Thursday, January 5, 2017

What my kids have learned from going to an “F” school!

3rd grade Biography Day
Tonight, just for fun, I asked my youngest daughter (4th grade) if she had to give her school a grade what would she give it.   “An A+!” she said enthusiastically!!  When I asked her why, she said, “The teachers are awesome and we get to do lots of cool stuff!”  Then I told her some people think her school is an F!  “Those people are dumb. Have they even been there?” she replied.  Unfortunately, the answer is probably not.

Several years ago, my kids switched schools away from a wonderful campus and began a new experience in a much different, yet equally wonderful school environment.  We had moved and I wanted them in the same school district in which I worked.  At the time my oldest daughter was in third grade and my son was in first.  Now, I will admit, they were coming to a school that was quite different than the one they left.  For one thing, over half the students at their new school were what our state labels “economically disadvantaged”.  This was a new experience because my kids had been quite sheltered and quite frankly, never been around kids that didn’t have just about everything they wanted.  I will never forget my son coming home the first week and telling us about his new friend.  “He doesn’t speak English, but he is really good at math and building stuff” he excitedly told us. 
Making Friends from Around the World
I remember telling him to learn all the Spanish you can from him because one day you may need it.  My son is in middle school this year, and more often than not when I ask him who he sat with at lunch, that same first grade friend is one of the kids he mentions. 

PTA District Reflections - Literature
The truth is, I couldn’t have asked for a better school experience for my kids despite the fact that my 6th and 8th graders go to a middle school that got a “D” on the just released “rough draft” accountability ratings from the state and my 4th grade daughter’s school got an “F” in one of the categories.  They have had some of the best teachers I have seen anywhere, and I should know, I have spent the last 22 years of my life in schools of all shapes and sizes.  They have been challenged and they have grown and learned more than I could ever imagine.  

It is hard for me to believe that those with very limited knowledge of schools could have the audacity to create a system that they can’t even explain and give grades without providing promised support. If a teacher did that to his/her class we would consider it poor instruction at best and gross negligence at worst.  If you think I am being overly dramatic, you didn’t spend the last two days like I did talking to principals and educators and trying to explain that places they put their heart and souls into were deemed not good enough.

Bell Helicopter Competition
7th Grade District Tennis Tournament
Enough politics.  My real point in writing is that I am thankful for some of the things my kids have learned in these so-called failing schools.  Our District and schools strive to provide a dynamic learning experience and that is exactly what they have done.  My kids learned to dance.  Yep.  No one in my family can dance a lick, but when your friends are part of the after school dance club that is so popular that they have one for every grade, you sign up and show your stuff!  They learned to read and
Texas ASCD STEM showcase


debate.   Have you ever seen a “Battle of the Books” competition? It is intense.  You have to read and work as a team to determine your answers as you
Representing Texas vs. the World!
compete against other teams. They have been in plays.  They have built robots. They have learned to solve a Rubik’s cube. Learned to play chess. My daughter was a magician in a talent show. My son and his friends traveled to a global problem solving completion for Destination Imagination. My oldest was part of a team that placed second in a STEM competition at Bell Helicopter and she writes her own blog. They have collected things for Angel Tree gifts and later realized it was for friends at their school. They have been so lucky to have the care and guidance of so many wonderful educators. This is not a bragging list about my kids, it is meant to point out that NONE of the things above (and countless others) would they have ever experienced without their schools.  What they have learned in school I couldn’t have taught them. 


Next year my oldest will start high school and all three of my kids will be at schools that received a “D” or worse from the state.  I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

79 comments:

  1. Well written and on point. Good job!

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    1. It really is excellent, isn't it. Tell Suzanne hi for me.

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    2. Thank you for incredible insight! You truly understand the fallacy of this biased system! My hope is that all parents and citizens will explore the structure of this rating system. It will take the involvement of all voters to elect leaders who truly understand education and the damage created by our current elected officials! Our children, their parents, our teachers and school leaders, and the citizens of Texas deserve better!

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    3. I agree with you! If educators and retirees, would come together as a cohesive voting block, we could make changes in Texas!

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    4. Wow! This is really an eye-opening explanation!

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  2. Wow! You have so clearly stated what is in so many of our hearts. The things that I want most for my kids- generosity, responsibility to self and others, persistence, and ability to pursue things that make them tick, just can't be measured on this accountability system. Thanks for speaking your heart! We all needed that tonight.

