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Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

The Mass Firing of Teachers After Hurricane Katrina Demonstrates TFA’s Achilles Heel… But a Recent USDOE Grant Demonstrates Their Connections

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2004, President Bush and the GOP leadership in Louisiana seized a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-make the public education system in one urban area. As Mercedes Schneider describes in her blog post from earlier this week, following the hurricane the political leaders at the local level fired all the teachers in the city, allowed the collective bargaining agreement for the teachers to expire, and as a consequence, their public schools today have a:

  • Decrease in NOLA teachers with local roots;
  • Increase in teachers with 5 or fewer years of teaching experience;
  • Decrease in teachers with 20 or more years of teaching experience, and
  • Annual rate of teachers exiting Louisiana’s public school classrooms doubling in the decade post-Katrina, with teachers from alternative teacher prep programs and less experience demonstrating higher turnover rates.

And why does NOLA have so many inexperienced teachers? Teach For America (TFA)! As Ms. Schneider explains in her post, after the politicians fired the NOLA teachers, TFA filled their vacancies with their signature short-term staff, and that model increases turnover by design:

TFA promotes teacher attrition.

It asks its recruits to remain in the classroom for two years.

TFA sells its alumni as *educators,* but it does not dare call them “career teachers.” TFA plays a shell game with the American public by making it seem that those who receive temporary training and agree to temporary classroom service are actually benefiting students and their communities. But all that TFA does is guarantee that teacher churn becomes a never-ending reality for the districts that utilize TFA year after year.

So when the USDOE acknowledged there was a problem in NOLA, they decided to offer the school district a $13.1 million dollar grant to solve it. And who received a large chunk of the grant funds? A nola.com article about the $13 million USDOE grant has the answer:

Approximately $3 million of the grant will be used by Teach For America to bring “300 teachers or more” to the city over three years. Teach For America members are required to teach for two years, but (TFA’s interim regional executive director Joy) Okoro said they will “hopefully commit to a lifetime of educational advocacy” in the region.

An organization that requires a two year commitment from teachers and can offer ONLY hope for a commitment to a career in teaching does not seem like a good choice to address turnover, to address the lack of teachers with local roots, or to address the lack of qualified African American teachers. But TFA does assure that the new hires will be unlikely to unionize, will be more likely to follow whatever teach-to-the-test curriculum TFA provides, and will be far less costly in the long run because— well, they’ll leave before they gain seniority or require legacy costs like retirement and health costs.

While TFA is getting $3 million, Relay Graduate School of Education– an TFA spin-off organization designed to provide alternative certification for inexperienced teachers– is getting another $2 million of the grant. As Ms. Schneider explains in her post, Relay barely qualifies as a bona fide graduate program and has a reputation for turning out high-turnover “graduates”. The result of this USDOE decision to give $5 million to TFA and Relay is summarized in Ms. Schneider’s closing paragraphs:

So, one might think of TFA getting a $3 million USDOE teacher-training grant and TFA cousin, Relay, garnering another $2 million.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, “Relay Graduate School will use $2 million of the grant to recruit and develop novice teachers through a teaching residency. Residents serve as apprentice teachers in the first year and transition into lead teachers in the second.”

ERA notes that higher teacher attrition in New Orleans is associated with alt-cert training and less teaching experience. And here we have a teacher temp agency pretending to address teacher retention and a related graduate school that is not a graduate school offering alt-cert.

Add to that the fact that neither TFA nor Relay originate with New Orleans. Both are ed reform transplants that must work to make themselves appear local.

It’s just too good, like paying Chinet to replace heirloom china.

And many of the heirloom teachers with deep roots in NOLA remain out of work…

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Two Bloggers Take Down NYTimes for Editorial Advocating Charter’s Ability to Hire Anyone

November 5, 2017 Leave a comment

I was busy yesterday morning so I missed an opportunity to react quickly to an editorial that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times titled “The Best Charter Schools Deserve More Leeway on Hiring”… so instead, with a tip of the hat to Diane Ravitch who shared these posts, I’m going to highlight the cogent arguments advanced by bloggers Arthur Goldstein and Peter Greene.

