kitchen table math, the sequel: back to the future with Diane Ravitch

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

back to the future with Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch writing in today's Times:
If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved.

Waiting for a School Miracle
By DIANE RAVITCH
Published: May 31, 2011
I can tell you definitively that a child arriving at school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn from a family with a stable home and a steady income does not solve the educational problem of a high school junior needing to learn precalculus inside his actual school.

56 comments:

Molly said...

y children meet all those lovely criteria, but somehow our educational problems remain. My child's good health and nutrition didn't help her when her algebra class spent an entire week singing karaoke followed up by 12 minutes graphing the results. Her stable family with a steady income was of no use when her English class spent 4 weeks studying poetry but never read a single poem that wasn't written by one of her 8th grade classmates. My child's good fortune doesn't do a damn thing to protect her from a crappy curriculum indifferently taught.

lgm said...

Our nation and NY have many students that can be described as ideal. They have been placed in fully included classrooms with students who have severe issues and denied access to an appropriate education. Remove that barrier, place by instructional need with competent teachers, and we as a nation will see education succeed. Continue to mainstream, and pretend to teach at an instructional level several years below the grade level over the door if it all, and we'll continue headbanging.

Yesterdays home and careers assignment for my 8th grader was similar to his 1st grade assignments before full inclusion: Take the alphabet. Under each letter, list two careers that start with that letter.

The majority of this school meets Ravitch's definition of ready to learn. But the idealists won't let the majority of children learn at their instructional level.

Obi-Wandreas, The Funky Viking said...

Exactly the point. This requires that all the kids in the class come in like that. If we didn't have to deal with kids running around, bouncing off the walls and screaming, a kid could actually learn pre-calc in class because the teacher would have time to teach it.

And Molly's kids could do some real work if A) The school didn't have to keep coming up with new ways to "engage" kids who won't STFU and pay attention; and B) The teachers smart enough to get around such a crappy curriculum hadn't resigned in disgust or moved to another district.

The overwhelming majority of problems can be traced to issues outside the school's purview; some a direct result, others a response.

Catherine Johnson said...

For passers-by, I should say that our son is in a selective Catholic high school.

His pre-calculus problem has to do entirely with the teacher.

We've had the opposite issue with grouping this year. Last fall we realized the course was going badly & tried to get C. out of it.

The school told us he was too advanced for the next course down.

We should have persisted, and in a normal year I think we would have. I was completely overrun teaching and dealing with my father's death & my mom's impending death. Just didn't register the situation the way I needed to.

Ben Calvin said...

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income....

and pre-enrolled in Kumon Math and Reading....

Catherine Johnson said...

lolllll------

NO KIDDING

oh, man

it never ends

Catherine Johnson said...

I have to say....when you're dealing with high school, observations about parents and nutrition and all the folderol just sound like noise from nowhere.

WAYYYYYYY off-topic.

The topic being:

Help!

Somebody!

Trigonometric identities are going to be on the test!!!!!

Catherine Johnson said...

It's too bad you can't learn trigonometric identities by having a stable marriage and income.

Allison said...

--nd Molly's kids could do some real work if A) The school didn't have to keep coming up with new ways to "engage" kids who won't STFU and pay attention; and B) The teachers smart enough to get around such a crappy curriculum hadn't resigned in disgust or moved to another district.

I'm involved with parochial schools that have far few of these issues than urban public schools. Some of the parochial schools have absolutely none of these low SES or low functioning issues, while others have some significant issues with a small portion of the population of their students.

And strikingly, regardless of which student body they've got, they still have no idea how to teach math. Across the board, their teachers are still struggling to get the professional development in math they need. Their teachers are still struggling to get the school to institute flexible ability grouping. Most of the schools are still struggling to have a culture other than "this is good enough".

Some of these schools let the teachers have input in the curriculum. Some of these schools don't even have a defined curriculum--and their teachers don't know what curriculum means. Some of these schools give their teachers no authority. All the possible permutations here, and yet, still, the schools have terrible instruction.

None of these schools knows what to do with a student who is significantly ahead of the average. They don't have any idea how far away the horizon is for these kids, how far they could go, how much they could master.

Until schools and their staff take accountability for what kids learn WHILE THEY ARE AT SCHOOL nothing will change. Either a school decides that for 97% of their students, they *can* teach a year's material in a year's time or they don't. If they never decide that, it will never happen. If they do choose to believe that and make that a priority, and reorganize around that principle, then their students can succeed.

momof4 said...

I think it starts with the ES teachers as they enter college; far too many are far too weak/disinterested in math and the ed schools do nothing to correct that situation. I've heard plenty of ES teachers say that "not having to take any math classes" was a factor in their career decision. You can't teach what you don't know, no matter how much edubabble about process you hear. By the time they get to MS, far too many kids are essentially under water and are unlikely to learn to swim.

Catherine Johnson said...

And strikingly, regardless of which student body they've got, they still have no idea how to teach math.

I just sent you an email off-list saying this ---

We absolutely do not have enough good math teachers in this country, period.

That's my conclusion after lo these many years.

Setting curriculum aside (and I believe that a great curriculum would improve many math teachers as it apparently does in China), we just don't have even close to enough people who can teach math.

I've now heard and experienced the same problems in public, parochial, and private school.

Basic, core problems with teachers in the class and students not getting it ***at all.***

Bonnie said...

How are you going to get people who are good at math to go into teaching when everyone simply wants to punish teachers for (apparently) having it better than some hypothetical Main Street guy (ignoring the fact that teachers ARE our Main Street neighbors). I am good at math, and I think I am good at teaching. At one point, I considered going into K12 teaching so I could avoid the tenure process horror in academia. But when I looked at the nasty comments everyone makes about teachers, and the downright anger and jealousy, I said "No way". The changes that everyone wants to make to the educational system will drive anyone who is capable out. I cannot imagine wanting to make my career in a system where my job depends on test scores every year, and where layoffs will be mainly targeted to older and better paid teachers. If you want good math teachers, you have to make attractive. Remember, you are competing with financial companies and Google for math talent.

