kitchen table math, the sequel: stop the madness

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

stop the madness

here is redkudu, writing on the Core Knowledge blog:

I am thankful some attention is being focused on the unreasonable expectations placed on teachers: that there is some acknowledgment that it cannot ALL be done. This is especially true when you look at what teachers should be able to expect – that because a student is in a certain grade they have passed certain benchmarks which are designated by the state to assure us the students have the minimum skills necessary to accomplish grade-level work. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

As a high school teacher, I’ve been expected to conduct Socratic Seminars, but never trained in how to do so. I found and purchased a book on such, read up, developed a lesson plan, and presented it. I received poor marks on an evaluation for that, because the method I’d read and produced was not the same method (a modified version) that the school preferred.

Ditto Marzano’s 9, by which we are formally evaluated at my new school. No training, no available materials (his books) in case I want to read up on them. Ditto small group learning, the student portfolio, PBL’s, and a whole host of other programs brought in via 20 minute PowerPoint at staff training without any supporting texts or ongoing training. And I should be able to demonstrate these methods and techniques in a classroom with learning disparities ranging from semi-literate to college level in 90 minutes on Mondays, 70 minutes on Wednesdays, and 45 minutes on Fridays. (Actually, our school has 9 different schedules, which also impact Tuesdays and Thursdays, early release Wednesdays, pep rally days, testing days, Homeroom days (once a 6 weeks – I’m expected to provide a meal for 25 students to enhance our “bonding”), actual homerooms (once a day), and other events.) Band-aids for gaping wounds and all that. I’d love to have a classroom in which levels were as simple as below expected, at expected, and above expected. I’d like to able to say the only thing I do in the summers is relax.


Cheryl said...


Lisa said...

Yee gods. Again I'll attempt to discourage my dd from becoming a high school math teacher.

SteveH said...

For most professions, the simple answer is to get another job. So, why is this so different in education?

I know in our state that seniority cannot come into our state. We lost out on a good math teacher from California becuase there was no way around this. I also know that bumping is a huge problem in our state. The state is trying to limit it to within each school rather than within each district. That wouldn't help our school that once suffered through a 4-teacher chain reaction bumping. Many parents were so (!) pissed off.

Everything is a function of seniority. This is a double-edged sword, but you can't have it both ways. A free market (like in most professions) is quite liberating, but you don't get something for nothing.

Independent George said...

On the other hand, there are those who believe madness lies at the heart of proper education.

palisadesk said...

For most professions, the simple answer is to get another job. So, why is this so different in education?

Education isn’t so different. Many teachers do exactly that – get another job. They may leave teaching entirely (the most qualified and the ones with the best academic preparation and the highest SAT/GRE scores are most likely to do this), or they may trade in teaching for administration or consulting work, or go work in private schools, or enter another field altogether. Lots of teachers vote with their feet, and most of those who choose to remain in the system seek out a niche where they can do something that they find personally rewarding, challenging or meaningful (or all three).

Everything is a function of seniority.

The problems redkudu describes have nothing to do with seniority, per se. Seniority is, in many districts, a factor in layoffs (when there are budget cuts or drops in enrolment), a factor in salary schedules, and a factor in administrative placement (when schools lose staff due to enrolment or other changes, and teachers have to be reassigned). However, it is not usually a factor in everyday working conditions, such as redkudu describes. One’s teaching assignment, various perks, timetable, resources and so forth that are determined at the school level are not governed by seniority. Many issues are management decisions and all staff, whatever their seniority, are equally subject to them.

Redkudu makes some good points. The public is rarely aware to what extent teachers (especially in low-income schools) subsidize the system. They are usually required to get effective PD on their own time, and on their own dime. Many also are purchasing all their own classroom materials, including (in many cases)texts, basic supplies like paper and pencils, art materials, all the books for a classroom library, and so on, with their after-tax income. This is rarely necessary in a high-SES school, where such amenities are generously available, but it is relatively common in low-SES schools. I could easily pay cash for a luxury car like a Volvo or Lexus with the money I have spent on instructional materials and basics for students. However, it is a choice I made, because I want the students to have effective teaching.

