Archive for February, 2012

Teacher Evaluation… and Home Schooling

February 17, 2012 Comments off

Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal to get NYS’s evaluation to be in conformance with the federal RTTT guidelines and won editorial praise. While my misgivings on the USDOE’s over-reliance on standardized tests is well documented in other portions of this blog, I am among those who agree that the “traditional method of teacher evaluation” is “terrible”. I’m not sure that the method NYS is adopting— which calls for evaluators to use four ratings instead of the current binary system– will yield any significantly different results on the low end but I AM confident that it will leads to lots of debates on the higher end. I think administrators will be hard pressed to differentiate between a “highly effective” and “effective” teacher based on classroom observations and/or test scores, especially if the teacher is one of the 75%+ whose performance cannot be measured by the tests administered at the state and local level. IF the effort to makes this discrimination results in more robust evaluations— like parent, student and peer surveys, for example— it will be worth doing. My hunch: administrators will be required to rate only 20% of their teachers “highly effective” and once that rule-of-thumb is adopted can compensation based on those ratings be far behind? In the NYTimes article that detailed the agreement, Arnold Dodge,  an assistant professor of educational leadership at Long Island University, said it was “…a “political deal” that would reduce the complexities of teaching to a simple number adding: “It’s not fair, it’s not reliable, and it’s not stable. You’re going to get a superficial number that has virtually no meaning for the long term.” Unless, of course, it is used as the basis for compensation, in which case it will have GREAT meaning even though is has no statistically reliable meaning. I’m sure as this rolls out there will be more articles… and more feedback.

Nick Kristoff also wrote a favorable editorial on teacher evaluation, in this case in New Haven CT. The system there identified 2% of the teachers as being so poor as to warrant dismissal… which sounds about right based on my experience… But to read editorials and op ed pieces one would be led to believe that 20% or more of the teachers are poor… and that’s probably because we remember that 20% of the teachers WE encountered in our schooling were “bad”. That could be the case, but in all probability if one were to poll students on which teachers they thought were “bad”, the overlap would be minimal: teachers who I loved were the same teachers that some of my classmates hated. 2% seems about right…. And the hours administrators spend with those teachers are countless!

Finally, the NYTimes ran an interview with Charlotte Danielson that was full of insights on teacher evaluation. A couple of bottom line points: test results and checklist driven observations are insufficient; we CAN do meaningful 360 degree evaluations with the technology available today; evaluation doesn’t need to be an annual event.

While I have tried to refrain from partisan politics, I feel compelled to include this little tidbit regarding Rick Santorum, who has declared his opposition to “government run (i.e. public) schools“.  The article suggests that Santorum home-schooled his children after getting his PA district to provide them with laptops. Enough said on Senator Santorum.

And speaking of home schooling, this USA Today article notes that the demographics of home schooling is changing… a completely predictable outcome given the narrowing of the curriculum in schools and the unwillingness of schools to tailor their instruction and “work day” to meet the needs of students and parents.

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Budget Blues and RTTT Redux

February 17, 2012 Comments off

The latest from the Feds: hardly any new money but more competitions! According to an article in Education Week Obama’s request for 2.5% in new education money flatlines Title I and other longstanding programs while asking for new funds for RTTT-like grants. It DOES seek $25 billion to prevent teacher layoffs, which ISN’T chump change: at $50,000 per teacher (a reasonable figure given the lay-offs go to the last hired), would save 500,000 positions. In so many words the Education Week article declares the requests DOA… a sentiment echoed by ASCD’s community blog. Too bad, because the money to save jobs might prevent some of the shenanigans in California, Texas, and Ohio (see below).

It seems that in California Jerry Brown’s budget includes an opportunity for districts to require only one year of science to graduate… this being done in the name of flexibility. In Ohio, the legislature is considering a bill that would shorten the school year to help the tourist industry! So much for our commitment to being a global economic leader in the future… but at least we’ll be able to host our global competitors in Ohio!

