat in the silence and stare into your own eyes. I dare you to hold your child’s hand and tell them the truth, the honest truth -- all of the terrible truths -- about our nation. I dare you to face the horrors that we have inflicted upon so many and the horrors that we continue to perpetuate. Do not wait for the appropriate time. There will never be an appropriate time. This is not the appropriate time.

Do it anyway.