Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

As this article in the Independent (UK) explains in detail, there is an exciting business opportunity in poor nations: developing and delivering scripted lessons at a low cost without government schools. The headline asks the central question: Is this “an audacious answer” to the problems of bringing schooling to the poorest children?

American investors think so. They like the idea of creating for-profit, low-cost schools where the lessons are exactly the same in every classroom, and the teacher is guided by technology to speak as he or she is told. This does not require credentialed teachers, and the training is minimal.

Charging $6 a month on average, Bridge InternationalAcademies, a multinational for-profit chain, is offering schooling about as cheaply as it can be done. Its founders hope to roll that out to 10 million children across Africa and Asia, the key to its own longevity and, it hopes, the global educational conundrum that has bedevilled policy-makers.

Bridge International now has some 400 schools across Uganda and Kenya. Investors worry, however, that the corporation “faces a potent threat to its survival in the shape of radical new teacher training proposals that would drive up the cost and put it beyond the reach of those that need it most.” The government of Kenya is considering requiring teachers to have pedagogical training, which would drive up the cost and threaten the entire enterprise. It would also signal to the world, says one investor, that no one should invest in Kenya.

Bridge currently enrolls 126,000 children; the profit begins when it reaches half a million. The market is promising.

Says the article: Bridge is arguably the most audacious answer yet to the question of how to bring education to the masses in countries where schools are plagued by overcrowding and teacher absenteeism. The lesson plans and script are prepared in the U.S., then delivered by technology to classes in Africa. Its teachers are “most school-leavers” trained by Bridge. School-leavers are what we would call dropouts, presumably high-school dropouts.

Step into any classroom at Bridge and the chances are that the teacher will be uttering exactly the same words that are being uttered in every single Bridge school. A handbook instructs the teacher to look up from the e-book every five seconds, to wait eight seconds for children to answer, and instead of asking the teacher to explain a mathematical concept, the lesson plan takes them through it step by step. “All I have to do is deliver,” said Mary Juma, a Bridge teacher.

While the scripted approach has earned Bridge acclaim, it has also attracted criticism. “It looks hi-tech, but it is really just someone following a lesson plan in a top-down way and not stimulating discussion,” says David Archer, head of programme development at UK charity ActionAid. “It is almost Victorian.”

While global studies of low-cost private schools have produced mixed results, Ms May is convinced that Bridge’s model works. It has commissioned independent evaluations that show children enrolled in its schools significantly outperform their state-educated peers in mathematics and English. The real test, though, will come in November, when a cohort of Bridge’s children will be ready to take the final primary school exams for the first time.

But here is the danger to investors:

Even as Bridge gets its chance to prove whether its model works, regulatory hurdles threaten to be its undoing. The Kenyan government is setting out new proposals that would radically recalibrate the financial calculations on which these schools operate. Most sweeping of all is a stipulation that half of all teachers in any one school should have a recognised teaching qualification and be paid accordingly.

As usual, it is those “wicked” teachers’ unions that threaten this bold and possibly financially rewarding experiment.

In recent days, you have read posts about the program in Lawrence, Massachusetts, called NNN (No Nonsense Nurturing), a for-profit program in which coaches sit in the back of the room and tell teachers what to do and say via a wireless earbud. EduShyster wrote the original post. Others did research on google and connected NNN to the Gates Foundation and KIPP. It is a behaviorist approach to classroom discipline.

One reader points out that NNN was tried out first in Memphis.

Some wired-for-sound city school teachers are testing the value of real-time coaching that the NFL has made as common as a Sunday in the park.

Through earbud headphones, the teachers hear cues from experts observing from the back of the room.

“Once a teacher understands what it feels like to be successful, it takes root immediately,” said Monica Jordan, coordinator of teacher professional development in Memphis City Schools.

“The teachers get training first. It’s not like someone walks in and shoves an (earbud) in your ear and starts rattling in your ear,” she said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the work in Memphis, Tampa and New York, hoping to prove that tailoring professional development raises the needle on test scores….

