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What Teachers REALLY Want

Teaching is a difficult profession. There’s no denying it. But there’s something about teaching that most people don’t realize. While the United States has had an obsession over our failing schools and our poorly performing students, they have failed to realize the truth: Education has been used as a political tool for the past decade and the results have made things no better off than where they were when we started. Sure, it sounds great to say “We won’t leave a single child behind!” Every teacher in the world would love to make that guarantee, but the fact of the matter is that teachers have so little control over the things that really matter in a child’s life. That’s where we get to the heart of this article: What Teachers REALLY Want!

Teachers want to be respected.

I see news snippets and articles all the time about how bad a particular teacher is or how poorly a particular school did on a statewide assessment. Districts are closed, reorganized, staff fired, students moved, and to what end? Politicians want you to believe that it’s teachers who are failing our students, our schools are underperforming, principals and administrators aren’t doing enough to ensure our children’s success. The problem with all of this is that none of it is true. Schools are doing more than ever. Teachers are doing more than humanly possible. Principals and administrators are throwing every thing they have to raise test scores. The result: Teachers are made to feel ineffectual, not respect for their professional expertise, and in some cases downright unwanted. When time is taken away from genuine classroom teaching in favor of computer programs or other district initiatives that teachers know are going to do little to help a student, it has a negative impact on the person that matters the most. The teacher. Let’s face it. Study after study shows that the best learning occurs when there is a teacher guiding the instruction. No amount of software or curriculum is going to help a child succeed without a teacher there to push them along.

Teacher don’t want more money (yes, it would be nice, but it’s not what we want). Teachers want to be respected for the time they’ve put into their degree, into their classrooms, into their children. While it’s certainly true not every teacher is a great teacher, most put their heart and soul into their work not because they want a good paycheck or because they want to advance their career. They’re there for one reason. Kids. They want to be there. So why on Earth would you want to make teachers feel unappreciated and not respected? More good teachers have left in the last few years that I have been teaching simply because they are burned out and tired of being treated like an hourly employee. More and more teachers are being told what to do in their classroom, then being blamed when their students don’t do well on tests. Would you want to work in an environment like that?

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The Quantification of Education

A recent article in the January 2014 issue of Wired magazine written by Felix Salmon called, “Numbered by Numbers: Why Quants Don’t Know Everything,” brought up some interesting points to consider when it comes to current trends in education and high-stakes testing. A lot has been written about the benefits and drawbacks of such tests, and many parents, educators, and students sit on both sides of the fence on the issue. I would like to present a different view on the matter: maybe high-stake tests aren’t so bad; perhaps its all in how we give them.

No one can argue that good data produces good results. Using quantification methods to extract trends and conclusions from sets of data has been used for decades. As pointed out in the article, Felix Salmon talks about what we as a society have learned from this process and why quantification often fails. Before we discuss quantification and its effect on education it is important to understand exactly what quantification is. It is simply taking large quantities of raw data and using it to make determinations or predictions. In its truest form, quantification is incredibly reliable and incredibly accurate, which explains its rise in popularity. Why leave to chance what you can predict using concrete information? Sounds simple, right?

Data doesn’t lie; people do. So why is quantification not always a good thing? 

The main point of the article is that quantification can be broken down into four stages: pre-disruption, disruption, overshoot, synthesis. Quantification often comes in touted as the savior of an organization or system, thrown into place for its accuracy and promise of maximum profitability (pre-disruption). Then once quantification takes over, results often happen quickly (disruption), and people profiting from those results become extremely happy. The entry of quantification in the education system has entered the stage of disruption. In an effort to improve education, leaders have turned to quantification as a means to assign value to a teacher, curriculum, school, and administration in order to quantify progress and success. High-stakes tests provide the perfect vehicle for this quantification, turning learning into raw data. With the introduction of high-stakes tests it became immediately clear which students were meeting expectations and which weren’t. That clarity translated in to mass adoption of the practice across the country. What better way to determine which are the best schools than to assign a score or number to a school’s success?

What could go wrong?

To answer this question, we must understand the third stage of quantification, the stage schools are currently beginning to experience: overshoot. Overshoot is the natural tendency for people to “game” the system. Once it has been determined which practices produce positive results, you find that people will begin to focus on those results, tweaking practices to ensure improvements at the expense of everything else. This has produced the trend of “teaching to the test.” While this practice means better test scores and attractive data, does it paint a true picture of student learning and school success? Many would argue that better test scores mean better performance, yet real world data tends not to agree. Students are still graduating with a lack of skills necessary for todays modern workforce.

