Tough love for teachers: Listen 6/3 7pm

Bad teachers beware! Colorado now has a law that ties teacher tenure to student performance, finally. Thursday at 7:00 on 710 KNUS in Denver, I'll explore what it means with "Tough Love for Teachers," the latest in our monthly series of one-hour specials called Freedom University. Listen if you can, and catch up later with the podcast right here.click here

Parents, employers, citizens, and taxpayers can applaud the tenure reform on one hand, and ask on the other hand why it wasn’t done long ago. Public education is the most expensive item in our state and local budgets, and we’re not getting our money’s worth. Maybe this new approach is a step toward real value in the classroom at long last.

On "Tough Love for Teachers" I'll talk with two legislators who were instrumental in making it happen, Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) and Rep. Murray (R-Highlands Ranch). Also joining me will be Dr. Bill Moloney, Centennial Institute fellow and former Colorado Education Commissioner, and a pair of education experts from the Independence Institute, Pam Benigno and Ben DeGrow.

Teacher's Desk: Cognitive Lightning Bolt

Much has been said about the dumbing down of America. One look at the “Let’s Make A Deal” health-care reform process in Washington shows we are not teaching problem-solving skills. Indeed, helping students learn to problem-solve and “learn to learn” is something almost all schools are failing to do, according to Jack Elliott and Larry Hargrave in a Denver Post opinion piece on Dec. 19. My jaw dropped when I read their article. They discussed how teaching our students cognitive skills will improve the capacity of students to learn the learning skills many of our students need to improve in order to provide higher level cognitive skills and help more students graduate instead being left behind. Rather than a curriculum-based philosophy, Elliott and Hargrave suggest student awareness and oriented philosophy that improves learning skills.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to our psychologist who gives the type of test that shows the skill sets our teen students have or not: short term memory, long term memory, reading comprehension, reading fluency, math fluency, and decoding to name a few. Her testing also shows how a student learns best: auditory, visually, or kinesthetically. I asked her what she would think about testing struggling students not on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) so we could differentiate classes by student weaknesses and needs instead of MAPs scores. (MAP is a computer based assessment that informs us as to where students’ skill levels fall. We place students with like MAPs scores into classes.) She was both supportive and intrigued.

My next visit was with our principal. She liked it and wanted to meet further on this. With the information from not only this editorial, but the authors’ website, www.cog1st.org, I hope that we can not only put this program in place through assessment, but provide staff development to assist our educators in implementation!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator at Colorado High School Charter with an MA in educational leadership and policy studies and a former candidate for the State Board of Education.

Teacher's Desk: Astroempires Winner

My loveable thug, the one I wrote about before, called me this week. When he left our school a month ago, I knew he had an upcoming trial. He called me to let me know he was okay, won his trial, and could I help him find a GED program? Working with the type of students I do, it is all about building relationships before any learning can take place. To gain the trust of a student not used to trusting adults made me feel like “Teacher of the Year.”

Our social worker announced she had coats, gloves and hats available. She asked me if I knew a student in need? I sure did! My astroempires teammate runs around all year with a t-shirt and thin hoodie. I suspected his mom couldn’t afford a new coat as she is on welfare. Now he has a nice warm coat, hat, and gloves.

I became his astroempires teammate after he overheard me discussing a different on-line game I play with a shy student. My teammate asked me to try astroempires. Since he’s had attendance issues and doesn’t make friends easily, I said sure! I thought our playing the game together could be the buy-in he needs. It has been.

A little over a week ago, we enrolled a student with autism spectrum disorder. I knew I would have my work cut out for me as his educational needs are also social, as well as, academic. Yesterday, he chatted with me, looking straight at me! He joined my school book club and really got into the nonfiction (his request) book I chose for him. Then, during our reading class, he was extremely participatory with great answers. Last period, I saw him hanging out in the lobby and I scooted him to his class, using our discipline coach as the bad guy, “It’s a good thing I caught you and not Mr. Burke. He’d call your mom and you’d be in a world of hurt this weekend.”

