Tips For Teachers

Documenting Classroom Management

How to Write Effective Progress Reports

Building Relational Trust

"Making Lessons Sizzle"

Marsha Ratzel: Taking My Students on a Classroom Tour

Marsha Ratzel on Teaching Math

David Ginsburg: Coach G's Teaching Tips

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.

Search This Blog

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.