‘I want to be a mass murderer’ when I grow up

“When I grow up, I want to be a mass murderer,” wrote Brian McGuigan in his second-grade journal. Abandoned by his father, he was an angry child who was “hated” by classmates.

The entry was a story about me as a grown-up, an emerging mass murderer with a Frankenstein combination shotgun and machine gun mounted to my arm. I was probably playing too much “Contra” then. I used the gun to shoot anyone who messed with me, not an indiscriminate killing spree but a revenge fantasy against nameless, faceless bodies, all of whom may or may not have been my father. . . . the police never caught me because a hockey mask concealed my face, like Jason’s.

His teacher called his mother, not the police. After a conference, he began weekly appointments with a therapist.

Ms. Ashley talked animated and slowly like a Teddy Ruxpin doll. We chatted about school, my mom, Nintendo, and since I had trouble sitting still, she let me play with the toys. My favorite were the cars. I could pretend I was driving anywhere. Miss Ashley asked me lots of questions — “What’s your favorite subject in school?”; “Are you a Mets fan or Yankees”?; “Do you like pizza?” but never “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sometimes my answers were one word, and other times I’d speak at length, spinning stories around her like a tether ball, some of which probably weren’t true at all because I lied often, not out of malice but boredom.

He also started taking Ritalin, which made it possible for him to sit still and focus in class.

 As my energy decreased, my motivation did, too. I spent most weekends zoned out playing Zelda for hours, basking in the fuzzed glow of the television. My mother told me to go out and play, but I just wanted to stay inside and play video games, relaxed and focused on the task, and not bounce around the neighborhood causing trouble.

By high school, “a class clown occasionally but no longer by trade,” he was an honor roll student.  When he was caught smoking pot, his mother showed him the second-grade journal entry.

I wondered where I would be if not for my mother, Mrs. McKierney and Miss Ashley, if I would have ended up like Jason, minus the succession of campy sequels.

It sounds like the Ritalin helped too.

McGuigan lives in Seattle where he is the program director at Richard Hugo House, a community writing center.

In Los Angeles, mental health workers work with schools and law enforcement to help troubled students who might turn to violence, reports the New York Times. 

Each day, several dozen calls come in to the program’s dispatch center from principals, counselors, school security officers or parents worried about students who have talked about suicide, exhibited bizarre behavior or made outright threats.

Mental  health workers try to convince principals not to expel students who’ve made threats. “Doing so only pushes the problem onto another school or leaves a child at home with free time to surf the Internet and nurse a grudge against the school.”

Do cops make schools safe?

Do police officers make your schools safer? Los Angeles students don’t think so, reports Colorlines.

South Dakota has passed a law allowing teachers to carry guns in school.

College prep for all relies on false data

Starting with the class of 2002, San Jose Unified raised its graduation requirements: All students must pass the college-prep courses required for admission to state universities. The rule doubled the percentage of university-eligible graduates — and nearly tripled college readiness rates for Latinos — the district reported. Inspired by San Jose’s success, other districts raised their graduation requirements. But requiring college prep classes didn’t work in San Jose, the Hechinger Report discovered. The numbers were fudged.

 For six years, the district misreported its results, counting seniors who were close to completing the college-prep requirements as having done so. San Jose claimed that the percentage of graduates who got at least a C in all these classes rose to nearly two-thirds from just over a third. The rate for Latino students rose to nearly 50% from 18.5%, and for black students to more than 50% from 27%, the district incorrectly reported.

After the district corrected its errors, the district reported only incremental progress that was comparable to school systems without the requirements. Of that class of 2011, a little more than a third completed the college-prep sequence.

In 2000, before the college-prep rule took effect, 40 percent of San Jose Unified graduates fulfilled state university admission requirements by earning C’s or better in college-prep courses known as the A-G sequence. In 2011, the number was 40.3 percent.  Of blacks and Latinos who entered high school in fall 2007, about 1 in 5 were eligible to apply to a state university four years later.

Students could graduate with D’s in college-prep courses, while state universities require at least a C. Failing students were transferred to alternative schools with lower expectations. Thanks to compassionate teachers and the D-, the dropout rate didn’t rise.

While San Jose Unified was claiming success, I was writing Our School, about a San Jose charter school’s fierce struggle to prepare low-income and working-class Latino kids for college. I wondered how kids who’d scored “below basic” on the state math exam were passing advanced algebra and chemistry.

Los Angeles Unified will require the class of 2016 to pass the A-G courses with a D or better, reports Hechinger. Next year’s ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

L.A. school officials said their program will include the support necessary to help students succeed. Supt. John Deasy has insisted that requiring students to get a C or better in these classes is necessary for a diploma to be meaningful and to ensure that low-income and minority students don’t have to settle for coursework that is “orange drink” rather than “orange juice.”