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    1. Wow! It's so good to know that I wasn't the only parent that was highly disappointed in a grading system that was far from representative of the remarkable education & productive learning environment that my daughter is a part of & that I'm unquestionably pleased with.

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    2. This is an incredible view !!! Learning is so much more than a test. It is about learning to be a person of good character and a contributing member of society. We are not all good at the same things, but we are all good at something.Helping children to find their passion is such an amazing responsibility. Good teachers do this everyday.

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  3. Love the post. It's sad that none of the wonderful things your kids learned are included in the ratings. Schools are more than test score and attendance rates, it's the hearts of the community that make up the school.

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  4. Love this! Thank you for so eloquently reminding us that there are more important measures than those created by people who have never darkened the doors of our campuses.

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  5. Love it! Thank you for putting into words what so many of us are feeling!

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  6. What a heartwarming and real example of the types of schools we all pray our students can attend!! It is heartbreaking to see that this "grade" will negate all of the hard work that our students, teachers, administrators, and parents put in!

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  7. Tears.... I wouldn't want to serve in any other place. Our teachers love ❤️ kids all the way from A to Z!

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  8. Moving piece. Really puts things into perspective. Thank you for modeling the power of words on paper.

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  9. As a parent, I had hoped a State required grading system would help me find great educational opportunities for my kids. Thankfully, the staff at our three schools didn't know they were failing as I have seen all these kids soar! Wonderful piece, Dr. Thornell! Dynamic, Engaged Learning and Committed. Those are the categories I'd rather see graded.

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  10. As a teacher, I feel this way everyday. My campus happened to get decent "grades". All A's and B's with 1 C. However, I couldn't personally care less. It is about connecting with students. It is about inspiring them to try new things, finding their niche, and becoming a quality members of society. My largest successes are not always in the content teaching (although I work extremely hard to do that). My largest successes are in making a difference in the lives of my students. In addition, I have worked on 3 campuses and never met a teacher who does not care about the kids. They simply do not care for many of the "accountability" systems and programs that are ruining the overall system and hindering their ability to do their job. They are tired of being thrown under the bus for errors in a system that is being forced upon them.

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    1. Very well said. Nothing like being threatened by your supervisor that your reputation is on the line. Come home and fall asleep crying on a nightly basis and yet she says she wants to see blood, sweat, and tears. Makes me question on a daily basis if I should even stay in education. It's extremely sad.

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    2. Very well said.

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  11. Thank you, Dr Thornell, for this heartfelt perspective to help us charge through this!

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  12. Hi Rob! We have lived ask over the US, and never been so impressed by the rich educational, social, and creative opportunities that NISD gave my kids. You were a big part of that at CTMS and are still blessing the district. I want to express how much we miss the many unique learning opportunities we experienced, like you mentioned, via art, Destination Imagination, choirs, after school clubs, UIL, theatre, gosh, we loved seeing all the incredible things our kids did and learned. We don't see that in Utah and are wondering how to bring UT schools up to speed with Texas! God bless ask your faculty and administrators, and families. We salut you all, and love and appreciate you all!! Viva NISD! :)

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  13. Great post! I love your daughter's first reply, "Have they been here?"

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  14. I made the same switch this year, but I'm not a student or a parent, I'm an educator. I've taught for over 26 years. While I know I have already grown as teacher, I believe I have also grown my world and that's much more important! Our school has over 700 'economically disadvantaged' students grades PreK-5. Many are homeless. Many are being raised by grand parents or live in homes that really are not suitable for children. They've seen and heard things I have never even imagined! They are unprepared to learn and yet we force feed a 'standard' curriculum that is all but impossible for most of them to be successful at.. We need to take a step back and look again at 'F' schools. We are an 'F' school for a reason. It's because we are failing these kids!

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  15. I love the question, "Have they ever been there?" I taught in NISD and my daughter has been in NISD schools for 7 years. She learns so much every day, has had amazing teachers every year, and is exited to go to school. I wouldn't dream of taking her anywhere else. Thank you for your post.

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  16. Well said my ole friend. We got Bonham's score today. We were rated a D and our scores were better than last year. So glad to know where you are and what you are accomplishing. I think of you often. If you get to Abilene look me up and let's have a cup of coffee for ole times.

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    1. Gumbea is my grandmother name. This is Shirla!!!!

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    2. Great to hear from you! A grandmother?

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    3. I have 5, 4 boys and 1 girl.


