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"Making Lessons Sizzle"

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Marsha Ratzel on Teaching Math

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The Great Fire Wall of China

As my regular readers know, I am writing from China these days, and have been doing so four years so far. Sometimes the blog becomes inaccessible to me, making it impossible to post regularly. In fact, starting in late September 2014, China began interfering with many Google-owned entities of which Blogspot is one. If the blog seems to go dark for a while, please know I will be back as soon as I can get in again. I am sometimes blocked for many weeks at a time. I hope to have a new post up soon if I can gain access. Thank you for your understanding and loyalty.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Money Makes No Difference

Money does not buy happiness; money also does not buy academic achievement. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compared education attainment of fifteen-year olds every three years for 57 countries, 30 of which belong to OECD. Over the last fifteen years average spending on primary and secondary schooling has risen more than 40% without much return on investment.

Furthermore, in terms of teaching hours, American primary school teachers work harder, teaching about 1000 hours per year, compared to Japanese primary school teachers who teach an average of 650 hours per year. The OECD average was 803 hours per year.

Over the years, the US falls further behind and currently trades eleventh and twelfth places with Mexico in reading, math and science performance. Poland posted the most improvement. Poland achieved its improvement without increasing spending. The Economist attributes Poland's improvement to the dramatic education reforms undertaken in 1999, especially the elimination of tracking. The Economist concludes Poland's results demonstrate that tracking harms the academic achievement of weak students without boosting academic achievement for strong students.

Of course, it can also be argued that tracking in Japan works. Japan ranks sixth in reading and math, fifth in science. Japan also shows between-school variance roughly equal to within-school variance. Early education and middle school in Japan is comprehensive,but high school students are definitely tracked. The ablest students take the entrance exam for the college prep high schools. Less able students,(usually boys), take the entrance exam for the vocational high schools. The less able girls take the entrance exam for the business high schools. The funny thing is the students take the exact same entrance exam no matter which type of high school to which they have applied. The between-school variance may well indicate “hidden” tracking, given the intentional uniformity of Japanese schools.

The United States showed fairly low between-school variance, but close to 100% within-school variance. The achievement gap is wide, even within a single school. Some people thought that stimulating interest in science would motivate students to become good at science. The problem is implementation. Too often cool activities substitute for the development of scientific thinking skills. Students grow to love what passes for science, without actually learning to love or maybe even experiencing real science.

So if money does not buy achievement, what factors are associated with improved performance. “Relational trust” is a foundational characteristic, but the OECD did not examine relational trust directly. It may turn out that relational trust is an umbrella for a number of sub-factors. In any case, OECD found two predictors of increased performance.

Internationally, the number one predictor is high-quality teachers, especially teachers drawn from the top ranks of graduates. No Child Left Behind requirements not withstanding, it has been well-documented that education students are decidedly do not come from the top ranks of graduates. Every school of education knows their students rank lower on admission criteria than non-teacher aspirants.

Internationally, the number two predictor is local management. School principals who control their budgets and hire their own teachers post high or improving performance. I submit that relational trust underlie both predictors because top scholars as teachers and local management promote competence, one of the four elements of relational trust, the other three being respect, personal regard for others and integrity.

We must confront all our beliefs about education in an effort to systemically rethink education. Money, all by itself, does not buy educational achievement. In 1987, Federal Judge Russell Clark asked how much money Kansas City needed to provide a quality education for inner city black students and opened the wallets of taxpayers to pay for it.

Judge Clark adopted a wide-ranging "magnet" school plan proposed by the school board. The plan's goal was to make the school system comparable to the surrounding districts by infusing it with hundreds of millions of dollars, improving the physical plant and creating numerous special programs.

The judge said the state should pay 75 percent of the cost and the district should pay the rest. Finding that the district had "exhausted all available means of raising additional revenue," Judge Clark nearly doubled the local property tax, from $2.05 to $4 per $100 of assessed valuation.

It did not work. John Taylor Gatto reports the outcome:

"They had as much money as any school district will ever get," said Gary Orfield, a Harvard investigator who directed a postmortem analysis, "It didn’t do very much." Orfield was wrong. The Windfall produced striking results:
Average daily attendance went down, the dropout rate went up, the black-white achievement gap remained stationary, and the district was as segregated after ten years of well-funded reform as it had been at the beginning. A former school board president whose children had been plaintiffs in the original suit leading to Judge Clark’s takeover said she had "truly believed if we gave teachers and administrators everything they said they needed, that would make a huge difference. I knew it would take time, but I did believe by five years into this program we would see dramatic results educationally."

The experiment lasted ten years, until 1997, when Judge Clark took himself off the case. John Taylor Gatto believes the judge “just doesn't get it.”

(Judge Clark) just doesn’t get it. The (education) system isn’t broken. It works as intended, turning out incomplete people. No repair can fix it, nor is the education kids need in any catalogue to buy. As Kansas City proves, giving schools more money only encourages them to intensify the destructive operations they already perform.

No amount of money can obliterate education obstructionism or create relational trust.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What's a “Neovoucher?”

That's what Kevin G. Welner, the director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado, calls tax credits to individuals or businesses for donations they make to organizations that provide students with financial aid to attend private schools. And he doesn't like them.

The idea of tuition tax credits is that a state offers individuals and, in some cases, businesses, a credit for donating money to nonprofit, privately run voucher programs. Currently, six states have such policies in place: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

“Although much less well known and understood than conventional vouchers, neovouchers actually dwarf conventional vouchers in terms of their scope,” said Mr. Welner, whose new book on the issue is titled NeoVouchers: The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling.

According to Mr. Welner, some 100,000 students are receiving neovouchers while almost twice as many as receive conventional vouchers. The debate on neovouchers breaks down on the same lines and for the same reasons as the debate on conventional vouchers. Conservatives favor neovouchers because they allow parents to send their children to private schools who might not otherwise afford the tuition. Liberals believe that neovouchers will undermine public schools.

On average, public education costs about $8,000 per child per year. Property taxes constitute the main source of funding supplemented by state lotteries, casino, timber receipts and other miscellaneous revenue streams. There was a recent report that the median value of a home has fallen to about $220,000 implying median annual property taxes of about $2250. There are 73.4 million homeowners and 50.5 million public and charter school students in the U.S. The shortfall is obvious.

Private schools charge from around $25,000 for boarding schools and other upper crust schools down to around $3,000 for the far more numerous neighborhood or church-run private schools. Private school students are no more or less successful than public school students. As long as the public, including public school teachers, believes private schools are better, data hardly matters.

One reason private schools may cost less is that private schools are not required to provide all the programs public schools must provide by law. They might not be feeding students breakfast, or have on on campus health care center, or serve the most profound special education students. Private schools may lack facilities or programs. But public schools sometimes feel compelled to cut programs to make ends meet. Public schools often sacrifice music and/or art.

Arizona has had a neovoucher program for more than a decade.
An individual may claim a credit for making contributions or paying fees to a public school for support of extra curricular activities or character education programs. An individual may also claim a credit for making a donation to a qualified school tuition organization for scholarships to private schools.

One of the express goals of the neovoucher program is to attract underserved populations, but most of the scholarships go to students already attending public schools.

Are vouchers accomplishing their goals? Do vouchers give especially low income parents the ability to escape “bad” public schools? Do vouchers eliminate double taxation, that is, paying once through taxes and paying again for tuition? There is little in the way of rigorous evaluation. What is clear is that parents paradoxically believe that American education is failing to educate America's children, but their own children go to good schools.

The education of children is primarily the parents' responsibility. While I acknowledge the state's interest in an educated citizenry, parents are even more invested in the welfare of their children. Parents understand that their child has only one childhood to invest in education. I have heard some people say that all parents must be required support public education by sending their children to their local public school. Parents cannot afford to sacrifice their child's childhood to ideology. President-Elect Barack Obama said that in order to out-compete the world, we must out-educate our children. When public schools demonstrate a uniform ability to out-educate and out-compete the alternatives, vouchers and neovouchers will wither away.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Look Who Else is Obstructing Education.

Would you believe education researchers are? Grover Whitehurst, had intended a sort of “Consumer Reports” model when he founded the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) for evaluating all sorts of new-fangled education ideas. He probably should have talked to Consumer Reports first. They would have told him that companies do not like it when Consumer Reports give their products a bad rating. Apparently neither do education researchers, education program publishers and their lobbyists.

