John Oliver, Standardized Testing, and Urban Ed

John Oliver’s long segment this week, on Last Week Tonight, focused on standardized testing in education. I watched it, and jotted down a few thoughts. Take a look.

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On Freddie Gray, Civics, and Teaching

Protesters March Over Death Of Freddie Gray

Teaching Civics in West Baltimore is very difficult. That sentence might as well be a mad-libs, usually. Teaching _______________ (school subject) in __________________ (large urban center) is very difficult. As the weather got nice it went from very difficult to impossible, as it usually does in the Spring. With Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of police, the city has erupted. Particularly in West Baltimore. I have a state test in 20 days which will partially determine my pay next year, but my students have a real-life final exam in democratic participation and American Government. Now, I have more important things to worry about than a state test. I can’t get anything done in class and have to address how this effects their lives, it’s my duty as an educator. Here’s what I’ve done:

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‘Twas the Night Before Observations


‘Twas the day before observations, and right down the hall,

the teacher stayed late and placed words on his wall.

Student work was a-hanging, and wait, there was more,

There was meaningful feedback – guaranteed perfect score.

The readings were written, they were read and checked twice,

They were leveled for skills, they were chunked and looked nice.

And that was not all, Mr. S raised his voice,

Q’s were evidence-based, and the kids have a choice!

One thing troubled Jesse, as he thought and he sat,

Just what, in the end, would the S’s WBAT?

The objective had stumped him, he had no way out,

Just what, after all, was this lesson about?

A Court case for one, and of course Civil Rights,

But for what did he spend, all of these sleepless nights?

Did it help with the STAR, that measure kids’ reading,

Or did it help pass the PARCC, which leaves teachers pleading?

Don’t forget your own test, Mr. Schneiderman uttered,

Saying out-loud, to the classroom so cluttered.

The High School Assessment, in government class,

That’s the one they will use, to see if you pass.

As he ironed these out, he felt a new jolt,

He knew he could do this, and to home he did bolt.

A good night of rest with some fruit, a fresh pick,

All of that work, and the admin was sick!

PARCC-ing Lot: The Test, Implications, and People Handling it Wrong


PARCC tests started last week, which shouldn’t be news to anyone with a Facebook. The exams, named the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, are meant to test skills taught by the Common Core. People are pissed about the tests, for sure, but there’s a lot more to uncover here. As someone who has written many, many times about the power and benefits of the Common Core, I’d like to take a look at a few PARCC-centric arguments.

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Some Interesting Education Data

download, Nate Silver’s ESPN-backed site dedicated to numbers and data, had some fascinating education numbers yesterday. Silver’s site, renowned for its ability to predict elections by isolating “noisy” (read: useless) information from raw numbers and boil the math down to the figures that matter, used its particular set of skills to tackle some questions in education. Ben Casselman, the FiveThirtyEight writer assigned to the piece, did a very good job explaining the implication of these studies. I’m here to give an educator’s stance on the matter.

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AP US History not ‘Murican Enough for Oklahoma


This week, an Oklahoma legislative committee voted 11-4 to outlaw the AP US History exam. Their rationale was based in the idea that the test was not patriotic enough. Seriously. Representative Dan Fisher argued that the test does not teach “American exceptionalism.” What is American exceptionalism, you might ask? Simply put, it’s the idea that the United States of America is inherently better and different than other nations. We’re so good that we can’t even teach our kids that sometimes we’re bad, apparently.

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On Turnover


Turnover sucks. My last school had a huge percentage of staff change every year (about 50%), so I was excited when I moved to Baltimore and got a job in what I had been told was a model urban high school. I was excited for the new options it would afford me, for the ideas I’d be able to implement, and the more efficient systems I’d encounter. Most of all, I was excited for some consistency. I couldn’t wait for consistency in my fellow teachers, administrators, and support staff.

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