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

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.