The WWC wanted to be the go-to “central and trusted source of scientific evidence for what works in education.” But obstacles arose.

Launched by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences in 2002, the What Works Clearinghouse was originally intended to be a Consumer Reports-style Web resource where educators could find reliable information on “what works” in schools. But early on, it developed a reputation as the “nothing works” clearinghouse because few reviews were posted on its Web site and even fewer pointed to promising strategies for improving schools.

“You can’t spend $30 million of the public purse and have something that is referred to repeatedly in the media as ‘nothing works,’ ” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, who is widely credited with having spearheaded the clearinghouse’s launch during his term as the IES director, which ended last month.

What were the main problems?

...Mr. Whitehurst said project delays resulted in part from disagreements over procedures for screening studies, legal threats from program developers whose work got low ratings from the clearinghouse, congressional lobbying that was critical of the clearinghouse, and a dearth of well-executed studies on which to base its reviews.

Fortunately, the WWC has cleared many of its earlier hurdles.

Over the last two years, the clearinghouse has picked up the pace of its work, publishing increasing numbers of reviews with “positive” findings, and producing new products, such as practice guides, that are targeted to practitioners. According to Jill Constantine, the deputy director of the clearinghouse, its Web site now gets 50,000 to 60,000 “hits” a month and offers 100 research reports, seven practice guides, and a series of new quick reviews, which vet studies that have been spotlighted in the news media.

Mark R. Dynarski, the clearinghouse director, noted that the seven practice guides have been downloaded “more times than the entire 100 reports.”

“Educators are voting with their feet­—or clicks,” he said.

The WWC has help.

Susan Bodilly, the education director for the RAND Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif., described her research group’s Promising Practices Network, which examines the evidence on programs and policies aimed at improving children’s lives.

Ms. Bodilly notes the missing ingredient.

Yet where most such efforts fall short, said Ms. Bodilly, is in providing advice for practitioners on how to put programs in place and sustain them over time. “That’s the missing ingredient in this approach,” she added.

Just bringing answers to the educators is not enough to bring about changes in practice, added James H. “Torch” Lytle, a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a former Trenton, N.J., school superintendent.

“We know hand washing reduces infections in hospitals,” he told the group. “Yet infection control continues to be a problem in hospitals.”

“If we can’t get hospital staff to do something as simple as washing hands,” he asked, how can teachers be expected to enact far more sophisticated changes in their own practice?

About twenty years ago, a researcher presented the Johns Hopkins CIRC literacy program at our educator day. We were given an elementary basal reader and we practiced customizing the approach to passages from the reader. The idea was that teachers should go back to their schools and customize their own materials. I did exactly that with my middle school science texts even though the program targets primary and elementary students. I instantly perceived the usefulness of the program for my students, 49 percent of whom were not native speakers of English. Every single one of my bilingual students dramatically improved and the achievement of native speakers of English skyrocketed.

I guess I was not the only teacher to recognize the program's advantages for bilingual education. The beauty of the program was its adaptability to any text.

The problem was that most teachers did not go back and “do likewise.” They were too busy or it was too difficult or something. So Johns Hopkins reformulated the program and in its new incarnation, district superintendents love to purchase it and teachers love to villify it. Today educators know CIRC as Success for All. As CIRC, it was nearly free. As Success for All it costs a small fortune.

Friday, December 12, 2008

There is Always a Reason, Even for "Unreasonable" Actions

Usually the reason has something to do with a perceived benefit. People do things because they expect to get something out of it. The possible benefit may elude reasonable people like you or me, but people usually expect a payoff from their actions.

The Chicago studies found that Relational Trust surpasses money, parental involvement and a whole host of other variables as the number one predictor of positive feelings about school and improved academic achievement. Other surveys have found that the number one complaint teachers have about their jobs is not lack of money, but lack of administrative support especially when it comes to discipline*. Every parent knows the number one complaint students have about teachers is not that the teacher is hard, but that the teacher “doesn't like me.”

How can teachers build relational trust with their students? How can parents build build relational trust with teachers? How can principals build relational trust with teachers?

The first rule for building relational trust is an ancient one: the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have other do unto you. Treat me the way you would want to be treated if you were in my shoes. The first two tips are from Teacher Magazine.

1. Assume positive intentions. And its corollary: Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to ignorance. When confronted with a situation that seems ridiculous or outrageous to you, before jumping down someone's throat, ask "why" the person chose to do whatever it is. Sometimes there is actually a logical, reasonable answer.

I would add that the answer may not seem sensible, or perhaps the person is unwilling to disclose their motivations, but somehow, someway the person was expecting a benefit. Perhaps the person is disappointed only with the outcome.

2. When you are really, really angry with someone, wait 24 hours, if possible, before speaking privately with him/her about the issue. You may have to take immediate action to resolve the issue, but cool off before discussing it with the party or parties involved.

Counting to ten never hurts.

Praise, but do not flatter. People know if they deserve recognition. People may smile and seem to respond to schmoozing, but within themselves they resent the manipulative aspects of schmoozing.

Respect autonomy. Principals, your teachers will thrive when you believe in them. Teachers, have high expectations, but be prepared to work overtime with willing students. Be a partner in their achievement, not an overseer. Give students real choices and monitor their progress. Do not leave anyone in psychological isolation. Make sure the teacher's desk and the principal's office is a psychologically safe place.

Principals, advocate for your teachers. Parents, advocate for the teachers. Teachers, Parents and Principals, advocate for the students.

A widely reported study found that happiness is contagious. “Mary,” quoted in the Chicago Studies, teaches in a rural, low-performing school. She describes how a positive principal is making a difference, by communicating a servant attitude, “What do you need? How can I help you?”
I appreciate his early morning visibility and constant presence in the hallways every class period. He stands during all three lunches while we sit and enjoy our 30-minute meal. He writes personal notes when you do an excellent job on a project; he is open to suggestions that are results-oriented, and he chides negativity for negativity’s sake.

He keeps to the middle of the road and even if he has favorites, his choices are based on performance, not personality. In staff meetings, he does not preach, he shares. He has a sense of humor and attends most after-school functions.

He always greets you, and when he evaluates your instructional delivery, he stays the full 90 minutes. He actually reads over your plans to check for evidence of quality instruction, multiple tracks of learning, and assessment within your plans.

He learns the students’ names and jokes with them on their way to class or at lunch. At the same time he is firm and does not think twice about taking real troublemakers to our nearby town in handcuffs. He allows for flexibility some times in the teaching schedule to let kids display their talents, even in the midst of teachers complaining about instructional time lost. We are in a rural setting, so he realizes that for some students, school is the center of their total existence when it comes to cultural diversity and showcasing talents.

He reads a lot of different research and shares it with staff; he strives to establish some form of professional learning community in a school that knows very little about how it works. He meets with various groups repeatedly and has a 100% attendance rate except when he is at a workshop.

I have a different attitude about working for this principal because he actually notices how hard I work and lets me know that he sees what I do. He meets with every department to ask, what can I do to help you do a better job? What does your department need? How can we accomplish this or that? (bold added)
*The teacher's version rings true. Schools can be very insular places. His administrator probably resented his regular meetings with the local press. This poignant story should be a wake-up call.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This Professional Development Model Works

In one room, one of our own high school math teachers was helping colleagues learn to use The Algebra Lab. Down the hall, another district teacher was showing a group of colleagues how to set up a marine aquarium in their classrooms. On the second floor a second-grade teacher showed colleagues how she implemented Grace Pylon's Workshop Way in her classroom. Elsewhere a parent shared poignant stories of the struggle and victories her family experienced every day with her autistic son. In the library yet another district teacher shared slides of her summer research with penguins. There was even a bona-fide outside presenter, one of the original whole language researchers.*

Oh, those teacher work days. Students love the day off from school. Parents begrudge the additional child care burden. What do students and parents imagine teachers do on teacher work days? Because work days are so often scheduled near the end of a term, they might imagine teachers are grading papers and calculating grades for report cards. Teachers wish, but more likely they are captive to yet another worthless professional development workshop commissioned by the district administration. Teachers resent most of the professional development they are forced to endure. But teachers loved professional development in my district.

