Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Should Betsy DeVos Be Confirmed as Secretary of Education?

Should Betsy DeVos Be Confirmed As Secretary of Education?

by Jill Jenkins

On January 31, 2017 Betsy DeVos' position as Secretary of Education will be confirmed or denied by a committee. Should Betsy DeVos become our next Secretary of Education?  As a retired educator, I must say "no." Betsy DeVos has three shortcomings that would make it difficult for her to be an effective leader of the Department of Education: first, she has no experience in public education and little or no knowledge about the laws connected to public education; second, her approach to education in Michigan has been devastating; and third, she has ethical questions involving her investments in educational connected companies.  The Secretary of Education is an important position and should be held by a well respected person well equipped with experience and knowledge of the laws and problems public education faces.  It should not be a gift to billionaire who has used her money to foist her own opinions on education with her unlimited resources.

Betsy Devos' lack of experience and knowledge of public education and the laws connected to it would hamper her ability to be an effective leader of the Department of Education. She has never been a teacher, an administrator or served on the school board or worked in any capacity in public education.  She has never been a parent whose children were served by public education.  Furthermore, the evidence in her hearing indicate she lacks basic knowledge of policies and procedures connected to public education.   According to the Washington Post's article, "In Senate Hearings DeVos Stroked Activities Fears That She Will Ignore Education Civil Rights" by Emma Brooks, Mariah Ballngit and Nick Anderson on January 18, 2017,
when she was asked specific questions about laws protecting children with disabilities, she lacked knowledge about the requirements and felt that federal money connected to IDEAS could be transferred to whichever private school the parents selected; however, she felt the regulations connected to IDEAS should not be required of those private or charter schools.  The same article revealed that she seemed unprepared and ignorant of most federal laws and requirements on public schools.  She would not answer that she would support rules to protect civil rights of students or support the new laws protecting college students who are victims of sexual assaults.  To most of us in education, keeping our students safe is paramount.  Following the guidelines by the federal government to protect children with disabilities ensures that all children receive a quality education. Ms. DeVos does not seem to understand or care about that fundamental obligation in public education.

How did Betsy's voucher program improve education in Michigan.  According to the Washington Post's article, "A Sobering Look At What Betsy DeVos Did To Education In Michigan--and What She Might Do As Secretary of Education" by Valerie Strauss on December 8, 2016 , "parents had many choices but not many of quality."  The article went on to say, "in Brightmore, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and until recently a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials."  Betsy DeVos' answer to low test scores is to eliminate the Common Core and its tests.  Using public tax money to pay for private schools and charter schools wastes resources for those who need it most and has not improved education anywhere. Public schools address the educational needs of students including those with limited English skills, Special Education students and those with emotional and behavioral issues.  In short, public education meets the individual needs of all students.  While Charter and Private Schools choose to educate the best of the best.  As a parent, I chose to send my daughter to private and parochial schools; however, as an educator I saw the necessity of keeping the tax dollars in the public schools to serve students of all educational and financial groups.

What does this billionaire have to gain from this position? Plenty. Although not all of her financial records were forthcoming according to The Washington Posts' article of January 24, 2017 "Betsy DeVos's Ethics Review Raises Further Questions For Democrats and Watchdogs" by Emma Brown and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel  her disclosures do not list the holdings in two trusts, but in the third trust there are some investments that raise ethical questions. "She has indirect stakes in Sextant Education with operates for-profit colleges through its parent company AEA Investors." This trust also holds interest in Discovery Communications which not only owns television programs, but sells educational materials to schools.  These are not small investments and they pay high dividends according to the article.  She has invested on million dollars in AEA which returns dividends to her from $100,000 to one million dollars yearly.  Furthermore, according to this article her million plus investment in Discovery Communications yields $50,000 to $100,000 in dividends annually.  Despite the ethic committee signing off on her agreement, it leaves doubt that her financial gains through these investments would not influence her decisions as Secretary of Education.  When considering the blight for-profit colleges have put on the financial system by preying on low-income students with promises of a brighter futures while burdening them with inadequate training and burying them with student loan debt, it makes me cringe that anyone connected to the for-profit private college nightmare might be considered with the highest position in education.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seven Methods To Improve Student Behavior

Seven Methods To Improve Student Behavior

by Jill Jenkins

    Recently I have been inundated with questions from a struggling teacher about discipline:
  • Should he use after or before school detention?
  • Is it appropriate to ask students to fold their arms or put their heads down?
  • When should he contact parents about a student's behavior?
  • When should he contact administration about a student's behavior?

