Data: Is it Reliable? And What do We do with it?

It’s been almost a couple of months since my last post, and I find myself thinking of data again.

Earlier this month, the Gates Foundation released its cumulative findings on its 3-year Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) research project. They recommend a balanced approach which included observations and student perception surveys in addition to achievement test scores. If you look at the data in the report, much can be gleaned, yet it’s easy to see that effective teaching is a very complex thing to measure.

Also in the local news this week, teachers from a two different Seattle Public Schools, for various reasons, have stated they are going to boycott the district standardized test known as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).

There are many reasons standardized tests cause anxiety among students, teachers, parents, and school leaders. Often they are used as sorting mechanisms (admissions into schools, teaching effectiveness, and putting students on a certain track are just a few examples). Yet, if one approaches the data from these assessments with more purpose (to set new goals, to inform ones teaching, provide meaningful feedback, or guide learning), these measures can be useful.

Data today is abundant, but is it the right data? How data is collected, analyzed, and interpreted; how reliable it is; and what we do with it can make all the difference. Though the Gates Foundation and those Seattle Public School teachers are doing it differently, I’m glad there are many out there asking these questions.

Is Quantifying Teacher Performance Akin to Flipping A Coin?

Last week, on the way home from school, I tuned into a story on the radio titled: “Seattle Releases First Teacher Ratings Based on Student Performance.” Data is great, but if you paid attention to the elections a few weeks ago, there were two kinds of math going on. Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog predicted 50/50 states. Karl Rove’s analysis of the data had him flummoxed. The difference was that Rove was emotionally attached, was eager to win, and for some reason his analysis of the same polls was way off. Alternatively, Silver simply plugged numbers into complex algorithms.

Mathematicians have noted that test scores and teacher performance don’t necessarily have a strong correlation, yet an incredible weight and cost is attributed to these standardized tests. Math professor Johh Ewing says, “You might as well look at all the teachers and flip a coin and those that get heads, say, are good, and those that get tails are bad, and it’s not much different from using one year of growth to measure teachers,”

Ewings paper, “Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by Data,” Looks at the potential pitfall of trying to create Value Added Measures to teacher evaluation.

Like the election examples earlier, we often attach a lot of emotion to the data creating a lot of noise. This noise had the potential to lead to bias. When a teacher says, “But I’ve done this for 20 years. I know this works,” it is evident that experience plays an important role. But is there bias involved. During those 20 years, did that teacher ever once control the experiment by not utilizing a particular skill? If so was the result the same, better, worse. Without trying to control for various things, how does one really know if what you do works. Is it just a feeling or is it based on empirical data.

Finally, there are so many things that make a good teacher: relationships with students, high expectations, integrity, care, leadership, collaboration, etc. Yet all of these traits can’t be tested for.

Standardized test scores are a reality and here to stay. As long as graduate schools use test scores as a tool to help with admissions, and undergraduate schools do the same, high schools and middle schools won’t have much of a choice. Elementary schools just follow.

There’s a dark side to this. Children as early as Pre-K are getting tutored in test preparation. Like the qualities of teachers, students have many amazing strengths and skills. However just because they struggle with test taking, potential doors my be closed without even giving the child a chance to show the brilliance that lies within.

And what about those 21st Century Skills – Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, etc. Will teachers drop integrating teaching these skills in order to meet the demands of the test scores? I hope not.

What I’d Like to Ask Bill Gates Next Week

Next week, people from many places associated with independent schools will be in town for the National Independent Schools Annual Conference here in Seattle. I’m excited about this week for many reasons and hope to write about them in the coming days.

One of the things I’m interested in is what the featured keynote speaker, Bill Gates, has to say. I won’t be able to hear him speak directly on Thursday as I’ll be teaching. I will, however, be able to follow his address through many various channels.

I read his opinion piece in the NYTimes on Friday about his thoughts on New York making teacher performance assessments public. I agree with him on many points. One of these is that making teacher evaluation assessments publicly available isn’t going to do anything to help improve teaching. I also agree with Gates’ statement that “Teaching is multifaceted, complex work.” I also think that his push for robust teacher evaluations that help give direct feedback to teachers so they can improve their practice is a good thing. Mr. Gates calls for trained peers and supervisors to provide this feedback. I would love to invite a team from his foundation come visit me teach, so I can get that direct feedback on how to improve. In return, I’d love to be trained so I can pass it on and give this feedback to others. If there’s a way to sign up, let me know.

Effective teaching requires complicated measures, and I don’t believe that we’ve reliably figured out what combination of those metrics are. Unfortunately, the term ‘teacher accountability’ tends to scare people away from “creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve.” As reported in an article titled “Teacher Quality Widely Diffused, Ratings Indicate,” the actual publication of New York’s assessments show that high and low performing teachers exist in every school regardless of wealth, neighborhood, or population.

The theme of the NAISAC12 conference is Innovation. I am a big fan of the work the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation do and think its research into improving schools will benefit us all.

The Gates foundation recognizes the need to implement new ideas, and even if those attempts at education reform don’t work, analyzing and learning from the data is important. Microsoft, the company Gates founded some time ago took many risks and has been very successful, but along the way, it has also produced some things that didn’t work as well as they’d hope (remember the Kin anyone?). That didn’t stop them. In fact, I’m quite excited to see Microsoft trying to be a player in the mobile world. It promotes innovation from all its competitors.

In today’s op ed section of the NYTimes there’s an article titled “True Innovation” about Bell Labs. Last year I read two great books about innovation and risks: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and Tim Harford’s Why Success Always Starts with Failure: Adapt. Like so many things that end up being polarized, I think many things do not have to be either/or. The article and the books mention the need for both autonomy and collaboration. They are not exclusive of each other. The challenge is finding the balance, so that the continued cycle of improvement promotes both teacher accountability and innovative teaching.

If I had the chance, I’d like to ask Bill Gates this…

To fuel innovation, we often need to take risks. Risks come with many rewards, but they also come with failure. How do you balance teacher accountability while supporting and promoting innovative teaching?

If anyone gets a chance on Thursday to get behind a mic and ask this question, I’d love to hear his response. 

Value of Teachers and the 1%

Last week, the nytimes listed several job markets where one would find the top 1% in this country. It also went on to list the degrees in which the top 1% graduated from. It was interesting that they were also running articles on the value of teachers based on the Harvard/Columbia study that came out recently:

Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain

Value of Teachers

And an interesting debate about value and measuring teacher effectiveness followed.

The 1% articles talked about the various professions. In the print version, teaching didn’t even make the graphic. On the online graphic, they were there, but a clear side note mentioned that teachers in 1% households were there because of marriage.