Teach for America in Memphis sees so much promise it is spending $15,000 to conduct its own earbud research next year.

“Essentially we are looking at a control group that doesn’t get coaching to see to what extent coaching and real-time feedback enhances the process,” said Athena Turner, TFA executive director.

“We want to know, does it speed up the timeline in which a teacher develops?”

The back-and-forth between the coach and teacher is happening through walkie-talkies now. As early as March 2, the coach could be anywhere in the world, coaching with digital video feeds from Memphis classrooms….

“I think this new approach gives you an opportunity to differentiate professional development based on teachers’ own strengths and weaknesses,” said Thomas Kane, a Harvard University researching working with the Gates Foundation.

Kane’s hypothesis is that teachers who can watch themselves work will see places to improve.

“Next year, we would hope to have enough classrooms so we can start to answer that question,” Kane said.

Memphis ordered 11 180-degree cameras at $4,500 each. When parent permission slips are returned, the cameras will be set up in classroom corners.

“We’re asking teachers to watch themselves and reflect,” Jordan said. “What does it feel like to be your own observer? … What would you tell yourself if you had to give yourself feedback?”

The technology is so new that the cameras, which also record audio, are being built as they’re ordered.

“Memphis is right behind Harvard’s order,” Jordan said.

Question: Did Harvard get its order? Is it videotaping professors? Who is being videotaped and given earbud instructions at Harvard?

Next question: Is Lakeside Academy in Seattle, where Bill Gates’ children are students, putting earbuds in their teachers’ ears?

Next question: Four years have passed since the experiment was launched in Memphis: What are the results? Was there an experimental group of teachers with earbuds and a control group without earbuds? What happened to the test scores of their students?

Last question: Was the experiment worthwhile? O should the money have been spent on reducing class sizes and tutors?

EduShyster posted an article by Amy Berard, who taught sixth grade in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where she became trained in what was called “No Nonsense Nurturing.” She had to wear a wireless earpiece and receive instructions from three coaches who sat in the back of her classroom, telling her what to say, how to act, how to respond to students, how to stand. She eventually left the district. She was “not the right fit.” Apparently, she got the idea that she was a professional, a human being with thoughts and feelings, and that what she was asked to do was unprofessional and dehumanizing.

 

It is a shocking article. This is how it begins:

“Give him a warning,” said the voice through the earpiece I was wearing. I did as instructed, speaking in the emotionless monotone I’d been coached to use. But the student, a sixth grader with some impulsivity issues and whose trust I’d spent months working to gain, was excited and spoke out of turn again. “Tell him he has a detention,” my earpiece commanded. At which point the boy stood up and pointed to the back of the room, where the three classroom “coaches” huddled around a walkie talkie. “Miss: don’t listen to them! You be you. Talk to me! I’m a person! Be a person, Miss. Be you!”

 

Last year, my school contracted with the Center for Transformational Training or CT3 to train teachers using an approach called No Nonsense Nurturing. It was supposed to make us more effective instructors by providing “immediate, non-distracting feedback to teachers using wireless technology.” In other words, earpieces and walkie talkies. I wore a bug in my ear. I didn’t have a mouthpiece. Meanwhile an official No Nonsense Nurturer, along with the school’s first year assistant principal and first year behavior intervention coach, controlled me remotely from the corner of the room where they shared a walkie talkie. I referred to the CT3 training as C-3PO after the Star Wars robot, but C-3PO actually had more personality than we were allowed. The robot also spoke his mind.
If you’re not familiar with No Nonsense Nurturing or NNN, let’s just say that there is more nonsense than nurturing. The approach starts from the view that urban students, like my Lawrence, MA middle schoolers, benefit from a robotic style of teaching that treats, and disciplines, all students the same. This translated into the specific instruction that forbade us from speaking to our students in full sentences. Instead, we were to communicate with them using precise directions. As my students entered the room, I was supposed to say: “In seats, zero talking, page 6 questions 1-4.” But I don’t even talk to my dog like that. Constant narration of what the students are doing is also key to the NNN teaching style. “Noel is is finishing question 3. Marjorie is sitting silently. Alfredo is on page 6.”
My efforts to make the narration seem less robotic—”I see Victor is on page 6. I see Natalie is on question 3″—triggered flashbacks to Miss Jean and Romper Room. All that was missing was the magic mirror. But even this was too much for the NNN squad in the corner. “Drop the ‘I see’ came through my earpiece. All this narration was incredibly distracting for the students, by the way, to the point where they started narrating me. “Mrs. Berard is passing out the exit tickets.” “Mrs. Berard is helping Christian.” “Mrs. Berard is reviewing the answer to question 4.”

