Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

NYTimes Article on Opt Out Movement Misses the Mark

October 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Anne Murphy Paul’s Motherlode article on the opt out movement, “Instead of Opting Out of Tests, Teach Students to Take Tests Right” utterly and completely misses the point of the opt out movement. In the article Paul naively suggests parents encourage students to test themselves, to avoid cramming for tests, to shuffle their work in unpredictable ways, to study the test itself after taking it, and to develop skills to be calm when a high-stakes test is administered. She ends this list with this preposterous assertion:

The opt-out movement has encouraged many parents and teachers to aspire to a world without tests. But better than getting rid of tests would be turning tests into promising opportunities.

This prompted me to leave the following comment, which drew from ideas Ms. Murphy had for ways that test could be useful:

Sorry, but the opt-out movement has NOT encouraged many parents and teachers to aspire to a world without tests… it wants a world where teachers and students are not obsessed with a single test but rather focussed on the day-to-day assessments that give the student, teacher and parent timely feedback on how well the student is progressing through the curricula adopted by the local district. Standardized tests do not encourage self-testing, do not help students space their study time, do not “change things up”, do not provide students with a means to “study the test” in advance, and because of their “black box” nature and the fact that the continuation of their school’s operation depend on successful pass rates they ADD to test anxiety.

The opt out movement wants testing to be done “…the right way now” to provide their students with “…a deep well of resources to draw on in the future.” They would welcome “…frequent, low-stakes exams instead of infrequent high-stakes ones” that would “…provide timely and detailed feedback on students’ answers to give them an opportunity to learn from the testing process”. They would welcome receiving “…results could be presented to students in a format that fosters a “growth mindset” [9] using scores like Highly Proficient, Proficient and Not Yet, while offering opportunities to improve and try again.”

Unfortunately the NY Regents and NY Governor do not want this kind of test. It would help if they listened to want parents want.

Ms. Paul seems to think that the Regents and the politicians want meaningful tests that will help inform instruction and help parents understand how their children are faring in schools. If that were the case, they would listen to teachers and parents and offer those kinds of tests…. but testing is designed to serve a different purpose altogether in the Global Education Reform Movement.

Washington Posts Concludes That Americans Can’t Write… and Blames Teachers!

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment

I just read a maddening article by Natalie Wexler from the September 24 Washington Post titled “Why American’s Can’t Write”. Ms. Wexler’s reason for this situation?

Surely one reason so many Americans lack writing skills is that, for decades, most U.S. schools haven’t taught them. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.

Ms. Wexler writes a well thought out explanation of how writing could be taught in schools, noting that the punctuation and grammar skills need to be developed incrementally and hierarchically and that teachers need to spend time reading and correcting increasingly lengthy pies of writing. She notes that the common core delineates the skills needed but implies that teachers might lack the capability to deliver instruction on those skills.

What Ms. Wexler fails to note is that writing is not tested effectively… and when it IS tested creativity and flow are far less important than consistency and format… because computers cannot “measure” creativity and flow nor can “readers” who must scan “essays” quickly in order to get tests graded quickly.

We are reaping bad writing because grading writing is complicated, slow, and expensive and we want to measure our students with standardized tests that are easy, fast, and cheap… We won’t get good writing until we are willing to provide the time needed to teach it effectively and the time needed to grade it well.

Computer Using Students Did Worse on PISA in 2012. Time to Re-think Technology as Salvation?

September 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Alternet cross-posted Jill Barshay’s essay from the Hechinger Report summarizing the findings of OECD research based on the 2012 PISA tests that found that the highest performing students on that test used computers in school the least.

While the findings were not as strong based on home computer use, it was evident that students who used computers the most at school did worse on the tests.

Bruce Friend, the chief operating office of iNACOL, a group that advocates the use of technology in school, suggests that US schools might be overlooking the real power of computer technology, which is the real-time analysis of student performance to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. As he noted in Barhsay’s article, improving education for each child requires much more than giving each of them a computer: it requires trained teachers to assist in the application of that technology.

Barshay ends her essay with this suggestion: “Perhaps it is best to use the computer money into hiring, training, and paying the best teachers”. 