Education Week recently sponsored a discussion of professional development. The moderator introduced the topic of discussion:

Teachers are often dissatisfied (to put it mildly) with school/district professional development offerings. If an administrator or policymaker asked you how professional development for teachers could be improved, what would be your advice? What do schools commonly do wrong in providing professional development? Alternatively, what sort of PD experiences have you had that really worked and benefited your instruction and that you would like to see more of?

What teachers want in professional development is the ability to choose in-service workshops based on input from their self-evaluation of needs and interests. They want workshops presented by qualified presenters. These presenters do not have to be affiliated with a professional development company or university.

What they do not want:
1. Required attendance to the only possible choice.
2. Commissioned summarizers of other researchers' studies.
3. Presenters who waste time with obligatory hands-on activities.
4. Fly-by-night presenters unavailable for follow-up.
5. Arbitrarily pre-filtered presenters.

The last bullet may require further explanation. Districts are fond of purchasing professional development from a professional development company or a university. These presenters fly in, present, and fly out. Worthy individuals with useful messages cannot get heard because they do not work for the contract company or university, and the district has either committed all the available professional development budget or signed an exclusive contract with a company or university. Teachers would appreciate other alternatives. In the example of one comment to the Education Week discussion:
I also attend non-ceu workshops on my own time and would like to see some way to have these count at PD. For example, just because a bona fide rocket scientist at Pratt and Whitney is not a state recognized ceu provider, his seminar on calculators in the classroom was just plain excellent, and far beyond anything a vendor or such would offer. Here was someone who manages professional scientists, uses calculators daily, is cognizant of all the devices and software that are available, consults with  schools, yet he is not a 'recognized' ceu provider. Just plain silly, to me.

Professional development designed in-house is far less expensive and far more effective than the pricey canned stuff generally foisted on teachers.

Here are some ideas:
1. Veteran teachers share their best practices.
2. A conference format with several options within any particular time frame
3. A longitudinal lesson study Japanese style.
4. A collaborative discussion addressing a specific concern within the district.
5. Teachers design, conduct and share the results of active research within district classrooms.
6. Reflective analysis of the rational behind specific teaching strategies.
7. Reviews of books and journal articles of interest.
8. Demonstrations of math manipulatives and other resources.
9. Presentations by parents.
10. Classroom swapping-teaching for a day in a very different grade or subject area with no more preparation than an average substitute teacher.

When I taught for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools, we teachers designed and implemented our own annual Educator's Day, held on a Thursday and Friday in March, complete with vendors and community booths. The entire district took over the high school for these two days. Each fall, at least one teacher from every school volunteered to be part of the planning committee. We solicited proposals from presenters among our colleagues, parents and the general community. We sent out surveys asking teachers what they wanted to hear. We also collected evaluation forms on every presentation that included a request for suggestions for the next year. We usually extended a special invitation to a noted researcher to present their original research. These original researchers were a highlight. Teachers appreciated hearing research “from the horse's mouth," so to speak.

No one took attendance at our educator days, so presumably if a teacher stayed home, or took a long weekend vacation, no one would know. But Educator's Day was so valuable, no one stayed away. We even included opportunities for social time when teachers could interact privately with the presenters and colleagues from other schools. Even the general public attended workshops. Each year saw greater success than the year before.

If you need help designing your own Educator's Day, you may contact me at the email address of the blog, or by writing a comment to this entry.

You may also contact the Fund for Teachers. Fund for Teachers solicits proposals from teachers for summer travel sabbaticals. Individual grants are worth $5000; team grants are worth $10,000.

*Footnote. Much later, I discovered California had failed in its implementation of “whole language,” however California's version turned out to be something far different than what the original researchers had presented to us.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Lost Class of 1959 Prepares for Their Fiftieth Reunion

A reader has asked me to address the strange case of the lost class of 1959. In the true spirit of promoting racism at any cost, the political powers of the day chose to close schools wholesale. The idea of letting black students attend these schools was so repugnant to them that they preferred to sacrifice a whole senior class. This class will celebrate their fiftieth reunion this year in Norfolk,VA.

Old Dominion University Library prefers to call 1959 the fiftieth anniversary of desegregation of Norfolk public schools. Shall we celebrate or mourn? The Supreme Court may have found segregation unconstitutional in the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, but Norfolk had no intention of coming into compliance with the law of the land. In 1955 more than 200 black citizens petitioned the school board. The school board ignored the petition. The school board was sued in 1956 and subsequently ordered to integrate.

The school board accepted the decision but rejected all 151 black applicants to the public schools. On appeal the school board accepted seventeen students, admitting them on Sept 28, 1956. In a breathtaking display of education obstructionism, the aptly named Massive Resistance campaign, organized by the Byrd Machine sought to neutralize the Supreme Court decision with a set of delaying and obstructing laws passed in 1958. Even though the Civil War was long over, legislators cited States' Rights as the rational for the laws.

In an extreme and perhaps desperate act, in September 1958, Gov. J. Lindsay Almond, with the authority of the General Assembly, ordered all schools to be closed and removed from the public school system, displacing 10,000 students for five months. Churches and other organizations opened ad hoc schools in order to minimize the traumatic interruption of the education of so many students. Nevertheless, many students dropped out of school entirely. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the school-closing law. The General Assembly responded by repealing the compulsory school attendance law. School were closed five months before the governor reopened them in February 1959.

Where is the lost class of 1959 now? Some landed on their feet. One (maybe more) is a dentist. Another went on on to medical school. Most of the women married, had kids, and now, grandkids. Most of the men got jobs and raised families. Some never recovered the lost opportunity. At least sixty have passed away. The lost class plans to get together, and in the words of their organizer, not to mourn, but to “rekindle old friendships.” They are looking for their lost classmates who may be scattered across America and even the world.

If you know any of these people, please contact the reunion organizer at the email listed in the link. Maybe these yearbook pictures will help you recognize members of the lost class who may be among your friends and acquaintances.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Are You an Education Obstructionist?

Carl Wieman, 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, wants to fix science education in America.

We are now at a watershed in higher education. We are faced with the need for great change, and we have the yet unrealized opportunities for achieving great change. The full use of the research on teaching and learning, particularly as implemented via modern IT, can transform higher education, and allow it to do a far better job of meeting the higher education needs of a modern society.

We already know how to teach.
While there has never been a shortage of strongly held opinions throughout history regarding "better" educational approaches, there is now a large and growing body of good research, particularly at the college level in science and engineering, as to what pedagogical approaches work and do not work and with which students and why. There are also empirically established principles about learning emerging from research in educational psychology, cognitive science, and education that provide good theoretical guidance for designing and evaluating educational outcomes and methods. These principles are completely consistent with those pedagogical practices that have been measured to be most effective.

But “the bulk” of American society does not benefit from science education research. Prominent among education writers is John Taylor Gatto, who counts no less than twenty-two education obstructionists (also known as "stakeholders") with entrenched interests in the maintaining the status quo.
At the most fundamental level “Indeed, it isn’t hard to see that in strictly economic terms this edifice of competing and conflicting interests is better served by badly performing schools than by successful ones. On economic grounds alone a disincentiveexists to improve schools. When schools are bad, demands for increased funding and personnel, and professional control removed from public oversight, can be pressed by simply pointing to the perilous state of the enterprise. But when things go well, getting an extra buck is like pulling teeth (emphasis in original).”

Mr. Gatto goes on to name a whole crowd of obstructionists, but there may well many more than twenty-two. What are the entrenched interests that make an education stakeholder an obstructionist?

