Am I a geek or a nerd?


I fucking love Diane Ravitch
September 27, 2013, 9:02 am
Filed under: education law, Nerd | Tags: , , ,

You read that right. She’s the voice of reason. And not afraid to change her mind when evidence dictates that’s the right thing to do.

Just go listen to her: Diane Rocks!

In other news, my year long absence is over. I’m going to post more often. I’ve had some revealing experiences lately, in education, and I’m feeling compelling to get it out there. One of the points that I found compelling with Ravitch’s NPR interview above was the notion of Education as a social benefit not a consumer good. I recently left a job where I was duped by the CEO into believing he agreed with that sentiment. Then he misappropriated a grant and the teachers, pilot schools, and professional organizations we worked with got fucked.

So I’ve got some shit to get off my chest and most of it involves swearing like its my job. I am a nerd after all (see side bar for definition…)



standards schmandards, or why teachers and leadership matter more

I have a colleague (a super crazy bright kind of colleague) who is currently doing some work with a School Improvement Grant recipient district. The district turn around agent has asked to her to review the social studies curriculum with teachers, observe these teachers implementing the curriculum, and provide PD to help teachers meet the standards outlined by the curriculum.

 

The teachers have been a bit hostile toward her and the process, and told her to observe them first period if she really wanted to see what’s what. (She would describe the teachers are mixed bag of dedicated high fliers and folks who couldn’t hired elsewhere.)

 

So she did. And she shared the pictures with me. Of course, I’m not sharing them here, but I will describe what she saw and heard. The bell rang for first period in the class she selected to observe. Four students were present. She took a picture. After several minutes she went into the hallway. Dozens and dozens of students in the hallways, mingling with the security staff, talking at their lockers, none moving toward a classroom and no one asking them to. She took several more pictures. Back in the classroom, students begin to arrive. All have a yellow pass in their hands. This pass is from the office, it shows that you checked in late and the teachers must admit you and provide your missed work. She asked a student about the pass. The student said you just tell the office staff you need one and they give you one. No hassle, no guff, no repercussions.

 

What’s a curriculum specialist to do? Well, she wrote up her daily report and included pictures and quotes and sent it to the principal and the superintendent. She also pointed out that all the PD on curriculum wasn’t going to do a damn thing if students didn’t attend class. I’ll give you one guess what the principal said.

 

“who authorized you to take pictures”

 

Really.

 

This is just more proof of what the Brookings Institution found in their recent report about standards:

States have had curricular standards for schools within their own borders for many years. Data on the effects of those standards are analyzed to produce three findings. 1) The quality of state standards, as indicated by the well-known ratings from the Fordham Foundation, is not related to state achievement. 2) The rigor of state standards, as measured by how high states place the cut point for students to be deemed proficient, is also unrelated to achievement… 3) The ability of standards to reduce variation in achievement, in other words to reduce differences in achievement, is also weak.

 

Having standards means nothing if teachers don’t teach to them and students aren’t present or able to master them. Consider my relationship with my triathlon coach. Since having a baby we are starting from scratch with my training and I’m not even a little bit close to being the athlete I was. I tried to train without a coach; I’d spent years training, you’d think I’d have learned something. But my efforts were poorly planned and poorly executed as I tried to reach a standard I’d previously held. My coach understands that I can’t hit those targets right now; she gives me an attainable plan and we measure improvement based on where I started during this round, not on where I was 2 years ago (Team USA anyone?).  But I need to show up. I have to complete the workouts. All the standards in the world won’t matter if the student isn’t present or prepared.

 

The superintendent has a much bigger hurdle than curriculum and PD for teachers; he needs to change the culture of the schools (and possibly his high school principal).



Taking Tests in High School Helps Students Succeed in College or the Workplace (AKA WTF?)
March 17, 2012, 9:46 am
Filed under: assessment, evaluation | Tags: , , ,

Heavens, this Race To The Top/Common Core/Teacher Eval/Assessment path meanders…

I’m reading more about how NYS is planning to implement Common Core and teacher evaluations as part of their Race To The Top plan. The rabbit trails of the internet mean lots of unrelated reading but I’m finding much of what I’m looking for. The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is the brainchild of the US Dept of Ed to assist states with RTTT assessments and teacher evaluations. Achieve, Inc is a managing partner for PARCC (and after bouncing around on parcconline.org and achieve.org I’m not entirely sure that I know precisely who they are or what they do). PARRC will be creating assessments to be used four times a year in English and Math classes to assess student progress and, ultimately, evaluate teachers (see more about how NYS is doing that here).

