Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

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

February 17, 2020 Leave a comment

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 Leave a comment

apple.news/A9uyTRhUeRcSBtIufs702yA

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.

A Speech I Gave Repeatedly in the Early 1990s is Newsworthy Today– But Moving Away from Age-Based Cohorts in More Difficult than Ever

January 15, 2020 Comments off

A title of a Deseret News article by Marjorie Cortez caught my eye:

If every kid is different and learns differently, why does cookie-cutter approach to K-12 education persist?

And as I read the article, which reported on a presentation given at Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s Education Summit by Scott Palmer, managing partner and co-founder of EducationCounsel, “a mission-based education consulting firm dedicated to significantly improving the U.S. education system“, I got a deep feeling of de ja vu. The topic of Mr. Palmer’s speech was captured in this statement:

Palmer… noted that “variability is the norm when it comes to human development. And yet we have schools and systems that are too often based on age-based cohorts.”

Which Mr. Palmer reinforced with this anecdote:

Utah parents, raise your hand if you have more than one child.

“How many of you noticed that they tend to differ from each other? In some profound ways, right? And these are your own children”

This observation by Mr. Palmer was no more original in 2020 than mine was when I made it in 1991 as part of an effort to launch something we called “Teaching for Mastery”… an idea that instead of covering the course material and having students “pass” with a “D” (a 60!) we would require them to “master” the coursework by attaining an 80— or better yet by moving through the material at a rate that matched their readiness.

The obstacles we faced in introducing this idea of self-paced mastery learning were much higher operationally than they would be today. We had no data-banks of questions to draw on and no means of readily tracking student progress using computers. The obstacles I faced– and the ones Mr. Palmer will face– in in introducing the idea of self-paced mastery are even higher though when it comes to paradigmatic change. Parents and voters, especially those who were successful under the existing model of schooling that is based on age-based cohorts, cannot fathom why a change is necessary. After all, the existing system sorted them into the “winners” group– a standing they “earned” our to “merit”. Anything that changes the existing system might diminish their accomplishments or, even worse, make it more difficult for their children to replicate those accomplishments and remain in the “winners” group. This results in a self-perpetuating cycle where “winners” can buy homes in schools that are populated with other “winners” all of whom believe they “earned” their placement based on “merit”. The “winners” see no reason to change the existing paradigm of schooling nor do they see reason to change the paradigms used to fund schools.

There is one more factor that makes a shift to mastery learning more daunting now than it was in 1991: the use of norm-referenced standardized tests as the primary metric for student success. Norm-referenced standardized tests do not measure individual student progress against pre-determined benchmarks. Instead they measure a student’s progress as compared to his or her age-based cohort. In this way, standardized testing and age-based cohorts are inextricably linked.

Unfortunately, Mr. Palmer does not get into this issue at all, focussing instead on how teachers who draw on the science of learning are more likely to be successful at personalizing and building trust with students. That may be true. But until the organizational structure of schools reflects the science of learning the age-based grouping paradigm will persist.

 

 

Oregon Teachers Leaving Classrooms Over Lack of Resources… NOT “Disruptive Learning”

November 24, 2019 Comments off

My niece who teaches school in suburban Columbus OH recently posted a report from KHOU, a TV station in Houston Texas, that was reporting on the decision of many Oregon teachers to leave the classroom early. The headline of the May 2019 posting and the subhead read:

Classrooms in Crisis: Teachers retiring, resigning over disruptive learning

Teachers say they’re leaving a profession they love because of an increase in classroom disruptions.

The headline is misleading. After reading the article it is clear that the problem isn’t disruption: it’s a lack of resources. This sentence in the middle of the article says it all:

“It wasn’t the kids that made him want to stop teaching, it was the lack of resources to help them.

Teachers know what children need… and it has nothing to do with getting higher test scores, teaching coding, or spending money on guards, surveillance cameras, and “hardening” of schools. It has to do with providing help for children who show up each day distraught over the problems they face.

In our country, where we seem to feel that because SOME children can rise from adversity it is “soft” to cushion any of them when they are in school, we “harden” children the same way we harden schools. Providing visible safety measures like surveillance cameras, armed guards, wands to check students for guns, and protective fences and doors is far more appealing that spending money on invisible safety measures like more counselors, mental health professionals, and— yes– classroom teachers. Students get the message early and it is reinforced throughout their school years: the adults think it is more important to get high test scores and learn how to use technology than it is to learn how to get along with each other and to cope with stress. When students act out in school they are often acting out of frustration; out of a sense that no one cares about them and no one knows them. Time to give schools the resources they need to show students that they DO care.

Is the SAT About to be Abandoned? If So, Will Standardized Tests Follow?

October 15, 2019 Comments off

A recent PBS New Hour segment reported that many colleges are giving serious consideration to abandoning the use of the SAT as a primary metric for admissions. Why? Here’s one reason:

Critics of the tests have long argued that they reflect income more than ability, a chorus that is growing louder. And this year’s notorious Varsity Blues admission scandal — in which parents, through an intermediary, bribed test administrators to change test scores or let students cheat — reinforced the idea that the tests can be gamed, legally or illegally, by families with enough money.

My hunch is that there is another reason: the SAT score, viewed as a proxy for “academic excellence”, is the basis for lawsuits contending that colleges who use the test as the basis for entry are screening out many Asian-American students who attain higher scores on the tests than either African-American or legacy students.

The so-called “competitive colleges” have many high scoring students to choose from and, in some cases, more than ten times as many applicants as they need in order to sustain themselves. These schools have the luxury of picking and choosing who they want and, consequently, they select based on “diversity”. In many cases “diversity” provides a means for the colleges to avoid affirmative action challenges from African-Americans by accepting students-of-color with SAT scores that are below those of rejected Asian Americans. But “diversity” also provides a means of appeasing graduates who are large donors and whose children SAT scores are middling, a means of fleshing out orchestras, athletic teams, and a means of “creating” geographic and economic diversity in each class.

As the PBS report indicates, when “competitive colleges” ignore SAT scores it does not dilute the academic strength of the school. It DOES, however, undercut any argument that these schools are denying access to “less qualified” students at the expense of one group who consistently scores high on those tests. For Asian-Americans this abandonment of tests is, arguably, bad news. But for those who are born into poverty, who attend public high schools outside the affluent suburbs or college towns the abandonment of the SAT as a basis for entry is good news… for it forces college admissions officers to look at their applications and determine if they have what it takes to succeed in higher education.

From where I sit, the faster SATs are abandoned the better… and with any luck at all those who measure the “quality” of public schools based on standardized test scores will follow suit. If that happens, instead of defining individual “excellence” based on a single test 8th grade students seeking entry to NYC’s “competitive” public schools will be examined in a more wholistic fashion. If that happens, instead of schools receiving a “grade” based in any way on a standardized test they will be carefully assessed using a wholistic accreditation process, one that involves a self-assessment as well as an external one. Would such a system cost more money? Yes— but it would be fairer, more focussed on each student’s individual needs, and would greatly expand the opportunity for students to engage in creative activities. Here’s hoping it happens soon!