If we truly want to improve schools let’s learn from past mistakes of quantification and skip directly into the last stage of quantification. One of the biggest lessons learned from quantification is that data is best used when the human factor is not removed from the equation. Synthesis is “the practice of marrying quantitative insights with old-fashioned subjective experience.” It is through this process of bringing “people” back into data that businesses and data-driven analysts have been able to improve results dramatically, as much as 15-20%, removing the negative impacts of overshoot and correcting past mistakes.

The best example of the impact of overshoot is the banking industry. Having relied on quantification for years in order to determine qualifications for loans and in an effort to boost profits, banks took data to the extreme, in many cases completely eliminating the human factor. Decisions were made based on algorithms and computer software rather than bank employees and administrators. This resulted in extremely high profit margins, allowing banks to operate with equally lofty debt. This overconfidence and lack of oversight resulted in one of the largest collapses in history of both the housing market and banking confidence. Let’s not let this happen to education.

There is a better way.

Rather than relying solely on data from high-stakes testing, its important to remember the human element in education. There are countless factors that contribute to a student’s development, most of which are directly observed by those closest to the child—ironically the same people often removed from the equation in quantification. The human factor is essential to learning; remove it and all that’s left is data. What about those things children need to learn that aren’t measured by the test? Things like: leadership, interpersonal skills, collaboration, team-building, creative thinking, and confidence. Many businesses are desperate for new talent in all of these areas, and yet none are measured through high-stakes tests (and most could not be). It is only those around the child that can truly observe many of these behaviors.

It is essential then that we remember not to remove the “human factor” from the equation of learning and recognize that the teacher, parents, administrators, service providers, and all of the other people involved in a child’s learning are just as important (if not more important) than quantification of data. It’s time in education that we engage in the “humanification” of data, taking the information to the next step and teaching teachers and parents how to interpret and use the data effectively without removing their experience and wisdom. Teachers need to feel invested and included in the process. It is only through synthesis, combining the wisdom and experience of people with the information data provides that we will truly achieve a means by which assessing the “whole child,” not just the parts that are easy to measure.

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website 

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Why Students SHOULD Fail

As a 16 year teaching veteran having worked in various capacities over the years I’ve noticed a trend that is quite troubling. It also seems to be a trend that has caught the attention of other educators, but seems to elude some parents—although I’ll be quick to point out that I’m not sure it’s necessarily parents’ fault. We have created a society that praises ignorance and virtually eliminates opportunity for true learning and growth. We do it in schools, we do it at home, we even do it on TV. We have become a society where students are failing at life because they haven’t learned how to take risks and develop a healthy degree of confidence. That’s why today’s post will focus on why your child SHOULD fail.

In a previous post, The Success of Failure, I pointed out the root of why failing is a good thing for a child. Consult developmental specialists and psychologists and ask them the number one way that children learn, each of them will give you the same answer. Children learn through failure and mistakes. Case in point: infants who are carried more, develop the ability walk later than children who are allowed to crawl and explore. Parents who are fearful of their child getting hurt are hesitant to allow their child free reign of their environment. This inadvertently robs the child of the opportunity to explore and take risks to stand. Each time the child falls, they are learning what to do and what not to do in order to be successful. Failing is as important to learning as success.

Take for example the most successful individuals in history. Steve Jobs was a poster child for risk. He thought outside the box and pushed people to create products everyone else was too afraid to create. He took risks on each and every one, spending millions on development and materials. The payoff is clear: the higher the risk, the more success of the product. Was he always successful? No. But that only furthers the point. Without experiencing failures, Steve Jobs would never have learned what it takes to create truly successful products.

The same is true in schools. Research is proving that the effects of over-protective parenting and school environments is having an adverse affect on our kids. Check out this article in the Huffington Post: Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?This article is spot on when it comes to pointing out some of the problems facing future generations. Parents and teachers alike believe that by protecting students from harm, we are ensuring a successful future. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. By protecting students, we are removing opportunities for kids to fail and learn. If students never fail in school, they never learn how to deal with failure in life. (And life is wrought with failure).

