Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Science Doesn’t Take Sides… But Politicians DO… and the GOP is Taking the Side Against Science

March 11, 2020 Comments off

I read a recent summary of a CBS Report suggesting that legislators across the country have declared a “War on Science”. As the term “War” suggests, the legislators are viewing science as something that requires one can take sides on, the same way it is possible to take sides on, say, welfare policy. Here are the paragraphs that outline the issue CBS news is tackling:

According to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), in 2019 over a dozen bills were introduced in 10 states. One proposed bill in Connecticut, introduced by Republican John Piscopo, has the specific goal of eliminating climate change teaching entirely from the science standards the state adopted in 2015. Most of the other bills cast a wider net, aiming to require teaching “both sides” of an argument with equal weight, even if one does not have the support of the scientific community behind it.

“The bills vary, but they generally have something to the effect of teachers should be encouraged to teach both sides of controversial areas of science, or teachers should be encouraged to teach critical thinking around controversial areas of science,” said Ann Reid, executive director of NCSE. “Lately, the most recent iteration of this kind of bill, is teachers should have academic freedom to teach topics as they see fit.

“So, these bills very rarely pass. But I do think the fact that they’re introduced at all, that they end up in the newspapers, that that people get interviewed about them, and then it’s presented as a ‘both sides’ kind of issue,that can be hard for teachers. That can make it more challenging for them to teach these topics.”

We’ve witnessed this issue before in an area of science that is very clear cut and settled: evolution. But the widespread politicization of science has run rampant thanks in large measure to lobbyists who stand to lose billions if scientific finds are applied to their corporations. The easiest example is the tobacco industry, who for decades tried to promote the idea that smoking was not a health hazard. In a more subtle and insidious fashion the petroleum industry has promoted the idea that scientific conclusions regarding global warming are open to question. The difference between global warming and tobacco, though, is huge. Tobacco use only impacts those who choose to buy tobacco products. Global warming, as the name indicates, will have a universal, global impact.

Ms. Reid is accurate in her assessment of the impact of the media’s coverage, which reinforces the notion that climate science is UN-settled. And who writes these bills that are proposed in various State legislatures? Two guesses— and the first one doesn’t count.


No Surprise: Chicago Teachers “Game” NWEA Accountability Test

February 25, 2020 Comments off

The Chicago Tribune article above describes several instances where teachers “gamed” the NWEA tests. The NWEA tests, originally designed as formative assessments to measure individual student growth, were used for different purposes in Chicago:

Students who took more than six hours on the test — which measures growth and in CPS can also factor into high school admissions, school ratings and teacher performance reviews — were nearly seven times as likely as the average student in CPS to show “unusually large gains,” according to Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s report.

It should come as no surprise that the teachers would intervene when a misused test is the basis for their continued employment AND their students’ future. But the tests are cheap, fast and easy!

Civics Education Destroyed by Tests and Partisan Politics

February 22, 2020 Comments off

This Forbes article laments the failure of today’s students to understand basic civics facts and lays the blame on schools… but if schools are ultimately measured by standardized tests that neglect civics and policy makers can’t achieve consensus on what facts students should know and the purpose of government please don’t hold teachers accountable. Like most in my generation I learned a lot of misinformation about government… but I did learn some fundamental facts that have not changed no matter how the Constitution is interpreted.

The Reading Wars AGAIN??? When Will We Look at the Metrics Instead of the Results?

February 17, 2020 Comments off

Here we go again… according to a recent NYTimes article by Dana Goldstein the reading wars are beginning anew! As a retired school Superintendent I’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends… lotos of pointless debates about The One Best Way to teach reading despite the reality that all children learn differently AND at different rates.

Alas, too many policy makers overlook the real issue, which is the metric we use. We define “failure” based on standardized tests, tests based on the assumption that students within an age cohort all learn at the same rate. Tests explicitly designed to sort those students based on their rate of learning on a predetermined set of reading “skills” that can be readily measured by a multiple choice test.

This just in: students develop at different rates physically and intellectually. Schools began grouping students by age in the name of efficiency in the 1920s and began testing them in these cohorts in earnest after World War II. In the name of “efficiency” we also instruct students in the same content in large groups— the chanting of “Tuh! Ah! Puh!” as descried in Ms. Goldstein’s article is a classic example.

In the 1920s we did not have the capability to provide tailored instruction to students when they were ready to learn it. Technology gives us the tools to do this now…. why are we arguing over test scores based on the assumption that all children learn the same way at the same rate?

