Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

This Just In: Spending on Schools Matters!

January 21, 2015 Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog‘s headline says it all:

When public schools get more money,

students do better

Wonkblogger Max Ehrenfreund, citing a recently completed study by Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley,  reports that students in districts where courts ruled that more spending was mandated earned more and were more successful in school than students in similar districts where spending increases did not occur. Ehrenfreund’c conclusion:

The group found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year. That conclusion accords with other research finding that better teachers can have profound effects on how much students learn, since the schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors.

Here’s MORE definitive evidence that “schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors”. All you folks claiming to favor “evidence based approaches” should take note: small classes + high wages = good teachers. It’s easy and obvious. Let’s stop blaming underfunded schools for their deficiencies and start supporting them at the same level as we support our best public schools.

Elmore and Illich: Birds of a Feather

January 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Richard Elmore’s Inside Higher Ed blog post titled “The Future is Learning, But What About Schooling” describes his entry into the world of MOOCs after teaching at Harvard Graduate School of Education for two decades. The post describes the kind of schooling– or more accurately DE-schooling or UN-schooling— that I see evolving in the next two decades as more and more parents and students opt out of “school” and opt into “learning”. What’s the difference?

The future of learning in society is virtually unlimited, at least for the foreseeable future. Learning is the conversion of information into knowledge; information, in the digital age has become a vast sea of ones and zeros; information becomes knowledge by passing through some medium that transforms the ones and zeros into a conceptually organized form.

Students are schooled for adult approval and conformity to highly standardized, institutionalized expectations, created by people in positions of public authority who have no knowledge whatsoever of how learning works as an individual and social activity.

Stated differently: learning is an individuating activity; schooling is a norming activity… and in this day and age where children and adults— particularly with technological know-how— can design custom radio and TV stations, receive customized news feeds, and expect high quality service when they shop, norming activities are an anathema. In the coming years, as technological literacy spreads, more and more parents and children will become accustomed to customization and individualization and be less and less open to receiving standardized instruction…. and technology makes it possible for all instruction to be individualized with one notable exception. The transmission of the “…skills required to negotiate this increasingly complex world” which do not hinge on “…adult approval and conformity to highly standardized, institutionalized expectations” but rather the ability to interact with peers and the ability to analyze the information that is learned.

After reading Elmore’s post I left the following comment:

I re-read Deschooling Society a few years ago… and it is amazing how prescient Illich was. Illich, too, was “fascinated with the future of learning as a social activity” and skeptical “about the future of institutionalized schooling as a setting for learning”.  Many of the trends in on-line learning point to a time when decentralized seminar groups will replace classrooms on campus, when ad hoc certificates for specific skill sets replace “courses” and “diplomas”, and ad hoc certificate providers replace rigid institutions that offer credentials. The decentralizing trend will only be accelerated if we continue to use our test-centric method of accountability because it IS “hard to imagine an institutional structure for learning that is less suited for the future than the heavily institutionalized, hierarchical world that education reformers have constructed.” 


Evidence Based Programs Biggest Hurdles

January 9, 2015 Leave a comment

A week ago, the NYTimes ran an article by Ron Haskins, a self-described “…policy analyst who helped House Republicans design the 1996 welfare overhaul and who later advised President George W. Bush on social policy”. Titled “Social Programs That Work”, the op ed piece extolled the virtues of the Obama administration’s efforts to use evidence to determine the effectiveness of various social programs. In the article, Haskins offered examples of popular programs whose effectiveness NOT supported by evidence (e.g. HeadStart and DARE) and several programs whose effectiveness IS supported by evidence.

I appreciate the de facto bipartisanship inherent Haskins support for a Democratic administration’s initiative, but need to point out two flaws with the evidence being collected. First, the metrics used to define “success” are standardized test scores and easily gathered objective data like drop-out rates, teen pregnancy rates, and suspension rates. As noted repeatedly in earlier blog posts, there is more to schooling than these measures. Secondly, the expansion of the successful programs will require a re-thinking of schooling and social services… a change of the dominant paradigm for schools away from the factory model. And that change is not where in sight anywhere. The best example of the need for paradigmatic change is the Success for All program:

Success for All, a comprehensive schoolwide reform program, primarily for high-poverty elementary schools, emphasizes early detection and prevention of reading problems before they become serious. Students of various ages who read at the same performance level are grouped together and receive daily, 90-minute reading classes, as well as one-on-one tutoring and cooperative learning activities.