Meanwhile, in Texas, naming rights and bus ads are reaping revenues in some districts but causing headaches in others according to this NYTimes article by Morgan Smith. While big districts can sell logos on their football stadia, others require middlemen to do the legwork and get little in return and still others try to do the work themselves and get disappointment. Where is Chico’s Bail Bonds when you need them most 😉

But fear not, school’s will be improved in NYC where teacher’s evaluation ratings will be publicly posted as a result of a lawsuit lost by the UFT. As reported in the NYTimes education blog teacher ratings, based entirely on student test scores, will be released despite the somewhat mild misgivings expressed by the current education commissioner who said he was “…worried about the effect it might have on teacher morale”. I think that publicly posting performance ratings will be GREAT for morale and a wonderful recruiting tool for prospective teachers…

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Good Tech… and Evil Tech

February 13, 2012 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes has an article on Mooresville SC where Apple computers replaced classroom teachers and the results— as measured by State tests— are astonishingly positive. My concerns about corporate takeover of public schools and the over-emphasis of state tests as metrics notwithstanding, it appears that this school district’s use of technology is exemplary. In the article the Superintendent notes that:  “It’s not about the box. It’s about changing the culture of instruction — preparing students for their future, not our past.” The article lists “lessons learned”: as follows:

Start with math lessons: each student’s MacBook Air is leased from Apple for $215 a year, including warranty, for a total of $1 million; an additional $100,000 a year goes for software. Terry Haas, the district’s chief financial officer, said the money was freed up through “incredibly tough decisions.”

Sixty-five jobs were eliminated, including 37 teachers, which resulted in larger class sizes — in middle schools, it is 30 instead of 18 — but district officials say they can be more efficiently managed because of the technology. Some costly items had become obsolete (like computer labs), though getting rid of others tested the willingness of teachers to embrace the new day: who needs globes in the age of Google Earth?

Families pay $50 a year to subsidize computer repairs, though the fee is waived for those who cannot afford it, about 18 percent of them. Similarly, the district has negotiated a deal so that those without broadband Internet access can buy it for $9.99 a month.

WHOA! Talk about making changes! Let’s hope that this isn’t used as evidence by ALEC (see next post) that outsourcing to private corporations is the way to go…

The NYTimes editorial about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provides fuel for the conspiracists fires. ALEC provides boilerplate wording for State legislators to draft bills that will fulfill the corporate agenda. The article reports that ALEC crafted legislation  “Encourage(s) school districts to contract with private virtual-education companies”, noting the corporate co-chair of ALEC’s education committee was the beneficiary of a bill that was signed into law.

This NYTimes story about NYC students taking a field trip to a parking garage was bittersweet… Bitter because it is sad to think that the typical Kindergartner in NYC hasn’t sat in a car and can’t go on a field trip to the country the way affluent kids in the suburbs can be exposed to the city… but sweet because, well, the story is sweet.

Common Dreams posted an article on legislation in four states (including– no surprise, NH) seeking to eliminate instruction on evolution and global warming. These are advocated by groups with wholesome names like “The Heartland Institute” and adventurous names like “The Discovery Institute”…


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Questions Galore

February 10, 2012 Comments off

Are we preparing students to learn without us? That is the question posed by Will Richardson in his February 2012 article in Education Leadership, an article that has echoes of Ted Sizer and Ivan Illich. In the article Richardson makes a distinction between “personalized” learning, which is organized by an educator for a student, and “personal” learning, whereby a student is a more autonomous, self-directed learner. While both forms rely on technology, personalized learning is more externally controlled. Lots of food for thought!

BYOT? In a KQED article posted in ASCD blog described a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative in Mankato, MN, whereby students bring their own technology to class. The problems with this are many: affluent kids have higher end computers than less affluent kids; some schools don’t have ANY bandwidth let alone “enough” bandwidth; the fact that 75% of kids have “cell phones” doesn’t mean that they have the plans required to download information from the internet; and finally, kids use of technology is less important than ADULTS use of technology.

Are Charter Schools Better? An article in the blog New Deal 2.0 doesn’t really answer the question or even pose the right question, which is: how can we possibly know if charter schools are better given the metrics we use to compare schools to each other?

