kitchen table math, the sequel: For you, or for them?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

For you, or for them?

Cross-posted at The DeHavilland Blog

I've been working a lot with value-added assessment in Tennessee over the past couple of years. One of the things I've learned is that there are some schools that really understand the link between assessment and performance: continual assessment is part of the culture, driving instructional decisions and focusing the entire staff on a goal of 100% mastery. Everything they do is focused on the kids, giving them the skills and knowledge they'll need to succeed in life. (See here for more on the common practices of effective schools.)

But I've always wondered - why is this not the standard? Why doesn't everyone focus so heavily on measuring and advancing student outcomes?

With that question in mind, I came across something that stopped me dead in my tracks. In a post on his summer reading list, the author of The Tempered Radical blog writes the following:

What I Haven't (Regretfully) Been Able to Finish Yet:

Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Rick Stiggins and Friends: I gotta tell ya, no single task drives me crazier than trying to assess my students. Embarrassing, huh? How can an award winning teacher openly admit to not having a clue whether or not the work that he is doing is making a difference. That's why I picked up this title--and it's amazing. Almost every page includes ideas about what high quality assessment looks like in the classroom, and my practices are slowly changing for the better.

The only problem: This sucker's almost 500 pages long! I think I've made it to chapter 4 so far. I figure by the time I retire, I'll hit the back cover.

Does he realize what he's saying?

His blog focuses on incorporating new technology (wikis, Twitter, etc.) into instruction, and he argues forcefully for the use of these tools. But you have to ask the question - to what end? Why would you advocate so strongly for the use of technology - or the use of any other instructional tool - when you admit up front that you have no idea whatsoever whether it helps students learn?

And of course, it's one thing to admit that you don't know how to assess student learning; it's another to make clear that it's not a priority. "I'll finish the book by the time I retire" - which will do all your students a load of good in the meantime.

And this from the 2005-06 Teacher of the Year in his (rather large) district!

So clearly, at least for this teacher, the answer to my question is clear: he doesn't assess student learning because it's not about the students, it's about him. He's incorporating technology because he likes it; there's no other explanation. If he cared whether students were learning, he'd make an effort to learn how to assess that learning, and tailor his instruction based on their progress. Clearly that's not going to happen - not, at least, until he retires.

And the kicker? Unlike most teachers in the country, he has access to some of the most powerful data available on student performance. North Carolina has its own value-added assessment system - EVAAS - built by Dr. Bill Sanders, architect of Tennessee's groundbreaking system. The Tempered Radical teaches 6th grade, which means he has access to tons of current value-added data on his students. But I think he's made it pretty clear that he's not going to avail himself.

I'm not going to attempt to draw universal lessons from this; I can't say whether most teachers are like this, or whether most teachers would be as appalled as I am right now. But I do think this provides at least one possible answer as to why some teachers don't focus on student outcomes: because it might limit the time they spend on the "fun stuff" like instant messaging and virtual worlds.

But the rest of us know: it's not about us. It's not about what we enjoy, what we're interested in, or what we think will be fun in the classroom. It's about the kids - making sure they actually learn, so they'll be prepared to survive in the world into which they'll graduate.

80 comments:

SteveH said...

Great link Brett.

I read it and my initial reaction is competence, not assessment. I will give the guy credit for saying the following.

"I hadn't even really looked at the standards for the subjects that I was expected to teach!"

"Over the course of 11 years, I'd developed a pretty comfortable pattern of instruction based on a strong understanding of what I'd done in previous years and a remarkably weak understanding of the standards set by the state."

"And I'm supposedly an 'accomplished teacher?!'"

"We had to develop common assessments that would be delivered in each of our classrooms. That simple requirement forced us to have conversations that we'd never been forced to have before."

"Together we began by wrestling with what content was essential to teach---standardizing the implemented curriculum across our hallway (often for the first time) and pushing our team to really think about what it is that students were supposed to be learning. For our group, that led us to look carefully at the state standards for our subjects in ways we'd never done before!"


"It was almost amazing (Read: Embarrassing) to find out that the lessons and units we'd been teaching for so long didn't directly fit the standards expected by our state."

"And even though I felt strongly that those teachers [who gave out easy A's] were failing students as much as they were fooling them, I never started a conversation about what mastery looked like with anyone. That's kind of a taboo subject in schools steeped in isolation. Teachers rarely question the professional judgment of other teachers----and take great offense when it happens to them! As a result, the best interest of kids is often overlooked."

"How's that for scary?"


Yes. It's really, really scary.

My son's 6th grade teacher is doing the same art work intensive teaching she has done for probably the last 20 years. I remember my son's pediatrician talking about the coloring years ago. She pulled her girls out and sent them to a different school. My son has to draw pictures about his favorite scenes in a book even though kids are doing poorly on the state's reading comprehension and writing parts of the exam.

Many teachers are fluking their group work. They do not work well together and they cannot define whether their work is good or not. I don't want to talk about how the brain works or multiple intelligences. I want to talk about competence and how parents can force schools to achieve the enlightenment of the TOTY above.

Bill Ferriter said...

Considering I'm the source of debate here, kudos to Steve H for taking the time to read and repost many of my comments about my assessment experiences because they paint a more complete picture of the dialogue that I've worked to start about assessment in education.

It doesn't seem that Brett took the time to read beyond one isolated paragraph in my blog.

The honest truth about assessment in schools is that managing data and assessing learning is something that many teachers are poorly prepared for, regardless of how common sense those skills seem to outside critics.

In the years before NCLB----when the vast majority of educators were trained---evaluation of students was uneven at best, largely (and wrongly) left to teachers---and to the principals who spent twenty minutes observing them two times a year every year.

And that is a failure of our profession. Period. No argument there. In fact, it is a failure that I've written about dozens of times in an attempt to drive change from within the profession.

They tend to attack me, too!

But the sad fact is that while we've done a lot of talking about providing teachers with meaningful opportunities to learn how to "use data to drive instruction," we've taken little action to provide the kinds of meaningful, ongoing opportunities for professional growth in this area that are necessary to ensure that every teacher can effectively assess student performance.

Who is responsible for that?

Here's what Elmore thinks:

"Accountability must be a reciprocal process. For every increment of performance I demand from you, I have an equal responsibility to provide you with the capacity to meet that expectation.

Likewise, for every investment you make in my skill and knowledge, I have a reciprocal responsibility to demonstrate some new increment in performance. This is the principle of "reciprocity of accountability for capacity." It is the glue that, in the final analysis, will hold accountability systems together (Elmore, 2000).

At the moment, schools and school systems are not designed to provide support or capacity in response to demands for accountability."

http://www.nsdc.org/library/publications/results/res11-02elmore.cfm

I guess what I would ask is when do we intend to hold our society accountable for fully funding the kinds of investments needed to produce the changes that they demand?

Bill Ferriter

SteveH said...

"I guess what I would ask is when do we intend to hold our society accountable for fully funding the kinds of investments needed to produce the changes that they demand?"

I don't think you'll get a great reception at KTM about "fully funding". How much per child is enough? Schools of education are supposed to do their part in preparing teachers. Just don't expect me to believe that it's a money issue.

More money isn't the trigger that will change my son's teachers into working together to reduce crayon work and to focus on the state standards, as poor as they are. And our school is "High Performing". You don't start with money. You start with people in charge who have the power and authority to make real changes. Before that happens, money will not change anything.

I've mentioned on KTM before that I've told our school committee that they should hand out the "Core Knowledge" series of books to parents and tell them that this is NOT the education their child will receive. You need the right people going in the right direction. Prove your case and the money will come, not the other way around. Don't look at us parents. We're ignored.

Bill Ferriter said...

Steve wrote:
You start with people in charge who have the power and authority to make real changes. Before that happens, money will not change anything.


I'm down with this, Steve....I'm as embarrassed by colleagues who are ineffective, unintelligent and unmotivated as any outside critic of education.

And I'm as bothered by ineffective evaluation policies that make it nearly impossible for poor teachers to be removed from their position as any outside critic of education, too.

I'd love to see both of those things changed because it would elevate our profession. As it currently stands, I've got to fight against the bad taste left in your mouth by the Crayola Queen before I can even get a word in edge-wise.

One possible challenge, though:

You're assuming that we have enough accomplished school leaders to drive positive change in education.

That's not always a given, primarily because school leadership is about the least desirable profession in America.

The position is demanding times ten---just like any profession that depends on leveraging human relationships to drive change---intensely public and generally overlooked when it comes to ongoing support and development.

What's the solution there?

I'd say money to entice the most accomplished leaders away from the private sector and into education, but I'm not sure you'd like that answer!

Enjoying the conversation, though...

Bill

Ari said...

I'd say money to entice *parents* to demand better results. If parents receive a bigger tax credit based on their child's performance on a test, they would have an incentive to push for better results.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Bill, but having been successful in the private sector, and having worked in classrooms, I can say with 100% certainty that you COULD NOT PAY ME ENOUGH MONEY to be a teacher in a classroom ever again.

Money isn't the problem. The problems are numerous--they start with lack of authority in the classroom backed up by policies of the district or school, lack of accountability so that teachers who don't perform are forced out, and a general lack of control over the behavior of students that I must tolerate. In addition, terrible curricula, terrible attitudes, and the self serving quality of most teachers who misrepresent themselves as martyrs is enough for no money to make up for the miserable culture.

you want change? become a profession. an actual profession. with actual standards where not meeting those standards has immediate negative consequences.

to your question:

"we've taken little ation to provide ongoing opportunities for professional growth [in assessment]... who is responsible for that?"

The answer is YOU ARE. YOU, YOUR COLLEAGUES, and YOUR EMPLOYERS.

In the private sector, people are responsible for their own professional growth. No one else. just them. They don't do that? They are irrelevant quickly. They lose their job eventually. They find they can't compete.

you want someone else to be responsible for your professional growth? Then you aren't professionals.

SteveH said...

"I've got to fight against the bad taste left in your mouth by the Crayola Queen "

I don't expect you to do that. I think you've got the right idea, but I don't necessarily want to get on your bus.

I've commented on KTM before about why more teachers don't do what you are now doing. I see math teachers who complain about meeting state standards when the kids come into fifth grade not knowing the times table. They should be complaining about the school or the other teachers who let them get there in the first place. My feeling about our Crayola Queen is that she is very high on the seniority list, she has been there forever, and NOBODY will tell her what to do in her classroom. Besides, K-6 teachers love crayon work.

Many teachers think that their own personal classroom problems define what's wrong in education. They can't see the bigger picture. My son's fifth grade math teacher held after-school sessions to help kids catch up, but she felt powerless to fix the underlying problem, and she also didn't get to 35 percent of the material in the curriculum. The school just passed the kids along.

Some kids do get by (with the help of parents - there is a reason why this blog is called Kitchen Table Math), so the school thinks that everything is OK. The underlying irritation at KTM is not theoretical. Most of us do not just complain. We try very hard to work with our schools in a constructive manner, often with very limited or poor results. We spend countless hours making sure that our kids are educated properly. This is not a workable process for change. When educational assumptions, curricula, and expectations are based on the whim or opinion (even politics) of teachers and schools, you cannot exclude parents from the details of the process.


"I'd say money to entice the most accomplished leaders away from the private sector and into education, but I'm not sure you'd like that answer!"

That's only part of the solution. A school could be well run, but going in the wrong direction. State standards only help with the low cutoff basics. Unfortunately, schools now see low state cutoffs as a maximum goal. Even our town plays this game. Our school is "High Performing" for getting most all kids over a very low cutoff. They actually said in our town's newspaper that their rating means that the school provides a quality education. It says no such thing. Kids still get into fifth grade not knowing their times table. They have meetings to review the results and make changes, but since our schools have a high rating, they don't worry about it much.

It's not just quality management. It's a vision of where you are going, quality curricula, good teachers, and high expectations. The fundamental flaw is that our school's vision is quite different from that of many parents. That's why over 20 percent of our kids are sent to other schools.

We don't need schools that are better at going in the wrong direction. I don't want to help schools solve their problem. I want schools to solve my problem. That's the way it should be.

Brett said...

Hi Bill,

I tried to post a comment here – a rather long one, actually – that somehow disappeared into the ether. (UGH.) So I’ll try to reconstruct my thoughts. And I’ll just post it here – we’ve got posts on three different blogs now, and trying to keep up with them all will just make me dizzy.

First, I’ll apologize for my bombastic tone. I should have noted (like Steveh) that I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to put all of your thoughts out on the line. I should have approached it as a dialogue and not as an attack. And I’m sorry that I didn’t.

I did read your back-links prior to my initial post, and they didn’t ameliorate my concerns.

Double-back-linking to your post of 6/7/07, you expand on your lack of confidence in your assessment skills:

“Sometimes I wonder if the coercive accountability movement and the deprofessionalization of educators contributes to my lack of confidence in my ability to assess. After all, I've spent the past 14 years being bombarded with messages of failure. Scripted curricula and standardized tests are given great credibility while thousands of under-trained "professionals" are given positions in classrooms. Working in such conditions inevitably opens the door to doubt. “

This, in a nutshell, is where we fail to see eye to eye.

As a member of the public, I don’t see scripted curricula as a way to impugn teachers’ professionalism. I see it as something that has been proven to work in teaching kids. I want kids to learn – so what possible reason could there be for refusing to use something that has been shown, time and again, to work better than any other method? Why would someone be hurt by that – the idea that a program that’s been tested for years can produce better results than someone winging it, trying to come up with their own on the fly?

Standardized tests, and accountability in general by extension, are also not intended to hurt teachers’ self-confidence. It’s not about the teachers: it’s about gathering independent evidence that kids are learning. As most people in the workforce know, productivity has to be independently assessed: the person producing cannot be the same as the person assessing, otherwise you end up with stellar ratings and no evidence of accomplishment. (Your “easy A” teacher is an example.)

The objective is to get kids to learn. To see whether that’s happening or not, we need good – and independent – assessment, and we need to tailor instruction in ways that produce the best results. Why would we think that someone building their own assessments be as good as these standardized instruments and programs? Or, to put it another way, why would we think that an entire field of teachers, all building their own assessments, come up with something of equal rigor, that we can compare across grades and subjects?

And that’s why I choked on your statement (and, despite the honesty and incremental progress it exhibits, on your essay on the Wake District page). While I appreciate the interest in gradually putting assessments into place, I think that your understanding of your limitations, and your understanding of the importance of assessing learning, would dictate that proper assessment would become a top priority.

The fact is, even though the district hasn’t proactively done what it should to prepare you, you are aware enough, and clearly smart enough, to figure it out. You have tools available to you: annual assessments, value-added data, practice assessments aligned with the standards, and I’m sure many more (I can point you to several formative tools if you’re interested). To say that you haven’t been provided this knowledge, and don’t have time to pick it up on your own, is a cop-out – what could be more important than establishing ways to determine whether all your instructional efforts are making any impact?