Bonnie said...

Typo alert - "you have to make attractive" should read "you have to make the field attractive".

Glen said...

My problem with Ravitch is not that her statement is incorrect but that what it implies is incorrect. She says that many problems could be solved "if only...." Well, yes, many would, but this seems calculated to imply that significant educational improvement will not be possible until all children have good living conditions.

This is only true if progressive policies make it true: the majority from adequate homes won't be allowed any significant progress until the minority from inadequate homes can make the same progress, and that won't be possible until their homes are made adequate. The slowest are limited by home circumstances, and the majority are limited by progressive policy to not get farther ahead of the slowest. So the entire education system is limited by the inadequate homes of a few--by policy.

When you hold the majority hostage to the slowest this way, there is no demand driving improvement in the education of the majority. If you found a way to double everyone's achievement, you'd double the achievement gap, and that would be treated as oppression, a failure far worse than teaching poorly. And if you found a way to double the achievement of the majority that didn't help the slowest at all, because of home conditions, that would be treated as a virtual war crime by media such as the NY Times and most ed schools. The greater the potential for improvement, the more it would be denounced.

So people who know how to improve education for the majority are chased out of the system and their expertise is not merely lost but actively treated with hostility, so it can't come back. And, ironically, the expertise for teaching the majority well is also the expertise most needed for teaching the slowest (it just works more slowly).

After a while, even teachers in "good schools" who want to do their best for their kids don't realize how poorly the system is working. Neither do the parents, who can tell that their kids' teachers really do care, and who are fed plausible-sounding nonsense about good (critical thinking, engaging projects, 21st Century skills) versus evil (teaching to the test, Asian schools, mere facts, regurgitation, sage on stage).

Yes, many things would be better if all kids came from good homes, and I don't know how I would teach kids in the worst-case classrooms, but most of the impact of bad homes on the overall system is self-inflicted. Changing the policies that hold us back could be done without waiting for homes to improve.

SteveH said...

I read her whole article. It's amazing. It's almost as if she is throwing in the towel. She can't figure it out because there are too many variables and she can't seem to grasp onto anything.

This is another thing she said:

"The achievement gap between children from different income levels exists before children enter school."


After all of her years studying the problem, this is the best she can do?


How malnourished do kids have to be to not learn the times table by fifth grade ... with no homework? How difficult is it to separate kids who are willing and able from those who aren't? How difficult is it to ensure mastery of some minimal set of skills before sending kids along to the next grade? Sit in the classroom and watch what goes on (or not). Some people seem to have little ability to dig down into the details.

If kids and parents meet the criteria of "well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income", can they go to a school where the educational problems are solved? Which problem would being solved, individual educational opportunity or meeting minimal NCLB standards?


Diane Ravitch has fallen down and she can't get up.

Allison said...

--When you hold the majority hostage to the slowest this way, there is no demand driving improvement in the education of the majority.

Glen, you've nailed it. No accountability, no demand. No one can be held responsible, and therefore, no one IS responsible.

My analogy goes back to medicine: do we accept doctors and hospitals saying "until we have no people who have unhealthy habits, there's no way we can heal a patient" ?

Absolutely not. Doctors cure, heal, and treat patients, even when they are there with gunshot wounds caused by choosing to be in a gang, and when they know the patient will go back to the same life they had before. They treat lung cancer, whether from smoking or not. They save people with quadruple bypass surgery even if they ate BBQ and cheeseburgers while smoking cigars. Why? Because that's what they are supposed to do.

I've heard the "but it's different--patients aren't disruptive to other patients the way school kids disrupt classrooms", but that's again abdicating responsibility. Many ill people ARE disruptive--and they are put in mental wards, given other treatments, isolated, or otherwise handled in hospitals so as minimize the disruption. And of course, triage itself is disruptive to the medically-ill-but-not-critically-ill patient--they are moved down the list, while the critical patient is handled. Yet, the system is designed to meet both needs. Not perfectly, of course, and there are lots of issues. But it's still a choice.

It wasn't by magic that there are no disruptions: it was by policy, policies that schools could implement.

But the policies don't come from on high. The policies come from a culture that (at least for a while) still believes the individuals in medicine are personally responsible and accountable for the outcomes of their patients. Culture is the beginning and end. Culture can be created. It just can't be created to look like Utopia or Eden.

If you can't see that culture matters, that accountability comes regardless of extant circumstances? Then yes, you end up like Ravitch, wound around the axle, unable to make sense of anything. She's fallen into the abyss. It looks to me like she ended up having her illusions and ideologies confronted, and instead of breaking them down and then moving on with reality, she just found herself with nothing. She has no framework for going forward, so she grasps onto the remaining ideological strings she's still got, no matter how little they have to do with the problem at hand.

Glen said...

Tonight we had an ice cream social at my kids’ (public) elementary school. I had the opportunity to speak with our principal about the GATE (gifted and talented) testing recently done at our school. I asked her about the criteria used for passing. She said that the test was the OLSAT, level E, used for fourth and fifth graders. Acceptance into our GATE program was granted to those kids whose score put them in the top 2% of students nationally.

Despite having to compete with fifth graders, 23 out of 43 fourth graders qualified, she said, including my son and his closest friends. That was the good news. The bad news was that there was no budget at all for any GATE program, so they wouldn’t be able to do “anything special” for the gifted kids. The testing was a just a formality. A real shame. If only we had more money….

I said that if 23 out of 43 qualified, that meant our median fourth grader was gifted. I could see by the shock on her face that this was news. Since our median fourth grader was gifted, I said, we didn’t need a GATE program. [Puzzled looks.] We just needed to replace our standard curriculum with one designed for gifted students. We would only need a special program for those few who were well behind the rest of the class, and we did have funding for that, didn’t we? Problem solved.