UFT’s Compelling Findings on Teacher Turnover Undercut “Reform” Underperformance Theory

September 21, 2015 Leave a comment

The “reformers” believe that “underperforming schools” are the result “underperforming teachers” and consequently recommend that those “poor teachers” be replaced. In a NYDaily News op ed column published today, Michael Mulgrew, the UFT NYC President, offers compelling evidence that the replacement of teachers will not solve the problem. Why? Because in many the so-called “failing schools” have massive turnover to begin with:

A UFT review of personnel records at these (failing) schools (the state’s technical term for the list they’re on is “out-of-time”) tells a radically different story from that being told by the “reformers” — a story of how hundreds of teachers despair of helping kids in poorly managed and under-resourced schools, and who ultimately, battered by the arduous process, choose to move on to other schools or other lives.

Our review shows that 64% — nearly two-thirds — of the 921 teachers on staff at these eight “out-of-time” schools in 2010 have already bailed out. Almost half of those who left — 45% — went to other schools in the system. About 23% retired. And 21% resigned, heading for different school systems or different careers entirely. Disability, death and other reasons accounted for the balance.

Some schools have had the door revolve even faster. Fordham Leadership has only nine of the 46 teachers who were there in 2010. Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx has only two of the nearly 40 teachers who were there in 2010. Excluding those two hardy veterans, the Banana Kelly staff has been wholly replaced not once, but twice, in the last five years — a turnover rate of nearly 200%.

If the reformers notion that wholesale replacement of teachers would lead to improvement was valid, why did these schools that replaced 2/3 of their staff not improve? Mulgrew’s data suggests the real problem is not that the teachers are poor— after all nearly 1/3 of the teachers from the “failing schools” transferred to other presumably “successful” schools in the district. Mulgrew concludes that what is needed is more support for those schools in the form of stability, specialized curricula, and expanded services of the kind advocated by the mayor. He concludes his essay with this:

The problems of the city’s struggling schools can be solved by real strategies, but not by political sloganeering. “Get tough on teachers” may warm the hearts of “reformers,” but it is a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.

I hope that some of the “tough” Governors running for President who tout “evidence based decision making–  like Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Bush– take a look at Mulgrew’s evidence and take it to heart when they formulate their ideas on education. It would also help if Congress looked at this as well… but I expect the test-and-punish paradigm will remain in place.

de Blasio’s Parent Engagement Push an Uphill Battle

September 11, 2015 Leave a comment

NY Mayor Bill deBlasio and his Superintendent Carmen Farina are doing all the right things to combat the “reform” movement, but I fear that their strategy– which requires time, money, and cooperation– flies in the face of the fast, cheap, and easy solutions demanded by voters and promoted by elected officials.

A NYTimes article earlier this week described the NYC school system’s efforts to engage parents, which includes an under-reported but significant change to the teacher’s contract:

The teachers’ union contract signed last year required teachers to spend 40 minutes each week on activities like meeting with, writing to or calling parents, replacing a requirement that they spend that time tutoring after school.

Knowing from experience how difficult it is to modify contracts and knowing that substantive changes reflect an emphasis from the Superintendent and Board, this contract modification should have been heralded and, in my judgment, applauded instead of being buried in an article. The article by Kate Taylor did note that the push for parent engagement was a major priority of Ms. Farina and the mayor and did contrast it to the “reform” agenda of de Blasio’s predecessor:

One of the keys to transforming them, his administration believes, is to get parents to show up more by turning schools into one-stop community centers offering services like medical and dental clinics, adult courses and counseling.

It is a marked contrast to the Bloomberg administration, which was more focused on trying to identify weak teachers, principals and even whole schools and then replacing them.

The de Blasio administration believes so strongly in its own approach that it spent a million dollars in recent months to train parents in organizing techniques and to hire people to knock on the doors of roughly 35,000 parents of students at struggling schools, to tell them about the changes and urge them to take a bigger role.

“Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”

In my experience, engaging parents in schools is a struggle. Moreover, the level of engagement decreases as children get older and often mirrors the level of education of the parents with highly educated parents being highly engaged and uneducated parents having limited engagement. The reasons for these relationships are obvious. As children age they desire less involvement by parents and arguably require less direct involvement by parents. Furthermore, as children age their school performance becomes “set”: their success or failure persists and the parents of successful students have positive interactions with the school and the parents of unsuccessful students have negative interactions creating either a virtuous or vicious cycle. And, given the relationship between education and affluence, it is unsurprising that affluent parents, who are in a virtuous cycle, have higher levels of engagement than less affluent parents, who are in a vicious cycle.