That was the basis for my post: that you were aware of, and honest about, your own limitations (and again, credit to you for that), but that you haven’t done anything about it as a result. If the state doesn’t do it for you, it’s up to you: you can’t just gradually pick it up over years, based on exposure to team ideas and be content with the subjective assessments that result. You’ll lose too many kids in the interim, and you still won’t be able to trust the information you get from these self-generated assessments.

It’s up to you – and I do hope you pick up that ball and run with it.

Tracy said...

I'd say money to entice the most accomplished leaders away from the private sector and into education, but I'm not sure you'd like that answer!

How long will the most accomplished leaders stay that way, once they hit education? What's the quality of feedback in the education sector?

I think the biggest problem with the education sector is the lack of feedback. Teachers naturally get at least some, because they are in the classroom seeing their kids, but school leaders, school administrators, what feedback do they get?

Anonymous said...

In defense of Bill:

There's a lot of uninformed conjecture being cast about here.

Assessment is not monolithic. Some is meant to measure schools, some is meant to create feedback to your teaching, and some is meant to construct a grade. Teachers are in the middle of all three and if you want to harangue someone on the topic be sure to identify your domain.

Also, don't ascribe magic to assessment. If you don't have a system in place that can act upon what your assessment informs, you have crap.

Also, don't assume that scripted delivery is a silver bullet. Investigations is highly scripted. It was developed by some of the best resumes you'll ever find. It is crap.

I work in a highly scripted district. We measure kids so much and so often that we epitomize the Heisenberg Principle. Good teaching is flexible teaching and when you try to script it you end up teaching to a median child that is not in your classroom. I can tell you from personal experience that tightening scripts and measuring without feedback is the gaping maw of a death spiral.

If you think measuring ability is easy or can be safely consigned to a bureaucrat you need to spend more time away from sugar.

Brett said...

After reflecting on all this, I think it boils down to one core question: as a teacher, do you see it as your job to teach, or to ensure that students learn?

If your job is to teach, then you’re fine. You can focus on disseminating information and not worry what’s being picked up. It’s like a radio station: you can broadcast without knowing or caring who’s actually tuning in.

But if your job is to ensure that students learn, then you are morally obligated to assess their comprehension and retention. There’s no other way around it – and you can’t claim safe haven because someone else didn’t do the work to train you. It’s up to you – it’s an unavoidable and central facet of doing your job.

Brett

Catherine Johnson said...

guess what I would ask is when do we intend to hold our society accountable for fully funding the kinds of investments needed to produce the changes that they demand?

Haven't read the thread yet, but I have personally seen the results of extremely high levels of funding and salaries for teachers & administrators under the present system.

It's not good.

We are moving our typical child to a school that pays its teachers considerably less than we pay our teachers here -- and has far fewer administrators and SMART Boards.

I believe good teachers should be paid well, but I have seen that in the system we have very high levels of pay do not produce very high levels of teaching and learning.

case in point: C. has had teachers tell his class that they're making "X" amount per year and they don't have to work hard to get it.

Seriously.

We have teachers who tell the kids what a great job teaching is because you make a lot of money & you have summers off.

One of the teachers here actually told parents, on back to school night, that he/she changed careers because he/she "wanted summers off."

You can't buy professionalism and expertise.

You can reward professionalism and expertise.

You can't buy it.

SteveH said...

"We have teachers who tell the kids what a great job teaching is because you make a lot of money & you have summers off."

Way back when I left my corporate programming job and started teaching college math and computer science, the nicest benefit was summers off (although I did consulting work). It's amazing. You turn in your grades and it's over. Completely. No email. No phone calls. When you start up in the fall, there is nothing to catch up on. You start out with a clean slate. Wow!

In most professional jobs, you can't get away. Ever. Not when you have cell phones, laptops, and WiFi. My wife works at a huge corporation and they don't have backups cross-trained in her specialty. It's job insurance, but then again, nobody is doing your job while you're on vacation. Email builds up, work backs up. This is what you have to look forward to when you come back from vacation; a spike in stress.

I remember a Far Side cartoon where they showed people relaxing at the beach. Over each of their heads was a bubble with them figuring out how many email messages they will have when they get back to work.

Teaching K-8 at our schools is a very desirable job.

Bill Ferriter said...

Brett wrote:
But if your job is to ensure that students learn, then you are morally obligated to assess their comprehension and retention. There’s no other way around it – and you can’t claim safe haven because someone else didn’t do the work to train you. It’s up to you – it’s an unavoidable and central facet of doing your job.

Here's the hitch, Brett---"Ensuring student learning" means about a million different things to a million different people.

While you seem to emphasize (rightly, I'd argue) measurable outcomes, many parents place emphasis on other outcomes. Schools are responsible for everything ranging from character education and global education to abstinence education and a 21st Century education!

What's more, even the measurable standards for basic subjects are almost overwhelming.

Check out the sixth grade science curriculum someday: Students are expected to learn everything from matter and energy to biomes, the carbon cycle, light, sound, heat, the rock cycle, volcanoes and natural disasters AND the solar system!

To North Carolina's credit, a recent report from the State Board recommends narrowing the curriculum, but until we do, it's difficult to believe that it is reasonable to expect 12 year olds to "demonstrate mastery" of such a remarkable curriculum in 180 45-minute class periods.

Steve wrote:
In most professional jobs, you can't get away. Ever. Not when you have cell phones, laptops, and WiFi.

I remember a Far Side cartoon where they showed people relaxing at the beach. Over each of their heads was a bubble with them figuring out how many email messages they will have when they get back to work.

Teaching K-8 at our schools is a very desirable job.


You know, Steve, you might just be right if you are talking about poor teachers, but it's definitely not true for the most accomplished teachers in our K-12 buildings.

I spend my "summers" attending professional development sessions on my own time and my own dime. Last year (ironically enough), I spent nearly $1,000 to attend a three-day data training session!

(Brett---Like most accomplished teachers, I definitely pursue training in my areas of weakness even when it's not provided by my school, district or state.)

Then, I spent the next three weeks trying to translate what I'd learned into my own classroom and setting.

And as far as "getting away" from work goes, the North Carolina Working Conditions survey shows that teachers, on average, spend dozens and dozens of hours beyond their contracts working on school related responsibilities.

That includes grading papers, writing plans, responding to parent emails, investigating new technologies, exploring instructional practices, sponsoring school clubs, supervising student activities.

Looking at all of our comments (Mine, Brett's and Steve's) I think where our ideas intersect is that we're all frustrated with incompetent educators.

I can get on board with the idea that the teacher evaluation and compensation systems need to be revamped to encourage more responsible professional actions on the part of every educator----or to ensure that schools can get rid of ineffective educators.

What I can't get on board with is the suggestion that teaching is an easy gig.

Done right, it's all-consuming.

Which is probably one reason why 50% of educators quit within the first five years.

Still enjoying the conversation,
Bill

SteveH said...

"What I can't get on board with is the suggestion that teaching is an easy gig.

Done right, it's all-consuming."

I don't agree with that. If it requires that much effort, then something is wrong. Good teaching is not that difficult. However, if you are starting from your "scary" condition, then it might seem that way. Just don't expect me to get too excited about all of the effort schools put in just to achieve competence.


"Which is probably one reason why 50% of educators quit within the first five years."

It may be one reason, but it could be because the working conditions are "scary".


"I spend my 'summers' attending professional development sessions on my own time and my own dime."

Every week of the summer? What percentage of teachers do this?

SteveH said...

"Done right, it's all-consuming."

This reminds me of entry-level programmers who work so hard day and night on code that an experienced pro could crank out in a half hour.

K9Sasha said...

Good teaching is not that difficult.

I will be teaching grades 4 and 5 next year and it will be completely up to me to teach:

reading (3 to 4 groups)
writing
spelling
grammar
math (3 to 4 groups)
science
social studies
art/crafts/drama
P.E.
music
spanish
ASL
religion

I’m required to be at the school for 8 hours per day. For the six hours per day the students are there, they will be with me almost constantly. I will be teaching during six hours, which leaves me two hours per day to:

grade papers
read ahead in all (see above) the curricula
plan lessons for all (see above) the curricula
gather materials for all the lessons
make copies of papers I want to hand out
contact parents
take care of other school responsibilities (annual dinner, etc.)
research various/better ways of teaching

Do you really think I’ll be able to do all that in two hours? I don’t.

When my husband comes home from his job as a software engineer, he is done for the day. When I come home, I’ll still have several hours of work to finish.

"Done right, it's all-consuming."



This reminds me of entry-level programmers who work so hard day and night on code that an experienced pro could crank out in a half hour.


Would being more experienced lessen the amount of work I need to do? Perhaps a bit, but not all that much.

lgm said...

>>Teaching K-8 at our schools is a very desirable job

Here too - upstate NY. Typically a prospective elementary teacher has to sub for a year or more to wait for an opening, even if they have the political connection in hand. It's a job parents are eager to recommend to their children because of the hours, the family friendliness perks, and the bennies.


Our district does staff development during the school year. Summer prof. dev. is rare - only a few teachers, specialized opportunities that grants were obtained for. Most teachers take nice vacation out of state and aren't shy about sharing the adventures with the students (many of whom are too poor to rent a band instrument for the year).

>>And as far as "getting away" from work goes, the North Carolina Working Conditions survey shows that teachers, on average, spend dozens and dozens of hours beyond their contracts working on school related responsibilities.

>That includes grading papers, writing plans, responding to parent emails, investigating new technologies, exploring instructional practices, sponsoring school clubs, supervising student activities.

This does not happen in my district! Here's what we have... Every 'extra' has a stipend; you only teach at most 5 periods out of 9 42 minute periods (and there is a stipend for the 5th period); one team planning period is allocated daily as well as one for your personal prep, one period is lunch and the other is an optional student help period. The union has negotiated such that you'll never teach more than 2 different classes a year unless you want to (and then you'll be compensated; the only people that do so are foreign language b/c they are teaching all levels of the f. l)). Grade level chairs, team leaders, dept. chairs, coaches, club sponsors & trip chaperones get stipends for these additional duties. No e-mails to parents; no conferences after Grade 5 (2 for preK-5); parents discouraged from 'interfering' with their child's development as a student in Grade 6 up. My kids are only through Grade 7, but they have yet to have a teacher that takes a grade more than once per week. Math particularly irks me b/c no one checks student work before the test at any grade level past gr. 1.

Grading in m.s. & h.s. is done by a clerk who runs the student forms thru the scantron machine - unless it's the one English paper per quarter or math or foreign language orals (the latter two done on class time). Grade 6 does grade a lot by hand, because they are the honors section gatekeepers - but it's still no more than one assignment, test, or quiz per week and is done at school.

In elementary, 2.5 or 3.5 hrs of the 7 daily contracted hours are not with the students, depending on which day it is. Aside from specials, TAs cover the class during the grade level planning times, and 1 hr is lunch. Resource teachers pull out all failing students for remediation. 1:1 paras are hired for behavior problems (while the student goes thru the evaluation or LRE process). The planning time is cut by working as a group; lesson plans are recycled as much as possible, tests are reused year to year and are common, photocopying is done at a copy center not by any teacher, prep time is cut by trading classes - two teachers agree to swap a subject with each other and teach that subject to both classes. There are no groups within a class, so there are big chunks of time when students are doing seatwork that are used for grading by the teacher while the para (generally one per inclusion classroom) circulates. Test prep is with workbooks chosen by the principal..a no brainer as you just go page by page. Spelling is not taught, it's a few assigned pages if the child is able to comprehend the directions she might get the concept. Language arts workbooks are not checked at all unless the child is called on for an oral response. So far we are not seeing measurable increases in student acheivement, although we are seeing a reduction in suspension rates.

http://myshortpencil.com/newyorkteachersalaries.htm will get you started on what a good union can do for you.

>>Which is probably one reason why 50% of educators quit within the first five years.

Not here. All classroom teachers who have left in the last ten years in my kids' schools are on baby or medical sabbatical, retiring, following a spouse out of the area, or moving into admin., sp.ed., or a grade level in another bldg. Baby sabbatical teachers have hiring preference when they return; med. sab. keep their position (try this in industry!). The turnover is in the assistant principals and the superintendents...they are all district hopping to move up in salary and bennies. Oh...the cost of living is fine on a teacher's salary unless the McMansion is desired over an apt. for the first few years (or the beginning teacher is trying to support a large family).

Anonymous said...

Nothing grabs my attention faster than people who think teaching in public ed is easy. I'll put my tech credentials up against anybody. I had a forty year career that spanned microwave, nuclear, computer, software, and management disciplines. I know exactly what goes on in those fields and how hard it is.

I also know that I could confine 98% of my former colleagues to my school for a day or two and they would be begging me for mercy and release.

My former buds came in at 9 or 10, ate breakfast in their cubes, chatted lots, went to long lunches at 2, and sure they worked till 9 or 10 at night. But, and here is the crucial difference, they pretty much did what they wanted all day long as long as it was within the scope of their duties.

Teaching is not at all like that. When the bell rings and the curtain goes up you're on stage in front of 120 or so lions. You're the gazelle. Every week or so there's a safari where the aristocracy swings by in the Rover to see if you've been eaten yet.

My lunch, a joke, usually less than 20 minutes and most times with a child for help or discipline. There are no breaks for chat. There are no breaks. In fact there is no time for working with peers, which is why I spend time here. There are no breaks for ping pong. There's no, "I feel sore today, so I think I'll just work on docs." The curtain goes up and you're on; no mistakes, no goin' home early, no working late to make up for your unproductive A.M., no choice of lions, no rewrites.

And by the way being experienced doesn't buy you as much as you think. Every year is a new bunch of kids and they're all different than the last batch. I typically have 30-40% of my kids on ed plans. I have 25% ELL and this is not a different cohort, they're intermingled with the ed plans. It's not unusual to have 15 kids that don't know enough English to ask for a drink or ask to go to the bathroom. My kids range from the first percentile to the 51% on NWEA's MAP tests (google it). Last year I had one girl above 50% (the second one I've ever had). 50% of my kids were below the 20th percentile. If you think that's a cake walk you need to lay off the caffiene.

As long as I'm on a roll, there's the 100 degree classroom, pregnant girls, over medicated kids, gang activity, fights, foul language, buying your own supplies, ridiculous scope and sequence, and ceaseless critique from absentee parents to deal with. We have parents under restraining orders and sometimes, parent conferences with resource officers (cops for you civilians) outside the door. Did I mention I'm in a middle school?

Oh by the way, I'm doing this easy work for way less than half of my former salary.

Easy?

You know what's strange? I'm not even complaining. I love my work. It's more challenging than anything I've ever done. I love every one of my lions too and when I can turn the lights on for just one of them it makes up for all that missing money. But please, please don't tell me this is easy.

Bill Ferriter said...

Steve wrote:
This reminds me of entry-level programmers who work so hard day and night on code that an experienced pro could crank out in a half hour.


The difference, Steve, is that code is a pretty clear outcome. It's easy to see and easy to measure. You either produced what was asked for or you didn't.

In education, the variables are greater. The students that I work with are all different to begin with---both in content mastery and home experiences. The range of ability in one classroom is nothing short of shocking.