And here’s What the Top 1% Majored In. My undergrad degree is in biology, but after that I chose to pursue education (not listed). These two letters responding to those graphs, one by a teacher, and one by a father of two teachers say a lot.

There’s something amiss in the way teachers are compensated. I’m not pro- or anti- union, but see the benefits and challenges with both systems when it comes to teaching. There are districts, charter schools, and independent schools trying a number of schemes and some doing better than others. It be great to look at all the possibilities, find out which ones are working best, try and guess why, and start to try it out. That’s how innovation happens; You look at all the ideas out there, develop your own compensation prototype, take a risk (a calculated one, of course), analyze, modify, and keep looping back refining and revising the prototype. There’s a good chance it’s not going to work right away and will ruffle a few feathers, but I think it’s worth the risk. As long as one acknowledges and learns from mistakes, something good will eventually emerge. That’s part of what innovation is all about. School culture in general is invisible, deep, complex, and very conservative – it’s not an easy task.

Debate About Using Data to Measure Teacher Effectiveness

Worth the read: A good debate on using data to measure teacher effectiveness.

Measuring teacher effectiveness is complex, and I agree with the economists that if all evaluations are based on test scores, teaching to the test will increase, especially among the less effective teachers.

Unlike batting averages, most ‘official’ student test data is acquired only once a year. We’ve also seen some of the negative effects high stakes have had on sports. Also, unlike athletes, teachers don’t all peak at the same time.

I feel like I’m an effective teacher, but I’m not sure how to really assess that. I also feel I have a lot more to learn and plenty of room for improvement.

Two Words I’d Like to See Disappear From Education Articles This Year

Finland & Singapore.

Both countries are on my list of places I’d like to visit one day. What I’m tired of reading is articles that keep trying to compare their education system to the US’s. I agree that it’s important to look for what’s working in education. Unfortunately, comparisons to student achievement and teacher quality in those countries to the US cannot be done easily. There are many challenges that face US education, both independent and public, but simply comparing them to Finland or Singapore is unfair. Finland, Singapore and the US are very different.

In the past few years, Finland has been one of the countries that has consistently placed first on international academic tests. It doesn’t surprise me then that many education reform leaders are trying to look at their practices. In a nytimes article last month, it even mentioned that the president of the National Association of Independent Schools, Pat F. Bassett has made the pilgrimage. The one thing I like about Finland’s education system is that most kids don’t start testing and homework until their teens!

Still, Finland or Singapore are small countries that value teaching. It can be harder to get into a school of education than into law or medicine (and the schooling is fully subsidized). they recognize that the quality of teaching matters and they support that from the beginning.

Apart from that, looking at what Finland or Singapore is doing right is not going to fix the challenges that exist today in the US. I agree with Linda Darling Hammond, that it might be a good model for a state like Kentucky, but both those countries have a much more homogenous society.

The US education system has to stop being reactionary. It cannot repair itself simply by learning from Finland. It has to innovate and lead. Education in this country has always been able to do that, and I am optimistic that it will continue to do so. There are many amazing schools with incredible teachers doing many things right. We should start to look at those as models first. Good teachers eventually find the schools that fuel and support their passion and purpose. It should be the other way around. Schools should be finding those qualified teachers.

Just think of all the people who learned Russian or Japanese not too long ago. I think it’s great that they learned a foreign language, but I wonder if those choices were based on what was going on in the world at that time. Finland and Singapore are both on my list of countries I’d like to visit, but somehow I don’t think the general population is going to be learning Finnish anytime soon.

hyvää yötä

What is the Value of a Good Teacher?

A “study, by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities, finds that if a great teacher is leaving, parents should hold bake sales or pass the hat around in hopes of collectively offering the teacher as much as a $100,000 bonus to stay for an extra year.”

This is taken from an op-ed piece by Nicholas Kristof in today’s nytimes titled, “The Value of Teachers.” Of course that’s never going to happen – at least not in the foreseeable future. But why not? Teachers are still mostly rewarded simply by how long they’ve been teaching. There’s some incentive for those with a higher degree, but it’s minimal in most cases.

In many industries, there are many options for growth opportunities. Not for teachers, though. I am very fortunate that I work with many who are always looking to improve the way they teach, however the opportunity for career advancement is limited. I should clarify. There are a myriad of different opportunities in education for advancement. All of them, however, are far removed from the classroom. One could become an administrator, consultant, researcher, academic, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, none of that list includes remaining in the classroom. At this point in time, good teachers are truly undervalued.

Hold Fast to Dreams

I was listening to Roland Barth, founder of the Principal’s Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Ed., Allison Gaines Pell, founding principal of The Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters, and Irvin Scott, deputy director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who were on a panel discussing the role of the principal today. While they all approached questions from different perspectives, there were many things they all felt strongly about.

Barth began with this quote from E. B. White: “A man must have something to cling to. Without that he is a pea vine sprawling in search of a trellis.”

That trellis, according to Bart is learning. A principal shouldn’t be one who is learned, but one who learns. One who takes risks in order to find out better ways to do things. In order to find out how to better instruct, principals must also keep engaged in instruction. “Teaching is at the center of a principal’s role,” said Barth. “Effective teachers need to be supported by effective principals.”

On knowing, Pell stated that every principal needed to know the new common core standards. She herself admitted to be very “anti-standards”, but she said they were good, because they were simple (in terms of knowing them) and, for the first time standards in Washington would be the same as standards in New York.

When asked what was hurting education, Barth replied, accountability. Both he and Scott believe accountability was a good thing, but the way it is currently framed in education is “corrosive.” Basically the message from all the policy makers is “Learn or we will hurt you.” This doesn’t matter if you are a student or a superintendent, the message is the same. It is pernicious and extinguishes life long learning. It is pervasive throughout our profession. Instead, accountability should be framed as, “Learn or you will hurt yourself.”

On Saturday, I sat through a two-and-a-half hour lecture by Richard Felmore who basically said that teaching in the US is NOT a profession. He gave various reasons including how we compensate our teachers, fail to actively recruit bright young minds into the field, and many others. One thing teachers need to do is to start engaging in what he calls, “Instructional Rounds.” Like in the medical field, teachers observe each other instruct, give feedback by describing to each other what they see, and look for ways to improve their instruction. It’s not punitive and the only reward is improving your craft. What is needed, however, is a) the culture to change so that being observed isn’t always equated with being evaluated, and b) the structures and time for this to occur.

