"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seattle TFA Alum Speaks

A Seattle teacher, and TFA Alum wrote this last November. In it he urges caution in hiring TFA teachers instead of licensed, teachers.
Seattle Public Schools should avoid 'Teach for Awhile' program

The Seattle School Board is considering whether to bring the Teach for America program to Seattle. Guest columnist Jesse Hagopian, a former TFA teacher, cautions the board to invest in experienced teachers rather than recruits from a program that has become known as "Teach for Awhile."

By Jesse Hagopian

FROM 2001 to 2003, I "taught for America."

After graduating from college, I headed for the Bronx, N.Y., where I underwent Teach for America's (TFA) "teacher boot camp." With just five sleepless weeks of on-the-job training teaching summer school to fourth-graders, team meetings and night classes, I was given the stamp of approval and shipped off to Washington, D.C.

The Seattle School Board is expected to vote Wednesday whether to bring TFA to our school district, and before they decide, they should consider the lessons of my experience.

At 21, I found myself in a public elementary school in the ghetto of South East Washington, D.C. — in a classroom with a hole in the ceiling that caused my room to flood, destroying the first American history project I ever assigned the students.

One lasting memory came on my third day of teaching sixth grade.

I had asked the students to bring a meaningful object from home for a show-and-tell activity. We gathered in a circle and the kids sat eagerly waiting to share their mementos. One after another, each and every hand came out of those crumpled brown lunch sacks, clutching a photo of a close family member — usually a dad or an uncle — who was either dead or in jail.

By the time it was my turn, all I could do was stare stupidly at the baseball I pulled out and pick nervously at the red stitches.

Working in the "other America" was a personally powerful experience and made me decide to dedicate my life to finding a solution to transform public education and the broader society that would allow such neglect to occur.

But while TFA allowed me this window into the problems of our country, it didn't prepare me to address these challenges. With only five weeks of training, it wasn't just that I was not equipped to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students with a wide range of ability levels, create portfolios that accurately assessed student progress, or cultivate qualities of civic courage — it was that I didn't even know that these things were indispensable components of an effective education.

As well, TFA often overemphasizes the importance of test scores, driving corps members to narrow the curriculum to what's on the test to prove that they are effective teachers. Yet even by this measure, TFA-ers don't make the grade.

Consider a six-year study of TFA out of Stanford University that looked at more than 4,000 teachers and 132,000 students on six different tests and found not one case where TFA educators performed as well as certified teachers.

Moreover, TFA's own statistics show that a mere 33 percent continue teaching after their two-year commitment — creating high turnover in the very schools that most need the continuity and stability.

Seattle has an abundance of teachers with teaching certificates and master's degrees struggling to get a teaching position in the local public schools — West Seattle Elementary School, a target school for TFA, had some 800 applicants for a single job. Why bring in undertrained TFA recruits when we have so many young teachers in Seattle who have spent years developing their skills?

TFA is being presented as a solution to the problems in our public schools. But the reality is, in this era of cash-strapped school districts, officials are lured not by the quality of TFA-ers but by the fact that young teachers who leave the district and make room for more young teachers provide an inexpensive alternative to investing in more experienced teachers who will earn a higher salary.

Yet, if the Seattle school district truly wants "excellence for all," it will need highly trained teachers who have a lasting commitment to the profession — not the revolving door that has come to be known as "Teach for Awhile."

Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School and is a founding member of the Social Equality Educators (SEE).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crisis for Seattle Teachers

Seattle Public Schools have seen some hard times this past year...here's an article, Do We Respect Seattle Teachers?, which lists some of the issues. It starts with...
Seattle’s public schools sure have been through a lot in the 2010-2011 school year. On top of the multimillion dollar scandals and the firing of superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, we saw funding cuts from the legislature that has decimated our classroom teachers and classroom supports and caused serious overcrowding at Garfield High School and other schools, which meant that some students had to go without teachers or classrooms for part of the year. At Lowell, overcrowding has brought a need for more classrooms, and I have heard that the district plans to take away space from developmental preschool and toileting facilities.
There's a school in the district in which students had to go "part of the year" without teachers or classrooms? This is how the public -- in the form of the legislature -- supports public education? Are there public funds going to charters or private schools? If so, why is money being funded away from the public schools if they need it? This is just flat out wrong, in my opinion. Why aren't the people up in arms?