So the lessons that I teach are far more complex than you suggest. They have to be tailored for at least 4 or 5 different levels of ability, which compounds the planning process.

Then, delivery is stunted by variables too. Because students are constantly developing neurologically, I can never completely predict which kids are going to master which content on which days.

Better yet, students who demonstrate mastery one day may fall backwards and fail to demonstrate the same skills the next day. Planning, delivery and assessment has to take all of those variables into account---which is pretty darn time consuming...far outlasting the 90 minutes of planning built into my daily schedule (which is a ton, compared to many schools.)

It's difficult to compare a profession where you can "crank out" products that can be easily measured with professions where final products are the direct result of human interactions because human interactions are inherently unpredictable.

Bill

PS: You were right on the money when you suggested that teacher working conditions are a primary factor in driving teachers away from the profession.

Check out the results of the NC Teacher Working Conditions survey for specific facts to verify your position:

http://ncteachingconditions.org

You can get statistics on nearly every school and district in our state.

The question, then, becomes how do we improve teacher working conditions in a revenue neutral way?

SteveH said...

Let me repeat.

However, if you are starting from your "scary" condition, then it might seem that way.

Teachers tend to look at the problem from a personal viewpoint. I look at it from a systemic one. Done properly, teaching shouldn't be that difficult. Not with the money schools get. Our schools get $17000+ per student and class size averages 15 kids. Each grade has teaching assistants and some of the lower grades have one assistant per class. Most of the teachers have been teaching their grade for years.

My complaint is based on a common technique of arguing from the individual to the general. Bill can't say that he spends his "summers" on professional development as an argument about how difficult teaching is for all. He can't claim how difficult the teaching profession is ("done right") right after he comments on the "scary" lack of competence. It's difficult if you have to deal with this (I give Bill credit for doing so.), but this is not how it should be. Bill says that it's "all consuming". If it is, then something's wrong, not necessarily with individual teachers, but with the system.

I taught for years. I didn't have a teaching assistant and I graded all math homework and exams for classes that had close to 30 kids. I've spent many late nights preparing lessons. I've also spent the last 30 years developing software.


"Would being more experienced lessen the amount of work I need to do? Perhaps a bit, but not all that much."

In Bill's case, it would. Teachers and schools would easily know how to define and coordinate curricula. They would easily know how to teach and assess state standards. They would not allow kids to get to fifth grade without knowing their times table. Fifth grade teachers would be able to focus on new material rather than stress over how to remediate kids.


"When my husband comes home from his job as a software engineer, he is done for the day,..."

If he comes home after only 8 hours, then that is unusual. You are arguing from the individual to the general. Most software development positions average much higher than 40 hours per week.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are arguing from your experience to the general, eh?

Anonymous said...

I remember having this great gig once. I was really good at finding bugs in an imaging system used in nuclear medicine. They would fly me to Toronto and put me up in a hotel just prior to a new release. When they put up the new release on their test servers I would get a call to come on down and break it.

I could usually break it in 30 minutes or so and go back to my hotel after documenting my destruction. Then all the developers would crank on the code for 3 or 4 hours, refit the test bed and give me a call. I'd come on down and do it all over again. It seemed they were too close to their work to figure out how to break it so fast.

Sometimes this would go on for days, around the clock. When it got to where it took me hours to break it, they would release and I would go home. I was getting $60 per hour on that gig, including time in the hotel. Yes folks, 24 x7. PRICELESS! I watched so much TV my eyes were like some kind of Brazilian tree frog.

Just goes to show you that even software developers have issues. Nothing, done well, is easy.

SteveH said...

"Steve, you are arguing from your experience to the general, eh?"

What, specifically?

SteveH said...

"The difference, Steve, is that code is a pretty clear outcome."

That's not my point. I'm not comparing two different professions. I'm comparing the differences in difficulties in any profession between competence and incompetence; experience and lack thereof.


"So the lessons that I teach are far more complex than you suggest. They have to be tailored for at least 4 or 5 different levels of ability, which compounds the planning process."


This thread started with your discussion about a "scary" lack of competence. I don't expect perfect teachers or perfect schools.
Fix the basics first and then we can talk about how the brain works. Then, maybe, I'll talk about how complex teaching is.

SteveH said...

Much of this argument has to do with the difference between the way things are versus the way things should be; the difficulties between fixing the problem versus the difficulties once the basics have been fixed.

Many of the problems that individual teachers have right now would be gone if schools did (or could do) what they are supposed to do. Kids should not have to play teacher roulette, parents shouldn't have to talk about "lost" years, and fifth grade teachers shouldn't be teaching the times table.

When Bill talks about his "scary" stories, that's a big problem and it will take a lot of work to fix it. However, incompetence doesn't define the teaching profession.

K9Sasha said...

Much of this argument has to do with the difference between the way things are versus the way things should be; the difficulties between fixing the problem versus the difficulties once the basics have been fixed.

Yes, that's right. We're describing the way things are because those are the schools we teach in.

You seem to be comparing the way things are in other fields to the way they *should be* in education. No doubt every single person at KTM agrees that things in school should be different. But, they're not, and these are the conditions we teach in.

You started out saying the job of a teacher is easy, then when we pointed out what we really do (except that cushy district where everyone wants to teach) you changed your position to teaching should be easy. Maybe it should be, but the fact is that it's not.

Instructivist said...

"Maybe it should be, but the fact is that it's not."

I always marvel when theorists, pundits and other well-meaning dispensers of advice who are not involved in day-to-day teaching (especially in rooms full of the disadvantaged in inner city schools) offer remedies to cure the dismal state of ed.

I wish afore-mentioned dispensers could spend a day, week or preferrably month in charge of a classroom.

It needs to be experienced to be believed. It's past the imagination.

Hint: It's not all the techers' fault.

SteveH said...

Bill introduced the topic of "scary" incompetence in schools. He also said that teaching, when "Done right, it's all-consuming". I disagreed with this. It's not all-consuming unless things are really screwed up in the first place - for a variety of reasons. What some teachers have to do can be very difficult, but does this define the teaching profession, dealing with incompetence? Do inner city classrooms define the teaching profession? There is a big world outside of the inner city. Talking about how difficult some teaching jobs are provides great cover for these schools and teachers.

I can't seem to make a distinction without running the risk of being accused of putting all of the blame on teachers, even after all of my posts. I have been very consistent in my message. Many of the problems in education have nothing to do with the intrinsic complexity of teaching, especially at the level of state tests. Eliminating incompetence is not about teaching.

Anonymous said...

--Would being more experienced lessen the amount of work I need to do? Perhaps a bit, but not all that much.

Yes, K9Sasha, it would be dramatically different, because you'd have lesson plans. For every day, for every course. Nothing from scratch. No new materials. No new examples to work out.

That cuts the time by several factors.

The real problem with education being an "all consuming" field is that it goes back to the lack of ANY teacher being really able to find good resources so they don't have to reinvent the wheel. But vetted sources don't really exist for teachers, and yes, admins, parents, etc. all want different things--sadly, so do teachers. They want to do it Their Own Way, too, because somehow, they're getting the message that that kind of classroom creativity is a Good Thing. One of those numerous examples where teaching is about the teacher, not the student.

Anonymous said...

--Here's the hitch, Brett---"Ensuring student learning" means about a million different things to a million different people.

While you seem to emphasize (rightly, I'd argue) measurable outcomes, many parents place emphasis on other outcomes. Schools are responsible for everything ranging from character education and global education to abstinence education and a 21st Century education!

What's more, even the measurable standards for basic subjects are almost overwhelming.


He's right--this is madness. utter madness. And how did we get here?

You can't just blame ed schools for this. You can blame a society that has lost any sense that Society needs to cohere. You can blame a model for questioning what's good for society that devolved into "What's in it for me?" or "If it's good for me, then there's no greater issue to consider."

We lack any basic sense that a common bedrock of knowledge is what schools should provide to all students, let alone agreement on what that common bedrock should be. We lack a sense that schools are supposed to exist to form better citizens. We lack a sense that schools are supposed to exist to elevate a common culture.

Without that, we keep running in circles arguing about whether a given tactic helps us reach a goal of a literate child, or a mathematically capable child. But even as we know our tactics are a disaster, we don't agree on what the strategy is, so we get no traction trying to replace the tactics with new ones.

Teachers can't solve that problem by themselves. Neither can parents. And certain folks in ed schools, ironically, SAW the vacuum society created (they helped manufacture it, so it was easy for them to recognize) and filled it in with their own progressivism. The Bill Ayers's of the world couldn't have done it by themselves. But he at least had a coherent idea of what education was for. That's why he's succeeded and we've failed.

K9Sasha said...

Yes, K9Sasha, it would be dramatically different, because you'd have lesson plans. For every day, for every course. Nothing from scratch. No new materials. No new examples to work out.

Do you teach, Allison? Is this what you do? Because it's not how I do things. My preference is to teach at a rate and level that is in the ZPD for the students. Classes of students aren't all the same. One year, a class can be very sharp and learn quickly. The next year, the kids might be slower to catch on. The needs of the class are different, therefore my rate of teaching will need to be different. If the rate of delivery needs to be different (ex. it takes three days for the second group to learn the same content the first group got in a day) how can I just reuse the same exact lessons?

Anonymous said...

I've taught high schoolers, college kids, and I've tutored 4th and 5th graders in math, and 1-3rd in reading. It is not what I do now. These days, I'm at home with my son.

Having made lesson plans that were coherent, I have lessons 1 -20. If I only make it through half of lesson 4 in one class, but make it through to lesson 5 in the other, then I pick up where I left off. Lesson 4 is still the correct place to pick up from, because that's all they learned. Makign new lessons doesn't make sense if the lessons are building to mastery, anyway. Since I've already made the whole set, though it's not difficult to accelerate through the material with some groups and not with others. I've certainly got more material than I'll ever get to with any class pre made, reusing the same lesson. For the class falling behind, you pick and choose what you can throw out, what you can't. But more time is what's needed, not less instruction.


My students were not as dramatically different in the room as other classes/schools are, so I didn't have to teach to kids several years apart in background knowledge when teaching hs or tutoring. In college, I did, and we worked around that by tailoring examples to avoid the gaps in their knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Where to begin...

I have this CD for CMP. It's a fantastic creator of lesson plans, exquisitely tuned to the CMP paradigm and the Mass. standards (I suspect the two were done in collaboration they're so tuned up). You can get up in the morning and in four or five mouse clicks you've got a beautiful lesson plan. It's got everything my school wants in a plan plus it's got probing questions to ask, samples of the kinds of answers you can expect, and it even lists the homework problems to assign. It's fantastic.

The only problem with it is that its got little to nothing to do with the kids you will face on the day you make it. If you execute it perfectly, maybe 4 kids in the room will be equipped and/or inclined to get it. The classical differentiation is to slow down in these cases or change the numbers or make some kind of template to assist.

All of these are good interventions for kids at the margins of understanding and you can use them to get the 4-5 kids up to 6-8 with your 'perfect' lesson. Of course the other 22 kids are thrown under the bus.

Truth is, I printed these plans all the time because you have to have them in a plan book or you get crummy evaluations. Another truth? They're like battle plans. I think it was Eisenhower that said plans are toast as soon as you engage the enemy.

You have to have a plan, of course, or you're just going to drift around like blue green algae. If Bill is making 4 or 5 plans a day he's Zeus! What I do is make the plan then I predict all the ways it won't work. This allows me to plan interventions for as many broken kids as I can anticipate. This gives me a handful of strategies to keep at my fingertips but they aren't alternative lessons because what you always find is not just some weakness in understanding a new concept. No! What you find is the complete absence of understanding for some underlying and fundamental prerequisite. You can't plan that. It would be like a plan to retake 4th grade or something equally ambitious.

Plus, if you've got 30 kids there are probably 10 or so different missing fundamentals. You'd have to be better than Zeus to plan this. And even if you could, there's no way in hell you've got time to pull it off.

It occurs to me that there are vastly different classroom experiences being relayed in this thread. The gulf is enormous. I've never had the kind of easy district some are describing and I can't imagine what it would be like teaching in one.

One of my suspicions is that all of the latest math and social engineering fads are born with the $20,000 per child suburban school district in mind, where the majority of kids are above the 80th percentile and you only have to tweak the occasional slug.

I remember going to a conference a few years ago where I struck up a conversation with a teacher who was bemoaning her first experience with an ELL student (the only one in her school apparently). The child was Russian. I had coffee exploding through all of my facial openings halfway into this conversation.

Have you ever seen a Russian kid with math? You could teach him with hand signals in a nanosecond and he would probably be showing you a thing or two 'back at ya'.

I make new 'plans' every year because I've honestly never had one work. Anybody that has a reusable set, has I suspect, never landed on Omaha Beach.

K9Sasha said...

I've taught high schoolers, college kids, and I've tutored 4th and 5th graders in math, and 1-3rd in reading.

I've been tutoring reading for three years, and will be going back into the classroom (grades 4-5) in fall for the first time in 20 years. I know I'll have boatloads of work to do to create lesson plans for each day in the classroom - even for curricula like Saxon math and Open Court reading where things are already pretty set. I'll still need to read through each lesson for each group and think about what the lesson will look like. But even while tutoring I was never able to recycle lessons. One of the things that I absolutely love about tutoring is that I can constantly gauge the student and adjust what I'm doing. The student knows but is weak on the sound of E? Okay, find or create lessons focusing on E. Another student is feeling really down about not being able to read as well as her classmates? Okay, create a game using compound words so she sees that even though she can only read CVC patterns, she can read some longer words (it worked - she loved being able to read those words). I have a core curriculum I use (two actually - it depends on the age of the student) and remediate gaps as they show up. To do that, I plan day by day and pull from a variety of materials as necessary. Also, I believe very strongly in teaching to mastery. There's no point in going on if the student doesn't have a firm grasp of what has already been taught.

It is not what I do now. These days, I'm at home with my son.

I stayed home with my son as he was growing up, working not at all or part time - I wouldn't change that decision for the world. I'm glad you're able to be home with your son.

But more time is what's needed, not less instruction.

Yes. That was my whole point in my musings about abolishing grade levels and grouping students by academic attainment level instead. Provide set criteria they must meet to earn a "merit badge" and so many merit badges earns them a rank advancement. It is the gift of time that I'm trying to give to the slower ones, like my second grade student who still could only read CVC words. These slower students make progress, they just need somehow to be given more time.

SteveH said...

"I've never had the kind of easy district some are describing and I can't imagine what it would be like teaching in one."

Exactly. Your very real problems as a teacher are completely different than those of many other teachers, but they don't define the teachng profession. There are many schools and teachers (without your problems) who hide behind this complexity issue. I would go so far as to say that they are using you. When Bill talks about spending his summers using his own money on professional development, many teachers are going yeah, yeah, yeah! We get teacher letters to the editor in our town's paper exclaiming all of the extra time and effort they put in. The assumption is that most or all teachers do this. It's great PR.