Helping these young people is why I love my job!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in educational leadership and policy studies, and is a former candidate to the State Board of Education.

Teacher's Desk: Charter Blame Game

Two recent education pieces have me thinking, and the second with much concern, because I had not thought of our misguided youth in quite the way the author presented. The first article was published in last Sunday’s Denver Post’s Perspective section under My Turn by Spencer Weiler, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Northern Colorado. It was about the so-called disparity of special-education students and other "diverse populations" in Colorado’s charter schools. As for the second piece, for the life of me, I do not remember where I read it or who the author was -- but in essence, it recited the cold, hard facts about today's youth. They are dropping out of school and not earning diplomas, but the real clinker is that many, many have criminal records. These young people are not qualified to join the armed forces and the future security of our country is significantly impeded. What a chilling thought!

Spencer Weiler in his piece, spouts statistics about charter schools in Colorado: that charter schools’ populations statistically have less free and reduced lunch students, less Hispanic populations, less African American, and less special needs students. Let’s face it, if one pools the data in such a way as he has with statewide numbers instead of comparing charter populations with their own district populations, the demographics would be far closer statistically, so in essence, his theory is fraught with misguided comparisons.

I had to truly shake my head with his comparisons because the charter schools, as well as, the Denver public high school I’ve worked all had the same diverse populations. My own high school, a Denver charter school, has a 20% special needs population, about 75% Hispanic, 20% African American, and 5% white. This is close to the Denver Public Schools’ demographics as well.

I even know of more than one district high school that refused to admit special education students. Unfortunately the student in one case and the parent in another did not want to “rock the boat,” and file suit, but had every reason to do so.

The schools Mr. Weiler commended, DSST and West Denver Prep, have culturally diverse and economically challenged populations as well and are top performing schools with high expectations, structurally sound programs, and a consistent, positive, even uplifting, school culture. Parents flock there because they want their children to succeed and they want to be partners in their students’ work and ultimate success.

It is time to stop pointing fingers, blaming charters, and teach the students enrolled in your own district schools.

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator at Colorado High School Charter with an MA in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and is a former candidate for the Colorado State Board of Education.

Teacher's Desk: We Don't Just Teach

Thank goodness for B12, or I might’ve collapsed last Friday. My principal and I both discovered that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing; the state and local bureaucracies have no clue what it’s like to work a school building or classroom, so deadlines are mounted on top of each other. At a small charter school, there just aren’t enough hands and minds to go around sometimes! The Colorado Department of Education asked my principals to provide them with specific accountability material for an audit by October 1st. Between September 24 and October 8, my principals were busy checking and double checking attendance records, so that we may be paid by the school district for the students we have enrolled. With many students out sick and many students in and out (not regular attendees) it is a chore to determine who qualifies and who does not. Fortunately, the state acquiesced and allowed us to provide the audit data by November 1st instead.

At the same time, Denver Public Schools requires that all Individual Education Plans due before December 1st be locked in the program by November 1st (actually they changed it to November 6). We are on vacation the week of October 26, so the special education team was busy writing reports and holding meetings. It is a phenomenon in organization to get these meetings scheduled because many of our students have not had meetings held in two or more years and much of their previous records are not adaptable, so new testing is needed.

Just as I was about to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Friday, October 23, right before our break, the Department of Student Services for Denver Public Schools sent me an email requesting that I change the wording from a spring 2009 IEP in one section that I had written, and the wording for a section from the winter of 2009 that was written by someone else at the student’s previous school, because the Colorado Department of Education was performing an audit, randomly pulled these two IEPs, and would be examining them October 29 when Denver Public Schools, as well as, my school were out on Fall break.

It was either squeeze it in on Friday’s to-do list or do it on my birthday, on my vacation. It was completed on Friday, October 23rd! Like I said before, thank goodness for my B12 every morning! Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in Educational Leadership at Colorado High School Charter and is a former candidate for the State Board of Education.