kitchen table math, the sequel: at the Celebration

Saturday, March 17, 2012

at the Celebration

The "Celebration of Teaching and Learning" was such a miserable experience that I refused to return for the second day. Instead, I'm spending my Saturday recovering my equilibrium & trying to find words to describe the scene.

"Aggrieved and angry" come to mind.

The teachers are aggrieved and angry; the union leadership is aggrieved and angry; the poo-bahs and the toadies are aggrieved and angry. The lady from Scholastic was downright offensive (see below) in a you-had-to-be-there kind of way. I will not be making purchases from Scholastic book fairs in the near future.

The worst of the lot was Gene Wilhoit, who is angry at all of America. "Americans don't value education," he said, his face hard. "Americans are complacent."

He went on at length, but iPad ate my notes, and I didn't think to get out my cell phone to film him. I hope someone did because the country needs to see what these people say (and how they say it) when they think parents are out of earshot. "Americans don't understand that education is important to the future," he said.

Yes, indeed. That's why we have 21-year olds graduating college with a lifetime of student loan payments to look forward to. Because we don't value education. (Speaking of college loans, the unions want taxpayers to fund college tuition for teachers and are clearly mobilizing opinion among the rank and file. So that's on the horizon.)

Wilhoit and the others had just come from a two-day meeting with leaders from countries that have good schools, and their experience at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession seemed to be the source of their anger. Each panelist offered up his take-away (e.g. free college for teachers), and all of them speechified about "systems" and "support for teachers" and "respect" and the like.* None of it made much sense. They all agreed that although our schools are terrible, our teachers are great, or as great as they can be, considering.

It was Wilhoit who came closest to voicing the thought they were all managing to convey without speaking the words: We would have better schools if we had a better country.

Some celebration.

*Obligingly, Arne Duncan's person told the gathering that the White House is launching a new initiative with the acronym RESPECT. She looked miserable, sitting there amongst the RttT haters.


45 comments:

palisadesk said...

Well, I'm sure they're right that we need a better country. I can think of many areas for improvement ( and am working in a small way for some of them). Since schools reflect society as much as they shape society, it's probably true that schools would be better, too.

But that's hardly a useful paradigm. Are we just supposed to sit around and wait for Utopia? Might as well wait for Godot.

I think I would have come away depressed too.

Fortunately I haven't heard anything like that recently; in fact I've seen evidence of small moves in the right direction.

-- adoption of many practices recommended by Richard Elmore, including Instructional Rounds and PLC's
-- renewed emphasis on teaching to mastery in mathematics, including math facts and computation. Realistically, this can't be accomplished successfully in the allotted instructional time, but recognizing the need and addressing it is at least a step forward
-- an acknowledgment of the sequential nature of some learning (no "trust the spiral" here -- thank God). We look to provide lunchtime and after-school tutoring, practice sessions, clubs, etc.
-- emphasis on formative assessment used to guide instruction and grouping, so that students are working at levels of appropriate challenge
-- collaborative teaching, viewing all students as "our" students, e.g. our responsibility
-- emphasis on challenging students to reach higher, do more, not settle for the minimum. High expectations.

Naturally those things are not universal but the overall culture is markedly shifting and it is very evident at the school level. I don't see much of the negativity that used to be an undercurrent at the low-SES, high-needs schools where I have worked. I'm hoping it's a trend.

Maybe I'd better stay away from conferences like the one you attended, Catherine;-)

Catherine Johnson said...

Since schools reflect society as much as they shape society, it's probably true that schools would be better, too.

I don't think that follows. Singapore is a worse country (in my view) and it has better schools.

The quality of any particular government service is partly accidental...our school system evolved rather than being designed (not that top-down design would necessarily work, which all the presenters seemed to think).

I found his remarks about American "complacency" offensive. We're at the very top of the world in terms of spending, and the reason we're at the very top of the world in terms of spending isn't (just) that we're rich and spoiled (which seemed to be one of his points) but that part of our core value system and national narrative is the image of the U.S. being the first country in the world to provide universal education.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh gosh, so glad you left this comment --- I have GOT to get it up front. I had planned to get your last one (talking about real progress) posted & I think I've forgotten where it is.

