Wednesday, August 29, 2012

And the word of the day is...

   Yesterday, I wrote about how this school year was going to be very interesting.
   Today, we spent several hours in meetings that underlined several of the factors that are going to affect education, particularly in Wisconsin.
   And I'm most curious how it will all play out.
   Here are the contributing factors:
   1. Act 10. I'll start with the elephant in the room. Act 10 gives districts wide latitude to essentially do what they want. This can mostly affect pay and work rules for teachers.
   My district, to their credit, handled this opening week very nicely. We had only one "required" day - today. The rest were ours to set up our rooms, or take the last few days of summer as vacation.
   2. Merit Pay. Because of Act 10, districts have more freedom to set up an alternative compensation package. There's a ton of discussion about this, far more than I want to get into here. Some districts are taking a wait and see approach. Others, like Fall Creek are working directly with the teachers to create a merit pay package. And I love that they freely admit they're not quite sure what's going to happen with it! It's a learning year for them.
   3. State testing. The WKCE is allegedly a thing of the past. Our principal today called it a "low-rigor" test. He also said the state was developing "Smarter Balanced Assessments." I'm not sure what that means, but one would hope the tests are aligned with the Common Core Standards.
   Watch out for the firestorm, though, as all schools' scores are going to seriously drop in the new WKCE reports. That's because the WKCE levels for what proficiency meant were ridiculously low. That's going to change. We'll see how districts react to the public response to that report, which is apparently coming out in the next few weeks.
   4. NCLB. Waivers and loosening of No Child Left Behind mean there will be some changes in how testing is done. Since I don't even pretend to understand any of that, I'll only say there will be changes.
   5. Finally, for today's piece, the other elephant in the room is the Milwaukee Public Schools. This change may not take effect until next school year, but the posturing and arguments are certain to begin soon. See the MPS contract with its teachers runs out at the end of the year. MPS is already projecting losses of many hundreds of teachers at the end of the year due to retirement and flight from the city.
   Since MPS is often the bellwether of the area, I'll be curious how the MPS administration handles its new found freedom when the contract expires.

   For all of these changes, the word of the day is data. Data-driven goals, results, research. All of the data we gather - somehow - is going to drive this. How we gather data, how we use the data, and what all the data means is going to drive this process of change this year.
   Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Beginning - Again

   I lost my way. But I'm back now. 
   Don't you feel better? 
   Part of the reason I want to re-start writing is that I miss it. 
   Another part is the book Feed, an incredible book by Mira Grant. Actually, it's the first of a trilogy about zombies. It's also part conspiracy theory investigation by a group of bloggers, who have become the watchdogs of a digital world. 
   The stories are about zombies, yes, but are really about so much more: human reaction to fear, human desire to control the natural world, corruption of power, human relationships.
   I'm mid-way through the second book: Deadline, and as soon I'm done writing, I'm getting back to the book!
   Tomorrow is also the official teacher start to the new school year. 
   While a pick-axe through the eyeball is preferable to sitting through a day-long set of meetings, the opening day is going to be most curious. 
   In fact, the whole school year promises to be very interesting. 
   First, obviously, Act 10, which stripped teacher unions of any power other than salary bargaining, puts a lot of power in district and administrator's hands. I'm going to be very curious how this power is used. 
   Second, the district - and Wisconsin - adopted the Common Core Standards for both English (Literacy) and math. The CCS promotes getting deeper into literacy skills than our usual curriculum. 
   What's going to be interesting is the testing that will come from CCS. Allegedly, the state is going to use tests based on the CCS. We'll see what those look like. 
   Third, as always, I'm grateful for my colleagues, particularly Marzion - our 11th year together - and Clint Weishaar, my seventh grade Literacy colleague. 
   Those two keep me sane (relatively speaking), and I get to truly collaborate with Clint to create some pretty cool environments for the kids. 
   And finally, the kids. It was so much fun to meet them today and see kids from last year run up to hug us. 
   Today's story was the tiny crocodiles that escaped from the science room. I was checking the lockers to make sure none had burrowed into them. 
   No one had seen any of them.