There is a certain solidarity among teachers that is difficult to understand, especially when you have comments like Bill's. Perhaps this is related to adversarial teacher-administration issues. I feel sometimes that I'm supposed to pick sides. I don't. I look at schools and teachers as one entity. While teachers and administrations are pointing fingers at each other, many parents are wondering why their issues are being ignored.


"Plus, if you've got 30 kids there are probably 10 or so different missing fundamentals."

It doesn't have to be this way. This isn't a necessary part of teaching. If people think that teaching is intrinsically complex, then you will have much more difficulty trying to fix the problems.

TeachMoore said...

Brett asked in his original "Why doesn't everyone focus so heavily on measuring and advancing student outcomes?"

The best teachers I know (and I include myself) do exactly that and have even before there were standards or state tests. As Bill rightly points out, though, even though there is quantitatively more data available about student perfomance, much of that data is not useful at the classroom level; and some of it that is doesn't arrive in time. Many of us teach grade levels and subjects for which no standardized test data is available. Fortunately, there are many other ways to assess student learning, including online resources that teachers can use within their own classrooms as well as some highly accurate teacher-developed assessments that are both subject and student specific.

It is the work of gaining that understanding of each student (I'm looking at 100-150 a day at the high school level), developing, implementing, and analyzing both instruction and assessment of those individuals AND their group dynamics that makes teaching complex. For example, reading and responding to just one page (or screen) of writing per student per week (I'm an English teacher) takes more time than any teacher gets in prep time at school for a week.

I heartily agree with K9Sasha that eliminating grade levels and the arbitrary attachment of curriculum goals to age levels rather than actual performance would do much toward improving each student's learning experience.

lgm said...

PaulB, I hear your frustration. It's the same as mine when my proficient child is placed in a fully included class and the instructor decides to remediate the whole class rather than teach the grade level curriculum AND the principal decides that proficient students will not be allowed to access the grade level curriculum. It's especially headbanging when the older child had the same teacher, same grade and the entire curriculum was competently offered to his class.


As far as I can see, every district is somewhere on the path of improving its factory output, thanks to the examples of heads rolling in districts that failed to achieve AYP. Some beleive in the pursuit of excellence and some are happy if everyone passes marginally. Some management teams and process owners are better than others.

The problem here in my district is that capable elementary children can't access the complete grade level curriculum b/c of management's choice to idle them while other groups are attended to - even when the taxpayers have funded every resource (4 extra years in my district, specialists, small group sizes. D.I. material etc) needed to educate these other groups to the minimum standards possible. These 'gaps' that you note are entirely intentional and are done for the political reason of avoiding the appearance of tracking. It's very costly though - 2/3 of our unclassified seventh grade is in academic intervention for LA and math b/c the cumulative gaps caught up enough that they failed the state testing. Until the pendulum changes on ability/ach. grouping in elementary I see nothing changing. I see the gap between rich/poor widening as the rich buy tutoring or go to homeschool/private school.

Anonymous said...

One reason I feel so strongly about keeping kids in their ZPD is what I'll call the amusement park effect, APE for short.

What happens is you have a bad day, maybe the kids came back from lunch all wired up so you need a strategy to calm them down before you get to serious work. One thing that always works in these situations is to have some really simple work sheets available. You put them in front of the kids and APE sets in. In minutes the whole class is busily working away on the worksheets. From highest to lowest ability all is well.

This only lasts for maybe 5 minutes. At the 5 minute mark the most skilled start to finish up the worksheet. These early finishers get antsy and start to chat and generally go off the rails. They've ridden all of the rides. The lowest ability kids are just finishing problem 1. They're just getting off their first ride.

This is the time, if you're sharp, that you make an adjustment. You pull that sheet because up to now nobody is learning anything new anyway. It's time to do serious work.

The next, more challenging, task is like a brand new ride but only those early finishers can get on. They're excited about the new challenge and they can see a dim solution that keeps them engaged enough to plow through the fog. The kids who were formerly happy are now angry. You opened a new ride that they can't get on (they don't line up with the little height gauge thing) and you closed down the fun rides that weren't producing anything.

In a way, the teacher's job is to create stress, just enough to provide that dim view of a solution. Ideally each student needs a different form of stress so that they can be challenged just short of frustration.

The dilemma is that APE is symptomatic of the vast differences in abilities but it manifests itself as a classroom management tool. If your stress excites the high achievers, it's pissing off the low achievers. If it excites the low achievers it's pissing off the high achievers. You can manipulate the mood of the room by the type of challenges you provide.

Unfortunately, in the present system your ability to fine tune this amusement park is limited. What can easily happen is that your mix of rides tends towards the best overall customer satisfaction in the APE and there is no way to know if this coincides with the optimal learning stress.

When I think of planning for these high spread groups, APE is always on my mind because I know that a mistep leads to much more than poor learning. It creates a horrible day for everybody in the room.

I also know, from having observed this enough times, that if I had a way to tune better and the time and methodology to customize the delivery, I could have thirty kids loving math everyday no matter where they fell in the distribution.

Without those tools I'm more like the Grinch, throttling rides on and off trying to keep the peace. If every kid is in their ZPD, APE goes away.

pjordan said...

Steve wrote:In Bill's case, it would. Teachers and schools would easily know how to define and coordinate curricula. They would easily know how to teach and assess state standards. They would not allow kids to get to fifth grade without knowing their times table. Fifth grade teachers would be able to focus on new material rather than stress over how to remediate kids

But what if those kids come to fifth grade from Honduras or Mexico in January? They haven't been in school much this year, or last year, or the year before? Knowing their times tables? But they come here every year in January because their dad has a specific job he can do. So every year they take the test but they don't get much teaching - a few months instead of nine months. Thank goodness for teachers like Bill who use formative assessments and spend so much time outside of class to plan differentiated lessons and help children who are behind to catch up. I have taught for almost thirty years and the one thing that amazes me is that the job does not get easier or more automatic as the years pass. Instead there are more questions.
Patty

Gail R. said...

I just finished reading all 39 of the previous comments, and it seems to me that the main themes circulating throughout are the need for rigorous standards, instruction based on those standards, assessment designed to show whether or not students have met the standards, and teachers who use the assessment results to plan subsequent instruction. Sounds simple, yes? That's why so many people erroneously think teaching is so easy that anybody can do it. If all we had to do was "deposit" knowledge into students' heads much as one deposits coins into a piggy bank, then teaching would be easy. In reality, the instruction has to be standards-based AND match the students' readiness and motivation to learn the material. In a classroom of 25 students, there could be as many as 25 different levels of readiness and motivation. That's where the complexity comes in--crafting instruction that enables 25 very different students to learn the material, then assessing whether or not what's been taught has been learned, then designing the subsequent instruction, etc., etc., etc. This is the reality of teaching, no matter whether it's an impoverished urban or rural setting or a wealthy suburban school setting. What I'd love to see is a moratorium on finger-pointing and blame-laying and a commitment to addressing the underlying societal problems that make teaching and learning so challenging.

Marsha said...

Just read through the 40+ comments and I am amazed about a couple of things.

#1 I think it is interesting that when someone admits that they have had that breakthrough moment...something I think we have all had. Maybe it was after staring at the "code" and suddenly being able to access all the hours of experience that unlocks the solution. Or maybe it's after 10 minutes. Either way, when that ah-ha moment comes and you find the answer, it's a great thing. I'd argue the most experienced people in any job (craftsman, accountant, programmer, or teacher) find those ah-ha moments throughout their careers.

Does it mean that what you were doing was of poor quality? Maybe. But maybe it means that it is not of the quality that all your work hereafter will have because of that "moment".

I think this was the bigger point to which Bill was driving. It's where I've found myself in my teaching practice. What I've done all along is good...way better than you'd get doing the scripted assessments....but each time I think about what just happened or I read another article or I collaborate with colleague to solve a problem---I learn and get better. Sometimes in small increments and sometimes in huge steps.

#2 How could anyone argue that finding a one-size fits all perfect method of teaching is best for kids is beyond me. Sure there's a basic gameplan and definitely a unwavering plan for accomplishing what's in the curriculum. But it is the masterful blend of that "hard" knowledge combined with a teacher's ability to interpret human behavior and emotions that leads to excellent teaching.

I'm also sorry that posters don't think that it's about what we enjoy or interested in. Heck, I'd hate a teacher who wasn't passionately interested in their content area or emotionally invested in delivering that passion onto their students. I count on my love of mathematics and/or my fascination of the big ideas of science to pull kids along as we plough through mountains of dry curriculum indicators.

I have to teach the properties of soil. Very dry and not very exciting. But once you begin to unveil the secrets that lie behind those properties and impart the impact that understanding those properties can mean to architects, engineers, bridge builders, city planners, construction engineers...etc. Well, it moves well beyond what a scripted curriculum provides. And it becomes my love of the discipline...all the articles I read, the Discovery Channel TV I watch and NPR radio podcasts I drag into class to share with my kids. Because I LOVE this stuff.

If I didn't I'd teach economics or reading or music.

Will these things help my kids survive in the world? I, of course, believe they will. I believe it is that fire in the belly passion for learning that is imparted when you reveal the innermost workings of math and science to kids. When they begin to "get it" and they begin to become curious and press you into helping them find out why.

#3 I don't think I'll ever be accomplished. I believe I will always be improving until the day I retire. I believe that I will always need to know more about convection currents or the patterns of numbers or how to better measure what my students know and don't know, or what better ways to deliver learning experiences to my students.

There's much more to say, but I'll leave it here for now and wait to see what happens.

SteveH said...

"I heartily agree with K9Sasha that eliminating grade levels and the arbitrary attachment of curriculum goals to age levels rather than actual performance would do much toward improving each student's learning experience."

It would also eliminate the need for teachers to face (in the same group) kids who span a wide range of ability. But our schools use full-inclusion on purpose for social reasons. Teachers have to then try to teach across many levels of ability. In the lowest grades they use team teaching with one teacher specialized in learning disabilities. But they still require a certain amount of mixed-ability group learning each day. When they finally allow kids to separate by ability (somewhat) in seventh grade, many of the more able kids are shocked by the jump in work and expectations.

SteveH said...

"But what if those kids come to fifth grade from Honduras or Mexico in January? They haven't been in school much this year, or last year, or the year before? Knowing their times tables?"

Is it OK to mix these kids in with all of the rest who are ready for higher expectations? In my son's fifth grade math class they had kids who still didn't know 7+8 without using their fingers, and they live here all year. The teacher didn't finish 35 percent of the workbooks just to spend more time helping these kids. Good for her, but this is completely unfair to those kids who want more. Disadvantaged kids will never get ahead if education is defined by the lowest common denominator. Those who can or will must be separated from those who can't or won't.

As I've said many times before, teaching isn't defined by the status quo, by what walks into the classroom. If kids are coming into fifth grade without knowing their times table, then teachers should be jumping and hollering to protect the more capable kids.

SteveH said...

"In reality, the instruction has to be standards-based AND match the students' readiness and motivation to learn the material."

Look at the test questions. Look at NAEP. They questions are very, very simple. Schools struggle to get kids over minimal cutoff scores on simple tests that often allow very low raw scores. The raw score cutoff in our state is something like 62 percent. I'm a big fan of accountability, but NCLB institutionalizes slow progress towards a minimal goal. It also shifts resources away from the better students.


"In a classroom of 25 students, there could be as many as 25 different levels of readiness and motivation."

This is done on purpose? The school can't stop themselves? What happened to flunking kids or requiring them to go to summer school? Schools should focus on the kids willing to work, not the other way around. Otherwise, kids will never, ever get out of poverty.

SteveH said...

"What I'd love to see is a moratorium on finger-pointing and blame-laying and a commitment to addressing the underlying societal problems that make teaching and learning so challenging."

Well, Bill did start this off with some "scary" problems that required a lot of fixing. Are these societal problems? I thought schools were the vehicle for allowing kids to get out of poverty. You better not wait for poverty to go away first or you'll be waiting a long time.

There are a lot of kids who are ready right now. Are you telling them that they have to wait for society to fix something?

KTM is all about parents who make up for the failures of schools. These are problems that can be fixed directly and right now. We don't have to wait for society.

Tracy said...

But what if those kids come to fifth grade from Honduras or Mexico in January?

Why are they in fifth grade if they don't know their times tables?

Wouldn't the logical thing to do be to get rid of the idea of grades based on age, and assign them to grades, or lessons, based on what they already know? If the kid doesn't know their time tables, put them in a class where they are being taught time tables, don't put them in a class based on the arbitrariness of age. (I'm talking about a system where we can remake the rules, obviously if your school is obliged by district policies, or what not, to put kids in classes based on age, then this is not intended as a criticism of your school).

Same for the kid who doesn't know their time tables because of a bad illness that meant he spent most of one year in hospital.

In a classroom of 25 students, there could be as many as 25 different levels of readiness and motivation. That's where the complexity comes in--crafting instruction that enables 25 very different students to learn the material

Why not divy the classroom up across the school so students are assigned to classrooms based on their levels of readiness? Of course, every kid is different so there will still be some variation, but if you asigned based on readiness then the variation should be less, and the instruction crafting should be less.

How could anyone argue that finding a one-size fits all perfect method of teaching is best for kids is beyond me.

I don't know anyone who argues this. The most successful curriculum we know of, Direct Instruction (DI), does not use a one-size fits all. Instead, it gives teachers the tools to vary their instruction to teach individual kids. The individualisation of instruction starts right from the start. Students arriving at a DI school are tested for pre-existing knowledge, and then assigned into small groups (5 to 7 students) based on their knowledge in maths and in reading. A maths groups can be made up of different students than a reading group. The whole school does reading and maths lessons at the same time, so all the teachers are available to teach these reading and maths groups. So, a kid who arrives at school with no knowledge of the alphabet is placed in a group where he will be taught the alphabet, while the kid who arrives at school already knowing her alphabet left, right and upside down, will be placed in a later lesson. Kids' placements in lessons are reassessed on a regular basis due to their performance, and if a kid misses more than a few days of school due to say illness they are placed in an earlier lesson so they cover the information that the group they were formally a part of missed.

During reading and maths times, the teacher works directly in turn with each small group in her class while the rest of the class does independent work, supervised by an aide. In one school I understand there was no money to hire aides so every single adult in the school was roped in to do this work first thing in the morning.

DI also gives the teacher the skills to modify each lesson in real-time based on the performance of the small group or individuals in that group. For example, one feature of DI lessons is that kids give verbal responses to the teacher's questions. Now, some kids are slower to get their thoughts together than others, so left to their own devices they will naturally answer a bit later than the fast kids. But that means that the teacher can't tell if the slow kids actually understand the question, or if they were just copying the fast kids. So in a DI lesson the teacher has kids answer the question only once she has given a mark, so every kid has a chance to get their answer ready.

But it is the masterful blend of that "hard" knowledge combined with a teacher's ability to interpret human behavior and emotions that leads to excellent teaching.

And the real problem is how to give as much of that masterful blend to new, inexperienced teachers (or indeed any teacher who for whatever reason doesn't already have it), as possible. Plus, how to make life easier for teachers of older kids so they don't have 30 kids, with ten different major gaps in the fundamentals.