I just finished reading Elmore’s book Instructional Rounds in Education and believe there are a few ways I can engage in this even though the culture, time, and structures don’t yet exist at my school. I just have to find those already willing to change the culture, be creative with the time, and figure out my own structure for doing this. It is not the easiest read, but if you’re interested in the concept it’s not unlike coaching. In fact, a great article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande appeared a few weeks ago and addresses this idea really well. I highly recommend reading it.

Irvin Scott closed the panel discussion saying that people enter education for a reason. A good one. And he ended the evening by  quoting Lanston Hughes’ poem Dreams:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

What Are Teacher Leadership Standards?

It was a marathon of a day with little time between to take in all that I was learning between sessions. One session that resonated with me was the call for identifying teacher leaders and giving them various responsibilities – not as add-ons, but by providing them the structures to take on these responsibilities. According to Kathryn Boles, we lose too many of our best teachers and attrition rates are too high. Many teachers do not want to become a principal/head of school, but they aren’t given the opportunities to be the change agents they want to be while still in the classroom. There are seven domains/standards for teacher leaders that have been identified.

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community

Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

You can get a lot more information about all these standards at this site (still under construction, but already very good). Every administrator should know about this site. Not only have standards for teacher leaders been developed, but the supporting strategies to support these have also been identified.

  • Increase the capcity to create staffing models that include differentiated career options for teachers. It’s shouldn’t solely be just teacher ==> assistant principal ==> principal ==> superintendent.
  • Develop new structures for licensing and/or credentialing teacher leaders.
  • Engage stakeholders in developing criteria-based models for the selection of teachers to serve in formalized leadership roles.
  • Develop systems for reward and recognition of the contributions of teachers in formal and informal leadership roles.
  • Establish compensation systems that recognize teacher leadership roles, knowledge, and skills.
  • Establish a performance management and evaluation system that is consistent with the identified and varied roles of teacher leaders.

I’ve a lot more to add on this one topic alone, but as I mentioned, the schedule is packed solid – Fantastic, but full. In fact, I’m getting ready for another 12-hour day of learning which starts in 15 minutes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to break some of the things I’m learning down into little chunks and how they apply to the classroom. In the meantime, check out that link above.

Eating Together: It Matters

“Children who eat with their families have stronger vocabularies than those who do not. They do better in school.”


That quote comes from a short NYTimes Sunday Magazine article that appeared today. It’s a great article, and one that doesn’t surprise me. It did get me to think about all the school reform efforts and studies underway to try to link student performance to teacher pay.

Of course I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t think I could contribute somewhat to a child’s academic and social development. I play, however, only a small part in that development. Too many other factors such as genetics, family life, affluence, the influence of different teachers, and many others also contribute. All of those things are beyond my control. As a classroom teacher, the students I have see me for one academic school year. They may, however, see the same amazing subject specialist for 6 years. How does one go about creating comparable metrics on something like that? It’s an interesting question, but one that is too complex for me to even consider. Do I really want my paycheck linked to whether or not a child eats dinner together with his or her family? I don’t think so.

Autonomy vs. Collaboration: Are they Exclusive of Each Other?

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Daniel Pink, and his book Drive. If you haven’t read it yet, I repost a great animated summary at the end of this post. Using a lot of current research, Pink makes a case for autonomy being an integral part of motivation. The other two parts: mastery, and purpose.

I’m also a big fan of collaboration, and in todays world of sharing everything openly, its also really important. The summer issue of the Harvard Business Review is all about collaboration. In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson, he makes a very clear point that great individual a-ha moments are rare and that it’s often the confluence of two or more ideas that lead to game changing innovations. There’s a great quick animation of this as well (posted below).

My personal answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, NO!

A large percentage of our faculty just finished a summer institute at our school that was organized by our school leaders. I can truly say, that I left feeling more excited, motivated, and inspired of the potential that our school has to continue growing. If the aim was to begin cultivating a community of professional learners with growth mindsets who are both autonomous AND collaborative, the institute was an incredible success. Another underlying principle is that everything we do promotes the same kind of purpose, relevance, and collaboration for students.

How was this done? By finding the strengths within each individual, yet creating a safe, trusting environment to share these. By making the purpose a clear and shared one. And by promoting mastery. It was hard work, but work everyone was so eager to do because it had meaning. It wasn’t busy work. Aside from that, the institute was run using a variety of effective models of instruction. That kind of modeling is key for inspiration and the transfer of effective teaching practices into the classroom.

If you’ve read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Things are Hard by the Heath Brothers, the way to do this is to find a way to motivate both our emotional and rational minds, and set a clear path for how this will be done. I sense the beginning of purposeful changes happening at our school this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Best PD for Teaching IS Teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve taught during the summer, but this one particular program I started at yesterday intrigued me. First, the objectives of the classes were not written the way  State Standards or Core Curricula are written. For example, one of the objectives in one of the classes I’m teaching is for the student to ‘explore the different ways to employ creativity techniques in the development of a new invention.’ Second the classes are 90 minutes long which really allow for project/problem-based learning activities. Third, these are all multi-aged classes, so I’m seeing kids from ages 5 to 12 throughout the day. Not having committees, faculty meetings, regular email communication with parents, homework to assign, and unbelievable amounts of autonomy to reach or adapt these objectives to the actual kids I’m teaching, I have had time to play with, use, and have kids use technology in the class already. Finally, the program is only three weeks long, so there’s a lot of interesting thought that goes into planning out the courses. There are a lot of books about regular classrooms and how important it is to set the tone and expectations for kids in the first 6 weeks. I’ve only got three!

One can read and see examples of project/problem-based learning, but until you have a solid 90 minute block and figure out how to utilize that time best to suit the needs of the kids, it’s just a theory. By nature of the schools I’ve worked in, I haven’t taught a multi-aged class in over a decade. It’s been a lot of fun (and it’s only been my second day on the job). I am also loving the objectives being so open-ended and relevant to kids’ lives. While objectives for basic skills can be and are appropriate, it is evident that these kids are getting basic skills instruction and practice as part of their project/problem-based objective. Just thinking about the ‘real-world’ product that kids will create as a final assessment has been fun for me. Making the material relevant to them now, not someday in the future increases their motivation incredibly.

Professional Development can happen in so many ways. We can have workshops, attend conferences, teach other teachers, or coach, but in my mind, I think the best way to become a better teacher is to keep trying new ways to teach and adapt to your students.

In our own schools, it is possible for us to develop professional development like this. According to Douglas B. Reeves in his book Transfroming Professional Development into Student Results, he notes that not only does a school have to have vision for this kind of PD, but also implementation. Without implementation, the vision “not only fails to achieve the intended objectives but also engenders cynicism and distrust.”