On achieve.org  I came across the statement that serves as my title; taking tests in high school helps students succeed in college or the workplace. Pardon my dunce cap for a moment, but how can that be? I’ve never, in the 24 years since I left high school and the 20 years since I left college, been placed in a workplace circumstance that required me to take a test.  Certainly there are things I’ve committed to memory and/or have such a deep understanding of that I do not need to look them up, consult others, or conduct research on in order to respond to my boss/co-workers/clients–I suppose that’s like a test, maybe. But I’m not penalized when I say to someone “let me look in to that” or “I’ll need to do some research” or “give me 10 minutes”. The skills we want students to leave school with are those-the ones that allow them to determine what’s important when reading, how to find information, and how to communicate to people. Again, there are things we need to know off the tops of our heads, but I’m not sold that taking tests in high school is the preparation for that.

So with that in my head I clicked on the citation with the above statement to read the study. It’s from 2005 and indicates that about 40% of college students surveyed felt unprepared by high school for college. Seems quite a leap from that statistic to the title of this post.  They didn’t say “gee, if I’d taken more tests I’d be more prepared” although I can see how more tests would have let them know what they didn’t know.  What these students did say is that they would have worked harder in high school knowing what they know now (who hasn’t thought that; I promise you that I’ve had that thought while running nearly every one of my marathons…if only I’d done one more 20 mile training run, or hadn’t skipped that 18 miler three weeks ago…everyone who wants to do well has these thoughts). I interpret that to mean that perhaps high school was preparing students just fine, but that these 40% didn’t take that preparation seriously.

Just to be clear, I’m all for Common Core standards, I’m all for a more rigorous teacher evaluation system, and I’m all for being clear about what our students know and do not know, but I’m not sold on enigmatic national organizations that use buzzwords and have fuzzy agendas as the best way to support those things.



Don’t reinvent the wheel; read Diane Ravitch and Buf News instead…
February 27, 2012, 12:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

NYSUT and NYS Government seem to have come to an agreement regarding teacher evaluation. Its not law yet (its part of the budget legislation and needs to be signed by the Cuomo) but there are two quick reads that sum it up. The Buffalo News gives a basic overview, although it doesn’t really get to some of the more difficult to interpret language. I agree with Diane Ravitch, there are some things here that just don’t make sense and I think in practice it will be nightmarish.

 

Teachers often a adopt a “this too shall pass” attitude toward new initiatives because usually they do pass and usually the initiative is a new name for an old idea. I don’t think this will pass, I think teachers are going to have to face this one head on and its going to have terrible consequences for their instruction and their students.



Is this a dead horse I’m beating?
February 19, 2012, 8:53 pm
Filed under: education law, evaluation | Tags: , ,

I belatedly finished Diane Ravitch’s Death and Life of the Great American School System (I link to B&N because I have a Nook…we actually have three Nooks in this house…for two people who are able to read…and a tablet…and a netbook…heavens…) and while I’m pretty sure I knew the basics of much of her position, that she provides citations and research to debunk myth and illustrate our dangerous ways makes this a nerdy/geeky delight.

Read it yourself for the full poop; I’m still thinking about the prospect of using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Ravitch provides much info, but the piece I’m most struck by is this study: “Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains.” In short, the USDE commissioned a study that found that error rates in determining effectiveness of individual teachers range anywhere from 25 to 35 per cent depending the variables (number of years scores are collected for example). This was released in July 2010. One year prior to this study Race to the Top was announced and in part required states to use student scores to evaluate teachers. Hmm. I poked through the study document and found citations dated 2010, so my assumption is that this was commissioned sometime in 2010. So USDE demanded an action of states and at the same time paid for a study to see if that action was really effective. Then it turns out that the action doesn’t seem to be a great option but they keep on keepin’ on with the demands.