Here are some other things which have happened in Seattle this year:
  • Ex-superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson tried to ram through a proposal to tie teacher evaluations to the results of standardized tests – a measure that would increase “teaching to the test.”
  • The state legislature tried to pass law after law that would erode seniority, even though teachers improve greatly over the first five years of teaching, and most especially in their first year.
  • The district laid off teachers, even though we will see an increase in enrollment next year.
  • The district also signed a deal with Teach for America to bring in teachers with five weeks of training to address “shortages,” despite the fact that there were 18,668 applications for 766 positions last year.
Yes...they're laying off teachers in Seattle and then filling classrooms with TFA bodies.

When the public schools "fail" because the state has "failed" to support them who will get blamed? Are the legislators interested in the students, or just crushing public education and public educators?



Sunday, June 26, 2011

Teachers work with what we give them...

Andrew Heller wrote this last week...a great message in defense of teachers. As usual, though, the comments are where the 'action is.' I'm continually amazed at how it is so easy to blame "the system," "whining teachers," "total failure," and "public sector unions." I'm dismayed at the number of people who buy into the corporate reform line that 1) American schools are awful (read this) and 2) it's all the fault of teachers and their unions (read this and this).

In the meantime, read on and feel good about this entry.
We can't blame teachers for what ails us

We’ve badgered them, pink-slipped them, scolded them, shrunk their pay, cut their benefits and angrily blamed them for all of American society’s ills, with the possible exceptions of foot odor and reality TV.

Don’t you think it’s high time we got off the backs of teachers?

I’ve never in my life seen a class of workers demonized the way teachers have been the past 10 years. And the irony is that we’ve done it while saying, “But we love teachers! Teachers are important! Yay, teachers!”

If I were a teacher, my response would be, “Yeah, well, you’ve got a funny way of showing it.” 
I don’t know when our national obsession with “bad” teachers as the cause of bad schools and aimless kids began. But it doesn’t jibe with my experience. Yours, too, I’ll bet.

I have three kids at all stages of their public school careers. With one possible exception, I’ve had no problem with how their teachers have done their job. Many, in fact, were good to outstanding.

Before you make the obvious criticism, yes, my kids are lucky. We live in a nice, comfortable suburb with good schools.

But ask any teacher anywhere — in districts great and small, rich and poor, urban or rural — if they’ve felt singled out as a profession, and I’ll bet the answer is yes.

That’s not self-pity. You can’t open a paper the past 10 years without seeing a story about how test scores are down, kids are dumber and America is falling behind the rest of the world.

And it’s all teachers’ fault.

They’re not trained well. They’re not dedicated. They don’t work long enough or hard enough. (Gosh, they only work nine months a year! And for full pay — can you imagine!)

You seldom read a word about bad school administrators, inept school board leadership or lack of financial support by the community or the state.

Nor do you ever hear a word about the true source of America’s educational woes: Parents. Or the lack thereof.

There’s an old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” and while that’s a crude way of describing what’s happening to American education, it’s still largely true nonetheless.

Teachers work with what we give them. “Miracle” districts notwithstanding, we send them hungry, tired, sick, ill-behaved children who weren’t read to when they were young, nor taught to value hard work and discipline, and then we say, “Hey, why didn’t you fix all that?”

Then, if that weren’t enough, we pile on by dragging them and their work into the middle of what are essentially political, not educational, fights involving charter schools, unions and tenure.

Could you blame teachers for feeling unappreciated? Likewise, could you blame the best and brightest college students for saying, “Become a teacher? Um, I don’t think so.”

Yes, there are bad teachers. But I’ll bet they’re in relatively equal proportion to the number of bad employees in other professions.

Blame the decline of the nuclear family for our supposed educational decline. Blame the end of shame. Blame whomever and whatever you want. But it’s high time we stopped blaming teachers for not turning sows’ ears into silk purses.

Let me be the lone radical voice on this issue: I think most teachers are doing just fine, and as a class of employees they deserve a word of thanks and a national apology rather than further demonization.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Teachers Need to Lead

Should teachers forego politics? Do either of the two major political parties represent the interests of public education?

