The Finger Lakes Times published an open letter to Mario Cuomo from a veteran teacher, Ann Cook, that illustrated how his policies play out in the classroom. In successive paragraphs she illustrates how his proposal to use test results as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation:
- Makes it impossible for teachers to avoid teaching to the test and effectively makes the students “pawns in a political game
- Forces her and her colleagues to encourage principled parents to make their children to take these ill conceived tests because “….the parents who are asking me about opting out typically have the kids who are most likely to pass the test (a)nd if they opt out then teachers’ effectiveness scores will plummet” and they could lose their jobs.
- Discourages teachers new to the profession, who “…can’t imagine spending their entire career in education because society doesn’t seem to value them anymore”.
She acknowledges that testing and accountability are needed, and concludes with this suggestion:
Want to make teachers better? In the education field we give our struggling students extra support to help them succeed. We find it works better than punishment. Rather than putting all our eggs in the assessment basket, why not focus some energy on the hiring, training and tenure granting practices of administrators and school boards?Let’s tackle the inequity in funding and work collaboratively to reduce poverty. We all want our schools to improve because we all want our children to be successful. So why not have a positive approach that works to elevate the field of education rather than destroy it?
Unfortunately I doubt that Governor Cuomo will heed Ms. Cook’s advice… and I doubt that few of her locally elected officials will take up her side on this issue because to do so would require the outlay of additional funds and “everyone knows” we spend way too much money on education and “don’t get nearly enough in return”. Unfortunately no one acknowledges the evidence: the districts who spend the most, the districts serving affluent children, DO get a lot in return.
Andrew Cuomo’s “reform” proposals for NYS public education is politically charged and educationally flawed and in her assessment of his proposal NYC School Chancellor Carmen Farina avoided the politically charged issue and went after the ones that are educationally flawed.
The politically charged issue is the one of expanding the number of charter schools within the four walls of existing city schools, one that Farina deftly sidestepped by saying “making space for lots of new schools would be a challenge”. In the final analysis, that will be a battle that her boss, Mayor de Blasio may need to take up.
The educational flawed “reform” proposal is that 50% of a teachers evaluation be based on test scores and that classroom observations be conducted by “independent observers as opposed to the teachers’ own principals”. Farina rejected the 50% standard in a hearing before State legislators earlier this week stating that “We need a human touch any time we evaluate anyone for anything.”. She also rejected the idea of having observations done by someone other than the principal:
Ms. Fariña said that teachers needed to be observed over time, watched for things like whether they engaged with parents or gave special attention to students who needed extra help, and that “flybys” could not replace that.
The whole premise of the “reforms” suggested by Mr. Cuomo is that NYS’s dismal performance on its recent assessments was the result of “bad teachers” and the current evaluation systems in place only found 5% of the teachers to be deficient, which he said was “baloney”. It is unclear what percentage HE believed were ineffective. But if one begins with the assumption that “bad teachers” were responsible for the low test scores then roughly 65% of the teachers should be rated incompetent since roughly 65% of the students failed to achieve a proficiency rating.
By shifting the focus away from the root causes of low test scores– the effects of poverty on students and a poorly designed and hastily implemented testing procedure– Cuomo can continue the narrative that schools could be improved if lazy-highly-compensated-tenure-protected-union-supported-ineffective teachers were fired and replaced with bright and eager new teachers eager for work and willing to work as contractors instead of employees. Keep your eye on this battle, because it isn’t just about NYS… it’s about the direction our entire nation will head should another neo-liberal get elected to the Presidency.
Bill Duncan, a member of the NH State Board of Education, wrote a post on his “Advancing New Hampshire Public Education” blog that described the politicization of the Common Core by flagging the conservative’s critique of the mathematics standards. Duncan quotes from an earlier post by Common Core mathematics editor Bill McCallum, who described Texas Governor Abbot’s disdain for one of the Common core techniques used to addition facts to first grade students. On Fox News Abbot ridiculed the ” “make a ten” strategy for memorizing math facts” because it took the teacher “more than a minute” to explain why 9 + 6 = 15.
McCallum noted that had Abbot examined his own State’s standards he would see that the very same technique is included at the very same grade level… and concludes with this point:
It’s a pity… that Governor Abbot didn’t look at his own state standards before mocking this method, since Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels. And for good reason: math is math whatever state you are in, and teachers have been using methods like this to help their students memorize math facts for years.