I've just recently discovered I can easily save URls, so I think I'll be able to stop losing track of Comments.

What you say is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the "Celebration" is really a union event.

Catherine Johnson said...

Mike Rose has an article over at Common Core (will find the link later) arguing (I think) that the 21st skills movement is dangerous because it creates a whole new realm of failure for public schools, and that is **exactly** what I saw with the "International" panel, which included both heads of both unions.

The whole thing really was extraordinary. These supposed defenders of teachers were absolutely slamming the schools -- in a way I wouldn't!

They all kept quoting the big "Systems" line from the Summit, which was that no teacher can be better than the system she's teaching in.

Thanks a lot, bub!

They had a Teacher of the Year on stage with them, and they're saying no teacher can be better than the system AND that the system stinks---???

How is that NOT fantastically insulting?

Catherine Johnson said...

I want to underline that point. Te panelists on the International panel seemed to despair of anything improving anywhere in any public school. That was the impression they left, intentionally or not.

And the imperative that we teach 21st century skills, which are so advanced they cannot be tested, was used as a kind of 'evidence' that U.S. public schools are bad.

Look!

Teachers are failing to teach Mathematical Reasoning!

All the kids are doing is getting the answers right!

A level of performance that would thrill me as a parent (and a teacher) was being scorned by the speakers at the conference.

palisadesk said...

.....no teacher can be better than the system she's teaching in.

Too bad you didn't tell them about "Miss A."
Remember?
Post about Miss A

And she is hardly an isolated occurrence. One point Richard Elmore makes, repeatedly, is that there are outstanding teachers in almost every school -- even the worst, but that the isolation of individuals and lack of collegiality prevent their strengths from spreading, as it were. One benefit of Instructional Rounds is the sharing of things that work and the building up of a community of practice.

a propos of this:

" I had planned to get your last one (talking about real progress) posted & I think I've forgotten where it is."

-- can you give me a hint of the context? If so I can probably find it, I save copies of most of my comments, except for one-liner types.

Lsquared said...

This does sound depressing. It makes me think (among other things) that these people have been away from actual students and teaching for too long.

Catherine Johnson said...

Miss A!

Oh yes, I do, indeed remember!

Catherine Johnson said...

Lsquared --- well the actual teachers on the panels were MUCH less crazy-sounding (though the Teacher of the Year broke into angry tears over the release of teacher value-added scores, which I found unprofessional).

The entire group was furiously angry over the value-add scores; there were constant applause lines about "Firing our way to Finland" (actually nobody much liked that line, as I recall) and "Shaming teachers" (huge applause for that one over and over again), etc.

The most reasonable thing anyone said about parents came from a Fresno teacher who was on a panel at one of the plenary sessions.

Just about everything she said was instantly recognizable as real (at least by me).

Catherine Johnson said...

One point Richard Elmore makes, repeatedly, is that there are outstanding teachers in almost every school

I can't tell you how offensive that plenary session was --- really, I can't.

Over and over and over again we heard that no teacher can be better than the (dreadful) system he/she works in.

Of course, no parent on earth believes that, and we parents are the dread teacher-bashers and un-appreciators who were endlessly alluded to and, yes, bashed in absentia.

Catherine Johnson said...

One point Richard Elmore makes, repeatedly, is that there are outstanding teachers in almost every school -- even the worst, but that the isolation of individuals and lack of collegiality prevent their strengths from spreading, as it were.

PRECISELY!

There is no way for not-outstanding teachers to see what the outstanding teachers are doing. It's crazy!

True at every level.

I seriously need some colleagues, and I don't have them.

Catherine Johnson said...

You'll have to tell us how instructional rounds work --- that sounds great.

I'm a huge fan of PLCs, but I've never thought about instructional rounds (had never heard of them).

Catherine Johnson said...

palisadesk - I just can't remember how it came up, but we were talking about the same subject: we were talking about whether schools could improve - and you said you were seeing all kinds of improvements where you teach.