She’s a wonderful woman, and I like her a lot, but I couldn’t help grinning. She looked as though she had just found herself in The Twilight Zone. Targeting the standard curriculum at gifted students, even when they were the majority, was just unheard of. My proposal was obviously absurd, right? But where was the trick? She countered that you couldn’t know how future fourth graders at the school would score. I said that you couldn’t know, but you could estimate. If the median student this year was above 98%, their younger siblings should do nearly as well, and if they didn’t, it would be because we didn’t teach them properly.

It's amazing how foreign such ideas are to experienced educators, even good people like her. She was skeptical, but she cares as much about these kids as I do. She asked if I would consider serving on a committee that might--might--be formed to consider improvements in the curriculum. I said I’d be happy to.

Bonnie said...

Allison, I do research in healthcare informatics, so I pay a lot of attention to what doctors say. And many of them are saying things very similar to Diane Ravitch's views - that it is impossible to make improve our generally poor showing in healthcare because of poverty and unhealthy habits. They will treat such patients, yes, mainly because they are paid on a fee-for-service basis unlike teachers. But they don't think it will make much impact.

Doctors are not evaluated based on performance right now, and they are petrified of attempts by insurance companies to start rating them on outcomes. There have been some mild attempts to rate entire hospitals based on performance measures, which the hospitals have fought tooth and nail, but in general it is almost impossible to find objective performance statistics for any given physician.

Bonnie said...

Aargh, more typos. I find it very difficult to post comments in the teeny Blogger window.

SteveH said...

"They will treat such patients, yes, mainly because they are paid on a fee-for-service basis unlike teachers. But they don't think it will make much impact."

The healthier patients are not held hostage to the less healthy ones. Nothing stops schools from separating kids by their ability or willingness to learn. The problem is not how to improve an overall statistic, but how to help individual people. You can and should separate the variables. Then you will begin to make improvements, and some of these improvements will be hugely important to many individual kids right now.

If you can't separate the variables, you will end up like Diane Ravitch.

Bonnie said...

Unfortunately, healthier patients are held hostage. Try going to an ER in any hospital in New York City. We once spent 13 hours sitting on the floor of a pediatric ER at a leading hospital here, with a desperately ill child. The hospitals are overwhelmed with uninsured, sick, poor people.

SteveH said...

Glen, you must live in Lake Woebegon.

"She asked if I would consider serving on a committee that might--might--be formed to consider improvements in the curriculum."

Years ago, I was asked to be on a Citizen's Curriculum Committee. The committee never happened, and the school proceeded to select Everyday Math. I then realized that this was their turf, not just for content, but for philosophy and pedagogy. I've found that it's one thing to make minor suggestions to schools, but quite another to question their assumptions, no matter how nicely it's done.

Bonnie said...

I fundamentally disagree that we should only pay attention to individual outcomes, both in education and in healthcare. And yes, I do believe in tracking in education, and would like to see more attention paid to high achievers. However, we also need to improve outcomes for ALL kids. After all, they are going to be paying our social security one day. We need to improve health outcomes for everyone, because todays poor outcomes and wild ineffieciencies are drivers of cost increases in health care. And quite frankly, unhealthy, untreated people become disease vectors and threaten all of us eventually.

Allison said...

No doubt we're well on our way to destroying medicine the way we've destroyed education. If pay for performance metrics for docs and hospitals are about "health" rather than what docs *do*, it's a lot like performance rubrics that measure "critical thinking skills".

Likewise, the use of doctors to enforce that nanny state, and the docs' willingness to believe their role is one of controlling human behavior, rather than treating the illness in front of them, will undermine the culture of accountability.

But that's the educationification of medicine, not the other way around. The march through the disciplines got to education a long time ago, but is now getting to medicine.

But in the recent past, docs who went into medicine still did so for reasons that didn't mean they all had to buy into the progressive ideology.

We still see examples where good medicine could teach education something--the work at Mayo, where they team up to treat patients, for example, results in both the lowering of costs and improving outcomes at the same time.

Anonymous said...

There are things that can be done, by the schools, that will facilitate better outcomes for all kids. First and foremost is enforcing safety and appropriate behavior. If that means the permanent removal of dangerous kids and segregation (without electronic amusements) of troublemakers, so be it. Next is a strong, rich curriculum in all subjects. Then comes the return to explicit, teacher-centered instruction and the removal of groupwork and discovery as regular practices. Then comes ability grouping by subject, with tracking at HS level. The state tests are generally jokes, so something like ITBS (perhaps SSAT and ACT at upper grades) makes more sense and will discriminate better at the upper end. The excellent HS my older kids attended was recently dinged for not making AYP; it's difficult to do when you started above 90 and the tests are far too easy to identify upper-end progress.

SteveH said...

"I fundamentally disagree that we should only pay attention to individual outcomes, both in education and in healthcare."

"Only?" Did I say that? Do you think that individual means only the kids who have easy problems to fix? If you separate kids and look at them as individuals, you can better see the problems. Fix an individual problem and you fix the problem for a large class of kids. If children throw chairs around a classroom, separate them. That doesn't mean ignore them.

Do you just use statistics to drive the solution to everything? How do you know what to fix when you don't look at individual kids and individual issues? In education, some problems are easy to fix if you don't lump them all together. That doesn't mean you ignore the rest of the problems.


"We once spent 13 hours sitting on the floor of a pediatric ER at a leading hospital here, with a desperately ill child. The hospitals are overwhelmed with uninsured, sick, poor people."

You're mixing variables here. What exactly, was causing the delay, poor people, uninsured people? How are you going to come up with a solution if you can't dig into the individual details? A long wait could reflect all sorts of issues. Break it down and figure it out.


