Writing Assessment: Why are we doing this to our students?

The neoliberal approach to education, an approach that bases itself in austerity and cruelty, is rooted in the test and punish cycle. Students are sorted by scores and data, rather than interests and talent. Writing, with its connections to personal style and background knowledge, should never be judged by a standardized test. Teachers that never write anything more than the odd email are charged with teaching basic writing techniques in a pedagogy that is eerily similar to the rejected and formulaic Current-Traditional Rhetoric, known simply as CTR. A top-down, managerial type teaching style is noted by critical theorist Paulo Freire as the "banking model of education" a form of pedagogy that privileges the teacher over the student and "deposits" information into an otherwise empty receptacle. The "banking model" oppresses the student by not providing them with an opportunity to experience the joy of altering reality with a problem-posing pedagogy. The "banking model" suggests that reality is fixed and static.

Peter Elbow points out that three types of assessment exist. In order to better understand why one method of assessment is superior, we have to analyze why writers write in the first place. First of all, people write to salvage something from their soul, especially when they are hurting. From this kind of misery, poetry and short stories are born, along with essays and critical, pithy statements. Transmitting messages and exploring modes of creativity typically arise out of exploratory pieces, and these exploratory pieces bare a connection to some travail in life. Storytelling comes from a well-ordered mind that aims to share a moral or idea. No one writes against their will unless it is for a standardized test. This kind of writing, because of its oppressive nature, fails to measure talent or purpose. 

Elbow, in an essay in College English, observes that gauging a piece of writing on its validity and effectiveness are the most common measures in a typical classroom. His problem with this type of assessment is that it fails to allow for how the piece makes the reader feel. Elbow argues that how the words make the reader feel is the highest form of assessment. If the purpose for writing is not left to the student, then even a well-written piece really demonstrates nothing but an ability to adhere to mechanics and form. Even assigning a particular genre to the student waters down the joy of writing, inhibiting the flow of ideas and artistry.

Obviously, the way we teach writing must change. Our students are actually writing more than ever on social media posts and electronic message boards. Self-publishing is common and apps allow for writers of all levels to share ideas and self-promote. The quality of these communications matter to our democratic society. Unless we are able to concisely explain our positions with clarity, we remain vulnerable to those who want to exploit us. Working to weed out the neoliberal test and punish cycle from the English classroom must become a priority. Neoliberals have no desire to teach civil discourse or share power. They would prefer that our students remain as spectators to democracy, rather than grow into strong individuals with an ability to transform reality.

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A Few Reasons Why Standardized Testing is Creating a Crisis in Literacy

I'd like to ignore the neoliberal industry that now manages test prep, curriculum materials, and software packages. But I find it impossible to look away from the glossy, well packaged and unlimited amount of stuff that basically manages compliance with all of the so-called reform strategies that crept out of the hideous test and punish culture of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The revenue numbers and profit margins connected with the test and punish culture are astronomical. Even Obama doubled down on the test and punish gold mine to the horror of public school advocates. According to Education Market Watch, Pearson recorded 1.5Billion in revenue for 2017. This is money they are making off of the misery of millions of impoverished and underfunded school children. Most parents are not even aware that the test and punish cycle is a profit-driven machine supported by lucrative businesses with high level marketing and political lobbyists. Because of that, we may never live to see its demise; unfortunately, the negative effects are more pronounced in children of color and children of poverty, the most powerless and voiceless members of our society. 

Test prep, and the test and punish cycle, might be appropriate for some subjects such as biology, history, and math, but literacy is something quite personal and individualized. 

Let me list a few reasons why accountability-based standardized testing interferes with literacy.