I get that scores will just be one part of evaluation for teacher here in NY, and I get that we don’t have a great system in place now (see here, here, here and I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than that and for some other great links and commentary on this, here), but I really don’t think I want any part of any evaluation to have an error rate of 25%.

I’m still trying to be unsurprised by the blindness of everyone barreling down this road.



The History Channel in The Classroom
February 2, 2012, 9:37 pm
Filed under: curriculum | Tags: ,

I think they are just called History now, not the History Channel, but I’m pretty sure we all still call it by the latter rather than the former. But that’s neither here nor there.

I have a long running beef with History Channel, stemming from work they did on Star Spangled Banner preservation education materials in the late 1990s. I worked on the original version of that website (WOW! It’s so much better now!) on some resources and ideas for classroom use. One of the Smithsonian historians’ goals was to dispel the Betsy Ross myth regarding the first American flag; it’s not that she didn’t make flags, it’s that no one really knows who made the first one. Its kind of like Washington and the cherry tree, Lincoln and the log cabin…Betsy Ross and her flag. In any case, the History Channel education folks created some materials for elementary schools with this very Betsy Ross looking figure on the front, kind of defeating some of the efforts of the Smithsonian folks to get kids to move beyond the myths. No biggie, it was annoying at the time, and there are certainly plenty of resources from history.com that I would use.

I also take issue with the broadcast selection on the History Channel. Pawn Stars? Swamp People? American Pickers? I’m not sure how these are history but I can see that they make money for the network and ideally allow historians to produce the kind of stuff I hope to see on their cable stations and website.

So. Last week I’m editing/proofing/reviewing the latest 5th grade unit (Road to Revolution) for the Michigan Citizenship Collaborative Curriculum and, per a discussion with the writer and another reviewer, looked for a video that might enhance the unit. Enter history.com. I found a brief clip that would be great for 5th grade: short, clear, repeated use of words like ‘repeal’ both aurally and visually, boiled down the content without dumbing it down too. AttheB, Carol and I agreed it would work well in introducing students to some of the taxes/acts that led colonists down the road to revolution in lesson 3. We also decided to revisit the clip in lesson 6, once students have done a more complete study of the causes of revolution, to have students address what the video left out as a review (formative assessment, anyone?). All is well, the unit is done. Except. Some teachers point out that the video will be blocked by school filters. What? It’s history.com, not youtube! I went there on purpose! And its short, so now crazy download times. What!!

Because the video clip leads in with a commercial. When I first found it the ad was for Turbo Tax. Today its for Susan G. Komen (another can of worms there…). 15 second ads. I thought the point of Pawn Stars and Swamp People was to make the money to make these educational clips available. How much are you getting from Turbo Tax? Should Susan G. Komen even pay for ad time? What?

Okay. Not that big a deal. Annoying to me, probably not to anyone else. In any case, I told the teacher to use zamzar.com to download the video and all would be fine.



Everything I could say about RTTT in NY has been said…almost.
January 26, 2012, 9:41 pm
Filed under: assessment, education law | Tags: , , , ,

Here

God bless the New York Times, this article sums up all of my questions and concerns better than I ever could. That said, I have something to add. The author questions the role of State Ed in determining how well 700 school districts are assessing students for growth in non-state tested subjects given the budget cuts at the state level and the number of students and teachers and assessments that would need independent review.

 

I think I know what’s going to happen. The assessment/evaluation police aren’t going to show up. In fact, its likely that no one will ever look closely at how districts meet the mandate. Experience tells me this. While working in Michigan as a Social Studies Consultant the state adopted k-12 Social Studies expectations where there had previously been very little required, but the state also had just one Social Studies Supervisor for the entire state and when she retired she was not replaced. State Ed funding and personnel were dramatically reduced. No one checked what you were teaching, or if you had created a curriculum that was freely available to parents, or if you were assessing students on the new expectations. Some schools even refused to align their grade level subjects to those required by the state. Because, really, what was the limbless state ed going to do about it?

 

I suspect RTTT in NYS will result in similar behavior in schools; do enough to make it look like you’re doing what they want, create a paper trail, but don’t really change much of anything in the end.

 

 

 

 




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