Reeves also criticizes most schools for what he calls “Institutional Multitasking,” and that we need to FOCUS: Focus on teaching, curriculum, assessment, and leadership. Darling-Hammond and Richardson (2009) stated that the largest effects in teacher improvement were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours over 6 to 12 months. We’d have to use all our faculty meetings and in-service days throughout the year just on one topic to reach that goal. So what is one of the biggest factors in supporting this kind of PD? The schedule. Marzano (2009) notes that school “leaders must be the architects of systems and schedules.”

Finally, Reeves talks about recognizing our biases and being willing to fail. “School leaders have a particular responsibility to respect research integrity, particularly when a teacher-researhcer expresses disappointment that a planned intervention was ineffective.” Teachers have to get over their fear of being wrong or making mistakes. It’s how we learn.

This summer job that I’ve got is a great one. Including the work I’m doing prepping for each class, I’m spending about 105 hours. That definitely puts me in Darling-Hammond’s range. Unfortunately, it’s not over 6 to 12 months. The systems and schedules for the next school year, may determine how effective our school’s PD is. I will have to build in my own to maintain what I’m currently learning.

We had a guest speaker talk about the campus's Green initiatives. These kids are examining native and invasive species on the campus's wetlands.

Persistance to Mastery (Using Skateboarding as an Analogy for Learning)

I attended an incredible event at TEDxEastsidePrep today. The topic was: Evolution of Instruction: Inquiry, Innovation, Identity and it exceeded my expectations.  I tweeted a couple of nuggets I got from each presenter and I wonder if that will encourage teachers to take a risk with twitter as a learning tool.

There’s an overwhelming amount of great things to share, and perhaps I’ll write about all of it.  One speaker, Dr. Tae was off the charts. A physics professor and avid skateboarder, he talked about what has been a common theme at our school: Learning by making mistakes. He walked through a trick he wanted to learn by showing us a shortened video of his progression. He got it on his 58th try. That meant he FAILED 57 times. There was no physical incentive for this trick other than the accomplishment of the act itself. There were no letter grades (an F for his first attempt, maybe a C+ near the middle). He only had a clear goal, persistance, practice and hard work. How are our children learning? Are their learning tasks as relavent, engaging, and clear to them? Do they persist or do they give up easily? All extremely good questions to ask oneself and their students.

Here’s a video on Dr. Tae’s blog that gives you an idea of what he means when he says we need to build a new culture of teaching and learning. The end of the school year is upon us and it’s a fairly busy time, but I hope to share one nugget from all the speakers.

Meaningful Conversations

I am still digesting an incredible evening of ideas thoughtful discourse on public education from a diverse panel of advocates for public school and change at Seattle University (Part of their Conversations in Education series). Each made one articulate point after the other. While their views all differed slightly, they were all passionate, and there were clear common themes that came through. The panel included the following people: Chester Finn, Kati Haycock, Tyrone Howard, Reverend Al Sharpton, Denise Pope, and Nicholas Hanauer.

The discussion was moderated by Joseph W. Scott (professor of Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Washington – and husband of one of my favorite profs at Seattle U.) He first asked each member to answer this question: Name the top two things on your list that you think is preventing achievement in public education.

Kati Haycock began and mentioned that we do not demand enough of our students. She also said we need to act on what we know. We know early childhood education makes a difference. Chester Finn mentioned that the state standards are too low, at least the Common Core curriculum seems to be better, he suggested, but warned that it only exists in math and reading and then reminded us again that the curricula is week. Tyrone Howard and Al Sharpton talked about the “New Racisim” which is saying to a child of color or poverty, “I understand your situation, so you don’t need to care as much, nor do I.” We need to become more comfortable talking about race and how education is not serving a significant part of the population. Denise Pope also agreed that our standards were too low, but particularly on authentic real-life skills. She mentioned that now we have doctors, who have aced every standardized test imaginable who cannot diagnose something because it doesn’t look “exactly like it does in the textbook!” She said there’s serious disengagement in school and kids are not healthy (both mentally and physically) – basically, she said (and I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t record it), “The curriculum is extremely broad, but about an inch deep and kids cannot think for themselves, collaborate in healthy ways.” Nick Hanauer (whose children I have taught), talked about bureaucracy, politics, and the need to distribute money equitably.

They were then asked to name one remedy they thought would work. It basically came down to proper distribution of funds, and shave away layers of bureaucracy.

Kati said, you cannot teach from a textbook – you need people who know HOW to teach, and you need to talk honestly and act.

Chester said we need to look at governance and strip away layers and have more leadership at all levels – not something that is hierarchical.

Tyrone said, use data and get effective teachers on board, incentivize them to go out to needy areas, include parents in the discussion, identify teachers that aren’t doing their jobs, try to remediate, if that fails – they should choose another profession.

Denise really spoke to the need for a strong Social / Emotional curriculum, and that the work kids need to do should be authentic, like the work we do. How many timed tests have you done lately? It’s like if my boss gathered all of us and gave us a timed test and those who didn’t score above a certain amount were fired. Many kids face high stakes testing daily, and we’re sending the wrong message to them. She said, kids need to know the value of being wrong, receiving redemption and leraning from it.

Nick spoke about allocating funds strategically and equitably and supporting legislators that support education. He gave concrete examples, like supporting arts programs in schools, and subject specialists. He also talked about the need to support early childhood education and all day kindergarten programs in public education.

Rev Al said, to change the culture, we have to create the culture, and to do that we have to have active engagement.

Active community engagement was on everybody’s list.

That was just the first part of the evening. There were three, but I couldn’t possibly try to summarize it all in one post, so I’m going to leave it there for tonight. I went with four colleagues, and I know one more who went separately. I just wish we could have had more people there , parents, board members, other leaders. It was an incredible and inspiring evening full of people modeling what they believe, taking action, and engaging in meaningful conversation.

Learning from New Teachers

When I was asked several years ago to serve on one of the boards at the College of Education at Seattle University, there was only one possible response I could give, “Of course!” While the courses varied when I went to grad school there several years ago, one thing that the college stayed true to was their commitment to service, diversity, and social justice.

I just returned from one of my favorite meetings there, because I have the privilege to be part of a team with other board members and professors to assess the portfolios of graduate candidates. It’s one of my favorite evenings because I get to see other passionate teachers who take their scholarship and learning seriously, I get to see others go through a very rigorous and reflective process, but most of all I get to learn from all these educators who are committed to growth, learning, and becoming better at their craft.

I’m about half-way through my career as an educator, but there is so much to learn from new teachers. The world they have grown up in is significantly different from the one I grew up in, and they have expertise in areas that I don’t. Sure, experience counts for a lot, but only if you’re still willing to learn and grow.

