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…)

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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.



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.

 

 

 

 



If PD isn’t effective, is a Master’s Degree?
November 23, 2010, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Nerd, professional development | Tags: , ,

According  to an article in the Huffington Post earlier this week, it isn’t. I don’t think anyone is surprised by this; just because I went to school longer doesn’t automatically make me better at my job. Reading the comments section, filled with responses from teachers, I’m left thinking maybe all those master’s degree’s mean nothing. Comments that claim the studies (there are more than one) wrong, that common sense would say more education is good, that ‘you can’t tell me what works until you’re a teacher too,’ that accuse everyone of trying to take something away from teachers.

But the point of the article is that districts pay teachers with graduate level course work more than those without. Even if you went to grad school for your teaching certificate and had no undergrad training in education, you get paid more than the teacher whose bachelor’s degree is in education. These teachers are not paid more because they are better, they are paid more because they went to school longer. The argument can be made that in many fields candidates with advanced degrees are more desirable and while that is true, if the candidate stinks at the job he may not make more; he may even get fired.

Look, I was a teacher too and I still work in a public school system under a contract that pays me more because of my degree and gives me more money every year simply because I’m here. I get it. Its cushy system. But if we want to be taken seriously and treated as professionals then its time we start acting like it. We should be demanding more evaluation from our employers and pay that goes with those evaluations, not just pay because we lived another year. We should want a system that rewards the best, advanced degree or not. And we should really stop complaining about our pay, most teachers earn more than the average American and work less days per year. I know, summer’s aren’t really off, and we don’t get vacation days when we want them, but not many people get to completely check out from work for even 2 weeks during the year; I don’ t know a single teacher who doesn’t give themselves at least that much time off every summer.

Public school systems are looking for ways cut costs because they have to. In many districts, personnel is more than 80% of the expenditure every year. Where else can they look? I don’t want a pay cut either, but I sure don’t want the guy who doesn’t do his job very well to get rewarded at the same rate that I am if my employer knows that I’m better at my job.



How Long Does It Take to Grade a Test?
November 11, 2010, 8:38 am
Filed under: assessment | Tags: , , , ,

In Michigan it takes several months

The bulk of MEAP testing is multiple choice with student responses recorded on bubble sheets. I have never understood why it takes two months to get these scores or why the scores released at two months are not for public consumption. Having scored exams in NYS, I know that a single teacher (me, for example) can run 800 electronic score sheets by hand (we didn’t have a fancy self fed machine…) in an hour or two. At the end, a summary sheet that indicates the percent of students who selected each answer is produced. I understand that Michigan does not allow in-house scoring, that the tests need to be packaged and sent back to the state, and that we are testing ALL students in selected grades, but is the state really working with a single machine? Does it have just one person scoring these? Does it have the very old scoring machines that don’t have a way to transfer data to a computer for sorting?

I’ll live with this. But now the added wait for scoring of written assessments. According to the letter linked above, they must be scored and then the state and SBE will determine cut scores. In my understanding of test development, the writing assessments should have been pilot tested on a variety of students, analyzed for validity and reliabililty and cut scores assigned determined prior to scoring the exams. Again, I’ll compare my NYS experience. Each year’s cut scores were different; I could never say precisely to a student  that he must answer 30 of 50 MC correctly and get a 4/5 on each essay to pass before the test arrived at my building, but once we scored (remember, an hour for bubbles, and then 3 days for 1600 essays each read twice) we knew immediately our students results. No waiting for the whole state to be scored and then figure out passing…

I’m sure there is a rationale to this. Thoughts out there?

As an added irritant, none of the items will be released. Schools get general scores, and percentages of student performances on various strands in the tested subjects, but teachers will never know exactly what each student they teach struggled with. They will never know if their students didn’t know a particular core concept or simply didn’t know some non-content vocabulary. If data analysis is one tool for school improvement, and state tests are the measuring stick for that improvement, how can schools know where to apply their efforts if they never see the actual measure? It’s like running a race without any knowledge of how long the race is…how do you pace yourself, determine what nutrition you need, which shoes to wear, how much water to drink.



School Improvement?
June 14, 2010, 10:57 am
Filed under: Geek | Tags: , ,

I’m going to try to explain what I think I learned about some of our school improvement process this morning in our staff meeting (besides the fact that staff meetings sometimes seem like they are something we do because we’ve always done them…). 

If I have this straight, the Michigan Department of Education will be identifying schools in need of improvement based on those that are in the bottom five percent of achievement based on MME/ACT scores. Those schools at the bottom will be told in August/September and will have 30 days to write an  improvement plan and submit it to the state. The state (and I’m not sure exactly who ‘the state’ will have representing it) will then either accept or reject your plan. In order for your plan to be accepted there are one of four paths the school must take; each path includes removing the school principal and replacing that person with someone who has experience in leadership and school improvement.  Schools will be notified sometime in late fall if their plan has been accepted. So when do they fire their principal? January? June? No answers to that one.

If the plan is rejected the school becomes part of the state reform school district, and again, your principal is gone. When is still the question. There are several buzzy superintendents who actually don’t mind this part–high schools are much more expensive to run than k-8 buildings and while it takes FTEs/money away, its seriously reduces their headaches.