You said that administrators were bringing in improvements in a top-down way, which meant that teachers could no longer close their doors and teach -- which also meant teachers couldn't sneak in DI curricula if they were so inclined.

You also said that administrators were imposing - top-down - research-based teaching techniques.... and.... let's see....oh, I remember

you also said that while administrators were bringing in research-based teaching techniques, they were **not** bringing in research-based curricula

That post made a big impression on me, because I'm inclined to doubt that you can actually improve a school via top-down management (for a variety of reasons)

So I've been thinking about what you said ever since

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, the basic point about systems is right I think -- but of course from my perspective, and certainly based on the evidence of this panel (which included heads of NEA & AFT) a huge part of the 'system' problem is the NEA and the AFT.

The fact that both heads of both unions were onstage specifically NOT telling everyone present what Richard Elmore would have been telling us (i.e. that outstanding teachers exist everywhere) is evidence.

Union logic is simply untenable. The union advocates for all teachers equally and can't open the door to the possibility that some teachers are better than others (merit pay; tenure based in student data; etc.) which means that the union has to actively ignore and suppress the simple truth that people in all walks of life can **learn** to do a better job than they're doing now.

The deeply frustrating thing about everything that goes on in these events is that nobody seems to believe that anybody actually LEARNS STUFF or GETS BETTER AT DOING STUFF.

The students are all supposed to take responsibility for their learning and "be cognizant of their strengths and weaknesses" (when they're in 3rd grade - haven't gotten to that post yet), and teachers can't be better than the system.

There is exactly zero concept of expertise.

palisadesk said...

OK, I think I've got it.

This must be it:
Fuzzy Charters

I don't think you can improve a school (or schools) by fiat alone. "Top down" worked because, as Elmore says, a school culture can't be tweaked or changed -- it has to be replaced. Our process started slowly, with the upper levels. When those people got onside and sufficiently knowledgeable, the effects started spreading. In the last three years I've seen it snowball, and have been in three different schools, so have had an opportunity to see how similar changes were taking place in each.

Once positive changes start happening -- and student learning shows a marked jump -- teachers buy in, too. Some can't take the pressure (everybody is pressured to change and improve -- no exceptions) so they quit. This is a good thing actually.

Let me find some links on Elmore and instructional rounds.

palisadesk said...

Blogger won’t let me insert live links, you’ll have to copy and paste – sorry.

Some short pieces that give an overview:

1. Treating the Instructional Core
http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2009/05/treating-the-instructional-core-education-rounds/

2. Why Aren’t School Leaders More Like Doctors?

http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3754210

3. What is Quality Teaching?

http://wsascd.org/downloads/critical_questions/2011_04.pdf

4. Improving Teaching and Learning through Instructional Rounds

http://www.hepg.org/hel/article/157


This 7-minute video clip makes the key points well:

Instructional Rounds
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0wBLIGZaLk&feature=related

Here’s a disturbing talk by Elmore full of shocking data:
The Resilience of Teacher Culture
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfQzo5e4iSU&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Here’s a three-part presentation by Elmore, pretty interesting – I watched it awhile ago.
Policy to Reality,
Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXBwt1P2iD4
Part 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVxvs_NvbDA&feature=related

Part 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb9IJD9IiLA

Allison said...

funny you mention Teaching and Learning.

the Minneapolis School board subcommittee on Curriculum and Instruction just changed its name to Teaching and Learning.

No curriculum to argue about anymore I guess!

SteveH said...

"The lady from Scholastic was downright offensive (see below) in a you-had-to-be-there kind of way."

Isn't she the self-described "distinguished thought leader"?

SteveH said...

"Americans don't value education," he said, his face hard. "Americans are complacent."

In a previous thread, I wrote:

An article in our state paper today talks about how the lottery for a charter school in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood has 1380 applicants for only 68 openings, many of which are reserved for the siblings of existing students. For the whole city, there are 6521 applications for only 679 openings in 15 charter schools. This is in a city where many educators fought tooth and nail against new Achievement First charter schools.