A fire was lit anew a few years ago when I read the books, Mindset by Carol Dweck and Drive by Daniel Pink. Perhaps my motivation to grow as a teacher has been a little intense at times, but it is who I am. Having worked tonight with such talented, committed, and passionate new teachers, I have a renewed sense of urgency to learn from the expertise of our young and able teachers.

It’s a tough economic time to be a young teacher, but listening to these teachers talk about what they will take away from grad school and bring back to their students and classrooms reignites my optimism in education.

Day 1 of Flipping the Classroom

There’s the common expression, “Change is hard. You go first.” Well, I’ve been doing a few firsts this past year or so, partly because I decided not to wait. If I think it’s worth experimenting with, I’ll try it. What I’ve learned is that with a few of these things, I might have been better off talking about it, rather than dive right in. As a result, I may have ruffled a few feathers here and there and had to repair a few work relationships. It was actually a good exercise in growth for me and made me a lot more reflective about what I want to do next.

I started this blog, for example to share what I learned at a conference, but decided to keep it going because I actually enjoy it. Because I had no expectation of anyone else blogging, I was oblivious to the fact that some might feel that they would have to share what they learned via a blog. It’s just my way, and I enjoy it. I also started my own classroom website because I couldn’t wait for our school’s official site to have all the features I wanted. It’s worked for me and my students’ parents and that’s really all it boils down to. There are so many ways to communicate, sometimes the purpose dictates they type.

Well, I’m at it again. After only a couple of weeks since the TED talk “Flipping the Classroom” aired, I unleashed Khan Academy upon my second graders. Honestly, the videos are pretty dry and boring for the most part, but the kids love the exercises, the immediate feedback, and the choice. One child decided for homework tonight to head to the geometry section which asks for the area and circumference of circles. He made a few attempts, got all them wrong and decided he’d come back another time. It was very non-threatening. Today was just the first day, we headed to the media lab so they could learn how to login and logoff. And even though I assigned about 10 to 20 minutes, I noticed that many kids were engaged enough to spend much more time on it. I’m actually more excited about the data that might come back after Spring Break. Why? So much of good math pedagogy is not just helping a child develop a concept, but asking the right questions. Knowing what children have mastered, allows you to target your questions more precisely. Of course good teachers who already know their students well do this, but with the added data, who knows.

One interesting unintended consequence occurred. Many of my students have older siblings. So far, I’ve gotten great feedback from parents, but they wanted to know how their older child could sign in. I told them how and that they could sign me up as their coach if they wished. This is a big experiment. I don’t intend to have students using Kahn Academy in class, but only at home. What I will do, is use the data to help inform the way I teach each child. As Kahn put it in his TED talk, “Flipping the Classroom.”

Kahn Academy approaches math in a very linear, sterile manner, but with some of the basic skills under their belt, they may be able to really grapple with project based learning activities which involve plenty of mathematical problems, creativity, and the beauty of math that doesn’t always get to see the light of day the way our math texts are written. Who knows? This is still day one of doing things a little differently. It may just end up being something faddish, which is something I  usually try to avoid, but when I see some potential in how it can help kids, I’ll dive head first. Sign in for yourself and try some of the later differential questions. Do you even remember how to do them? More importantly, do you know why? I’ll keep you apprised of how my little experiment goes.

Waiting For Superman

This year’s TED talks started today. The iPad 2 was announced, but I think I’ll post about something else today.

I just returned from seeing Waiting for Superman and think it’s worth mentioning and recommending (though I preferred Race to Nowhere). WFS is one of those movies that I’ll be processing for a while. It’s been a good year for education documentaries. There were many things that disturbed me about the film, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may have it in their netflix cue. There are, however, a few things I thought I’d mention as well as questions I still have.

Geoffrey Canada’s optimism and unabashed honesty was great.

I’m still unsure about what to make of Michelle Rhee (I think her heart was in the right place – focused on the kids, but she didn’t have a heart with the adults she had to deal with).

I’m going to stay away from the union debate, although I will agree with one of my colleagues who saw the film with me that receiving tenure FOREVER after a year’s work is ridiculous. Although Finland, a country that is always compared to as having great student achievement, has strong teacher unions and tenure.

The film makers mention in the film that only one in five charter schools succeeds, but only focus on the successful ones. There are large public schools that do excellent jobs serving all people, but the film chooses to stick to its point of view and doesn’t show these.

The film also focuses on really bad teachers.  What about mediocre teachers? How can we grow them into excellent effective ones?

If charter schools offer choice in a public system, why are kids’ futures handled by lotteries – that’s not a choice.

It was sad to see a parent initiate a call with a teacher asking for a meeting and never hearing back from them. I give the parents of my class my cell phone number.

Nonetheless, there is a problem in much of public education, and if nothing else, even if flawed in some ways, there are many trying to do something about it.

For example, Bill Gates, who is featured in this movie and here is someone who had an elite private education, made his billions, and now dedicates his life to public service around the world. As an independent school teacher, it’s hard to grapple with some of the issues posed in the movie. But Gates’ philanthropic work gives me hope.

Here are some reviews I enjoyed reading (both slightly different):

New Yorker

New York Times

The last 10 minutes of WFS were incredibly hard to watch, and I’m guessing another movie released last year which received less press than WFS, The Lottery (next on my list) is a very similar doc. Below is the trailer.




Leading From the Middle

Last year, after returning from the NAIS conference – a fire of optimism was lit. Change can happen and even though I teach at a wonderful school, we can all do better. But the pace of change is overwhelming for many, and for some too slow. Perhaps then, if we take the baby bear approach, change is happening at the right pace.

I wasn’t able to attend the conference this year in DC, and while there’s nothing like really being there, it’s amazing how one can get a flavor of it by reading blogs and tweets of those who attended. Yes, I finally jumped into this century and am using twitter. Like everything, once you find meaning and purpose for a tool, your motivation to learn will grow.

One session I was interested in was Pat Bassett’s “Leading from the Middle” as I have struggled with wanting to be more involved administratively, but would find it difficult to leave the classroom as that’s currently where my true passion lies. He gave this talk as a keynote to the NAIS Diversity Institute last year and included it in his blog.

So how does a leader make high stakes decisions under the gun? Bassett says this:

  • Insisting that the leader communicate clearly the vision and intent and that he or she has “created the conditions for success.”

  • Dealing with mavericks (so they don’t become renegades).

  • Knowing the importance of the “effect” of a leader and his or her strategy to change mutineers into soldiers.

  • Sensing the difference between what’s critical vs. what’s important.