FIRST CATEGORY: Government Agencies
1) State legislatures, particularly those politicians known in-house to specialize in educational matters
2) Ambitious politicians with high public visibility
3) Big-city school boards controlling lucrative contracts
4) The courts
5) Big-city departments of education
6) State departments of education
7) Federal Department of Education
8) Other government agencies (National Science Foundation, National Training Laboratories, Defense Department, HUD, Labor Department, Health and Human Services, and many more)
SECOND CATEGORY: Active Special Interests
1) Key private foundations.2 About a dozen of these curious entities have been the most important shapers of national education policy in this century, particularly those of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller.
2) Giant corporations, acting through a private association called the Business Roundtable (BR), latest manifestation of a series of such associations dating back to the turn of the century. Some evidence of the centrality of business in the school mix was the composition of the New American Schools Development Corporation. Its makeup of eighteen members (which the uninitiated might assume would be drawn from a representative cross-section of parties interested in the shape of American schooling) was heavily weighted as follows: CEO, RJR Nabisco; CEO, Boeing; President, Exxon; CEO, AT&T; CEO, Ashland Oil; CEO, Martin Marietta; CEO, AMEX; CEO, Eastman Kodak; CEO, WARNACO; CEO, Honeywell; CEO, Ralston; CEO, Arvin; Chairman, BF Goodrich; two ex-governors, two publishers, a TV producer.
3) The United Nations through UNESCO, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, etc.
4) Other private associations, National Association of Manufacturers, Council on Economic Development, the Advertising Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy Association, etc.
5) Professional unions, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Supervisory Associations, etc.
6) Private educational interest groups, Council on Basic Education, Progressive Education Association, etc.
7) Single-interest groups: abortion activists, pro and con; other advocates for
specific interests.
THIRD CATEGORY: The "Knowledge" Industry
1) Colleges and universities
2) Teacher training colleges
3) Researchers
4) Testing organizations
5) Materials producers (other than print)
6) Text publishers
7) "Knowledge" brokers, subsystem designers

Here are some more stakeholder/obstructionists: parents, students, teachers, school administrators, real estate agents, real estate industry, law enforcement, construction, contractors, computer vendors, bus companies, local planning commissions, (more?). Think not? Think again. Each one of these groups has an interest in maintaining the status quo, even to the overall detriment of society. That is precisely why our society has the education system it wants, even though it may actually be opposed to the best interests of that society.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Parable for School Budgets

Henry Petroski, author of To Engineer is Human, tells how he introduces the concept of structural fatigue to engineering students.

I bring a box of paper clips to class. In front of the class I open one of the paper clips flat and then bend it back and forth until it breaks in two. That, I tell the class, is failure by fatigue, and I point out that the number of back and forth cycles it takes to break the paper clip depends not only on how strong the paper clip is but also on how severely I bend it...Having said this, I pass out a half dozen or so clips to each of the students and ask them to bend their clips to breaking...

Dr. Petroski records the results of their "low-budget experiment" on the board.
Invariably the results fall clearly under a bell-shaped normal curve that indicates the statistical distribution of the results, and I elicit from the students the explanations as to why not all the paper clips broke with the same number of bendings. Everyone usually agrees on two main reasons: not all paper clips are equally strong, and not every student bends his clips in exactly the same way. Thus the students recognize the fact that failure by fatigue is not a precisely predictable event.

I said it was a parable, and like most parables, it has a moral. To wit: high-quality teaching requires neither advanced technology nor lots of money. I have examined school budgets, and always, there is plenty of room for significant savings at no loss of instructional effectiveness, but for turf wars.

I will admit that I have not yet examined budgets of schools in other than middle class or rural schools, so it is possible my observations will not hold for all budgets. Nevertheless, many budgets have a problem with priorities. There is something wrong when a school board will deny raises for three administrative assistants making about $20,000 per year each, and then turns around and approves a 5 percent raise for the superintendent making $100,000 per year. I saw it happen; I was at the school board meetings.

Meanwhile, the library just had to have a new computer lab with all the bells and whistles, a lab (like most school technology) is so rarely used that it is hard to justify the expense. Down the road, the local intentionally low-tech Waldorf School was producing better results with a lot less money, as was true of most of the private schools, even when controlling for the higher public school salaries. People first, then things.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How to Redeem the Time

Let's take inventory:
1. Education system locked in the past
2. Lack of competitive edge
3. Financial turmoil
4. Retirements at risk
5. Energy dependence
6. Crumbling infrastructure.
7. An ad hoc tax system
8. The money pit of war
9. Global warming
10, Loss of international prestige.
11. etc.

Everywhere you look, America is clearly in crisis. If we believe all the self-help books, a problem is nothing but an opportunity in disguise. If so, then America has a huge opportunity to rethink its very social foundations. Paramount among social foundations and joined at the hip are education and the economy.

Society is like a complicated tapestry. Pull one thread and it all begins to unravel. America is facing the unprecedented opportunity to reweave the tapestry into a sustainable pattern. Surely as the grass is green and the sky is blue, the warp and woof is education and the economy. We have ignored so many warnings and squandered so many past opportunities. We delayed taking one stitch and now we have a tear requiring at least nine stitches. We did not weigh the ounce of prevention, and now the pain of a pound of cure awaits us.

We must waste no more time reinventing America. We must to reshape our institutions, starting with education if America want to retain its position. The constant short-term approach to our collective national headaches must be abandoned. We can no longer take an aspirin (or require testing, or pass a bailout, or drill baby drill) and expect that everything will be fine in the morning. We must create a healthy America instead of constantly medicating a sick one. We need to stop looking for the next technological miracle. First things first. Technology cannot save us. Technology is the servant of education. Education, though not as sexy as some other issues, is the bedrock of all our institutions, including the economy

Henry Petroski, writing about engineering, said that failures appear to be inevitable in the wake of prolonged success.1 He joins the many others in a wide variety of fields who know that failures contribute more than success to sustainable design. I have written before that relational trust seems to be the one trait that best predicts academic achievement. Relational trust has been long lost. How can America begin to heal itself and rebuild relational trust? It is not by bemoaning and dwelling on the problems or waiting for the government. Each one of us must collaborate in becoming part of a societal tidal wave of demand. America's future depends on it.

Step 1: We must commit to making education the buzzword of the day. Each one of us must become a lobbyist (they are not all bad) pushing education to the raw edge of the American national conscience. We all have a stake in education whether we have children or not because we all have a stake in our future. We need to demand that the public media talk as much about education as they do the economy. We must not allow the media to sidetrack the issue with entertaining distractions like lipstick.

Step 2: Polya's problem solving plan starts with understanding the problem. We only think we understand the problem. But for the most part we have been addressing only superficial symptoms. The real problem with American education is systemic. We absolutely must examine education systemically.

Society has the education system it wants. Some elements of society are clearly benefiting from perpetuation of the status quo. Sociologists and psychologists tell us that dysfunction and negativity serve some purpose. We must identify those players who drag down the system and bring their motivations and activities into the light of day. For example, I have heard parents suspect that the reason some of their children never transition out of special education is because schools do not want to lose the extra federal funding they get for each special education child. I only bring this up as an example; I do not want to get sidetracked into defenses

Step 3: We must lead from our strengths. Every single strength can positively impact the societal tidal wave of demand to give every child access to a world class education.

Step 4: Using the catalog of America's strengths, we, each according to our individual gifts, can together brainstorm strategies to capitalize on those strengths.

Step 5: Then we can design tactics to implement those strategies. We already know how to provide high quality education. There are teachers succeeding every day.

Step 6: Design methods for evaluating our progress toward our goals, concentrating on methods that avoid unjustly burdening and punishing those with the smallest voice, the children.

Step 7: Then do it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Career-Change Teachers Want

Surveys regularly tell us that career-changers are attracted to teaching. The latest survey is no exception, finding that 42 percent of college-educated Americans aged 24 to 60 would consider becoming a teacher. Like every other teacher recruitment effort, the survey ignores the competent, experienced teachers even of subjects with long-standing teacher shortages like math and science. These teachers are unemployable precisely because of their experience. Even more surprising is the fact that this survey failed to question any of these pushed-away teachers.

Many school districts have a policy of turning away applicants with more than three to five years experience. These involuntary career changers could be lured back to the classroom, but they want many of the same things career-changers from other fields want. The three main things career-changers want are:

1. A reasonable salary
2. Good working conditions
3. A quality alternative certification program

I will take each item in turn. But first, what are the characteristics of typical career-changers?

1. They are academically able.

These potential teachers are more likely than others to have a postgraduate degree, to have attended selective colleges, and to report having higher-than-average grades than other college graduates,

2. They are motivated.

Like most teachers, many are driven by ideals—they want to give back to society, or make a difference in their communities and the world. Some are looking to provide a positive role model to children, either because they themselves had such teachers or because they did not. Others are looking for a pursuit more meaningful than their present employment; and they see in teaching a chance to have a stronger intrinsic connection to their work.

3. They like science.
two-thirds of those interested in teaching said that they had considered the idea (of teaching) in the past, suggesting that a potential career switch has more than just casual appeal. Those working in engineering, science, and information technology are somewhat more likely than others to consider teaching, an important finding given the need for more teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

What do career-changers want?
1. They want a reasonable salary.

