A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why did no one flag UNC’s bogus classes? A Response

Why did no one flag UNC’s bogus classes?

Before I get down to the business of submitting grades, I find it appropriate to respond to an article I read about a scandal that occurred recently at the University of North Carolina about credit being awarded to students for bogus classes. Mary Willingham, a Learning Specialist at UNC, blew the whistle on a practice that was occurring over an 18 year period, largely to the benefit of UNC's athletic program, which was able to keep its players eligible for college sports, a multi-million dollar industry.

Here's the insanity that drove Ms. Willingham to the point where she was willing to upset the apple cart:

MARY WILLINGHAM: They’re coming in with reading levels of fourth, fifth, sixth grade. There’s even some who are reading below a fourth grade level.
BERNARD GOLDBERG: You are saying that some kids who are admitted to the University of North Carolina, one of the best public colleges in America, with a fourth grade or even in some cases lower than a fourth grade reading level?
MARY WILLINGHAM: That’s correct. Makes it pretty hard to go to college, doesn’t it?

Maybe I should be outraged by the inclusion of most of the students in my 6th grade math classes, which will require students to demonstrate 6th grade standards, but I am not. Students who have a reading level of DRA 3, or what a typical Kindergarten student in the Spring might score, are not all that atypical. Makes it pretty hard to do 6th grade math, doesn't it?

Maybe I should feel a little like the child who point out that the emperor was not wearing clothes, but I don't. Despite the standards requirement, it is no secret that large percentages of students are progressing through elementary school without knowing how to read, write, or do arithmetic. It wouldn't surprise me if the numbers were as high as 30%, the same percentage that probably won't graduate from high school, the same 30% figure cited in Nation at Risk.

Given the population that I work with, how is it that Dr. P has been able to achieve results, not on par with other Middle Schools with similar demographics, with similar percentages of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, but with some of the most affluent schools in my school system? Perhaps the most innovative thing Dr. P instituted started as an anti-gang initiative, out after school program. The after school program makes it possible for me to get access to students and do remediation after the final bell rings -- we have late busses 3 days per week. The culture of the school is for teachers to stay "voluntarily" after school for 1 day per week. Last week, with the end of the quarter approaching, and most of my students failing, I made myself available all 5 days, and I helped students who wanted to pass complete assignments.

There's not much I can do for those unwilling or unable to accept my help, despite calls home, contacts with the Counselor, etc. I'm still not sure what to do with a student I have with an IQ of 71. Truly, I'm not sure where the "discrepancy" is. How did Ariel qualify for a Learning Disabilities label? He can't read, can't multiply, can't divide, and can do little to no work independently, but I am his Case Manager this year, and I'm responsible. In all likelihood I will have little choice but to continue the charade, despite his 32% class average, and try to find some way to demonstrate some progress. Ariel avoids working with a teacher, despite his involvement in the after school program. Danger, danger, Will Robinson. This one should be fun.

The language barrier makes it difficult to reach students so I farm out calls to my spanish speaking students to the Parent Liasson. Sometimes, my broken Spanish is good enough, but I can only communicate with parents who speak enough English or who are invested in their children's education and get the point that a call home from a teacher and multiple progress reports indicating that their children are failing are causes for concern. I showed students who stayed after this week on multiple days what happens to their averages when zeroes in my grade book are changed to A's, B's, or even C's, especially since I have a weighted grade book, where a missed project might constitute 10% of their overall grade. The Warmups were crushing grades, so I cut problems by at least a third, and helped students do the problems before they turned them in.

Of the three students whom I told needed to stay Thursday for After School Detention because they were throwing paper wads at each other and giggling while I was direct teaching procedures for adding and subtracting fractions (a 5th grade standard), only one actually came. Hector, who weighs at least 250 pounds, I think was able to dominate his teacher last year with bad behavior, along with Big Al, and Dontae. Through the Parent Liasson, I was able to contact Hector's mom, and we conferenced a few weeks ago, with the Counselor translating. We contacted Hector's soccer coach. Hector cannot play until he gets his grades up. This week, Hector raised his average from a 34% to a 75%, good enough for a C. Dontae, on the other hand, chose to go to Dance Club, then had the audacity to tell the Ms. Drake that he would come to me afterwards. I replied, "No, that's not okay." Big Al went home sick on Thursday morning, but came to Mr. Lee's class, where I was co-teaching, and asked for all of his "missing work." On Tuesday evening, I finally reached Big Al's father and we had a 15 minute conversation about why Big Al is failing my class, his bad behavior in my class and all of his other classes, and what we could do about it. I learned that in Sierra Leone, Big Al's dad wore uniforms and had to treat his teachers with respect. I offered to meet up with him from time to time to drink coffee, Both Big Al and Dontae will stay with me on Thursday, not by choice. I get the impression that the Special Education Mafia ran their classes last year. Hopefully, I can push back enough to enough progress so that I will get to keep my job.

Dawn's mom eventually responded to my 3 phone calls after her husband fixed her i-phone. She came in to conference on Monday. As a result of our discussion, during which Mr. Lee and I described what Dawn was doing in class, Dawn's mom decided to put her back on her medication. Here was a child who had sold 71 pies, but lost some of the paperwork and money, and usually wasted the first 10 minutes and last 10 minutes of class, and most of the time in between. My message was that Dawn was struggling in math and had been unresponsive to everything Mr. Lee I had done to intervene up to that point, because math wasn't important to her. Dawn expressed a desire to join the Yearbook Club, and her mother and I replied that she needed to maintain at least a C average to participate.

The results of that intervention shocked me. I have always been highly skeptical about medication, but the next day, Dawn focused in class, she was learning, and was noticeably subdued, so I asked her, "Did you go on the medication?". On Friday, I worked with Dawn one on one with her after school on her Quarter 1 Study Guide, and I showed her a way she could use her calculator to help her do long division, which one needs to be able to do to change an improper fraction to a mixed number. Dawn raised her grade from about a 51% to about a 77% , On Monday, Dawn mentioned that she wanted to go to the Yearbook Club. "Of course!" I replied.

Kendra, on the other hand, was unable to reach her mom. Her mom's phone does not accept messages. I have tried all quarter to reach home, but none of the numbers work. Kendra cannot even reach her. What to do? What to do?

Is it any wonder that the grade charade continues into major universities, which have huge financial incentives to allow the charade to continue? The grade charade begins in elementary school, and continues on with most going along with the charade because of inertia.

Obviously, the problem is bigger than me. I will do what I can and get back to work and be professional about how I handle my business. I jokingly refer to myself as "The Silent Assassin." Students who cross me learn the hard way not to disrespect me, because I always handle my business, even if I do so quietly, with my pen. My Interventions Notebook has been an effective tool. CYA,