Archive for January, 2012

Technology and Evaluation Redux

January 30, 2012 Comments off

This CNN article posted on Naked Capitalism indicates that students who multi-task using technology have difficulty relating to classmates… and I can see technophobic teachers seizing on this kind of finding as evidence that using technology is counterproductive. From my perspective, this is further evidence of the need to change the current format of schooling. There is no explicit instruction in schooling on how to get along with each other, how to engage in dialogue, how to interact effectively in a group setting. Why? Because we are so focussed on determining how well each individual is performing in isolation… Indeed, when students DO interact with each other to help solve a problem it is called “cheating”.

ASCD’s blog featured a link to this update on School of One, whose founders have learned that HOW teachers interact with students is as crucial a variable as how teachers use technology. I love the url’s main descriptor: “mind shift”… that’s what’s needed to get technology used effectively in schools.

Three LA teachers wrote an op-ed article for the LA Times advocating an overhaul to the evaluation system in place. I completely agree with the five elements they want to serve as the basis for evaluation: reliable data (more than three years’ worth from a test specifically designed for the purpose of evaluation); student progress (as opposed to absolute scores); student accountability (the students need to have a stake in whatever assessment is used to gauge teacher performance); support in the form of appropriate staff development; and confidentiality (as opposed to the reprehensible publishing of scores done by the LATimes this past year. This part of the article was particularly on point:

An evaluation system for L.A. Unified must take advantage of all that has been learned; it should use multiple measures, including classroom observations by competent, trained administrators; classroom visits by content-area experts; carefully designed student input; and test data.

These are perfectly reasonable… but probably will be rejected because they cost too much (too many administrators will be needed) and take too long to put in place (developing the tests, field-testing them, and getting three years of data will take longer than any politician’s election cycle).

Meanwhile, many principals across the country are on record opposing the new teacher evaluation plans being implemented in response to Race to the Top. The plans are described as “untested” and “burdensome” and result in “20 times more work” than the existing formats… but they DO hold the teachers accountable: at least the 21% of the teachers who can be measured using standardized achievement tests!

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Public Education’s Return on Investment: $1.53 for every $1.00

January 28, 2012 Comments off

Public schools DO add value to the economy! When I was preparing school budgets, a study like this one in Virginia Beach VA wold have found its way into a board packet and into a public presentation on the budget. People don’t realize that salaries earned by school employees get spent locally, construction and major renovation projects add jobs to the local economy, and many of the small maintenance jobs are completed by local contractors. Local schools shouldn’t be employment agencies, but their effect on the local economy is too often overlooked… as many communities across the country are discovering as budgets get slashed.

The obsession with standardized testing is leading to the demise of play in pre-schools, according a 2009 article published in Scientific American that was recently posted on Coos Networks. The sad fact seems to be that well educated parents want their children to “learn” in pre-school and un-educated parents buy representational toys or use TV to amuse their children. The result: no play and no opportunity to develop their imagination. A year-old monograph from the American Academy of Pediatrics reinforces these findings. My grandson Lyric has more fun with a stick and a coat hanger than he has with his explicitly designed toys.

School Choice? Not anything close to the salvation for public education. This essay, cross posted in Common Dreams from a teaching tolerance blog written by Maureen Costello, debunks the  notion that choice– and charter schools, it’s direct descendent– results in ANY improvement in public education. There isn’t a single argument in this that I disagree with…

The Nation astutely notes some of the shortcomings of Obama’s plans for public education in an article by Dana Goldstein. A paragraph in the middle of the essay captures the problem with Obama’s plan:

But here’s the rub: what Obama didn’t say is that he supports using student test scores to judge which teachers are effective. His administration has tied significant financial incentives to that priority, so states and districts are scrambling to create many more standardized tests to evaluate each and every teacher, including teachers of nontraditional subjects such as art, music and physical education, as well as teachers in the early grades, right down to kindergarten.

The article also notes that this was the first time Obama did NOT mention pre-K education in a State of the Union address. Why? Because it costs too much. The same reason we don’t use more sophisticated metrics and the whole reason we can’t pull kids out of poverty.

Finding tutors with time to get to high-poverty schools is a challenge, but one that can be overcome with technology as reported in the NYTimes. This may have applications in the North Country of NH where I’m consulting… trying to find ways to link schools with each other and with the community.

The digital divide mirrors the economic divide as described in this article posted on the ASCD blog. The divide is exacerbated in rural areas where dial-up is the most you can hope for and bandwidth is absurdly narrow… The problem, once again, is resources!

Catching up

January 28, 2012 Comments off

My consulting jobs had me on the road early in the morning the last couple of days so I’ve getting behind in posting links. I’ll catch up on some tonight and hopefully catch up completely tomorrow.