The survey found that career-changers want at least $50,000 per year to start even though $50K means accepting a pay cut. One suggestion involves front loading teachers' salaries, by paying teachers directly the amounts usually diverted to retirement plans because career-changers are older already.

2. They want good working conditions.
They especially want supportive school administrators who respect their competence and professionalism. Career-changers are not spring chickens. They expect that the willingness to take a pay cut is compensated by job conditions that make the situation satisfying: security, professional autonomy, a chance to demonstrate competence, the pleasure of making a difference and psychological safety.

3. They want a quality alternative route.
Veteran teachers do not need an alternative program at all, or if they do, it needs to be a highly accelerated one. The teaching credentialing process needs to be better articulated between states and teachers must be evaluated as whole persons, not a series of checked boxes. Currently, when a teacher moves from one state to another, getting the destination state credential can be a grueling and frustrating affair. Sometimes it appears that states seek to discourage teachers from being certified. Once they get the credential in hand, their education and experience counts against them in their job search.

True career-changers are not looking for quick and easy alternative programs as much as they are looking for high-quality alternative programs.

Teachers who have come from other careers want to be effective in the classroom. Their success hinges on excellent, targeted teacher preparation, as well as positive, well-supported initial teaching experiences. Programs need to take several specific steps:

1. Use targeted selection processes that identify the strongest candidates.
2. Design programs that take into account the specific needs of adult learners.
3. Ground pedagogy in content and the needs of diverse learners, integrating theory and practice.
4. Provide strong clinical experiences in schools that prepare candidates for the specific settings in
which they will teach.
5. Assist with appropriate job placement in schools that make efforts to support novice teachers.
6. Ensure that teacher preparation programs are organized to promote students’ success as learners.

Achieving these goals may require considerable redesign of current teacher preparation programs. Strong arts and sciences faculty, along with education school faculty who have considerable K-12 experience, must participate in creating and delivering programs that better integrate content and pedagogy, theory and practice. More effective collaborations with school districts are needed in the creation of clinically-based programs, with accomplished teachers serving as mentors, cooperating teachers, and clinical faculty. District-based programs must forge stronger partnerships with universities to ensure that apprenticeship-style preparation remains connected to advances in the disciplines, teaching and learning, technology, neurodevelopmental understanding, and more.

The survey also found that career-changers need more financial support while making the transition to the classroom including health care insurance, stipends and loan forgiveness.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"The Teachers Baby Us"

Even "A" students find themselves placed in remedial courses at college. Nationwide it is estimated that one-third of college students need remedial English and math courses. Remedial education is costing students and taxpayers a fortune.

According to the unprecedented analysis in Diploma to Nowhere, remediation in public institutions costs roughly $2.5 billion every year to provide students with the content and skills that high schools failed to provide them.
"When American public schools do not ensure students receive a quality education, they fail in their mission and in their obligation to taxpayers," says Strong American Schools Chairman Roy Romer. "Our country cannot afford a high school diploma that does not show real student achievement."

I know the coordinator of the remedial math program in one upper tier university within "the giant California State University system" who says 65 percent of incoming freshman must complete at least one remedial math course. Students report to me they are surprised, angry and frustrated to find out that good grades and studious habits are not enough enough to prepare them for college. They believe they did their part so the problem must lie with the teachers. Hence one college student's complaint, "The teachers baby us."

Roy Romer says, "We're not expecting enough of our youngsters and the institutions that train them." At least one middle school student agrees. Americans are poignantly aware of the link between education and the economy.
Americans See Link between Education and Economic Prosperity

A new poll from the Associated Press shows that education is a leading issue for Americans, ahead of the war in Iraq, terrorism, and the environment.

Most Americans agree that "if more students completed at least two years of college, the economy would benefit."

In another survey:
Majority of American Parents Think Too Little Attention is Being Paid to Education as a 2008 Presidential Campaign Issue: GreatSchools Partners with Strong American Schools to Advocate for Elevating Discussion about the Need for Education Reform

The media should be flooded with stories of everyday American pressing hard for a world-class education system. Instead, for all the complaining about education, there is little interest in a serious national conversation. In fact, one survey found that parents would rather shop for school clothes than do the more important things that might actually have some positive impact on their child's academic achievement.
The findings revealed that while most parents are engaged in back-to-school shopping, they may be overlooking other important ways they can help their children prepare for a new school year.

According to the survey, parents are more than twice as likely to shop for supplies and clothes for their children as to:
Find out what their children will be learning in the new school year
Meet the new teachers
Adjust their children's sleep schedule
Get their children on a nutritional breakfast schedule
Increase their children's reading time
Reduce their children's video/computer game playing time

What we can learn is that the education of our children is a collaborative societal project requiring the active participation of all stakeholders, including those with no children in school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We Need to Start Talking Seriously about Education Now!

According to Ed Week, it is pretty unusual for candidates to talk about education this close to an election. That is part of the problem. We know that education and the economy are joined at the hip. Up to now, what has driven economic policy is maximizing short term profit, also known as greed. A similar engine drives education. For example, gains in test scores is taken as improvement, and as long as there is a cosmetic appearance of improvement, the population is pacified and grant funders are happy to continue giving money. Now there is some lipstick on a pig.

Teaching to the test is not a sustainable strategy for getting the kind of profound improvements America needs to successfully compete in the global arena. It is a cliche but education IS an investment in the future. Americans must lift their heads and look toward the horizon. Yesterday Jeffrey Feldman said the meme for the election should be "grandchildren." You bet. I have written many times that American society has the education it wants. We know this because if it were not so, society would demand something else. Instead, we waste decades and generations bouncing from one educational fad to another. When will America say, "Enough!"

I say this election, even now, even this late in the election cycle, is a perfect time to put education and its implications for the economy front and center. It is harder work and not as fun as parsing every word out of Palin's mouth, but surely a much more long-term profitable use of time, energy and brain cells. When Bush touched the third rail of Social Security, society stepped in. Everyone with a brain and an internet connection added their two-cents worth to that debate. Except for the diehards, non-partisanship ruled the day as society concluded that privatization would be a supremely bad idea.

It is past time for society to get excited, even passionate, about the education of future generations. Comment here, there, and everywhere. Most blogs have blogrolls. Use comments and social media to create a tsunami network of education conversations. Look for creative ways to reallocate present resources. Make the media sit up and take notice.

Let's make education an issue right up there with the economy and foreign policy. Americans need an education race mindset and commitment like that of the 1960s space race.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

U.S. High School Graduation Rates 19th in World

On Sept 9, 2008, NBC Nightly News reported that the US rank 19th, just ahead of Mexico, in percentage of students graduating high school. In a well-cited article, Economist's View presents and elaborates on high school graduation and wage data, concluding that the gap between high school graduates and drop-outs is widening.

America is becoming a polarized society. Proportionately more American youth are going to college and graduating than ever before. At the same time, proportionately more are failing to complete high school.

Perhaps twenty years ago I read an article wherein the author prophesied the present dichotomy between the educated elite and “techno-peasants.” The author described techno-peasants as people who flip hamburgers all day and play computer games all night. I attempted to find the article in a Google search and discovered the term “techno-peasant” has entered English vocabulary, but I was unable to find the original article. Twenty years before the techno-peasant article, the Kerner Report foresaw the same situation with its famous and controversial conclusion:
Our nation is moving towards two societies — one white, one black — separate and unequal

With the educational polarization of America in place and squeezing of the middle class accelerating the economic polarization of America, we see another example of the tight connection between education and economics. The Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education (CBCSE) estimates that boosting high school graduation rates would save $45 billion per year. The Chronicle of Higher Education also laments the decline in graduation rates.

Employers continue to fill job vacancies with warm bodies. Students do not experience much encouragement to achieve academically. As one comment noted:
I believe the central culprit at the bottom of this is American popular culture and values. We as a society do not truly value educational attainment except as a ticket to money and status. We do not respect teachers, as is the case in many other developed and developing countries, and we have a range of derogatory names for children who excell in academics, e.g. geek, dweeb, dork and so forth. I am not surprised by these findings and if things don’t change in terms of fundamental values regarding education and intellectual achievement, this country will sink to a second-world level. I believe we are already sinking.
Christina Newhill Apr 1, (2008) 04:22 PM

I have long argued that American society needs to examine its fundamental assumptions and values about education. Right now America has the education system it wants. When America decides it wants something different, nothing will stand in its way.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

World-Class Education A Moral Obligation

That's what Obama said and he is right. America's economy depends on it.

