Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

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

January 17, 2020 Leave a comment

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 Leave a comment

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!

Gifted and Talented Programs Fail on Two Accounts: They Segregate Based on Race and Economics AND They Tell 90% of Students They are UN-gifted and UN-talented

August 29, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYDaily News op ed article by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka describes one of the major pitfalls of NYC’s current arrangement that separates “Gifted and Talented” students into programs designed to meet their needs: it ends up segregating white and Asian children from the economically disadvantaged African-American and Latina students:

The just-unveiled proposal to eliminate New York City’s Gifted and Talented programs, while also doing away with selective admissions for most middle schools, has predictably alarmed critics who fear that restructuring a system that sorts young children into academic “winners” and “losers” will hurt those who currently benefit from it.

Yet the city’s G&T programs do not serve a highly specialized population of children with exceptional academic needs. Instead, they help to maintain racial and socio-economic segregation by creating exclusive educational spaces. Middle schools that base admissions on students’ test scores, grades and attendance records serve a similar function: They promote segregation while framing high quality education as a scarce resource.

Instead of having gifted and talented programs that sort and select students based on test scores, grades and attendance— and implicitly on parents’ ability to navigate a systems complex as application to college— Mss. Roda and Kafka are seeking de-tracking and “…eliminating exclusive programs”. So if these programs vanish, what will take their place? Based on a Chlakbeat article by Ms. Roda, it would be school-wide enrichment, which she describes as follows:

(School-Wide enrichment) is an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics.

Schoolwide enrichment “is really flipping the whole idea on its head,” said Allison Roda, a professor at Molloy College who has studied the city’s gifted programs. “Instead of sorting students based on perceived ability and whether they can pass a test when they’re 4 years old, the school’s job is to find out what those gifts and talents are and to develop them.”

For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism.

The idea, experts said, is to create additional learning opportunities that foster curiosity for all students in a school instead of walling off opportunities for students labeled “gifted.”

In sum… school-wide enrichment, which was popularized in the late 20th century by University of Connecticut teacher Joseph Renzulli– is based on the constructivist theories rooted in John Dewey’s philosophy and Jean Piaget’s psychology— the student-centered approach that reinforces the “notion that he learner has prior knowledge and experiences, which is often determined by their social and cultural environment. Learning is therefore done by students’ “constructing” knowledge out of their experiences.” This paradigm is the opposite of the behaviorist approaches used to break learning into its component parts and then have teachers pour the information into students… an approach that also assumes that a student’s capacity for learning can be measured by standardized intelligence tests and assume their “performance” can be measured by standardized achievement tests.

Based on my experience as an administrator for over three decades, it is clear to me that the adoption of this “new paradigm” will be an uphill battle… for virtually everyone in public schools has been exposed only to the behaviorist paradigm and it’s basis in “efficiency” seems to fit the Western perspective on teaching and learning and the Western perspective that education is “hard work”.

I hope that Ms. Roda’s advocacy for this approach results in an embrace of school-wide enrichment… for when it IS put in place every child in the school benefits. But it will only happen if those at the top are willing to persist on promoting it, for the parents of those children who have been identified as “gifted and talented” when they are four years old are already in the  pipeline and are benefitting from the special treatment their “special programs” provide them and they will not go quietly.

This Just In: Recess Helps… A LOT! It Allows Children to Be Children and Not Data Points

August 16, 2019 Comments off

In yet another study that proves the sun will rise every day, researchers gathered data that proves the value of recess. “Becky” who writes for Your Modern Family reports:

…research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

And why was recess ever considered unworthy? If you guessed that it ate into time needed to prepare for standardized tests you’ve been a careful and diligent reader of this blog for the past eight years. And guess what country assures recess at all costs AND consistently outscores the US in international tests? FINLAND!

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”

15 minutes per HOUR… as opposed to our country that often tacks 15 minutes of recess onto the end of lunch period. For those who scoff that it would never work in our country, Becky has some news for you. A program called the LiiNK Project provided more recess for students and, voila, test scores went up!

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”

A Texas college professor and elementary school Principal were given the last words on this topic, which included lots of links to lots of reports substantiating the value of recess and unstructured play:

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts,and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

And here’s what is saddening to this retired veteran school superintendent: anyone who entered the teaching profession after NCLB has NEVER known of a time when “children were allowed to be children”.We now have a generation of teachers who know of nothing except accountability based on standardized testing… teachers who themselves were subjected to passing fill-in-the-bubble tests to prove they had the ability to deal with little kids with their little hearts. The sooner we move away from this “meritocracy” based on tests the better!

In “Call Me By My True Names”, Thich Nhat Hanh Points Out a Troubling Reality that Princeton Professor Drives Home

August 7, 2019 Comments off

I just watched the YouTube video embedded below featuring Eddie Glaude, a Princeton Professor who talked with MSNBC about the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton. Watch it… and then read Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Call Me By My True Names, that is pasted below the video clip. My concluding thoughts follow the poem.

Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open,the door of compassion.

In response to the relentless accumulation of deaths due to mass shootings, politicians are drawn to quick solutions, solutions based on linear Western thought. If we limit guns we will limit deaths. If we identify potential killers and deny them the chance to acquire weapons we will limit deaths. If we stopped the sale of video games that graphically engage players in shooting enemies we will limit deaths. These solutions connect dots…. but as Mr. Glaude and Thich Nhat Hanh point out, there is an interdependence in play that requires each of us to examine ourselves and identify the role we are playing in increasing the violence and hatred in our world.

Can schools teach self-awareness and interdependence? It is a question I am wrestling with… and one I hope others who support public education will examine as well.