Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tonight's line-up Arts vs. Core ~ Why is there a fight?

Mr. Holland is Right

Mr. Holland Opus is my all-time favorite teacher movie.  If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend taking a rainy Saturday afternoon, when you aren’t grading papers, curl up with a warm blanket and watch this movie.  Then come back to this blog, as there is a spoiler alert now!

Mr. Holland was a reluctant music teacher who took a teaching job to supplement his income as a composer.  Thirty years later, he is forced into retirement because the music and art programs are being cut from the school.  There is an argument between the vice principal and Mr. Holland about programs being cut.

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I'm forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about.”(2007).

The arts are so important to a school’s curriculum.  There are no other classes where students can express themselves without having to worry about conventions and sentence structure.  Students can use their imaginations and be free to think, explore, make critical decisions.  “Perhaps the most fundamental element to education one should consider is the manner in which we perceive and make sense of the world in which we live” (Bryant).  Student need art and music. These classes should not be considered to be “extra” classes.  

However, too many times, when the test scores for reading and math are low in a school, the reaction from the higher ups is to cut art and music.  Now there is no denying that kids have to be able read and be able to do math.  But how we accomplish the teaching of reading and math is not limited to worksheets and readers.  “The arts have the capacity to engage everyone. All levels of American society can and do participate in the fine arts. There are no barriers of race, religion, culture, geography, or socioeconomic levels” (Bryant).  We need need to incorporate the arts into our reading and math instruction.  

This needs to be done at lower income schools even more so.   According to Tim Walker, “High-poverty schools across the nation have been forced to narrow the curriculum much more drastically than wealthier schools—with worse consequences for low-income students. While their more affluent peers may routinely visit museums or other cultural resources, many poor urban and rural students rely on their teachers to expose them to the kind of background knowledge that is essential to subject mastery” (2014). It seems as if the students that need the arts the most have the least accessibility to them.  

I remember being in elementary school music and art in the 1970’s.  The music teacher was a World War II vet with limited hearing (which was probably to his advantage!!).  We got music twice a week.  We all looked forward because we always got to play different percussion instruments while he played and we were supposed to be singing.  We would laugh and still be talking about music during recess.  In art, we would be allowed to sculpt and paint.  The art teacher, who was a wonderful hippie, thought everything we did was wonderful.  We came out of that class feeling we could make anything.  We would always have to write about our projects.

“Our schools [were] once vigorous and dynamic centers for learning” (Walker 2013).  We need bring these dynamic centers back by being mindful of where our educational dollars and balance the reading and math instruction with art and music.  Give the students something to read and write about - like what Mr. Holland was advocating for.  

Bryant, Bob. "Katy Independent School District." The Importance of Fine Arts Education. Kay

Broussard, Meredith. "Why Poor Schools Can't Win at Standardized Testing." The Atlantic.

Long, Cindy. "The High-Stakes Testing Culture: How We Got Here, How We Get Out." NEA
Mr. Holland's Opus. Dir. Stephan Herek. Perf. Richard Dryfuss and Glenne Headly. 20th Century
Fox, 2007. DVD.

Walker, Tim. "The Testing Obsession and the Disappearing Curriculum." NEA Today. NEAToday,

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"The Biggest Loser" and Education

I have been watching reruns The Biggest Loser on Hulu.  I don’t know why I like this show, but I love it. However, there is an unsettling theme in the show. Each week, the goal is the maximum weight loss, not working as hard as they can, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, or getting healthy. Maximum pounds lost is the only measurement of success.    

I see the same thing in education.  Instead of pounds lost, however, the goal is great test scores. Test scores mean everything just like the number on the scale - the final product.   Administrators live and die by scores numbers which makes teachers have to live and die by the product - test scores. But how much of our time is consumed by these numbers?  According to Cindy Long, author of "The High-Stakes Testing Culture: How We Got Here, How We Get Out," “No one knows for sure the average time students spend on test prep. A recent survey of the Colorado Education Association found that teachers spend 30 percent of their time on prep and testing”  (2014).   We teachers give practice tests and scour our data of how the students are scoring on the test:  Who is scoring what?  Who needs to be scoring higher.  Who do we need to workout more? Who needs that “last chance workout”  before the ultimate weigh-in for education - the state standardized test.

There is no doubt that there is a time and place for testing.  According to Melissa Lazarin, author of Testing Overload in America's Schools,” “three out of four parents think that it is important to regularly assess whether their children are on track to meet state academic goals, according to a poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Support for regular assessment is even higher among Latino and black parents.” (2014).  There is parental support for testing.  Plus, there is validity in testing.  “Proponents [of testing] say standardized tests are the best objective tool to hold teachers and schools accountable” (Strauss, 2006).  Numbers are the easiest way to answer questions:  Is there overall improvement in the school?  How school A is doing compared to school B?  Did student X gain this year from last year? But the bigger question is how much testing to do we need to be doing in order to get these numbers?

However, there is a cost to all of this testing.  Obviously it costs money to test.  But there is a bigger cost.  We are losing sight of the process of education.  Things that can’t be measured by a test are being lost  - how to learn, working hard, positive attitude, motivation,  and learning in the moment.   “Testing . . . eliminates the richness of the curriculum, eliminating subjects like art, music, even social studies, are cut so that more time can be spent on drills in reading and math.” (Long, 2014).  There is also a personal cost. “But it is important to acknowledge that for some children, testing exacts an emotional toll in the form of anxiety and stress.” (Lazarin, 2014).   Students feed off the stress teachers unknowingly exude. Students feed off the stress the parents put on them.  More than once I have heard parents say something to the effect “You better do well on this.”   Except for the money, most of the costs of testing can’t be shown with the numbers.