America, now is not the time for small plans. Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.

Roy Romer of Strong American Schools said that providing a world-class education for all our children required “political will.” All Americans, whether they have children or not, need to invest in the education of ALL of America's children, if only for self-interested economic reasons. It seems that it should be common knowledge that education and economy are not just linked, but alloyed.

I wrote about Gov. Romer's roundtable discussion earlier this week.
{Gov. Romer} continued, “If we put as much into education as we do athletics, we would be first in the world.” I agree. It is not money. It is commitment. The money will follow commitment.

Moral Obligation. Political Will. Commitment. Surveys routinely report that Americans are committed to education. Americans need more than an intellectual commitment. We need a deep sense of moral obligation translated into political will. When America, the richest country in the world, decides it really wants a world-class system, nothing will stop America.

Senator Ted Kennedy recalled JFK's challenge to put a man on the moon.
We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor, but when John Kennedy called of going to the moon, he didn't say it's too far to get there. We shouldn't even try.
Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon.
Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again.

Maybe education for all children is not as sexy as the moon, but it is certainly a more important challenge. The moon challenge appealed to nationalistic pride. Somehow the education challenge needs to take hold in the American psyche. But as long as survey results continue to report self-satisfaction with schools at the local level, I fear that the chance of a world-class education for all will continue to play second fiddle to faddism.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Folly of Self-Congratulation

Strong American Schools Chairman Roy Romer is trying to raise awareness. Gov. Romer wants America to “get a political will” even though, according to one roundtable participant, 78% of American households do not have children in school. All of us need to invest in all of our children's futures.

Gov. Romer believes America needs to benchmark our country's education performance and accountability globally by annually comparing ourselves to the ten best nations. In other words, we need to stop congratulating ourselves on our good schools (like my town recently did) when 52% tested proficient this year instead of 50%. A 2% gain is great when half are not proficient in the richest country on earth?! We need to get real about the data .

Gov. Romer says this nation is simply not conscious that our expectations are too low because we are lying to ourselves. He continued, “If we put as much into education as we do athletics, we would be first in the world.” I agree. It is not money. It is commitment. The money will follow commitment. If we put as much into education as we did into the war in Iraq, we would be first in the world. Furthermore, it would not be money down the drain; it would be an investment in the future. For those who are risk-adverse in their investments, this one is virtually guaranteed to reap benefits that really will “trickle” down.

When American society finally decides it wants a world-class education system, there will be no stopping us.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Algebra For All Eighth Graders

Here we go again. Another example of education reform by fiat . Another example of education reform without supporting infrastructure.

California 8th graders will be required to take Algebra 1 and be tested on it as part of the state’s accountability system, under a controversial decision made by the state board of education last week after last-minute pressure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Why don't we just fail the kids right now and save some money?
Mr. O’Connell said in his own letter to the state board that requiring all 8th graders to take algebra would especially be hard on African-American and Hispanic students who, as demographic subgroups, are still not even scoring at the proficient level “on what amounts to 7th grade standards.”


Education officials so far have offered no details about any budget impact from the move. But providing support to get teachers ready to teach algebra to all 8th graders could be difficult given a California budget deficit estimated at $17 billion at one point, which has forced cuts in all departments, including education.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for higher standards and greater expectations. It is not surprising that studies show “that taking algebra in middle school is linked to higher mathematics achievement in high school.” The problem is that students lack the “foundational skills” for algebra such as fractions and (believe it or not) place value.

The students who struggle the most with the abstract nature of algebra are those who tend to lack “understanding around the key big ideas” throughout elementary math, said Terry Vendlinkski, a senior researcher at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Liping Ma has famously documented that American elementary math teachers lack “profound understanding of fundamental mathematics”. How are these teachers supposed to teach what they themselves do not know ?

James M. Rubillo, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, pretty much agrees.
”We’ve seen a lot of schools trying to mandate Algebra 1, and the failure rates are very high,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily take into account the readiness of the students or the capability of the teaching force.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gifted Smifted

TAG (Talented and Gifted, or GAT, Gifted and Talented, or GATE, or just GT, depending on the school) teacher, Tamara Fisher, corrects common misunderstandings in her lengthy and detailed description of what “gifted” is and is not. I have a ton of experience with the gifted issue so I am interested in her take. I can tell you right off the bat that I got sick and tired of the Salem witch trials. Our family moved around a lot and it seemed every GT program was inordinately fond of the Salem witch trials. All told, my own children covered four topics in their years of GT participation: Salem witch trials, bridges, French, and Russian.

GT is NOT a reward for kids who behave well in class and turn in perfect work. Rather it IS an academic necessity for children who learn differently….
GT is NOT a program for kids with exceptional grades...
GT is NOT fun for fun's sake…
GT is NOT extra work to fill extra time…
GT is NOT for kids who are "better" or "more special” than other kids…
GT is NOT about fun and games...
GT is NOT a program only for good kids…
GT is NOT a test of what the kid does know…
GT is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT a privilege!!!!! Rather, it IS an essential need for children whose pace of learning dramatically out-steps other kids …
GT is NOT a self-esteem booster for children who seem to need one. Rather, it IS a sincere validation of ability(bold added)
GT is NOT about preparing kids to “save the world” someday..
GT is NOT a “club” to belong to. Rather, it IS a peer group where gifted kids can feel like they actually belong…
GT does NOT address only academic needs. Rather, it ALSO addresses social and emotional needs and validates gifts and talents. (bold added)

GT is NOT about pressure to fit a label or stereotype…
GT should NOT be an experimental group led by whoever is available….
GT should NOT be an optional offering, if convenient. Rather, it SHOULD BE a high priority because there are kids who need it (bold added)..
GT is NOT an easy A…

I bolded several of the statements because they allude to a very specific issue of academic achievement in our schools. Regardless of all our fine talk about academic achievement, society does not value academic achievement. Students perceive the hypocrisy every day at school. In predominately black schools, classmates often accuse the high achievers of acting white. In some schools, students hide their achievements and engage in theatrical misbehavior in order to protect “street cred.” I have been known to participate in these little conspiracies with some students.

Every state has laws that mandate the education of every child according to the child’s needs. Practically speaking, what really happens is that only children who have been labeled into a specifically funded program get that extra attention. Normally, these special programs are for students who have been deemed “deficient” in some respect.
In my state, where both state law and state accreditation standards mandate that schools identify and provide services for gifted students, only about 40% of schools claim they actually do so. There is no consequence for the schools that do not meet that portion of the accreditation standards. The only consequence falls onto the shoulders of the gifted students who are at the mercy of luck that they will get a teacher who recognizes their learning needs and does something on her own to try to reach them. Educating kids should not be an optional convenience. It should be a high priority. We SAY it is a priority. But when it comes to our nation’s gifted students, are we really educating them if research shows that they already know, on average, about half the year’s material before the school year even begins?

One of my main themes is that US society does not really want a world-class education system. If we did, nothing would stop us. It may be a trivial example, but is there anyone in the US who DOES NOT KNOW that their analog TVs will not work in six months? The point is when we want people to learn something, we make sure they do.
GT is NOT a surplus offering for kids who have surplus knowledge. Rather, it IS an academic intervention...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

“Some States Said to Share 'Core' Standards”

So concluded an analysis by Achieve(Aug 13, 2008), an organization dedicated to raising “academic standards and achievement so that all students graduate ready for college, careers, and citizenship.”

The academic standards for secondary English/language arts and math were analyzed for Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and the math standards for Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas.

Achieve found that independently-formulated state standards tend to be more similar than different.
There is a clearly identifiable common core across the states. It’s not that they have identical standards, but there’s a high degree of commonality,” said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve…

I am not surprised. My undergraduate curriculum students found the same thing five years ago when I assigned them the project of investigating the state standards of at least ten states for one subject in one grade of their choice. Among them all, they managed to cover most of the states, most of the grades and most of the subjects. It was eye-opening for them to realize that no matter how strongly states insist that their standards are somehow better than the standards of other states, overall it simply was not true. The various state standards are more alike than different.
My students guessed at why this might be true. Their hypothesis closely matched that of the president of Achieve:
“The common core reflects the reality of the world—that there is fundamental knowledge in English and mathematics that all graduates must know to succeed…

Such a finding has several implications:
1. A national curriculum is very feasible. In fact, a sort of de facto national curriculum already exists by way of nationally adopted textbooks. Regardless of published standards, the scope and sequence for any particular content area is mostly predetermined by the textbook.