I’m sure Governor Abbot’s perspective on this will not change. Nor will the perspective of his like-minded political allies because acknowledging the value of the Common Core would be an admittance that teams of experts (in the case of the Common Core) or the State Department of Education (in the case of Texas) are more qualified than the Governor to write standards for mathematics.
In response to Duncan’s post, in effect defending the Common Core, “Jane” wrote:
As usual progressives always want everyone to do things the hard way.
No… progressives are trying to show students there is not “one right way” to get an answer in mathematics and are trying to get students to develop deep understanding of a subject. Rote learning accomplishes neither of these outcomes. The pushback against the Common Core by politicians will only reinforce the need for a common set of standards across our nation. There cannot be Texas mathematics and New Hampshire mathematics. As one who moved from PA to OK between 3rd and 4th grade I can attest to the fact that national standards are needed. In the late 1950s 4th grade mathematics in OK was virtually identical to 3rd grade mathematics in PA. While the gap has closed somewhat, the chart at the conclusion of this article from the Dallas Morning News illustrates that Texas’ current standards are far behind the expectations set by their own standards team, standards that were undoubtedly set in response to the Common Core, standards that would align Texas’ expectations with those of states like (gasp) Massachusetts.
But this example of “leadership” by the Governor of one of the largest states in the union is an illustration of why some set of national standards are needed and why acceding to the notion of having States set their own standards would be a step backwards. If Governor Abbot’s and “Jane’s” notion of standards were adopted we’d be back to rote learning and students would believe there is only one right answer and only one way to get that answer. Here’s hoping “Texas mathematics” doesn’t prevail.
Today’s NYTimes op ed page features a fascinating article by Micael Erhard titled “The Only Baby Book You’ll Ever Need”. The book Erhard recommends is “The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings,” by David F. Lancy, which he wryly notes is unlikely to be “…found in the baby section of your local bookstore.”
The book describes two broad approaches to child rearing defined by culture as opposed to technique: “Pick When Ripe” and “Pick When Green”, which are described as follows:
In the “pick when ripe” culture, babies and toddlers are largely ignored by adults, and may not be named until they’re weaned. They undergo… a “village curriculum”: running errands, delivering messages and doing small-scale versions of adult tasks. Only later are they “picked,” or fully recognized as individuals. In contrast, in “pick when green” cultures, including our own, it’s never too early to socialize babies or recognize their personhood.
He provides a historic context for the “pick when green” culture, dating it to the 17th Century in the Netherlands where John Locke visited and subsequently imported it to England “…where Protestant radicals like the Puritans and Quakers picked them up. We, and our “godlike cherubs,” as Professor Lancy calls them, are their heirs.” As Erhard concludes his essay providing an overview of Lancy’s book he writes:
Perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Anthropology of Childhood” was how it taught me to value things that, in a cross-cultural perspective, might suddenly seem arbitrary: how we approach hygiene, for example, or teach etiquette. As a parent, I realized, my job is to transmit my culture. It helps to think of your child as a stranger in a strange land, like a study-abroad student you are hosting long term and to whom you must, patiently and constantly, explain the land they’re visiting.
These two sentences made me realize that our schools struggle with this cultural difference day in and day out. Many parents (and some progressive educators) operate on a “pick when ripe” philosophy while our cultural norm— and that of public education in general– is “pick when green”. Moreover, we increasingly moving toward a “pick when green” culture as evidenced by the limited amount of free play our children experience and the notion that every minute spent outside of school or outside of adult supervision is “wasted time”.
As one who spent my free time in childhood wandering through the woods, railroad tracks, and empty lots that bordered the suburban subdivisions I was raised in…. one who played far more games on sandlots and playgrounds than in organized leagues where uniforms and travel were required… and one who spent hours “reading”encyclopedias and dictionaries I am distressed by the lack of similar opportunities for most children today. Indeed, I read an on-line article recently that a parent was charged with neglect because they allowed their child to walk on the street in their neighborhood unaccompanied.
In looking back on my schooling and my childhood, I also find that my “pick when ripe” experiences were far more valuable than my “pick when green” experiences. My part-time jobs delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, and landscaping and my co-op jobs as an undergraduate in college taught me more about our “culture” than any course I took in school. I learned more about myself in completing hands-on assignments than I learned from tests that were used to determine my grades.