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  17. A friend's young son went to an A school for first grade. His charter school kindergarten had not left him prepared for standard curriculum so his "superior" teacher simply wrote him and his learning disabilities as stupid and hopeless.

    A couple of weeks tutoring one on one had him reading core words 50% better and going from zero to A in spelling. Repeating first grade with a home school foster mom after his dad was critically ull, he caught up in four months and will finish second grade by summer.

    Ratings don't matter as much as real results.

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  18. Well said. Notice that none of these life lessons can be measured with standardized tests.

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  19. Well said. Notice that none of these wonderful lessons can be measured with a standardized test.

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  20. Outstanding post. Thanks for sharing your experience. I will forward this along so other Texas educators can see that the "ALL MIGHTY" report card does not capture all that our great schools are doing.

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  21. I love this so much! I can't tell you how many weird/bad looks & comments we have gotten over the years when we tell people what schools our kids go to. Not bragging, but wanted to make a point that our oldest, who is a junior in the medical academy at Byron Nelson HS, is number 9 in her junior class of 600+ students. And she came from 2 of the worst gradeD schools in NISD. They're grading some of the wrong things apparently.

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  22. It is exactly the reason I bring my son, from an "A" school attendance zone, to the same elementary your kids attend(ed). I wouldn't want him growing up anywhere else! His experiences here have given him such a glorious start to life!
    A flawed system trying to create flawed a school....as your baby said, "Have they been here?!" A grade on a piece of paper has nothing to do with the heart and soul of our school! I wouldn't give up my "F" school for the world because my "A+" students, staff & parents!

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  23. Thank you! This is the same sentiment I share after receiving a memo from our superintendent regarding our " failing" school. I have taught in three different states, and each time I have chosen the school with the "economically disadvantaged" students. Why? They enrich my life just as much if not more than I could ever do on my own. I learn more from them, yet they swear they learn so much from me. My kids are smart, brilliant, and caring. The administration, faculty and staff are truly family. You are loved as soon as you sign up to be a "Roo". I wouldn't have it any other way. KISD is an awesome school district providing an awesome education to even more awesome students....You cannot put a grade on what happens here!

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  24. GREAT read. GREAT perspective. GREAT truths shared here Dr. Thornell.


    Sincerely,
    A Fellow Public School Educator, in the State of Texas

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  25. What school district, what state?

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    1. Northwest ISD (near Ft. Worth) in Texas!!

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    2. I thought you were a part of my district. Your descriptions about your children's school were spot on to ours. Great article.

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  26. I taught in public schools for 30 years, and most were very diverse. That being said, I now teach in a private Episcopal school. All of the activities you children are involved in are what our students do, also. It sounds like your children are receiving a private education in a public school. Kudos to those schools!

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  27. Thanks for your piece, I was once that child seating in class not knowing the language, but I'm so grateful for our education system. Our children will be also attending a "D" rated high school.

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  28. Thanks for you piece. I was once that student seating in class not knowing the language, but I'm so thankful for our education system. Now our children will be attending a "D" rated high school.

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  29. This great! So true, and so heartfelt. The accountability system is arbitrary, confusing and flawed.

    Hm. I wonder...when do we get to see our state legislators' "grades"? I'm thinking too many of them are making an "F" in service to their constituents. (Although I fear they are making straight A+++ in satisfying the testing company lobbyists!)

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    1. Spot on in your observation... "testing company lobbyists". As always... Follow the money.

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  30. I have now been teaching for over 45 years ... all age groups and all types of schools, including higher ed .... but I left TX public schools in 1999 after 29 years. This was due to the horrible effects of the politicization of public education, which I found very disturbing. It looks like things have improved since then. Your insights are profound and almost make me wish I were back in public education. We need more leaders like you.

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  31. Bingo!!! That hits the nail on the head! Excellent! Thanks for sharing.

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  32. I'm an elementary school principal...thank you!!

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  33. I'm an elementary school principal in TX...thank you!!!

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  34. I want to print this and put it in all my coworkers' boxes!

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  35. Brother, I've worked in Texas schools for nearly twenty years and, while I'm a bit tired at the end of a long day at the end of a long week, your post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for so eloquently saying what so many of us feel. Some of the most important things our kids learn in school are difficult or even impossible to quantify. And goodness knows that using an overly simplified letter grade system to "tag" and "label" our schools and, by extension, the hardworking teachers and students in them is about as sensible as measuring a student's success with a bunch of bubbles on an answer document. Kudos, sir. And thank you, again.

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  36. Can we grade the Texas legislature?