  • Eschewing satisfaction with one great battle victory, in favor of pursuing to conclusion the next engagement to win the war.

  • Figuring out how strongly to challenge your leader, especially when he or she has never been wrong before.

    So how does one lead from the middle?

  • Informational/Expertise Power: Having the knowledge base and using it. (I know I wouldn’t be able to challenge myself and others in curricular decisions if I didn’t keep reading and learning)

  • Interpersonal/Relational Power: This is something I’m great with the kids I teach, but something I am slowly honing with some of the adults I work with. It’s still an area of growth for me.

  • Associative Power: [Great leaders have] a genius for social networking. [They are] connected — (you need to be the maven, connector, and salesperson all rolled into one) – well, I finally gave twitter a try this mid-winter break, and I have to say, if you’re selective in what you follow (for me it’s education related), those connections happen rapidly. Facebook is good for family and friends, but it isn’t as focused on education. I really don’t need everyone to know what I had for lunch today.

  • So, from Pat Bassett’s talk today, here are some things I took away from others attending:

  • It is important to nurture your followers – it’s about the movement, not you
  • Those in the middle must take risks to lead
  • From the middle you must push your leader to communicate clearly
  • “Be bold about what matters most” a quote from Rob Evans via Raventech who shared a lot of what took place at the conference this week. One of the many ways to attend (albeit virtually)
  • By the way, for someone like me, twitter is extremely useful at working on brevity. 140 characters is not a lot. One has to choose one’s words carefully.



    The Influence of Teaching (or not)

    A new book came out this week called, The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership by John Merrow. It’s a good read that received some great advance praise including this:

    “John Merrow’s incisive observations and powerful, moving stories in his new book, The Influence of Teachers:  Reflections on Teaching and Leadership, are prescient at a time when the public is searching for solutions to America’s systemic educational challenges. His dedication ‘To Outstanding Teachers Everywhere,’ and his preface ‘Fighting the Last War’ foreshadow the problems and solutions that the book richly develops. A ‘must read’ for those responsible for American’s children and their future: that would be all of us.”

    – Patrick Bassett, Executive Director, The National Association of Independent Schools

    Daniel Pink states in his book Drive that as long people are paid enough, they are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Even though teachers are only paid modestly, I can agree with those three things.  It’s obvious Bill Gates doesn’t need to ‘work’ anymore, but he continues working through his foundation trying to make this world a better place.

    Pink’s name came up as a potential speaker for our regional fall conference, but it was clear that he needed a big carrot (too big for us) to come and speak. I don’t blame him. While he want’s to influence education, speaking to educators is clearly not is main purpose. But Whatever that is, I’m sure he has a great sentence that gives him meaning as well as enjoyment. I’m sure he wants to get better at it, and continue on his own  growth trajectory.  I’m also pretty certain that he has plenty of autonomy and can do whatever it is he loves without anyone else setting limits for him (except his publisher, perhaps).

    Most great teachers make modest incomes, so they clearly didn’t go into education for the pay. It’s because of this that teachers fight so hard to protect the implied promise of tenure and increased pay over time. New teachers being paid low wages and the very senior teachers making the most. This implied promise of this pay scale, however, is being eroded in almost every state. Nonetheless, it’s not pay that drives teachers to teach. It would be nice if the US were like Singapore in this respect. They offer their top 20% of high-school graduates full scholarships (and stipends while they’re in college) to go into education. I know I work with many teachers who would meet this qualification. They are extremely smart people.

    Teachers in the U.S. enter the profession after spending five years in college (most having much debt to contend with) and are then expected to go through all kinds of bureaucratic hoops to be state certified. Many teachers will also go back to school to get a more advanced degree in order to increase their compensation. Some of the various teaching specific degrees can be found on Online Teaching Degree’s college program listings. Going to college is, of course all at the cost of the young teacher

    This, of course is all at the cost of the young teacher – unless you are at a school that supports this and includes it in their professional development budgets. Some of those hoops are better in some states, but in the name of ‘accountability’ they are hoops nonetheless, and teachers must jump through them in order to remain certified. I know many teachers who spent three days away from their families to visit other schools as part of an accreditation team. Does the state recognize this time as professional development? Nope. In two weeks, the National Association of Independent Schools will have their annual conference. I was lucky to have my school support me attending this conference last year. This year others will be given the opportunity, and I can’t wait to hear back. Because this conference is out of state, however, teachers from outside that state will not be given any credit towards their professional development requirements by the state. Nonetheless, this conference last year made a huge impact on me. In fact, that conference was one of the main reasons I was inspired to start this blog.

    Furthermore, new teachers (whether new to the profession, or new to a district are usually given the worst assignments – whatever that means). For me, my first year in public school, I taught in a portable with no furniture in the middle of a playground. It was still an amazing year, because walls and furniture aren’t the things that make a classroom, the relationships among the kids and what they learn are. In private schools, thankfully there is no seniority. While I don’t agree with teachers having permanent tenure, most independent schools only offer teachers one year contracts. There’s a downside to this, as some teachers feel like they cannot speak freely in fear that they may not have their contract renewed.

    A lot of non-teachers will say, “but you get your summers off.” Well, they haven’t met most teachers. We work during the holidays. It’s not the same kind or pace of work as teaching during the school year, but let me assure you that all the teachers I work with put in significant amounts of their own time.  In the summer, many may use the time preparing for the new school year, adopting new curricula, learning new things to bring back to our classrooms. Teachers may seem to get more holidays than the average person, but teachers are not well compensated and are not able to choose when to take their vacations.

    The book is a balanced, but provocative look at education, its problems, and possible solutions and Tony Wagner suggests both practitioners and leaders read the book. We’re held responsible to create healthy learning environments for children. Our leaders also need to create environments where teachers can truly be caring, collaborative, and respected.

    I am extremely sensitive to our profession right now with all of noise, blame, and finger pointing in the headlines that place almost all the responsibility on the teacher. I’ll be the first to admit that teachers play a huge part in that responsibility and need to be accountable, but so do parents, administrators, and any policy maker involved in education.

    The book talks about teacher pay, tenure, teacher evaluations, seniority, accountability based on testing and many other issues. Merrow also boiled down the reason for high teacher attrition to three things:

    “Schools underpay and mistreat teachers and eventually drive them from the profession; inept school districts cannot find the qualified teachers living under their noses; and substandard training ill-prepares young men and women for the realities of classroom life.”

    Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania told Merrow, “we can recruit all kinds of qualified people and persuade them to go into teaching, but if they get into jobs that aren’t well paid and don’t have particularly good working conditions in which they’re given little say in the way schools operate, it’s not going to really solve the problem because a lot of these people will leave.”