Mr. Goldstein, who blogs as NYC Educator, bluntly titled his post opposing the editorial: “NYTimes Endorses Low Standards”. Mr. Goldstein quotes the NYTimes editorial followed by his own thoughts:

New York’s high-performing charter schools have long complained that rules requiring them to hire state-certified teachers make it difficult to find high-quality applicants in high-demand specialties like math, science and special education. They tell of sorting through hundreds of candidates to fill a few positions, only to find that the strongest candidates have no interest in working in the low-income communities where charters are typically located.

Curiously, it’s escaped the Times’ notice that public school teachers work in every single one of those communities without exception. And if we take this paragraph at face value, it clearly states that the strongest candidates have no desire to teach at these charters. Why is that? Is it because of the neighborhoods they’re in? Or could it possibly be that they don’t wish to work under substandard conditions in Moskowitz test-prep factories? Maybe they don’t feel like giving scripted lessons and wish to develop their own teacher voice.

I would add two other possible reasons “…the strongest candidates have no desire to teach at these charters”: they may want to take jobs that pay a lot more money in the affluent suburbs or they might want to make teaching a career and not a two year “community service” project.

Mr. Greene, whose blog is titled Curmudgucation, offers several observations in his post titled “NY Times Offers Dumb Endorsement”. I found one that criticized the editorial board’s fact-checking especially insightful:

The editorial notes that charter schools “made good on their promise to outperform conventional public schools,” which is a fact-check fail two-fer. First, it slides in the assertion that charters are public schools, even though NYC’s own Ms. Moskowitz went to court to protect her charter’s right to function as a private business, freed from state oversight. If NYC charters are public schools, then McDonald’s is a public cafeteria. Second, it accepts uncritically the notion that charters have “outperformed” anybody, without asking if such superior performance is real, or simply an illusion created by creaming and skimming students so that charters only keep those students who make them look good.

The second point is especially important given that the SUNY board that oversees charters in NYS’s especially convoluted governance structure is only going to offer “the highest performing” charter schools this opportunity. If the highest performing charters are the ones that lure the highest performing students (i.e the skimmed students) then it will become increasingly difficult for the charters who serve ALL students to qualify for this “benefit”.

Mr. Greene saves his strongest criticism for the NYTimes critique of the current certification process:

And then there’s the intellectually sloppy assertion that it is “beyond doubt … that the state certification process is failing to provide strong teachers in sufficient numbers to fill the demand.” No, no it’s not. If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, it is not beyond doubt that automobiles are being manufactured in insufficient numbers. What’s beyond doubt is that charters (like a few gazillion schools in the US) are having trouble finding people who want to work for them under the conditions they’re offering. If the New York Times can’t find enough good reporters to work for them for $2.50 an hour, the solution is not to just drag anyone off the street who can peck at a keyboard, and the New York Times editorial board damn well knows it.

This brought to mind an anecdote shared with me in one district where I worked. My predecessor was invited to meet with business leaders in the district, one of whom ran a clothing store. When the clothing store operator, who was notorious for offering only the lowest possible wages in order to keep his overhead down, complained that the school was turning out poor products and asking for outrageous sums of taxpayer’s money my predecessor had a good retort. He complained about a shirt he purchased on sale at the businessman’s store, indicating that the buttons came off after only two wearings and the threads on the collar frayed quickly. The store owner asked the brand of the shirt. My predecessor shared the brand name, and the businessman said he should have spent a little more money and gotten a different brand…. to which my predecessor replied: “I think you’ve made my point”.

If editors want better public schools they should look at the schools that are the best in the region by any measure and recognize that they pay a premium for their teachers. They just might conclude that money matters in the operation of schools the same way it matters in the purchase of shirts.

“Problem Children” Biggest Problem is Lack of Self-Awareness

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Tuesday’s NYTimes column in the “Fixes” section by Suzanne Bouffard described two successful approaches to student discipline that emerged independently from the same source source. Called the Collaborative Problem Solving (C.P.S.), Ms. Bouffard reported that this seemingly permissive approach was developed in the late 1990s by Dr. Ross Greene, now the director of a nonprofit called Lives in the Balance, and later expanded upon by Stuart Ablon, a psychologist who runs the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital. It works like this:

An adult and child collaborate to understand why the child is struggling and what to do about it, using a strategy called “Plan B.” Plan B starts with the child stating a concern. Next the adult does the same. They then brainstorm realistic solutions that address both parties’ concerns. That method diverges from more typical responses, like when an adult tries to exert her will by applying consequences (“Plan A”) or lets go of the expectation for a specific behavior (“Plan C”).

