Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Open Letter to United States Lawmakers

Please speak up, stand up, and fight for ALL students! Listen to educators and get ESEA right. 

The Every Child Achieves Act is a good start. As an educator and a constituent, I want to share my views on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). 

ESEA-the cornerstone of the federal presence in K-12 education aims to support programs to level the playing field for students most in need. 

The reauthorization should set a new vision of shared responsibility for public education to promote opportunity, equity, and excellence for all students. To do this, a bipartisan bill, similar to the approach taken so far by the Senate, is likely needed. And the bill should: 

-Include a dashboard of key indicators to identify and close opportunity and resource gaps to ensure all students, but especially those most in need, have access to a well-rounded education; 

-Give students more time to learn by reducing over-testing, decoupling tests from high-stakes decisions, and providing more flexibility for states and districts to determine an assessment system that helps teachers help students; and 

-Ensure educators' voices are heard and empower them to lead. 

I urge you to get ESEA right with a bipartisan bill that advances opportunity for all students, ensures more time for students to learn and for teachers to teach, and empowers educators to lead.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Open Letter to Michigan Lawmakers

We can no longer ignore the importance of higher education to Michigan’s future. It is an investment that will pay dividends in the future.

According to Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, Inc., “Michigan universities bring in one billion dollars annually of federal funds and employ thousands of knowledge workers. Places where new knowledge is being created have a big edge in being the places where new technologies are commercialized.”

Michigan has the potential to be a leader in emerging markets, including technology, alternative energy, health care, and education. We have citizens who are experts in these areas – or who are willing to learn new skills to become experts. Our higher education institutions need adequate funding to make this happen.

In a global, knowledge-based economy, every student graduating from high school needs to attend a vocational school, community college, or university to be successful. A college education must be affordable; if it is not, many will be unable to get the education needed to prepare for a job in a growing industry.

The survival of Michigan businesses depends on a diverse and educated workforce. We do not want Michigan to fall behind the rest of the United States because our residents cannot afford expensive public universities. According to Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, “Michigan’s public universities are engines of job creation. Our universities create the next generation of teachers, engineers, nurses, doctors, researchers, inventors, and community leaders.”

There are ways to offset at least some of the costs associated with such investments. Students who receive scholarships and other forms of financial aid, for example, could be required to give back to the community through volunteer work. They could teach senior citizens or unemployed workers technology skills, provide fitness classes and nutrition workshops in their communities, tutor K-12 students to boost graduation rates, or help maintain our “Pure Michigan” ecosystems.

Michigan needs to invest in higher education to create an innovative workforce. This innovative workforce will bring economic prosperity back to Michigan. An investment in education now will secure the well being of future generations.   

According to the Michigan Education Association - Political Action Committee (MEA-PAC), public education is under attack due to evaluation, privatization, right-to-work, cyber and charter schools. To rebuild Michigan’s middle class, we must rebuild our public schools. 

Instead, $1 billion has been taken from our children’s classrooms to pay for a $1.8-billion tax break for big corporations, including those that outsource our jobs. Macomb county public school students have lost $211,239,168 in the last four years. 

Meanwhile, there has been an expansion in for-profit charter and cyber schools without ensuring accountability. Stand up for public education and support our local schools. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Opinion: The Role of Standardized Testing

Teachers need tests to determine if students have learned what was expected of them and if it is the right time to move on to the next objective. 

The data gathered from tests identifies areas of difficulty, which can help teachers adjust instruction for subsequent cohorts of students. Tests show teachers, which students are achieving, and the instructional strategies that are effective. Results from standardized tests can help inform educational policy, school improvement, or instructional practice and develop an action plan.

There are socioeconomic issues such as the inequalities in school funding between wealthy and impoverished areas, which can have an impact on student achievement and test results. 

Standardized tests are just one of the many markers of progress, and alternative assessments such as observations, performance tasks, or portfolios should also be used by teachers. Results from alternative assessments can be more effective in communicating outcomes. 

