Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Learning Lessons from On-Screen Teachers

I am a huge movie fan and always fascinated by the portrayals of teachers on-screen. This recent Washington Post article speaks to some of the most memorable and makes us think about our own instructional craft. Enjoy!


Beyond the regular syllabus, teachers in films can be fascinating, flawed characters

Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson.".
Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson.". (Thinkfilm)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 10:31 AM

Think of the greatest teachers in cinema history and immediately, some obvious, classic educator-roles spring to mind. Sidney Poitier in "To Sir, With Love." Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye Mr. Chips." Maggie Smith in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." Perhaps, for those who haven't developed a condition known as Carpe Diem Aversion, even Robin Williams in "Dead Poet's Society."
But that only takes us halfway through the syllabus. There are many more complex, inspiring, flawed and fascinating school teachers whose plays key roles in film. And with school officially back in session, this seemed like the perfect week to mention a few recent movie instructors whose lessons can be absorbed on DVD or Blu-ray.

Sister James (Amy Adams) in "Doubt"
Philip Seymour Hoffman's possibly indiscrete priest and Meryl Streep's dauntingly judgmental principal may serve as the two magnetic poles in this impeccably acted 2008 drama. But it's Adams's James -- a Catholic school teacher with genuine concern for her students, an ability to find the good in everyone and a stunning abundance of naivete -- who emerges from this adaptation of the the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama as the one character who, maybe, you'd want teaching your own children.

Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
The main character in this Academy Award-winning film is, obviously, Precious, the stoic, abused, overweight young woman played by Gabourey Sidibe. But there would be no "Precious" without the patient, tough-loving Ms. Rain, the teacher at the alternative school Each One, Teach One who shows this movie's troubled soul the way toward the light.

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) in "Half Nelson"
When we see him in a classroom trying to impart the importance of history to a group of junior high schoolers, Dunne looks like nothing less than a heroic, amazing teacher. And that's what makes his drug addiction -- an affliction destroying his life off school grounds -- that much more heart-breaking. In an Academy Award-nominated performance, Gosling realistically shows us that even the most inspiring teachers are still fallible humans who, sometimes, learn the most valuable lessons from students, in this case a troubled girl played with quiet power by Shareeka Epps.

Dewey Finn (Jack Black) in "School of Rock"
Okay, technically Finn isn't so much a teacher as a slacker who has been thrown out of a band and decides to impersonate his roommate in order to snag a substitute gig at an esteemed private school. But by the time this infectious 2003 comedy from director Richard Linklater is over, Black's Finn realizes his calling isn't musical stardom -- it's showing kids how to do their own rockin.'

Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) in "Notes on a Scandal"
Covett is the kind of teacher no education major would ever aspire to be: bitter, lonely and capable of manipulating a colleague and friend (Cate Blanchett) in ways that are beyond reprehensible. As portrayed by a beady-eyed, venomous Dench -- an Oscar nominee for her work here -- this woman is pretty much the opposite of the admirable Jean Brodies and Professor Keatings found in other school dramas. But then, that's exactly what makes her -- and her Machiavellian actions -- so icily memorable.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) in "A Serious Man"
A physics professor dealing with the disintegration of virtually every aspect of his life, Gopnik is simultaneously grasping to reach tenure, keep his marriage together and avoid accepting a bribe from a less-than-stellar student. As a man tasked with providing all the answers during lecture halls, this Coen Brothers character becomes increasingly addled as he quickly realizes that when it comes to life, all he's got are more questions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Can we stop the madness and truly reform our schools?

Diane Ravitch is known as one of the best educational historians and experts alive today. I vividly remember reading her work throughout graduate school at Harvard. Ravitch has been adamant of her disapproval of the testing machines schools have become due to the No Child Left Behind law and a fervent supporter of smaller, more supportive neighborhood schools.

I came across her most recent published article in the National Education Association magazine's latest issue. I hope you can find truth in her words too as we continue to work towards schools that can truly WORK for our neediest students.

Stop the Madness

Illustration: Michael Glenwood

Education’s foremost historian on where NCLB went wrong, ending the testing regime, and why we need neighborhood schools.

By Diane Ravitch

On ‘No Child Left Behind’

I was initially supportive of NCLB. Who could object to ensuring that children mastered the basic skills of reading and mathematics? Who could object to an annual test of those skills? Certainly not I.