What could Obama’s $100,000,000 in training funds be used for? Bryce Covert’s New Deal 2.0 article suggests it would best be used to hire back laid off teachers… but as I noted in my comment,

…$100M is chump change: only 2000 teachers could be hired at $50,000/teacher for wages and benefits, hardly a king’s ransom. If Bryce is right about her calculation that 217,000 teachers lost their jobs in the past three years, barely 1% of the laid off teachers could be rehired using $100M.

Does money make a difference in education? Yes it does… especially the amount of money parent’s make, according to an article in today’s NYTimes. The article includes a link to a book released last fall by Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane that includes the following quote:

…between birth and age six, wealthier children will have spent as many as 1,300 more hours than poor children on child enrichment activities such as music lessons, travel, and summer camp. Greg Duncan, George Farkas, and Katherine Magnuson demonstrate that a child from a poor family is two to four times as likely as a child from an affluent family to have classmates with low skills and behavior problems – attributes which have a negative effect on the learning of their fellow students. As a result of such disparities, contributor Sean Reardon finds that the gap between rich and poor children’s math and reading achievement scores is now much larger than it was fifty years ago. And such income-based gaps persist across the school years, as Martha Bailey and Sue Dynarski document in their chapter on the growing income-based gap in college completion.

Can you imagine  a school district seeking funds for music lessons, travel, and summer camp for children in housing projects? Fox News would be all over it! There is no doubt, though, that those kinds of opportunities make a difference.

How do parents like tests used for accountability? Not too much, according to an Education Week article posted on the ASCD blog. Parents, teachers and administrators like FORMATIVE tests more than summative ones and find test results that come more than a month after the test is administered to be irrelevant.

How long should students be required to stay in school? An Education Week article reports that Obama’s recent call for 18 to be the mandatory attendance age resulted in some blowback… but not from NH where we’ve had the 18 year old law in effect for two years along with the Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) that accompanied the passage of that law. The message: only raise the attendance age if you simultaneously increase flexibility in the awarding of credits!

It is now evident that INCOME disparity has a bigger effect on student performance than RACE. My experience in school administration leads me to believe that it is harder to integrate schools based on income disparity than on race. I learned that when I moves a housing project from one attendance zone to another  earlier in my career. When I tried to adjust boundaries to include an affluent enclave into a low SES school several years later I lost the battle…

Technology and ADD

February 9, 2012 Comments off

In a Naked Capitalism blog post essay titled “How America made its children crazy” David Goldman celebrates the virtues of Waldorf’s learning-by- experience over our country’s obsession with technology and drugs like Ritalin. The more I reflect on the issue of technology in the classroom, the more convinced I am that it isn’t technology per se that is the problem: it is HOW we use technology. If technology is substituted for a teacher, it is akin to substituting technology for a doctor. I use the internet to get background information on various illnesses, but I rely on the doctor to prescribe the right medicine. The doctor, in turn, uses technology to track my health over time and to learn about visits I make to specialists. Students should use home time to gather information and class time to interact with the teacher and classmates— not the other way around. In fairness to schools, until all homes have broadband it isn’t reasonable to expect students to access information at home… One other factor in terms of assessing the use of technology in the classroom: we are using standardized tests as the basis for determining the effectiveness of technology, which is akin to using pulse rates taken on one’s wrist to determine the overall health of an individual. Technology provides the opportunity for more precision in measuring student performance and yet we insist on using once-a-year assessments that are not linked to the overall evaluation of students as the basis for determining the effectiveness of various educational initiatives.

It’s no secret that universities and public schools covet Chinese students, in large measure because these student’s parents are willing to pay full cost for tuitions. This NYTimes article describes this issue and concludes with an interesting observation: when the Chinese kids get home they don’t necessarily have the skills sought in the Chinese workforce and they don’t necessarily adhere to the value system in place in China.

Should homeschoolers be eligible for varsity sports? The NYTimes provides a balanced article on this question in today’s paper. The most interesting aspect of the story was a report that in Virginia, where homeschooling has exploded over the past decade, there is a homeschool athletics program that involves 30 teams! The home schoolers have become network schools much like the one described in the Mountain Oaks article I published eight years ago.