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  37. I teach at a school that is all Fs save one D. This angered me. I pour my heart and soul into my job. But these people haven't been to my school. They don't know me and they don't know my students and the myriad struggles many face just to get to school.
    Some one in our administration suggested they take a flying leap and shove it where the sun is scarce.
    I concur.

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  38. Until we can hold kids that don't want to learn accountable and free the teachers to actually teach then most public schools will be an "F". Teachers shouldn't have to worry about mandatory state testing or not be supported by the school administration.

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  39. Thanks for this! As a principal in a Texas school that received grades that in NO WAY represent the dedication and work ethic of my students, parents, and teachers, i appreciate your POV. Very well written!

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  40. I love this article. Thank you for sharing! And what a novel idea to ask the children (the people we serve) how they would rate a school. Students (and their parents) should definitely have input in "grading" a school. Sharing this!

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  41. And how did the economically disadvantaged kids do? Thankfully, our own kids don't come with so many things stacked against them. But I lay awake at night concerned for those who don't start off ahead and don't have a voice advocating for them.

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  42. Wow! I LOVE you, your family and story! It mirrors mine as I brought my girls up through my Magnet (majority to minority transfer) school in elementary years! They're so well adjusted now and you couldn't teach what they learned through building those relationships!

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  43. I grew up attending an A+ rated school, one of the top 3 in our state. I have been teaching in a district that receives D and F ratings for 14 years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The teachers and administrators love our students and SHOW that love for our students in such a way that it truly makes a difference. The students ARE learning. Sure.. they may come from "disadvantaged" homes, but they are made to feel like they are the most important people in the world when they are at school. School, and life, are not just about academic grades. We are shaping whole people, the whole person.. not just scholars.

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  44. I have shared your post with my faculty and staff at my school. Outstanding remarks about what our schools teach! You cannot put a letter grade on kids learning compassion, responsibty, perseverance, respect, and love for others! This is what our children are learning in public schools!

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  45. I have shared you outstanding post with my faculty and staff! You cannot put a grade many of life's important values that our kids learn in public schools. Values such as responsibility, compassion for others, perseverance, respect, and love for those different than ourselves! Public schools are educating ALL students and doing an awesome job? Thanks for posting!

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  46. I am a principal of an F school. This article reminds me so much of our little school. Our students and teachers are so incredible. My daughter is at this school now and she is learning so much. My older daughter, who went to this school, is doing great in middle school. I hear this all the time from parents of students who left, their children are doing well. And, I have students who are now adults come back with their children. These students are nurses, teachers, business owners, etc. Yet, we are an F. But, not in my book.

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  47. Thank you for this Excellent Article... and the Truth re Schools in America...As an Edcucator, also... I always thought "outside the Box"... Still do.... What can We do to Challenge... Stimulate.. Teach and Expose those Inquisitive Minds to...Make a Difference in their Lives ( not Ours).. Challenge them every Day to Think ( but have Fun doing so)..
    Make a Difference... the Power of One -- Each Teacher -- to move One Child... THAT IS EDUCATION.... Love your "F" Rated Schools..... You are America in Action...!!

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  48. I attended what would have been labeled F schools through eighth grade and always treasured the open-mindedness that grew as a result. As a teacher, I taught some of the richest kids in a private school and many poor minority students in F-labeled schools. The differences were external, not internal, and I loved both experiences. I wished both groups of students, have Weber, could have shared experiences instead of segregated ones.

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  49. When I changed school districts, I applied and transferred my daughter to an "A" rated school, while I went to teach at an "F" and "D" rated school. She was at the school for two months. Here is what she learned:You do not count to other children if you are not blond, wealthy or a size 2. You do not count to faculty if you are not wealthy or have influential fathers and stay at home mothers. She was picked on, ignored and generally treated as though she did not matter. In two months time I saw her sparkle completely disappear. One day, my daughter who NEVER CRIES at school, put her head down on her desk and covered her head and cried for an hour. The teacher NEVER spoke to her. My daughter always has Es for excellent behavior. I contacted the principal several times to try and resolve issues. She never replied. Not as a parent OR a teacher in the district. What I saw around me, at my "D F" campus were peers who were highly skilled, highly competent, talented, passionate and cared for kids. When I asked my daughter about homework assignments, she would say, 'I don't know, the teacher didn't explain'. My daughter previously and following has consistently scored "Advanced" on her state "accountability testing". She was even "UN"invited to a birthday party that the entire grade level of girls was invited to. I do not believe my daughter was a behavior problem, nor behind academically. I do not believe she had friendship or social inadequacies. I DO believe she did not fit their "mold". I finally made the decision to transfer her to my campus (my own principal was only too happy to make the transfer; she wanted my kiddos test scores!) I, also, finally heard from the principal when I emailed AGAIN, to say she was transferring. Her email 'Good Luck". Besides "A" simply meaning "Affluent", in the case of the principal and teachers, I know what else "A" means. (The state can take its "A" and kiss my "A") I'll take my "Dang Fabulous" school and kiddos any day. All day.