My support for NCLB remained strong until November 30, 2006. That was the day I went to a conference at the American Enterprise Institute, a well-respected conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.. The conference examined whether the major remedies prescribed by NCLB—especially choice and after-school tutoring—were effective. Was the “NCLB toolkit” working? The various presentations that day demonstrated that state education departments were drowning in new bureaucratic requirements, procedures, and routines, and that none of the prescribed remedies was making a difference.

I started to doubt the entire approach to school reform that NCLB represented. I started to see the danger of the culture of testing that was spreading through every school in every community, town, city and state.

The most toxic flaw in NCLB was its legislative command that all students in every school must be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014, including students with special needs, students whose native language is not English, students who are homeless and lacking in any societal advantage, and students who have every societal advantage but are not interested in their schoolwork. All will be proficient by 2014. And if they are not, then their schools and teachers will suffer the consequences.

The 2014 goal is a timetable for the demolition of public education in the United States. The goal of 100 percent proficiency has placed thousands of public schools at risk of being privatized, turned into charters, or closed. And indeed, scores of schools in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other districts were closed because they were unable to meet the unreasonable demands of NCLB. Superintendents in those districts boasted of how many schools they had closed, as if it were a badge of honor rather than an admission of defeat. As the clock ticks toward 2014, ever larger numbers of public schools will be forced to close or become charter schools, relinquish control to state authorities, become privately managed, or undergo some other major restructuring. Yet, to date, there is no substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that low-performing schools can be turned around by any of the remedies prescribed in the law.
Furthermore, [NCLB’s] focus on test scores distorts and degrades the meaning and practice of education.

One of the unintended consequences of NCLB was the shrinkage of time available to teach anything other than reading and math. Other subjects, including history, science, the arts, geography, even recess, were curtailed in many schools. Reading and mathematics were the only subjects that counted in calculating a school’s adequate yearly progress, and even in these subjects, instruction gave way to intensive test preparation. Test scores became an obsession. Many school districts invested heavily in test-preparation materials and activities. Test-taking skills and strategies took precedence over knowledge. Teachers used the tests from previous years to prepare their students, and many of the questions appeared in precisely the same format every year; sometimes the exact same questions reappeared on the state tests. In urban schools, where there are many low-performing students, drill and practice became a significant part of the daily routine.

NCLB assumed that shaming schools that were unable to lift test scores every year—and the people who work in them—would lead to higher scores. It assumed that low scores are caused by lazy teachers and lazy principals. Perhaps most naively, it assumed that higher test scores on standardized tests of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong. 

On Her Favorite Teacher

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Ruby Ratliff. More than fifty years ago, she was my homeroom teacher at San Jacinto High School in Houston, and I was lucky enough to get into her English class as a senior.

Mrs. Ratliff was gruff and demanding. She did not tolerate foolishness or disruptions. She had a great reputation among students. When it came time each semester to sign up for classes, there was always a long line outside her door. What I remember most about her was what she taught us. We studied the greatest writers of the English language, not their long writings like novels (no time for that), but their poems and essays. I still recall a class discussion of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and the close attention that thirty usually rowdy adolescents paid to a poem about a time and place we could barely imagine. Now, many years later, in times of stress or sadness, I still turn to poems that I first read in Mrs. Ratliff’s class. 

She had a red pen and she used it freely. Still, she was always sure to make a comment that encouraged us to do a better job. Clearly she had multiple goals for her students, beyond teaching literature and grammar. She was also teaching about character and personal responsibility. These are not the sorts of things that appear on any standardized test.

At our graduation, she made a gift of a line or two of poetry to each of the students in her homeroom. I got these two: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” the last line of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which we had read in class, and “among them, but not of them,” from Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which we had not read in class. As she did in class, Mrs. Ratliff used the moment to show us how literature connected to our own lives, without condescending into shallow “relevance.” I think these were the best graduation presents I got, because they are the only ones I remember a half century later.

I think of Mrs. Ratliff when I hear the latest proposals to improve the teaching force. I believe Mrs. Ratliff was a great teacher, but I don’t think she would have been considered “great” if she had been judged by the kind of hard data that is used now. How would the experts have measured what we learned? We never took a multiple-choice test. We wrote essays and took written tests in which we had to explain our answers, not check a box or fill in a bubble. If she had been evaluated by the grades she gave, she would have been in deep trouble, because she did not award many A grades. An observer might have concluded that she was a very ineffective teacher.