    There is an illusion that teachers have a voice, for example, there are 8 people on the Think Tank for the NAIS national conference in DC which takes place in a couple of weeks. Not one of them is currently a classroom teacher. For an organization who prides itself on diversity leadership, I would suggest that the group (all administrators and one trustee) overlooked representation from a very important, but high stakeholder – a teacher. I’m glad to hear next year’s conference (in Seattle) will include a teacher.

    I started this post with Daniel Pink’s main thesis about what drives us to do what we do and, unless it’s a mundane, repetitive task, carrots and sticks are not what motivates teachers. It’s not the pay nor the time off that motivate teachers. And while teachers influence their students, teachers don’t really influence policy makers. Most teachers will agree that educating a child gives them plenty of meaning and a satisfying sense of purpose. Wanting to grow and become better at what we do, is something I firmly believe most teachers are committed to as well. When teachers become micromanaged, disrespected, and lose our autonomy to do what we do best, that drive (which includes working hard, caring deeply about what we do, and developing strong relationships with our students, for example) diminishes. And those impacted the most are the kids.

    Meetings Are Toxic

    The title to this post comes from the title of a chapter in a book I recently read called, Rework by Fried and Hansson. It’s meant to be a business book and almost all of its suggestions go against conventional wisdom. For example, in the chapter mentioned, the authors consider meetings one of the “worst interruptions” and they go on to make the following points about meetings:

    • They’re usually about abstract concepts, and not real things.
    • They usually convey a small amount of information per minute.
    • They require thorough preparation that most don’t have time for.
    • They frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal.
    • Meetings procreate. One meeting leads to another meeting leads to another . . .

    The authors had more, but some weren’t quite as civil. They also talked about the loss of productivity. Just think of 40 people attending a one-hour meeting when they could be more productive doing something else. That’s just not one lost hour for an organization, that’s 40 hours of lost productivity if the meeting is meaningless. For some, that’s a whole week of work! Now start multiplying that by the number of meetings in a year and you get the authors’ point.

    Another chapter that resonated with me was one called “Decommoditize your product.” Here, the authors suggested that “if you’re successful, people will try to copy what you do.” To protect yourself from that, you have to be unique. That is one of the main reasons I am against scripted curriculums. Anyone at any school can read a script, but does that mean they can teach? The book uses as an example, a company which allows their customer-service representatives to speak “at length with customers” and do so without a script. Pour ‘yourself’ into your business, school, or whatever it is you do. “Competitors can never copy the you in the product.” They give a good example of companies that have tried to be the next iPod killer. Well, Apple is defining what that is, the rest are just copying. Microsoft’s Kinect is an example where they have just taken a giant leap in gaming. It’s unique. They have defined a new product. Now watch others try and copy them.

    Another chapter that resonated with me was called,” Start at the epicenter.” The chapter mentions the stuff you could do, want to do, and have to do.  The authors suggest starting at the have to do. When I think about how this relates to all areas of teaching (at our school we use the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching), none of those suggest attending meetings. “Participating in a professional community,” can mean so many more things than showing up to meetings. Furthermore the framework speaks to the comment above about being unique and asks teachers to do a myriad of things that only each individual teacher can do. A lot of what I have to do is know my students well, communicate with their parents, prepare instruction for their individual needs, continue to grow as a teacher, work with my colleagues, know my stuff, and teach it well. For example, I have to write report cards. It’s not my favorite kind of writing or how I like to spend my time , but communicating with students’ parents is an important and crucial part of being a teacher.

    Many of the things teachers are told they have to do, don’t fit Danielson’s framework and take away from a teacher’s primary role. If you’ve read Daniel Pink’s book Drive about what motivates us, you will have read that things like meetings, standardization, loss of autonomy and individuality actually kills motivation.

    The book Rework can at times be irreverent, but often makes one stop to think about what they’re doing or what they’re being asked to do, and whether it is relevant to student achievement. Schools and education are often the slowest institutions to change, but for an independent school, not bogged down by the type of bureaucracy many public schools are forced to deal with, change can and should take place faster.

    Another nugget from the book: Hire the best writers. Whether it’s sales, teaching, or designing, “their writing skills will pay off…. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.”

    I’m still working on knowing what to omit. Brevity is not a strength of mine. I would definitely recommend this book as it’s a short read, and one that provokes thought. One last thought from the book: meetings aren’t that bad if they do the following:

    • End in fewer minutes than scheduled if that is all the time it takes. Don’t stretch it out to the time allotted just for the sake of filling the time.
    • Begin with a specific problem that can be solved and make someone responsible for implementing it.
    • Invite only those necessary, keep the others productive in some other way.
    • Always have a clear agenda.

    “I Believe We Can Be Better.”

    How many books about differentiation can Carol Ann Tomlinson write. Here is a list:

    • The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of all Learners (1999)
    • Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms
    • How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms (2001)
    • Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom (2004)
    • Differentiation in Practice: A Resource Guide for Differentiated Curriculum (grades K-5/5-9)
      Tomlinson, C.& Edison, C. (2003)
    • Differentiation in Practice: A Resource Guide for Differentiated Curriculum (grades K-5/5-9)
      Tomlinson, C.& Edison, C. (2003)
    • Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Contents and Kid
    • The Differentiated School: Making Revolutionary Changes in Teaching and Learning (2008)

    Well – she’s got a new one out called: Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom. At first I rolled my eyes and thought seriously, another one?

    Differentiation continues to be a big buzz word in education these days and truly, you can go back to the title of her first book and see that differentiation is simply ‘responding to the needs of all learners.’ Those needs are going to vary a lot among students and change from year to year. Being able to adapt to your students’ learning needs is the essence of differentiation. Those of use who realize this, get it. Now what more could she possibly add. But then I opened the book and read the preface which began with this quote:

    Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.  – Louisa May Alcott

    For some reason, that resonated with me. It had “Growth Mindset” written all over it. The author then began to tell a story. An autobiographical account of her epiphanies (many which she didn’t even realize until much later in her career) regarding differentiated instruction. Some she realized on the spot. “… I understood at that moment that an effective teacher is not someone who just teaches content. He or she is someone who teaches content to human beings, and the classroom has to work in such a way that each individual in it has a legitimate opportunity to grow as much as possible from his or her starting point.” Classroom management is not about keeping kids in their seats but about giving good directions, providing an engaging curriculum, and adapting to individual and group needs. She ends the preface by saying that the book is an aspirational guide. “We have no illusions that any teacher — even the best among us — reads a book and emerges with radiclly different teaching style in tow. We do believe, however, that there are many teachers who aspire to grow as professionals every day.” And that was just in the preface.