Bob Sikes has an interesting take on the direction public education is going.
Teachers Need to Take the Lead and Not Yield the Future of Education to Either Political Party
Posted on March 14, 2011 by Bob Sikes
The following is a Facebook post I made yesterday. Its titled, Understanding What You are Really Choosing in Market Based Reform. Some additional comments follow.
"My conservative friends who believe in market-based education reform need to understand what they are choosing. The privatization movement will effectively change the teaching profession from one of public service to one not unlike that of a door-to-door salesman. For over 200 years, America’s teachers have patiently applied their efforts and time to any child without prejudice to their socio-economic status. Market-based reform changes that dynamic. Strict adherence to a pay-for-performance plan will force a teacher to themselves choose where and whom they will be teaching. Like a door-to-door Fuller Brush salesman, teachers will need to reach their quota if they will want to maintain a livelihood in the profession. Worse, the system forces teachers to change their motivations. It will be all about the child passing a test and no longer about the unprecedented nurturing thats been happening in our nations classrooms since well before the Civil War."
During the current four pronged assault on teachers by Florida’s Republican legislators, conservatives don’t want to consider what the consequences of the current path. We are witnessing what I characterize as “Teacher derangement Syndrome,” of which we are not blameless. The hyper-partisan nature of the NEA and AFT over the last decade has changed our image from one of a serious profession to one who is simply an operative arm of the Democrat party. Satirically I wrote a few days ago that many say we are not to be listened to any longer. We’re in a union.
Still this doesn’t excuse away Republican hyper-partisanship either. Extremism begets extremism. [It's] easy to illustrate a parallel between the manner Democrats legislated during the first two years of the Obama presidency [and] the current Wisconsin-Florida GOP thuggery.
Its time for teachers to take the high road and to move toward separating ourselves from blood sport politics like this. Neither political party is able to get beyond acting in their own self interest. We need to be the shepherds of our schools and the protectors of the teacher-student relationship.
Do we rise above or do we continue to try to influence politics in America?


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Diane Ravitch is Marching on July 30

From the Bridging Differences Blog at Education Week.
Dear Deborah,

I will be marching with the Save Our Schools coalition of teachers and parents on July 30 in Washington, D.C. I know you will be, too. I hope we are joined by many thousands of concerned citizens who want to save our schools from the bad ideas and bad policies now harming them.

I am marching to protest the status quo of high-stakes testing, attacks on the education profession, and creeping privatization.

I want to protest the federal government's punitive ideas about school reform, specifically, No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. Neither of these programs has any validation in research or practice or evidence. The nation's teachers and parents know that NCLB has been a policy disaster. Race to the Top incorporates the same failed ideas. Why doesn't Congress know?

I want to protest the wave of school closings caused by these cruel federal policies. Public schools are a public trust, not shoe stores. If they are struggling, they should be improved, not killed.

I want to protest the way that these federal programs have caused states and districts to waste billions of dollars on testing, test preparation, data collection, and an army of high-priced consultants.

I want to protest reliance on high-stakes testing, which has narrowed the curriculum, encouraged gaming the system, and promoted cheating.

I want to express my concern about the effects of 12 years of multiple-choice, standardized testing on children's cognitive development, and my fear that this reliance on bubble-testing discourages imagination, creativity, and divergent thinking.

I want to express my opposition to an educational system devoted to constant measurement, ranking, and rating of children, which validates the belief that some of our children are winners, while at least half are losers.

I want to speak out against federal policies that promote privatization of public education.

I want to protest federal efforts to encourage entrepreneurs to make money from education, instead of promoting open-source technology, free to all schools.

I want to protest the federal government's failure to develop long-term plans to improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of the teaching profession.

I want to protest the ill-founded belief that teachers should be evaluated by their students' test scores, which is a direct result of the Race to the Top.

I want to express my disgust at the constant barrage of attacks on teachers, principals, and public education.

I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that federal funding should support equity and benefit the nation's neediest students. That was the rationale for passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and it should be the rationale for federal funding today.

I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that school reform cannot be imposed by legislative fiat, but must be led by those who are most knowledgeable about the needs of children and schools: educators, parents, and local communities.

I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize the constraints of the Constitution and federalism and to stop using the relatively small financial contribution of the federal government to micromanage the nation's schools.

I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that our nation's public schools have played an essential role in making our nation great. After many historic struggles, their doors are open to all, regardless of race, economic condition, national origin, disability, or language. We must keep their doors open to all and preserve this democratic institution for future generations.