Would any school today recognize her ability to inspire her students to love literature? Would she get a bonus for expecting her students to use good grammar, accurate spelling, and good syntax? Would she win extra dollars for insisting that her students write long essays and for grading them promptly? I don’t think so. And let’s face it: She would be stifled not only by the data mania of her supervisors, but by the jargon, the indifference to classical literature, and the hostility to her manner of teaching that now prevail in our schools.

On Teacher Unions

Data-driven education leaders say that academic performance lags because we don’t have enough “effective” teachers. The major obstacle to getting enough effective teachers and getting rid of ineffective teachers, they say, is the teachers’ unions.

Critics of teacher unions seem to be more plentiful now than ever before. Supporters of choice and vouchers see the unions as the major obstacle to their reforms. One would think, by reading the critics, that the nation’s schools are overrun by incompetent teachers who hold their jobs only because of union protections, that unions are directly responsible for poor student performance, and that academic achievement would soar if the unions were to disappear.

This is unfair. No one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated a clear, indisputable correlation between teacher unionism and academic achievement, either negative or positive. The Southern states, where teachers’ unions have historically been either weak or nonexistent, have always had the poorest student performance on national examinations. Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance, has long had strong teacher unions. The difference in performance is probably due to economics, not to unionization. Where there are affluent communities, student performance tends to be higher, whether or not their teachers belong to unions.

Critics say the union contract makes it impossible for administrators to get rid of bad teachers. The union says it protects teachers against arbitrary dismissals. To be sure, it is not easy to fire a tenured teacher, but it can be done so long as there is due process in hearing the teacher’s side of the story. It is not in the interest of their members to have incompetent teachers in their midst, district officials should collaborate with unions to develop a fair and expeditious process for removing incompetent teachers, rather than using the union as a scapegoat.

On “The Billionaire Boys’ Club”

In 2002, the top two [education] philanthropies were the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation; these two foundations alone were responsible for 25 percent of all funds contributed by the top fifty donors in that year.

The new titans of the foundation world were billionaire entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. They were soon joined in education philanthropy by another billionaire, Eli Broad, who made his fortune in home building and the insurance industry; he launched the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in 1999. Unlike the older established foundations, such as Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie, which reviewed proposals submitted to them, the new foundations decided what they wanted to accomplish, how they wanted to accomplish it, and which organizations were appropriate recipients of their largesse.

Gates, Walton, and Broad came to be called venture philanthropies, organizations that made targeted investments in education reform.
[They] began with different emphases, but over time they converged in support of reform strategies that mirrored their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes, such as competition, choice, deregulation, incentives, and other market-based approaches. These were not familiar concepts in the world of education, where high value is placed on collaboration. The venture philanthropies used their funds assertively to promote their goals. Not many school districts could resist their offers. School districts seldom have much discretionary money. The money expended by a foundation—even one that spends $100 million annually—may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of millions or billions spent by public school districts. But the offer of a multimillion-dollar grant by a foundation is enough to cause most superintendents and school boards to drop everything and reorder their priorities.

And so it happened that the Gates, Walton, and Broad foundations came to exercise vast influence over American education. These foundations set the policy agenda not only for school districts, but also for states and even the U.S. Department of Education.

There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people. These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state. If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.

The foundations justify their assertive agenda by pointing to the persistently low performance of public schools in urban districts. Having seen so little progress over recent years, they now seem determined to privatize public education to the greatest extent possible. They are allocating millions of dollars to increase the number of charter schools. They assume that if children are attending privately managed schools, and if teachers and principals are recruited from nontraditional backgrounds, then student achievement will improve dramatically. They base this conclusion on the success of a handful of high-visibility charter schools (including KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools) that in 2009 accounted for about 300 of the nation’s approximately 4,600 charter schools.

If we continue on the present course, with big foundations and the federal government investing heavily in opening more charter schools, the result is predictable. Charter schools in urban centers will enroll the motivated children of the poor, while the regular public schools will become schools of last resort for those who never applied or were rejected. The regular public schools will enroll a disproportionate share of students with learning disabilities and students who are classified as English-language learners; they will enroll the kids from the most troubled home circumstances, the ones with the worst attendance records and the lowest grades and test scores.