In all cases there will be a weekly progress monitor on side to determine if the school has the means and ability to accomplish whatever plan it has set forth/the state has created for it. If they progress monitor decides that the schools running their own plans do not have the ability to create improvement, the ISDs will then be able to manage the schools. While our county schools may not be unhappy about that (we have a pretty positive relationship) there are lots of other counties where that is going to go over like a lead balloon.

But back to the principal thing and my main concern/point/bug in my butt: when will they be replaced and with who? Its been stated that there were not practitioners present when the state created these guidelines that essentially make all principals in failing schools lame ducks, if not for the whole year then at least for half. And certainly the Assistant Principals who have often been assumed to take the helm are not going to be interested in taking their turn in front of the firing squad. Where will these experienced administrators come from? One can only assume from other districts and we don’t have a wealth of people who’ve had success turning around a school who are jumping up to try it again. In truth, we don’t even have a few people who have actually improved a school…

I’m not saying I think our current batch of leaders in failing schools should keep on doing whatever it is they are doing, but I’m not sure we are going to get better replacements either. I don’t have an answer, but I do feel that more bureaucratic hoop jumping allowing elected officials to claim they are taking action isnt’ an answer either.



Evaluation Time
June 11, 2010, 8:11 am
Filed under: assessment, Geek | Tags: , ,

My office doesn’t evaluate people. We don’t go into schools and evaluate teachers. It’s a strange position we’re in; schools and teachers require staff development (by law in some cases) and we have the responsibility to provide it, but we do not have the authority to evaluate its impact. That’s not to say we don’t collect numbers, but it’s not specific evaluation of people attending our staff development offerings. We get MEAP numbers, MME numbers, teacher cert numbers, drop out numbers, graduation numbers. One of my plans for next year is to actually try to observe teachers from our networks–not an evaluation, just an observation. 

We also don’t get evaluated ourselves. In some ways this is good. When I left my position as an assistant principal I left behind an a boss who was outstanding at his job, but hard to please as well. His evaluations of me were sometimes confusing, in that he would suggest improvements in things that were simply unmeasurable. One I remember was Visibility. He had trouble articulating what he meant and I’m not sure I ever lived up to what we in his mind, but it was a fuzzy thing to be evaluated on. When I came here, I was accustomed to reporting my work constantly, keeping my boss in the loop so to speak. After about three weeks of my regular emails detailing various projects and proposals, my new boss (also outstanding at her job) replied that I had been hired to do a job and that could just do it, I didn’t need her approval. Wow. So I roll along, creating staff development projects based on district requests and my own anticipation of needs.

Things might be changing. For the first time here, I’ve been asked to evaluate my administrative support. I could write pages on the awesomeness that is Carol–she not only keeps a babillion plates spinning at once, she also cleans up after my figurative messes (like forgetting contracts or mixing up dates or ordering the wrong book).  She tolerates my potty mouth, saves me from sales reps, and lets me borrow her pickup truck.  She came up with the ingenious way to track attendance at our networks. She manages grants in her sleep. And she has excellent penmanship. Okay, great eval on the way. Except when I look at this evaluation document it doesn’t allow me express that we make a great team and she makes up for my shortcomings and I make up for hers. Instead, I have to check boxes ranking her as above average and so on for technical knowledge, accuracy, amount of work, cooperation, flexibility, and punctuality.

Not much of  picture of Carol, is it.

Reminds me of the teacher evaluations. You know, where all teachers are excellent.

Bringing me to my point. I know Carol is awesome, I watch her work everyday. Its only because I’m intimately familiar with her work style and work load that I can say she is great at what she does. I’ve had other secretaries, one was horrible, one was awesome. How do you measure their awesomeness, or lack of? Its so much more than a check list. How do I quantify her creativity (for example, I don’t make my own workshop announcements any more, Carol has a great creative sensibility that allows her to whip these things up and the are always better than what I can do)? The same is true when we look at teachers. Ask any principal who his best teachers are and I’m sure you will get a quick response, but look at the paper trail of observations and you’ll find many more teachers seemingly just as good.  How do these administrators know who is the best and why don’t they record it? They know it because they walk around their buildings all day, hear reports from kids and parents, see who is early to work and late to leave. Principal Walk Throughs were one of my best tools to learn who my go to teachers were–a non-evaluative  and unannounced visit can provide a glimpse of what goes on in our classroom.

Public Impact has created a new website and a report dedicated to the idea that identification and better use of our outstanding teachers can create substantial change for our students. Their assessment of the change possible is inspiring, until you realize that the have jumped right over the GIGANTIC task of IDENTIFYING these amazing people. The report doesn’t clearly state how to determine who the high fliers are, but does give some interesting predictions for what will happen when we use them properly. Okay, so we just ask those principals, right? The ones who are only allowed to use the paper trail of observations as evaluative tools even if they know better. Or maybe test scores? Lets use test scores, cause all kids are exactly the same so it should be a snap to see if the teachers achieved something with their widget children. Oh, I know, lets look at training and credentials. That should tell us. Or not. Seems that credentials aren’t at all a predictor.

The task of evaluating teachers must include bits of all of these things. Just like I with my eval of Carol; its includes my day to day sense, examples of great work, a piece of paper ranking some technical aspects, honesty on my part, openness to being evaluated on hers.  Before we can use our great teachers (or heavens, make staffing and salary decisions) we need to overhaul the current system of check lists for evaluation.




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