  1. A dialogic classroom that focuses on local problems, issues, themes, and events is impossible because of the stale and static content of test prep material and the invasive nature of the test itself. Engaging points of discourse are sacrificed on the altar of accountability. Teachers are forced to introduce materials and standards that sanction a stripped down curriculum, and exploratory and expressivist writing is replaced by something that mimics the old Current-Traditional Rhetoric (CTR). CTR rejects a writing to learn approach, and focuses on correctness. However, even CTR didn't bastardize the essay form like the test prep culture does today. Typically, especially in schools that are labeled underperforming, students are taught to forego an introduction and just plunk in a broad and generalized thesis statement at the beginning of the essay. This creates confusion for young writers. Because of this confusion and because the test is so important to the school, some teachers never get around to teaching any other essay genre other than test-prep. How to really write an essay is never covered. How to write for a variety of purposes is usually only blushed over. Countless hours of classroom instructional time is wasted on teaching students how to write or type a nonacademic and disconnected, formulaic and uninteresting, piece of writing. 
  2. Doing away with context, both in the introduction of an essay and in the student's community, has a way of creating a passive learner. Someone that is forced to passively accept a formulaic, top-down strategy for something as democratic as writing is easier to control but harder to educate. Learning happens as we actively construct and change our reality. Writing enables us to view our thinking as others would see it and develop our style and voice. The top-down and one-size-fits-all test and punish culture erases this process with its need for duplication and stratification. 
  3. Marketed software packages insert control into the English classroom. By forcing students to spend hours responding to drill and kill type exercises via software and prepackaged materials, teachers are excluded from the creative process. These repetitive and joyless kinds of activities cause students to despise their own personal journey into literacy, a journey that should be individualized and sacred. Not only that, these kinds of packages deprofessionalize the act of teaching literacy because almost anyone can present test prep. Even though this is the least effective route to literacy, and millions of dollars in research proves that a qualified, professional teacher is the key to success, districts are spending millions on these products.

Next time I write on this subject, I am going to talk about two types of writing assessment. The least effective type is the rubric style used by the test and punish culture. I will explain why rubrics, while they are good for some basic writing efforts, are harmful to the beginner writer. 

Just to sum this all up, poverty is the problem. Neoliberal economic policy devalues human discourse and intellect, and it places an inordinate amount of importance on market-based principles. Neoliberal economic policy is not about the word "liberal." It is not about whether or not someone is a liberal. Neoliberal economic policy strives to dominate all aspects of culture and market everything to the highest bidder. In education, neoliberal policy doesn't care about civil discourse or civic duty. The object is to make workers out of everyone, and make sure the poor continue to have no access to power. Unless we can teach our students how to access democracy and become relevant (and, as you know, literacy is the key), our way of life will be lost. Everything we own as a society will be privatized and auctioned off. Think about that.

 


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Moonlight Ramble 2018: Better than EVER 🐾🚴🏼‍♀️🔱👻

Last night we loaded up the bike, the dogs, and the dog trailer and headed over to Houston for the big Moonlight Ramble. We met up with hundreds of other cyclists at Saint Arnold's Brewery for a costume and bike contest, and then we hit the road at midnight on the most challenging ride ever! It was challenging for me because I haven't been training, and dragging Bill and Bob in the trailer added at least 50 pounds to my load.

We went up and down a few freeway interchanges and I literally thought I had downshifted to the last gear on a couple of hills. Other people zoomed by me as I struggled to pedal my load of dogs up the hill, and I was starting to worry about my Trek bike since I haven't taken it in for a service in at least a year. We made it through the rough part, at least initially--but not everyone. Some lady on a pink street bike with lights blinking all over the wheels wiped out right in front of me and went over the curb divider on one of those little uphill struggles. 

I hated to see that, but not as much as I hated to see those little hills. Last year was literally the easiest ride ever, level road, and it was a short ride too, only about 10 miles. This year was quite the workout...I rode 16 miles in 1 hour and 40 minutes and that includes a break at Houston Community College. 

I did get behind the main group of riders, and I did decide to take the short route. The short route and losing sight of my fellow cyclists meant that I actually got lost on the way back. This not only added distance to my ride, but it also added a ton of anxiety. I was somewhere on Canal Street in an unfamiliar area, and literally nobody was around except one other lost cyclist dressed in a skeleton mask and a creepy white onesie. 

I never did get back on the right route because I couldn't keep up with the guy in the skeleton mask because of the dog trailer. I ended up running into one of the ride organizers on Jensen Street and he told me how to get back to Saint Arnold's Brewery. He politely told me what to do, but I felt like he was secretly amused by my predicament.

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The Wonderful Beer Garden at Saint Arnold's! They really welcomed us with red carpet service!

