Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Kids Aren't All Right

Dear Friends and (almost) Significant Other(s),

Last summer was great. Remember? I do. Many of you don't have hour-specific jobs (or jobs you care too much about), and we'd brunch in the middle of the day, play basketball, sit in bars and laugh because we're not the only ones sucking down whiskeys and PBRs in the middle of a no-time Wednesday. Remember how hanging out on Thursday was no problem? Mondays too. Man, that was good. Remember how I frequently came up with new ideas, new projects, fun things to do in the city because I had time and energy? That was neat. Remember how I initiated conversation with you, even though I didn't know you, because I was feeling good, un-tired, and not weighed down with the responsibility of impacting life outcomes for 60 or so low-SES immigrant kids from East 408? That was cool. Remember how I was cheerful and upbeat and like, smiled a lot? Those were the days.

Those days are gone.

Maybe we can squeeze a Saturday night in here and there, but I'll be pretty tired from teaching the sixth day in a row. Fridays are out. Sundays I grade papers and plan, but maybe we can sit across from each other at a hipster cafe and do work and not talk. That'd be neat. I hope we can keep in touch through email, voicemails I won't return in a timely fashion, and the ubiquitous myspace.

In the meantime, I'll be a little busy. You see, the kids aren't all right.

  1. 20% of my students earned a zero percent on my parts of speech diagnostic (Ex: write the definition of a noun; which of the following is a verb, etc.) 100% failed.
  2. 35% of students earned below ten percent on a writing diagnostic assessing specific writing skills that, according to a Board of Trustees presentation I recently attended, are being taught in classrooms across the District. 100% earned a D or below.
  3. The average independent reading level is 2.5 -- that's second grade, fifth month, for those scoring at home. (If only we used Open Court and Reading First...)
  4. The average fluency score is 83 words per minute, nearly 100 words below benchmark.
  5. 33% of students failed the alphabet quiz, which asks students to print each letter in capital and lowercase letters, and then circle the vowels.
  6. Then there's this, from a student who's been in the U.S. four years, responding to the persuasive essay diagnostic about lengthening the school day: "I tenk the es net god to go in the dark. I cot get hor en yu ren gen the en mi opor non of os to get or. vi car cut hat os en the dark en mor es uy pas the estuits."

So maybe we can hang out again sometime next summer. I think I'd like that.


Blogger Ms. M said...

I think we could all copy that post into an email and send it to our friends.

3:17 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

This is horrifying. What grade is this, TMAO?

5:42 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...


And I'll fix it, but I just won't see the people I like for a while.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(If only we used Open Court and Reading First...)" Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. Sometimes I can't tell if you are being sarcastic. Are you serious with that comment or snarky?

If serious, what reading programs do the elementary schools (your feeder schools) use?

Then add student migration in.....

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz again.

I also posted your list to Cobb's discussion of public school challenges.

12:01 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...


I was being sarcastic.

It's a bad habit.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I'm not a teacher, and I clicked on "comment" to ask the same question Liz did (sarcastic or serious)? I was afraid I was going to have to rethink my deeply held belief that all "it's a miracle!" education cure-alls (like Open Court) are mostly hype.

9:56 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

TMAO is correct; Open Court does not have a very good track record with the low performers in his class. It is more suited for kids performing closer to the average.

Engelmann of Reading Mastery fame, a program that does work well with low performers, has said this about Open Court and similar programs:

The greatest problem with the urrent view of “what works” is that it is limited to what researchers have observed. However, they have not observed very much. There is a lot more to reading instruction than the categories that are currently popular—phonemic awareness, phonics, text decoding, and comprehension. Consider phonics. It is treated as something of a panacea, but how far could phonics take the learner? The idea is that one letter (or sound combination) makes one sound. This works for “Nan had a bad cat,” but it starts falling apart if “Nan had a bad day,” or if “Nan and the other
children saw a show,” and still farther if “Nan and a friend were walking to school.” The letter o makes seven different sounds in common words. How does the program solve the problem of carefully teaching words with all these sound variations and teaching all the common irregular words? Solving this problem is not only far more challenging than introducing “a is for apple” but it must be addressed thoroughly and early in the first
level of the program.

Of course there are cavalier ways of avoiding the problems of making everything teachable, discriminable, and supported by adequate practice. The most common is to present some phonics activities and then literally throw irregulars into stories without sufficient practice. For instance, early in Open Court, seven new irregulars are introduced in a single lesson. Although this rate of introduction may be adequate for a few children, it most certainly is outrageous for typical at-risk populations. Until researchers go beyond superficial observations of a program and gain some understanding of what is needed to make teaching manageable for the teacher and the students, panels will continue to believe in half-truths and make recommendations that are naïve.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Onyx said...

I knew you were being sarcastic about Open Court. I've taught it and didn't like it.

Good Luck, your 7th graders are writing about as well as mine.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Miss Dennis said...

I love this post! Sums up how I felt my first two years of teaching and how I often still feel now. I'm supposed to have dinner with friends tomorrow night and don't know if I'll have the energy to make it. How pathetic is it that the only social thing I have the energy for today is blogging?

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just recently started reading your blog and can't help but feel depressed. I taught in SJ for seven years at a low-SES, Title I school, similar to where you work now. A year after getting married, my husband and I moved to the Sacramento area to buy a home. My first job in the Sac area was in Folsom at a 10 API middle school. I swear to God, my first week on the job I literally was in shock. One (1!) EL student in the whole school? 100% turn-in of work? Standing-room-only at Back to School Night? Middle schoolers raising their hands to be excused from the lunch tables? Come on...

Although I had a great year at that school--why wouldn't I?--I felt that the skills I learned in SJ were going to waste. It was like I had "survivor guilt"--how could I turn my back on the kids who really needed an experienced, dedicated teacher?

So I left. I took a job in a district with six schools in Program Improvement and two that were reconstituted over the summer. Am I happier now?? I wouldn't say that. But I am making a difference.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Nicole said...

Yup, it looks like the school year is starting up again...

7:58 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

I applaude you. I left teaching after 6 long, hard years. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about it, like I sold out. The truth of the matter, though, is that I haven't felt this good since I started teaching.
I commend you for sticking it out in the classroom. It takes a special person, and I just wasn't one of them!

10:18 PM  

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