Am I a geek or a nerd?

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.


What’s the point of education?
October 28, 2010, 8:17 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

That’s the question asked in this article.  Until we can answer that question our attempts to assess schools, teachers, and students will continue to be disconnected and criticized.

Is the only purpose to teach literacy and math skills? Or is it also to keep children occupied until they can be productive members of society? What about social skills? Morality? Nutrition? Physical fitness? Arts appreciation? Civic participation? And if you say that we need to do all of these to some degree how exactly would you go about proving that we’d done it?

Many claim that are schools are failing and base this claim on test scores. So we are failing at the literacy and math part. Are we failing at the civics part? Well, if you look at voter participation and knowledge of the system/issues we fail there too. Fitness and nutrition? Good lord, have you seen some of our children? How about the holding pen idea, that once they can be productive we turn them loose…check our drop our rates. We can’t even keep kids occupied!

I will admit that I don’t know where to go with this, I don’t know if I think this means we ditch standards and let teachers work on keeping kids engaged and interested  or if we need more standards and more measurements. But I do know that when we try to be all things to all people we all fail. Always.

Love this site!!
October 19, 2010, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Love it!! The National Archives is behind it, and I love what they’ve given us the ability to do here!! Go, poke around, you’ll see. The archives staff has created some document tasks already (example: weigh evidence by examining a set of doc related to the question and then drag the doc to one side of the scale or the other–to have had this when I taught DBQs…) but you can make your own and then share them.  I just did a quick one on the Cuban Missile Crisis and roles of the president, it’s not great, but with some more work it will do the trick in our foreign policy lessons for MC3 Civics.

Its time consuming, that is certain. And not all user generated content is great. But if you have  good sense of what you want your students to accomplish, you should be able to create some great interactive materials. I do suggest you already have a goal in mind, and focus question that requires evidence/documentation. Otherwise, have fun!!

What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do
October 1, 2010, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hey, somebody studied us!! Well, they studied some of us, specifically high school teachers, but it’s us, it’s us!! You can download the full AEI report here, but long story short most HS Social Studies teachers want students to respect the United States and understand our strengths AND our shortcomings. When given a list of classroom priorities, most of us listed ‘teaching facts’ (like where are the 50 states or the exact date of Pearl Harbor) as the lowest and put tremendous importance on students learning the meanings and interpretations of the Bill of Rights.

So far so good, huh?

Hang on though, seems very few of us think our students have actually learned anything when they leave high school and only 60% of think learning about federalism and the like is important.  Only 50% thought economic concepts like supply and demand were important (given the economic woes of late, this seems shortsighted) And rather than blaming ourselves we blame NCLB for the shortcomings in social studies.


Some are going to be surprised by this study (like my edu blogging crush Mr. Hess) and claim NCLB doesn’t impact high school as much as elementary school, or that teachers saying facts aren’t important is bothersome. I too take some issue, particularly with teachers saying that something is crucial and then in the next breath saying they are sure their students didn’t get it. You can’t blame NCLB for that (despite the fact that we know Elementary and MS  SS education gets shortchanged leading to  HS students who don’t have the background they ought to). And you can’t upset when people rank things you asked them to rank–something has to end up on the bottom and I’m glad the big idea are at the top. That econ thing has me concerned though….

What is a test?
September 28, 2010, 12:54 pm
Filed under: assessment, Uncategorized

A funny story about our kids and tests…

A good friend of mine has a 9-year-old who has recently begun wearing glasses. That he picked glasses stunning similar to mine is probably just a coincidence, but I like to think he thinks maybe I’m cool. But that’s neither here nor there. Apparently his eyesight is so poor that someone should have noticed his need for glasses quite some time ago, like maybe a two years ago, or more!

How is that possible you say? Teachers notice squinting kids. Parents notice squinting kids. Schools conduct vision screenings annually. How did our little friend go so long without anyone, even the school nurse, noticing? Because our little friend kept passing his vision screening. Every time, he got the bottom the line of letter right. When his teacher brought him down, when Mom asked the nurse to check, little friend could read the letters.

Or could he?

Turns out, back when he had his first vision screening, he heard the words ‘eye test’ and figured it was a test like another; if you knew the answers you got a passing grade. So when the nurse’s back was turned he looked at the chart and memorized the bottom lines (the ones he couldn’t see from far away) so that he would ‘pass’ his test. He’d been reciting memorized letters for quite sometime it seems and was very proud of himself for ‘passing’ his eye test every time.