So, should our students be evaluated like the contestants on The Biggest Loser? Sometimes yes.  There really isn’t an efficient and equitable way to assess millions of students once a year for comparative scores.  Should our classrooms look like and feel like the pressure cooker that is the The Biggest Loser?  Absolutely not!  We need to balance the tests with the other aspects of education that can’t be tested - creativity, motivation, perseverance, inquisitiveness.   How do we get this balance?  In the classroom, we can work on creating a learning environment instead of a testing classroom.  We can encourage learning through other activities like music and art instead of using skill sheets.   We teachers need to advocate for change as we are the only ones that can bring change to our classrooms. We need to help the state school boards what is in the child’s best interest, not just the district’s best interesting.  It all depends on what the state school boards and legislators want for their students in the classroom- the pressure cooker or the learning classroom

Lazarín, Melissa. "Testing Overload in America's Schools." Center for American Progress.

Long, Cindy. "The High-Stakes Testing Culture: How We Got Here, How We Get Out." NEA

Strauss, Valerie. "The Rise of the Testing Culture." The Washington Post. WP Company, 10 Oct.

The Biggest Loser, NBC. (2004-Current).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Where are the boys?

Before I start this blog, let it be known to all that I am the mother to two daughter and no sons.  I am very proud of my daughters as they are very accomplished.  That being said, I have noticed that there have been a lack of boys in leadership positions at school, 4H, and church.  What has happened to the boys? Where did they go?

I have also noticed the difference in success with education between girls and boys.  Girls are doing great.  They are the majority of college degree holders. According to Anne Fisher, author of “Boys vs. Girls:  What’s Behind the College Grad Gender Gap?,”   “Female grads now account for about 60% of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders.” (2013). This is great news because educated women give their own children a huge advantage.  However, where are the boys? Why are boys not more successful in education?  

Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens, authors of “With Boys and Girls in Mind,” posed this question: “Is contemporary education maliciously set against either males or females?” (2004) The answer is NO!! No one actually believes that the education system is engaged in active gender warfare with boys being intentionally sabotaged.  But there has been changes in education based on gender which has not been done by educators.   According to Gurian and Stevens,  “For a number of decades, most of our cultural sensitivity to issues of gender and learning came from advocacy groups that pointed out ways in which girls struggled in school.“ (2004).  This means that people not in education are making policy and procedure for education.

However, the question is still there:  Why are the boys not as successful in education as the girls are? Ron Coniglio, author of “Why Gender Matters in the Classroom,” states:  “I feel that as classroom teachers whether or not it is nature or nurture that creates these differences is not all that relevant to us. What is relevant is that we see gender differences in the students in our classrooms” (2017).  However, these difference exist, regardless of the origins of the difference.  How we teachers react to these difference are important.  According to Coniglio, “80% of high school dropouts are boys, 80% of all classroom discipline problems are boys, 70% of students with learning disabilities are boys, 80% of students who are behaviorally disordered are boys, 80% of students on medication for ADHD and ADD are boys” (2017).  These numbers are shocking.  We can make the leap that the boys that are dropping out are the ones that are having learning issues which can result in discipline issues as a result of frustration.  However, the question is - why?  Why is this happening? Why are boys struggling in the current education environment?

Anne Fisher offers some advice on how to prevent these numbers.  “First, the most important predictor of boys’ achievement is the extent to which the school culture expects and rewards academic effort,” School need to set high expectations and recognize each student as an individual, not a cell in a spreadsheet.”Second, the authors write, their research shows that “boys have less understanding than girls about how their future success in college and work is directly linked to their academic effort in middle school and high school.”  (Fisher, 2013).  Boys need more help in understanding the connection between education and success outside of school.  

How do we teachers do this?  We need to make connections to the “real” world from the classroom.  We need more hands-on classes.  We also need to bring back other options than college for after high school.  Popular entertainer and “blue collar” advocate, Mike Rowe has put the spotlight on successful trade jobs that allow for good careers in the article “11 High Paying Blue Collar Jobs with Mike Rowe.”   “Rowe said, [that it]] is the attitude of many Americans that the trades are merely a last-ditch alternative when college doesn't work out.” (Dugar 2017).  We teachers need to change this attitude amongst all of our students but especially amongst boys.  We need to create learning environments that play to boys’ strengths - like hands-on activities that promote building, problem solving, and critical thinking skills.  We need to encourage the  Industrial Arts, FFA, and other programs that promote hands-on learning. We need to have our boys be successful in classroom so that they can be successful outside classroom, which is the majority of their lives.

Conigilo, Ron. "Why Gender Matters in the Classroom: The Differences Between Boys and
Girls." Why Gender Matters in the Classroom: The Differences Between Boys and Girls., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

Dugan, Dawn. "11 High-Paying Blue Collar Jobs with Mike Rowe." 11 High-Paying Blue Collar
Jobs with Mike Rowe., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

Gurian, Michael, and Kathy Stevens. "With Boys and Girls in Mind." Educational Leadership.
ASCD, Nov. 2004. Web. 19 Feb. 2017. <With Boys and Girls in Mind>.

Fisher, Anne. "Boys vs. Girls: What’s behind the College Grad Gender Gap?" Boys vs. Girls:
What’s behind the College Grad Gender Gap? Fortune, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Feb.