2. States wasted a ton of money hiring high-priced educational consultants to reinvent the standards wheel one state as a time. This money could have been used, for, I don’t know, hiring the proven, competent teaching veterans who are a bit more expensive than the novices schools hire instead.

3. State teacher subject-area tests are another waste of money. The National Teacher Exam (NTE) will suffice for all states. I was surprised when I found out that many states require teachers to take the state’s own tests even if they have scores from the NTE or other state tests. Teachers have to pay for these tests out of their own pocket.

4. States waste a ton of money separately creating high-stakes tests. I remember when many states used the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Now every state thinks they have to have their own test.

5. Probably there is plenty of money for school budgets if special interest, politically-motivated, and, in fact, all expenditures were carefully and impartially scrutinized.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Another Educational Fad Bites the Dust

Funds to continue the once popular “Reading First” are shriveling up.

Timothy Shanahan, a reading researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has worked as a consultant to the Reading First program in several states, called the program “politically toxic.”

“Reading First is dead,” he writes on his blog, “It could have withstood the corruption described in the inspector general’s report or the interim impact study—but not both!”

So what went wrong?
Reading First “has been plagued with mismanagement, conflicts of interest, and cronyism, as documented by the inspector general,” Rep. Obey said, referring to a series of reports released by the Department of Education’s inspector general in 2006 and 2007 that suggested some federal officials and contractors involved in implementing the program had conflicts of interest and appeared to favor some commercial products over others.

“Moreover, a scientifically rigorous study released by the Department of Education found that the program has no discernible impact on student reading performance,” Rep. Obey, who is also the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that handles education funding, said in a reference to the evaluation released May 1 by the Institute of Education Sciences, an arm of the department. ("‘Reading First’ Research Offers No Definitive Answers," June 4, 2008.)

Reading First went the way of most fads. What usually happens is something that may have started as a good idea when first implemented by enthusiastic early adopters gets watered down by mediocre professional development training by independent contractors hired to digest and then spit out the training. I know how this works; I have sometimes been one of the independent contractors hired to present someone else’s ideas. I do not do well at this. I usually cannot refrain from incorporating my own ideas, normally because the canned presentations do not respect the intelligence and feelings of the intended audience. Once the special interests get involved, it is generally all over. Besides, later implementations have difficulty replicating the results of the enthusiastic early adopters.

What the most skillful teachers usually do is incorporate the best, or at least the most workable, ideas from any fad into their eclectic bag of tricks. Even without special funding, some aspects of every fad usually survive in some form in the teaching repertoire of some teachers where it becomes impossible to isolate from everything else the most effective teachers do.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Teacher Shortage: Could It Be a Myth?

I wonder because veteran teachers have such a hard time finding work. Are there really so many teacher applicants that districts feel that there is no problem with rejecting competent proven veterans of the classroom?

I appreciate Christine Denman, the district administrator who admitted to what is a dirty secret in districts all over America.

Hi - as a district administrator, I can definitely give you some of the reasons you are not getting interviews. Many districts are not considering anyone with more than 5 years of experience because they have to pay more. I was directed by our school board not to consider anyone with more than 3 years experience! This, in the long run, may not be the best practice because you have to provide alot of inservice training in many cases.

Over the years, many administrators have told me of the same policy, usually in confidence. “Between you and me and the lamppost,” they begin. I first heard of this short-sighted policy 13 years ago from a member of a district hiring committee.

Veteran teachers traditionally have provided most of the inservice training on a daily, informal basis. After years of turning away veteran teachers, schools are realizing their shortsightedness. The baby-boomers begin retiring, some of whom are being encouraged to retire early to make room for cheaper teachers, leaving a gaping hole in the teaching staffs of many schools. There are a lot of novice teachers, the old warhorses are retiring, and there is a shortage of mid-career teachers to carry on the traditional mentoring of novices.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Importance of Relational Trust

Neither governance, nor money, nor curricula nor any of the other usual elements make the difference. Without a certain element not normally identified or considered in reform studies, the achievement gap will be unlikely to narrow substantially. According to Parker J. Palmer, author of “The Courage to Teach,” education is a perennially tweakable political hot button. Political initiatives equal quick fixes, and quick fixes do not work. Even sincere reform efforts are doomed by the emphasis on symptoms rather than root causes.

Mr. Palmer was the guest on NPR's New Dimensions, July 22, 2008. He described the results of Chicago's education mandate of 1988. The researchers found that deprivation in any of the elements usually targeted for reform did not explain shortcomings in education quality. One element, more than any other, explained and predicted education quality. That element the researchers called “relational trust.”

When I reflect on the various educational settings in which I have taught, I find I agree completely with Mr. Palmer. Settings characterized by trust in the good faith motivations and efforts of all the stakeholders led to high achievement and satisfaction levels. Other types of settings produced less achievement and satisfaction regardless of whether every other element was in place or not.

Relational trust in Japanese and American schools looks a little different, but produces the same high results. Reports comparing the Japanese education system with the American education system typically focus on the same superficial elements with perhaps an analysis of portability. The concept of relational trust integrates what we know, and helps us understand that importing some Japanese ways of doing things, in the absence of relational trust, will likely result in just one more doomed reform effort.

Relational trust clarifies the conundrum of why certain reforms seem to work great in some schools, but fail in other schools. During the 1980’s there was a popular method for organizing and presenting curriculum “Workshop Way.” It is just one example of an implementation that I observed working great in some schools and having no effect in others. Inconsistent results rendered even good ideas mere fads.

According to Mr. Palmer, every interaction asks the question, “Is what I see what I get?” Every relationship, every interaction is about trust. He believes our institutions cannot be changed from the outside, that they must be changed by insiders. I once observed insider change completely transform a school from a low achieving school to a high achieving school in less than two years. The change required no new money, no additional testing, and no new curriculum. The change happened under the nose, but completely out of the radar of the superintendent. If he had known, he would have sabotaged our efforts. By the time he became aware, it was a fait accompli.

So what is relational trust? The "vital signs" of relational trust are respect, competence, personal regard and integrity.

Can excellent work be coerced from principals, teachers, and students simply by withholding diplomas, slashing funds, and publishing embarrassing statistics in the newspaper?...

Bryk and Schneider contend that schools with a high degree of "relational trust," as they call it, are far more likely to make the kinds of changes that help raise student achievement than those where relations are poor. Improvements in such areas as classroom instruction, curriculum, teacher preparation, and professional development have little chance of succeeding without improvements in a school's social climate...

What is relational trust? Bryk and Schneider readily admit it is "an engaging but also somewhat elusive idea" as a foundation for school improvement. But after thousands of hours spent observing schools before, during, and after the school day they suggest four vital signs for identifying and assessing trust in schools:

Respect. Do we acknowledge one another's dignity and ideas? Do we interact in a courteous way? Do we genuinely talk and listen to each other? Respect is the fundamental ingredient of trust, Bryk and Schneider write.
Competence. Do we believe in each other's ability and willingness to fulfill our responsibilities effectively? The authors point out that incompetence left unaddressed can corrode schoolwide trust at a devastating rate.
Personal regard. Do we care about each other both professionally and personally? Are we willing to go beyond our formal roles and responsibilities if needed to go the extra mile?
Integrity. Can we trust each other to put the interests of children first, especially when tough decisions have to be made? Do we keep our word?

Mr. Palmer integrates human relationships, education, health care, institutions and politics. I invite you to listen to the entire program.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

“Ed. Schools Flunking Math Prep”

According to a study released on June 26, 2008 by National Council on Teacher Quality, colleges of education are doing a terrible job of preparing teachers to teach elementary math. In many universities, the professors in the college of education do not teach the math for elementary teachers; usually the professors are from the math department, and those math professors agree that newly-minted elementary teachers are poorly skilled at teaching math.