Growing Leaders is an organization dedicated to reversing this unfortunate trend. They provide services to schools and parents to make them aware of the dangers involved in “over-protecting” our youth. In the article, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids, they point out the biggest mistakes we make and further illustrate why this message is so important for parents and teachers to understand. Kids need failure. They must experience the world in order to learn from it. If a child never gets burned, they never fully understand why fire is so dangerous. Protecting them by never allowing them around or near hot objects only leads them to have false misconceptions about the dangers of those objects. I’m not suggesting we should throw our kids into a campfire just for them to find out it’s hot. Allowing kids to explore the world more on their own while they’re young ensures that they understand it better when they are older.

Never in the history of mankind have kids been so sheltered and protected from the world around them and it’s beginning to take its toll on our youth. Schools are becoming just as involved in this trend as parents, enacting Crazy School Rules in the name of protecting children. Students are unprepared for the workplace, have huge misconceptions about expectations as an adult, and lack the independence, drive, and risk-taking necessary to be successful in the workforce. In order to reverse this trend, we need to begin educating teachers and parents alike to understand the dangers associated with over-protection. Kids learn through making mistakes; it’s a part of natural human development. If we deprive them of those opportunities, we only take away from their future.

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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Guest Post on MiddleWeb: Straddling the Co-teaching Fence

Co-teaching can be challenging, but it’s not without its rewards. Students’ academic gains aren’t the only improvements teachers may see in a co-teaching environment. Confidence, contentment, and risk-taking are all attributes that can soar when students are given a chance to experience success with their peers…

Read More on MiddleWeb

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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Station Teaching: A Better Approach to Classroom Teaching


Station Teaching is like a set of pulleys, you can accomplish so much more with it than with teaching alone. The more stations, groups, and activities, the easier your job becomes. As we learned earlier, stations is not simply putting kids at tables or groups and doing activities related to the lesson. Stations goes far beyond the concept of centers. Stations takes your lesson to levels you never though possible before. But it takes a lot of planning and a lot of practice before you become good at its use.

Using stations you can ensure that all your students’ needs are met without the need to constantly be in charge of each and every thing that is happening on your classroom. Stations can be used in a variety of creative ways to ensure that not just your highest kids’ needs are met, but your lowest as well. Free up your table for the students who need it the most.

Remember the antenna analogy? Keep that in mind as we move forward. Imagine traditional teaching like that antenna, information flowing outward, most of which never connecting with anything of consequence spreading out into the depths of space. You’re nodding your head, aren’t you? Trust me, I’ve had those classrooms too. What we want to do is focus the information in such a way that our “signal” isn’t just being broadcast into thin air. We need a way to make sure that we’re capturing more receivers. In keeping with our antenna reference, think about something you might know that can accomplish this very task. A broadcast, that by definition is extremely short, specialized, and designed to elicit a response from its viewers. Got it, yet? No? it is something we’ve all become so accustomed to we almost rarely think about them directly, and yet there they are in the backs of our minds haunting us with slogans and jingles. 

Following me now?

That’s right, commercials. Think about the power of advertising, the effectiveness of those 60 seconds of information and how pervasive that information is to our daily lives. You can’t tell me that when you drive by McDonald’s your first thought isn’t, “I’m lovin’ it.” There’s a reason commercials are so powerful and why companies are willing to invest billions of dollars in their use. They convey a concept so completely and effectively that one 60 second spot can make you want to buy a burger.

it is this concept that we want to tap into in the classroom. How can we create activities that are so powerful, so memorable, that students can’t help but learn the concepts they are meant to convey? it is really not as difficult as you think. it is just a matter of honing in on three principles:




Pretty much spells out commercials in a nutshell, doesn’t it? Commercials are extremely short, so much so that many are as short as 20 to 30 seconds in length. And yet in that short span of time we are so engaged as to be introduced to something we didn’t even know we needed. Then we see a single commercial, on average, 6-7 times a day, reinforced by billboards, signs, colors, and sound. We’re bombarded with images which have one purpose: to get us to buy their products. What if we could recreate this experience, get students to buy into what we’re teaching them?

An example of station teaching with two teachers (or paraprofessional)

Creating activities is pretty simple once you get down the basic of stations. Generally speaking we create assignments with the goal of practicing a single skill. Then on the next skill, we create an entirely new activity. The problem here is that we’re waisting our energy because in reality the activities that we’ve created aren’t really focused on one skill. Many of the grade level expectations outlined by states are a conglomeration of skills, expectations that students will take what they’ve learned and apply it to new situations. This, of course, is the ultimate goal of our teaching but not the purpose for centers. Centers takes those overall skills and breaks them down into smaller tasks.

