"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SRC Budget: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish (My testimony to the SRC on June 30th, 2015)

Good Evening. My name is Kristin Luebbert—community member, taxpayer, teacher, and member of the Caucus of Working Educators, the social justice caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

When speaking of spending that values cheap and easy over long-term value, my grandmother (probably your grandmothers, too) had a saying: Penny wise and pound foolish.  Many items in this budget—especially the outsourcing of valuable staff—are the very epitome of penny wise and pound foolish.

The potential outsourcing of our certified school nurses to agencies that employee lesser-qualified people is most certainly an example of this flawed and short-sighted policy. Agencies exist to make a profit—they will come in to our schools for one reason only: to make money off of our students. If a student has a problem that is not billable or has the “wrong” insurance, these agencies will flatly refuse to serve them. This is already happening in our schools that have outsourced mental health services for students. At my school we have an outside agency that provides mental health services to some students.  The VERY FIRST thing this agency (and, indeed any agency) does when a student in distress is recommended to them is to vett the family’s insurance coverage. I cannot count the number of times I have received a call in my classroom regarding a student I referred for services only to be told: “Sorry, the family does not have the correct insurance, we cannot admit them to our program.”  The needs of the students, the families, and the school community are simply not addressed by agencies if they cannot bill for the service. This is the nature of the beast—agencies exist to make money!

So many of the things our certified school nurses do all the time are simply NOT “cost-effective” in the world of billing codes and medical insurance. When those children show up at the nurse’s office instead of being asked: “What’s wrong, sweetheart, what happened?” will they be asked, “What is the name and number of your family’s insurance policy?”

What will happen to the kindergartner who gets so excited or nervous that he wets his pants and needs to go to the nurse for some comfort, a change of clothes, and a phone call to mom?  There’s no billing code for that.

What will happen to the seventh grade girl who did not realize she would get her period that day and needs some comfort and a sanitary pad? There’s no billing code for that.

Who will I –as a teacher—consult when I need help figuring out why an 8th grader is unusually sleepy throughout most of the school day? Who will be that trusted school nurse who can call the family to delicately investigate the myriad of reasons--from depression, to homelessness, allergies, to drug use that could cause this? There’s no billing code for that.

I could go on, but again I say to you that agencies will not equitably serve all our students—and I thought that was our mission. Please do not be penny wise and pound foolish and please restore our real certified school nurses to our schools.

Monday, March 9, 2015

WHY Does This Great Kid Feel Like A Failure at 13? High-Stakes Tests, That's Why!

     Today when Anna (not her real name) came into class, she was not her usual happy, interested self. As her friends talked about what High Schools they had been accepted to,  Anna looked unusually miserable. When I called her out in to the doorway to talk to her, I found out why: Anna had been "denied" acceptance to all the high schools she had applied to. (See note) Anna felt lost,  unhappy, and was truly down on herself. I did the best I could to comfort her in the moment, my heart was breaking a little and I got angrier as the day wore on. WHY should this great kid feel like a failure at 13?
    Some things you should know about Anna--every teacher in my K-8 school that has ever taught Anna misses her, loved having her in class, and asks about her. People will just say to the 8th grade teachers, "How is Anna?", "Oh, I do miss Anna in my room.", "I just loved Anna".   Anna is one of those kids who has a sunny personality, is a great problem-solver, is creative and hardworking, interested in learning, a deep thinker, and gets along well with pretty much every body. Yes, Anna is THAT student: the one everybody likes, the one both fellow students and teachers look forward to working with--she is not a teacher's pet....she is just an all round good kid. SHE is the one who will be able to lead a group to get a project done.  So, you might be thinking, what DOESN'T Anna have? Well she does not have "advanced" high-stakes test scores, Anna is merely "proficient". And, at many of Philadelphia's selection high schools, proficient is not good enough.
     The interesting thing is, that if I had to choose a kid to run a team or be in charge of a project, there are plenty of my "advanced" students I would not give that responsibility to.  I would give it to Anna in a minute. But, high-stakes norm-referenced or standardized tests do not really test the "real-world" skills that education reformers are always blathering on about. High-stakes tests simply measure the ability to take tests--a skill that has a very short half-life in the real world.

High-stakes tests make kids feel like failures--that is wrong.

Anna deserves more. ALL our students deserve more.

Note: In Philadelphia, students apply to various selection high schools--if they are not accepted, they have a place at their neighborhood high school which are purposely under-resourced by the SDP.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What My Third-Graders Have Already Figured Out About High-Stakes Testing

            A bunch of smart, talkative, and engaging eight and nine year olds at my school have already figured out that the high-stakes testing gurus in Harrisburg don’t really know what they are doing! 
          Working as a Reading Specialist this year, I teach many different grades.  I really dislike standardized, high-stakes testing, and I despise test prep disguised as teaching.  With my third-graders (who will take the test for the first time this year), I am conflicted about this because I know many of their parents want them to take the PSSAs (Pennsylvania’s state test) because it is currently used in Philadelphia for admissions to magnet schools. I hate boring kids with mind-numbing test prep, I never want to make them anxious or scared about the test, but I do not think it is right for them to be completely blindsided by the idiocies of the test. So, what to do?
           These third graders love writing, so I decided just to show them the released narrative writing prompt and have some fun with it. They enjoyed the picture of the house, thought the prompt would be fun, and went to work writing some pretty good adventure stories. The prompt told them to “Write a story for your teacher about an adventure you could have visiting a friend at this house. Make sure your story has a beginning, middle, and end.”
            We used an authentic writing process: pre-writing, using word walls, having peers and teachers read ideas, etc…. They came up with great adventures and had fun.  However, they soon started to ask me about how this might appear on the PSSAs. Here is how our conversation went:
Will we have to write a story like this for PSSSAs?
            Something like this, but not exactly the same.
When will we find out how we did?
            Not until Summer. (quizzical looks)
Will we get the grade on our stories back?
No, you will get a score on your whole test, but you can’t see how they graded it or what your score on one story was.
Are you and Ms. W. (their homeroom teacher) reading it and marking it?
            No, the state hires people to grade it. (more quizzical looks)
But it says write a story for your teacher, you and Mrs. W. are our teachers.
            It does say that, but we will never get to see it.
That’s stupid! They lied.
            Yes it is, and yes they did.
But when it is all over, we can take our story home to read to our parents, right?
Sorry kids, no one in this school or classroom will ever see these stories again after we send them away!
Well that’s just dumb! (really loud and exasperated by this point).
Obviously, I have no good answers for these bright, enthusiastic kids, so I told them what I knew to be true:
You know what I have figured out boys and girls? Everyone in this room is smarter than the people in Harrisburg who make us take these tests.
They laughed and got ready for the rest of their day.

Read more about the many stupidities of the high-stakes testing industry:
     Making The Grades                         
    No Profit Left Behind