kitchen table math, the sequel: Rafe Esquith at Mindless Math Mutterings

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rafe Esquith at Mindless Math Mutterings

it's always worse than you think

A teacher pal in the Midwest tells me that the single worst thing about her district (where she's happy & has taught for many years) is the chronic implementing of new programs without aforethought.

Every five years the district implements new stuff. Without fail. (Last summer they bought Lucy Calkins, but then didn't use the curriculum; they also piloted TERC, but decided against it - whew.)

Administrators come in, implement stuff, and move on to better jobs where they implement more stuff.

It's the same everywhere, it seems. If I remember correctly, and I think I do, the material sent out to parents last year, introducing our new middle school principal, said he'd implemented character education in his school in Albany.

And that was it, pretty much.

He implemented character education in an urban school attended by disadvantaged kids. So, apparently on the strength of that accomplishment, he was hired to implement stuff here.*

Of course, what do I know? If you listen to the New York Times, character education is what disadvantaged kids need.


The fact that the star teachers in our schools -- and most schools are going to have a star or two -- have to sit around listening to professional developers instead of creating and providing the professional development themselves and being paid to do it really cheeses me off, and always has.


churning the curriculum
Paul Hill, an education researcher at the University of Washington, sees parallels between education practices and medicine as practiced in the Colonial period. "There was not a lot of science behind medicine then," says Hill. "It was swept by fads." Each patient's suffering was thought of as unique, a special case. There was no broad research that demanded standardized responses to standard ills. Each patient was in need of individualized care. Ever hear one of your child's teachers use that word? We provide individualized instruction. Each class is unique. "Physicians used to say the same thing," says Hill. "There was a natural tendency to think of everything as much too unique to want to generalize your practice."

But while medicine has moved into an era of standardized practice driven by medical research, education remains in the era of leeches and bleeding. Where was the research that demanded teachers drop phonics, teach in "open" classrooms or try "new" math? Where, for example, was the research that led so many elementary school teachers to tinker with "heterogeneous grouping," where children of mixed abilities were put into groups with the hope that the faster learners would tow along the slower learners? Like so many educational fads, it sounded like a good idea, but it rarely worked in crowded classrooms lacking the talented aides who could pull it off.

At Harvard, former teacher Tom Loveless teaches a subject on this very topic: "Controversies in Education Reform." The syllabus, which consists entirely of required readings on school failures, resembles an indictment of a Mafia chief. Loveless has a personal feel for the problem that dates back to his nine years of teaching in Sacramento public schools. "This is an industry with tremendous turnover at school sites," says Loveless. "Half the principals change schools every six or seven years and superintendents even more frequently. I went through three or four principals, all of them saying: "I have some new ideas and we're going to change things." In come the big changes, out goes the principal within a few years, in come more big changes. "Nobody would stay in one place long enough to be responsible for outcome," says Loveless. "By the time everyone figures out what they're doing doesn't work the principal is gone and you're off to a new approach."

source: Neglected Evidence

The beauty of this system is that taxpayers get to pay for all this stuff. If you're a taxpayer and a parent, you get to pay for the tutors and the time-off-work to (try to) fix the problems, too.

* Middle school model in our case. Our middle school is apparently destined to become exemplary no matter what the parents think.


Anonymous said...

Administrators come in, implement stuff, and move on to better jobs where they implement more stuff.

They really are like steamrollers. It's almost impossible to stop them without a massive parent revolt. And who has the time with all of that afterschooling and tutoring going on.

Catherine Johnson said...

They really are like steamrollers. It's almost impossible to stop them without a massive parent revolt.

Check this out.

We just got our Fall Letter from the middle school -- you know, the one with the forms to sign, the schedule, your kids' teachers, etc.

Except there's no schedule and no kids' teachers.

Apparently - I think I have this right - we aren't going to get a schedule or a list of teachers. On the 31st the kids' new homeroom teachers will be posted on the window of the school, and that's all anyone will know until school actually starts.

The letter itself makes no mention of the fact that we aren't getting a list of our kids' schedules & teachers.

It simply states, without explanation, that our kids now have a homeroom teacher, which they didn't in the past. The homeroom teacher is the first stage of the middle school model, which the school told us they were putting on hold.

Apparently the middle school model was taken off hold over the summer. No mention of when or why this occurred.

Plus.... unless they've lengthened the school day, which the union contract probably wouldn't allow, they have created this new homeroom by taking time away from lunch - WHICH WILL CREATE YET ANOTHER PARENT REVOLT.

Parents were ferocious last year, at the board meeting, on the subject of time for lunch. No one wants to give up one second of lunch for homeroom/character education. (That was the rationale: homeroom will allow more character education.)

The letter goes on to say that the administration has laid out an "ambitious agenda" for the school year, which will be to create a new middle school model schedule.


1. the principal has sent out a back-to-school letter without a school schedule


2. he's told us that his entire plan for the year will be to create a schedule

Catherine Johnson said...

I just talked to a friend who went to the school store.

She said, "They're very disorganized."

The school has not managed to get schedules out to students.

And the "ambitious agenda" for this year is: create a middle-school model schedule.

My friend says they definitely shortened lunch.

This will produce a revolution.

Parents are going to be FURIOUS.

Catherine Johnson said...

and rightly so, I might add

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't know how this principal thinks. This is his second year, he has not gone over well with parents, and the single most controversial action he could have taken over the summer was to cut lunch.

And he cut lunch.

He also tried to get rid of the 6th grade accelerated math track, but was blocked.

Catherine Johnson said...

When I say "not gone over well with parents" I'm not making a veiled reference to me.

I've asked everyone, and that includes people involved in the fundraising organizations.

Catherine Johnson said...

I did learn one interesting thing.

Apparently C. does not have the guy we thought he'd have for math.

He has a special ed teacher -- which could be great.

His ELA teacher last year was a SPED teacher -- I think she may have been filling in for someone on maternity leave.

I always like SPED teachers.