Am I a geek or a nerd?

Diane Ravitch at AEI!!
March 10, 2010, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Geek | Tags: , , ,

Big, long day. As you know, we are in the process of a writing a TAH grant that seems to have taken over my life. AtotheB and I have worked our tails off, only to find today that we $90,000 over budget. And we forgot 6 buses…

Anyway, it’s coming together and while my hopes are not high (seriously, with the budget problems in schools, who isn’t trying to get one of these grants!) I did have a productive meeting today with our evaluation team at George Washington University.  K and K are very serious, pull no punches kind of ladies, the sort that make me feel like a I’ve done nothing with my 40 years and wondering why anyone will have me. They admitted that we have a confusing proposition, that first year applicants are slogging up hill, and that we’re asking for a lot of money. Still, they take us  seriously enough to create a proposal, so maybe we aren’ t the goobers I think we are!! In fact, K1 even said that she totally digs the vertical integration approach to history that we are trying so hard to explain in a short space.

Let’s see how short I can be. 5th grade, 8th grade and HS US people don’t know jack about each other’s content and/or instructional strategies. We want to give them three things: deep content knowledge in their required eras of teaching, better content knowledge in the areas they are either prepping kids for or getting kids from, and coherent instructional strategies that build from 5th through high school. We want them to speak the same  language, so to speak. And I’m not kidding, most of them have minimal understanding of the sequence of social studies, let alone how to position content to build up or build on what they already have done.

Okay, so that’s that. Since I had to be here to hammer out some evaluation stuff (on my own dime, by the way) I decided to book this meeting on a day when something else big was happening in DC. Diane Ravitch at AEI!! Not to be missed, what with the hub bub about her supposed about-face on NCLB. Sort of true, mostly it’s that the bastardization of the ideas NCLB was based on has her  feeling that she was wrong about some things.

 The round table was awesome, so totally civilized and so opposite of what I feel like I hear from most other sources; people saying I agree with you here and not here and this is why and then actually having evidence (albeit debateable even by the panelists). Joy! Except that I felt like all these people were so far away from what we are really doing.

For example, Dennis Van Roekel said some stuff I can totally buy into about keeping good school practice and getting rid of bad and changing the debate from charter schools to good schools. But then he said that one thing he was sure could change schools for the better was paying teachers  to sit down for a week every summer to look at the past year and decide what to do differently, well, I just wanted him to come see what we have to deal with.

I hate to say bad things about our teachers, I really do. We have some great ones. But we’ve got some stinkers, and in many cases they are lumped together in particular districts. I’ve heard this conversation already. When some of our teachers at our failing schools are led in discussion about various elements of practice, many will say they have nothing to change–the kids need to change. “I taught it, they didn’t learn” is a sentence I have heard. “I just want the kids I used to have” is another one. I’m afraid that in our failing schools gathering people who already struggle with their classroom management and instruction would result in nothing but more passing the buck.

Or the repeated statement that there isn’t evidence that the curriculum has narrowed. I’m not sure where they are looking. Let’s just take Michigan, since I work there. While the state requires high school students to have ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies credits to graduate (ELA and SS having the most) if we look at the Intermediate School Districts and their professional development services we can easily see what courses schools and the state care about. My office serves one of the third largest county and has the second largest school district in the state. To provide professional development to the districts we have 3 ELA consultants, 3 Math consultants, 3 science consultants, and 1 social studies consultant (me).  The whole state has only 7 dedicated social studies consultants but all counties ensure they have ELA and Math offerings.  

Diane R was very quick to say that teachers are much maligned by the press and politicians. I agree. But unlike, Diane R, I’m more inclined to think we deserve some of our bad press. Again, we have great teachers, but they became great despite our teacher training system, our testing system, our evaluation system. What does it say when schools of education have some of the lowest achieving college bound high school students in their programs? What does it say when a teacher tells me that he hasn’t the faintest idea of how to teach economics to his elementary students, but he loves getting to build a wigwam with them? Or my personal favorite, the high school English teacher who informed her students that most people on welfare abuse the system and have too many kids.

Our problems are so much deeper than the test culture we’ve created.

To be honest, I’ve got no idea where to begin.

(wow, depressed much?)


Another good idea turned bad…
January 14, 2010, 8:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Formative Assessment.

An awesome thing that good teachers do constantly, sometimes without realizing it, because it’s so ingrained. Its simple really, the idea that you continually use feedback from your students to adjust your instruction. I’ll give a non-classroom example: my coach. She assigns me tasks (for example, this morning a 3100 yard swim with several components), I report my performance and metrics-my swim times for various parts, the overall feel, what I ate beforehand, my resting HR when I woke this morning, my sleep quality and quanity, my nutrition and hydration. Based on that information she adjusts my future swims. Sometimes it means keep on rolling with the plan, sometimes it means we need to step back. So lets say that today my HR was too high and I couldn’t meet the time targets. Based on collective story (my sleep, my water intake etc) she may determine that I’ve done a bit too much this week and need to reduce yards. Or she might tell me to go to bed earlier and drink more water. Either way, I didn’t do a “practice race” to see if I was ready for the “real race”–its much more intricate an idea than that.

Of course, as soon as it was determined that good teachers use formative assessments administrators wanted to see teacher doing formative assessments. They started asking for consultants that would help them write formative assessments and requesting that testing companies provide these sorts of things. The problem is that you can’t write them. That hasn’t stopped the phone calls to my office asking for help producing formative assessments. Testing companies and administrators and even many teachers are confusing practice tests and formative assessment. Don’;t even get me started on the data reporting they expect from these “formative” assessments.

I’m not the only one who feels this way, Renee Moore over at TeachMoore thinks the same thing, and she writes about better than I can. Visit her! She’ll ask you to reclaim formative assessment for your classroom.

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