Do we need neighborhood public schools? I believe we do. The neighborhood school is the place where parents meet to share concerns about their children and the place where they learn the practice of democracy. They create a sense of community among strangers. As we lose neighborhood public schools, we lose the one local institution where people congregate and mobilize to solve local problems, where individuals learn to speak up and debate and engage in democratic give-and-take with their neighbors.

The market is not the best way to deliver public services. Just as every neighborhood should have a reliable fire station, every neighborhood should have a good public school. Privatizing our public schools makes as much sense as privatizing the fire department or the police department.

American education has a long history of infatuation with fads. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?

On How To Improve Our Schools

What, then, can we do to improve schools and education? Plenty.

We must first of all have a vision of what good education is. We should have goals that are worth striving for. Everyone involved in educating children should ask themselves why we educate. What is a well-educated person? What knowledge is of most worth? What do we hope for when we send our children to school? What do we want them to learn and accomplish by the time they graduate from school?

Certainly we want them to be able to read and write and be numerate. But that is not enough. We want to prepare them for a useful life. We want them to be able to think for themselves when they are out in the world on their own. We want them to have good character and to make sound decisions about their life, their work, and their health. We want them to face life’s joys and travails with courage and humor. We hope that they will be kind and compassionate in their dealings with others. We want them to have a sense of justice and fairness. We want them to understand our nation and our world and the challenges we face. We want them to be active, responsible citizens, prepared to think issues through carefully, to listen to differing views, and to reach decisions rationally. We want them to learn science and mathematics so they understand the problems of modern life and participate in finding solutions. We want them to enjoy the rich artistic and cultural heritage of our society and other societies.

If these are our goals, the current narrow, utilitarian focus of our national testing regime is not sufficient to reach any of them. Indeed, to the extent that we make the testing regime our master, we may see our true goals recede farther and farther into the distance. By our current methods, we may be training (not educating) a generation of children who are repelled by learning, thinking that it means only drudgery, worksheets, test preparation, and test-taking.

Our nation’s commitment to provide universal, free public education has been a crucial element in the successful assimilation of millions of immigrants and in the ability of generations of Americans to improve their lives. As we seek to reform our schools, we must take care to do no harm. In fact, we must take care to make our public schools once again the pride of our nation. To the extent that we strengthen them, we strengthen our democracy.

Write on, Ravitch! What do you think about what you’ve read here? Agree or not?

 Join the discussion at If you’re hankering to read more, including interviews with the author and articles written by her, check out Diane Ravitch’s own Web site at, or read her blog, which she writes jointly with education reformer Deborah Meier, at

I thought some teachers' thoughts from the NEA website were worth including:

My First Job Wiped Away My Exciting Ideas

Educators respond to Diane Ravitch’s book

As a special education teacher, I have watched the endless rounds of testing shortchange and demean my students, wasting valuable time that I could have used to educate the WHOLE child.

My own son has never been a good test taker. By NCLB standards, he was a failure. But his excellent teachers taught him that life is more than a good test score. He is now almost 30 years old and works as an emergency room technician and part-time fire and rescue worker. He also runs a free karate program for kids. Thank goodness he was educated in the pre-NCLB era. He received a well-rounded education that helped him develop into a fine man.
Mary Modder
Kenosha, Wisconsin

While shopping last Christmas, I bought something that cost $4.73. I gave the girl behind the counter $10.03. When she punched the cash register, the exact change calculation didn’t work. The girl working next to her couldn’t help. The manager was called. She at least had the knowledge to get out an adding machine and subtract to figure out the change. I asked the girls whether they had passed the [Texas state] test. They all had.
Dardon Ann Hayter
Part-time ESP
Pasadena, Texas

I am a new educator. In college, I learned to use hands-on approaches, plan elaborate thematic units, and never ever teach to the test. I came out fresh and ready with my big, fun, exciting ideas to get kids learning. Right away, my first job wiped away my exciting ideas. My school was on “continuous improvement,” so the state was watching. I was forced to teach to the test with the principal breathing down my neck. I remember my stomach twisting in knots as students took their tests, thinking, “This isn’t what teaching is supposed to be about!”
One of my top fears is that many of our students will drop out because they hate school.
Sara KurtzBowling Green, Ohio