The success of Success For All would be even more astronomical if those “students of various ages” were tested based on their marginal improvement over time instead of being measured as compared to students of the same age… but doing that would require an abandonment of the deeply-rooted practice of age-based grade levels and, more crucially, the administration of standardized tests that rank students based on comparisons with their age peers. Furthermore, implementing a school wide program would preclude the evaluation of individual teachers based on standardized test scores. Finally, organizing instruction to provide one-on-one tutoring and cooperative learning activities requires the abandonment of teacher centered programs, further eroding the ability to evaluate individual teachers based on test scores.

All of this underscores the one major error in the Obama administration’s use of evidence-based decision making: there is NO evidence that VAM works and NO evidence that the decades of standardized testing has improved opportunities for economically disadvantaged students… and yet… these practices persist… and both VAM and standardized testing reinforce the dominant paradigm where the teacher of students in an age-based grade level cohort is solely responsible for the academic performance of the child. And there is NO evidence that this is the case.


Moms Don’t Need Test Scores… Politicians Do

January 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Two recent articles, one on Cuomo’s dismay at the low number of “failing teachers” from the NYTimes and another provided by my daughter from blogger Carol Burris via Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post Answer Sheet blog lament NY Governor Cuomo’s insistence that the State double down on the use of value added metrics (VAM) to measure teacher performance. Why? Because he and the Regents expected the VAM tests to prove public schools were “failing” because of bad teachers. When the VAM tests were administered for two years and fewer than 1% of the teachers failed, Cuomo decided to veto a bill that would have protested those teachers from losing their jobs. Why? Because he expected 10% to lose their job!  This quote from the Times article with my emphasis added provides insights into Cuomo’s arrogance:

Given what we now know, it would make no sense to sign this bill and inflate these already inflated ratings,” Mr. Cuomo wrote in his veto message.

What did we know: the tests that were designed to identify at least 10% of the teachers as failures were not emphasized enough in the ratings. Consequently, the teachers’ ratings were inflated because of an over-emphasis on, and this is a quote from the NYTimes reporter Kate Taylor,

…subjective measures, like principals’ evaluations, which in many districts were overwhelmingly favorable to teachers.

Before Governor Cuomo, Regents Chair Tisch, and reports like Kate Taylor characterize “principals’ evaluations” as “subjective” they might want to take a look at a sampling of the methods used. And before they claim an arbitrary percentage of teachers are “deficient” they might want to compare notes with corporate leaders who long ago abandoned the idea that ridding themselves of the lowest performers was the road to success. And last but not least, they ought to check with Principals like Carol Burris who know that bad teachers cannot succeed in schools with engaged parents and, as a result, schools with engaged parents don’t need VAM tests. Here’s Burris’ description of parents’ reactions when Sheri Lederman, one of her stellar teachers, received low VAM scores:

(P)arents have been disinterested in APPR scores. Although they can request their child’s teacher’s APPR score, not one parent in my district has asked for it during the two years that APPR has been in effect. Most principals report that parents simply do not care. Teachers like Sheri have a great reputation because of the years of loving care and great instruction they have given their students. Moms don’t need a score to know that.

Unfortunately, “…loving care and great instruction” can’t be reduced to a number, displayed on a spread sheet, and ranked. And any experienced educator know that the VAM tests can’t capture “…loving care and great instruction”. That can only be evaluated by “subjective” Principals…and Moms.

Radical Algebra in Baltimore

January 4, 2015 Leave a comment

A book review in Truthout describes how the Baltimore Algebra Project, an after school tutorial program in that city, helped students gain the skills needed to become political insurgents. Jay Gillen, the author of  Educating for Insurgency, the book reviewed by Truthout blogger John Duda, does not cast himself as an overseer in the classroom. He doesn’t treat the students in his classes as objects, but instead helps them become agents of change. He doesn’t few education as the transmission of “facts”  but rather as a means of putting things into context and taking action when reality conflicts with the information being taught. Duda uses the traditional lessons of Brown v. Board of Education as an example of the emptiness of teaching “facts” and the way those “facts” contradict reality:

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in education is illegal; the long and steady march to full equality took another steady and confident step toward . . . what? An America where black lives still don’t seem to matter all that much?