"We need to improve health outcomes for everyone, because todays poor outcomes and wild ineffieciencies are drivers of cost increases in health care. And quite frankly, unhealthy, untreated people become disease vectors and threaten all of us eventually."

So, a long wait for healthcare translates into a vague, statistical call for improved healthcare for all. That's not a process for solving complex problems.

Catherine Johnson said...

"until we have no people who have unhealthy habits, there's no way we can heal a patient"

Haven't read the thread but wanted to agree with Allison on this: of course not!

Patients are highly non-compliant; probably the vast majority of patients are non-compliant.

I'm non-compliant, for pete's sake.

I have spent many, many years dealing with doctors (and, now, with nurses); the ethos is that they do the best they can do --- AND that the patient has a 'vote.'

Patients aren't required to take the advice or treatments their physicians recommend, and when they choose not to, that's life.

My very productive relationships with physicians over the years are my model for the relationship I'd like to have with teachers.

That's why I'm intrigued by the notion of "micro-schools."

Catherine Johnson said...

Agree with every word Anonymous posted at 5:53am - with the proviso that dangerous kids need an education, too; I would place them in self-contained classes with behavioral plans, etc. (I realize Anonymous didn't say otherwise - )

Catherine Johnson said...

If you want good math teachers, you have to make attractive. Remember, you are competing with financial companies and Google for math talent.

I **suspect** there's at least one problem beyond that....

I think there's probably an Asperger/autism connection with math ability that probably produces teachers who know math but have trouble negotiating the social realities of teaching math effectively (not just with students but no doubt also with colleagues and administrators, etc.)

I hope I'm not offending people by saying this; if so, let me just remind you all that I have two autistic kids of my own!

I could be **completely** off-base, but over the years I've noticed enough 'oddness' in a subset of math teachers - oddness that interfered with teaching - that makes me think this may be an issue in and of itself.

I think this problem is surmountable but not by schools as they're currently configured. You'd need "professional learning communities" and/or an administrator/math chair looking at student data on a daily basis....and adjusting instruction accordingly.

I guess what I'm saying at this moment (which is speculative) is that Aspie math teachers probably need a more explicit feedback mechanism than what they've got now.

I don't know how significant this problem is - but given my life experience I don't think it's insignificant.

As a rule, the feedback mechanism in schools is dreadful - and that may be more destructive for math learning and math teaching than for other subjects.

Anonymous said...

There are very few teachers out there who can teach math they way you are wishing it would be taught. And just about none of them are in elementary schools. Look how hard it is to find a pre-calc tutor. Do you think that there is a kind of math teacher who has a deep understanding of math and how to teach it, but whose understanding never advanced to pre-calc? No way. So if you are serious about changing the way math is taught in schools, you need an extreme, sweeping change in personnel. Making the positions attractive is going to be really competitive and expensive. Where I live, a precalc tutor charges $100/ hour and you can't get on his schedule! I don't think you will find the political will to spend public money this way. (Also, you will have to break the teacher contract that says all teachers are paid the same. Good luck with that.)

Glen said...

Glen, you must live in Lake Woebegon.

So it would seem. So then why doesn't our curriculum reflect that? Why does the majority at the top and middle count for so little that they are treated as an optional, special case that we can't afford to address until we have extra money? Why do a few at the bottom define the mainstream?


Years ago, I was asked to be on a Citizen's Curriculum Committee. The committee never happened, and the school proceeded to select Everyday Math. I then realized that this was their turf, not just for content, but for philosophy and pedagogy.

I'm expecting something similar. I hope I get a shot at it, but I doubt my opinions will count for much in the end, and then I'll move on to middle school. What I learn about effective education gets applied here within the walls of Daddy Academy but goes no further.

SteveH said...

"As a rule, the feedback mechanism in schools is dreadful - and that may be more destructive for math learning and math teaching than for other subjects."

Dreadful implies that they are trying to do something. With full inclusion, I don't see any feedback loop. On purpose. As for math teachers, in K-6 they don't exist. In 7-8, I saw a teacher who seemed to cherish his role as keeper of the math knowledge. It was a power thing. Now in high school, my son's math teacher is just delightful. The Glencoe Algebra II book is decent and they dig right in and get to work. The teacher gets feedback from a daily homework assignment. By the way, my son's current math teacher is on his second career. You might not have to pay them more than other teachers, but you can't pay them the same as new teachers just out of ed school. As anonymous says, "Good luck with that".

The problem is, of course, that math is cumulative. Little gaps can eventually combine to cause big problems. One bad year (or teacher) can screw up everything. I met one parent who complained that they had two really bad math years in a row.

I don't think schools need to recruit great teachers as much as they need to carefully control the whole process. Great teachers might be able to remediate a lot of problems, but it would be better to avoid the problems in the first place.

Allison said...

--So if you are serious about changing the way math is taught in schools, you need an extreme, sweeping change in personnel...I don't think you will find the political will to spend public money this way.

But this isn't because you need to pay more. Schools already pay lots of people in the 6 figure range. They pay for professional development out of Title 1 funds. They pay millions and millions to IT departments yet still schedule classes by hand. This is about the system, not about the money.

PalisadesK had a very important comment about culture changes coming from the top over the last decade. It can happen, she said. I'll try to resurrect that thread and see if we can learn what ingredients worked.

ChemProf said...

Yeah, the pay scale isn't all there is to it. I was on a search committee for a new math professor a couple of years ago. The starting salary for an Assistant Professor is only ~10% higher than that of a starting teacher (and that doesn't include the bump for the Ph.D. that we require) but we had over 100 applicants for the job, at a teaching intensive school where the math prof and the philosophy prof get the same pay scale. I do think that the feedback loop and the culture of the schools is less appealing. Some of it is also bragging rights -- people are more impressed by "I'm a math professor" than "I teach high school math."