Even way back in the early 60s when I was a youngster, my teachers did all kinds of hands-on learning activities and elaborate thematic units. We even dissected a friend’s kitten to determine the cause of death! I don’t know when learning by test-taking got the gold seal of instruction. With all the research on children’s physical, social, emotional, and psychological development—even brain research—we continue to be forced to teach in ways that are at best ineffective, at worst destructive and criminal. I hope some of us retired teachers can make the time to fight on behalf of kids and teachers everywhere!
Dorothy Petrie
Retired Music Teacher
Greece, New York

© Copyright 2002-2010 National Education Association

----- Let's keep this discussion going! What do you think??

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Should letter grades be eliminated?

Here's an interesting and controversial article worth reading!,0,1994902.story

South Florida

Letter grades vanishing from some Palm Beach County report cards

District pilots new 'standards-based' report card at 13 elementary schools

By Marc Freeman, Sun Sentinel
10:06 PM EDT, September 20, 2010

The Palm Beach County School District is reviving a controversial plan from five years ago: removing the A, B, C, D and F marking codes in favor of a new system of rating student performance.

It begins with a trial at 13 schools across the county, including two campuses that were trailblazers in dropping letter grades in the past decade. The new report card could make its way to more of the district's 107 elementary schools next year.

"We've pulled the plug on this many times," Superintendent Art Johnson said of the so-called standards-based report card, designed to show how well a student is mastering reading, math, science and social studies.

Instead of letter grades, students at the experimental schools will be given "performance codes" — exemplary, proficient, approaching or needs development. Exemplary means the student exceeds standards for the grade level.

Teachers and curriculum specialists developed guidelines for how teachers should assign these new performance codes to reflect a student's understanding of concepts. The old grading scales — 80-89 is a B, for example — are gone, for class work as well.

That worries Karen Holme, a parent of two from 
Wellington who has been active on a Facebook page that led curriculum protests last year. She questioned whether the schools will have a clear "measuring stick to determine if a student has mastered, partially mastered or barely mastered an objective."

"If one has no measurement, it's totally subjective," said Holme, whose children attend private school through the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. "It leaves the barn door open for kids to get any grade."

Johnson says he realizes parents may have an affinity for the traditional grading scale and will have to be convinced that the district is not dumbing down the system.

"We've been accused of lower standards," Johnson said, adding that there is no plan to remove letter grades from middle and high schools. "Don't worry about grades going away. They are going to be around for awhile."

Ironically, the district touts its "A" rating from the state for six straight years as proof that it is "the top performing urban school district in Florida."

The main push for removing student grades, he says, revolves around the "psychology" of giving a young child an F or low marks.

"If you say to a student, 'You're failing,' they start to wear that internally," Johnson said of the stigma. "They become that."

Until now, the district has used letter grades on elementary school report cards to indicate the "quality of work" by a student within his or her particular performance level.

But educators say this doesn't tell a true picture, because a student can get Bs and still be below grade level standards. These standards are what children are expected to learn in each subject at each grade level.

A report card without letter grades "gives the parent clearer information about progress toward a standard that a simple grade cannot," Assistant Superintendent Connie Tuman-Rugg said.

That doesn't mean it will be easy for some parents to accept. The affected schools have been holding meetings with parents to explain the changes.

"We grew up with the As, the Bs," Tuman-Rugg said. "This is a mind shift, not just for parents, but for teachers, too. And this is a way this generation of kids will understand what it takes to be proficient and to be above that."

Similar cards have been used elsewhere in the nation and in Florida. Broward schools do not use letter grades in kindergarten through second grade, using a 1, 2 and 3 numbering system instead, to indicate student performance. There is a separate notation to indicate whether students are performing at grade level or below.

Broward has no plans to change the letter grading system on report cards for grades 3-5, a spokeswoman said.
Palm Beach County administrators and principals say the timing is right because the report card had to be revised this year to match new state standards.

"Teachers can more accurately report to parents how their students are performing," said Stephen Sills, principal of Melaleuca Elementary west of West Palm Beach, which is one of the pilot schools. "The key will be good communication between parents and teachers, home and school."

The old card — with its letter grades that can be misleading about a student's mastery — also has confused parents because it has a category separate from letter grades called "performance level," Sills said. This shows if a student is on track for being promoted to the next grade level.