    Then, in chapter one she calls on classroom teachers to be leaders for change, and she says in order “to achieve such a level of leadership we must

    • Work from and aspire to an objective that is an improvement over the status quo.
    • Articulate this vision so that those who are asked to follow have a compelling reason to do so.
    • Move knowledgeably toward this vision while simultaneously attending to the voices and needs of those who will necessarily help enact it.
    • Be patient with and supportive of followers, yet impatient with artificial barriers to progress (I was so glad to see this as this describes me quite well – I thought my impatience with those barriers was a flaw. Woo Hoo! Carol Anne Tomlinson says it’s ok to be impatient with certain things).
    • Maintain a pace that consistently ensures visible progress without pushing the system beyond it’s capacity to change. (Well here’s where I could learn something – As a wise colleague once said to me, “It’s a marathon and you can’t sprint the entire race.”)
    • Monitor outcomes of the change and be willing to adapt, when necessary to achieve desirable outcomes and eliminate undesirable outcomes.

    The rest of the book helps define what differentiation really is, uses it as a philosophy, clears up many misunderstandings about differentiation, discusses how to be a more reflective teacher, and how to begin that journey.  The second half of the book focuses on the mechanics of managing an effective differentiated classroom. There are some excellent ideas posed. She then ends by responding to almost every possible resistance in order to go on this journey.

    Perahaps that earlier quote resonated with me because earlier I was reading the president’s speech regarding the recent tragedy in Tucson. His words were simpler, but echoed the earlier quote of Louisa May Alcott. He said, “I believe we can be better.”

    Maybe Carol Ann Tomlinson did have more to add on differentiation. Teachers can learn to differentiate well, adapt to the needs of their students, and continue to grow.

    Nation at Risk? Again?

    It’s interesting when Yong Zhao says that we need not compare the American Education system to the Chinese as they are in fact, trying to emulate us. Should we be concerned about international test scores?  Is it possible that students from overseas will fill that halls of our universities and American students will be relegated to the best online college degree programs? It seems like a lot of people are after the scores from Shanghai came in this past week. But one of my favorite writers (although he tends to rub some people the wrong way) agrees with Zhao.

    Alfie Kohn wrote yesterday in the Huffington Post the following:

    “In recent years, parents have cried in dismay that their children could not read out loud, could not spell, could not write clearly,” while “employers have said that mechanics could not read simple directions. Many a college has blamed high schools for passing on students … who could not read adequately to study college subjects; high schools have had to give remedial reading instruction to boys and girls who did not learn to read properly in elementary schools…”

    On and on goes the devastating indictment of our education system. Or — well, perhaps I shouldn’t say “our” education system, since few of us had much to say about school policy when this article appeared in 1954.

    Similar jeremiads were published, of course, in the 1980s (see especially the Reagan Administration’s influential and deeply dishonest “Nation at Risk” report) and in the 1970s, but one could argue that those, like today’s denunciations of falling standards and demands for accountability, reflect the same legacy of multiculturalism, radical education professors, and the post-Woodstock cultural realignment that brought down traditional values inside and outside of schools.

    But how does one defend such an argument when it turns out that people were saying exactly the same things about America’s dysfunctional education system before Vietnam, before Civil Rights, before feminism — and displaying that same aggressive nostalgia for an earlier era when, you know, excellence really mattered?

    You can read the rest of it here.

    I like the Adrienne Rich quote he ends with: “Nostalgia is only amnesia turned around.”

    And here’s another article from HuffPo about what’s wrong with schools today. Rather than blame teacher tenure, effective schools need effective leaders. The principals and vice principals play a vital role. Here’s a quote from that article:

    “Led by Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the research group concludes the most importing factor is not-tenure vs. no-tenure but leadership. Principals’ ability and capacity to exercise leadership plays a significant role in organizing schools to make progress.”

    How to spur more technology use in the classroom | Curriculum |

    How to spur more technology use in the classroom | Curriculum |

    It’s clear from this article, that many teachers need support in order to use technology effectively in the classroom. Of course the conundrum is that there are a myriad of resources available online, but one would have to be somewhat tech savvy to find and use them.

    What Does An Effective Teacher Look Like?

    One of the more popular articles in the nytimes this weekend was one titled “What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students“. It reports on some initial findings through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s study of effective teaching.

    The foundation put out a publication which you can read here.

    First, I have to agree with most of their initial flow chart:

    First on this flow chart is that there need to be multiple measures of effectiveness. I couldn’t agree more. This article focuses on student feedback and it doesn’t surprise me that it seems to be a good indicator.  While they place a lot of emphasis on the teacher’s value-added (the teacher’s past success in raising student achievement in state tests) which I tend to be cynical about. Mostly because if you’ve ever read Freakonomics, high-stakes tests result in a lot of teachers cheating the way sumo wrestlers or the recent report of teachers cheating in Atlanta. I think tests can be a great tool, but if used to determine teacher effectiveness, they should be proctored by independent teams and not linked directly (as some districts are trying to do) to the funding of a school. The study does go on to say,

    “…valid feedback need not be limited to test scores alone. By combining different sources of data, it is possible to provide diagnostic, targeted feedback to teachers who are eager to improve.”

    With students perceptions of teachers, the study isolates 7 c’s for effective teaching.

    1. Care – The student feels like he/she is important and that the teacher really cares for them.
    2. Control – Good classroom management skills
    3. Clarify – Explaining things in a variety of ways and being clear
    4. Challenge- Learning a lot, and learning to correct mistakes
    5. Captivate – Teachers make the lessons interesting and meaningful
    6. Confer – Students feel they have a voice and some autonomy
    7. Consolidate – The comments or feedback ensures that the student understands what is being taught.

    Accurate teacher evaluation is the next box on that flow chart above. This months Ed. Leadership has several articles that focus on that topic. A checklist, for example that may have an item “dresses appropriately” is completely useless for at least two reasons: 1) does it raise student achievement? 2) If a teacher dresses inappropriately, just tell them! It doesn’t need to come in the form of an evaluation.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the analysis and study as part of it focuses not on the knowledge of the subject being taught, but on the pedagogy: How to teach it.

    Like math, I am confident I know WHAT to teach, but is there a better way to teach it than I am doing so currently? If so, I want to know. I am glad someone is looking into this as too much focus in this country (in my opinion) is placed on curricula rather than on pedagogy – and frankly, some of that curricula is becoming outdated really quickly. I’m going to leave the middle block on that flow chart alone for now as I my opinions may be too strong for some of those topics.

    I can’t wait to share this report with my students this week.