And Catherine's district points this out, doesn't it -- they get lots of applicants for every position because the pay scale is so high, but it doesn't translate into great math teaching.

Bonnie said...

Professors are treated with a lot more respect than teachers, and I think that feeds into it too. Plus, mathematicians can do research, even at teaching schools, and since math people like doing math, that is an attraction. I think that the general atmosphere of disrespect for teachers, combined with the constant threat of layoffs, and poor salaries, all combine to make it less attractive than academia.

BTW, I have a friend who became a math teacher in Texas a couple of years ago. I was appalled at the low entry barriers there. She was an office manager with a business degree who decided she wanted a career change. She tool one year's worth of online courses in pedagogy. No math, no student teaching. And voila! she was hired into a district that needed a math teacher. Can you say "shove warm bodies into classrooms"? The problem is, in her part of Texas at least, they simply can't find anyone else to cover math classes.

lgm said...

NY compensates its teachers very well. Think about - 180 7 hour days (including 1.4 hr of lunch/free period) is all that is needed for an annual base salary that is 85K in 10 years and well over 100K at the earliest retirement. Compare the BLS statistics by county with seethroughny.com's teacher salary data and you'll draw some interesting conclusions as far as dollar/hr in salary vs jobs that have similar educational reqts and responsibilities. Then go for the compensation comparison.

There isn't a vacancy here for math or anything else. People that could teach math - such as engineers on the mommy track - have to spend quite a lot of get the entry ticket to the job. It has been noted in the media that Einstein himself could not teach Regent's physics - he doesn't qualify per the hiring rules. We have an artificial scarcity of qualified math teachers due to policy.

Bonnie said...

I am in NY, and seriously looked into switching to K12 teaching in math a few years ago. It really isn't that hard. It only takes a year or so if you have a degree in math or something related. But then you have to teach in a school that actually *needs* math teachers, probably in a bad area of NYC, and the pay in NYC isn't that great (which is why they lose all their good teachers to the burbs).
I decided against it mainly because of the ickiness of the job conditions and the environment of disrespect for teachers, plus the threat that teachers may eventually be evaluated by test scores. I went back into higher ed instead. There are problems there too, but nothing as bad as in K12.

Anonymous said...

"NY compensates its teachers very well. Think about - 180 7 hour days (including 1.4 hr of lunch/free period)"

Hmm. But it must not be enough to attract the cohort you need. Or maybe it's NOT the money, but rather the lack of respect. For example, there is an attitude implicit in the above post which conveniently does not include the time a teachers spends grading papers, planning lessons, emailing parents, addressing discipline issues...

lgm said...

Anon, let's stick with facts. NY teachers work to rule, that is, the union rule as agreed on with the local contract. The time needed to grade, plan, contact, discipline is done on work hours, not off the clock.

A high school teacher teaches 4 periods of a 9 period day. 1 period is for prep. Grading is done during prep if not done by a clerk with a scantron machine or students' trading and grading each other. Grading consists of one assignment/quiz/test per week. This leaves ample time to take on add'l jobs such as coach, after school tutor, night high school teacher, night college teacher, real estate agent, etc during the school year.

So, yes the job is attracting lots of people with the current compensation scheme. No vacancies here - average teacher is 25 yrs on the job, youngest about 10 and we're a district that needs security guards. Hiring practices are what they are and seniority rules mean poor performers won't be leaving.

Hainish said...

The time needed to grade, plan, contact, discipline is done on work hours, not off the clock.

No, it isn't.

Some teachers manage to plan and grade within reasonable hours, i.e., by 3 or 4 p.m., but most of the new teachers I know work 10-12 hours/day. A lot of that time is taken up with lesson planning, grading, and paperwork for IEPs and other administrivia.

But, no, I don't think it's the pay or the long hours that discourage people, necessarily. I think it's the lack of respect - not from people who "bash teachers," like the commenter above said - but from the administrators and PD providers. Coupled with certification requirements, it's not hard to understand why smart people don't go into teaching.

Exo said...

Have to chime in...

"A high school teacher teaches 4 periods of a 9 period day. 1 period is for prep. Grading is done during prep if not done by a clerk with a scantron machine or students' trading and grading each other. Grading consists of one assignment/quiz/test per week. This leaves ample time to take on add'l jobs such as coach, after school tutor, night high school teacher, night college teacher, real estate agent, etc during the school year."

Hmm.. I have taught in NYC (now in NJ). Teach HS science. 25 periods in front of students a week in NYC and NJ. That's 5 periods a day. In NYC periods were 45 min. with an 8- period day. In NJ, periods are 40 min with a 9-period day. 1 period for lunch. 1 period for prep. 1 period duty. In NYC, 3 periods a week - common planning. In NJ - additional duty (advisory). All planning, grading, making all materials - at home. I come to work at 7, leave at 4, spend at least 2-3 hours in the evening working, work Sundays from 8am until I collapse. All materials for teaching are made by me. All powerpoints/notes, tests, quizzes are done by me, graded by hand, and corrected with comments. Also, in NYC the limit was two subjects per teacher, in NJ - 3 subjects (which I most likely will get next year). Teaching assignments are frequently changed and we are notified late in August of what we are teaching next year, so there is little chance of preparing during the summer. I am paid, perhaps, well, considering almost 2 months off. But I feel underpaid, if I think about the amount of work (and hours) I put in.
And most of the teachers I know work like this. Some, of course, manage to "finish the work at work" - those that don't have children or families. They come at 6 and leave at 6 or later.

Exo

Anonymous said...

I wish that grading/planning/etc stayed in school on the clock. But it doesn't, not even close. And that is true for all of my math teaching colleagues as well. And it is certainly true for the math teachers you are hoping to attract.

I also have a number of colleagues who have come into teaching after a first career in engineering/technology. Without exception, they find the job to be exhausting and cannot believe the amount of homework.