 

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Such a cute, scary couple! ❤️👻

 

I really wasn't going to go to last night's Moonlight Ramble, but my son and his friend volunteered to help me with all of the equipment and the dogs, and they scolded me for "being bummed out." I am so lucky to have such wonderful young people in my life--they grabbed their skateboards, and away we went. It was a fun night that I will never forget! Thank you Houston!

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Bob and Bill waiting to ride!

 

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This bike played music!!!

 

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I'm not sure, but I think this group won a costume prize!

The People and Subjects that Paulo Freire was Fighting For: Composition and Education, the Poor and Oppressed

 

I've been working on a paper that examines the effects of standardized testing on secondary students. I'm most interested in essay responses and how they interfere with an expressivist pedagogy. I'm trying to argue that even though an essay prompt might have good intentions, it still caters to what Freire would call "the banking model of education" because the test is more constructivist--it doesn't allow students to display the ability to write in an authentic genre because the test itself becomes a genre. 

For example, in the state of Texas, ninth grade writers are asked to compose an expository piece inside of a box on 26 lines. Teachers in schools with socioeconomic deficits really stress over this piece of writing, and it can be taught throughout the school year. While students are being forced to respond to a prompt in a 26 line essay "that explains something" they are missing out on the joys of composing authentic, expressivist writings that explore current events, inner peace, self-exploration, or other topics of interest. 

For example, in one extremely poor urban school students were given a state prompt that asked them to explore and explain why it is important to trust someone. Most of these students had never trusted anyone and with good reason. In fact, someone that was trusting was considered foolish. The neighborhood consisted of mostly public housing and crime was a part of every student's life. Asking them to write about "trust" was a completely inappropriate topic, a topic that was basically foreign to them.

If English teachers are cultural workers with a mission to humanize and teach empathy, then how did they become aligned with this form of oppression? Is the energy, effort, and time wasted on teaching students to write to a standardized test really an act of oppression?

I think that Paulo Freire would say that we have lost our way, and that we have become the oppressor. If "oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization" as Freire says they are, then does the modern English teacher fit this mold? Freire makes a distinction between "systemized education" and "educational projects." Projects involve the student, while systemized education is a top down form of management that disregards the problem with oppression. 

Typically, standardized tests are equated with power, both financial and political, as profits are made and student needs are ignored. The standardized test is a neoliberal and far right conservative manifestation that touts educator accountability but fails to allow the pursuit of a problem-solving style pedagogy. Freire teaches us that:

"In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people's historicity as their starting point."

Why not understand the origins of our students? When people become "aware of their incompletion" then education becomes an "ongoing activity." Standardized testing symbolizes an oppressive barricade, a box much like the one the students are forced to write in. The test becomes an education completed, or in some cases it becomes an education never accomplished. 

Either way, both outcomes send our students the wrong message. 

 

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Doing Research in Education: A Writer's Dilemma in the Age of Trump and Devos

I'm at an impasse in my research and in my paper, and I think I've just become sick of the battle for public education. I am sick of this battle because in the age of Trump and Devos I am losing hope. Even though teachers and other stakeholders have come forward with proof that accountability based statewide standardized testing is lowering the quality of student educational experience, nobody, no matter how loud their voice, is able to make any significant changes.

My paper, heavy on criticism and blended with pedagogies that have been made near extinct by policy, is a just another tired, old dialogue to throw on my scrap heap of other various complaints. For example, I am sick of sharing the road with drivers that haven't bothered to license up for even the most basic of journeys. I am talking about the privileged teacher, the ones working in charter schools, the ones with no certification and no advanced degree. I believe those teachers should be made to go back to school and do it all again. You actually need some background on human and child development, some literature courses, and an awareness of composition theory. You need a practicum or student teaching cycle. You don't become an expert in the English department just by trying to teach the subject. We wouldn't say that about any other occupation, so why are we allowing this to happen in our classrooms? Students are not lab rats; experimenting with them is wrong.

At any rate, I do have a variety of places to go with my paper. I could write about how standardized testing, and these lower standards for teachers, have interfered with an expressivist and critical writing pedagogy in the English classroom. I could write a vitriolic, complaint paper based upon my most recent experiences, but what would be the use? Writing a vitriolic and angry paper would help me blow off some steam, but I don't believe it will help my students. Even so, I have had certain people without even a basic understanding of the writing classroom come into my world and try to make sense of it. They remind me of how lost I would be in a chemistry class, and I wonder why they think they have the expertise to criticize any methods in an English class. I have heard some of the most ridiculous comments from people like that, and I could weave them into my paper for entertainment purposes, but would that help anyone?