Anonymous said...

I've found that even the parent who smokes crack and drinks beer right up to the moment she births her child, still loves her child. Even very bad parents are still passionate about wanting the best for their kids. They just don't have much of a clue sometimes as to how to make that happen.

So for folks who think that their passion is the only passion pounding on the school house door, I would say "NOT." Schools, like it or not, have become the focal point for lots of societal ills.

One of the external changes that, in my opinion, has driven this is our shift to a much more secular society over the last 200 years. As religion has retreated as a major force in the mores of communities, schools have defaulted as the only remaining institutional, or community entity capable of picking up the slack. I can think of only three places where communities shape the lives of their children: church, school, and family.

If church is gone from your family and your family is disfunctional, then your kids are going through their formative years on a cracked (no pun intended) one legged stool.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not moralizing here and I'm not even very religious so I'm probably part of the problem. But, this is an observation that I feel gets little discussion relative to its importance.

I'm pretty sure that 150 years ago in that one room schoolhouse any kid that disrespected a teacher knew in their bones, before the teacher said a word, that they were going straight to hell.

This is way different than today's culture. My kids know that when they disrespect a teacher they will ride the bus home to their Xbox, and mom will take them to Six Flags after dinner at Burger King. Nobody is afraid of hell and many of them already live there.

I don't think this is a good thing at all for schools. It mashes up the mission. It accounts for things like full inclusion and condom training. In low SES districts, schools are trying to put all the legs back on the stool (well not the church one) and it does not work at all well, mixing all this stuff with academics.

Do any of you have memories of horror at the thought of having the peas touch the mashed potatoes? Well that's what we've got folks. Schools are the Cuisinaire blender of your communities because that's all we've got left in far too many cases.

Anonymous said...

One more thing that needs to be said...

When parents move from a troubled school district to a 'better' one, they are providing a sort of coarse filtering. By virtue of their ability to move, they leave behind a more concentrated form of disfunction. Incorrectly, they feel that this affords them some isolation from the disfunction and a leg up up for their kids. While this my be true in the short term, it is false on a longer horizon.

I'm not saying this to moralize. I did it years ago. My kids are doing it as I write. If you don't do it you could make a sound argument that you're a heartless wretch. But, here's what happens in the long term. As the school system decays in society's backwaters, the state and federal governments notice. They remain responsible for all citizens.

Over time these bureaucrats formulate one sized solutions to address the backwater and everybody, including the backwater refugee, has to dance the latest disco tune. You don't get away, not really.

As long as you drink from the public trough, you are servants to the farmer who fills it.

SteveH said...

"... knew in their bones, before the teacher said a word, that they were going straight to hell."

That this is gone isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it doesn't mean that there can't be any consequences for bad behavior or lack of trying. It doesn't mean that you can't separate kids. Whatever happened to flunking kids? That's been eliminated because all kids have to be happy, natural learners. If they don't learn, well, there is next year, or maybe they are just not developmentally ready. But schools will continue to push kids along for social reasons, and KTM-type parents will make sure that learning gets done. No wonder there is a correlation to SES. Everyday Math is designed around allowing kids to move on and creating classrooms with wide ranges of ability.


"It accounts for things like full inclusion ..."

In our schools, full-inclusion is used to keep from sending learning disabled kids out of town, and to make them feel as normal as possible. They succeed very well at this. In our school concert last week, one of these kids sang a solo and got a big applause from the other kids. The downside is the wide range of abilities in the classroom and focus on the lower end. They are working on this, but there is only so much they are willing to do. Once you get to the upper grades (7th and 8th), however, they start to separate the kids, but this is only in math and foreign language classes. For many kids, this jump in expectations is very difficult.

Anonymous said...

"What I'd love to see is a moratorium on finger-pointing and blame-laying and a commitment to addressing the underlying societal problems that make teaching and learning so challenging."

So, we leave instructional practices and teacher quality off the table while we address the mysterious underlying societal problems?

As a teacher, you can't solve "societal problems," but I'm finding more and more teachers using this as an excuse for bad performance.

Full inclusion is clearly a bigger problem than most schools want to admit. It goes against their ideology. So, we all talk around it. It's the big elephant in the room that has many of you teacher running your butts off trying to meet the needs of your gifted, LD, and everything in between in your classrooms, only to blame the kids and their parents when it doesn't work. It isn't fair to the kids, and it is definitely not fair to you.

Even with ability grouped classrooms, there requires a good deal of differentiation. My special ed son's self-contained classroom in middle school still had to broken into groups due to the different rates of learning speed and the teachers could barely keep up with who needed what.

In another school with a weaker Special Ed dept, he might have been dumped in one of your classes where you would have to figure out how far out of the curriculum he was and then throw the appropriate worksheet at him. All of your lesson plans would go right over his head because he would not be able to follow your train of thought even if the plan was pointed to the average kid in your class. Of course, your bright/gifted kids would have checked out long ago. Their only hope, or band-aid, is the pullout.

The constant disruptions caused by the many pullouts for this and that (that teachers also have to keep track of) could also be throught of as impediments to learning--and that has nothing to do with societal problems. Nothing.

The other big elephant that many schools and teachers don't want to face is the massive amount of bad edu-lingo that requires a lexicon to interpret. Ed schools, administrations, teachers, textbook publishers, etc., all love to use language that serves to drive a wedge between parent and school. Reform math curriculums throw out the old (and the baby with the bathwater)and bring in the new, thus now driving a new wedge between parent and child. Any complaints are met with charges of being stuck in the past.

So, when we speak of societal ills, let's also take a look at how the schools contribute to the mess by intimidating certain parents, and then later scolding them for not being more involved with their kid's education.

SusanS

SteveH said...

Our town struggles with full-inclusion. Our principal knows that more should be done for the more willing and able kids, but many teachers love the idea of mixed-ability learning rather than a mixed-ability environment.

One of the very few charter schools in our area uses ability grouping for the core courses, but mixed-ability grouping for the environment and the other classes. This is really what our school does for the 7th and 8th graders, but they cannot seem to do it for the lower grades. I thought it was interesting to hear our principal say that she was getting great resistance from the lower grade teachers about differentiating the material. This had nothing to do with more work. They used the word "equality".

K9Sasha said...

They used the word "equality".

Equality means giving each the same amount of challenge, not giving each the same work.

You're right about this, though. Schools, and especially elementary schools, are big into equality, self-esteem, and other feel-good notions. They aren't doing the kids any favors, but they don't seem to notice.

concernedCTparent said...

In my experience, not only do they not "seem to notice", schools don't seem to care when you point it out to them either.

I agree that school should be about equal amount of challenge that takes each child beyond their individual starting points. It's getting there that seems to be the problem.

SteveH said...

"Equality means giving each the same amount of challenge, not giving each the same work."

In this case, it really isn't. Differentiating the material would be giving kids equal challenge. This is what they were resisting. They want all kids sitting together getting the same material. I remember asking the first grade teacher about this and I got an explanation of a very convoluted process where different kids could get different amounts of learning while the teacher is doing just one thing. Then, of course, they want the more able kids to model (and help) learning for the less able kids.

K9Sasha said...

Differentiating the material would be giving kids equal challenge.

Yes. This is what I meant. In rereading my statement I realized it was ambiguous. Sorry.

The real meaning of the word "equality" is, or should be, giving each child the same challenge, not the same work.

Catherine Johnson said...

One of my suspicions is that all of the latest math and social engineering fads are born with the $20,000 per child suburban school district in mind,

try $25,000

Catherine Johnson said...

One of the external changes that, in my opinion, has driven this is our shift to a much more secular society over the last 200 years. As religion has retreated as a major force in the mores of communities, schools have defaulted as the only remaining institutional, or community entity capable of picking up the slack.

I wonder about this a lot, too.

The weird thing in my community is that the vast majority of kids (I think) go to church or temple -- and we're still being told that it's up to the school to teach character.

It really is uncanny.

Our administrators seem to treat us -- and to define us -- the same way they would treat and define single black mothers living on at or below the poverty line.

lgm said...

>>>But what if those kids come to fifth grade from Honduras or Mexico in January? They haven't been in school much this year, or last year, or the year before? Knowing their times tables? But they come here every year in January because their dad has a specific job he can do. So every year they take the test but they don't get much teaching - a few months instead of nine months.


It's actually quite a common scenario, as many here take the winter months to go to the home country, then come back for construction and agriculture in the fall. They students have a nice sense of familiarity since they are in the same small group pullouts when they return and the specialists have known them since prek.

What you do is the same thing you do in any other factory when the widget doesn't meet the spec for the next process - you flag the widget and put it through a specialized rework process.

In this case, my district would give the student acheivement and intellegence testing , then an IEP and massive specialist support (pullouts w/direct instruction plus ESL) as well as a spot in summer school to get them up to grade level. Files are kept, so when they return they resume where they left off.

lgm said...

make that spring not fall...sorry don't knokw how to edit

MIke said...

Dear, oh dear! I've read all of the posts in this thread and they've gone off in a variety of directions. But there are some issues, as a high school English teacher, that are of interest.

Please allow me to summarize what some seem to be saying, and I know that I'm generalizing here.

(1) Education is badly in need of "change," which is good, absolutely necessary, and every right thinking person agrees on this point.

(2) Scripted curricula are wonderful and would solve virtually every problem.

(3) There is no accountability in education (bad teachers can't be fired), and mandatory, high stakes testing, scripted curricula and similar "solutions" will address that.

(4) Teaching is--or should be--easy.

(5) Teaching is a profession.

(6) Teaching isn't a profession, but needs to be.

(7) The evaluation of students is wrongly left to teachers.

(8) "Self generated assessments" written by teachers: bad. Independent assessment: Good.

(9) Teachers are absolutely accountable for "student learning." One correspondent put it this way: "...do you see it as your job to teach or to ensure that students learn?"

Where to begin? Teachers aren't accountable? Nonsense. In every school in America, more than sufficient mechanisms are in place to ensure appropriate, even high performance. Principals can fire bad teachers, superintendents can fire bad principals, school boards can fire bad superintendents and the citizenry can toss bad school board members out on their ample posteriors at the next election. But there are schools where bad teachers aren't fired! True. Then it logically follows that high stakes testing will solve that problem in that school? A scripted curriculum? The problem is solved through effective supervision.

Education is in need of change! Our schools are failing! OK. Which schools? Where, exactly? Failing in what ways? How do you know? If things are as bad as some suggest, why aren't we a nation of drooling morons? How is it that our education system has produced the most prosperous, free, technologically oriented, economically strong and intellectually vital society in human history if our public schools are such waste heaps of abject failure? Every year hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people vote with their feet and do all that they can, even risking their lives, to come to America. They know what we have here, even if the education nay-sayers don't.

Am I saying that there are no problems? Certainly not. Only that they aren't universal and that they can all be repaired by proper attention to detail and supervision on the local level. But some school districts won't do that! True. Human nature. In a free country, people are free to excel or to fail. Sometimes they have to fail a lot and for a long time before they realize they have to do better. That's still not an argument for massive governmental intrusion and mandates that won't fix simple, direct problems that can and should be fixed on the local level.

Too many forget, if they ever knew, that our educational system is not the product of laziness and an unwillingness to change, but the product of thousands of years of human learning and struggle for the best way to educate human beings. I often tell my students that times change but people don't. The ancient Greeks didn't have iPods, but it takes very little reading to understand that their very human concerns are still ours.

The best way for most human beings to learn is in a classroom managed by a good teacher. Not a facilitator, not someone who allows the kids to get in touch with their inner wonderfulness and discover the knowledge within them, but a reasonable adult who will actually teach them, not only an academic discipline, but about life. This is so because learning is not merely a matter of assimilating and regurgitating data, but it is a social process which ultimately involves what I've come to call the 4 B's: building bigger, better brains. Thus do we subject kids to math, science, English, etc. because each discipline builds the brain in ways that the others do not, quite apart from their practical applications.

Good teachers are necessary because of the ultimate failing of all one-size-fits-all curriculum or testing schemes. One size does not fit all. NCLB requires that every child will read and do math on grade level by 2014. This is impossible. Anyone who believes it to be possible is deluded, stupid or both. Let them prove their thesis by requiring that every American child run the 100 meter dash in 10 seconds flat by 2014. Adapting teaching for a variety of kids and their individual needs is something that only good teachers can do. If Johnny comes to my classroom reading on a 7th grade level and I bring him to the 9th grade level in one year, despite the fact that I've raised most other kids to an 11th grade level, have I failed? Has Johnny?

Of course not. Teachers take each child as they arrive on the first day of the school year and help them along the path of learning as far as they can go that year. But by the standards of scripted curriculum or high stakes testing, Johnny, and by inference, me--his teacher--would be failures.

This brings us to teaching vs. student learning. A false choice. As a teacher, I am absolutely accountable and responsible for providing the best possible educational opportunity for my students. Encouraging them, cajoling, contacting parents, etc. etc. is, of course, involved, but that is where my responsibility ends. Students are not computers. I cannot download data onto their hard drives. They can choose, in a variety of ways, not to learn or to learn very little. It is, after all, their education, and it requires real work, hard and consistent work, day after day, on their part, for learning is a life long process. The finest teacher in the world, working for the richest school district which supplies every modern teaching aid and material who provides that best educational opportunity in human history will mean little to the student who misses 1/3 of the school year, or who, while attending every class and never being disruptive, simply chooses not to do a single assignment. Teaching/learning is a partnership and each partner must assume their responsibilities and do the work.

Teaching is easy. How can one respond to anyone who actually thinks that? Let's include professionalism here too, shall we?

I could talk about my all too common 80 hour weeks during the school year, or the thousands of dollars I spend on supplies each year, but let's focus on what it takes to become a teacher in most states. The entry level requirement is, of course, a bachelor's degree. But that's not sufficient. One commonly must take what amounts to a year's worth of education courses and serve a semester teaching practicum under a practicing teacher. But that's not sufficient in many states. One must take and pass a variety of examinations. And in many states, there are a variety of mandated classes that must also be taken prior to certification, over and above education classes and the other qualifications I've mentioned. All of this, of course, at the expense of the prospective teacher. Add criminal history, background checks, etc. and before our prospective teacher sets foot in a classroom, they will be among the most highly educated and extensively vetted people in the American workforce. And all of these requirements are mandated by state, even federal, law.

This, of course, is not sufficient. In order to retain their teaching certificates, they will have to obtain a variety of "hours" (sometimes clock hours, sometimes college credit hours, etc.) of continuing education on a continual basis, usually at their own expense, and during their legendary, lengthy, luxurious summer vacations.

Having accomplished all of that, teachers, while having most of the requirements of a professional occupation--high entrance requirements, higher education, stringent rules and retention requirements, continuing education requirements--will never be a profession. Even plumbers are more a profession than teachers. To be a true profession, those involved must set their own entrance requirements. They must set their own standards of performance and police themselves, and they, and they alone, set their compensation. Teachers do none of this, nor will they ever.