Instead of focusing on punishment, this teacher should evaluate his classroom procedures.  There are seven methods that can reduce misbehavior:
  1. Use short engaging learning activities
  2. Vary learning activities and assessments
  3. Weave rewards into learning activities
  4. Make the class fun
  5. Classroom Procedures: Clearly Communicated and Consistently Practiced
  6. Arrange your classroom to allow the greatest proximity to students
  7. Develop a positive relationship with each of your students

#1 Use Short Engaging Learning Activities

Children have short attention spans; therefore, structuring activities into ten minute learning activities increases students' retention.  When students are distracted or bored, they often entertain themselves with inappropriate and destructive behavior.  The teacher should provide:
  •  five to ten minute explanation with a short demonstration
  • followed by a five or ten minutes of guided practice
  • then five to ten minutes small group or pair-share activity
  • next a five to ten minute independent practice
  • finally, a short assessment of learning.
The students will be more engaged and less likely to become involved in inappropriate behavior. They will be more engaged and will have a greater change of retaining the material.  Using music, sounds,  hand signals, or even a xylophone will make smooth transitions from one activity to another. Breaking learning into a variety of different activities allows the teacher to meet the needs of different learning styles, to scaffold for differing learning levels and to maintain the classroom control because the students' are engaged.

#2 Vary Learning Activity and Assessments

Since the advent of the television, computers, electronic games and the internet, lecturing and reading to students have become highly ineffective methods of teaching.  When teachers resort to traditional methods, students become bored, and often disruptive.  Teachers not only need short lessons, but a variety of different activities and assessments.  Synthesizing technology into every lesson, developing cooperative learning and project-based assignments will increase students' engagement and decrease inappropriate behavior.  Granted the learning will be louder, but it will be productive noise, not disruptive noise.  To determine mastery of a skill use a variety of assessments including authentic assessments.  For example, a biology teacher divided her classes into groups of three and four students. Each group was given several large pieces of butcher paper and the students took turn lying on the butcher paper as the others outlined each member of the group on a piece of paper.  On these outlines, each group drew the skin labeling each skin layer; on another figure, they drew and labeled the digestive system; on another, they drew and labeled the respiratory system; and finally on another they drew and labeled the skeleton.  The students' creation were hung one on top of the other in the hallway outside of her room.  The students were so proud of their creations that they would stand in the hall, lifting the layers of human anatomy while explaining each to each passing teachers or students.   Students were teaching one another while rewarding themselves for their accomplishments.  The movement and the social interaction to create their models made the learning memorable so they were more likely to retain this knowledge and their behavior was productive, not destructive. Not only did the students have a visual image of each anatomical system, but they mastered its vocabulary.

#3 Weave Rewards into Learning

One year, my team was suffering through teaching of the elements of a novel with Robert Louis Stevenson's  Treasure Island.  Our ninth grade students often forgot their books and seemed disinterested.  Our team of teachers devised a method that worked well.  We arranged our classrooms into groups of four students.  Each group was given a picture of a pirate ship, asked to name their ship and color it.  The ships were displayed on the bulletin board.  Each group selected a captain.  The captain's task were to validate that each member of his ship's company brought their book each day and was rewarded with a small plastic gem that he adhered to his ship's picture.  At the end of each chapter, the class was given a short quiz.  The captains collected the quizzes that had been corrected in class and if every member of his ship had a perfect score, he/she was given a second gem to adhere to his ship.  Peer pressure began to make the students more responsible and more attentive.  At the completion of the book, we collected all of the students together by class period in the library for a celebration.  Students and teachers dressed like pirates and the groups with the most "bootie" were each allowed to select a piece of treasure from the teacher's treasure box.   Providing students with frequent rewards give them greater incentive which means more motivation, greater involvement and less disruptions.  