One of redkudu's points (I think)is that the public needs to be aware of where some of the discrepancies between official spin and actual boots-on-the-ground conditions actually lie. Administrative support for effective programming is often conspicuous by its absence.

I have worked in the private sector (very good private school) and have a close relative who spent many years at an elite private school, where not only the working conditions, but also the salary and benefits, far surpassed what the public system offered. I am in a low-SES school community by choice, and do not regret that choice, but it is important, if we truly wish to “close the gap” to acknowledge some aspects of it that rarely get publicized. I find that many people are genuinely unaware of the vast discrepancies that exist, and are shocked that school districts do not act with greater equity and efficacy. Old hands at the school wars are not shocked, but what we know and have seen is different from what the average citizen knows.

Doug Sundseth said...

First, I think it's unreasonable that teachers should have to pay for basic supplies. I wouldn't expect to have to buy pens and tape in any professional working environment. That said, in my son's largely blue-collar public (charter) school, each parent was asked to buy supplies for the class for the year. My list came to something like $60, not more than about $20-30 was for supplies I would have purchased without the list. For a class of 25 kids (or so), the remaining $30-40 comes to about $1500-2000, in addition to whatever limited supplies the school provides.

BTW, if the school were to ask for donation of books from this year's class for younger classes, I suspect this might get a good response. I hadn't thought of this previously and will try to remember to suggest it the next time I speak to my son's teacher.

"They are usually required to get effective PD on their own time, and on their own dime."

This is part of what makes a profession a "profession". Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Architects, whatever -- they all are responsible for their own professional development. Yet teachers here get at least one paid in-service-training day (during which the school is closed) each month. Approximately the same happens in the other public schools in this area.

(I assume that "effective" was a crucial word in your statement, but that just raises a different old debate.)

palisadesk said...

This is part of what makes a profession a "profession". Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Architects, whatever -- they all are responsible for their own professional development.

It is difficult to make any serious contention that public school teaching is a “profession” comparable to architecture, dentistry, law or the like. Bonnie Grossen and Doug Carnine have both written cogent essays on why teaching currently does not meet “professional” criteria. I hope someone recalls the titles of these pieces (they are, or were, online) because they are well-written,, well-argued, and shed light on the issues. A quick Google did not turn them up for me but I probably have them saved on my computer at home. If someone knows the links, please share.

Some critical differences: the “professional” training pre-service teachers receive is in no way comparable to professional training in law, medicine, etc. Although there are some excellent programs at a few universities, these are the exception, and even these are much less rigorous (and take less time) than professional training in other “professional” fields. Furthermore, there is no recognized body of knowledge and standard of practice that is expected of teachers, nor an empirically-based set of skills, techniques and practices.

While a few states have some kind of licensing examination, this is not true everywhere, and would-be teachers are often certified without any proof that they have mastered a recognized, common entry-level body of knowledge or set of skills. In the public system, too, teachers are much more like lower-level employees than “professionals..” Even if they have developed a specialty and obtained credentials in that area, they can often be arbitrarily assigned to completely different subjects or grades and this is usually not subject to appeal unless some kind of harassment can be demonstrated. It is difficult to imagine a neurologist being suddenly required to take over a cardiac care unit, or a patent attorney being summarily dispatched to prosecute a mail-fraud case. In real professions, expertise is valued and encouraged, although some practitioners are generalists by choice.

The knowledge of how people learn, effective practices, a variety of curricula and teaching sequences that vary for differing circumstances, plus considerable development in the fields of cognitive science, applied behavior analysis, instructional design and information processing all make it possible for teaching to develop a professional level of recognized knowledge and practice. This has not happened yet and does not appear to be on the immediate horizon.

Redkudu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Redkudu said...

"Some critical differences: the “professional” training pre-service teachers receive is in no way comparable to professional training in law, medicine, etc."