I could write about the development of the STAAR writing prompt, and I could make the argument that it lends itself to a formulaic and reductive pedagogy. The STAAR prompts are intended to fit any ethnic or economic demographic, but they fall tremendously short of this goal. I could show the reader why they discriminate, and I could offer some solutions for fixing the prompt. I could write about the history of expressivist writing in high schools, and discuss why it works with marginalized populations. But what would all of this mean for me? What would I learn from this?

Anyway, I am at the classic writer's crossroad, that place where picking up the pen has become a chore rather than a thrill. But no matter what, this writing has to happen. After this, I can write whatever I want... and, believe me, I will 😊That piece of vitriol might happen anyway.

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The Problem with the Cat Squad: Writing and Thinking

Today I am writing to discuss the dancing mumble jumble of the early beginnings of the classical swing and sway of turbulent female bonding gone tragically wrong. A typical feminist will recognize the innate, positive qualities that exist in another woman and seek to hold that person strongly aloft, high above the fray of angry meanderings and petty jealousies of the frantic and dramatically superficial class of thinker. But I am not to enjoy this type of strong hold because I have been dropped into a shrieking palisade of surface thinkers, a menagerie of spite and pettiness, with a faded and dying disco ball twerking its last twerk. How did I get into this sometimes humorous but never painless amateur dance amid a cliquish cesspool of languishing performers? I was duped—that is how. I was sold a bad bargain, and I was convinced that I would be protected. I listened to a detractor, and as you know, detractors want nothing to do with strong women. The typical detractor (male or female) is looking for women that will handily destroy other women, and by doing so the detractor can continue an egotistical power trip. Maybe I should speak the truth, and just tell it like it is—the word ‘detractor’ is insufficient, while the word ‘quitter’ is more accurate.  A ‘quitter’ is always happiest with the status-quo. Quitters never analyze the depth and honesty of their actions--they just stop trying to grow.

At any rate, I have only myself to blame for this death-march-waltz because even if I were completely androgynous and I hid my feminine power side, I would remain a target. Basically, for those who manipulate so that they can continue to live in a state of languor, any sprite of positive energy is a threat; intelligence becomes as unwelcome as a broken heel during the fox trot.  I could try slide stepping my stronger moments on a soft shoe, and maybe that would endear me to my attackers, but I simply can’t; I refuse to bore my audience by becoming a wall flower.

I want every woman I meet to succeed in a place that is appropriate for her, but I am unwilling to support the kind of woman that is a traitor to her own struggle. We all must practice at becoming more self-aware and be cognizant of what it is that we are aiming to do—we need to study our motives and question our ethical assumptions about what is right for others. Only until we are completely conscious of our innermost motivations, can we be assured that we are treating each other with respect and kindness.

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Somewhere in the Middle East, Late 50's

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If you recognize this scene, leave a comment and tell me what you know 😊

        It is so much like me to post something and then write about a completely different topic, but this time I’m doing it because I really don’t know much about this picture. I know that my father took this shot somewhere in the Middle East during the late 50’s. He worked and lived there, and all that I know about this part of his life is that he enjoyed the experience. I can’t remember much about my father, but I can remember some of the most important things that he told me. I asked him why he traveled so much, and he told me that he was a gypsy. He said that most gypsies travel by road, but he liked flying. I remember thinking about him flying on his planes as I rode down the highway in my grandmother’s big Buick with my hands out the window, watching our shadow race along beside us.

        Whenever someone would ask me “what” I was, I would proudly tell them, “I am a gypsy.” I started to dress a bit Bohemian as a kid, but then I took the thing to the next level when I dropped college for long distance trucking. I lived out of my truck just like a gypsy for decades, and I finished school in between because I knew I didn’t want to live on the road forever. I wanted to be able to experience people from all over the world without having to continuously travel. I wanted to stay home in Texas. Now that I live in the most diverse place in the United States, I am able to work with people from every corner of the world, and I think my father would be happy with my decisions.

