Archive for February, 2012

Rick Santorum’s 21st Century Schools

February 19, 2012 Comments off

In today’s NYTimes Rick Santorum outlines his views on public education and here’s what’s unsettling: he uses the abandonment of the outmoded factory school model as the rationale for school reform. Unfortunately in Santorum’s world reform means eliminating the federal and state role in education and using home schooling as the basis for educating children. The article quotes Santorum:

For the first 150 years, most presidents home-schooled their children at the White House, he said. “Where did they come up that public education and bigger education bureaucracies was the rule in America? Parents educated their children, because it’s their responsibility to educate their children.”

“Yes the government can help,” Mr. Santorum added. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”

We all know how those factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania fundamentally changed: they went overseas! So what does this mean for education? It means outsourcing… to computerized charter schools and for-profit on-line learning enterprises whose shareholders will soon shift the work of content writing to free-lancers as the corporation races-to-the-bottom to save money.

There are (at least) two competing visions for technology in education. One vision uses technology to provide schooling as cheaply as possible by replacing public schools with on-line computerized home schooling. Under this model, social skills are learned at home, in “play groups” organized by parents, in community recreation activities, or— in Santorum’s world, in churches. Another vision uses technology to individualize instruction within the current framework of public education. Under this vision, the traditional model of school is changed so that students get just-in-time lessons tailored to their learning styles and spend time in classes engaged in active learning activities instead of listening to lectures. To use a 1990s expression, technology enables the teacher to become the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage”. Technology transforms schools from factories where information is poured into students into high tech think tanks where students work in teams to accomplish tasks that require creative problem solving.


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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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