This brings us to assessment, and to the correspondent who suggested that the evaluation of students is wrongly left to teachers. If teaching is so easy, if apparently anyone can do it, why don't more follow the path to those fabulously high salaries, sumptuous summer vacations, and huge amounts of time off during the summers?

I'm also a musician, among other things, a guitarist. I've observed that if you place a very expensive guitar and a very expensive French Horn on a table, passersby will never think to touch the horn, but will immediately pick up the guitar. It's familiarity. Guitars are everywhere, and so are teachers. Most Americans have been around teachers for 12 or so years and so they feel qualified to discourse on teaching. How hard can it be?

Remember how difficult it is to get into teaching? Why do we go to such lengths to ensure that highly educated people become teachers and then essentially ignore them? If you've hired me to teach English, had you better not be able to safely assume that I can assess student learning? Should you not be able to feel secure in the knowledge that am able to write tests and assignments that will reveal the abilities of any student? If you're my principal, shouldn't you be able to walk into my classroom and, asking how little Johnny is doing, expect to receive a detailed recounting, complete with documentary evidence? Of course you should. If this is not the case, as little as we pay teachers for what they do, we're paying them too much.

This is all a part of what teachers are responsible for doing, of providing that educational opportunity and assessing, which good teachers do on a daily basis, whether and to which degree students are taking advantage of that opportunity. To suggest that assessment is the responsibility of others is to denigrate teachers individually and collectively and to render meaningless all of the laws and regulations on the books relating to the education, hiring, continuing education and retention of teachers. If teachers actually can't do that, what good are they?

Oh yes, and to tell others that their work, their profession is of little value, that it's easy, is simply rude. Didn't your mother teach you that?

SteveH said...

This reminds me of the time parents in our town went to an open house math night at our school. The teacher talked to us in her best teacher voice about the wonders of MathLand while we all (doctors, attorneys, scientists, engineers) sat in little chairs. MathLand was so bad that it has disappeared off the face of the earth. But boy, it was the best thing since sliced bread back then. So what do we have now? Everyday Math, the low expectation curriculum designed to let kids learn the material whenever they get around to it.


"Am I saying that there are no problems? Certainly not. Only that they aren't universal and that they can all be repaired by proper attention to detail and supervision on the local level."

"all"?

The major issues at KTM are assumptions, curricula, and expectations, not supervision or details. The problems are not minor.

I'm glad you think everything is fine (except for supervision and details). You are entitiled to your own opinion, but I can almost guarantee that your idea of a good education is nowhere near mine.

Perhaps you would like to add your opinion to other more specific threads on KTM. Not all threads go off in a variety of directions like this one. It would be a good chance for you to argue your position on specific topics.


"Oh yes, and to tell others that their work, their profession is of little value, that it's easy, is simply rude. Didn't your mother teach you that?"

And you will have to do better than resort to strawmen.

Tracy said...

. In every school in America, more than sufficient mechanisms are in place to ensure appropriate, even high performance.

Then why aren't we getting high performance?

Education is in need of change! Our schools are failing! OK. Which schools? Where, exactly? Failing in what ways?

According to the National Education Report: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/nde/viewresults.asp

In the 8th grade, 26% of students scored below the basic reading level. of this, 70% of ELL and 24% of non-ELL students scored below basic. Of this, 65% of disabled students and 22% of non-disabled students scored below basic. Of this, 65% of disabled learners and 22% of non-disabled learners scored below basic. From this data, if we assume that no ELL students are disabled and no disabled students are ELL, we can calculate that schools are failing to teach about 19.6% of non-disabled students who already are native speakers of English how to read.

This is not an exhaustive list of what ways schools are failing. But if they are failing to teach over 19% of students to read, when there is no excuse of disability or of non-native speakers of English, then they are likely failing in other ways.

The failure appears to be general. We know that schools can do better because some do - see http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_puca/is_199604/ai_2843944731/pg_1

If things are as bad as some suggest, why aren't we a nation of drooling morons? How is it that our education system has produced the most prosperous, free, technologically oriented, economically strong and intellectually vital society in human history if our public schools are such waste heaps of abject failure?

Well, firstly you are wrong when you say that the USA is the most prosperous and free society in the world. Norway's GDP per capita is higher than the USA's (as is a bunch of other city states). As for free, according to the Freedomhouse Index, the USA is merely one of many countries that are rated as free in terms of both political liberties and civil liberties. For exampe, within the Americans alone, the Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Urguay are also all rated as having both 1s in both categories. (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World_2008 - the freedom house site itself appears to be down at the moment) According to the Index of Economic Freedom, the USA only ranks 5th in the world in terms of economic freedoms, behind Ireland and Australia.

I don't know what measure you are using of technologically-oriented and intellectually vital, but when you let me know what they are, I'll have a look at Japan and the UK in particular as likely to be higher than the USA respectively. Given that you are wrong about the USA being the most free and the most prosperous place, please forgive me for not automatically believing your other, unsupported assertions.

Secondly, as for why the USA does so well, good economic policy. Soviet Russia had a population so intelligent that chess was a spectator sport (and still is for all I know), and a completely stuffed economy because of its economic policy.
But, the USA does have a lot of people in poverty and a lot of people in jail. Which is not surprising given the dismal performance of its schools in teaching reading - if you are illiterate, what other options do you have apart from crime? This answers your first attempt at providing some evidence - if the US economy is good then people will come here even if the schools are bad.

Only that they aren't universal and that they can all be repaired by proper attention to detail and supervision on the local level.

19.6% of non-ELL, non-disabled students not reaching the basic level of reading by 8th grade strikes me as a universal problem.

One size does not fit all. NCLB requires that every child will read and do math on grade level by 2014.

Do you have some sort of moral objection to checking your facts? NCLB does not require that every child will read and do maths on grade level by 2014. 1% of students can be tested by alternative standards - and this limit does not apply to small schools or schools specialising in serving the cognitively-disabled. See http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2007-2/040907a.html or http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2003-4/120903a.html

Anyone who believes it to be possible is deluded, stupid or both.

What word do we apply to someone who makes up lies about the NCLB and then criticises the NCLB on the basis of those lies?

Adapting teaching for a variety of kids and their individual needs is something that only good teachers can do. If Johnny comes to my classroom reading on a 7th grade level and I bring him to the 9th grade level in one year, despite the fact that I've raised most other kids to an 11th grade level, have I failed? Has Johnny?

Wrong level of analysis. If you are teaching 10th grade, then the school or schools that were responsible for teaching Johnny in grades 1 to 9 is the organisation that has failed to teach Johnny. If you are teaching 9th grade then the school or schools that were responsible for teaching Johnny in grades 1 to 9 is the organisation that has failed to teach Johnny. we can deduce that Johnny is not inherently unteachable because you managed to get him up two grade levels in one year.

But by the standards of scripted curriculum or high stakes testing, Johnny, and by inference, me--his teacher--would be failures.

How is Johnny a failure by the standards of scripted curriculum? Which scripted curriculum are you talking about? And which high-stakes testing are you talking about? If the test is to see if Johnny is performing at a 6th grade level, then Johnny was a success even before you got anywhere near him. If the high-stakes test is on a yearly-progress basis you are a success. Details matter.

And why are you taking all the blame on yourself when Johnny has been in school for multiple years? Why don't you place some of that blame on his earlier schooling?

They can choose, in a variety of ways, not to learn or to learn very little. It is, after all, their education, and it requires real work, hard and consistent work, day after day, on their part, for learning is a life long process.

If the rate of the presentation of new material is properly pitched to the skills and learning ability of the student, then it's easy work. I personally found learning new stuff at school boringly, mind-stulifyingly easy.

They must set their own standards of performance and police themselves, and they, and they alone, set their compensation.

Okay, which profession gets to set their own compensation?

Why do we go to such lengths to ensure that highly educated people become teachers and then essentially ignore them? If you've hired me to teach English, had you better not be able to safely assume that I can assess student learning?

No. 19.6% of children who are not disabled and who are not ELL are failing to reach the basic level on learning to read. Therefore it would be madness of me to assume that English teachers as a whole are competent at their jobs.

Look at the other professions. A wise engineering company, having hired qualified engineers, will then set up a separate testing programme to test what's being designed by the engineers. The economics firms I have worked for have an internal system of QA of written documents. Wise employers do not assume that their employees can do their jobs, instead they use various forms of professional assessment to check up on that. Assumptions are to be avoided whenever possible.

I am also not inclined to assume that someone who makes flat-out wrong assertions, like you have above when you said that the USA is the most prosperous nation in history, is competent at anything.

Should you not be able to feel secure in the knowledge that am able to write tests and assignments that will reveal the abilities of any student?

I certainly think that I should be able to feel secure in the knowledge. However before I can feel secure, it is necessary to provide me with solid evidence that teachers can write tests and assignments that will reveal the abilities of any student.

This is all a part of what teachers are responsible for doing, of providing that educational opportunity and assessing, which good teachers do on a daily basis, whether and to which degree students are taking advantage of that opportunity. To suggest that assessment is the responsibility of others is to denigrate teachers individually and collectively and to render meaningless all of the laws and regulations on the books relating to the education, hiring, continuing education and retention of teachers.

Oh get over it! Engineering companies regularly set up systems by which the test engineers are separate from the design engineers and the production engineers. People have various cognitive biases that make it darn difficult for us to realise when we are ourselves making mistakes. You yourself are far from perfect, as has been made evident by this comment. I think you're being incredibly foolhardy in thinking that you don't need someone else to assess your quality.

Oh yes, and to tell others that their work, their profession is of little value, that it's easy, is simply rude. Didn't your mother teach you that?

Well clearly *your* mother never taught you to check your statements.

lgm said...

>>Should you not be able to feel secure in the knowledge that am able to write tests and assignments that will reveal the abilities of any student?

I wish I could. I'd like to see proof that you've added value too. History has proven the need for a sufficiently independent, uncorrupt, unbiased external agency to monitor quality of the process providers, management, product specifications and the product outcome. Other industries deemed critical to the populace (for ex. pharmaceuticals and agriculture) have this QA loop, and IMHO public education should too. In a nutshell, my widget has too much worth for me to send it through a public school's multistep process that has no quality control, insufficient rework, and process owners who, until NCLB, had no accountability to anyone.


>>This is all a part of what teachers are responsible for doing, of providing that educational opportunity and assessing, which good teachers do on a daily basis, whether and to which degree students are taking advantage of that opportunity.

The latter statement is an excuse routinely used in my neck of the woods. It is impossible for a student to take advantage of an opportunity that is not in his ZPD. Until your factory can guarantee that no widgets miss process steps & each widget is at the correct step in the process, you cannot blame the widgets for shutting themselves off when they find themselves at the wrong step in the process. They are doing you a favor by flagging themselves as being at an inappropriate step in the process. Change their routing & improve your process steps early in the factory line, and you'll find more success (greater yield) at a much lower cost down the line.

>> To suggest that assessment is the responsibility of others is to denigrate teachers individually and collectively and to render meaningless all of the laws and regulations on the books relating to the education, hiring, continuing education and retention of teachers.

An external QA check or an opportunity to benchmark against a world class factory is an opportunity to show where your factory can improve should it have the resources to invest. It is not necessarily a reflection on the owner of an process step - it may show that other essential components in a successful factory operation are missing or in need of improvement.

On a personal level, I find my district's curriculum is just fine for math in my community. The curriculum itself is sufficient to lead to mastery, should the process owners choose to use it as it was intended. The process owners have chosen to not offer the entire process to the widgets, so 30% of widgets routinely fail the minimum spec. The process owner feels no obligation to offer the complete process or a rework loop , preferring to A) reject the widget instead and tell the customer to find his own rework and B) tell the product control (state dept of ed) that the spec is unachievable and C) blame the incoming product spec. The investors are not happy with the scenario, but since they have little power, changing to an efficient factory with higher yields will take a long time. In the meantime, widget owners are free to find a different factory or implement their own rework processes at their own cost.

Ben Calvin said...

I’ve found this thread particularly interesting. It reinforces my conclusion that U.S. public education will not be changing anytime soon.

I have just heard that the San Francisco Unified School District has adopted Everyday Math for next year. They asked for an exception (since they cannot use state funds for this curriculum, as it doesn’t adhere to state standards), and it was granted.

I don’t know the details, but I’m sure they knew what they were doing, and arranged the business of the school board to minimize the advance knowledge and discussion of the change.

As a political matter, we have too many constituencies that have a vested interest in the current institution. The U.S. Postal Service (which has legal monopoly on first class mail) won’t be changing very quickly and neither will public education.

I can see incremental change coming through increased opportunities for opting out. In California, your have Green Dot picking off the worst schools, and other charters (on and off-line) giving parents more opportunity to get out.

We’re very happy with our parochial choice. In adopting Everyday Math SFUSD will be doing a great service by boosting parochial enrolment in the city.

I think the public school model is similar to the newspaper industry – resistant to change, filled with self-importance, convinced it is irreplaceable. Like newspapers 20 years ago, I think it can go on for quite some time, but when the collapse comes it could be catastrophic.

Mike said...

Dear StevenH:

Thanks for the invitation. I may take you up on it. Regarding my comments generally, that's what they were: general comments on a variety of issues in this discussion thread. They were not meant to be footnoted or carved in granite, merely observations on a wide variety of issues.

And regarding straw men, pointing out a lapse in manners is hardly a deceptive rhetorical tactic. Unless of course you routinely tell others their work is easy?

Dear Tracy:

Goodness. Took things a bit personally did you? I'll just make just a few quick comments and I won't attack you as I don't know you at all, and as such will give you the benefit of the doubt.

If X % of 8th graders are deficient in reading, for example, is that X% in every school in America? Of course not. It's an average expressed statistically. My point is that there are a great many schools where things are going quite well, and a great many more where things could be better, but aren't bad at all. Local control is the ultimate issue, and good teaching and supervision in every school is the ultimate solution.

Do you suggest that students (and parents) have no responsibility for their own learning? If not, responsibility to what degree? 10%? 50%?

Which professions set their own standards? To name just a few: Doctors, lawyers, college professors (to a somewhat lesser extent than the first two). Heck, even plumbers are more a true profession in meaningful ways than teachers.

If we could not assume that English teachers as a whole were competent at their jobs, education would be rather chaotic, wouldn't it? We all believe that most human beings can successfully drive, don't we? If not, we wouldn't set foot outside. The truth is that most English teachers, and most teachers in general are competent. Quoting a statistic that represents an average doesn't change that, unless of course, you do believe that students and parents have absolutely no responsibility for their own learning.

I'm not arguing that teachers shouldn't be supervised and evaluated. Rather I'm suggesting that good supervision and evaluation--in a given school on the local level--are an absolute necessity and would help to solve a great many educational problems--where they actually exist. Supervision from afar that results in unfunded mandates, threats, and that produces nothing more than test score data isn't solving anything.