I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that our public schools are succeeding, not declining. Since the beginning of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the 1970s, our students have made slow but steady gains in reading and mathematics. Improvement has been especially notable for African-American students. Progress was greatest, ironically, before the implementation of NCLB.

I call on Congress and the Obama administration to cease spreading false claims of educational decline. Since the first international test in 1964, we have never led the world in test scores, and we have often been in the bottom quartile on those tests. Yet, as President Obama said in his State of the Union Address in January, we have the world's greatest economy, the world's most productive workers, the most inventors, the most patents, the most successful businesses, and the best universities in the world. And all of these great achievements were created by people who are mainly products of our nation's public schools.

I urge Congress and the Obama administration to support programs that help children arrive in school ready to learn: assuring that every pregnant woman has appropriate medical care and nutrition; that children have high-quality early-childhood education; and that parents know they have the support they need to help their children grow up healthy and ready to learn.

I am marching because I want every child to attend a school where they can learn not only basic skills, but history, geography, civics, the sciences, and world languages, and have ample opportunity to engage in the arts.

I am marching to support the dignity of the education profession and to express my thanks to the millions of teachers, principals, and other educators who are in the schools every day, doing their best to educate our nation's children.

I hope the march will revive the morale of our nation's educators. I hope it will remind the American people that the future of our nation depends on our willingness to protect and improve our public schools, the schools attended by nearly 90 percent of our nation's children.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Alice and Her Father

Yesterday's post was about reading aloud to your children. I wrote that I had read aloud to my classes during the years I taught.
From my first teaching day in Kindergarten at Coesse Elementary School in rural Whitley County Indiana, to the last day I taught in a general education classroom (also Kindergarten) at Harlan Elementary School I tried not to miss even one day of reading aloud to students.
Reading aloud defined my teaching career. It directed me to focus on reading...and eventually to become a reading specialist.

More importantly, though, was that reading aloud was part of my home life, too. As parents we read to all three of our children each day...just like I did as a teacher. There's no other activity that I did as a parent that I remember as well...perhaps because it happened daily...or perhaps because it was such a wonderful feeling to cuddle up with a child and explore new places and characters in picture books and novels.

Meg has her own memories to tell about reading to our children...who were lucky enough to have two readers to introduce them to literature. For me, though, the memories of reading aloud to my children is central to my memories of fathering young children.

I read to our two oldest children, Kate and Sam, every day till they were about 8 or 9, using Jim Trelease's bibliography as a guide for choosing titles. Our youngest daughter, Ellen, however, got to hear a bit more. Since there wasn't another child waiting in the wings we just kept reading...and went on for another couple of years, I think. I don't remember dates or ages...it's good, I think that I spent so much time reading to them that I can't remember when it ended. I do remember that we ended with Tolkein...

Yesterday afternoon, after I had posted the entry about reading aloud I received an email from Ellen with the following subject:

The email contained a link to an article which began...
Father and daughter Jim Brozina and Alice Ozma didn't intend to read together every night for nine years; it just happened. When Ozma was in fourth grade, her parents split up and she found herself spending more time with her father. Brozina was a children's librarian and chose to bond with his daughter by reading with her every night for 100 nights.

At the end of 100 nights, they kept going, until Brozina went off to college. More than 3,000 nights later.
Alice Ozma wrote a book, The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, about her experiences being read to by her father. There's a link to Alice's web site, her blog, and a story on NPR from last weekend.

Take some time and read about Alice and her father...then, if you still have children at home, take some time and read to them. Start your own "streak" and read to them every day for the next 3000 days...

Below are the Twelve Benefits of Reading Books Out Loud to Children of all Ages from SixWise.com. We should move number 7 to the top and highlight it to include:

...closer family ties
...parental/child bonding
...lifelong memories of time spent together

The Twelve Benefits of Reading Books Out Loud to Children of all Ages
  1. Build a lifelong interest in reading. "Getting kids actively involved in the process of reading, and having them interact with adults, is key to a lifelong interest in reading," said BeAnn Younker, principal at Battle Ground Middle School in Indiana.
  2. Children whose parents read to them tend to become better readers and perform better in school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  3. Reading to kids helps them with language and speech development.
  4. It expands kids' vocabulary and teaches children how to pronounce new words.
  5. Reading to toddlers prepares them for school, during which they will need to listen to what is being said to them (similar to what they do while being read to).
  6. Reading to older kids helps them understand grammar and correct sentence structure.
  7. Kids and parents can use reading time as bonding time. It's an excellent opportunity for one-on-one communication, and it gives kids the attention they crave.
  8. Being read to builds children's attention spans and helps them hone their listening skills.
  9. Curiosity, creativity and imagination are all developed while being read to.
  10. Being read to helps kids learn how to express themselves clearly and confidently.
  11. Kids learn appropriate behavior when they're read to, and are exposed to new situations, making them more prepared when they encounter these situations in real life.
  12. When read to, children are able to experience the rhythm and melody of language even before they can understand the spoken or printed word.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Father's Day Reminder: Read Aloud to Your Children