Parents are desperate to get their kids in.

There is no complacency here.

SteveH said...

I see two different educational realities. One is a thought world reflected by this conference, and the other is one that takes place in most high schools.

I'm happy with our public high school, and any talk of Common Core Standards or state testing is meaningless for many kids. Education is defined by honors and AP classes and by the preparation for taking the SAT. Most of my son's teachers use direct instruction and textbooks. I don't see a lot of silly assignments. In Spanish, they are methodically going through all of the verb tenses. In history, they are methodically going through US history. Kids are being tested and they work hard partly because they want a good GPA.

Integrated math has lost the battle for high schools' top math tracks. Also, reality has pushed better math back into our middle schools. They use proper textbooks and use (mostly) direct instruction.

I find it interesting that this thought world still has such control over K-6 education even though it has lost the war in most high schools.

Karen W said...

This sounds about like the Iowa Education Summit I attended (as a parent) last summer (and like every other ed policy meeting I have attended, for that matter). Iowa teachers want their salaries doubled and they want respect (we are important professionals!--also we should pay for their college tuition) but complain that they are expected to teach kids how to read when they only have 5.5 hours per instructional day and $10K per kid to get the job done.

There has been absolutely no talk about Iowa's commitment to balanced literacy, but plenty of complaints about parents. Parents don't value education. A teacher legislator told me that it is impossible to teach a child to read if the parents don't read to the child for a full hour each night. She also said on the Iowa House floor (during debate on an education reform bill) that what we need is better parents. They also want universal preschool (surely balanced literacy will work better if they start two years earlier) and third grade retention (to force parents and students to get the work done at home that they refuse to do at school).

palisadesk said...

I wonder if much of the thoughtworld described isn’t closely tied to SES factors. In several low-income, high-needs elementaries over the past 15 years, I have seen practically no signs of the attitudes Catherine (and SteveH and Karen W) describe. The idea that our students’ parents will read with them every night(still less for an hour! Holy cow), help them with homework, re-teach concepts, hire tutors, etc. etc., is so patently ludicrous that those few teachers who come in with such an idea quickly get disabused of it.

It is clear from our high turnout for parent interviews (around 90%) that most parents very much value education and support their children as best they can. Frequently these families are struggling with so many other issues – say, one or more family members with a serious illness, inadequate housing, juggling several low-wage jobs, family violence or substance abuse in a few cases – they have little opportunity to provide direct academic support. Some are completely illiterate, many more are marginally literate, especially in English if it is not their main language.

All this talk about discovery, learning concepts (but not skills), creativity and so forth has had little impact on low-SES schools that I’ve been involved with. Teachers who wanted to try lots of group work, discovery activities and the like quickly found that such was an invitation to mayhem. Assigning cutesy art-type projects (the Crayola Curriculum) was impossible because kids didn’t have crayons, colored pencils, Bristol board and so on at home. Very few “projects” were (or are) assigned, and those are largely, or completely, done at school. We know quite well that teaching the students is OUR responsibility, not that of the parents, who are counting on us to do what they cannot.

If anything, the earlier emphasis was excessively focused on “basic skills,” but (as Elmore pointed out in one of the videos I posted), this rarely resulted in high achievement, or even mastery. The basic skills are best learned, as precision teaching folks have demonstrated, through regular, SHORT, targeted practice sessions, with students engaged in tracking their progress towards measurable goals which they are also involved in setting. This does not need to take the whole school day – indeed, introducing more cognitively demanding tasks and content galvanizes even many reluctant (and apparently less cognitively able) students.

The emphasis on providing a great deal of challenging content, and tasks that require both skill mastery and reasoning, has been a positive one. I am seeing work by low-performing students that I would never have considered possible a few years ago. It’s a reminder that, again as the PT people know, learning is not entirely sequential; it can be both bottom-up, especially for skill mastery, and top-down, for intellectual challenge and cognitive growth.

