The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

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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Delaware Builds a New and Successful State Economy Through Public Education

Trying to get back into the groove this week I did a lot of reading, but much of it was the same old bad news about failing schools and stagnant test scores. Fortunately, yesterday I came across a piece of good news in “The News Journal” written by Jessica Bies. So I will try to explain it below.

Over the past several years our east coast businesses have been moving to other states or closing altogether. In 2009, for instance, the last two automobile plants in the Northeast, a Chrysler plant in Newark and a General Motors plant near Wilmington Delaware, shut down, wiping out thousands of jobs and showing no intent to return. In addition, DuPont merged with Dow Chemical, resulting in the loss of nearly 1,700 jobs.

 All that is left in the state of Delaware at present is a slew of “middle-skill” jobs that do not require workers with college degrees. Fortunately sixty percent of those jobs are projected to be seeking trained workers.

 In 2014 a program titled “Delaware Pathways” was created in order to train young people for the existing jobs. At that time only 27 students enrolled in the program, but this year enrollment is projected to be 9,000. Today Delaware is considered a national leader in career and technical education, and it certainly looks like public education, young people, and businesses are ready to  make “Pathways” a permanent part of the state’s operations.

The Pathways plan to enlist and train high school students for jobs covers a wide range of industries, including finance, healthcare, hospitality management, computer science, manufacturing, biomedical science and engineering.

The program begins by preparing high school students with instruction and training in selected fields and later provides the opportunity for them to earn industry-recognized credentials, some college credits, and high school internships. For example, students interested in becoming teachers can get certified as preschool teachers or instructional aides upon high school graduation, giving them the chance to work in their field while earning more credits. Ultimately, they will have enough credits to be certified as elementary or high school teachers.

Delaware is heavily invested in talent development, and the state education department recently announced more than $400,000 in public grants to support new Pathway programs that will begin in the fall. While the program’s various partners have been successful in securing federal funding and millions of dollars in private grants, they fear that without a steady stream of state funding, the program could stagnate

According to Secretary of Education Susan Bunting “ Delaware will hire or replace 30 percent of its workforce in the next eight years. Such shifts require employers and schools to take a more active role in shaping Delaware’s talent pipeline.” It certainly looks like several new industries will be successful and provide high quality, well-paying jobs for the state’s population.

In reading this article I was very much heartened by the Pathways program plans, funding, and it’s success so far. In my opinion it is unquestionable that industry in the United States is changing drastically and will not return to its past. Almost every state should be following the lead of Delaware.

My only complaint about the article is that the training programs were not described. I’d like to know if they are accessible in all high schools, what students must do in order to be accepted into a program, and how much time or how many courses are required for them to be  fully certified for a position. Perhaps that information is available elsewhere, and I just didn’t stumble upon it. I will keep looking.

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School Ain’t the Way It Used To be

Although my husband and I returned home last Saturday evening, It took some time to get my head on straight after ten days living out of a suitcases and then spending 13 hours in air ports and planes in order to get home. On top of that the newspapers I read while away were of poor quality and gave me nothing on education I could write about. But, since I’m now slowly returning to reality, I do have an article to review today. It was waiting for me on my computer among 157 other messages. The article was written by Janet Meckstroth Alessi, a long time high school teacher, and published in the Palm Beach Post on November 6, 2017. Since she plans to retire soon she felt free to publically express her views on many of the situations at her school that she believes are destroying quality education.

Janet Meckstroth Alessi has taught English successfully and with pleasure at the same Florida high school for 34 years.  But now she finds her situation-–and that of many of her fellow teachers—intolerable. She believes that the major problem for both teachers and students today is the over-emphasis on testing; not only preparing students for year-end tests, but also constant “teaching to the tests” and having students make up tests they missed. In addition, she thinks it is wrong when the school gymnasium and media center are closed to regular classes without warning because some unscheduled testing must take place there.

From Alessi’s perspective testing is not only unending, it is the heart of today’s concept of education. One thing that has changed drastically at her school is the use of high quality literature as the main focus of classroom study in English classes. More than once she and other teachers have been told to cut back drastically on their use of novels and plays in order to spend more time on the skills and information that will be tested.

Another thing that irritates her deeply is what she sees as coddling of students. More specifically, she feels that students are being spared any strong discipline or expectation of hard work. When a student is suspended, he or she is now allowed to make up missed work assignments. Also, students who are expected to pass the FSA test (Florida Standards Assessment) in order to graduate, may satisfy the school requirements by earning a high enough score on the SAT or ACT, and thus  graduate on time. Because of this possibility teachers are expected to spend a large amount of class time trying to improve students’ SAT, ACT and FSA test scores.

In reading Alessi’s full article it seemed to me that a part of her anger and pain were the results of changes in public education over time. Because teaching, grading, testing, and disciplining students are now so different from what they were twenty years ago, she blames school leaders, students, and parents for destroying education when there is actually another stronger body  actually in control. For the past several years a school’s effectivenessand perhaps its continuing existence, have been determined by public officials’ judgments on students’ test scores and graduation rates.

Although I agree with Alessi that most of the school changes are not in the best interest of students or public education as a whole, I think she is exaggerating their frequency and intensity. I must admit that I, as a former English teacher, would not be pleased with being told how and what to teach or with the amount of test preparation I would be expected to carry out, but I think she is blaming the wrong people when she attacks students and parents, and to some extent, the school administration. The foolishness, cruelty and destruction of school learning are the work of our federal and state governments and the so-called experts who have been given the power to determine what should be taught, when, and how.








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