#4 Joy: Make the Class Fun

Joy is a natural state of learning, and discovery.  Learning is fun, but many students don't realize it because they have had few successes in school.  Failing is not fun, so they compensate by controlling what they can: disrupting the orderly process of education.  As a result, teachers must make learning fun and successful for all students.  Create learning activities that create joy because joy is a great reward.  Write the students vocabulary words on the board and allow two students to race toward the boards armed with fly swatters to slap the appropriate term when given a definition or an incomplete sentence.  Put students in writing groups to share their creations and allow each group to reward the best submission by sitting on "the teacher's magic stool" and reading that student's creation to the class.  Allow students to work in groups to create film versions of their own myths and share these with the class.  Allow students to dress in old clothing and throw colored chalk to celebrate India's Festival of Color.  Have students create a Medieval Festival with costumes and games to understand Shakespeare more fully.  Make learning a celebration of each student's accomplishments.  

#5 Classroom Procedures: Clearly Communicated and Consistently Practiced 

Classroom procedures can become more of a game than a drudgery.  Rick Smith's book Conscious Classroom Management and his workshops have wonderful ideas to make your classroom run smoothly.  He discusses using sounds to warn students of learning transitions.  He suggests playing music and have students dance forward to pass materials in or out.  More importantly he suggests that the teacher teach the appropriate behavior for each procedure, consistently practice the behavior and display the behavior on charts containing both words and illustrations of the behavior.  For example, one area that used to drive me insane was the middle school students would try to line up at the door for excusal before the class period was over.  I didn't want to lose the last five minutes of instruction time, so I was increasingly dismayed at their insistence.  Rick Smith suggested I identify the behavior I wanted, have students practice it and display a rubric of proper exit behavior.  In my class, the student's behavior looked like this:
  • Butt in seat
  • Hands on desk
  • Feet under desk
  • Eyes forward
At the beginning of the year, I introduced the procedure to them and had them practice while I shot pictures with my camera.  I asked them what was not appropriate and took pictures of them acting badly.  They loved it.  Using those pictures, I created a poster with pictures and a rubric containing the directions and:
  1. Not Even Close
  2. A Few Students Ready
  3. Half of the Students Ready
  4. Most of the Students Ready
  5. Everyone Ready for Dismissal.
The last minute of class, I held up fingers to show the students how ready they were.  Everyone knew that know was dismissed until I held up five fingers.  Peer pressure works well!

#6 Get Down With Your Students: Proximity

A rich environment can enhance students' learning and desk arrangement can reduce students' discipline problems.  Putting desks into pairs or triplets can allow the teacher to wander the room giving individual instruction privately to students.  When a teacher kneels down next  to a student close enough to make eye contact on the same level with the student, the students feel closer.  This connection is important to students.  Talking to the student in a whisper allows the teacher to correct the student's learning or behavior without the student loosing face.  Proximity is a powerful force.  Most students' misbehavior can be stopped with direct eye contact with the teacher.  Others can be curtailed by the teacher moving next to the student or the teacher leaning on the student's desk.  Sometimes moving a student's desk next to the teacher giving the teacher an opportunity to give that student a longer period of one-on-one interaction or what I call positive time provides that child with the positive attention he/she needs on the teacher's terms, not theirs.

#7 Build a Positive Relationship with Each Child

Developing a positive relationship with each student is another method of reducing discipline problems.  Stand in the hall and greet each of your students, chat with them and call them by name. Greet each student when you see them on the playground, in the hall or in the office.  It is nice to be recognized. Listen to your students to learn what difficulties they are facing, what successes they are celebrating and what is important to them.  Become a link between your students and counselors, social workers or whatever resources they might need.  Students are more likely to share problems with you if they feel you care about them.  Be available before and after school to tutor your students.  Remember the teacher is there to serve the students; the students are not there to serve the teacher.  Serve them; be their advocates.

Avoiding misbehavior is more effective than punitive methods.  Try these seven steps, but if a problem student arises, help that student develop behavioral goals for each hour, day of the week or week.  Use positive rewards to achieve those goals.  I've used candy bars, but one principal identified students with issues and offered them lunch with the principal if they could attend school one week without a referral. My grandmother use to say, "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar." That old clique is still true.