There must be a way to strike some sort of equilibrium (I hesitate to use the word “balance” because of other connotations) whereby we ensure students learn foundation skills and knowledge AND we provide challenge and teach cognitive skills, encouraging thought, reflection and analysis. I think if we are serious about this we will need to look at lengthening the school day (or year), or about other ways to support the less advantaged. More instructional time is needed than is available.

palisadesk said...

I wonder if much of the thoughtworld described isn’t closely tied to SES factors. In several low-income, high-needs elementaries over the past 15 years, I have seen practically no signs of the attitudes Catherine (and SteveH and Karen W) describe. The idea that our students’ parents will read with them every night(still less for an hour! Holy cow), help them with homework, re-teach concepts, hire tutors, etc. etc., is so patently ludicrous that those few teachers who come in with such an idea quickly get disabused of it.

It is clear from our high turnout for parent interviews (around 90%) that most parents very much value education and support their children as best they can. Frequently these families are struggling with so many other issues – say, one or more family members with a serious illness, inadequate housing, juggling several low-wage jobs, family violence or substance abuse in a few cases – they have little opportunity to provide direct academic support. Some are completely illiterate, many more are marginally literate, especially in English if it is not their main language.

All this talk about discovery, learning concepts (but not skills), creativity and so forth has had little impact on low-SES schools that I’ve been involved with. Teachers who wanted to try lots of group work, discovery activities and the like quickly found that such was an invitation to mayhem. Assigning cutesy art-type projects (the Crayola Curriculum) was impossible because kids didn’t have crayons, colored pencils, Bristol board and so on at home. Very few “projects” were (or are) assigned, and those are largely, or completely, done at school. We know quite well that teaching the students is OUR responsibility, not that of the parents, who are counting on us to do what they cannot.

If anything, the earlier emphasis was excessively focused on “basic skills,” but (as Elmore pointed out in one of the videos I posted), this rarely resulted in high achievement, or even mastery. The basic skills are best learned, as precision teaching folks have demonstrated, through regular, SHORT, targeted practice sessions, with students engaged in tracking their progress towards measurable goals which they are also involved in setting. This does not need to take the whole school day – indeed, introducing more cognitively demanding tasks and content galvanizes even many reluctant (and apparently less cognitively able) students.

The emphasis on providing a great deal of challenging content, and tasks that require both skill mastery and reasoning, has been a positive one. I am seeing work by low-performing students that I would never have considered possible a few years ago. It’s a reminder that, again as the PT people know, learning is not entirely sequential; it can be both bottom-up, especially for skill mastery, and top-down, for intellectual challenge and cognitive growth.

There must be a way to strike some sort of equilibrium (I hesitate to use the word “balance” because of other connotations) whereby we ensure students learn foundation skills and knowledge AND we provide challenge and teach cognitive skills, encouraging thought, reflection and analysis. I think if we are serious about this we will need to look at lengthening the school day (or year), or about other ways to support the less advantaged. More instructional time is needed than is available.

lgm said...

Instead of lengthening the school day, how about increasing efficiency via grouping by instructional need? As it is now, the hw load is high for nonclassified students because the class time is taken up with very long explanations in order to 'include' those that are several years behind grade level in the subject at hand.

Instead of extending the year, how about taking less vacation days? This year had 25 full days off, with another handful off as half days for the elementary. Or maybe using those days for professional duties?

palisadesk said...

lgm, I've been in a school that made extensive use of grouping by instructional need. There was still no way to provide the practice some (indeed, many) students needed to reach mastery on foundation skills in math or language.

I posted about some (admittedly extreme) examples in comments on this post last summer.

Now, those were students who probably needed, say, 50 times the practice average students need. But there are many students who need three, four, five times the practice. Where will the time for that come from? They not only need practice, they need practice with feedback.

We seem to have fewer days off than you -- I counted 20 during the school year, including Christmas, Easter, spring break, Thanksgiving and statutory holidays. We get no "half days" in elementary (I have heard of this in secondary however). Still, a longer school year would be advantageous to many low-achieving pupils -- it is a fairly consistent finding that middle class kids hold their own or even increase their level of academic skills over the summer, but low-income children lose ground.