But I am not saying that the other type of teacher does not exist. I have met coaches who consider teaching the thing they do before practice starts. However, since they are not the answer to your problem, that they find the job attractive is irrelevant.

Hainish said...

not to mention that teachers may be asked to prep for up to three different courses in their copious "prep" time.

palisadesk said...

NY teachers work to rule, that is, the union rule as agreed on with the local contract. The time needed to grade, plan, contact, discipline is done on work hours, not off the clock

Are you sure that is universally the case? I'm not in NY (not paid as well as NY either) but grading, planning, reporting, doing IEPs. consulting with parents, documenting (behavior logs, anecdotal records for classified students, updating IEPs, entering data into the system, blah blah) is nearly ALL done "off the clock." There is no way in the world to get it done during the allocated "on the clock" prep period.

I'm not complaining, I like my work. It has always been this way. Here it is nearly 5:45 p. m. on a Friday and I'm still at school, after spending some time with peers consulting about a student who needs intervention, updating IEPs for the end of the year, preparing for next week. Most nights there are lots of people here until around 7 p.m. Others go in early; they unlock the doors at 7:15 a.m. and I go in a couple days a week to work with struggling readers before school.

Maybe the work-to-rule mentality is a NY thing? I have met individuals like this, but in most work environments I've been in, teachers put in considerable "off the clock" hours in the building (and many take work home, too.). It's simply not possible to do a decent job if the only planning, grading, reporting, writing and collaborating takes place during school instructional hours.

Then again, maybe NY just has teachers with preternatural powers;-) I'm not one of them. I'm one of those in EXO's last sentence -- come in at 6 (well, 7 in my case) and leave around 7 p.m. I also come in most Saturdays and the building is full of staff then, too.

As to having plenty of time to work another job during the school year, I'd laugh hysterically if I weren't too darned tired. When I get home around 8 p.m. the last thing I am up for is a second job. It's off to bed!

SteveH said...

I don't understand. Are we talking about high school, middle school, or elementary school? Are we talking about average teachers? Twelve hour days? Outside of urban areas, does the supply of math teaching jobs really exceed demand? If so, how difficult is it for second career people to qualify for those jobs? A friend of mine (ex pediatrician) would have loved to teach public high school chemistry. She wouldn't jump through the hoops. She ended up at a private school. If we are talking about a cohort that's better trained in math, then we aren't talking about K-6, where the biggest problems are.


What is the problem? Is there just one main problem?

Is the problem in math education a money issue? Just pay more and get better teachers? Better Everyday Math teachers? If you start hiring teachers in K-6 who know more math, do they get to tell the administration to change to Singapore Math? Do they get to yell and scream if lower grade teachers don't even try to ensure mastery of the basics? Does better teacher math skills fix the problems of differentiated instruction and "trust the spiral"?

I see two different kinds of problems in K-12. In K-6, it's a philosophical problem first. Even if you keep Everyday Math, nobody is ensuring anything about anything, unless it's done, guerilla-like, by a teacher. Years ago, I told some school committee members that they should tell parents that (for K-8) their kids will NOT receive a Core Knowledge education.

Things change in our state in 7th and 8th grades because the teachers have to be certified in the areas that they teach. They begin to care about content and skills. However, after 7 years of trust the spiral, the screws get put to the kids to take charge of their own learning under the guise of becoming life-long learners. Schools pump kids along in K-6 with differentiated instruction, and then throw them in the deep end of the pool.

In high school we have three levels where kids get separated by ability (and willingness to work) and there is much more emphasis on content and skills. It seems as though for many high schools the battle over an integrated math sequence versus a tradidional math sequence has been won by the tradional approach. The bigger problem is the old-fashioned one of whether you end up with one of the "dud" teachers. There might be an issue with high school math teachers not having enough math knowledge, but I haven't seen or heard anything about that.

Diane Ravitch got lost trying to figure out what problems are. The problems are not difficult to find. Fixing them is the difficult part.

Bonnie said...

The teachers in our district (in suburban NY) do not work to rule. I can see what they are doing for their classes. There is no way they are getting it done in the prep time.

I teach myself, albeit at the university level, so I have a lot of appreciation for how much time prep takes. I figure about 3 hours of prep per hour taught. And that isn't just my advanced courses. The easy courses take just as long.

My mother was a teacher. She spent many long hours in the evening putting together materials for her class. Besides her regular classes, she had many out of class responsibilities. I remember that she was assigned to proof all the yearbook pages for "dangerous" content, which took forever.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

According to
http://www.universitytutor.com/find/Precalculus
the going rate for precalc tutors around here is about $20 an hour.

palisadesk said...

If you start hiring teachers in K-6 who know more math, do they get to tell the administration to change to Singapore Math? Do they get to yell and scream if lower grade teachers don't even try to ensure mastery of the basics? Does better teacher math skills fix the problems of differentiated instruction and "trust the spiral"?

No, having teachers in K-6 or K-8 who are math-competent is necessary but not sufficient.

--They do not get to "tell the administration to change to Singapore Math." In most places, teachers have some (limited) input into curriculum change, but they do not make the decisions. Nor should they. They are employees. Police do not make the laws, they are to enforce them. Teachers do not decide what is to be taught, they are hired to teach what the community determines should be taught.

Who does decide? Elected school board representatives, community organizations (business, taxpayer groups, special interest groups like the LD associations), local and state legislators, senior administration in the district, all play a role. Think of it somewhat like the branches of government -- executive, judicial, legislative. In reality their powers overlap to a degree, but there are some clear distinctions and limitations. Teachers, whether individually or collectively, do not have a big say in curriculum although it is reasonable to ask for their input to be considered.