 

Read it all. It is frightening. Some organization is being paid many thousands of dollars to turn teachers into robots who will treat the children as standardized widgets. Who dreamed up this absurd and insulting program?

 

PS: This program has the endorsement of an officer of the Gates Foundation, presumably speaking for the Foundation.

 

 

This was posted recently as a comment on the blog by Mamie Krupsczak Allegretti:

 

 

Both my husband and I are teachers in New York. He teaches high school English, and I teach French. We are both concerned about the state of education now, and I am actively taking steps to change my career after 23 years in teaching.

 

Let’s make no mistake about the situation. The move toward privatization of public education, the destruction of unions, and the loss of our democracy is well underway. I personally feel that the only way teachers, administrators, and parents can counter this is by refusing to participate in Common core tests and any tests that are used to evaluate a teacher’s performance. Teachers are now giving pretests in the beginning of the year knowing that students will fail because they have not yet learned the material! This is absurd, not to mention immoral and unethical. We are losing our common sense. Teachers are being evaluated by student performance on tests and those tests are in NO WAY reflective of what students have done in class.

 

For example, some teachers’ evaluations are based on how students do on a 15 minute computerized test–a test that does not count for the students! It’s not a test grade; it’s not a graduation requirement; it’s not a Regents exam. It’s an exercise that serves as a referendum on an individual teacher’s ability. Furthermore, the subject matter of the test is peripheral to the subject matter of the classroom. Many kids know this; therefore, instead of taking it seriously, they tap the keys and answer carelessly. Is this logical? Does this make sense? Would any businessman accept this evaluation system? In addition, I think parents and the public would be shocked to know how much time has been wasted on policies and plans that pop up and then are changed months later. I have worked countless hours on preparing items and then watched as the school discarded my work. Wouldn’t my time have been used better to create great lessons for students or helping them? There is no plan, no vision.

 

The two pillars of this “reform” movement are corporate greed and misogyny. I say misogyny because in NY over 70% of teachers are women, and the teaching profession is dominated by women. Our NYS union NYSUT is headed by a woman, and recent NYSUT pictures show a child saying, “Gov. Cuomo you’re breaking our hearts.” This kind of appeal will not work to influence men. Men are influenced by ACTION, not by appeals from children. Example: In basketball, Coach Dean Smith installed the four corners offense. Instead of shooting the ball, he would have his players dribble for minutes on end. He did this because he knew the game needed a shot clock, and this was the action he took within the rules of the game to bring it about. This is why I say that we need to refuse the tests. It is ACTION we need in the actual academic arena to bring about change! And teachers, if you’re concerned about losing your job for speaking out, it may happen anyway if the Governor gets his new teacher evaluation plan through the legislature! If you happen to be a teacher who has been around for a while and earn “too much” money, you’d better worry.

 

In the beginning of this post, I said I was actively seeking a new career after 23 years in teaching. Why? First, the stress of day-to-day teaching. People think teaching is easy. Try being with children all day -some of whom are disruptive, disrespectful, and not motivated. Try helping students who haven’t eaten, slept or been loved by their families. Try listening to their stories of abuse, poverty, and helplessness. It takes a toll on you. Second, I’m tired of the loss of respect and professionalism that teachers have suffered. We are losing control of our classrooms, our creativity, and our independence. We are now at the mercy of administrators, politicians and billionaires who are creating curricula, assessments, and evaluation plans for financial gain. Mostly, I am saddened at the diminishment of intellectual curiosity and joy in learning that is pervasive in our culture today. None of the “reforms” currently suggested will positively influence this. Thank you for this forum, and thank you Diane Ravitch for your cogent arguments and your advocacy.