According to an article in Ed Week many states are encouraging kids to graduate early  but for the wrong reason: to save money! My white paper on Waivers includes a section on an easy way to see if students are ready to graduate early. The abandonment of the Carnegie unit is a great idea… but the concept of mastery has to work both ways. What states and districts should do is take the savings from early grads and pump them into remedial and/or extended year courses for students who struggle… or pre-K programs…

The Washington Times ran an article suggesting that good teachers who transfer to high need schools should receive a $10,000 bonus, taking a bad idea from economic developers and trying to apply it to schools. The primary problem with this approach is this: highly effective teachers who already work at high-need schools should be eligible for bonuses and benefits, too, and not just newcomers. It is a complaint existing businesses rightfully level when an economic development commissions throws money and tax breaks at new businesses while ignoring the needs of businesses already in place.

Raising the drop-out age is the latest panacea to the persistent problem of keeping high school students engaged . Earlier this week The NYTimes featured an article that calculated the effects of dropping out on an individual and on  society… The fact is that 3rd grade teachers can identify the students who are likely to drop out… but we don’t want to spend the money or the time to act on the information when we get it…

The Ugly Truth About School Choice, according to an Alternet article sent by my older daughter, is that it’s an astro-turf project funded by the Koch brothers… the article is a little over the top… but only a little…

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Naked RTTT, Budget Blues, and NH “Teapublicans”

January 25, 2012 Comments off

Four Takes on Tough Times in the ASCD On-Line Journal has some ideas on how to control costs… the writers question the value of small class size (except at the primary grade levels), educational assistants, and the unified pay schedule. They champion the use of distance learning and technology.

Race to the Top has no clothes! Michael Winerip eviscerates Race to the Top by reporting the facts: the $$$ for Race to the Top is 1/3 of 1% of the total education budget for the state of NY; 79% of the teachers cannot be measured using the tests in place; the State’s are responsible for absorbing all kinds of implementation costs. The real problem from my perspective: Race to the Top reinforces the existing factory model of schooling at a time when it should be compelling schools to use technology to individualize instruction.

New Hampshire’s “Teapublicans” strike with a law that requires schools to devise specialized lessons for parents who don’t like a particular unit. In this “Room For Debate” series of articles both sides get to explain their perspectives… As is often the case in these kinds of crackpot laws, there is so much hypocrisy involved one doesn’t know where to start. The short essay “Public Schools Have a Public Purpose” includes the question: what if a parent wants lessons tilted toward the views of the KKK? What if they want the lessons taught in Farsi? Ay yi yi!

“Algebra is your friend” was a statement I often made to my older daughter who was not enthused about the course when I would use algebra to solve a problem like “how long until we get to Portland”… This article from Nation describes how Baltimore students enrolled in algebra courses used their math skills to demonstrate to legislators that cutting funds to their school system was a losing proposition. If this was in NH the kids would probably get an alternative lesson on supply side economics 😉

FLA’s grading system gets an “F” in my book because it reduces school performance to a single letter grade based on one metric: standardized test scores. This use of simplified metrics described in an EdWeek article is linked to the consumerism talked about in the “teapublican” article above and is linked to the whole notion that schools are factories that produce good students using the most efficient means possible…

You CAN assess the whole child and in a good school we DO… that’s the conclusion of ASCD blogger Molly McCloskey who describes how the school her daughter attended understood her poor performance on final exams was the result of personal crisis and not “poor teaching”…


Missing Links

January 23, 2012 Comments off

E-testing is expanding at the college level according to an article in yesterday’s NYTimes… The point of the testing is threefold: it limits the need for teachers to spend time proctoring exams; it allows students to take the test at a time that suits their bio-rhythm; and it is far more expansive than the typical multiple choice test….

Nurses don’t need to memorize as much because hand held devices provide them with up-to-the-minute information on drugs and treatments… the concern that this technology will diminish personal contact between the nurse and the patient seems wrong… I think patients will appreciate that the nurse might have some answers at her fingertips (no pun intended) as opposed to having to wait for a doctor…

Maine’s tea party Governor (who won with 39% of the vote) is using the threat of school closings as leverage to get social services budgets cut according to an article posted on Common Dreams… If only the Republicans would willingly make this kind of explicit linkage or have Obama connect the dots so voters can see that this IS the choice Americans are being asked to make… and here’s the rub: cutting services will harm schools but since the services and schools have separate funding bins they will fight against each other instead of joining together to make it clear to the taxpayers that they BOTH need to be funded.

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Larry Summers should replace Arne Duncan!