-- They do not " get to yell and scream if lower grade teachers don't even try to ensure mastery of the basics" if such mastery is not required or is, indeed, forbidden. They do, in my experience, try to communicate to earlier grade teachers the problems that result from students' lack of this mastery. When instructional time may not be used to produce the mastery needed, teachers' hands are tied somewhat. My own strategy is to provide parents with resources (online, supplementary books and materials, free or low-cost tutoring, etc.) to help students master those basics. Others do this and more, running after-school tutoring groups, math clubs and so on.

If, however, basic skill mastery *is* in the curriculum, and *is* required to be taught, then the ones who should "yell and scream" at teachers not producing it are school-level administrators responsible for evaluating teacher performance. That's their job -- to ensure that teachers teach what they are required to teach, and meet an agreed-upon standard. Our problem -- that is, the problem many of us at KTM have with the current situation -- is that the curriculum is flawed and does not require or in many cases even allow the teaching necessary to produce solid mathematical learning. That is an issue separate from having teachers with a good grasp of mathematics. The latter is a prerequisite, however, for having good curriculum effectively implemented.

--Having a competent, even outstanding, cohort of math teachers will not " fix the problems of differentiated instruction and "trust the spiral"?" The more capable the teacher, the better s/he will be able to teach students even with a poor curriculum, inadequate materials, inclusive groupings and other factors that militate against optimum outcomes. But that is not a "fix" for the problems. It gives us KIPP-type results that, while better than comparison schools, are still disappointing.

Fortunately, mine is not an Everyday Math district so I never hear the phrase "trust the spiral." But the spiral curriculum is definitely alive and well. We don't group by ability until after ninth grade, which is way too late to catch up the kids who have serious gaps in their math skills.

So we are looking not at one problem (level of math skills of teachers, and how to attract better ones) but at several related factors, including poor curricula, working conditions and prerequisites that in some places repel top candidates from entering the field, and lack of ready venues to effect change.

Catherine Johnson said...

I also have a number of colleagues who have come into teaching after a first career in engineering/technology. Without exception, they find the job to be exhausting and cannot believe the amount of homework.

Do K-12 math teachers in other districts correct homework?

Teachers in my district don't. Back in 8th grade, the teacher didn't even log in the HW himself. He sent a student around the class to mark down whether students had done the HW, so students would just write in a different date on the top of their HW and get marked down as HW completed. We eventually told the superintendent & building principle that this was going on, but nothing changed.

Teachers in our son's Jesuit high school also don't look at HW, but they do give quizzes, which they grade.

I'm thinking quizzes happen no more often than perhaps once a week.

Bonnie said...

Teachers in my district (Westchester County NY) absolutely do correct the math homework. I do remember when I was a kid, we corrected each others homework. That was in Texas and Kentucky, in the late 60's.

Molly said...

My child's 8th grade algebra teacher checked homework for completion only. He did give frequent quizzes, but I was dismayed to find out that he insisted that students turn in only an answer sheet (doing all work on a separate piece of paper). He had a record of how many problems kids got wrong, but absolutely no way to look at what they were doing wrong.

It was impossible for him to address a student's misunderstanding because he never took the time to look at exactly what part of the problem they got wrong. As a math tutor, I know that my students get the same problems wrong in different ways. Figuring out the root of the mistake lets me focus on the fundamental skill that is weak. It is amazing how quickly the areas of weakness jump out at me when I look at their work - they make the same types of mistakes in very different types of problems. A teacher who doesn't look at his students work is driving without a map.

lgm said...

Our experience with homework is the same as Catherine's. I'm in the mid-Hudson Valley. The teachers who send kids around to check are not mobility impaired. They state it is the child's responsibility to see that he has a problem and speak up in class. When our child as a 6th grader followed that procedure, we rapidly found out that the teachers had holes in their conceptual understanding. In our experience, math teachers that know their mat'l don't have holes and our able to convey the course content efficiently. Neither have the time in class to correct individual misunderstanding, nor is it their responsibility. Their responsibility is to take the unit test result and direct the failing child to reteaching with a specialist during the child's study hall or during afterschool tutoring (the math teachers are paid extra for this). They have no responsibility to use formative assessment at all - my children have NEVER experienced form. ass. in the district in any form other than the vague question of 'who doesn't get this?'...with response of ' come see me at lunch'. If they do come, it's a gaggle of kids and the problem doesn't get resolved b/c it lies in teacher incompetency. Far better to come home and pull out the appropriate Dolciani section.

My experience in Gr. 7-12 was no homework. There was enough time in class to complete math assignments; slower processers had a study hall. Assignments were not graded - the answers were in the back of the book and the student was to write a solution then check the answer and debug. In class time was devoted to the harder solutions that made certain insights happen. No time-wasting quizzes, yes chapter tests.

lgm said...

palisadesk-

Obviously there is no universality...check out seethroughny.com for contracts by district.

yes, in my district all of that IEP etc is done on the clock. It is done by having a sub or an aide take the class. Notes/powerpoints/tests/quizzes - drawn from years' old material or publisher's (especially AMSCO) and in some cases right off the internet (I can google and find the same assignment in same format).
Grades...kids will have free time or makeup day while teachers crunch grades.
Assignments change...lol. Same people, same classes year after year. Biggest change is cancelling the nonrequired classes, so some people teach 4 periods (2 sections) of Remedial I. Algebra I now instead of 1 section of Statistics and 3 sections of Single Period I Alg I for ex. No one's summer is shaken up with new demands - AP Bio for example is slated to be dropped rather than changed to the new test.

The parking lot tells the story. No reporter will show it.

palisadesk said...

check out seethroughny.com for contracts by district.


I did check out that site, but what you are describing as routine practice is not a contract issue, but a culture issue.