            When I look at this picture, I am struck by how the little boy is marching behind the line of soldiers. We know that our actions and our traditions impact our children, and this picture is a representation of that. Just as my father influenced me with his open mind and love of travel, the little boy in the picture is following what he knows. I hope his life is a happy one.

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John Eckert Sr. (somewhere in the Middle East)

 


Five Ways to Survive the Drama King or Queen at Your Workplace

            Just when you started to think that your life had become dull and uninteresting to other people, you suddenly realize that you’ve been a long-running target of the weak-minded and categorical. I say weak-minded because even with a solid education the cause of your misery is still oblivious to common sense and the surrounding world with all its peculiarities, and I say categorical because even though they (he, or she, or the person in transition) rejects insulting classifications and stereotypes that could easily be applied to them, they fall into the trap of outwardly embracing what it is that makes them repugnant in the first place. Happily playing at therapy and liberally applying labels to other unsuspecting people is just daily business for people running on an intellectual deficit.

So, how do we outmaneuver and protect our finances and career, our sanity, from this abuse and assault on our character?

  1. Don’t play nice and don’t help them. People that run around slapping labels on coworkers and acquaintances do not deserve your help. No matter how tempted you are to point out the obvious, or cover for the person, resist. If they are running around judging you, they are somehow in deficit. This means they will lie to obscure the truth about themselves. Labeling other people makes it convenient to dehumanize. In other words, they will never care about anyone that isn’t a convenience to them.
  2. When you are targeted by a person in deficit, do not turn the other cheek. I’ve done this before, and it does not work. Be totally proactive and completely truthful. Do not allow them to bully you, and do not share in any of their blame. I’ve tried to compromise with a person like this before in an effort to make peace and, sadly, it does not work. When someone is pretending that they are qualified to psychoanalyze you, or if someone thinks they know your character better than you do yourself, beware, because they are in search of drama and attention at your expense. This tendency to slap labels and stereotypes on other people will create a sense of isolation ultimately lending itself to inauthentic and dishonest, two-faced relationships.
  3. Keep your sense of humor even as they devalue you. Remember, those obnoxious lips and mouths are really crying out from pain and insecurity, and you can help them coexist without exclusion if you demonstrate your own courage and resilience. Most of the time they are operating from that lonely place of deficit, and that is a place of fear and uncertainty. The attack on you is an act of cowardice. Recognize it for what it is and be glad you are not in that place.
  4. Practice articulation. If you are unable to explain to other interested parties why you think you are a target, then you might be misinterpreted. This happened to me, and this inability to share my thoughts in an articulate and powerful way hindered my ability to convey the truth. I was simply underprepared, blind-sided, and in a state of shock. Prepare to defend yourself at all times. People that backstab you and label you will stop at nothing to destroy you. You have been reduced to a category, a label, or stereotype. Do not soft peddle your defense in an effort to protect your own humanity. The deficit, the cowardice, is real.
  5. The five-year rule. I always tell my students that they will never know how they will feel about someone, or some situation, in five years. Never take an action against your attacker that might cause you shame in the future because nothing is more destructive. Instead, mitigate the damage to yourself by maintaining a sense of dignity. You know that you are more valuable than the careless and irresponsible label that your pretend psychotherapist, or attention seeking gossip, or fake friend, has tossed in your direction. Be strong and resist the temptation to take revenge.

Finally, I would like to say that it is important that we do everything in our power to keep our children safe. That means doing our best to monitor their movements and give them rules that we are able to enforce. If we give our children mixed messages, if we fail to support them with consistent discipline and structures, then we not only endanger them physically, but we also create mini-dramas that will produce more confused and intolerant adults with social and intellectual deficits.

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Leadership and Qualifications? Oh the Irony!

I'm writing today just to reflect on a few things that I find extremely pathetic and boring, the kinds of things that are just tiresome and ridiculous. This is just me having an informal conversation with you. First of all, when someone is qualified to do the work, then he or she should get the job without any question. The boss should put on his or her biggest set of underwear, grab a dose of courage, and just lay down a set of rules to the whiners and the uninspired. The reason that workplace hostility and bias is allowed to fester is because leadership can't do what needs to be done, or can't see what needs to be seen. This inability to do or see is the cornerstone of our problem. 