Let’s take reading, for example. Reading is broken down into 5 areas: phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension. If you address all five of these areas every day in every lesson, can you imagine the growth your students would achieve? Many classrooms neglect these because they assume that students have already learned it, focusing solely on the grade level skill. I can tell you from experience, this is rarely the case. If you can design activities that hone in on these specific areas, you will be amazed at what your students will achieve. Your stations should reflect activities in these areas. For example: One station can be for vocabulary practice and spelling, while another is solely designed for phonological awareness and fluency. Students engage in meaningful and quick activities that reinforce these essential skills. The best part of this approach is the activities can be tailored specifically for each group of students in your class. Homogeneous grouping can provide you with a means for enabling students to engage in the activities that are appropriate for them.

Say you have the typical mix of students: some low, most average, a few high-performers. With homogeneous grouping you can ensure that the activities at each center are tailored for that particular group. Your low group may need practice with sounding out single-syllable words, while your high group may need to work with multi-syllabic words with prefixes and suffixes. All of this can be accomplished with one center. It takes more creative planning initially, but in the long run it not only saves you more time in the end, it also can produce significant results.

I know this is a lot to take in, especially if you’re new to the concept, but stations really are worth the effort and time. You can incorporate activities that meet students with IEPs while still having time with guided practice to teach the grade level content. As students rotate through stations, they are engaged, giving you less interruptions while you’re working with your small groups. If you meet the three principles stated above, you’re stations are sure to be a hit with your students.

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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Why Co-Teach?

You can’t teach a child to swim by taking them out of the pool.

 – J.M. Cataffo

The Unsightly Truth of Pullout Services

The most used service delivery model in Special Education has always been to remove students from the general education environment and into a special education classroom: the old reliable pullout model. It offered a way for teachers to meet the needs of their students without the distractions of the classroom. As much as we’d like to believe this to be the primary reason for pullout services, the real reason for the adoption of the pullout model is far less altruistic. Pullout services were necessitated by a lack of personnel in smaller schools and districts. It was a way to provide services despite insufficient funding. Pulling the kids from multiple classrooms into a special education class allowed special education teachers to see multiple kids on multiple campuses and serve their needs as defined by the students’ IEPs.

It is true that pullout provides some significant benefits over the general education classroom environment, the most notable being small group instruction in a less distracting setting (although, I can tell you from my own experiences, this wasn’t always the case). Often times, students were placed in these programs with little discretion and they became a free-for-all environment. Teachers would scramble to try to meet the multiple needs they were given. Students would come to them on varying degrees of academic need and even more varying degree of physical challenges. Behavior issues, physical limitations, even students who were deaf and blind. A resource room was a catch-all, teachers exhausting all resources to provide what they could. Even in the best of circumstances where small groups and well managed groups were provided, NCLB exposed a glaring oversight. If children were not in their classroom, how were they learning what they were supposed to? This became the primary question for districts when NCLB went into effect. All of a sudden students who were multiple years below grade level were expected to pass statewide assessments. Special education teachers were now frantically trying to learn how they were supposed to meet their students’ needs and provide grade-level content as well.

A new understanding of service delivery emerged. Research began to show the effectiveness of inclusive settings where students were pulled less often for services and in some cases not at all. Student performance rose and special education teachers were baffled by what they saw. So long had they relied on the tried and true method of pulling students out of the classroom that never had they considered the effect of leaving them in.

So polarizing was this idea of inclusion that people began to take notice of its effects. Teacher were now taking a new hard look at the concept of LRE (Least Restrictive Environment). The simple question asked at every IEP Meeting began to take on new meaning. Does the benefits obtained by removing the student from the classroom outweigh any negative effects? A new factor was brought into that equation: grade level expectations were now a factor in those negative effects. It had previously been assumed that because these students had a disability that they were only partially able or unable to meet the expectations in the classroom.

So began the revolution for the best place for students to receive services. The debate rages on about where the most “appropriate” environment for students might be. Surely not all pullout services are bad, right? But then again think back to the mandate of IDEA which states that students services should happen within their LRE. So how does one answer the question above? What defines negative effects? How exactly do you balance the benefits? Before we dig deeper into these questions, let’s look at the benefits of Co-Teaching. A deeper understanding of how providing services in the classroom will address these questions and give you a sense for why this is such an important push.

Here’s some interesting data to consider:

A student can spend anywhere from 5-12 minutes a day transitioning to a pull-out class. That’s a total of 2,160 minutes of instruction.

  • 36 hours
  • 5 days
  • 1 week

And that’s just time lost to transitions.