Standardized tests can be used to observe changes in student test scores over a year in order to inform the public of an improvement or decline in student achievement.  The standardized tests can also be used as a tool to compare certain schools within the same district because they are similar in socioeconomics. 

However, one thing our state’s elected leaders can’t continue to do is place such an emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing.  Instead, we must focus our energy on empowering all students to care and understand the importance of obtaining a quality education. 

The goal of using data produced by standardized tests is to extract a correlation between the knowledge of the student and the effectiveness of the teacher. 

However, there is not a reliable learning assessment resource available to measure the different impact of each. According to Steve Cook, Michigan Education Association President, "We can't use unreliable data to judge teachers and school districts".

Besides the effectiveness of the teacher, the knowledge of the student is also affected by social factors such as student apathy, peer relations, poverty, and parent involvement. 

Standardized tests should not be on the cutting edge of education because it promotes teaching to the test, which can be counterproductive and dehumanizing.

Tests cannot be the only assessment used to help with the evaluating, rating, and ranking of schools, teachers, and school systems. 

The toxic environment of standardized testing is causing teachers to consider leaving the profession because of the increase in pressure, wasted time, and negative impact on the classroom. Standardized testing has eroded student learning time, while doing nothing to shed light on the achievement gaps between schools. 

In 2002, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) doubled the number of standardized tests. Unfortunately, testing does not solve our problems. 

The use of standardized tests has not increased student achievement (National Academy of Sciences, 2011). The standardized test opt-out movement is spreading in the United States.

There are many factors that impact student achievement in schools, including measures like student attendance, access to advanced courses, and school discipline policies. These all need to be considered.  

According to Diane Ravitch, Education Historian and Policy Analyst, "Sometimes the most brilliant and intelligent minds do not shine on standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds". We must demand less time testing students and more time for learning. 

Published in the Oakland Press Open Opinion Forum on April 12, 2014 and April 20, 2014.

Published in the Macomb Daily Open Opinion Forum on April 20, 2014

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reflection: What it Means and Takes to be a 21st Century Teacher

Why I Love Teaching

"I am not a teacher but an awakener." - Robert Frost

"Teachers have the most important job of anyone today." - George Lucas

Teachers matter. It's a highly rewarding and fulfilling profession. Teachers share valuable information and important skills to encourage a love of learning that will serve children the rest of their lives. 

Teachers are committed to making a positive impact on the future of each child they serve on a daily basis. 

There's a career for every passion. The education field is not always what I envisioned when I was in college. However, I am still motivated to get up each morning and serve students in our nation's schools. Being a role model and teaching students the skills and knowledge they need beyond the classroom is extremely inspiring, rewarding, and motivating. It is an excellent time to be a teacher. You have to love what you do in order to be successful. This gives us courage to meet our goals. Today's teachers need perseverance, passion, and hope. I pray that my teaching has a positive influence on my students and school.

The math, reading, and writing skills I developed as a student has allowed me to become a successful teacher. Playing sports and being involved in student government taught me valuable life lessons on teamwork, time management, and responsibility. Teachers helped me get to where I am today by providing me with an exceptional education. 

As a student, I learned the benefits of getting along with people from different cultures, which continues to assist me in my career, especially when I traveled to New Zealand for a teacher exchange program. My passions for public speaking, fitness, and volunteering have provided inspiration for my future. 

There were many educators that had a positive influence on my life. They encouraged me to explore my curiosities, supported me with my struggles, and celebrated my successes. They cared about me, my learning, my life, and they wanted me to find happiness within myself in order for me to be capable of helping others. They inspired me and pushed me to be my best in the classroom and on the athletic fields. I am now trying to pay this positive influence forward to my students.

For me, the motivation to teach has always come from the students in my classroom. It is essential to make lesson plans interesting in order to get students motivated about learning. There needs to be interaction between students. Moving around the room as I teach, keeping a smile, and being expressive has made a difference in my instruction. Students need constant positive feedback in order to inspire them to strive for success. I want to inspire my students to fight poverty, choose kindness, act on climate change, and recycle in order to save the environment.