I laugh at the that story but I also wince. We’ve made our kids believe that every single thing we ask them to do in school is graded and counted for or against them.  Maybe that’s a little extreme, and it’s just a misunderstanding, but have you ever asked students to do something and found that if a grade wasn’t attached or if there wasn’t a probability it would be on the test they would rather not?

If its scare tactics in SS, it must be Texas.
September 20, 2010, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For some background, read this.  And for the actual Texas SBOE Resolution go here.  To sum up: A defeated GOP primary candidate for the Texas SBOE brought a resolution to the board that essentially says that since Texas law states that instructional materials can’t conflict with the stated purpose of education and that the job of the SBOE is to protect basic values and heritage of the state and nation that the SBOE will reject any books that it deems to have demonized or given too much/too little coverage to a particular religion.

Sounds all good–treat all religions equally, make sure you don’t make them sound bad, be fair…

Read more. One reason for this resolution (stated in the resolution) is that Middle Easterners have bought into the US Textbook market. The proof is that a subsidiary of DubaiWorld, an investment company that represents the Dubai government, is, along with some partners, a 45% owner of EMPG. EMPG is a Irish company that went into serious debt to acquire and merge Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin. Clearly, the connection between Muslim extremists and our classroom textbooks has become dangerously close, what with debt ridden subsidiaries of Middle Eastern investment companies sharing ownership in a debt ridden Irish company who owns an American textbook company that just restructured its billions of dollars of debt. Now if schools just had money for social studies textbooks we’d really have something to worry about!!

And then there is the specific example that textbooks address the Crusades but leave out Muslim attacks on Jerusalem in 1244 and Antioch in 1268. The SBOE is right, those are left out. Textbooks don’t include every attack/invasion/siege of any war. For the record, the attacks on Jerusalem in 1244 were by the Tartars, and while they were Muslim, calling it a Muslim attack is sort of like saying the US declaring war on Japan was a Christian war. Same for Antioch in 1268. That was lead by the Baibars, the sultan of Egypt, who was Muslim. The same way that President Roosevelt was Christian. These events were part of a larger set of events that we call the Crusades, and in the text books I reviewed (World History: The Human Journey and World History: Connections to Today–two commonly used WH books) the information was limited but relatively balanced. Christians aren’t depicted as evil invading killers with no motive, nor are the Muslim forces shown as innocents.

My favorite part of all of this is that the textbooks reviewed by the resolution’s author are all no longer in use in Texas.

Honestly, I don’t like our textbooks. They treat history as set of facts without consideration for historian perspective, the art of interpretation, the idea that winners write the books, that all primary sources have a degree of bias. There is not a set of facts, there is merely as set of ‘he said, she said’ about everything. Consider too, that our books are trying to teach thousands of years of history in the space of a few hundred pages.

How about a resolution to include historical thinking as part of teacher training so that textbooks can be used more critically and effectively, regardless of what’s been included or excluded?

Does Michigan Need a Longer School Year?
September 13, 2010, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The soon to be former Governor Granholm suggested last week that we require 180 days of school each year. Eight years ago we did require that, 2002-03 was the last school year that all district in the state had to meet for 180 days. The requirement was changed to allow districts flexibility in scheduling and negotiations with unions; the requirement until very recently was simply in hours: 1098. The unintended consequence of this was that many districts began meeting for 170 days or less, meeting the hours requirement by adding a few minutes to each class period each day.

Any teacher can tell you that adding 3 or 5 or even 10 minutes to class meetings does very little to the amount that they teach in a day; I remember when we had to make up extra snow days and did so by adding 3 minutes to classes until we had reached the appropriate number of minutes. I taught no differently. So what really happened in these classrooms? If teachers still treat one day of class the same as they did under the 180 day requirement but now have only 170 or less days to teach, what do they leave out?

The question remains: does it matter? Does 180 make a difference? How much? There is some evidence that longer class periods, longer school days and longer school years can impact academic performance if that time is spent on academic tasks. That bit of evidence does not promise results and we are left to wonder if the additional cost is worth the possible (not promised) increase in test scores.
Which brings me to my bigger problem with this. Granholm proposed a longer school year so that our students can perform better on the MEAP and MME. There is no mention of examining how we use the school day, what we do with our HS students with extremely low reading levels (we currently require them take Biology, never mind that they can’t read), how to effectively teach transient students, or the shoddy construction of the MEAP and content area MME exams. A longer school year that provides more of the same will just get us more of the same. I support more time in school, especially for our struggling students, but we also need a change in requirements that allow districts to be flexible in meeting the needs of their constituents.

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