A student who is pulled for instruction a minimum of 30 minutes per day misses 5,400 minutes of instruction in the classroom.

  • That’s 90 hours
  • 12 days
  • 2.5 weeks

Add to that the time for transitions and your pull-out kids have already missed 3 weeks of instruction. Can you imagine the effect of a student if they’d been gone from your room for 3 weeks? And that’s with only 30 minutes of pullout a day! Many of our students with special needs get so much more!

Consider Sarah. The pullout services Sarah received were small, at first. She was pulled for 30 minutes a day in Language Arts and thirty minutes in Math. This was justified by the fact that she struggled in the classroom and needed support. It was standard practice then to recommend Resource services as a general rule, and while students were expected to have some exposure to grade-level content, the expectation wasn’t such that they be included with due diligence. It was therefore acceptable for Sarah to be pulled for her services. It seems so innocuous, doesn’t it? It makes logical sense: a child needs specialized help, pull them into a room where a specialist can help them. The problem in this particular instance was this: I could teach Sarah all the things she needed to become a better reader and do better in Math, OR I could teacher her grade level content in a less distracting setting. In 30 minutes, how could I possibly do both of those things. Easy solution, right? Like most resource rooms, I took care of her remedial needs and relied on the fact that she would go back to the classroom for grade level content. 

Problem solved!

Except then you have to consider what actually took place when she returned to the classroom. Generally speaking, we did our best to ensure that students were pulled during a time that was most convenient for the teacher, so that Sarah didn’t miss too much of the lesson. This meant a time was chosen and Sarah was pulled at that time each and every day. As most teachers will attest, however, things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Sarah was not as included as one would expect. She would return to class, but would have missed the guided reading portion of the lesson. The teacher would give her a worksheet, but Sarah wasn’t able to complete it without having read the story. Given that he reading level was slower than average, by the time she did finish reading the story the rest of the class was ready to move on. She had also missed the short lesson on the key skill for the day, so the teacher would have to pull her to the back table and re-teach the skill to Sarah. The same limitation was a problem as if she had been pulled to resource and had gotten a lesson there. While the teacher can cover the concept, what was missing was a truly authentic experience. None of the rich questions that the students had asked during the presentation were repeated for Sarah. The discussions that had taken place, she had missed, the rich experience of collaboration had been lost. There is no way for the teacher to reproduce these essential snippets of learning. Sarah may gain a basic knowledge of the concept, but she will lack in the in-depth understanding that she will need to be successful.

In time, the minutes she had missed added up as illustrated in the examples above. She had begun to miss so much classroom instruction that her understanding fell further and further behind. She had become a victim of the process put into place to ensure that she didn’t become the victim. 

Special Education services have become a double edge sword. While skills may be mastered in such settings, more are lost in the wake. The answer truly lies in keeping true to a student’s Least Restrictive Environment. If you want Billy to swim, you can’t take him out of the pool.

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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Public vs. Private: The Truth About Schools

Okay, so I’m going to admit right up front, some of you are going to really hate this post. When it comes to making choices about where our kids go to school, parents have a lot of misconceptions that drive their decisions. Schooling is SO important for the future of our society and the quality of life many of our young people will face. Will they be ready for the challenge?

First, let me preface this with a disclaimer so that anyone reading this article will understand my background. I am—and have been for the past 16 years—a public school educator. My opinions on this matter however are not based on my experience as a teacher, but rather based on what I have observed from those around me. My experience in public education is merely a window into schools and what really happens in classrooms. I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m defending public education simply because I’m a public school teacher. And to add to that, I’m also not stating that public schools ARE the best choice for your child, simply that I have unique perspective and want to dispel some common misunderstandings.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the reason you’re reading this post. Should you put your child in public schools, or private?

This is a tough decision. Probably tougher than you realize. Most parents who choose private school do so because their is a widely held perception that private schools offer a better education—at least that’s the excuse that most parents use. To really make the best choice, you need to take a step back and do a little introspection. What is the REAL reason you are considering private schools? Come on… you can admit it. Don’t be ashamed; you know what it is:

“I don’t want my child around those kids!”

You can substitute whatever adjective you would like for “those.” I’m sorry parents, but this is the cold hard truth. Many of you are shaking your heads, appalled that I would make such a heinous accusation, but if you really look deep inside yourself, you’ll see I’m not all that far from the mark. (On a side not, I’m not in any way implying bigotry or racism. When I say “those” kids, there are a host of other subgroups that fall into that category that have nothing to do with race or culture.)