National Education Association's Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4th - 8th. Recognize and celebrate the importance and contributions of educators.  

Thank a teacher for their hard work and dedication to our students. Being a teacher is not easy, especially in this day and age.  

Ensuring Teachers Remain in the Profession

When I graduated from Oakland University's School of Education and Human Services, I felt knowledgeable and ready to have a positive impact on future students. 
The required field placements and internships provided me with work experience that helped me make decisions about my future career. I learned that I wanted to teach middle school science, not kindergarten. The study habits I developed as an undergraduate helped me with success in graduate school. 

There were definitely challenges I faced in my early years of teaching, such as how to do project-based learning, facilitate classroom discussions, and use technology effectively. A strong teaching internship experience and great mentoring programs have helped me become a successful teacher. Forging ahead on my own determination when the going got tough was essential. The wisdom that I gained with setting up classroom procedures and managing class time would benefit a newer teacher. 

Educators entering the profession need to deal with the challenges and successes of teaching through developing a positive mentor-mentee relationship. These types of relationships are necessary to help retain our top teachers and support new teachers as they come into the profession. Better professional development is also the answer and can be achieved with extensive, easily accessible support. There is something inherent about the teaching profession that is driving teacher's away, and the nature of internships, or lack thereof, in teacher education programs impacts retention. We must reclaim the agenda. 

The Top 5 Lessons I Have Learned in My Position in Public Education   

1. Be persistent. Never give up on students, parents, and colleagues. Everyone is in this together, and it truly takes a village to educate a child properly.
2. Be open-minded. Listen to other people and their opinions. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. Communication is essential. 
3. Think positive. There is a lot of negativity out in the world, especially within the field of education. You need to have a positive outlook in order to combat all of the negativity.
4. Try different roles until you find your niche. Spend time with different people and in various extracurricular activities. Use your hobbies and passions as a guide.
5. Always want to learn. Whether it is a new technology or a new teaching strategy, teachers are life-long learners. We need to be learning alongside our students and show how passionate we are in seeking knowledge.

The Future of Public Education: 5 Snapshots of Modern Day Teaching in the 21st century

Being a teacher is one of the hardest jobs one could ever love. Teachers make a difference in the lives of students, parents, colleagues, and the community. The field of education is changing for the better. 

1. Currently, there is a focus on Depths of Knowledge Levels 3 and 4 in order to get students to critically think and apply what they are learning. Teachers are trying to make learning rigorous and relevant. They facilitate instruction rather than always being the deliverer. The students know the learning objectives.  

2. Digital technology makes learning personalized, engaging, and fun for students. Emerging trends with digital technology includes Web 3.0 and Anticipatory/Artificial Intelligence. Teachers need to have the trust, passion, and drive to use digital technology in their classrooms. They must be adaptable to learn new teaching techniques in order to meet student needs.

3. Teachers’ focusing on career readiness is essential. New jobs today require high Lexile levels. The English-Language Arts (ELA) teachers cannot do it alone. There is a laser-like focus on literacy because high Lexile scores equates to higher scores in other subjects such as math.   

4. Data analyses, such as growth models, are being used in teacher evaluations. The future is common core with smarter balanced testing. Our school uses the NWEA Map assessment to test for learning and literacy. Teachers are also giving their own assessments to monitor student growth.

5. Teachers are also responsible for a student’s personal development. Students are taught how to behave rather than just being punished. The student/teacher relationship is critical, and the focus is on student needs. Teachers cannot let students fail.

In addition to these five snapshots, issues such as poverty, student apathy, and lack of parent involvement should be considered when thinking about the future of public education. Other countries choose which kids go to school. In the United States, we allow all kids to go to a school with high expectations. This has an affect when comparing our schools to those of other countries. 

Change the picture with Communities in Schools of Michigan. Click here for more information.