The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

I’d Love to Be Your Santa Claus

As this year ends I have chosen to pretend that I am Santa Clause for public education. I would come into all our public schools carrying a heavy sack, filled with all the goodies that children, teachers and parents need and deserve.

Afterward I’d be so tired that I will have to rest until January 1st 2018, while all of you will be dreaming of the goodies soon to come.

First of all, I will sweep out all the junk that has been piling up in classrooms for several years. All the test-prep sessions, the tests and their scores, the unreasonable standards, and the negative judgments on schools, students, and teachers that emanated from them will be gone forever.

Next, I will herd together all the politicians, decision makers, and clueless experts who have made the stupid rules for students and schools, and banish them from power once and for all.

Finally, I will erase all the laws that that have hamstrung good teachers and principals for years and allowed decent schools to be shut down because of their low-test scores.

Then, after catching my breath and cleaning the dirt from my hands, I will bring in all the wonderful gifts I have dreamed into existence, and spread them around all public school offices, teachers’ lounges, and students’ classrooms.

Try to envision each gift as I describe it below.

 Golden links between each school and its community

Hearty projects growing and blooming in every classroom

 Neat Package of well equipped classrooms with no more than 25 students in each one

 Sweet tastes of recesses, physical education and interesting classroom activities every day

 Endless piles of Gold coins to fund every school

 Glowing and strong librarians with books stuffed in their arms

 Crowds of  well -educated teachers and principals with magic wands in every school

 A huge variety of silver-studded classes for students to choose from

Afterward I will jump back into my sleigh and call out “Happy learning to all and to all a good life.”



Test Scores Alone Don’t Tell the Truth About the Quality of a School

Although many of you may have read David Berliner’s article on the interpretation of students’ test scores in Diane Ravitch’s blog on December 12th, I feel it is important for me to summarize his analysis here. When it comes to understanding what is really happening in education, David Berliner is one of very few real education experts. I, for one, believe that his analyses of the problems of American education are right on the button.

Recently, Dr. David C. Berliner decided to examine closely the PIRLS* test scores of American students as compared to those of students of other countries where they appeared to be much better. As he explains, “Standardized Achievement Tests are quite responsive to demographics, and not very sensitive at all to what teachers and schools accomplish.”

What he found in examining the 2016 average scores of students from several countries was that the US students had a score of 549, while those in Singapore scored 576, in Hong Kong 569, and in Finland 566. Although on the surface those scores looked bad for the U.S., Berliner felt that it was important to consider the different demographics in each country before making a judgment.

One significant thing he looked at was the percentage of American students on Free and Reduced Lunch in a school. When those percentages were low, students’ test scores were higher than in the other countries mentioned above. In fact, the lower the poverty rate was for an American school, the higher were its test scores.  Berliner asserts, “it’s our social and economic systems, not our schools, that cause lower scores than is (sic) desired by our nation.”

Ultimately, Berliner concludes, “If we want better scores on such tests, we need to get off the backs of teachers and schools. Our teachers and schools are presently educating a high percentage of our kids to very high levels of literacy. But that is not true for another high percentage of our kids. What we need to do to help those kids is to exert a lot more influence on our nations’ politicians to give us the equitable society that will promote higher achievement for all our citizens.”

The only thing I have to add is “Amen”.


* “The Progress in International Reading Literacy” is a test given to 4th graders in several countries. Since 2001, PIRLS has been administered every 5 years. It documents worldwide trends in the reading knowledge of 4th-graders as well as school and teacher practices related to instruction.


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Every Little Bit of Reasonableness is a Step in the Right Direction

Today’s poste is a review of an article hidden at the bottom of a back page in “The New York Times” this past week.  It may be just the time of year that is affecting me, but I see a powerful organization moving in the the right direction.

Over the past two years the New York State Board of Regents has begun to recognize the needs and efforts of students with disabilities and softened their requirements for graduation. Last year the Board required such students to pass only two Regents exams –one in English and one in math– instead of requiring them to pass all five. This year the Board went even further, voting unanimously to eliminate the need for disabled students to pass any of the exams– even though they still have to take them. Instead, those students may earn a credential demonstrating that they have mastered all the necessary skills in their classwork to make them ready for entry-level employment.

Although the successful students will receive what is called a “local” diploma instead of the traditional Regents diploma given to those who pass the required number of the final exams, the change in requirements opens the door for them to be accepted by colleges, the Military or employers in many fields.