There's a 3 for being on or above grade level academically, a 2 for being less than a year below grade level and a 1 for being more than a year below grade level.

So it's been possible to get high grades and 1s at the same time. Educators also point to the conflict of students who receive good grades in the same year they don't do well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

On the flip side, a student who shows mastery by the end of a 12-week marking period has been penalized with C and F grades for getting poor test scores early in the period.

"It's illogical," Sills said.

Crystal Lakes Elementary west of 
Boynton Beach and Elbridge Gale Elementary in Wellington dropped letter grades years ago, to rave reviews from teachers and parents. The schools had clearance from the School Board and teachers union to use different report card models.

Andrea Sandrin, mother of a fifth-grade boy at Crystal Lakes and a ninth-grade daughter who used to attend the school, says she wound up liking the report card after some initial doubts.

"The first time I saw this I thought, 'What the heck is this?' " Sandrin said, but it turned out to be wonderful for her daughter, who had a learning disability.

"She would have been looking at Fs. That would have changed how she thought of herself," Sandrin said. Today, her daughter takes advanced high school courses. "Grades have emotional baggage."
Marc Freeman can be reached at or 561-243-6642.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

A possible solution to childhood obesity?

Here is an interesting article a colleague passed on to me from The Washington Post. More area school cafeterias are now showing calorie counts of foods for the kids in lunch lines, including schools in my district.

Montgomery County schools posting calorie counts in cafeterias

More than 500 chefs from 37 states gathered at the White House on Friday to join Michelle Obama's newest effort to fight childhood obesity, the Chefs Move to Schools program.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2010

Brianna Lattanzio wound her way through the bustling cafeteria line at her Silver Spring middle school one recent morning, weighing her options. Nutritional information was listed for each of the choices: an Asian-inspired chicken and rice dish (352 calories), vegetarian "chik'n" nuggets (190 calories), a steak-and-cheese sub (420 calories) and macaroni and cheese (481 calories).

The Sligo Middle School student opted for the macaroni. Brianna said that she picked the dish because it looked the best but that she appreciated having the calorie information.

"I pretty much wrote a letter last year saying that they should have more soups and salad," she said. "I think if they could try to lower the calories, that would be good."

This school year, all Montgomery County schools began posting nutrition information in cafeterias to help their young calorie-counters and encourage healthier choices. They also did it to comply with a new county law that requires food outlets with more than 20 locations to post calorie information for items served.

"This is a perfect way to integrate what's a requirement so that parents and students can really see that our students are healthy," said Marla Caplon, director of food services for the Montgomery public schools.

The change comes during a national effort to combat childhood obesity and improve the quality and healthfulness of the foods children eat. First Lady Michelle Obama has advocated for a child nutrition bill that would increase federal spending on school food and tighten limits on fat and sodium contents. The Senate approved the bill last month, and the House is expected to do so this fall.

Few other Washington area school systems post calorie counts in their cafeterias, although many provide nutritional information online for curious parents. An exception is Fairfax County public schools, which have listed calorie counts in lunchrooms for the past decade, spokesman Paul Regnier said.

In the District, school meals are slated to be more healthful this year after the city passed a law mandating low-calorie and low-fat meals and banning transfats and limiting sodium and saturated fats.

At Sligo Middle School, hungry seventh- and eighth-graders lined up last week up to collect their food on small foam trays.
In addition to the main dishes, students could choose from pears, plums, apples and salad, and, this being Maryland, Old Bay seasoning for their French fries. Calorie counts also were listed on a big poster in the main hall of the cafeteria.

One student said he was a reformed fast-food junkie.
"Before, I used to like eating McDonald's a lot," said John Shungu, 12, singling out Big Macs as his favorite. "But they're too mamany calories." He picked the steak-and-cheese sub and broccoli soup.

"I don't like eating too much healthy food," said Kristian Paulos, 12, who was perched next to John at the long cafeteria table. "You have to have some fat on your body -- but you can't have too much fat," he said, nibbling on the faux chicken nuggets and fries.
And one student threatened to boycott cafeteria meals if lunches got any more healthy.
"The snack line is all junk food. I like it," said Samnisha Horne, 14. "If they changed it I would hate the school." (Caplon pointed out that even the junk food items -- the bags of Doritos and other chips, for example -- are the reduced-fat versions.)