Finally, Dear Igm:

May I extend your business analogy just a bit? Some of the real problems we experience in education come about because of the imposition of the business model. Here I'm referring to high stakes mandatory testing, NCLB (Yes Tracy, I've read it--remember, I'm generalizing here, not writing a book on NCLB), and similar impositions.

For any good teacher, the score of a given student on such tests is meaningless and not at all useful. They already know, months before the test, exactly what that student's strengths and weaknesses are because they are constantly assessing--testing if you will-- what that student knows and is learning.
That's what good teachers do every day.

One of the many problems with the business model is that it essentially sees students as products. If the product is faulty, it is repaired or improved through testing and upgrading the parts and/or manufacturing process. This works well in business. It is actually harmful in education because kids aren't products, and they bear substantial responsibility for their own construction (learning).

A toaster can't leap off the assembly line and dash from the plant. A toaster can't refuse to allow parts to be installed. It can't be absent at step two of the assembly process, show up for steps 3 and 4, and vanish for step 5. Kids can do all of this.

Supervision, assessment, testing? Absolutely, but done by the right people, on the local level, competently and professionally.

Thanks folks!

Brett said...

Actually Mike, your application of the business model is incorrect. Nobody is looking at kids as the product. Kids (and their parents) are the customers.

Granted, they're by and large customers in a monopoly system, so they can't take their business elsewhere, except when they have the ability to opt out (such as being able to afford private school, or having parens available to home school). And those who drop out are also making a consumer choice.

I think the sooner we drop this whole "kids as products" feint the quicker we'll be able to advance the conversation.

Mike said...

Dear Brett:

I'm suggesting that some see kids as products and that that way of looking at the education process is harmful. Extending the business analogy a bit further, we might usefully consider kids (and their parents) to be shareholders in their local school. They purchase their shares with with their tax dollars, and they use the services provided by the company/school. They have a vested interest in the success of the school.

Problems occur when they stop attending shareholder meetings and carefully reading annual reports. When shareholders fail to be involved, when they fail to act on their responsibilities, everyone loses.

Please keep in mind that I don't see business analogies as particularly useful in this debate and there are very good reasons why we have public schools that go far beyond monopolies, laziness, teacher's unions, etc. Schools aren't a part of the supply/demand equation, and shouldn't be a part of that equation, for very good reasons. But that's a topic for another time...

Take care!

Ben Calvin said...

we might usefully consider kids (and their parents) to be shareholders in their local school.

Have to disagree, as shareholders freely buy and sell their shares. No one is required to buy shares they don't want. I choose to not to use my public school. Where do a sell my stake so I can apply my equity elsewhere?

Students, parents and tax payers are customers of a service, whether they are getting their money's worth is a different question.

Anonymous said...

--Why not divy the classroom up across the school so students are assigned to classrooms based on their levels of readiness?

but of course, that is what GRADE LEVELS WERE FOR. it was the most obvious bucket for how you defined readiness: AGE and LENGTH OF TIME IN SCHOOLING.

so how is your new model different from the old? "this one will work!" WHY? The old grouping by level didn't work. Why would this?

Group them by readiness and in 1 month, they are all still at different levels of readiness again, aren't they? Why or why not?

Because either instruction from the same base moves them all to the same point in the same amount of time or it doesn't. If it does, then why didn't it work in the grade level instance? (Answer: we don't know how to make instruction DO THAT, or we don't implement models that we do know. Why will that be different here?)

If it doesn't, then do you intend to regroup every month? two weeks? two days? Doesn't that strike you as madness? Every student in their own group doesn't group anyone together by readiness. So now we have a model where we only teach individually somehow? but we'll get an economy of scale somewhere else. Or will we pretend that that one room schoolhouse was really this model--the antithesis of grouping by readiness and rate?

And lastly, even if you believe somehow you can magically teach everyone at their own zpd every day without any problems, how do you make it so all of them reach a minimal standard per month/quarter/semester if you still have a limit on how much instruction they receive?

Tracy said...

Goodness. Took things a bit personally did you?

People who make up lies about NCLB and then criticise the NCLB based on those lies always upset me. It's so intellectually dishonest. And then when someone has the gall to, having done that, to criticise other people for rudeness! If you are going to do things like that, don't be surprised if you provoke an emotional response.

If X % of 8th graders are deficient in reading, for example, is that X% in every school in America? Of course not. It's an average expressed statistically. My point is that there are a great many schools where things are going quite well, and a great many more where things could be better, but aren't bad at all.

There are indeeed a great many schools where things are going quite well, but when you have an overall average of 19% of native English speakers without disabilities not even reaching the basic level of reading by 8th grade, clearly those many schools where things are going quite well are being swamped by many, many, many schools in which things are going badly.

One of the things that the NCLB is bringing out is that many schools with high overall scores are doing very badly at teaching poor kids. See for example this analysis of the performance of poor schoolsL http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2007/09/poverty-nclb-and-excuses.html

Local control is the ultimate issue, and good teaching and supervision in every school is the ultimate solution.

I agree that good teaching and supervision in every school is the ultimate solution. In the spirit of this solution, I propose that the ultimate solution to winning at basketball is to score more points than the opposing team. I do not however see any reason to believe that local control is the ultimate issue. Personally, I am inclined to think that the biggest problem in the school system is that the adminstrators have very little feedback about how well schools are doing, though I am not aware of any evidence that proves this.

Do you suggest that students (and parents) have no responsibility for their own learning? If not, responsibility to what degree? 10%? 50%?

I am having severe philosophical difficulties at the moment with the whole concept of dividing responsibility up into percentages. So I will dodge this question and say that, for the elementary years, when reading is taught, the responsibility of the parent is to deliver their child in a reasonable state of health up at the school gates on time, and then to pick them up at the end of the day. (Obviously, even the most dedicated parent cannot keep their child perfectly healthy, at times parents have more of a duty to deliver their child to the hospital than to the school).

One of the most successful educational curriculum around - DI - does not include any parental involvement. See page 131 of http://www.csrq.org/documents/CSRQCenterCombinedReport_Web11-03-06.pdf

Teachers are the paid professionals at teaching reading.

Which professions set their own standards?

Irrelevant. I asked which professions set their own compensation.

If we could not assume that English teachers as a whole were competent at their jobs, education would be rather chaotic, wouldn't it?

From the descriptions of the teachers on this post, education is in reality rather chaotic. I don't see how putting our hands over our ears, ignoring that over 19% of native speaking, non-disabled 8th graders not even reaching the basic level on NAEP, and just assuming that English teachers as a whole are competent will improve matters.

Anyway, we should not be making assumptions. We should know, one way or another.

We all believe that most human beings can successfully drive, don't we? If not, we wouldn't set foot outside.

Driving is a situation with far more feedback than teaching. For example, when driving if we accidentally put our car into reverse when we mean to go forward, we will shortly find out that things were wrong, and in a way that anyone with functioning senses can't ignore. However, teaching does not provide such immediate feedback. A bad teacher harms the students, not themself. Indeed, the worse the teacher the less capable they are of even recongising that they are harming their students. That most drivers are competent does not imply anything about the competence of teachers.

The truth is that most English teachers, and most teachers in general are competent. Quoting a statistic that represents an average doesn't change that, unless of course, you do believe that students and parents have absolutely no responsibility for their own learning.

So your response to over 19% of native English speakers without disabilities being unable to reach the basic level of reading is to assert that most English teachers and most teachers in general are competent. You provide no evidence to support this assertion. And apparently, judging by your other comments, you think that merely assuming that teachers as a whole are competent is enough, regardless of whether they are or aren't.

As stated above, I believe that when it comes to teaching reading the responsibility of parents is to deliver their student to the school on time and in reasonable health.

. Rather I'm suggesting that good supervision and evaluation--in a given school on the local level--are an absolute necessity and would help to solve a great many educational problems--where they actually exist.

Again, no evidence to support this assertion.

Mike, there are also a couple of questions that I would like some answers to:

Which criteria did you use in deciding that the USA was the most technologically advanced and intellectually-vital country in the world?
When you said that "by the standards of scripted curriculum or high stakes testing, Johnny, and by inference, me--his teacher--would be failures", which scripted curriculum are you talking about? And which high-stakes testing are you talking about?

SteveH said...

"...pointing out a lapse in manners is hardly a deceptive rhetorical tactic. Unless of course you routinely tell others their work is easy?"

But that's not all you said.


"Oh yes, and to tell others that their work, their profession is of little value, that it's easy, is simply rude."

Nobody said that teaching was of "little value". That's a strawman. As for easy, you better go back and reread the comments more carefully. Many define the complexity of education by what walks into a classroom. It's a very teacher-centric view of the problem. Schools hide behind the complexity issue to avoid making changes which would make teaching and learning easier. It's a competency and professionalism issue.


"Supervision, assessment, testing? Absolutely, but done by the right people, on the local level, competently and professionally."

This sounds like the party line. Who or what gets to decide on competent and professional? Seniority? Union rules? What if the problems are systemic (see the original "scary" issues raised by the teacher of the year)? What if the assumptions and expectations are low? What if parents are ignored? In many ways we agree. If schools were "done by the right people, on the local level, competently and professionally", then everything would be easier.


"Problems occur when they stop attending shareholder meetings and carefully reading annual reports. When shareholders fail to be involved, when they fail to act on their responsibilities, everyone loses."

Exactly what are these responsibilities? I really want to know. You can't have it both ways; parental involvement and then dictate to them about assumptions, expectations, and curricula. You can't blame parents when they have little say in the process. Your talking to the wrong group if you want to argue responsibilities at KTM. KTM is all about parents taking on the responsibility of ensuring that learning gets done.

Years ago, our superintendent said I could join a Citizen's Curriculum Committee. The committee was never formed and the schools proceeded to do what they wanted. Schools only want parental involvement on their own terms. Even our school board has limited control. It's all about contract details and money. Once the contract is done, the school board is powerless. Many teachers can and will work beyond the terms of the contract, but it's all optional. As soon as any parental or school board discussion to improve education goes beyond those minimums, it immediately gets shot down. I was in a parent-teacher meeting once where we talked about having a few teachers stay 10 minutes longer after school for safety reasons. The union leader immediately said that it "won't fly contracturally", while some other teachers were trying to hush her up. Not in front of the parents!

Most shareholders have no say in the running of a corporation, even though they have voting rights. What they do have, as Ben said, is the ability to buy other stocks. That's what parents need in education. Choice.

lgm said...

Oh, an anti-NCLB argument.

>>May I extend your business analogy just a bit? Some of the real problems we experience in education come about because of the imposition of the business model.
snip
>>It is actually harmful in education because kids aren't products, and they bear substantial responsibility for their own construction (learning).

No point in extending the factory analogy to this problem, as it isn't applicable. Models are designed for certain problems under study and do not contain every attribute of the original. The factory model is good for certain situations in the ed world, as is the service model. Even in manufacturing, we use the service model to help us improve our line efficiency and yield.

Let me use the factory model once again to agree with you that NCLB is useless to the teacher. The NCLB specs are not meant for you, for immediate process control. You are expected to have your own immediate process control, and your specs should be tight enough and your process(es) robust enough that there are no gross failures. You shouldn't even have to teach to the test. Unfortunately for you, enough of your public school colleagues and management are producing enough gross failures that the public is voting 'no' to more money for teachers & districts and 'yes' to outside quality assurance and choice in school providers.

As for the students who are absent in mind and/or body: effective solutions exist. Perhaps one day your district will try some.

Side note on toasters: You have idealized the factory to say that products in process can't jump off or miss steps ...but in real life, they can. It can even happen in an automated factory with high yield. Anyone that tells you otherwise is not living in reality. So, this summer, please, take some factory tours with someone who'll show you reality. Mine moved to Mexico, otherwise I'd invite you over to be my guest. You will find some causes of line jumping parts are analogous to the external reasons your students are fleeing. Wear (emotional for the teacher and student rather than physical for the machinery), poor maintenance, bad routings, missing parts, missing operators, etc.


Enjoy your summer!!

Mike said...

Dear Tracy:

There is, wouldn't you agree, a real difference between making a generalized statement of belief, using a particular law to make that point, and lying. My point was and remains that we would think deluded or stupid anyone who demands and expects by a date certain that every child in America run 100 meters in 10 seconds flat. Yet we don't think that when we demand that they read or write on grade level by a date certain. We can agree, can't we, that President Bush and Secretary Spellings have made clear that the intent (or goal, if you wish) of NCLB is that all students read and write on grade level by 2014? Can't we also agree that NCLB dictates such goals or standards and also dictates sanctions for failure to meet yearly progress, etc.? I may be mistaken, but lying?

Indeed, some schools in some areas, particularly inner cities are doing badly with poor students. But far more is involved in this than school performance (drugs, absentee parents, crime, poverty, ineffective and corrupt government that prevents school discipline, etc.), and a large part, again, has to do with students not owning up to their own responsibility for learning.

When a school administrator has little feedback about how his or her school is doing, they're failing to do their job, on the local level. Standardized test scores tell them primarily how well their teachers can teach to that specific test and how well the students did on that test on that day. They need to be out in their schools, in the classrooms, informing themselves about how their schools are doing. The process isn't mysterious. It really is a matter of education, experience, common sense, and human interaction.

I'm a bit concerned that you won't acknowledge that students have responsibility for learning. Let me help. We'll remove any percentage from the issue. Are individuals responsible for learning, for their own educations? This is a pretty simple yes or no question. If this is not the case, if there is some method of learning that does not require effort on the part of those learning, I'd love to know what it is.

Let me clarify another issue. Here are just a few professions that not only set their own standards but set their own compensation: Doctors, lawyers, dentists, architects, electricians and plumbers (the latter three to a somewhat lesser degree than the first three).

Regarding teacher competence, you seem to be making the assertion that teaching is chaotic and teachers are not competent, therefore the burden of proof falls on you. The driving analogy makes a simple point: In living our lives, we make many useful and valid assumptions. Indeed, if we could not, life would be continuously chaotic. We establish high standards of education and qualification for teachers, doctors, police officers, and a variety of other professions and trades. It is therefore reasonable to believe that most of those people can do their jobs. We establish those standards to ensure that we can reasonably make such assumption.s It is also reasonable to believe that some will be better than others, and some will not do their jobs well. And as always, the solution for poor performance is good supervision on the local level, where we have true accountability.

Tracy, do I really need to provide "evidence" to prove that good supervision and evaluation on the local level can solve educational problems? Are you suggesting that an educrat in DC or a state education department, who has only testing data at hand, is better prepared to solve problems in Washington Elementary School in Anytown, USA than the principal of that school? I'm speaking of human experience, what we know works with human beings.

Regarding the criteria I used in talking about the technological and intellectual advancement of America, I'm speaking of fact. English is the international language of business, and we are the world leader in many fields of commerce, trade, and technology. What other nation compares to America? And if other nations are superior, why aren't the world's immigrants desperate to move there? America's place in the world, all accomplished in a bit more than two centuries, speaks well to my point.

Regarding high stakes testing and scripted curricula, my point was and remains that such things are not substitutes for good teaching and competent supervision and problem solving. The tests tell good teachers nothing they don't already know and in far more depth, and no curriculum is a replacement for a good teacher. They are simply not the same thing.