Does this make private schools bad? Of course not. But understanding WHY you are making a choice will help you understand the choice itself.

“Okay,” you say. “So I’m proud to admit that I want my child away from those kids! I mean, isn’t that the right of every parent? Shouldn’t I be able to control my child’s environment? And besides the prestigious private school in my area has a 100% graduation rate! Their curriculum has one a host of awards no one has heard of! And their test scores are through the roof! How can public school possibly compare to that?”

(Yes, I’ve seen the same sales pitch.)

If you’re still with me, you’re willing to look past the perceptions and gaze a bit deeper into the realities of schooling. I will address each of these issues and share with you some insights you probably haven’t considered.

First, let’s talk about parental rights. Parental rights is an important part of the education argument since ultimately, it is all about parent’s choice. Believe it or not, parents have the ultimate say in whatever happens with their child regardless of what school they choose. This is important for several reasons we’ll get into in a bit and can be the most powerful incentive for driving education forward or the most destructive force known to man. And outcomes aren’t always based on informed decision-making.

So yes, to answer your question, yes. You have the right to choose the educational environment for your child. In no way am I disputing that right, nor am I suggesting change. My focus in this article isn’t on the rights of parents, it’s on the choices. The better part of the question was, “Shouldn’t I be able to control my child’s environment?”

Here is where things begin to get sticky. Do you really want control of your child’s environment? Would having ultimate control mean that your child will be better educated? Does a private school guarantee the environment you seek? Does public, for that matter? These are important questions and ones most parents don’t even think to ask. They’ve already made up their minds before they’re even aware the questions exist.

Lost yet?

Let’s see if I can clear the waters for you a bit. It goes back to your motivation for wanting to send your child to private school in the first place. Why do you want your child there? Even if you still maintain that children in private schools are somehow different, better than their public school counterparts, you still haven’t quite gotten to the root of the decision. If that’s truly and deeply your only reason, then this article will offer you no further assistance other than to point out that even this is a myth.

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness.

There you have it, the first fundamental tenet to choosing a school. “If I spend a bunch of money, I know my kid’s going to do alright.” Because we all know that “you get what you pay for,” right? Talk to a few of those who invested in Enron. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve conversed with who invested in a private school only to have it close and lost all of their money. “But this school has been around since the dawn of time,” you say. And that’s good, but it still doesn’t mean there’s no risk. There’s risk in everything. I’m simply dispelling myths. Money doesn’t make for a better school.

And why should you have to pay for a school when so many are offered for free (well, minus the taxes you already pay). That’s one thing that’s always fascinated me, that parents will invest in a school when they’re already paying for one. “But it’s not the one I chose!” you scream. “I would much rather take my taxes and pay for a school I like.” Perhaps.

But I’m far from finished.

Private Schools Create Graduates, Period.

I know, I know. I felt the explosions from a few of you. You’re probably already yelling at the screen. “How can you say that! My other children went to private school and are doing quite well for themselves! Isn’t that the point? To graduate?” Well, yes… but graduation alone doesn’t secure one’s future. On top of that, the reason private schools can boast 100% graduation rates isn’t because all of their students graduate. In fact, without any hard numbers, I’d be willing to guarantee that private schools have lower graduation rates than the worst public schools.

Now hold on a minute, just give me a chance to explain.

Private schools pre-screen.

They’ve already eliminated 70% of potential students before those students have even walked through the door. 

A private school isn’t going to accept a students who doesn’t fit their pre-determined profile. While many will boast that they accept “all” students, don’t be fooled. Their acceptance is limited by the pre-determined percentages. Just enough to make them “look” inclusive.

Don’t believe me?

Try taking your dyslexic child who’s failing reading and see if they’ll welcome him/her with open arms. Or perhaps your rambunctious teen who can’t stay focused long enough to finish a commercial. Most of these schools are going to deny these children right out of the gate, or enter into contracts with parents to provide “outside support” to ensure they are successful under their guidelines. Parents so desperate to get their kids into these institutions will pay large sums of money to meet the school’s expectations. This, of course, is on top of the already large sums of money the school is charging them in the first place.

What’s worse?

If these children continue to struggle, there is no plan in place to assist them, no protections to ensure they receive a quality education. They are simply expelled, banished, ejected, with nothing more than a “Thank you for your money.”

Harsh? Mabye. Truth. Most definitely.