In my own unimportant, but brave, corner of the world, I can see what needs to be done. I see some big underwear that should definitely be taken back down to small. I see this metaphorical big underwear almost everyday, sometimes on the television or social media and sometimes right there in person. From my own unimportant position in life, I observe a ton of people putting the cart before the horse, and it saddens me.

This weekend I've been reading James Comey's book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. I'm not that far into his nicely written and rather shocking book, but it appears that the overriding theme is courage versus cowardice. He discusses how maladjusted leadership has a tendency to wrap itself with sycophants and chronic liars, and he discusses how he worked to solve that problem in his own offices. I know we tend to look to Washington when we think of this kind of moral decay and pandering favoritism, but what about right there at our own job, or in our local politics? When people are getting fat off of the land, then they don't want change or any real effort to present itself in the form of a new and truly qualified person because that would interrupt the flow of daily nonbusiness. Mediocre outcomes are okay as long as they can successfully destroy any outside competition. Mean-spirited people tend to take decent people by surprise, and that gives them an unfair advantage. At the end of the day, profits and scores are lower for everyone because the sycophants have out-politicked the unsuspecting competition. Now everyone is just mediocre...but no fabulous gains are made. But the threat of having to do honest hard work that takes qualifications, instead of self-improving and self-monitoring, is at least partially contained. The big britches crowd works hard at what they enjoy most (gossip, lies, and manipulations). Slandering and destroying somebody that might change the status quo equates to a fun day on the job.

We always talk about the sin of low expectations, and I really believe the concept should apply to everyone, even if they are not a student. If you've been promoted without any qualifications, then shame on you. I have been working my rear off for nearly three years on an advanced degree. My degree is not from Harvard, and it is not in rocket science. But my degree is more than what the majority of people can achieve, and it does make me qualified, even if it is not complete. My degree makes me qualified to take on the job I want, a job that doesn't pay much. My hard work should buy me an opportunity to remain in poverty, to remain where I belong, even if it isn't what other people might think is good for me.

Which brings me to another topic, irony. I've been studying irony quite a bit lately. It is so complicated; and if you think irony is simple stuff that's because you just don't know what you don't know about writing in general or the relative problems and glaring importance of irony. I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you haven't really thought about it before, but neither does irony if it's done wrong. Anyway, what I learned from all of these months of studying the subject of irony in depth and acquainting myself with all of the theories around it, is that whatever is happening on the ground with you is the most important factor. If you are having a problem with what is taking place over your head, but the situation on the ground is temporarily livable, then you will eventually have to deal with irony. Stick with the situation on the ground; ironically, something unpredictable will happen to the situation overhead. 

I want to leave you this weekend with this very meaningful quote from an important writer, and a not-so-random political thought that circulated for quite some time on social media. The quote is important because Rachel is implying that issues of sensitivity and the processing of exclusion are tough on people of an artistic nature within the business. But, ironically, her quote really says more about the people that engage in the exclusion of others than it does about the art world itself or some notion of weighing in on rejection slips versus published materials. She can, admittedly, rise above the harsh cruelties of an insecure art world because she is independent and fearless. What does the subtext of this say about those who exclude you? Do they even have one piece of art to stand on? Probably not! 😊🌹

I like the social media posting because it clearly demonstrates the large scale consequences of failed leadership.

Anyway, have a happy week!

I think the art world heightens the intensity of desires for inclusion, and the humiliations of exclusion, which is why it's a great place to circulate when you are in the lucky position, as I am, of not wanting or needing anything from anyone. ∼Rachel Kushner

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Thoughts on Trump, Literacy Coaching, and Writing for My GIS

Like usual, I couldn't be more disturbed about the incompetence going on in Washington. I've been reading this book by Kurt Eichenwald about Enron and why it failed, and so many of the people at the top of that organization had no business working with large sums of money and creating financial vehicles like hedge funds. They had no business buying up water utilities and shuffling funds around. This compares to the Trump administration in a bunch of frightening ways, and I am tired of just watching the train wreck in slow motion. Some nights after reading in that book, it's hard to sleep well. And then I wake up in the morning and turn on the news, and Trump has already been up since before dawn making a fool of himself and taking the entire country along on his weird little ride.