In looking at the ideas I’ve advocated in this blog it is clear: we need to shift away from the one-size-fits-all “pick-when-green” culture and adapt more to the “pick-when-ripe” way of thinking… or at the very least acknowledge that children, like various kinds of fruits and vegetables, ripen at varied times and under varied conditions.
Two recent essays on technology posed related questions in their title. Susan Pinker’s NYTimes op ed piece asked “Can Students Have Too Much Tech?” and Larry Cuban’s three-part series of blog posts asked “Will Teaching and Learning Become Automated?” My response to both questions is “NO”.
Pinker’s response, though, is: YES! Based on studies conducted over the past decade it is evident that providing all children with equal access to technology increases the performance divide instead of diminishing it. Why? Here’s Pinker’s answer with my emphases:
We don’t know why this is, but we can speculate. With no adults to supervise them, many kids used their networked devices not for schoolwork, but to play games, troll social media and download entertainment. (And why not? Given their druthers, most adults would do the same.)
The problem is the differential impact on children from poor families. Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.
Larry Cuban, long a technology skeptic, rightly believes technology has been oversold as the ultimate solution to providing a cheap means of offering an equitable education and especially laments the effects this line of thinking has had on the definition of schooling and teaching. In the third part of a three part series, Cuban undercuts the “…conceit that super-duper software will eventually, not today but in some future tomorrow, automate teaching.” He opens his argument by describing the new, narrow “purpose of schooling” and contrasting it with the definition in previous eras:
What technophiles forget, neglect, trip over—pick a verb–are the multiple purposes for tax-supported schools in a democracy. They and many other futurists err—my verb choice—in equating access to information with becoming educated. The purpose of schooling is reduced to acquiring information.
Tax-supported public schools have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose historic job has been to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and live full and worthwhile lives.
Until three decades ago, these diverse purposes for tax-supported public schools were obvious; now those purposes have been narrowed to job preparation… Engaged citizenship, contributing to one’s community, and living worthwhile lives remain in the shadows. Few policymakers, philanthropists, technology futurists have challenged (or are willing to challenge) the swelling embrace of automated instruction that promise transforming schools into information factories.
Cuban eloquently and passionately describes the importance of good teachers:
Effective teaching, like work in other helping professions such as medicine, social work, and religious counseling is anchored in relationships. Those student/teacher relationships convert information into knowledge and, on occasion, knowledge into wisdom about the self and world. Teachers, then, from preschool through high school are far more than deliverers of information.
In classrooms, they set and enforce the rules that socialize the young to act consistent with community norms. They set an example of adult behavior becoming for some students exemplars to model. They create classroom cultures that can encourage individual achievement, cooperative behavior, and independent decision-making….
Teachers make thousands of decisions in planning, conducting lessons, and assessing how well students are doing. Hundreds of those decisions are made in the nanosecond during teacher/student exchanges in daily lessons. Many decisions are moral ones in that they involve her authority as teacher, parental expectations, and student behaviors. Decisions over right and wrong are ever-present in classrooms. Teachers sort out conflicts daily among students over truth-telling and differences between parental values and school norms… No software program that I know has algorithms that either make instantaneous decisions when events pop up unexpectedly or split-second moral decisions.
Given these complicated human interactions, Cuban cannot see a day when teachers will be replaced by technology.
While both Pinker and Cuban are wary of the overselling of technology, both recognize it has a place inside and outside the classroom and both tacitly acknowledge that the roles of teachers will need to change in order to take full advantage of all that technology has to offer. After reading both articles, I found that Pinker’s conclusion and Cuban’s analysis overlap in Pinker’s concluding paragraph:
“…the public money spent on wiring up classrooms should be matched by training and mentorship programs for teachers, so that a free and open Internet, reached through constantly evolving, beautifully packaged and compelling electronic tools, helps — not hampers — the progress of children who need help the most.”
And while neither writer says so explicitly, I think both would agree that in addition to spending money on technology once students are in school, it would be far more beneficial to invest in programs that nurture babies born to low-income families socially and academically and provide more supervision for students after school. Technology can provide information: technology cannot educate.