Dear SteveH:

No one should hide behind anything in teaching. We're all accountable and responsible for our performance, for providing the best possible educational opportunity for our students. But because students bear absolute responsibility for their own educations, because their lack of preparation, effort and their own genetic endowment bear heavily on their success in learning, it is not hiding behind any issue to point out these factors. Education is quite complex if for no other reason than that we are dealing with people. Yet teachers accept this and continue to walk into their classrooms day after day. To try to suggest that such complexity makes teaching impossible, is of course, wrong.

Party line? Hardly. I've taught in three states without unions and would not teach in a school that was unionized. Who makes decisions on supervision, assessment, etc? The teachers, principals and administrators we have hired to do just that. That's why we establish high standards for these folks, so that we can reasonably expect them to have those abilities and competencies.

Parental involvement is important, but we must define what that means. Can we allow each and every parent to have a say in curriculum, teaching methods, the daily operation of schools? No. But this "no" is not what is sounds.

We make those decisions by our votes, and by our attention to what is going on in our local schools. In a representative democracy, we know that we can't do everything ourselves. Would we think to have a say in how firemen do their daily jobs? Police officers? We simply lack the time and expertise, so we hire professionals, establish standards, and expect that they will do what we don't have the time or expertise to do.

As an educator, I'm very good at teaching. But I know I couldn't teach biology or math. I have no doubt that given the necessary time, I could learn the bodies of knowledge necessary to teach those subjects, applying what I know about good teaching methods and techniques, but I don't know enough about the content of those subjects to know what I don't know. Is the average parent better qualified than me to know how to teach those subjects?

Please understand, I'm not in any way denigrating parents and non-teachers. I'm merely observing human nature. We hire those with expertise to do what we don't know the time and expertise to do. That just the way life works, and most of the time, in most way, it works very well, or at least, well enough. There is always room for improvement, which is why I'll spend most of this summer, as I do every summer, upgrading and updating my materials and methods.

In my experience, parents are far more powerful than teachers, and are far more likely to have their concerns addressed than teachers. School boards do indeed listen to them. When school board elections and bond issues can be decided by a handful of votes--and this is the case throughout America--you can be sure that school boards listen to individual citizens.

As a teacher, I'm always glad to speak to parents. I'm pleased to listen to their concerns, and I do make appropriate changes. But no parent can have veto power. No parent can or should engage in the supervision that is the job of the principal. We wouldn't think to allow that with police officers whose education requirements are commonly substantially less than teachers. Why would we think that sort of thing makes sense with teachers?

Thanks again!

SteveH said...

"But because students bear absolute responsibility for their own educations, because their lack of preparation, effort and their own genetic endowment bear heavily on their success in learning, it is not hiding behind any issue to point out these factors."

I don't know what "absolute" means here. What responsibility does the school have?

Schools are hiding when the state cutoff goals are so low. Perhaps you think it's fine, but when I look at NAEP questions and results, I'm astounded. Everyone in our state is upset by the fact that only 22% of 11th graders passed the standardized math test. This is a test written and calibrated by teachers. This can't be blamed on genetics or society.

Maybe average parents cannot advise schools and teachers, but many parents can. Schools and teachers are redefining what math is all about and scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are shocked. If you continue to read KTM, you will see that this includes many other subjects. I'm not talking about veto power on an individual teacher basis. I'm talking about long-term involvement with assumptions, expectations, and curricula. If you think that parents or school boards have much control over this, you're dreaming.


"I've taught in three states without unions and would not teach in a school that was unionized."

Are you saying that you can't have a competent and professional school with a union?


"... but I don't know enough about the content of those subjects to know what I don't know."

That's the problem in K-6 math. Teachers don't know or understand the material. Many don't like math. When parents (who do know math) try to point this out, they are ignored. I'm not taking about how to teach, although much of that is based on opinion. I'm talking about proper grade-level mastery of content and skills. That's why the National Math Panel had to define what "school" math is all about.


"... and most of the time, in most way, it works very well, or at least, well enough."

This isn't one of those times. perhaps you are looking at high school too much. At least in high school, teachers specialize and classes get more real about learning. (There have, however, been some scary stories on KTM about coloring and posters substituting for writing in honors English courses.) Kids in high school are separated by ability or willingness to work, and, for the most part, they can put away their crayons.

I've noticed this tendency on other threads. I might have a different slant if I was looking only at high school. However, for math, many of the comments on KTM focus on K-8 because that's when most of the damage is done with bad curricula and low expectations. As I've mentioned in the past, if you wait long enough, all problems look like student or society problems. That is often a high school view of education.

Our high school did make a careful foray into the K-8 schools to try to get them to focus more on mastery of basic skills. It highlighted a distinct clash of assumptions and goals. Our K-6 schools pump kids along in a happy, low stress, full-inclusion environment until 7th grade, when they realize that there is a big gap to cross to get to high school. All of a sudden, kids are thrown into the deep end and told to swim.


There are a lot of things wrong with this system that can't be solved with a little bit of tweaking. There are fundamental differences of opinion over what constitutes a proper education.

Mike said...

Dear SteveH:

I think we've played out this thread long enough--everything has a useful shelf life--so this will be my final post (cue wild applause--alert the media).

We must consider two facts in dealing with the education process. (1) It is the job of teachers to provide the best possible educational opportunity. This is done through their own base and continuing education, through lesson planning and preparation, though delivering lessons, through constant testing and feedback to and from students, and from interaction with and constant encouragement of students. But this is where a teacher's accountability stops. No teacher can force anyone to learn. They can prepare the environment and present the lessons, but learning, the accumulation of what we have come to call "an education" takes place in the individual mind.

Therefore, students have an absolute responsibility to take advantage of the educational opportunity provided by their teachers. No one can do this for them. Learning done by another is not directly transferrable, except by teaching (opportunity) and by taking advantage of that opportunity (learning). Those who are wise seek learning outside of formal settings by reading, playing or writing music and through explorations of many kinds.

It is part of a teacher's responsibility to regularly test student comprehension and retention of knowledge and to provide feedback and correction. But that is, again, part of providing the opportunity.

If we recognize and accept these concepts we can quickly identify and solve problems rather than laying blame where it cannot be found and fixing that which isn't broken.

I'm most conversant in high school education, which as you've noted, is quite different from elementary education. I have also seen drawing in HS English classes. Suffice it to say that none of my classes use crayon or anything similar. We write. In many different ways, constantly.

Regarding unions, I'm not implying that union schools are of necessity incompetent. I believe that unions should exist to ensure due process and fair treatment for their members and to promote excellence. All too often, teacher's unions such as the NEA go far afield of education, spending millions on all matter of unrelated political posturing and establish rules that protect, rather than eliminate, incompetence. If a teacher is not competent, they're still a human being and deserve due process, but if they are truly bad, the evidence will be present to allow their removal unless a given school district has unwisely consented to such restrictive contract language that teacher's careers can be measured in astronomical rather than Earthly terms.

These days, I evaluate things pretty simply. In analyzing any potential program or imposition, I ask essentially two questions: Will this make it easier for me to do my job (to effectively provide a professional learning opportunity)? And will this make it easier for kids to learn (to take advantage of that opportunity)? If it's not a significant improvement, or if it's a hindrance, why do it?

Thanks for the conversation and good luck!

SteveH said...

"I think we've played out this thread long enough--everything has a useful shelf life--"

OK, but I was trying to get down to specific details, not stop at generalities.

Tracy said...

We can agree, can't we, that President Bush and Secretary Spellings have made clear that the intent (or goal, if you wish) of NCLB is that all students read and write on grade level by 2014?

Okay, let's distinguish between intent (or goal) and what the law actually says. Personally I think it would be absolutely lovely if every single student could read and write on grade level by 2014, but I recognise that certain severe disabilities mean that some students cannot. Perhaps at some stage in the future, the medical world may be able to fix broken brains so that every student can learn how to read and write. Do you think this would be a desirable state of affairs?

The intend (or goal) of the NCLB may be that all students read and write on grade level by 2014. The detail of the law though is that 1% of students can be assessed by alternative standards, and thus are not expected to read and w rite on grade level.

I may be mistaken, but lying?

Well, whatever word you think is appropriate to apply to someone who makes up statements about the NCLB without bothering to check if they are correct, and then has the gall to criticise politicians on the basis of those statements.

Indeed, some schools in some areas, particularly inner cities are doing badly with poor students. But far more is involved in this than school performance (drugs, absentee parents, crime, poverty, ineffective and corrupt government that prevents school discipline, etc.), and a large part, again, has to do with students not owning up to their own responsibility for learning.

Again, you provide no evidence to support this statement.

Did you read the links I provided? Some inner city schools drawing on poverty are getting far better performance out of their inner city students than others.
See for example http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2007/03/counter-example.html for a case of an inner city school that turned itself around by implementing better teaching techniques, not by changing the students. I do not believe you when you assert (with no supporting evidence) that a large part is due to students not owning up to their own learning.

Also it's not just the schools in inner cities that are doing badly with poor students. Across the country, schools are failing to teach poor students. See for example this analysis http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2008/03/theory-iii-improve-household-incomes.html of how well schools in rich areas or in areas with lots of educated parents do at teaching kids with low-socio-economic status. Most of those schools are failing to effectively teach those kids. Many schools have good scores not because the school is competent but because the parents, independently of the school, are delivering up smart kids. The problem of incompetent teaching is far wider than merely inner city schools.

I'm a bit concerned that you won't acknowledge that students have responsibility for learning. Let me help. We'll remove any percentage from the issue. Are individuals responsible for learning, for their own educations?

Let's narrow the question down to reading. When it comes to reading, elementary students are not responsible for learning to read. Elementary students are too young to be allowed to wreck their lives just because they don't want to learn to read. We pass laws saying they must attend schools, and once the kid shows up at school, if they are at all mentally capable of learning how to read, it's the school's responsibility to teach them to read. If the elementary student does not want to learn to read, it's the school's responsibility to use tricks like the Teacher-Me game to get them reading. See http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2007/10/how-to-effectively-manage-classroom-ii.html for a description of the Teacher-Me game.

What responsibility students have for their own education when we get to more advanced matters than reading and mathematics is a more problematic question. But students have no responsibility for learning to read - that's the school's job.

If this is not the case, if there is some method of learning that does not require effort on the part of those learning, I'd love to know what it is.

I am glad you are interested in the topic. The curriculum called Direct Instruction was designed to do this. Please see http://www.projectpro.com/ICR/Research/DI/Summary.htm for a start.

Let me clarify another issue. Here are just a few professions that not only set their own standards but set their own compensation: Doctors, lawyers, dentists, architects, electricians and plumbers (the latter three to a somewhat lesser degree than the first three).

Ah that's what you mean. As someone who has been self-employed, I don't quite think of that as setting my own compensation, there's the nerve-wracking balancing point of wanting to make as much money off the contract as possible versus not wanting to price myself out of the market. Anyway, if you want that as a teacher, hire yourself out as a tutor.

Regarding teacher competence, you seem to be making the assertion that teaching is chaotic and teachers are not competent, therefore the burden of proof falls on you.

And I supplied it. Over 19% of native speakers of English who are not disabled are failing to reach the basic level of reading by 8th grade.

We establish high standards of education and qualification for teachers, doctors, police officers, and a variety of other professions and trades. It is therefore reasonable to believe that most of those people can do their jobs. We establish those standards to ensure that we can reasonably make such assumptions.

It is not reasonable to believe that most teachers can do their jobs, as over 19% of English-native speakers who are not disabled are failing to reach the basic level of reading by 8th grade. A possible explanation for this is that the high standards of education and qualification for teaching are educating and qualifying teachers in things other than the most effective way to teach reading.

And as always, the solution for poor performance is good supervision on the local level, where we have true accountability.

If we have true accountability at the local level, why do over 19% of English-native speakers who are not disabled are failing to reach the basic level of reading by 8th grade?

Tracy, do I really need to provide "evidence" to prove that good supervision and evaluation on the local level can solve educational problems? Are you suggesting that an educrat in DC or a state education department, who has only testing data at hand, is better prepared to solve problems in Washington Elementary School in Anytown, USA than the principal of that school?

Yes, or at least yes if you want to convince me. And I suggest you not merely provide "evidence" but evidence.

Your earlier statement was that "Rather I'm suggesting that good supervision and evaluation--in a given school on the local level--are an absolute necessity and would help to solve a great many educational problems--where they actually exist." There are a million other ways in which schools could possibly be improved rather than having an educrat in DC solving problems in Washington Elementary School in Anytown, USA. For example, requiring all education professors to spend two months a year teaching in a low-performing school might help solve a lot of problems (I don't know of any evidence that it would, I am merely proposing it as a hypothetical alternative to the false dichotomy you provide, to try to explain why you actually need to provide some evidence in support of your hypothesis).

Regarding the criteria I used in talking about the technological and intellectual advancement of America, I'm speaking of fact. English is the international language of business, and we are the world leader in many fields of commerce, trade, and technology. What other nation compares to America? And if other nations are superior, why aren't the world's immigrants desperate to move there?

Firstly, English came from England. That's the original England, not New England, USA. English is the dominant language of the world because of the colonies in Canada, the east coast of the USA, New Zealand and Australia, and because of the British Empire that meant that many of the world's nations that don't all speak English became accustomed to doing official business in English - India being the prime example. English's dominance of the world is at best marginally due to the USA. Some other nations that compare to America include Japan, UK, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand. I do not claim this is an exhaustive list. The world's immigrants are desperate to move to all these places too. Please see the graph at http://lysander.sourceoecd.org/vl=5844036/cl=42/nw=1/rpsv/factbook/010302-g1.htm. This OECD graph shows that the foreign-born population as a percentage of total population in 2005 was higher in Switzerland, Australia, NZ, Canada, and Austria than in the USA, and Germany was almost the same as the USA.

Regarding high stakes testing and scripted curricula, my point was and remains that such things are not substitutes for good teaching and competent supervision and problem solving. The tests tell good teachers nothing they don't already know and in far more depth, and no curriculum is a replacement for a good teacher. They are simply not the same thing.

That's not the question I asked. The question I asked was "which scripted curriculum are you talking about? And which high-stakes testing are you talking about?" Can you please answer my question?

More generally, you appear to have some idea that the people who support high-stakes testing and scripted curriculum do so because they believe that these are substitutes for good teaching and competent supervision and problem-solving. We don't. The hope is that good high-stakes testing and a good scripted curriculum like Direct Instruction will support good teaching and competent supervision.

SteveH said...

It's hard to discuss details when someone is stuck on generalities and opinion.

Mike says he would never work at a school that was unionized, and says:

"All too often, teacher's unions such as the NEA go far afield of education, spending millions on all matter of unrelated political posturing and establish rules that protect, rather than eliminate, incompetence."

but then claims that all we need is competent, professional, local control.

So, in other words, if we fix the problems, then there will be no problems. The corrolary is that if you don't think that there are any problems, then they don't exist.

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