I started teaching elementary school in 1976 and from my very first day as a teacher I read aloud to my students. I had caught the read aloud bug from Lowell Madden, one of my Education School Professors and had it reinforced by Jim Trelease, whose Read Aloud Handbook is a treasure of information for anyone who is interested in reading aloud to children.

From my first teaching day in Kindergarten at Coesse Elementary School in rural Whitley County Indiana, to the last day I taught in a general education classroom (also Kindergarten) at Harlan Elementary School I tried not to miss even one day of reading aloud to students. I read picture books, short novels and longer novels...I read at every grade I taught, Kindergarten through sixth grade. If there was a day during which I had to skip something I tried the best I could NOT to skip readaloud time. I'm sure there must have been a few days here and there in which I didn't read aloud to my class during my years of teaching in general education classrooms...but I can't remember any of them.

I read aloud to all my classes because I'm convinced that reading aloud is one of the best tools we have to help children learn to read. Reading is, arguably, the single most important skill a child learns in school.

Schools are organized around reading. It's the main focus of the early grades. Content in the higher grades is most often presented through text. In addition, children who are connected to the internet and mobile communications are inundated with text all day long. Gary Burton, the superintendent of Wayland Public Schools (MA) wrote in an article titled, Most Important Skill Child Needs to Learn...
For the past 500 years, no other skill even comes close to ensuring an individual’s success as this one very basic, very academic, and very essential lifelong skill. 
Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook reminded us that
In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” [Emphasis added]

The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom: “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” 
In its wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than worksheets, homework, assessments, book reports, and flashcards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better teaching tool than anything else in the home or classroom. What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
Reading aloud to children is an activity that entertains...it strengthens personal bonds, it informs and explains...but, according to Trelease, when you read aloud to a child you also:
  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model
Reading aloud is more beneficial than standardized tests or worksheets. It is more important than homework or flashcards. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their children become better readers. It is the single most important thing teachers can do to help their children become better readers.

Reading aloud brings you closer to your child...every day.



Saturday, June 18, 2011

2011 Medley #4: Privatize, Poverty, Evaluations, Good Teachers

Duncan to America's Public Schools: Give Us What We Want Or You're Dead

cm, this is what I'm talking about...

The ticking (time bomb) mentioned in this is the fact that NCLB requires that all children be "average" by 2014. To prevent that, Duncan, the US DOE, greedy corporate "reformers", and states around the country are privatizing public education.
This is the deal being offered now by the Gates and Broad Foundations through their "dummied-down" stooge, Arne Duncan. Give your permission, public educators, for unlimited growth of segregated corporate welfare charter schools, sign up for evaluating your teachers to be deprofessionalized and evaluated by student test scores, pay the billionaire tech boys to stock you up with data systems for constant surveillance, monitoring and year-round testing, and dump your curriculum and instruction for the Bill Gates's national plan, and sure--Arne will come right down into your basement and make the ticking stop. Otherwise? Well, Arne knows how much you love your children and your job and your house.

References included
Studies show that American students from well-funded schools who come from middle-class families outscore students in nearly all other countries on international tests. Our average scores are less than spectacular because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (over 20%; in contrast, high-scoring Finland has less than 4%).