Breaking out of this cycle requires a persistent offsetting response from schools, one that can be accomplished by placing “positive services” like “…medical and dental clinics, adult courses and counseling” in the schools and having teachers reach out to parents on a consistent basis. But breaking these deep-seated and persistent cycles with the tools available at the disposal of the mayor will require time, money, and interagency collaborations— and, as noted above, these fly in the face of the fast, cheap, and easy solutions demanded by voters and promoted by elected officials. Fast, cheap, and (relatively) easy solutions like testing children and firing teachers whose students fail the tests are popular. Slow, expensive, and complicated solutions like those proposed by de Blasio and Farina are easily derided as “supporting the status quo” even though they are designed to break the vicious cycle of school failure, parent dis-engagement, and despair that perpetuate the status quo. de Blasio and Farina are doing the right thing on behalf of parents and children… here’s hoping the public will appreciate that fast, cheat, and easy solutions are also impossible to achieve and the replacement of vicious cycles with virtuous ones require the virtues of patience, charity, and thoughtfulness.

Rethinking Work…Especially Teaching

August 31, 2015 Leave a comment

In yesterday’s NYTimes Barry Schwartz article, “Rethinking Work”, described how Adam Smith’s assumptions about workers and the importance of efficiency serve as the basis for work as we know it over two centuries later. The article suggests the need for us to reconsider the way we define work in our culture and includes these paragraph:

The transformation I have in mind goes something like this: You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you’re a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems — but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you’re a teacher who wants to educate kids — but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you’re a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism — but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.

Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don’t even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were. (Even Smith, in one passage, seemed to acknowledge this possibility, noting that mindless, routinized work typically made people “stupid and ignorant.”)

…How can we do this? By giving employees more of a say in how they do their jobs. By making sure we offer them opportunities to learn and grow. And by encouraging them to suggest improvements to the work process and listening to what they say.

Needless to say this resonated with me as one who deplores the “reform” movement that reduces he measurement of teaching to a single test score measuring skills that measure student performance on material provided in “teacher proof” curriculum guides, skills that were imposed without the direct involvement of teachers and whose suggestions and ideas are dismissed as unimportant.

For those politicians and businessmen who value efficiency over humanity, their spreadsheet analyses over the observations in classrooms, their belief that money is the primary motivator for employees, and their desire for saving money over improving the lives of children and their employees, the aspirations of teachers are unimportant…. and the consequence is that the routinized work they are creating in the classrooms will not appeal to those with creativity and intelligence.

NYTimes Article on Teacher Shortages Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough

August 11, 2015 1 comment

Mokoto Rich’s article in Monday’s NYTimes, Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble“, misses the mark on three points: it’s too narrowly focused; it fails to call out the impact of “reform” on the desirability of teaching as a profession; and if overlooks the possibility that this shortage presents an opportunity for colleges and States to re-think the path to a teaching career.

Rich’s article focuses exclusively on California, which has the worst decline in teacher preparation program enrollments…. but hardly the only one. According to Steven Sawchuck’s 2014 article in Education Week decline in enrollments is a national phenomenon, with vitally every state in the union affected.

Rich also links the decline too the economic problems schools have encountered without addressing the drastic change in the teaching profession that occurred in response to the RTTT “reform boom” that happened afterward. The Education Week article didn’t shy away from that topic, noting that “reforms” like the elimination of tenure, the emphasis on robotic teaching-to-the-test, and the lowering of wages, benefits and working conditions. The political environment in schools doesn’t help either, as this paragraph from the Education Week article indicates:

If an uncertain economy is one likely explanation for the drop, analysts also point to other, less tangible causes: lots of press around changes to teachers’ evaluations, more rigorous academic-content standards, and the perception in some quarters that teachers are being blamed for schools’ problems.

Finally, neither Rich nor Sawchuck see an opportunity in this crisis: teacher credential programs could become two-year paid positions that would not only help prospective teachers pay for their college degrees but also serve as a means of providing in-the-classroom experiences that would be far more valuable that any college class. I know I learned more in my student teaching experience than I ever learned in any undergraduate or graduate class… and I daresay anyone who you talk with about their experience in teacher training would echo this sentiment.

So, CA, take the advice from an old Apple computer ad: think different… and as for the Times, dig a little deeper before you write your net article: look up “teacher certification enrollments” in Google… you might find out that your articles that echo the reform sentiment that “bad teachers are the problem” is contributing to the problem.