There are of course exceptions to every rule and I’m not implying that every private school has these exacting practices. There are specialized schools and smaller schools that have learned the error of their ways. But these are things I feel all parents should be aware when choosing their child’s education. Private schools are not funded by the state and as such aren’t bound by the accountability rules everyone is so fond of for public schools. There are no guarantees that teachers are certified, no rigorous assessment of curriculum and instruction, no specialized supports for students who struggle. How can you boast 100% graduation rates when you’ve eliminated anyone who can’t graduate on their own?

Public schools are left holding the bag. They can’t turn away students no matter how severe their educational, emotional, and physical needs. They must adapt to every situation regardless of how many bodies are in one room, whether or not there are enough books for each students, and even despite a large percentage who come unprepared, unmotivated, and neglected.

Public schools are required to give a free and appropriate education to all.

Public School Teachers Work Harder Than You Think

Okay, so here’s where I will be a bit biased in my opinions, not because I have some duty toward public school teachers, or because I have any affiliations with public school organizations, but because I have worked side-by-side with these people for the past fifteen years. In no other profession that I have witnessed have I seen the level of dedication and commitment as I have seen in public schools. I know that people say that and I know that, for the most part, no one would argue that teachers work hard. But I’m here to tell you no matter how hard you think that public school teachers work, it’s so much harder than you think.

I can’t tell you about a single business man in the clothing industry that would stay late afterwork to care for a shirt, spend tireless hours ensuring that shirt has the best materials possible, painstakingly making sure that each person that handles that shirt understands that shirt’s individual needs, feels the pain the shirt goes through when it struggles to perform as well as the other shirts, understands its heartache when it fails to succeed. It’s not that people in other professions don’t work hard, because I can assure you they do, it’s just that most people don’t truly understand the depth of the burden placed on our public school teachers.

Goods and services have no intrinsic meaning; a child, on the other hand, means the world. There’s a whole lot more at stake when shaping a child’s future, and most teachers get that. Are there a few oddballs, slackers, there-for-the-paycheck kind of people? Sure. There are in any profession. But I dare to say you’ll find fewer of those in education, their motivation far deeper than financial stability.

Can you say the same for private schools? Sure. Are there teachers who care? Of course. But those teachers don’t sit in on the meetings where parents are rejected because their child isn’t “good enough” to be a part of their school.

By now you’re probably feeling as though I’m telling you that you’re crazy for even considering private education. In actuality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The intention is to give you some thought as to WHY you’re choosing private education, to determine if it’s truly going to accomplish your goals.

Homogenous Settings Produce Inferior Results

What exactly does that mean? Stay with me and all will be clear.

In study after study after study, researchers are finding a resounding truth about homogenous settings: those in which students are grouped based on common qualities. When you consider private education, the majority of these schools are the most homogenous groups possible. Students with special needs, learning disabilities, economic disadvantages, and all the others who typically struggle with school are almost immediately disqualified from even being considered. Taking a step further, many private schools are religious in nature, whittling the population down further to those with a particular ideology. Even more restrictive they become when private schools remain a choice for families over multiple generations, the students among those they’ve grown up with since birth. You’ve now created an exclusive club more than a school.

How is this a problem, you ask?

Consider this: Ask any business person what they find the most troubling about applicants seeking a job.

The top of the list? Those who can effectively work in teams and troubleshoot ideas.

Businesses spend more money on training employees on how to get along than they do on anything else. Part of having been educated in such an exclusive environment means a lack of exposure to different ideas, viewpoints, and cultures, creating graduates who lack the understanding of a global marketplace. Much has been handed to them by affluent parents and few have had the necessity to build the skills needed to think outside the box. These are skills that are learned through trial and error. Remove the trial, error is all that’s left.

So you see there are far more things to consider when choosing an educational institution. Sheltering kids doesn’t keep them out of trouble, but rather inhibits the experiences necessary to build the skill-sets needed in today’s market. Even the brightest of graduates can marvel with their gifts of academic success, but fall flat on their face when confronted with inter-personal problems.

There’s so much more than what I’ve tried to convey in this post, but I hope you get a sense for its purpose. It’s not to say that private schools suck, or that public schools are amazing, there’s room to grow on both sides of the fence. But perhaps public schools aren’t as bad as you’ve heard, and the grass at the prep school may not be as green as it looks.

Comparing public schools to private schools is like comparing the difference between name brand and off-brand clothing. Sure, name brand clothing looks nice, but without a label, can you really tell the difference?