Poverty means inadequate nutrition, inadequate health care, exposure to environmental toxins, and little access to books, all of which are strongly associated with lower school performance. If all of our children had the same advantages middle class children have, our test scores would be at the top of the world.
New Report Offers Withering Critique of MA Plan to Evaluate Teachers Based on MCAS Scores

Evaluating teachers using tests scores will cost waste more money and use a scientifically invalid measurement for grading teachers.
  • It will require districts to use MCAS test scores to judge educators.
  • It will require districts to evaluate every teacher in every grade and subject with two “assessments” each academic year, forcing districts to make or purchase dozens of new tests at a time of budget cutbacks and teacher layoffs.
  • It relies on pseudo-scientific “growth” or “value-added” measures that are unable to adequately distinguish good teachers from bad, according to a report from the National Research Council and studies by independent experts.
  • It will increase pressure to teach to low-level tests and drive good teachers away from working where they are most needed; and
  • It will damage the learning environment by forcing teachers to “compete” for high-scoring students instead of cooperating to improve learning for all.
Joel Klein vs. those status quo apologists
There is, however, no evidence that the gains observed in New York City outpaced what was observed over the same time-frame in other urban school districts that were not led by the current wave of reformers.

In other words, NAEP scores in reading and math rose just as much in districts led by “apologists for the failed status quo” as they did in the district with the greatest concentration of “reform talent” in the nation. Head-to-head with Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles and San Diego, in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math, New York City gained more on NAEP between 2003 and 2009 11% of the time; gained less on NAEP 28% of the time; and was statistically indistinguishable from the comparison city 61% of the time. This is not strong evidence that the package of reforms promoted by this new cadre of school leaders in New York City resulted in better outcomes for children than the reforms pursued in other districts.
The 12 qualities great teachers share

If you're a teacher you MUST read this. I hope it will make you feel good about what you do. Notice that "teaching to the test" and "data crunching" are not included on this excellent list.
So what makes a great teacher?

1) Passion for teaching...
2) Love of kids…
3) Love of their subject...
4) Understanding of the role of a school in a child’s life...
5) A willingness to change...
6) A work ethic that doesn’t quit...
7) A willingness to reflect...
8) Organization…
9) Understanding that being a “great teacher” is a constant struggle to always improve…
10) Enough ego to survive the hard days...
11) Enough humility to remember it’s not about you...
12) A willingness to work collaboratively...
Jazz, Basketball, and Teacher Decision-making

One of the most interesting articles I've read in a long time...what happens in a teacher's brain when he/she is teaching? How often do teachers have to change their behavior by making quick decisions about instruction? Think about how "scripted teaching" limits opportunities...
In short, teaching because it is a “opportunistic”–neither teacher nor students can say with confidence what exactly will happen next–requires “spontaneity and immediacy” (Jackson, p. 166, 152).

Effective teachers, then, like top jazz musicians and basketball rebounders improvise–decide on the spot–as they deal with both the routine and unexpected in the art of teaching.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Here's to the Teachers...Students...Parents...and Schools

I read Frustrated Educators Aim to Build Grassroots Movement, a post about the Save Our Schools March on Washington scheduled for July 28-31, 2011, and in the comments I found the links to the following spots. Each one is less than a minute...Well worth the time to watch...

Here's to the Teachers...

Here's to the Students...

Here's to the Parents...

Here's to the Schools...

Research Based Policies

I already wrote about the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science report on the value of test-based accountability and incentives, but there are some things in the report which need to be repeated.

Conclusion 2 on p. S-4 of the Summary publication states,
The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement. The best available estimate suggests a decrease of 2 percentage points when averaged over the population. In contrast, several experiments with providing incentives for graduation in the form of rewards, while keeping graduation standards constant, suggest that such incentives might be used to increase high school completion.
In other words, graduation tests have not done anything to improve achievement and, in fact, have had a negative effect on graduation rates. Fewer students graduate because of them. This logically implies that the drop out rate is caused, at least in part, because of high school exit exams.

In March 2010 President Obama and the US Department of Education announced Steps to Reduce Dropout Rate and Prepare Students for College and Careers. What were these steps?

They begin with the national effort to help turn around America's lowest performing schools and are:
  • The school must replace the principal and at least half the school staff
  • The school must close and reopen as a charter school
  • The school must close and transfer the students to higher performing schools within the district
  • The school must address four areas of reform, including (1) developing teacher and school leader effectiveness (and replacing the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformational model); (2) implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies; (3) extending learning and teacher planning time and creating community-oriented schools; and (4) providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
The next step is to keep students on the track to graduation by:
  • Personalized and individualized instruction and support to keep students engaged in their learning and focused on success.
  • Multiple pathways and credit recovery programs, such as high-quality alternative high schools, transfer schools, or career- and work-based experiences to help students catch-up and keep-up academically, and to get back on track toward a high school diploma.
  • Better use of data and information to identify and respond to students at risk of failure, and assist with important transitions to high school and college.
None of the parts of the DOE's plan include getting rid of the exit exams. Getting rid of the exit exams would have the added effect of saving money. For example, the exit exam in California costs the state about $700 million a year. The state could save money and improve graduation rates at the same time.