What does the student learn? They learn that over a half a century ago the very situation they find themselves in was declared unjust, and yet it persists. They learn that the law – and the history that tells its story – was not made for them, and they see in the manifest contradictions of the official curriculum and the emptiness of the educational process they are subjected to: bodies to be managed, and in the best case made able to recite back enough facts to justify this management on one standardized test or another.

Given this context, how can a teacher work with students? Here’s Gillen’s thoughts:

The role of the teacher in schools of poverty is to help students prepare the insurgency that will overturn the system of educational apartheid. If change comes to American schools, it won’t come from starry-eyed reformers or a bumper crop of “good” teachers – it will come, like the end of slavery did, as a result of the thousand and one acts of resistance and rebellion on the part of those the system is designed to contain and manage. The role Gillen calls on teachers to play is not a rhetorical one, bringing propaganda into the classroom, but a profoundly human one.

With this frame of reference, Gillen tolerates backtalk from students and tries to get students to understand that their anti-authoritarianism needs to be redirected if they hope to “overturn the system of educational apartheid” and be the change they want to see in the world. In his role as teacher of children in poverty Gillen is neither the “sage on the stage” or the “guide on the side”; he is a force for democracy and change.


CBE Part VII: New Technology and New Skills Required

December 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

What support systems — people and technology — need to be in place for schools to successfully move to CBE? What other frameworks need to be in place to promote a “progressive” CBE?

CBE schools may not require additional staff… but… CBE schools WILL require the re-deployment of existing staff at all levels. As noted in earlier posts, in CBE schools students will not be assigned to “classes” in age-based “grades”. Instead of having a sequence of “grade-level” teachers or content area teachers, CBE students will be assigned to an academic advisor-coach who would follow their progress through the mastery of fundamental competencies (i.e. what is currently expected of students leaving eighth grade). While this kind of extended advisor-coach relationship is uncommon in public education, it is typical in Waldorf Schools where an age cohort of students is instructed by a single teacher through eighth grade. In such an arrangement student progress more anecdotal and not wholly determined by test results and, most importantly, the student and parent have a sustained relationship with an individual who gets to know a student well. This requires a different skill set than the factory school teacher: it values nurturance and developmental psychology over knowledge of a specific skill and test construction and administration.

In order to provide the kind of asynchronous learning described in earlier posts, CBE schools would require broadband access in all student and teacher residences and would require an airtight student information systems that ensure confidentiality between the student and academic advisor-coach and/or between the academic advisor-coach and parent. Many teachers and parents are rightfully concerned about the sharing of data with for-profit enterprises, yet the pushback against the mandated data management systems in the health area has been minimal. The CBE data management system described above, where the information is not shared with for-profit enterprises, is analogous to the way a pediatrician or other health professional stores and shares information with parents, patients (e.g. children) and other health professionals. If we can entrust health information with medical personnel of all educational backgrounds, we should be open to doing the same when it comes to educators and related service providers. An essay I wrote several years ago, A Homeland Security Bill for Education, describes how interagency communication might facilitate learning for students who are part of the social service web. In the intervening years since the publication of that article the capability of data sharing has increased but the interagency firewalls remain in place.

CBE Part II: Scope of Skills Taught

December 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

How might CBE’s emphasis on “skills” change what and how things are taught? Do “abstract” concepts tend to be lost, for example?

CBE schools, unlike the factory schools in place today, would not group students in age-based “grade levels” or teach factual and hierarchical skills to students in classroom settings. Instead, CBE schools would use technology to individualize instruction.

CBE schools would teach factual and hierarchical skills asynchronously at a rate and method that matches the students ability and learning style. Student advisor-coaches will monitor the student’s off campus work and provide tutorial assistance just-in-time on an as needed basis.

In CBE schools abstract skills would be taught in small group “dialogue sessions” and assessed through periodic “exhibitions” students give to a panel of peers and teachers.

As students approach the time when they are ready to either enter the workforce or seek entry to a higher education institution they will progress through instructional modules that consist of activities and exercises that the businesses or post-secondary institutions develop. Student mastery of the requisite preparatory skills will be measured using metrics developed by businesses or post-secondary institutions.