I don't know a simple or easy fix for these problems, frankly. We provide a lot of before-school, after-school and other assistance (almost all of it voluntary and not paid time) but it is definitely not enough.

We don't have a particularly heavy homework load for students at the elementary level, whether classified or not. Parent groups actively lobbied the district administration for caps on the amount required (or permitted), so it is highly unusual for an elementary student to have more than an hour or so of assigned homework.

SteveH said...

"admittedly extreme"

"But there are many students who need three, four, five times the practice."

Grouping is a separate issue from being able to provide enough practice for mastery in each group. Why would it be proper to move kids along without basic mastery?


"There was still no way to provide the practice some (indeed, many) students needed to reach mastery on foundation skills in math or language."

"many"?

You have to calibrate this better. Are you arguing that non-grouping is a better solution or that people think that grouping is a panacea?

Grouping would be a great help for many kids. Saying so does not imply that it is a solution for all problems.

palisadesk said...

"You have to calibrate this better. Are you arguing that non-grouping is a better solution or that people think that grouping is a panacea?"

Neither.

I do not think "non grouping" is ANY kind of solution.

I did not imply that anyone thought grouping is a panacea. I have not heard anyone here say that.

"Grouping would be a great help for many kids."

Yes, it is. That's why we're doing it. We group by instructional level/need, not by "ability." Some very bright students (as in my example of the high-IQ child who couldn't learn the alphabet) may be in the lower-performance group due to lack of skills., while a relatively slow child, in the early grades, may be in a high-performing group in mathematics calculation, spelling or early reading skills.

" Saying so does not imply that it is a solution for all problems. "

I have not heard anyone maintain that it is a solution to all problems.

As for how many is "many" (that need a great deal of practice beyond what we can provide during instructional time), in my last 4 schools I would estimate this number to be between 30 and 40 percent of students (non-classified).

These are all high-needs schools.

As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. I realize the situation in middle-class or higher-SES schools can be quite different, which may mean the solutions also need to be different.

I don't see a way forward in our situation that does not involve increasing instructional time one way or another: after-school or weekend instruction, booster programs, summer school, longer instructional day, tutoring -- something.

Teaching these students is our responsibility. Their parents can support them, but often cannot take on instructional roles -- and should not have to.

lgm said...

How about adding extra years, as sped does? Start with preK and add another year between grade 3 & 4 and 6&7, not beginning high school until ready.

My district already does double period and afterschool tutoring for Gr. 6-12 students who need more exercises and instruction to master skills in core classes.

Also, how about more learning opportunities in the day. I was a DODDs elementary school kid; we did much more in one day than my current district asks for because there was more seatwork than homework and grouping was by instructional need. Seatwork gives practice in individual thinking and skill development. Grouping means the lessons can be shorter, and the seatwork can get done in school, not be sent home as hw. In school means access to teacher if there are questions. DODDs never assumed anyone at home could help with hw; their mission statement included the assertion that it was the teacher's job to teach.

lgm said...

My district also has slowed down high school classes. Foreign Language for ex. is half speed for everyone now; there is no option to complete FL2 and 3 in the same year as there was in the past when those students were going on to IB. It is quite common for many students to have a 100 average while others are struggling, due to the full inclusion.

Basically we don't have a homogeneous community. We have distinct groups with distinct needs drawing from several towns in a geographic area. We are called 'average needs'..but we are a multi-modal distribution that included not enough of the Title I pop to fund their needs. Consequently, those whose needs are beyond basic are chosen to not have their needs met, and are told to grad early and head to college.

Catherine Johnson said...

"Top down" worked because, as Elmore says, a school culture can't be tweaked or changed -- it has to be replaced. Our process started slowly, with the upper levels.

Oh -- ok. Interesting.

Doug Reeves talked about that at the "Celebration." (He & Sal Khan were the only good speakers. Reeves was incredible.)

Reeves said that the idea that it takes 5 to 7 years for change really to happen is wrong --- BUT he said that the way to go is to adopt a change that will produce visible results within 100 days.

As soon as teachers see results, they start getting on board.