Diane Ravitch in her recent blog entry, On Treating Students and Educators 'Like Rats in a Maze', writes,
Here is a golden opportunity for corporate reformers to reconsider their belief in carrots and sticks. The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science just released a major report about the value of test-based accountability and incentives. It appeared right before the Memorial Day weekend. It says that the train is on the wrong track. It deserves careful attention. I hope that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, members of Congress, and all the luminaries of corporate reform will read this report with care. So should every teacher and principal and parent who cares about the future of education in this country.
There was another report released the same day. Ravitch wrote about it...
In another report, released on the same day, Marc S. Tucker, writing for the National Center on Education and the Economy, surveyed the practices of the top-performing nations in the world. He said that "much of the current reform agenda in this country is irrelevant, a detour from the route we must follow if we are to match the performance of the best." These nations, he said, do not test every student every year; they do not judge teacher quality by student test scores; they do not rely on computer-scored tests; they have a national curriculum that goes "far beyond mathematics and the home language covering, as well, the sciences, the social sciences, the arts and music ..."; and they have built over time a coherent process for recruiting, educating, and supporting excellent teachers who make teaching their career. Tucker's report deserves more space than I can devote to it here. Please take the time to read it. It is yet another clear sign that our "reform" train is on the wrong track.
She ends her post with rhetorical questions which will, I'm afraid, go unanswered.
Will anyone listen? Will Secretary Duncan? Will Congress? Will the Gates Foundation? Will the D.C. think tanks?


Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 6

If you've been reading this particular series on this blog you'll notice that I've gone from A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 2, to A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 6. I hope the reason for the jump will be clear in a moment...

Our oldest daughter entered Harlan Elementary's kindergarten in the fall of 1977. From that date on, someone from our family was attending Harlan as either a student, a teacher or a volunteer for the next 34 years. All three of our children attended Harlan from grades K through 6, my wife and I both volunteered there at one point or another, and I taught there for the last 19 years of my career.

On June 10, 2011 Harlan students left for summer vacation for the last time. No students will be returning in the fall...no teachers will be coming in during the summer to get things ready or get a head start on their new curriculum. Students will be going to four different locations for the 2011-2012 school year depending on where they live and what grade they're in. Harlan Elementary School, along with 3 others in East Allen County Schools is closing forever because of a budget shortfall of about 8 million of dollars.

I started teaching at Harlan in August 1991. My first assignment at Harlan was 6th grade. Before coming to Harlan I had taught grades K through 4...never students as old as 6th grade. I had difficulty with 6th grade, but with a lot of help from other teachers and the principal (emotional support as well as pedagogical help) I had a successful year. My teaching partner in 6th grade, who retired this year after 34 years at Harlan, was a great help and likely worked as hard helping me adjust to teaching adolescents as he did teaching his own students.

I taught second grade for two years and then moved to a pull out program teaching students who were having difficulty in the general education classroom. My job included helping students with class work, planning programs for students who were not able to keep up, and testing students to see where their strengths and weaknesses were.

In 1998 my job became two jobs. I continued with the pull out program, and began a career as a Reading Recovery teacher. I enjoyed Reading Recovery...it was hard, gratifying work. I taught both my groups of students for seven years, after which the Reading Recovery program was canceled due to funding issues.

In 2005, the year after my Reading Recovery position was cut, I began teaching a half time kindergarten...a grade I had not taught for nearly 30 years. In the intervening years, kindergarten had changed dramatically. Once again the teachers I worked with provided assistance. This time I needed help with curriculum. Ironically, the teacher who helped me the most had been a 6th grade student in another classroom at Harlan the year I struggled in 6th grade.

The half time kindergarten position only lasted one year and I finished my career teaching half time...just the pull out program. I loved working with individuals and small groups. It gave me the opportunity to help students who were struggling in their classrooms, just as I had been when I was a student at Rogers School in Chicago.

As a parent I was more than satisfied with the quality of education my children received at Harlan. The teachers were caring and effective and all made it clear that they were willing to do what needed to be done to provide my children with the support and tools they needed to succeed.