“This is all about a kid’s civil rights,” Deasy said. “I am confident in our students, that they will rise to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach Unified also is trying to qualify more students for state universities. Instead of requiring A-G courses, Long Beach sets annual improvement targets for its schools. Only 25 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of black students were eligible for state universities in 2011. That’s not great — but it’s better than San Jose’s real numbers.

No ‘parent trigger’ fight in Los Angeles

California’s first two parent trigger campaigns were bitter fights, but Los Angeles parents seeking to transform 24th Street Elementary have found a “willing partner” in the school district, reports EdSource Today.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy met them and promised “to work side by side with you so every student – todos los niños – gets an outstanding education.” United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher showed up unexpectedly at their press conference and vowed to collaborate with them, too.

The school’s parents union say 68 percent of parents signed the trigger petition, far more than the 50 percent needed.

Los Angeles Unified already has identified 24th Street Elementary as one of the worst performing in the district.

. . . before the parents handed in their petition, Deasy returned the school’s transformation plan, written by the principal and a team of teachers in consultation with a half-dozen parents and Parent Revolution organizers, as insufficient.

It was, however, candid in explaining the need for change: “We have continued to operate in the same manner for years and have consequently yielded the same ineffective results,” it said. “Rather than learn from our operational miscues and poor communication and look to our past for guidance, we have allowed the accretion of our failures to weigh us down.”

The 24th Street Elementary School Parents Union has set deadlines for converting the school to a charter by next fall, but parents could agree to an in-district school transformation plan, says Ben Austin of Parent Revolution.

LA parents submit ‘trigger’ petition

Last week, the first “parent trigger” school takeover was approved in California’s Mojave Desert. A high-scoring charter operator will take over low-scoring Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto. Today, Los Angeles parents will use the trigger law to ask for changes at their very low-scoring school, threatening to convert the school to a charter if they’re not satisfied. Parents at 24th Street  Elementary “are demanding stronger leadership, better academics, safer and cleaner facilities and a new culture of high expectations,” reports the Hechinger Report.

As they recruit parents, the 24th Street petitioners cite the grim statistics: More than 80 percent of third-graders and 71 percent of fifth-graders can’t read at grade level, and the school’s 8 percent suspension rate is the second highest out of all elementary schools in the LAUSD. Last year, 24th Street scored a 667 on the state’s Academic Performance Index, a 1,000-point scale that ranks California schools. That was 32 points lower than Desert Trails—the school that won its parent trigger push last week—and well below the state target of 800.

“It hasn’t been that difficult to rally parents,” (parent Amabilia) Villeda said. “Many parents say that if significant changes don’t happen at this school this year, they’re going to take their kids out.”

24th Street Elementary is a turnaround school that hasn’t turned yet. Its 2012-13 improvement plan discusses “stubbornly low test scores, ineffective teaching methods and student concerns about bullying and cleanliness” as well as high absenteeism and transiency rates.

The plan calls for .. .  better systems in place to check for student understanding and promote re-teaching, more comprehensive teacher evaluations and increased parent involvement on school committees.

Parent-union leaders says the plan doesn’t go far enough and had little parent input. About 60 percent of parents have signed the trigger petition, according to Parent Revolution, which is backing the campaign.

Parent Laura Wade, 37, said 24th Street shouldn’t get a pass just because it serves a low-income area—100 percent of students there are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. Eighty percent of its students are Hispanic and 18 percent are black. Nearly half of the students don’t speak English at home.

Since her son started kindergarten last fall, he’s had 11 teachers, most of them substitutes, Wade said.

The 24th Street petition “calls for reopening the school under either a charter operator or a partnership model within the district.”

The elementary school shares its campus with Crown Prep, a charter middle school (starting in fifth grade) that’s reached the state target on the Academic Performance Index.

LA study: New teachers get worst students

In Los Angeles Unified, new teachers get the weakest students, reports a six-year study by the Strategic Data Project.

The study also found “significant disparities in effectiveness among the district’s elementary and middle school teachers, as measured by students’ standardized test scores,” notes EdSource Today.

Researchers found that the difference between a math teacher in the 75th percentile – those whose students performed better than three quarters of other students – and a teacher in the 25th percentile was the roughly equivalent benefit to a student of having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year (technically one quarter of a standard deviation).

New teachers hired through Teach for America and the district’s Career Ladder program that helps aides become teachers were more effective in math than other novice teachers by two months for TFA and one month for former aides. However, most TFA teachers leave after two years, while Career Ladder teachers usually stay for the long haul.

Forty-five percent of laid-off teachers ranked in the top two quartiles in effectiveness, the study found. All layoffs are based on seniority.

Of the teachers who were laid off, 45 percent were in the top two quartiles of effective teachers in Los Angeles Unified. Source: SDP Human Capital Diagnostic in the Los Angeles Unified. (Click to enlarge.)
Los Angeles teachers with advanced academic degrees earn more, but are no more effective, the study found. However, “teachers with a National Board Certification outperform other teachers, by roughly two months of additional math instruction and one month of additional ELA instruction over a year.”  Most board-certified teachers in Los Angeles work in high-performing schools.