The school estimates it serves cafeteria meals to about 60 percent of its students every day. Last year, half of Sligo's students qualified for free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty.

Officials said the school system has been working over the past few years to improve its meals, serving more whole grains and widening the selection of fruit. New this year, flavored milk is available only in nonfat varieties.

The school system also participates in a federal program that limits the amount of fat and sugar allowed in foods, Caplon said.

Caplon said the calorie information probably would have the most effect at the high school level, when students better understand the complexities of nutrition, which is taught as part of the school system's health classes. Parents can attend healthful cooking classes at schools, she said.

Sligo students said the new information would eventually sink in.

"I see the list," said Chantal Valladares, 12. She was eating a plum.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Time to Celebrate: Our County Makes Strides in Closing the Achievement Gap!

I just received word about this huge accomplishment and wanted to share it with you all. It is a true testament to the work we teachers do every day with our students in providing full opportunities for our students' growth, improvement, and success, regardless of the color of their skin or background:
To my colleagues,
Today is a historic day for Montgomery County Public Schools—and it is all because of your hard work and dedication.
The College Board released SAT scores for the Class of 2010 this morning and MCPS students set an all-time record. Our 2010 graduates scored an average of 1653, which is our district’s highest score since the “new SAT” was implemented in 2006 and represents a one-year increase of 38 points. MCPS graduates outscored their Maryland peers by 151 points and the nation’s 2010 graduates by 144 points. Students in all racial subgroups improved over last year, but African American and Hispanic students made the biggest gains, further narrowing the achievement gap. The best news of all is that 51% of our students scored a 1,650 or higher, meeting the 7th Key to College Readiness—again, an all-time record.
Of course, these results did not happen in one year, or even in four years. The students whose achievements are described in this report were second graders when we began working together in 1999 and made a firm commitment that we would give all students access to an outstanding education. From elementary school, through the middle grades, and into high school, you provided our students with the opportunities and support they needed to be successful. The SAT results released today are the culmination of all the work done by you and your colleagues since these students entered MCPS.
What I’m most proud of is that we have achieved these remarkable results amid record demographic changes. Our poverty levels have increased about 50 percent and the number of English Language Learners has increased more than 100 percent. We have never let poverty, race or language become excuses for poor performance. Instead, we’ve proven that race, language and poverty do not need to be predictors of student success.
Yes, there is work left to be done, but I want to take this moment to celebrate with you and offer a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who played a role in making today’s results possible. MCPS has, without a doubt, the best staff of any school district in the country, and I continue to be honored and humbled to work with such an amazing group of professionals. Congratulations, and thank you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Teachers REALLY Make!

Two of my wonderful colleagues pointed me in the direction of this touching YouTube clip today that is definitely worth watching and listening to. It reminds us all of why we teach and how important educators are in the lives of the young children. 

You will appreciate hearing Taylor Mali's inspirational poem cleaned up a bit (aka censored) for a teachers' inservice audience.

Check out the link at: 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

World's Worst Textbooks Revealed

My husband found the following article online, and I knew I had to share it with you all. This is eye-opening, at times terrifying, and gives us all proper perspective on how lucky we are to live in America. 

The World's Worst Textbooks

As students around the world head back to school, many of the lessons they're learning are not only false -- they're dangerous.