I’m not implying that education is as simple as making clothes, but the analogy holds true. You don’t get quality clothing because of the cost; you get quality clothing because of the materials and manufacturing processes. The same is true for schools. Private schools may sound wonderful. They may look like the ideal environment, but I assure you, pretty walls and marbled columns don’t define the breadth and scope of what it takes to be a good school. Look deeper into the school’s culture, environment, the demeanor of its staff. There is where you’ll find a school’s true heart. If a school is there for your child, you’ll know it simply by walking through the halls.

I hope this provides a small sliver of insight into the vast expanse that is educational opportunities. This post is not meant to be negative or dejecting of private institutions. It’s meant simply to part the veil. Ultimately, the final choice lies with the one person who knows your child the best. You.

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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“U.S. School’s Suck!” Then Again, Maybe Not

This was probably one of the most interesting reports I’ve read in a while and will probably be one to fall to the wayside in a whirlwind of public debates. So many have been led to believe that schools in the United States fall below those in other countries. This report begs to differ.

The Stanford Graduate School of Education released a report which finds that US Schools are actually doing far better than most people have been led to believe, citing that many of the studies used have been flawed because they don’t accurately take into account our strengths in individual areas. In an era where testing and accountability have forced districts to look at subgroup upon subgroup, the same is not true of most studies conducted nationwide. Here are a few of the things the article points out.

“You can’t compare nations’ test scores without looking at the social class characteristics of students who take the test in different countries,” said Carnoy. “Nations with more lower social class students will have lower overall scores, because these students don’t perform as well academically, even in good schools. Policymakers should understand how our lower and higher social class students perform in comparison to similar students in other countries before recommending sweeping school reforms.”

The report found:
  • There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.
  • Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.
  • But the highest social class students in United States do worse than their peers in other nations, and this gap widened from 2000 to 2009 on the PISA.
  • U.S. PISA scores are depressed partly because of a sampling flaw resulting in a disproportionate number of students from high-poverty schools among the test-takers. About 40 percent of the PISA sample in the United States was drawn from schools where half or more of the students are eligible for the free lunch program, though only 23 percent of students nationwide attend such schools.

It’s interesting to see how well our schools actually are doing with our lower socio-economic groups. I recommend taking the time to look at the information. Then, go thank a teacher!

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author to to: Click Here

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Oops! I Did it Again!

I hear a lot of concerns from time to time about kids who make mistakes and have a hard time accepting those mistakes. A lot of parents and teachers are concerned about this behavior and often throw around terms like “OCD” or “Oppositional Defiant” because the reactions these students have to mistakes can sometimes be alarming. Students are taught early on that mistakes are undesirable and sometimes resort to extreme emotional outbursts when they know that their “mistake” may result in punishment. It’s easy for parents and teachers to react to a child’s mistake instinctively so it’s important that we begin to look at mistakes a different way ourselves.

I always like to point out to the kids I work with when I make a mistake, sometimes doing so on purpose to let them catch me. In fact, we don’t even call them mistakes, we call them errors. I use the phrase 

“An error doesn’t become a mistake unless we refuse to correct it and learn from it.”

Then we talk about how that mistake was so wonderful because it gave me the opportunity to learn from it. We them praise all mistakes and talk about what we learned from them and how it helps us make fewer “errors” later on.

This type of thinking teaches children that it’s okay to make a mistake. As teachers, parents, and others who work with children, we have a misguided tendency to hold students to higher standards than we hold ourselves. I’ve seen it time and time again.

“Timmy! Where is your pencil? How could you have lost your pencil again? Can’t you keep up with it? Go put your name on the board!… “

“Now where did I put my lesson plans?”

Students pick up quickly and easily on our distress and our frustrations with their mistakes. It is easy for them to misinterpret this as anger toward them when in reality it is merely our frustration with their actions. Practice this yourself with your own “errors” and see if it doesn’t help your students, children, and/or classroom all around.


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Are your TIERS turning into TEARS? Response to Intervention Made Easy!

Don’t let your RtI Tiers turn into TEARS!

Here’s an easy way to remember your RtI:

Tier 1 – All Students

General Education grade-level lesson with research based supports and programs for all students.

Tier II – Targeted Groups (6-8 students)

Intervention Groups (outside the General Education lesson) for targeted remedial skills for struggling students based on student data and progress monitoring.

Tier III – Intensive Interventions (4-5 students)

Intensive programs and practices delivered by a specialist based on student data, progress monitoring, and specialized assessments.

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