He said that research shows people never (or very rarely) buy into a change just because research shows it's good or somebody else did it, etc. (By 'people,' he meant everyone, not teachers specifically)

He said that attitude change follows behavior change.

People do something, then they decide it's a good idea to keep on doing that something.

Catherine Johnson said...

lgm - your situation makes my blood boil every time I read about it

Catherine Johnson said...

All this talk about discovery, learning concepts (but not skills), creativity and so forth has had little impact on low-SES schools that I’ve been involved with.

I don't think that's the case here at all. Bloomberg mandated Lucy Calkins for all schools; the kids had to do peer editing, etc.

The teachers at the Celebration were mostly urban teachers (I presume - I suppose i could be wrong about that).

Also, the one charter school I've seen was fuzzy --- fuzzy with data. The kids were in pods; they were using Terc and ... gosh, was it Fountas & Pinnell? Can't remember.

The curriculum was all discovery, and then their data showed them that the kids weren't learning the math facts, which they attributed to the teaching.

So they supplemented with Cognitive Tutor!

Catherine Johnson said...

You may be providing further evidence for my theory that the closer in proximity your school is to Teachers College, the worse things are.

Catherine Johnson said...

palisadesk: what do you make of the fact that the big surveys at Celebration both found that teachers think they main thing that schools need is better parent involvement?

Where is that coming from?

Is it about attendance and the like, or is it about outsourcing to parents? (Or something else?)

Catherine Johnson said...

The basic skills are best learned, as precision teaching folks have demonstrated, through regular, SHORT, targeted practice sessions, with students engaged in tracking their progress towards measurable goals which they are also involved in setting.

Amen to that!

SHORT practice, with SPACING, (& forget kids tracking their progress - I can only dream)

The amount of time it takes to reach fluency on pretty basic stuff is NOT LONG.

Catherine Johnson said...

NYC is now requiring group projects for high school students, and it sounds like they're fairly involved.

A h.s. teacher at the "Project Based Assessment" workshop told me about it. She said she couldn't see how it was different from just marching students through what she'd been marching them through before; now she has to march them through a specified project with specified parts (I gather - I could be wrong).

Everyone at the Celebration seemed to view Common Core as 21st Century Skills & group projects.

Catherine Johnson said...

“Teaching causes learning.”

The problem with this is that if you're against learning - or if you're only interested in learning to learn - then..teaching causes learning is beside the point.

The Assessment Director told us that - and I quote - "Content doesn't matter."

Gotta get a post up about that.

Content doesn't matter.

palisadesk said...

Catherine, it’s a mystery to me (that teachers think they main thing that schools need is better parent involvement), I can’t imagine any colleagues of mine in recent years opining that ”better parent involvement” was a top priority – let alone THE top priority – unless one were discussing, perhaps, a particular case –say, a student with chronic absenteeism or other problems. It might reflect how the survey was worded – if you asked a large number of teachers if they thought “better parent involvement” was important, I would think most would say YES, but to rate it above adequate resources, sufficient staff to address special needs or remedial situations (or enrichment and acceleration), time to plan and evaluate student work collaboratively, defies logic and certainly is way out of any experience I’ve ever had.

Maybe your attendees inhabit a parallel universe. I have found parent involvement to be quite good, considering the many challenges they face. There are some who become politically active, too, and have had a big influence on district policy re homework, suspensions, behavior management and other policies (I don’t know of many – or any, really – who have been interested in curriculum per se).

I’m (mildly) surprised though that you aren’t more familiar with Elmore’s work, since I first heard about him from you! You’d enjoy reading his book, School Reform From the Inside Out as well as Instructional Rounds – he is *very* big on teaching quality AND, yes, CONTENT! (more about that on the other thread).

ChemProf said...

I don't know, palisadesk. I had lunch recently with two teachers (one my mom, who has been in the classroom nearly 50 years, the other an old friend) and a professor (my sister) who is in teacher education. They all nodded that parental involvement was absolutely critical, even using it to justify having students work on math facts at home in upper grades, because in their district parents speak little english but can still help with math. I think it is out there as conventional wisdom in some circles anyway.