Professional derangement

Professional development is snake oil, writes Mary Morrison, a Los Angeles teacher, in American Renaissance. Useless in-school training cuts students’ instruction time, but the out-of-school training is even worse, she writes.

They always start with an hour or two of silly “getting-to-know-you” games. One began with a tug-of-war, and then proceeded to a “blind walk,” where one teacher led a blindfolded teacher around, supposedly to build trust. Next, we were matched with someone according to our favorite day of the week and according to the results of a personality test we had taken. We were supposed to cozy up to a “camp fire”—blankets thrown over half a dozen flashlights—and confide our innermost thoughts and feelings to each another. Often a school administrator lurks nearby, noting if anyone lacks enthusiasm for this silliness.

Workshops, training sessions, and professional development are mainly about how to teach the majority of LAUSD students, who are “of color:” non-English speakers who enter school two grade levels below whites and Asians of the same age. Asians are not white but are not exactly “of color” either, since they do well in school.

In these sessions we invariably learn that in order to teach students effectively we must foster “trust.” To do so we must have “compassion, sensitivity and understanding,” and acknowledge our students’ “cultural authenticity.” This is because they will not learn from teachers they see as “hostile to their reality.” Most of the people who run these sessions have never taught a class in their lives but believe me, the LAUSD is deadly serious about this stuff.

Teachers can’t discuss intelligence or racial differences in “behavior, focus or drive,” Morrison writes. If black or Hispanic students score below average, it must be due to “racism, oppression, cultural differences and textbooks.”  White or Asian students who don’t learn must be victims of “poor teaching methods, run-down school buildings, or lazy and uncaring teachers.” Above all, “students are never to blame if they misbehave, fail to study, or can’t understand the curriculum.”

The fads come and go and then come again with a new name.

Professional developments I have been subjected to include: Left-brain/Right-Brain Strategies, Self-Esteem, Relevance, Alternative or Authentic Assessments, Values Clarification, Critical Thinking Skills, Inventive Spelling and Writing, SLCS (small schools within schools), Rubrics, Metacognition, Tapping into Prior Knowledge, Differentiated Instruction, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Learning Centers, and Multi-Sensory Education. And there are many more.

A huge PD bureaucracy makes lots of money selling snake oil, Morrison writes.

Study: LA’s new schools help younger students

Los Angeles Unified built 131 new schools in the last decade to end overcrowding. Elementary students who moved into new schools made strong achievement gains equal to another 35 days of schooling, according to a Berkeley study. But high school students improved only a bit in English Language Arts and not at all in math when they moved from a crowded building to a new facility.

“How new elementary schools are lifting achievement remains somewhat of a mystery,” said William Welsh, the UC Berkeley Ph.D. student who carried out the statistical analysis. “New schools in LA Unified are much smaller than older schools, perhaps offering warmer, personal settings that are more conducive to kids’ learning.”

. . . Achievement gains were even stronger for elementary students escaping the most severely overcrowded schools and landing at a new campus – gains equivalent to lengthening the school year by up to 65 days, said the report.

LA Unified spent just under $15,000 per pupil, on average, for the new schools. “We found no evidence suggesting that more expensive school facilities yield stronger achievement,” Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller said.

 

In 2 days, failing students pass, graduate

Three Los Angeles seniors who failed a required class, were able to transfer to a credit-recovery school for two days, pass and return to graduate with classmates, reports the Los Angeles Times. Teachers are annoyed.

 The students withdrew from STEM Academy of Hollywood as late as June 13, a Wednesday, attended the adjacent Alonzo Community Day School the next day, and checked back into STEM to graduate that Friday.

The three had failed economics or history classes taught by Mark Nemetz, who complained the fast shuffle “damages the credibility of STEM.”

“Why should next year’s seniors make a serious effort next year if they know they have this option available to them at the end?” wrote teacher Julio Juarez.

STEM Principal Josie Scibetta said she was obligated to accept the credits and  told the Times she’s concerned about Nemetz’s ”rigid” grading policies.

Alonzo, the alternative school, is intended for students who are at risk of dropping out. Although it has a traditional school day, it measures credits only by work completed, not the time the students spend in class, said Principal Victorio R. Gutierrez.

It’s difficult and rare, but not impossible, for a talented student to complete in two days material that another student might need a year to master, Gutierrez said. He added that his school’s rigor does not necessarily match that of a regular high school, but his instructors teach the required material, and students have to produce work and pass quizzes to demonstrate their knowledge.

Credit recovery undermines standards, writes Walt Gardner on Ed Week.

Los Angeles shortens school year again

As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say.  ”You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.