As a Buddhist practitioner for the past 12 years, I see this approach as being similar to an approach in reconciliation advocated by zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh called called Beginning Anew, an approach designed to have both parties develop mutual self awareness about how their behaviors affect each other. But, as Ms. Bouffard notes, the notion of developing self-awareness as a means of changing behavior flies in the face of conventional wisdom and conventional thinking by adults:

Approaching misbehavior this way runs counter to many educators’ instincts. Deciding to share power rather than impose it requires a mind-set shift. One might see that as “giving in to the child.” But what would be the point of punishing a child who literally could not sit still? The C.P.S. conversation taught Jayden that his perspective mattered and that using calm problem solving pays off. It also kept him and his classmates learning.

As a high school disciplinarian for six years, I quickly learned that in the minds of many teachers anything that failed to punish the child explicitly was viewed as “giving in”: that every time a child was sent to the office and there were no “automatic consequences” they felt betrayed by the administration. In the minds of some teachers, sending a child to the office was a power play and if I failed to use my power to assign a detention or take some kind of punitive action I was failing to support them. In the minds of other teachers, a trip to the office was intended to provide a place for the student to collect their thoughts and for me to arrange a conference with both parties. As a disciplinarian, I had to learn the expectations of the teacher and adjust accordingly. But is struck me that the same was true of the students: they, too, had to gain an understanding of what each teacher expected.

Ms. Bouffard’s article was triggered by the fact that preschools are suspending children at an alarming rate and, as a result, legislators are looking for changes in approach. She writes:

Early childhood education can be an invaluable opportunity for learning social and emotional skills. But when teachers repeatedly punish young children, their efforts can cause lifelong harm… Nearly 1 in 10 preschoolers is suspended or expelled for behavior problems. Their infractions — generally hitting, throwing things or swearing — need to be addressed, but educators are recognizing that removing 3- and 4-year-olds from classrooms is not the answer. It doesn’t teach children how to behave differently, and it often makes matters worse.

Young children who are suspended are often the ones who need the most social and academic support — and they end up missing opportunities to get it. Early suspension predicts disengagement from school and dropping-out. And the fact that African-American preschoolers are far more likely than white children to be suspended raises serious issues of equity and access to educational opportunity. As states like Illinois and Connecticut pass legislation prohibiting or restricting expulsion from state-funded preschools, teachers desperately need better options for handling misbehavior.

I am appalled at the consequences of imposing the will of adults on children who are misbehaving, an approach that is often used in so-called “no excuses” schools. I am especially appalled when the adult’s will is based on unquestioning adherence to rules that cannot be readily followed by children who have special needs or who come from homes where they have experienced childhood trauma. Here’s hoping that the legislation adopted in states seeking to reduce preschool suspensions leads to the development of self-awareness on the part of students at an early age and mutual respect between teachers and parents at all grade levels.

Research on Teacher Turnover Proves the Obvious: Teachers Leave Because of Low Pay; Lack of Support; and Poor Working Conditions

September 27, 2017 Leave a comment

As one who reads a lot of articles on public education, I am often astonished at the lengths researchers go to prove what should be intuitively obvious. A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond is a case in point. After gleaning through reams of data from the latest National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Surveys, Mss. Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond determined who is leaving teaching assignment, why, and which students are most impacted. Their findings are unsurprising:

Teacher vacancies tend to be higher in the South where wages and working conditions are poorest and lower in the Northeast where the opposite is true. The students most affected by turnover?

…turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color.

In short, children raised in poverty and students of color find themselves on the short end of the stick. The policy recommendations to address this issue?

To stem teacher turnover, federal, state, and district policymakers should consider improving the key factors associated with turnover: compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.

Neither Ms. Carver-Thomas nor Ms. Darling-Hammond say so, but to accomplish these high-minded results states would need to provide more funds to schools serving children raised in poverty and diminish the number of schools with large concentrations of students of color. More money and greater racial justice are the heart of the issue… for it is impossible to improve compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions without those two elements.

