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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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Thursday, February 23, 2012

What Happened to the Geezer Teachers?

A self-identified geezer teacher asks what happened to all the other geezer teachers. Why is the modal experience one year, not the historical 14 years anymore?

Here is what happened. A lot of proven expert teachers move (for whatever reason) to a new district or a new state. Or maybe they move back to the US after a decade or two teaching overseas in our Department of Defense schools maintained on military bases for the children of military members. When they come back to America, they are "out-of-district" for every district in America. These expert geezers discover to their dismay that they are unemployable. Most schools choose a novice over an experienced teacher any day of the week. "It's the budget, doncha know."

If budgets were really the problem, schools would jump at the chance to get a geezer at a steep discount. Remember, most districts give only five-years credit for experience on the salary scale. A geezer with 25 years experience is willing to take a 20-year pay cut, but no dice. Schools reject expert teaching applicants every day while simultaneous complaining about looming teacher shortages, especially in math and science.

Those highly experienced education experts even have difficulty getting jobs training the next generation of teachers. Schools of education overwhelmingly prefer a newly-minted PhD over an expert geezer-teacher. Education students suspect their education professor have no substantial experience, and now with so many curricula vitae online, it is easy to confirm the validity of their suspicions.

Meanwhile, California wants to help laid-off teachers get new credentials in math and science. Problem is, like most teacher recruitment programs, it targets novice teachers. California schools could start by credentialing the out-of-state math and science teachers they already have. Fact is, a teaching credential will not help. It is only a third strike. The first strike is experience; the second is post-graduate education. Teachers with all three strikes are rejected with apologies. Teachers lacking only the credential do not even rate the apology. Districts airily dismiss them as unqualified even though they are probably more qualified than most teachers in the school.

States and schools could start by eschewing the check-box method of evaluating qualifications, and actually look at what the applicant brings top the table. A top teacher with a fat stellar portfolio should be able to walk into any state credentialing office and walk out with the credential. Instead, the evaluator will likely say something like, “We can't accept your NTE scores, or your scores from the other state's teacher competency tests. Our state has it own more rigorous standards.” (Arizona actually said that to me about my umpteen NTE and California tests, all with scores in the 90+ percentiles. The California credentialer had tears in his eyes when he told me that because of bureaucratic rules, a world-class teacher like me would never get a California credential).

Schools boards are waking up to discover that their schools are staffed with novices. There are few mid-career teachers because experienced teachers cannot get hired, and if they do manage to get hired, they are the first laid off again in the next budget panic (last in, first out), destroying resume continuity. The late-career teachers are retiring. A lot of those mid-career teachers love teaching and would love to secure a stable teaching position, but most of them have moved on. They can be found filing medical records, selling insurance, doing taxes, pouring coffee. Sad. Truly sad. In spite of all the noise, America appears to have the education system it wants.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kindergarten Academics Is Not Academic Achievement... matter what anyone says otherwise.

Robert Slavin, creator of the reading program Success For All, and before that, creator of the reading program CIRC (Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition), says we know how to make sure every first grader can read.

Imagine that your job were to ensure the reading success of every child in a Title I school by the end of first grade, and you had flexible resources to do it. You'd make sure kids had language-rich preschool and kindergarten experiences,

So far so good, but then he blows it by endorsing the current fad of pushing first grade academics into kindergarten.
learned phonemic awareness and letter sounds in kindergarten, and were taught using proven kindergarten- and first-grade reading programs that emphasized systematic phonics, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary.

Kindergarten is not the place for academics. Gesell Institute of Human Development Executive Director Marcy Guddemi agrees.

Guddemi said quality early education programs for ages 3 to third grade, the years defined as early education, are essential in providing proper experiences and exploration, rather than to learn more letters earlier.

The extra time in kindergarten spent on so-called academics has come at the expense of schema-building, the foundation for reading comprehension beyond mere decoding. Kindergartners should cut and paste. They should also visit a bakery, the newspaper, the fire station etc., etc. They should plant sunflowers and morning glories, raise butterflies, and experience a whole host of other activities. They should go on field trips every week. When it rains, they should play in the mud.

In Japan, kindergarten teachers are likely to take the kids out into a rain shower and let them model creeks merging into rivulets, and rivulets merging into rivers, flowing into a lake (puddle), as well as the powerful effects of water erosion. On a windy day, the kids will run around with makeshift plastic bag kites, learning how the wind inflates the bag. All these experiences and many more form the treasury of reading comprehension. Children create and refine schemata as they assimilate each new experience.

In other words, schema provides the context for comprehending what we read. Even adults who are excellent readers may decode perfectly but still perceive the result as gibberish if they lack the appropriate schema, as illustrated by the following little piece of actual prose.
The increased flexibility to adopt a divisional basis other than a territorial or field of use basis entails the need for provisions to prevent abuse and facilitate compliance. Capability fluctuations, whether market-driven or strategic, that materially alter the controlled participants’ RAB shares as compared with their respective divisional interests create the equivalent of a controlled transfer of interests and should therefore equally occasion arm’s length compensation. Accordingly, the temporary regulations modify the change of participation provision to classify such a material capability variation, in addition to a controlled transfer of interest, as a change in participation that requires arm’s length consideration by the controlled participant whose RAB share increases, to the controlled participant whose RAB share decreases, as the result of the capability variation.

Young children, more so than adults, need time to build schema. Pushing first grade into kindergarten is a quick and dirty route leading only to the facade of increased academic achievement.

As Guddemi said, “Unfortunately, in an effort to close achievement gaps,” parents and schools have embraced a philosophy that earlier is better. Kindergartens these days burden children not only with “reading,” but also math. More and more schools require kindergarten teachers to teach them to calculate according to algorithms as if they do not know that children can learn an awful lot of math without ever putting pencil to paper. All kinds of activities effectively teach mathematics and number sense, like puzzles.

Furthermore, technology is not the answer. So-called ed tech is not simply a tool like pencils or pens. Ed tech is pointedly very different from a pencil or a pen. First, Pre-K should be doing almost nothing with pencils or pens. For example, they should not be writing numerals and letters. Instead, they should be doing real math with real objects. Math on a technology device is not real; it often strikes the students as magical. For example, they really do not understand how the animation is supposed to convey a idea such as carrying even when they are as old as second or third grade.

Too much modern animation is far too lifelike. Children have enough trouble learning to tell the difference between what is real and not real without having to contend with squirrels who give high fives or dogs doing hip hop. Kids were better off when dancing rabbits were (and looked like) cardboard figures on a stick.

Let the children play. Of course, the best kindergarten teachers plan and guide children's play activities. The worst thing we can do is push first-grade academics into kindergarten and call it advanced academic achievement.