January 22, 2012 Comments off

Researcher Danah Boyd contends that restricting teenagers’ internet use is a bad idea in a NYTimes article today… an idea I wholeheartedly agree with. Her article also points out that kids are driven to the internet because of parent’s irrational fears about abductions in the “real world” and that parents’ concerns about internet predators are equally irrational. The media’s obsession about childhood abductions and internet predators creates fear… and fear-based stories attract eyes to the TV set. One other interesting point in the article: the internet

Nick Kristoff misses the point in this heartwarming story of how a teacher changed the life of a latent juvenile delinquent… the teacher-turned-librarian who is the hero of the story saw the young troublemaker steal a book and instead of turning the student in bought another book by the same author for the student to “steal” a second time from the library… In my comment to Mr. Kristoff I wrote:

I think the point of this story is that Ms. Grady let Mr. O’Neal read what he was interested in instead of what the school curriculum mandated AND Ms. Grady intuitively understood that had she done “the right thing” by the school’s rules and turned Mr. O’Neal in for “stealing” it would have reinforced the notion that Mr. O’Neal was a criminal. With today’s NCLB mentality Ms. Grady would be branded a “bad teacher”: she didn’t compel her student to follow a scripted syllabus designed to prepare him for the next standardized achievement test and didn’t adhere to school policy requiring that all misbehavior be reported to the school administration.

I can’t believe I’m touting an article on education by Larry Summers but here goes: he gets it! The article advocates processing of information over memorization; collaboration over competition; technology over text; constructivism; cosmopolitism; and data analysis as opposed to data crunching. Based on this article, Larry Summers should replace Arne Duncan if Obama gets re-elected! 

Charlotte Danielson’s checklist comes off well in this article on teacher evaluation in the NYTimes… the checklist approach to evaluation is almost a necessity given the span of control in most schools… also, the discredited “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” rating system is, in the final analysis, what is required to determine which teachers are “good” and which ones are “bad”….

Several years ago Marc Tucker authored a monograph entitled “America’s Choice, High Skills or Low Wages”… Based on this article in the NY Times about Apple Computer’s decision to manufacture overseas, it appears that the real choice is between high wages and low cost…. or it may be that we are not going to be able to compete with China’s command capitalism since there is no way our country would stand for Life in Foxconn, as described in this sentence: The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day.  Until we’re willing to pay more for products made in the US, we might want to consider investing in barracks building companies….

Links from past few days

January 21, 2012 Comments off

My consulting in the North Country required early morning travel and not much time to check into education news. Here’s a quick synopsis of some of the blog-worthy articles:

Socio-economic segregation is flagged in this Common Dreams post by Jim Horn. The article lambastes the privatization movement as well as our policy-makers unwillingness to face the fact that low soci0-economic status can drag a school’s performance down and limit the opportunities for upward mobility for students attending those low SES schools.

A Florida legislator floated the idea of a state funded online university for the near future, noting that 51% of the 300,000 students in FLA have taken an online course. Sorry to be suspicious… but… I can’t help thinking the motives behind a FLA legislator’s embrace of online learning is the lower cost… as noted in the first link! Thanks to Jeff Silbert for forwarding this article from the Miami Herald

Performance Assessment is making a comeback, thanks to Race to the Top according to an article in E-classroom News. I am heartened that this is happening… but am skeptical that Race to the Top’s emphasis on snapshot tests administered to age-level cohorts meshes with formative assessment…

“Flipped instruction” is officially mainstream: CNN is on it! I’m forwarding this link to the North Country Education Services leadership team who just received a $497,000 video-conferencing grant… this looks like a good way to make use of that money. What is “flipped instruction?”: in a nutshell, it’s when the kids learn the content on their own using technology and the teachers guide the students through learning activities based on the independent learning… The flip? The lecture happens at home, the “homework” happens in school…

Law services in schools, another possible interagency opportunity! This article, about a lawyer turned educator provides some interesting ideas on how it might be possible to provide legal aid to needy parents through the schools.

Teacher evaluation blues: NY teachers and the governor continue to debate the components of a state-wide teacher evaluation plan. It appears that everyone agrees that 40% will be based on “test scores” and 60% will be based on “observations”. The sticking point appears to be appeals. I remain skeptical. How are teachers in non-self-contained classrooms going to be tested? How many and what kind of observations will be required? Who on earth is going to do them? The politicians continue to berate teachers for the bad performance of students, cut funds to the safety nets that support kids who need it, and fail to do anything about the funding inequities… I think the unions are engaging in passive aggressive behavior here: agreeing to a system that cannot be implemented fairly and rationally while politicians score points for their “tough stands on behalf of the children”…

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