This Just In: Higher Compensation = More and Better Teachers

February 12, 2020 Comments off

The Deseret TImes (UT) article above includes this unsurprising news: if teachers get higher compensation more undergraduates will be drawn to the profession!

An Envision Utah survey of 4,000 college students confirms what you probably already knew: teacher pay deters many young people from pursuing the teaching profession. And another survey shows it’s the biggest thing we could change to help former teachers come back.

Schools CAN and SHOULD Encourage Secular Spirituality… But Stay Away from Dogma

January 21, 2020 Comments off

WBUR reporter Robin Young recently broadcast a story describing how schools across the world are introducing secular spirituality into their classrooms and detailing the benefits that students get as a result. The report was triggered by her coverage of a conference at Columbia University convened by professor Lisa Miller, the founder of the Collaborative for Spirituality in Education. Ms. Miller defines spirituality as a “deep way of being, through which we feel connected to all life, with awe and reverence for the mystery of being”, and she sees this as part of a natural progression of intellectual and emotional maturity… one that leads students to inevitably ask questions like “why am I here?”

Ms. Miller suggests that schools should not sidestep these questions, which are important for future citizens to grapple with, especially in a democracy:

All schools are tasked with preparing students for democracy, she says. Educator John Dewey said before we can have a political democracy, we must have a “spiritual or social democracy” where we learn how to speak to people with whom we disagree.

Robin Young’s report included the voices of teachers and professors who shared experiences of how spirituality-infused schools impacted children AND teachers. The report concluded with this observation from Ms. Miller:

We found most teachers go into education out of a deep sense of calling and yet there is a silencing of the deep core of the teacher. My job each day when I show up as a teacher is to draw out the possibility of the child that they don’t even know is there for themselves. … That is a different sense than subject teaching.

I would assert that children connect with those teachers who do NOT silent their deep core, who tap into the spirituality that drew them to the profession and relate to the student on a spiritual level as well as an intellectual one. When we suppress the sense of spirituality (as opposed to religion– which IS “subject teaching”), we diminish the joy of teaching AND the joy of learning.

NYTimes Article Contrasting CA and TX Social Studies Curricula Underscore Longstanding Reality: Different States— AND Teachers— Have Different Perspectives on History

January 17, 2020 Comments off

As a youngster, I lived in two different states during the years I attended public schools: Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. As a result, I experienced two different courses on state history and two different perspectives on how our country was founded. I learned Oklahoma state history in 5th grade at Robert E. Lee Elementary school in Tulsa, OK and Pennsylvania state history in 8th grade at South Junior High in West Chester, PA where they recently named a high school for Bayard Rustin. The differences in the cultures in the two communities should be self-evident. But the perspectives of the history teachers I had in junior and senior high schools were even more divergent than the perspectives between the two states.

The first difference in perspectives is the result of the culture of each region. Oklahoma being a relatively new state began its history after the Civil War and focussed more on the resettlement of Native Americans from the East to the Oklahoma Territory, the so-called Land Rush when its borders opened to settlers, and on the beef and oil industries. Pennsylvania History also glossed over the treatment of Native Americans, but hardly dealt at all with the era when Oklahoma was founded and made no mention whatsoever of the week and only passing mention of oil since it was “discovered” in Western PA.

The biggest differences in social studies instruction, though, were the result of disparities in the political leanings of the teachers who offered the courses… which makes me less nervous about the findings of a recent NYTimes article contrasting CA and TX social studies curricula. The story goes to great lengths to show how the curricula in each state has been politicized in the way it deals with various topics, but this understated paragraph reinforced by experience as a student, Principal, and Superintendent:

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

We had no interest access in the 1960s when I first studied state history, but with one exception I was fortunate to have teachers who preferred to amplify the core texts with their own thoughts and independent readings. Because of those varied perspectives, which were reinforced by dinner table conversations where my parents undercut (or attemptedto undercut)some of the notions presented by teachers I came away with the understanding that history can be viewed through many lenses.

There are two things that DO concern me about the NYTImes article, though. First, the fact that many (if not most) students are educated within one community in one State. The benefit of living in Utah, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania during  the years I attended schools meant that I got to see how news reporting varied, how different communities valued different things, and how history is interpreted in different ways. And second, and most importantly at the macro level, teachers need to be allowed to have the latitude to augment what is the textbooks and have the desire to do so. A good social studies teacher will reject the idea that there is one and only one way to interpret history and will make sure that the students in his or her class leave with that understanding.