My theories about incompetence isn't confined to politics; I'm worrying about other places too. When you are depending on your leadership to make good choices (because it's like you are on a bus careening down a dangerous mountain with a bunch of other helpless people when you are subject to the decisions of an incompetent team), your life is on a kind of holding pattern, like at an airport. For example, I went on an interesting job interview last year. The school was in a tough neighborhood and the principal was young and inexperienced. Honestly, she looked like she was just out of high school, and she even had a squeaky little voice to go along with her tiny, young appearance. She had the campus instructional coach sit in the interview, and at the time I didn't see anything wrong with that. And then in January of this year, I read an entire text book on coaching. It turns out that the instructional coach should never chime in on personnel decisions because that interferes with the trust that is needed between the teacher and the coach. The student's success in the classroom should be the goal of coaching, not deciding which teachers should win or lose during hiring season. To help students succeed, the coach has to be trustworthy and ethical so the teacher can feel comfortable asking questions and demonstrating teaching methods in the classroom. The coach is suppose to support the teacher in an objective and professional way. A coach that is critical and unethical, willing to gossip, or seek power over an individual's employment, is unworthy of the position. Coaches should never verbally abuse a teacher or make hateful and derogatory comments either, but most of us in education have seen this kind of unprofessional conduct at least once. 

But my answer on that day was pretty blunt. I told them that I respected credentials and experience, and that I was hoping to work with a team that had a campus wide learning strategy. But in some ways just relying on a person's credentials or education is an invitation to open Pandora's box because as soon as someone thinks that his or her terminal degree means it's okay to stop learning from colleagues, then the department or institution is limited to something that may not be what it appears, similar to Enron's CFO, Andy Fastow. So, if a team is looking up to someone that is believed to have all-encompassing knowledge, overloading this person's ego with decision making power or influence, and grooming them to serve at the top, then the institution will never know what it has been missing in the way of growth or innovation because it has chosen to overlook other perspectives. When an organization centers its attention on a particular individual, and relies on that individual as a source of guidance or constant advice, then the organization threatens its very existence because of this insulating factor. It's important to listen to every voice. Let's take a look at the relationship between Ken Lay, CEO of Enron, and Andy Fastow, the CFO. Anything that Andy did or said was supported by Ken Lay, and it took a string of whistle blowers and mini-disasters, and finally a major disaster, to get anyone outside of the company to believe that the entire organization was near financial collapse. It was basic incompetence 101 that brought Enron to its knees after years of mismanagement, and the fact that Lay was enthralled with an erroneous idea and image of Andy Fastow. 

This is why I have been thinking about writing some ideas about literacy coaching into my GIS. The way we do education in this country does need some revamping, but the reforms that have been tried so far have done nothing but harm students and teachers. Maybe if more teachers were encouraged to take advanced coursework this would help with student achievement. But ignoring professionalism has done nothing to improve outcomes, and just allowing anybody to coach, teach, or lead a school, is just as crazy as relying on a perceived guru. When I say ignoring professionalism, I think of the instructional coach example.

My first instructional coach has since retired, but I met her one night last fall on a moonlit bike trail. It was the strangest way to meet back up again, and I was so happy to see her. She had so much to offer me back at my old school in the way of knowledge and expertise, but she had no clue about the actual learning environment between her visits because all she was ever shown was numbers and data, so she was unsure of how to guide any of her teachers on that campus (an example of how misguided leadership can hurt kids). But our conversation was tinged with sadness since we both already knew from watching the news that my old school is in its seventh year of "improvement required," and will soon be closed, proving in general that drastic reform strategies fail our kids. 

Anyway, my GIS is my capstone course for my master's degree, and I want to expand on how standardized testing has affected student writing. I've already done some work in this area in previous courses, but I would like to offer some solutions on how to mitigate the classroom tragedies that are taking place everyday in public schools everywhere. I know that the emphasis on writing to an examination has overshadowed the creation of student writers per se. The drill and kill method of grammar instruction is once again overshadowing the more effective literature based method. Standardized tests cater to a certain demographic, and the writing prompts are evidence of this. I know that I can't change policies, but one voice at a time can help one child at a time. I hope that what I learn from my capstone course will help me become a better teacher.

Vogt, MaryEllen, et al. Reading Specialists and Literacy Coaches in the Real World. 2nd. ed., Boston, Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2007.

Eichenwald, Kurt. Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story. New York, Broadway Books, 2005.

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