Lesson plan: Religious warfare, gender roles
Subject matter: Iranian leaders may have embraced new media to share political messages with the world, but at home, indoctrination still starts in print. According to one study, Iranian textbooks teach seventh graders that "every Muslim youth must strike fear in the hearts of the enemies of God and their people through combat-readiness and skillful target shooting." Iranian males are obliged by law to perform 18 months of military service at age 19. The Islamic Republic, a 2008 Freedom House study reports, encourages students to embrace Islamic supremacy and an unequal political system in which "some individuals are born first-class citizens, due to their identity, gender, and way of thinking." Women, for example, are portrayed as "second class citizens," depicted mainly in family situations and at home.
Primary source: "Defensive jihad is incumbent upon every one, the young and the old, men and women, everyone, absolutely everyone, must take part in this sacred battle, fight to the best of his or her abilities or assist our fighters." -- from a seventh grade Islamic culture and religious studies textbook
Lesson plan: Alternate history
Subject matter: Chinese history textbooks, much like the country's hesitant acceptance of itself as a world power, are full of contradictions. China, in the eyes of millions of its students, is both meekly innocent and unmatched in military power, simultaneously modest and boastful. Chinese textbooks ignore the invasion of Tibet in 1950 and the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, launched by China in response to Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, and teach that China has only fought wars in self-defense. They also gloss over Chairman Mao Zedong's 1958 to 1961 Great Leap Forward, which resulted in mass famine and 30 million deaths.
One example of Chinese textbook chutzpah can be found in the chapters on World War II, known in some textbooks as "the Anti-Japanese War." The Japanese capture of the city of Nanjing -- often known as the "Rape of Nanjing," when up to 300,000 people were killed by Japanese troops -- is described in one Chinese textbook as "the most horrible [event] in world [history]." (To be fair, Japanese textbooks are little better; they tend to skim over the event, calling it an "incident," "massacre," or "massacre incident.") The Chinese version of history has it that Japan was defeated in the war because of Chinese resistance, not because of the U.S. entry into the war.
Primary source: "The fundamental reason for the victory [in World War II] is that the Chinese Communist Party became the core power that united the nation" -- from a widely used Chinese history textbook
STR/AFP/Getty Images
Lesson plan: Enemies of the faith
Subject matter: After the 9/11 attacks -- in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi -- King Abdullah made reform ofSaudi textbooks, which had been replete with references to Christians, communists, Zionists, and Western "nonbelievers" as enemies of Muslims, a priority. Nine years later, progress has been slow. In 2006, Riyadh promised to remove "all intolerant passages," but some sources say children are still learning from texts that promote anti-Semitism and jihad. Once again, Saudi Arabia has claimed that textbooks and programs used both in the kingdom and by schools funded by Saudi Arabia elsewhere "will be completely overhauled over the next three years." Saudi schools in countries including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Turkey all use similar textbooks.
Primary source: "Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________." -- from a first-grade textbook 
"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus" -- from an eighth-grade textbook on monotheism and jurisprudence
Lesson plan: Culture Wars 101
Subject matter: The Texas Board of Education ignited an international firestorm last spring when members approved acontroversial new social studies curriculum. The new standards skew hard to the right -- championing American capitalism throughout and suggesting religious intentions on the part of the founding fathers.
Some of the most notable arguments were over language surrounding U.S. imperialism (now known as "expansionism") and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger as a promoter of "eugenics," and an amendment to teachers that students be instructed to "describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association." The board even recommended that Thomas Jefferson, creator of the expression "separation of church and state" be excluded from a list of world thinkers who inspired Enlightenment-era revolutions. And, in a salute to Democrats, "Bill Clinton's impeachment" will join Watergate in lessons on "political scandals."
The curriculum standards are reviewed every decade and serve as a template for textbook publishers. Texas's 4.8 million public school students make the state one of the largest markets for textbooks and a determinant of what the rest of the country's schoolchildren will study, with national publishers often tailoring their texts to Texas standards.
Primary source: The new curriculum hasn't hit textbooks yet, but pop quizzes are expected to have a slightly different look -- Newsweek recently published new study exercises that the Texas school board is likely to adopt:
"Explain how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict." And "Evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty.
Getty Images
Lesson plan: Buddy Stalin
Subject matter: It can't be easy to put a positive spin on Stalin, under whose leadership more than 20 million Russians lost their lives. But that's what's being attempted in Russia today. Encouraged by wilderness enthusiast and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, the country's curriculum is engaging in a re-Stalinizing process called "positive history." Aleksandr Filippov, the author of a new Kremlin-approved textbook told the Times, "It is wrong to write a textbook that will fill the children who learn from it with horror and disgust about their past and their people."
His book devotes 83 pages to Joseph Stalin's industrialization plans, but only one paragraph to the Great Famine of 1932 to 1933 in which millions starved as a result of deeply flawed agricultural policy. The book also minimizes the role played by the Soviet Union's allies during Word War II, saying that they "limited themselves mainly to supplying arms, materials and provisions to the USSR."
Primary source: "[Stalin] acted entirely rationally -- as the guardian of a system, as a consistent support of reshaping the country into an industrialized state" -- from A History of Russia, 1900-1945
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