It was a depressing lunch. I also was informed that having students construct their own decoding schemes is just "how the brain works" so there is no point in doing systematic phonics. I am not looking forward to the homeschooling conversation in a few more years...

SteveH said...

"They all nodded that parental involvement was absolutely critical,..."

I've heard this so many times, but nobody defines it exactly. One recent KTM thread referred to an article where the researcher counted up the hours that high SES parents spend with their kids. It included trips to the mall.

The general idea is that parents should model an interest in eduation, turn off the TV, make sure homework gets done (not necessarily check it or reteach), and support the school. I find it annoying that they don't realize what many parents actually do in terms of teaching and reteaching basic skills. If they expect parents to work on math facts at home, they have to realize that the job won't get done in many cases. If they don't see the linkage between skills and understanding, they might find this acceptable.

lgm said...

Parent Involvement Definition from NCLB era 2005

SteveH said...

That's one big document that says little about parent involvement outside of the need for the schools to communicate with parents.

It does say the following:

"Studies have found that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, are more likely to—
• Earn high grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs;
• Pass their classes, earn credits, and be promoted;
• Attend school regularly; and
• Graduate and go on to postsecondary education."

Without knowing what this involvement includes, this is meaningless. In the whole document, there is nothing said about what parents should specifically do for teaching or for assisting in the completion of homework.

This is the closest they come:


"What assistance do schools and LEAs provide to help parents work with their children? Schools and LEAs must provide materials and training to help parents work with their children to improve their children’s achievement such as literacy training for parents, if necessary, and using technology to foster parental involvement.

Other examples of activities that might be provided include:

• literacy programs that bond families around reading and using the public library;
• providing information about the essential components of reading instruction to enable parents to support the instructional practices used by the teacher;
• training parents in the use of the Internet to enable them to access their children’s homework; communicate with teachers; and review information posted about schools in improvement, supplemental educational services, public school choice and other opportunities to promote student achievement. [Section 1118(e)(2), ESEA.]"

Finally, they have this:

"PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

The term “parental involvement” means the participation of parents in regular, two-way, meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities, including ensuring –
• That parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning;
• That parents are encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s education at school;
• That parents are full partners in their child’s education and are included, as appropriate, in decision-making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their child; and
• The carrying out of other activities, such as those described in section 1118 of the ESEA. [Section 9101(32), ESEA.]"


Vague ideas of parent involvement are a cop-out. It allows them to sweep under the rug all of the specific teaching and re-teaching help parents give their kids at home. It's not just about going to the museum and going to the mall.

lgm said...

If you scroll down to p 52, the suggested parent involvement is given in concrete terms:

monitor attendance
ensure hw completion
monitor amt of tv watched
volunteer in classroom
participating in decisions re: child's education
promote positive use of extracurricular time
read and respond to communications from school
serve as parent advisor on committees

Catherine Johnson said...

lgm - oh, that's fabulous!

I have a vague memory of using that list a few years ago to push my district on the issue of parent-school relations

My district does not allow parents to volunteer in classrooms; we aren't allowed to observe classrooms, even. (I think if you pressed the case, you **might** be able to observe, but no one presses it.)

Until very recently we weren't allowed on committees other than as window dressing.

The district has continued to refuse to set up a curriculum committee or committees that parents and disciplinary specialists would be able to join.

My district has more parent involvement than it can handle.

Way more.

lgm said...

Parents are allowed on certain committees here; doesn't mean that their ideas will be taken seriously.

Volunteers in the classroom were eliminated after nclb due to the feeling that the privacy rights of the included would be violated as well as some incidents with parents who were on parole or otherwise had issues that meant they really shouldn't be around groups of children. It's a good thing in my opinion,as most parents weren't able to be professional and reign in their competitive parent streak. We do have parents running special events & doing K-5 field trip helper duty. Everyone now has to have a background check and the principal's approval.

The high school here is trying to cut costs by not having lots of course repeaters; they welcome communication. I've had fantastic response this year as the current principal knows how to get results from teachers.