I scanned a couple of district contracts, and couldn't find any that forbade teachers to take work home or work overtime at school. That they don't or won't in your district would appear to be a factor of local school culture -- a toxic one, from your description, that isn't necessarily connected to the contract per se. My district's contract contains similar sections (of course specifics vary), but the behaviors you describe -- teachers doing all their administrative tasks during instructional time, with aides or subs minding the store -- could not happen here. It is specifically forbidden. Teachers may *not* do those tasks during instructional time, and their prep periods are quite inadequate to perform them and everyone knows this.

Lesson planning must be done in teams, formative assessments and summative assessments must be developed in common, ahead of time (usually in 6-8 week time slots), together with major tasks (such as projects, rubrics, assignments for evaluation) and handed in to be vetted by admin and curriculum chairs ahead of time. Recycling last years (or ten years' ago's!) stuff would never fly now. Since we are strongly discouraged from using any "packaged" programs or texts, we must develop our own teaching materials; some commercial materials, as from enchanted learning and elsewhere, can be incorporated but cannot form the bulk of our instructional material.

The big change in my district, which I alluded to in another thread where I described the culture change that has occurred, is that these expectations are now fairly closely monitored and enforced through top-down PD, instructional leaders and "coaches" (we don't call them that) who come around to every school and every classroom, and inspection teams that regularly visit, take notes and make suggestions for improvement.

Where homework is concerned, few teachers grade the homework, because it does not count towards a student's report card grade (only towards his or her grade for work habits etc.). However, in my recent experience of several K-8 schools, I find most teachers allot time to take up the homework in class and go over it, use varying methods to provide individual descriptive feedback on it to each student (may do this with 20% of the class each day, for instance), or allow students to mark their own and discuss common problems. Middle school math teachers, who may have up to 120 students per day, would rarely (realistically) have time to mark every student's homework -- at 5 minutes per student, it would take 10 hours daily! Even 1 minute per student would be 2 hours daily (outside of school time) better spent on lesson preparation and conferencing/tutoring and otherwise assisting students.

I am not 100% thrilled with all aspects of the culture change we have had over the past 15 years or so (specifically, I would like to see much more of a focus on mastery and fluency in basic skills and operations, both in math and literacy), but the work ethic, commitment and change in the work environment to one that is strongly focused on students’ success and our responsibility towards them is very much a good thing. I can remember when times were something like what you describer in your district (a few grizzled veterans I knew in the ‘90’s would have fit right into your scenario – complete with recycled lessons from the Mesozoic era), but times have indeed changed, and in some ways definitely for the better. I’m sure mine is not the only district where this type of change is taking place, but as I said on the other thread, it has to come from the top and be coupled with a lot of support on-site for teacher learning and change of practice. Those who can’t hack it, or hate it, move out or move on.

Catherine Johnson said...

That they don't or won't [work outside of school hours] in your district would appear to be a factor of local school culture

I think that's right -- although an email from the union head here was leaked in which he cites the principle of "de minimus" as being a defining feature of collective bargaining.

In the email, "de minimis" means that union members must be paid extra for any extra work beyond "de minimus," which he suggested could be an extra minute or two during the day. That is, if teachers are asked to perform a new task that will require more than a couple more minutes, they should be paid extra, and the extra pay should be specified in the contract.

There was a moral element in his writing. At one point he observed that a person who respects collective bargaining must respect the principle of de minimis.

I had never heard that before -- is it a general view, do you think?

palisadesk said...

At one point he observed that a person who respects collective bargaining must respect the principle of de minimis.

I had never heard that before -- is it a general view, do you think?


Sorry not to reply earlier, busy week.

I'm from a large family bursting with lawyers, so the phrase de minimis is familiar to me, but not in this context.

My experience (in three different districts) suggests to me that the extremes of bad attitude that are demonstrated in lgm's example (and in some of yours over time) have a lot to do with bad management -- not that that exculpates the teachers. While "unions" take a bad rap for using children as pawns in negotiations, it is unfortunately the case that district management can be more than willing to do the same.

When I was younger and more foolish (thinking that political activism was the road to change -- ha!) I got involved in my local union negotiations over workplace health and safety issues -- "sick building syndrome" was the initiating event in my case. This led to my being on the negotiating team one year. It was a new and very enlightening experience, but not in the way I had expected.

Yes, "our" side went to the table with goals for better salary, benefits and working conditions. But any illusion I might have had that the district's side was "for the kids" was totally shattered. The district's position came very close to bad faith bargaining, and opened with the demand that we accept major wage cuts and contract strips, and this was in economically prosperous times when deficits, falling enrolment and other problems were not factors.

They then proceeded to argue almost every issue on, "if you care about the kids, you will give up this right, this allowance, this benefit," etc. but of course they did not connect the dots in any way to show how "kids" would gain from our losses. They were simply nasty. They probably wanted the money to hire yet more Superintendents of Useless Projects, at up to a half million dollars per annum..

They were resistant to non-monetary items we tried to negotiate (about safety, supervision and other issues) that clearly *were* for the benefit of the kids. I think if we had tried to negotiate voluntary Saturday study hall at no charge they would have opposed that/!

I gradually realized that in this kind of adversarial relationship, you had to have a principle of "if you want to get something, you have to give something," that went for both sides.

So the teachers would enter the bargaining process asking for far more in salary or benefits or whatever than we had any real interest in getting, so that we could scale those back and get the real gains in the contract we wanted -- changes to the transfer procedure, to maternity leave so that fathers could take days off or so that either parent could take time off when they adopted an infant, and so on. Major issues at every round of negotiations are non-monetary ones of who makes what decisions and how, with what input -- assignment to classrooms, grades, yard supervision, allocation of budget resources, etc.

Many times, then and since, the real issues at the table were not monetary at all but relate to management bullying, stupidity or gross incompetence (although we can't call it that officially).

It was a sobering experience, my only venture into union activism. I know now that these matters are rarely one-sided. Children are pawns of the bureaucrats every bit as much as they are of employee unions.

There ought to be a better way.