A Recent Study Shows Our ideas About “Digital Natives” Are Wrong… We Should Heed Their Findings Now

August 8, 2017 1 comment

In 2001, Mark Prensky wrote a paper that contended the world was divided into two groups: “digital natives”, who were born after 1984, and ‘digital immigrants”, those born earlier. Mr. Presnsky contended that the “digital natives” who were far more adept at the use of technology having been raised in a digital world, thought and acted differently from the “digital immigrants”, many of whom were uncomfortable with technology. This idea had intuitive appeal to “digital immigrants” who often relied on their children and grandchildren to explain the newest technologies and lost to them in video games that enthralled them. But, as Paul Ratner reports in a Big Think post early this month, Mark Prensky’s intuitively appealing notion about digital natives was wrong:

Authors Paul A. Kirschner from the Open University of the Netherlands in Heerlen and Belgian Pedro De Bruyckere say no …distinction (between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”) really exists. They cite a growing number of international studies that show how students born after 1984 do not have any deeper knowledge of technology. The knowledge they have is often limited and consists of having basic office suite skills, emailing, text messaging, Facebooking and surfing the Internet. And the tech they use for learning and socialization is also not very expansive. They do not necessarily recognize the advanced functionality of the applications they use and need to be significantly trained to use the technology properly for learning and problem-solving. When using technology for learning, the “natives” mainly resort to passively consuming information.

The paper’s authors also conclude that there is little scientific proof that digital natives can successfully do many things at once in a way that’s different from previous generations. For example, reading text messages during lecture would have the cognitive cost of not being fully focused on the class. Similarly, a 2010 study cited by the researchers found that high-intensity Facebook users were not able to master content well and had significantly lower GPAs.

Prensky’s 2001 study asserted that given the purported differences between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”, teachers and schools would need to change their approach. But the authors of the study cited by Ratner draw a completely different conclusion. If we assume “digital natives” possess inherent knowledge about technology “might take away the support they actually need to develop necessary digital skills“. In addition to under-emphasizing digital skills the authors of the study also advocate “teaching the importance of focus and eliminating the negative effects of multitasking.” 

As a “digital immigrant” who is a self-taught technologist with six grandchildren, I think that the findings of Paul A. Kirschner and Pedro De Bruyckere ring true. My grandchildren, each of whom is a “digital native”, know a lot about the apps on my new smart phone and seem far more agile in texting than I am, but they do not necessarily use their phones, pads, and laptops to seek out deep understanding of materials. Fortunately, their parents see the value of reading to them, the importance of limiting “screen time”, and the value of serving as “Google” sources when their children need information. Most importantly, they help them understand which internet sources are reliable. Here’s hoping that all parents are as diligent and that teachers also appreciate the limited “technological expertise” the “digital natives” possess. 

Blogger-Teacher Steven Singer Admits He Isn’t Superman and Urges Us to Get Over It

August 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Steven Singer, a blogger-teacher whose work is often cited by Diane Ravitch and whose posts are sometimes featured in publications like Common Dreams where I read this piece,  I Am Not A Hero Teacher. In this essay Mr Singer offers some solid evidence against the notion that teachers can make that much of a difference and apologizes for his limitations:

According to landmark research by Dan Goldhaber and James Coleman, only about 9 percent of student achievement is attributable to teachers.

That’s right – 9 percent.

If you add in everything in the entire school environment – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.), all that only accounts for 20 percent.

There’s another 20 percent they can’t explain. But the largest variable by far is out of school factors. This means parents, home life, health, poverty, nutrition, geographic location, stress, etc. Researchers estimate those count for 60 percent of student success.

Yet we somehow expect teachers (9%) to do it all.

I’m sorry, America. I can’t.

There are two reasons (at least) that the American public wants to believe teachers can make a difference. The first reason is a positive one: everyone had one teacher who they admired and who made a difference for them and, in all probability at least on teacher who they disliked. The public, therefore, can be easily convinced that if every teacher was as good as the teacher they admired and made a difference for them and all the terrible teachers were eliminated that schools would be excellent. The second reason is that a relentless sorting process would not require any additional funding! Simply “weed out” the terrible teachers and keep the super-heroes and schools would automatically improve! This makes it easy for “reformers” to market their notion that super-hero teachers like, say, Jamie Escalante, can save the day.

And there are two reasons (at least) that the public resents public school teachers and therefore is open to solutions that would yield more super-hero teachers. First, teachers have benefits that exceed those currently available to most employees in today’s workforce. They have benefit packages, extended summer breaks, pensions, job security, and decent if not spectacular wages. This can lead to resentment, particularly when taxpayers realize the “bad teachers” they had in school are recipients of this largesse at their expense. Secondly, teachers are represented by unions, which hardly exist in the workplace and, when they DO exist, require out-of-pocket contributions that are not funded directly or indirectly by taxpayers.