Afterward there was strong criticism from the executive director of  “High Achievement New York”, an organization that strongly supports higher standards. Yet, the Board of Regents held its ground and its chancellor responded by declaring  “This isn’t about lowering the bar for what a student must know to graduate. Rather, these students need multiple ways to demonstrate they know it. The Board’s actions today provides them with the opportunity.”

From my perspective the Regents decision is not a display of softness toward disabled students.  The organization has always been demanding and firm in its requirements for all.  Their decision this time is not a gift of pity, but one of recognition that students’ classroom performance is as meaningful as test scores—and, maybe, even more so.

Although I may be too optimistic in viewing one organization’s sensible change as    an action that will bring on similar changes in other places, I still think it is the right time. What I’m hoping is that the Regents’ action will awaken others to the faultiness of commercial tests that operate on the assumption that “one size fits all”, and begin to understand that classroom performance is a much more reliable indicator.


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“Experts”Speak About What Should Happen in Our Schools

Recently a magazine for educators titled “District Administration” sought out educational leaders in several states to ask their opinions about what should happen in public education in the near future and how it is likely to develop. Today I shall quote those leaders without commenting, and then offer my own ideas for change. Incidentally, the first two opinions appeared in the artical without the names of the writers.

P.S. I’d like very much to hear readers opinions about which changes are most likely to happen in the near future, or which ones they most hope will happen. I will post your opinions.

Expert on Teaching:

Districts should be supported with the funding to retain their best teachers.

Expert Adminisrator:

Educators still need to upgrade their skills when it comes to teaching technology

Theresa Morris, mathematics assessment developer of Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity:

       Waiting for the one, end-of-year assessment is “archaic,”

Educators should shift to more frequent and varied assessments that judge students on assignments that require them to tackle real-life concepts.

States such as Texas, which is moving toward a frequent-and-varied assessment system, should provide proof of improved student outcomes to convince more states to make changes.

If what’s important is that the community is reflected in the classrooms, then you have to have the buy-in and connections that are missing in so many cases.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality:

We need a massive overhaul in pay and not just base pay, which is really low in some places. We also need differentiated pay.

States need to require more candidates to pursue special education credentials.

More districts should consider trauma-informed teaching methods and revise             disciplinary systems with practices such as restorative justice which focuses on repairing damage rather than punishment.

 Brian Eschbacher, executive director of planning & enrollment services of Denver Public Schools

Districts could provide more information to better help parents in the research process when choosing schools.

       How do we make getting into schools as equitable as possible?

How can we teach parents about schools so they don’t have to spend 40 hours doing research?

Tamara Fyke, author of Love in a Big World and SEL curriculum developer

Teachers need PD to blend SEL into everyday instruction, rather than offering it as a separate lesson

They need to see it as part of what they already do so they don’t see it as a burden,”

Jennifer Abrams, consultant, former coach for new teachers in several Silicon Valley public school districts

 Don’t abandon in-person PD for online programs

PD sessions also need to become more engaging and relevant than traditional “sit-and-get, rush-through opportunities about best practices or keynotes that talk at us about collaboration,

Educators need more training in communicating with parents, other community members and even political leaders.

Matthew Emerson, Federal programs specialist of Canyons School District (Sandy, Utah) 

I hope to see more curricular materials developed for older English language   learners as they work to grasp more complex academic concepts.

They require resources that engage them more deeply but still honor the fact that  they might be at a basic sentence level or might not have a single word of English in their vocabulary.

ELLs also would benefit if more schools adopted a co-teaching model. In his district, for example, a certified ESL teacher who speaks Spanish works in the classroom alongside science and math teachers to support students who are still attaining fluency.

Administrators should also consider creating bilingual, co-teaching schools that students could attend no matter where they live in a district.

René Islas, executive director National Association for Gifted Children

All states must develop policies geared toward equity in the identification of gifted and talented students.

States and districts need to establish clearer policies on allowing gifted             students to work at accelerated rates, including skipping grades.

 All teachers should receive more PD on gifted instruction as many gifted          students remain in mainstream classes.

Parents need the power to hold schools accountable for educating gifted         students through an IDEA or IEP-like process.

