Sunday, August 06, 2006

2006 Teacher Prep

It's time to prep Mississippi public school teachers for the 2006-2007 school year. It's a mixed bag, with some good news, some bad news, and some weird news.

Good news from the DOE: The MSDOE now requires that all schools enter all their classroom assignments on the state computer by August 1. This wasn't done because the state wants to be a busybody, but to end some of the more egregious practices local school districts have fallen into.

All classes must now by assigned by August 1. Our local school system has been assigning classes anywhere from one week to one month AFTER school starts, with the children just sitting there twiddling their thumbs for days on end. Then the schedules they were assigned would be changed daily for the next several weeks. The first nine weeks of teaching was always thoroughly disrupted. Hopefully we won't see any more of that nonsense.

The bad news is that school districts that have gotten used to not working up their classroom assignments until the children are actually sitting there in front of them think they have to start back on August 1 or earlier. The new rules don't say that, but that is how some districts are interpreting them. This puts children starting school during the hottest month in Mississippi and there's a heat wave going on. It's too hot for grown-ups to think, let alone kids!

The state's computer program won't accept more than 25 students in a class. This "flaw" means that classroom size is now capped at 25 students. School districts can't cram 30-50 students in a classroom anymore.

The state's computers also won't allow school districts to give teachers more than 3 different subjects or "preps" to teach. That is the legal limit, but school districts have been routinely ignoring it. Now they can't. This is wonderful news for my husband, who has been given 4 or 5 preps ever year for the past 10 years.

The state is giving the school districts $4,193/student this year. While it looks like a lot of money, it's well under the actual cost of providing good teachers and resources. This is especially true since many school districts have to hire extra teachers because they can no longer get away with cramming classrooms to the gills and giving teachers too many preps.

Bad news from all over the place:

The Curriculum Board: The history teacher was apoplectic with rage. "Look at this mess! 35 years of teaching and I've never seen anything so stupid. It's insane!" She thrust out the Curriculum Board's junior high and high school "Social Studies Framework" like it was a poisonous snake.

History isn't taught until junior high. In 7th grade history begins to be taught in a "compare and contrast" model. It's never taught sequentially. You can't compare and contrast something without a context, and the context isn't taught. "Compare and contrast" is the way history should be taught the second or third time the student is exposed to it, not the first.

Oh yes, and American History begins in 1877. Nothing of consequence happened in American before then.

Lunches: Students are to be strenuously discouraged from bringing their lunches. Students are no longer allowed to eat anywhere other than the cafeteria. Gone are the days when you could chill out for twenty minutes picnicking on the grass. Chilling out is forbidden.

Gifted classes: There will no longer be any gifted high school classes in Mississippi. There will no longer be any accelerated classes either. Accelerated classes are "tracking", and "tracking" is now completely out of favor. If the class if too boring for a student, tough.

Since "tracking" is out of vogue, the highly respected CAT test is no longer needed or given. But since there is still a "need" to test, the much less respected Mississippi state tests will be used in their place. Mississippi students will no longer be ranked alongside national students and neither will their schools.

"Class looping": A while back experimental private elementary schools had a wonderful idea called teacher looping: the same teacher stayed with the same class for 4 years. This meant the students had time to really build up a trust and rapport with that teacher, and cut discipline problems in half. The public schools have picked up the idea and turned it completely backwards.

In Mississippi public schools, the students are supposed to stay with the same class every year BUT have different teachers. Forget about developing a rapport with your teacher. This means if you don't share any abilities or interests with the class you happened to have been shoved in when you first arrived, tough. You'll be stuck with them until you graduate. Isn't that against the Geneva Convention?

Worse, it means that the students within that class feel a rapport with each other that they don't share with the new teacher. After all, teachers come and teachers go but you have to put up with the classroom bully forever. It also means the students get extraordinarily good at cheating. They literally spend years perfecting how to send each other notes and signals, and the new teacher doesn't have a clue what the signs are.

Worst of all, because they bond with each other but not with their authority figures, they make exceptionally bad employees. Local grads have gotten into huge amounts of trouble with their employers because they'll do what their coworkers tell them and not what their bosses tell them. Why shouldn't they? That's the way the school trained them to behave.

Weird news: "They told us today that 71% of African-American second-graders would be dead or in jail by the time they were supposed to graduate."

"What? You've been teaching African-American students for 10 years now. How many of those kids have you seen end up in jail?"


"And how many died?"

"One boy got killed by a drunk driver."

"So for the average to be 71%, there would have to be communities where every African-American child was ending up dead or in jail. Wouldn't we have heard about that?"

"I know. It sounds crazy."

To sum it all up: it looks like my husband is going to need lots of Doctor Who this year.

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