This sums it up nicely. Also, much of what passes for PD are the teaching fads that permeate education. It is rarely, if ever, content-based, and is usually briefly covered, as I've mentioned. I've found so many administrators and teachers who are completely unaware of any of the controversy surrounding some of these things - mostly because many of them don't read prolifically (especially online) or question what's being presented in terms of whether it has sound data or not. Young teachers are often so enthusiastic they don't know what questions to ask - or that there are any. I meet almost one person every day who has never heard of Willingham, and I think I've mentioned I've actually educated many of our math teachers on options like Singapore, Kumon, and Saxon.

One of the biggest problems, I think, is what Vicki Snyder made note of in her book "Myths and Misconceptions About Teaching." Teachers have so much PD thrown at them, and so often in such fuzzy, feel-good terms, they ignore or don't trust statistics and data. "Brain-based" is taken as absolute science (because it sounds scientific), along with the learning modalities Willingham and others are clarifying for us now.

In education, few people know what professional development and professional practice looks like, *especially* if they've never held a job outside education.

As to switching jobs - it's not an option where I live right now. And also, I really like teaching. I've been working at one job or another since I was twelve. I started teaching at 28. I had other jobs in other industries, in which I did well. But teaching is the one I look forward to, despite the frustration. It isn't something I'm ready to walk away from just yet, although this year is already pushing me to my limit. And it's an area in which I wish to make change, if possible. (I'd start a charter school in a heartbeat if I could find two other people to help me form the non-prof I need. Plenty of people want their own schools - but many of them just have visions of the same old, only smaller and more intimate. They don't take into consideration the nit-picky details of curriculum.)

SteveH said...

"The problems redkudu describes have nothing to do with seniority, per se."

It seems to me that seniority gives teachers less options. It doesn't create those problems, but it makes it more difficult to get away if you still want to teach. Teachers have no individual leverage. If you want to maintain your seniority, then don't come looking for a job in our state.

I once talked to an older man who ran factories on a temporary basis while the company looked for a permanent replacement. I was surprised when he told me that he loved unions. He could do whatever he wanted as long as it wasn't specifically prohibited in the contract. He also had no personnel problems because it was all spelled out.

Seniority is a control issue, but it can also be a trap.

Once again I have the feeling that I'm supposed to take sides in a battle between teachers and administrations when both sides do their best to keep parents in the dark.

Allison said...

--Young teachers are often so enthusiastic they don't know what questions to ask - or that there are any.

Well, I wouldn't couple that with enthusiasm.

Young folks in every field don't know what questions to ask because they don't know what they don't know.

Real understanding means you can immediately ask several questions. If you can't, you don't have enough detailed content knowledge to understand the assumptions being made or the implications of whatever is being said. They lack enough understanding because for all of their education in education, they have no content knowledge in anything--not in cognitive psychology, not in the content of the subjects they teach, not in classroom management. It will be years before they get there, if they get there at all.

Anonymous said...

Nursing used to be compared with teaching, but it is really apples and oranges. The nursing licensure exam covers real content across the clinical spectrum and must be passed in order to practice. Specialty certification - intensive care, cardiology, adult, pediatric, psych etc - are also by exam, with the content based on essential knowledge in that field. Also, nurses can be and are fired, sued and/or stripped of their licences for malpractice. Professional development is required but, other than regular CPR recert etc. is the responsibility of the individual and does not count toward requirements if it doesn't relate directly to their practices. Employers may or may not reimburse/contribute to the costs. Also, grad school is clinically based, with a major in a particular field. Students typically select a minor in curriculum (for college teaching), administration or advanced clinical practice (nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, adult, pediatric etc).

palisadesk said...

Aha, I ran down the articles I was thinking of that discuss the "profession" of teaching (or rather, what changes must occur before teaching can truly be professional in any meaningful sense)

They are somewhat dated but still valid.

ERIC page with link to full article by Doug Carnine

Bonnie Grossen on making teaching a research-based profession