I urge anyone who thinks teachers have it easy to read Ms. Singer’s column. It will set them straight!

A Swedish School with One Rule Offers a Disruptive Perspective on the Workplace and Schools

July 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Lisa Gill, a corporate consultant who reimagines workplaces, wrote a post last week describing Glömstaskolan, a uniquely designed and operating school located south of Stockholm. A schools whose pillars are “collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication“, Glömstaskolan is designed to provide opportunities for flexible learning spaces for large group instruction and tutorial sessions, and everything in between. It offers specialized spaces as well: a music room is in the centre of the school (with soundproof walls, of course); a green room to make films, 3D printers, and a concrete jungle outside.

As Ms. Gill writes, the school has one rule which is (roughly translated): “I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good.” From my perspective, it is roughly equivalent to the Golden Rule, which is a common thread through all religions: ‘Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself.’ In the case of Glömstaskolan, Ms. Gill cites the inspiration as coming from elsewhere and can be applied as a means of developing a student directed self-imposed discipline code: :

It’s a mantra inspired by football coach Pia Sundhage, who led the US women’s football team from 2008 to 2012, resulting in two Olympic gold medals. You can engage students (and indeed teachers) in a thoughtful discussion about any behaviour by using this one rule. For example, as winter was approaching, children began to ask if they were allowed to have snowball fights in the yard. Teachers encouraged the students to think about it in relation to the rule and so they began discussing options — maybe it would be ok if there was a predesignated area where it was ok to throw snowballs, supervised by a teacher… Of course throwing ice would be dangerous so that wouldn’t be ok… And so on. It’s a very adult-to-adult approach, giving students the freedom to influence how things are so long as they accept the responsibility for the outcomes.

And the approach extends to faculty members as well, who need to change their approach if they hope to succeed in the unorthodox structure of the school. Ms. Gill cites the work of a “visiting architect, Peter Lippman, who consults in the operation of the school. Mr. Lippman’s philosophy about the two most important questions we should ask in life serve as an overarching governance principle. Those two questions:

1) Why?, and 2) Why not? Most schools (or indeed institutions) never bother to ask these questions yet children ask them all the time! This was how the snowball fight situation arose — why couldn’t they have snowball fights? Because they’re dangerous. So what if measures could be taken to make them safe? Then there’s no reason why not.

Ms. Gill shows how these questions applied to practices applied to children who like to learn lying on the floor instead of at a desk, and “standard practices” like parent-teacher conferences and weekly newsletters. As an organizational consultant, Ms. Gill offers several lessons she learned from visiting Glömstaskolan, which are summarized below:

1. Workplace design — Give people a choice about where and how they work and you’ll see them thrive.

2. Minimum Viable Bureaucracy — Could you scrap your rules and policies in favour of just one principle as Glömstaskolan have done? If that’s too radical, you could take inspiration from the WD-40 Company which asks each employee to take a learning maniac pledge and each year asks employees worldwide to vote for the stupidest HR policy. If the leadership team can’t justify or clarify a policy, they kill it. In other words, they ask Lippman’s questions: “Why?” and “Why not?”

3. Social pedagogues — Ms. Gill described “social pedagogues” as individuals who work with children who are out of sorts. She poses the question: “What would a social pedagogue look like in an organisation? As our work becomes more complex and dependent on collaborating with others, our social needs are increasingly important. Companies like Spotify or self-managing healthcare organisation Buurtzorg (14,000 employees, 0 managers) are choosing coaches over managers — individuals who support and liberate the potential of individuals and teams, rather than control or micromanage them.” What if schools did the same thing?

4. With great freedom comes great responsibility — There are so many stories of ‘difficult’ children failed by the rigidity of traditional schools who have thrived in alternative schools where they are given more freedom. What if ALL schools began with the assumption that children who are given freedom are more willing and able to accept responsibility?

5. Talk about what’s under the surface — The teachers at Glömstaskolan have learnt to talk about previously taboo interpersonal issue, which has led to new depths of communication and collaboration as a team.

Organizational theorists have much to offer public schools in countries like Sweden… but in our country, obsessed with test results and competition, it seems unlikely that concepts like “collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication” will gain traction and, alas, even more unlikely that the one rule we would follow would be: I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good.