The report looked at 77 elementary education programs around the country, or roughly 5 percent of the institutions that offer undergraduate elementary teacher certification.

It found the programs, within colleges and universities, spend too little time on elementary math topics.

Author Julie Greenberg said education students should be taking courses that give them a deeper understanding of arithmetic and multiplication. She said the courses should explain how math concepts build upon each other and why certain ideas need to be emphasized in the classroom.

The fact is many education programs already require students to take courses intended to “explain how math concepts build upon each other and why certain idea need to be emphasized in the classroom.” Other researchers (i.e. Liping Ma, James W. Stigler, James Hielbert, Harold W. Stevenson) have found that American teachers compare poorly with teachers of other countries both in their understanding of math and their ability to teach it. So what is the problem?

Any of the math professors could have told you, but a study is more convincing. A PhD candidate at the University of Arizona is working on a dissertation about the attitudes of pre-service elementary teachers in the "math for elementary teachers" course. The candidate video-taped students in their elementary math classes, conducted interviews of students and their math professors, and analyzed the students evaluations of the class. She found that students approach the elementary math courses with one of two attitudes: either they consider themselves a math learner and see the course as an opportunity to learn more, or more commonly, they see the course as a waste of time because they already studied the material in elementary school and think their understanding is already more than sufficient.

The dissertation confirms what professors of these courses have observed again and again. Students tend to be hostile because they believe the courses are nothing but meaningless university hoops. Nevertheless, alarming numbers fail the classes. Some universities have a 50% fail rate. Students retake the course until they barely pass and then they move on, eventually becoming certified teachers, even though their math understanding is still woefully inadequate.

The report also criticized the tests education students take when they complete their coursework, and on which states rely when granting teacher licenses. In many cases, the prospective teachers are judged on the overall score only, meaning they could do badly on the math portion but still pass if they do well in the other areas.

Truth be told, the math professors do play a role in the problem. Many of them do not want to teach this kind of low-level content, deeming it a waste of their expensive and prestigious PhD's. Besides, they know students tend to down-rate the instructors of these courses, hurting the instructor's evaluation mean. Furthermore, math professors often fail to customize the course for education students. One way to motivate the unmotivated is to present the material in the context of anticipating and preventing children's math misconceptions. But since nearly all the math professors have never taught young children, they are unable to provide the information the future teachers want.

Without the misconception frame, students may believe that there is something wrong with them, an idea that is very hard for them to accept after twelve years of gratuitous self-esteem building. Even when a math educator with experience teaching children explicitly teaches the class in terms of children's misconceptions, students often remain hostile and become even more resentful when they perceive that for some reason unknown to them they are not succeeding in what they believe should be a “skate” class. They will often punish the instructor with unfairly harsh evaluations. No worries about the instructor's self esteem.

College students are naive if they believe that a professor cannot match up anonymously written student evaluations to the individuals who wrote the evaluations, especially in a class of around 25 students or less. The dissertation video-taped fraction lessons. Pre-service teachers, even when gently confronted with conceptual errors, grouse, “So what? What difference does it make?” and other similar responses. The same students inexplicably writes in the evaluation that they did not get much out of the class. No wonder, with the bad attitude going in.

American children are especially weak in fractions, so it should come as no surprise that elementary pre-service teachers, given that they are often among the least scholastically able in the university, are especially weak in fractions as well.
"Almost anyone can get in. Compared to the admissions standards found in other countries, American education schools set exceedingly low expectations for the mathematics knowledge that aspiring teachers must demonstrate," said the report.

One of the main reasons American children do poorly in international comparisons is because their teachers are ill-prepared to teach them.
(Francis) Fennell, who instructs teacher candidates in math at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., said a common area of weakness among his students is fractions—the same subject the national math panel described as a weak area for kids. "Part of the reason the kids don't know it is because the teachers aren't transmitting that," he said.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Schools Gotta Meet the Needs First

The bus service in my town is not great. The director of the local transit company said that when the ridership increases, the company will improve the service (i.e. have buses run in both directions). However, the way it works is when the public perceives the bus is meeting their needs, they will ride.

The same is true of public education.

The latest issue (May 2008) of California Educator, published by the California Teachers Association, blames charter schools for many of public school's problems. I want to address some of the claims made in the article:

1. “(The) influx of charter schools is siphoning off what little (revenue) the state gives us.”

Our district even has to pay transportation costs to take children to privatized charter schools.

Actually, in my experience, charter schools increase the revenue of the public schools IF the public school in sponsoring the charter school. Students who leave the public school simply are not there. Usually they are homeschooling or they are going to a private school. Either way the revenue these students represent is not going to the public schools. In many districts, charter schools sponsored by a public school district must give 15 percent of the state revenue they receive to that sponsoring district.

There is a small school district in Northern California with about 125 students. The district sponsors a charter school with about 800 students and receives that 15 percent cut. The reason for the 15 percent is that the sponsoring district usually provides some services to the charter schools even if only payroll service. Normally the cost of the services is far less than the 15 percent extra revenue, resulting in a net gain for the sponsoring district.

2. “The bottom line of privatized education is money...It's not right to look at things in terms of profit and loss when you're dealing with human beings.”

This charge is untrue and unfair. Admittedly, there are some charter school operators motivated by money. Many, many charter schools are started and run by teachers who are fed up with the system and are willing to take significant pay cuts in order to have the opportunity to provide what they believe is a superior educational experience to students.

In fact, early in the charter school movement, studies generally found that charter school students attained greater academic achievement than comparable public school students. As time goes on, charter schools have been regressing toward the mean. Today the studies find mixed results similar to results in public schools. Just as there are strong public schools and weak ones, there are strong charter schools and weak ones.

3. “Charter schools pick and choose students, and tend to take the cream of the crop...”
The student body of many charter schools, such as the EXCEL chain in Arizona, consists of students who have either dropped out or been expelled. Additionally, parents of students with behavior issues often believe the problem is that the public school bores their children, so the children act out.

(Personally, I do not believe that boredom should ever be an acceptable excuse for misbehavior. Children can be bored and well-behaved. If the class material is so easy that it is boring, that child with the A has a far stronger case for claiming boredom than the child with the F and a string of referrals to the principal).

These parents frequently enroll their children in those charter schools which position themselves as somehow better than the public schools. This positioning may be signaled by words in the name of the school such as “accelerated” or “academy” or any number of such glorious terms. It is NOT true charter schools take the cream of the crop.

Even if the charge were true, it would be a silly complaint. Childhood only comes around once. Most kids have only one chance to get educated. Caring parents do not have the time or luxury of sacrificing their own child's education to society. If parents believe the public schools are not providing the education their child needs, for whatever reason, the parent has the duty if they are able, to put their child in a position to get the education that child needs.

One teacher was characterized as pointing to “excessive testing, unrealistic academic content standards, endless assessment and paperwork, 'teacher-proof' scripted instruction, state and federal money for hiring private consultants, and a high school exit exam that tests special education students” as being used as part of a “crusade to portray public schools as failing” and that the crusade has been largely successful. Supporters of public schools, not just crusaders against, have complained loudly about all those problems.

Most parents would rather have their child in a neighborhood school. Getting their children to a charter school can be quite a daily inconvenience. If the public schools want charter schools to go away, they must provide an obviously better service or the parents who are able will vote with their feet. It is backwards for the public school to claim that if the enrollment increases, then education will improve. Once parents perceive that the public school is providing the education their children need, they will enroll their children.

A teacher asks,
When public education fails, what will take its place? ...Will it be the free market system? And if so, will it work better than the privatization of health care? I don't think so.

I agree, but making charter schools the scapegoats is profoundly unhelpful. Getting rid the the scapegoat will not help either. The problems are deeper and more resistant than that.

Another article in the same publication asserts:
While public schools certainly face challenges, they are, in fact, far from failing. A new report from Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) says California's public school children have managed to hold steady or improve across subjects and grade levels, with graduation rates rising (emphasis original).

It reminds me of a school board meeting I attended a while back. The assistant superintendent presented data from a recent round of standardized testing and celebrated the improvement in test scores as proof that our local district was a high performing district. But examining the data as displayed on the screen, I was perplexed how a 3 percent improvement in “proficient” from 25 percent to 28 percent could be construed as good news. Holding steady at low levels is not a cause for celebration and certainly is not “far from failing.” The adults need to raise the bar higher for themselves.