Nick Kristoff’s editorial in today’s NYTimes opens with this synopsis of Charles Murray’s latest controversial book, Coming Apart: “As a practical matter, we can’t solve educational problems, health care costs, government spending or economic competitiveness so long as a chunk of our population is locked in an underclass. Historically, “underclass” has often been considered to be a euphemism for race, but increasingly it includes elements of the white working class as well.”  Kristoff describes how the loss of work and influx of drugs has transformed his hometown of Yamhill OR and how the poverty that now defines his old hometown has created this vicious cycle. Unlike Murray, who attributes the cycle to liberal values, Kristoff attributes it to joblessness that results from outsourcing of work and the change in our economy.

Active learning comes to… HARVARD?

February 8, 2012 Comments off

Monday’s Boston Globe had an article on how Harvard instructors are learning that lectures don’t work as well as  active learning. The newspaper indicated that students might not like some of the findings of the researchers gather at Harvard, particularly these:

Henry Roediger, from Washington University in St. Louis,… showed a series of experiments from his psychology lab, demonstrating that the best way to ensure learning is to give lots of tests, in every class meeting if necessary.

 What the newspaper missed is that these kinds of formative assessments don’t count toward a GRADE… they are used to determine if a student has mastered a skill or understood a concept presented in class. The media and public’s fixation on testing as a means of “accountability” is part of the Factory School fixation: every part has to be completed in the same way in the same time frame.
Meanwhile, in AZ the legislature is drafting bills to expand the use of on-line learning according to an article in the Arizona Republic. The motives of some of the legislators appear to be pure in the sense that they are advocating for mastery learning instead of “passing tests”, a distinction that was not duly elaborated upon by the reporter. Done well, this kind of legislation could be transformative… done poorly, it will be further evidence that deregulation is the darling of private
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Texas Rebellion, PACs in Education, Vampire Charters

February 5, 2012 Comments off

In a NY Times article Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott called a new State law linking assessments to graduations and promotions a “perversion to the original intent” of student testing, mirroring feedback he was receiving from Superintendents and parents across the State. Texas was the first State to go all in on testing… will it be the first to abandon it? Probably not… but it is heartening that there is some backlash to the whole test mania.

Super PACs are coming to public education… at least that’s the conclusion I took away from an article on Chicago public schools published in today’s NY Times. It seems that a group favoring charter schools (ostensibly because they are a “miracle” but more likely because they are non-union) has put together a 35 minute “documentary” splicing Rahm Emmanual’s favorable comments about charters with the union’s opposition to charters. The notion that “charter schools” <=> “reform” is necessarily going to pit unions against whoever the reformer is… real reform will happen when we abandon the factory school and move to individualization across the board.

Charter Schools are like vampires, according to Chester Upland school officials, “sucking up more than their fair share of resources” and leaving the public schools in the dust. In a NYTimes article trying to explain 18 years of complicated budgeting blues in Chester Upland it is evident that despite several state interventions, Chester Upland can’t figure out how to get paychecks to teachers on time and appear to be operating under a separate set of rules from the regular public schools. In the meantime, the real issue is buried in the middle of the article:

Chester’s troubles also show just how deeply budget cuts bite in poor districts. With a median household income of $26,000, just half of the state median, Chester has one of the state’s most meager tax bases. State financing makes up about 70 percent of its budget. For comparison, nearby Radnor Township, with a median household income of $85,000, draws just 10 percent of its school budget from state money, according to a town spokesman. The largest share is real estate taxes, at 83 percent.

“Poor schools in this state are underfunded,” said Thomas Persing, acting deputy superintendent for the Chester Upland district. “Poor kids aren’t going to get the same shot as wealthy kids. That’s the society we are in now.”

The touting of technology as an elixir is debunked in an LA Times article that was posted in Naked Capitalism. It appears that Apple has no evidence that the replacement of textbooks with technology but there is lots of evidence that it will add to their bottom line in many different ways. One problem: the article bases its conclusions undercutting the efficacy of technology on the fact that student test scores remained stagnant. The point of technology is individualization: letting students move through the curriculum at their own pace. The fact that annual test scores don’t change is unimportant because annual standardized tests don’t measure what’s important…