A comment from a reader who signs as M:

 

Contracts are sacred…unless they’re made to a teacher.

 

What is perhaps the most disheartening is that the deformers have identified every crutch that we leaned on for determining education policy and worked in earnest to commandeer them or dismantle them.

 

Education research – let’s hire a bunch of researchers to generate what we want to say

 

Standards – Let’s govern what’s taught in classrooms whether it’s reasonable or not, educationally sound or not (this leads into all the VAMish nonsense)

 

School boards – let’s buy the races or have control seized from them, or both (buy the board then have it turn over power).

 

Money – Let’s find every end run through taxes and otherwise that will take money out of the schools from the students we’re trying to save, and blame that on teachers for being so greedy that they need to accept less – let’s take their money spend it elsewhere then blame them for their bloated pensions too.

 

Purpose of Education – Rather than being student centered it is now job market centered with schools being responsible for generating appropriate human capital (the student matters so much as they need to be come the chattel for said market)

 

I went into teaching to help students and make a living to help support my family. Pretty simple. If you look at the lens of effectiveness through all of these elements and how they’ve shifted over the last 20 years, it’s pretty disheartening.

 

They are succeeding (right now anyway) in turning school from a place of wonder, fun, community, and learning, into a hellish individualistic market centered hell hole focused on prepping each individual student for the test they must pass to be deemed “good product” – that takes away from so much of developing students into the types of neighbors we’d want in society. The message is insanely cynical.

Bob Shepherd, a frequent commentator (I love his writing and wish he would write more often for the blog) had this to say about teaching:

 

For many years, I held various jobs as a publishing executive (in later years at very high levels). I thought that I worked very, very hard.

 

 

Then I returned to teaching.

 

 

Everything I did before was a vacation by comparison.

 

 

Teaching is relentless in its demands on one’s time and energy. I came to school this year and found that I had 190 students, 3 minutes between classes, no prep period on half my days, car line duty in the morning, 20 minutes for lunch, two extracurricular activities to coach (including plays to produce), administrative meetings one day a week after school, 20 detailed lesson plans to prepare each week (specifying the class, period, standards covered, lesson objectives, assessments used, bellwork, vocabulary covered, and ESOL strategies and 504 and IEP accommodations employed), a requirement that I post 16 grades per quarter per student (for 190 students for 4 quarters, that’s 12,160 grades in the school year, or 67.56 grades per day), enormous amounts of paperwork (filing, photocopying, keeping a parent/teacher log, filling out reports of many kinds, preparing class handouts and tests, keeping attendance logs, posting grades), many, many special meetings (parent-teacher conferences being among the most frequent), and classes and tests to take to maintain my certification.

 

 

If I assigned a five-paragraph theme to each of my students, I would have 950 paragraphs to read–roughly the equivalent of a short novel.

 

 

Basically, there isn’t enough time for ANYONE–even the greatest of teachers–to do the job at all adequately. This is the great unspoken truth about teaching. This is the real elephant in the room. If you want to improve teaching and learning, you have to give teachers more time–MUCH, MUCH MORE TIME.

 

 

And somehow, with all those demands, you are supposed to give each student the individual attention that he or she deserves. Anything short of one-on-one tutorial is a compromise, of course. And that’s that the job boils down to. A great compromise.

 

 

And the attitude of administrators is typically, “Well, what’s the matter with you? Why don’t you just do x? Why didn’t you just do y? Any good teacher would be doing z every day.” As though teachers were people of leisure with all the time in the world. I have noticed that administrators label practically every email that they send out IMPORTANT and use exclamation marks ALL THE TIME: “Due today! Must be completed by Thursday! Mandatory attendance!” I have sometimes wondered whether they shouldn’t be issued, at the beginning of the year, a maximum number of quotation marks that they can use. Of course, they are just responding to the similar insane demands that are placed upon them by the central office and my regulatory requirements.

