Wisconsin Education Updates

Wondering what some of the effects of the Wisconsin legislature will be for education?  I composed some policy posts for NCTE at my other blog, DA2011.  


Hoping to Examine– Looking at the Wisconsin Idea Under Attack

Thanks to Wisconsin WARF for the image.  Find at http://www.warf.org/about-us/wisconsin-idea/wisconsin-idea.cmsx
Thanks to Wisconsin WARF for the image. Find at http://www.warf.org/about-us/wisconsin-idea/wisconsin-idea.cmsx

Here is the plan– a few posts looking on what is going on in the state of Wisconsin, particularly regarding education but not limited to education.

Recognizing gaps is essential right now.  There is a significant achievement gap between white and minority students in schools right now, and Wisconsin’s and the schools I have taught in are the worst.  While a lot of that gap can tracked to unconscious bias and obstacles present in education, that gap requires a look at economic opportunity across society.

There is also an economic gap in America, phrased as the 1% and 99%, and the income inequality is growing.

This is the time for progressivism to resurge– which, if you take Wikipedia’s definition, means “advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization” which ar “vital to improve the human condition.”

This is captured in the Wisconsin Idea, the idea that education, and specifically the University of Wisconsin system, could improve the daily lives of each and every citizen through research and idea disbursement.  The ideals of the Wisconsin Idea included limiting monopolies and predatory wealth, maintaining labor rights, and working to improve the legislative process.

Most famously exemplified under Governor and then Senator Robert LaFollette and put in wide practice by University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise, the Wisconsin Idea is part of Wisconsin heritage embodying many Wisconsinites’ values, including my own.

The Wisconsin Idea, and thus the values, are indeed under attack.

As stated in the New York Times, Walker revised the state budget wording surrounding the Wisconsin Idea: “The initial draft of Mr. Walker’s budget bill also proposed to rewrite the university’s 110-year-old mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea, deleting ‘the search for truth’ and replacing it with language about meeting ‘the state’s work-force needs.’”

This blog will look at a few things–

The attack of the UW

The continued attack on public schools

The attack on research

The attack on legislative process


Don’t Like This

Just saw Ezra Klein’s series of Tweets about–

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Which make me think of yet another Wisconsin legislative move making me angry…

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And then I think of Bruce Feiler Ted Talk that stated that what kids want most is for their parents to be less stressed.

And I think– What are we doing?  What are our values?

My Kids are Learning the Media

On June 30th, my kids and I again visited the Wisconsin State Capitol to advocate for education.  During 2011’s Act 10, my kids lived at the Capitol, chanting favorite protest sayings and regularly eating Ian’s Pizza.  They were actually excited to return to political action.

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When done, we looked through media accounts.   The story that went rapid fire through the state was this one, an AP story:

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Talking with Egan, my older child, I asked what he noticed.  He said it was interesting the only person who gets somewhat quoted is the opposition.  There were no quotes from Milwaukee speakers who talked about education being “tarnished and perverted” by “increased privatization” funded by millionaires and billionaires.  There were no quotes from the rural school leader, who argued current funding guarantees education will not be equal in Wisconsin and expansion of private vouchers will hurt rural schools the most, despite having no charter schools in their boundaries.  There were no quotes from the mother of a special needs student who presented the case that when special education kids take their voucher money and leave, they also give up their rights under IDEA.  There is, of course, no mention of her testimony that Wisconsin has fallen to last place in financing special education.  And there were no quotes from the Green Bay education advocate who noted this change to privatize education comes when the requests for vouchers are at their lowest.

But by all means, only grant specifics to the opposition, and do it as the last and closing lines of the distributed article, granting emphasis.

Then we looked at some headlines, and we saw this:

From Skitch

While most headlines used the phrase “advocates call,”  Fox used “advocates blast.”  Why?  To bring up the images of angry mobs of educators again, the distorted and well-publicized view of teachers since 2011.  The AP article uses “blast” as well, a disappointing choice for a press conference that strove for reason, making the argument that education is a bi-partisan issue.

And so my sons learn-again- how hard it is to be heard in a democracy and yet how we must keep at the fight because there is too much at stake.

Responding to NYT’s Editorial “Don’t Give Up the Gains in Education”

Today, the New York Times published an editorial asking that Congress keeps the yearly testing requirement that NCLB put in place.  I do not disagree.  A single yearly test can do much to guide a school, and as a teacher, I truly do value when I get good data on my students.  (Qualifier: Not all tests produce reliable or good data.)

I am, true to the title of this blog… Seeing Shades of Gray ( the name of which is, of course, problematic right now, thank you E. L. James trilogy and Universal Pictures movie).  I have written to my legislators to protest the Common Core and its testing, but I support the Common Core Standards as a goal (not a whipping post) and I yearn for a single, viable annual test for my students.  The problem is there is too much testing and the standards, produced without much educator input, appear unalterable and rigid.  But all that is fodder for more posts.

I have been angry all day.  All week.  Well, really, for about four years now.  Four years ago, Governor Walker did much to damage schools.  That damage continues as this year’s budget will decimate education here, regardless of “tools” that have demoralized and pauperized many teachers.  But my newest anger is that people like Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt argue “failing” schools in Wisconsin will face sanctions such as closing.  They are dismantling public education and ushering in privatization.  So that anger– and the four years of really trying to study education– fed this response.   (If it actually gets published, it will be shorter because of NYT rules.  This is the original draft.)