Kirk Langer, Chief technology officer of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska

We’re still going to be in a position where we’re not leveraging the technology to its fullest capacity because we have not ramped up teachers’ skills and the pedagogical skills.

He also hopes to see even smarter digital textbooks.

.Amy Klinger, Director of programs at The Educators’ School Safety Network

 I wish we would see teachers and educators being classified or perceived as first responders.

Personnel will need to develop their skills in dealing with more common incidents, such as medical emergencies, non-custodial parents and non-violent intruders.

Brisa Ayub, Director of educational programs at Common Sense Education

 Educators must extend instruction in digital citizenship from a one-time lesson to a topic that is taught every day and integrated into other subjects.

Educators should also find games or other tools students use to experiment with social media and other online communications in simulated environments that aren’t broadcast onto the World Wide Web.

Educators should recognize that each student learns in their own way and own time frame, learning easily and quickly and retaining what seems important to them and  soon forgetting what is not important.

Joanne Yatvin, Retired teacher and school Principal

Teachers should emphasize small group learning for difficult subjects, recognizing   that all students learn better with a friend than alone.

Teachers should accept the fact that any student is likely to score differently on different assessments, and so they should grade students on the whole picture rather than individual test scores.

Teachers should provide assignments that produce things of value in the real world, rather than ones just produced for a teacher to grade.

Principals should become familiar with the work of teachers in a variety of         situations rather than basing their assessments only on formal classroom lessons.

A Principal’s main responsibility is to make the school a desirable place for           students, teachers and other school workers to be and to feel proud of their     accomplishments.






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Taming School Bullies is Worth the Effort

Although bullying among young people has been frequently noted in news articles recently, I have not seen anything about how schools are dealing successfully with the problem. Today I will report on my own experience with bullying as a parent and a principal.

 When two of our elementary age children told us about being bullied by classmates, my husband and I did our best to help them solve those problems. We talked to them about ways they could avoid certain situations and people, and also talked to some parents of kids who had bullied them. In a couple of serious situations, we reported what had happened to school officials. But as far as we could tell nothing was done about them. So, we just warned our children to stay away from those kids on the playground or when traveling to or from school, and try to walk with a friend and not linger anywhere.

Later, when I became a principal I saw bullying first hand, but I was able to do some things to stop it or at least minimize it.

At both of my elementary schools I was aware of some bullying right from the start, able to identify the bullies and to discipline them by taking away privileges. A couple of times I suspended students for physically harming their classmates. But, I was far from pleased with the situations.  I remembered having good relationships with almost all my students as a high school English teacher and wanted to create good relationships in these schools, too.

As time went by, I began to understand what makes bullies out of ordinary kids and to figure out how to change them. What I saw most of the time was someone who was not a good student and was often publically called out or punished for errors. At the same time I noticed that a bully usually had some friends in the class; kids who were also poor students or physically unattractive. They catered to the bully because they wanted protection, so they  gathered around him or her in the playground and when going to and from school.

What I tried to do for the bullies I identified was to give them opportunities for positive actions and encourage teachers to do the same. Often that recognition was just being asked to move some heavy things in the classroom or take some material to the school office. I smiled when they did something positive and thanked them, and asked teachers to do the same.

If a bully became difficult in class at any time, I told teachers to send them to me, not in a punishing way, but under the umbrella that I needed their help.  When they came I would not castigate them for any misdoing, but instead ask them to help me in some small task.  If they told me about their problems, I tried to help them find solutions.

As for classroom activities, I encouraged teachers to mix up various groups of students to work together. Although it was not a good idea to put a struggling reader into the top reading group, there were many other situations when they could contribute positively to group activities.

Essentially, what bullies need are chances to show themselves in positive roles in the classroom, the lunchroom and the playground. In short, everyone has some good qualities, and it is the job of teachers and principals to find them, make them visible to everyone else, give them credit publicly for good work and behavior, and deal with misbehavior or poor work privately and humanely.

I won’t pretend that all bullying stopped immediately and permanently in my schools, but much of it did, and bullying became far less popular. At such a young age, students can and will find it more beneficial to be a hero or a heroine than a troublemaker. My teachers and I also found that it made our jobs easier and more rewarding.

In ending this story of  success I must admit that it is not so easy everywhere.  My schools were small and family poverty was rare.  All I wish to claim is that young people would rather be thought of heroes than demons.  Teachers and principals should give them that opportunity

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