As a teacher this opinion didn't change. Getting to know the staff I was able to see strengths in teachers I hadn't seen before. I was able to recognize the depth of dedication present in the classrooms.

It's hard to say good-bye to a school filled with so many memories of my own children as students, of my classrooms and students, and of staff members, many of whom I now count as close friends. A teaching career is filled with memories like those...as well as laughter, frustrations, successes and failures.

The success of Harlan Elementary was not in its location, facilities, playground or classrooms. Those things are important of course...the clean classrooms and rest rooms, the meals in the cafeteria, the safe playground and spacious gymnasium. Those are all important parts of a school and I don't intend to minimize the consequences of not providing a physically safe environment and an atmosphere conducive to learning. Adequate facilities, however, can (and should) be available everywhere a school building is constructed. Harlan's success, however, was built on more than its physical structure. It was built on the hard work and dedication of hundreds of professional educators and staff members who provided a rich, educational atmosphere in which students could grow and learn. It was built on the strength of parents who worked with the staff to provide their children with the education every child deserves. And it was built on the children themselves who brought their hope of a bright future into their classrooms and gave life to a structure of concrete and carpet.

When our oldest was in school each child would go to the office on their birthday and receive a small gift. She often told me that she was happy to get the "birthday pencil" on which was printed:

"Harlan Elementary: A Super School"


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Evaluating Teachers with Student Tests

Room for Debate in the NYTimes the other day was about Testing Students to Grade Teachers. It's not just in NY City. The Indiana Legislature passed a bill requiring schools to evaluate teachers using test scores. Does it matter if it doesn't work? Apparently not. Where are the "Local Control Republicans" now that we need them?

Here are some excerpts from the debate. Not only are the opinions interesting, but the comments are as well. By the way, there was one writer who was in favor of using tests to evaluate teachers. You can find his article here. If you read that you might also want to reread a little about the research showing that basing incentives (including evaluations) based on student test scores doesn't improve student achievement.

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education at Stanford University, where she is co-director of the Stanford Center on Opportunity Policy in Education. She was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and she led President Obama’s education policy transition team.
Recent research shows that test score gains are highly unstable and error-prone for measuring individual teachers, and that making high-stakes decisions based on these tests causes schools to reduce their teaching of important content and skills not measured by the tests. As a group of leading researchers warned last week before the New York Regents voted on such a scheme, we can expect teaching and curriculum to be narrowed further as teachers focus more intensely on these tests, and we can expect teachers to seek to avoid serving special education students, new English learners and others whose learning is poorly measured by the tests.

Paul Thomas is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He is writing a book on poverty in the United States. You can follow his work at Radical Scholarship and on Twitter at @plthomasEdD.
Overwhelming evidence shows that student outcomes in education are connected to out-of-school factors -- from about 60 percent to as much as 86 percent. But admitting and accepting that student achievement and education quality are overwhelmed by cultural and social dynamics speaks against our idealized view of our culture and our enduring faith in rugged individualism. . .

. . . Focusing on tests, schools and teachers allows political discourse to keep our attention distracted from the social failures reflected in our schools, not caused by our schools.
Why do we cling to test scores and demonize our teachers and schools? To avoid facing the plight of poverty on our children and our schools.

Francesca Burns has taught at middle schools and elementary schools in New York City since 1989. She currently teaches literacy to third- and fourth-grade students.
This testing-students-to-grade-teachers initiative is not coming out of what people who actually work with children in schools know. It is not even research-based: reasonably intelligent outsiders to the field could still steer us in a sensible direction. Instead, the plans are based on politics and soundbites, corporate sleight of hand (who’s getting paid to design this flotilla of assessments and the materials districts, educators and parents will scramble to purchase to help children prepare for them?) and high talk. In short: nothing.

Molly Putnam has taught at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn for eight years. She currently teaches government and economics in the social studies department.
So, why would New York City fall back on testing to assess its teachers? Because the real answer is too difficult and time consuming, and because it would require a cultural shift — from one that lays blame to one that encourages cooperation and support. 
This “Race to the Top” money could be spent on methods that have been proven to improve teacher quality and retention rates — like intensive student teaching and training in lesson planning, instruction and classroom management. A culture change would also mean having principals and senior teachers become even more engaged in mentoring and guiding younger teachers.