I can attest to the value of data from a yearly test.  In my roles as instructional leader/ department chair, I have valued data as a triangulation point to consider with teacher observations and classroom assessment success.  I bemoan when I don’t have consistent testing data to inform me.  I can also attest to the remarkable value in highlighting where a school is effective and where it is not.  Gaps were hidden until NCLB, and as the gaps are still ever-present, they must be scrutinized and attacked and tests can help.

But you point out a key element: sanctions led to over-testing, and dreadful overtesting at that.  Elementary students take expensive and high-stakes tests monthly in most places, and often twice a month.  This produces more data than can be effectively processed, creates remarkable anxiety for children, and lines the coffers of companies like Pearson, who, for example, was paid $32 million for a five-year contract with New York alone.  Schools pay dearly for tests in every way.  A bad test score is bad press.

As NCLB has progressed, all of this has seemed a subterfuge to privatize education.  Those test scores and sanctions often mean that schools are taken over and, quite often, turned into charter schools.  While charter schools’ original mission in the 90’s was to provide interesting and personalized alternatives to public ed, that mission has been twisted.  Now significant numbers of  charter schools are operated by for-profit chains that are more selective of their enrollees than public schools can be, more devious in dismissing students that may bring down scores, less transparent to oversight, and more removed from local governance.

NCLB was designed to label schools as failing.  Teachers are now denigrated daily.  Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is plummeting.  Viable and vibrant public schools are shuttered.  And the root cause of most failing public schools– the root cause goes unaddressed.  Poverty.  America has chosen fit to spend 1.7 billion (Brown Center on Educational Policy) on testing while cutting nearly every social program that fights poverty.  It is a true attestment to the dedication of teachers and the problem-solving of public schools in this nation that while those severe cuts have happened, the gaps have narrowed.

My Overdue Letter to Time Magazine

December 30, 2014

Dear Time Magazine,

Time Magazine's November 3, 2014 Cover
Time Magazine’s November 3, 2014 Cover

No, I will not be renewing my subscription.  Your sensationalistic November 3rd cover fed a public fire of anti-teacher rhetorical and sentiment churning for the past four or five years.  Your cover, black and white in both its design and message, wounded.

I eagerly read Nancy Gibb’s editorial response hoping the response from fellow teachers would have an impact, but I saw no acknowledgement the artwork was a mistake.  Nancy Gibb’s sentence, “We view education as crucial to America’s success, and it concerns me if teachers who have not had a chance to read our coverage have heard it mischaracterized” assumes outcry was solely due to the article, which was, in truth, more nuanced than the cover.  She ignores the cover, the most visible and displayed aspect of the magazine.

Teacher tenure does deserve discussion, and if Time really did value, as Nancy Gibb’s states, its mission to “spur discussion of important issues,” Time would include interviews from educators and it would look at issues such as the financing of the various movements to chip away at public education.  “Making the story free for all readers on TIME.com” does not spur informed discussion; it simply makes the monied interest’s message more available.

So, no, Time.  I will not renew my subscription.

Plickers Engages Students

Plickers is the most engaging free app I have come across in years.  It gets more kids involved in class than anything else I could do.

An amazing substitute teacher, Tim Fahlberg,  who has some background in technology, used an engaging and really easy to set-up system, Plickers, when he worked for me a day this year.  The kids loved it, and Tim was kind enough to explain it all to me and get me started.

Plickers is where kids hold up a card to give a response to any posed multiple choice question and the teacher scans the room (I use my iPad, but a smartphone with a camera would do) to collect all the answers, which are printed from templates available from the site (I used colored cardstock).  If you have the ability to project, you can project the “Live View” student list while you are scanning and instruct kids to put down their cards when they see their name is checked.  The software tallies up who answered  what and shows it on a chart (hope you can project it!), where the real instruction begins.

When there are two close answers, the true class discussion begins.  I have mostly used this for AP Lit and their multiple choice, and so I ask the kids to go back to their text and find evidence that D is correct or C is correct, or we see that vocabulary is the culprit and we talk through the words and revote.  Kids get immediate feedback and I see their thinking patterns and can talk through errors they are making.  One beauty of this is that the tool is responsive to that moment.  It find it easier to see the differences between hours than I do when I grade by hand, where assessments blur together.

When we have done Plickers, going through the answers takes two to three times longer, but when I queried the kids, they said it was worth it: they get more feedback and better feedback than any other method.

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I used to use cards like those shown and would visually survey the class, but Plickers is better because it is impossible for kids to look around and see what other kids are answering and change their answer, and it provides anonymity for kids.  No one knows if Sam answered A, B, C, or D.  The graph feature is wonderful, and the app tracks who answered what.

There are some missing features of Plickers: it is hard to group and organize questions in order (consider entering them in reverse order), it doesn’t tally up multiple questions in a spreadsheet, and there are only four options.  When I contacted Plickers to tell them how pleased I was with their product, pleased enough to pay for more services, they sent me to their How do we make Plickers better page, which allowed me to upvote some of the modifications I would want to see.

I have also used Plickers to poll my class, based on suggestions from Tim Fahlberg.  You can ask groups if they need 1, 2, 5 minutes more or are done.  Instant answers.  For me, I asked about paper revision plans, and that helped me strategize next steps.

Want some resources?

Here is a slideshare by Kristen Vollmar that has concise directions on how to set up Plickers, including the essential fact that kids can’t cover up the code at all

Some general ideas on use from Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers or from Stacy Barnes at May the Tech Be With You

A YouTube how-to video from Tech in 2.

Teach music?  kindergarten?  math? more music?  Do a search– and maybe some amazing teacher has posted ideas for your discipline.

Plickers is easy, free, and engaging.  I am pretty sure I will find more and more ways to use it.