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  50. Certified Babysitter/teacherJanuary 8, 2017 at 3:43 PM

    A school may have the best teachers on the planet but if the parents do not assist in their child's education, the school is going to suffer. You want better schools? the key is parent involvement. We can teach students for 8 hours a day but if they get no support or involvement at home, it's all for naught. Class sizes are way too big to get the results we want without parent involvement. I know the solution, but big government/school districts don't want to hear it.

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  51. This is such an amazing testimony! Bravo!

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  52. This is what happens when politicians ( of both parties!) make educational decisions. It's all an expensive mistake - and it needs to end.

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  53. Dr. Thornell, you may want to leave the politcs out of the equation, but the politics won't leave you. My impression (after over a decade's involvement with education in Texas; I'm not originally from the US) is that the (current political majority in the) State of Texas appear to be hell-bent on dismantling public education. Every time I read an article with the magic letters TEA or SBOE I invariably notice a significant increase in heart rate (and not in a positive way). Keep on blogging.

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  54. Wow - as a former teacher in both a public school (right when they merged a city and county system AND desegregation) and a private school, I can vouch for the benefits of having all kinds of learners working together. Thanks for this!!!

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  55. I have been a teacher or an administrator in public schools for the past 35 years. Not a day goes by, that my teachers don't give unselfishly day in and day out, they come early and stay late, spend their own personal money on students that need supplies,they hug them when they are sick or sad,love them everyday, give them advice, teach them manners, teach them right from wrong, take time to care, listen to their stories, teach kids to learn from lifes lessons. go to their ball games or dance recitals. and praise them for making good choices. .and oh yeah, this is in addition to teaching them reading/math/scuence/ss/ curriculum. While my school is an economically disadvantaged campus,high mobility rate,and a diverse population, we have annually proven ourselves with the highest scores in our district and ranked #1 out of the top 40 schools in TX most like our school. We have recieved every distinction possible each year. With this new accountability system we scored 2 As, 1 B, and a C? How can that be when you were at the toP of the last accountability system? Those who designed this system have lost sight of what great schools do daily. Test scores have meaning, but don't mean everything! The new system is flawed so much,those who wrote it, don't even know how to justify the scores to those who recieve them. It simply gives parents a false impression of what good schools do with and for their children everyday. It takes the air out of a campus' pride and efforts that we strive so hard to teach children,...every child. .not just the smart ones, but all children. You know the ones that will grow up to rUn our country one day, or choose out nursing homes. This system is NOT a fair representation to the public, for all schools. I know my C is is just a number or a letter grade to some, but to my school. Teachers, parents and students. You know we are a wonderful. Ask any former or current student and you won't get a C rating I'm sure. I know how hard all teachers work, and even though their school may have a C or D or even F..please don't be so quick to judge the school by this new crummy system. ..look inside the book, and see all of the beautiful pages inside. That's what GREAT SCHOOLS Look like. Please voice your opinions of this new system to your congressman, TEA, or anyone who will listen. Injustice to our schools, that what this is!
    Proud Principal of my C rating!

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  56. Thank you so much for writing this. I agree with your views in so many ways!! Kudos to you, your children and all who believe in the value of public education.

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  57. Thank you for your words! I believe that all teachers in this district appreciate your outlook as a educator and a parent.

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  58. Love this. So true and powerful. As a former student of said "F" school, and with connections at that F school your words could not mean more and be more true. And how close my current school was to better ratings also angers me.

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  59. Very true! Amazing testimony. As a teacher myself, it can get pretty hard and tricky to figure out ways to make classes more interactive and less boring. In my frequent late night google searches for new ideas and cool projects for my kids, I decided to team up with other amazing teachers to create a nice little site with reading materials for kids with ages 1 to 9: readingheadstartprogram.com

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  60. Thank you for your words! I believe that all teachers in this district appreciate your outlook as a educator and a parent.
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