In an article in The Atlantic, Paul Barnwell describes how difficult it was for him when he was a new teacher assigned to a low-performing school.

 

In a span of three minutes, the group in room 204 had morphed from contained to out of control. Two boys were shooting dice in the back of the room, and as I instructed them to put their crumpled dollar bills away, several others took off their shoes and began tossing them around like footballs. Before I could react, one boy broke into my supply closet. He snatched handfuls of No. 2 pencils and highlighters and sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

 

He was 22 years old, and he was working in one of Kentucky’s most troubled, underperforming, and dysfunctional middle schools. He quit before Christmas. Eventually, he realized that the school needed experienced teachers and stability, but federal policy does not set a priority on either. In fact, NCLB and Race to the Top encourage churn, pretending to “fix” schools by firing principals and teachers and moving in new and often inexperienced teachers.

 

How can struggling schools attract experienced teachers? Combat pay has repeatedly failed; so has merit pay. The practice of tying teachers’ compensation to test scores will only make matters worse by incentivizing teachers to avoid the toughest schools.

 

He concludes:

 

I asked several of my public-school teaching colleagues from around the country—from New Hampshire to Washington—what it would take for them to voluntarily switch to the neediest schools in their regions. Julie Hiltz, an educator in Hillsborough County, Florida, with nearly 13 years of teaching experience, told me that the following would need to be in place: The ability to make local decisions, professional development designed and led in-house, more time for collaboration, and smaller class sizes, among other factors. Unfortunately, current guidelines for struggling schools under No Child Left Behind often disenfranchise administrators and staff.

 

Lauren Christensen, a social-studies teacher in the Waltham, Massachusetts, with six years of experience, currently works in a low-poverty school. I asked her if she’d voluntarily transfer to a high-poverty school in her area. “Maybe, she said, “but I would need to know that the whole school would be supported with a long-term commitment [from decision-makers]. I think the pressure of standard assessments and the stress put on educators to turn ‘failing’ schools around immediately might be too much to overcome.”

 

When I think back to my first year, I’m no longer bitter. I’m now completing my 11th year as a teacher; I mentor new educators and advocate for better support and working conditions. But unless those resources are in place, I wouldn’t voluntarily work in another struggling school.

 

 

In this post, Valerie Strauss interviews Rafe Esquith. It was published in 2013, in connection with the publication of his book, “Real Talk for Real Teachers.” He started teaching in 1983.

It is a fascinating interview. I urge you to read it. These are excerpts.

Why did he write the book?

“I want young teachers to understand what they are getting into. They are swallowing this line that they are going to save every kid. And when that doesn’t happen they are crushed and they give up.

“I am not saying this to be conceited, but I’m a very good teacher and I want them to know that I fail all the time. There are factors beyond my control. But I have to understand there are issues of family and poverty. Sometimes even if you do reach a kid it’s not going to happen in the year you have them. They aren’t going to sing ‘To Sir With Love’ at the end of the year.

“And to the veteran teachers who really understand what’s going on, every month it’s a new [school reform] flavor of the month. The Common Core [State Standards initiative] isn’t going to do anything. They are spending tens of millions of dollars but it isn’t going to do anything. In my classroom you still have to put a period at the end of a sentence…. I don’t need a new set of standards to make that clear to me.

What’s changed in teaching since you started teaching?

“The obsession with testing. We always gave tests, but basically now it’s the entire day. Basically if it’s not on the test don’t teach it. Teachers spend hours and hours and hours trying to figure out what’s going to be on the test. They will teach that there are four chambers of the heart, but not why we have a heart or why it works…. The data you are looking at — I feel like the emperor has no clothes. Somebody has to say this stuff. I think teachers will feel better to see in print what they think all the time.

“So the obsession with testing is one big change. Also, the economy has declined, families are hurt and I deal with many more family problems. Some of them are really difficult… Most of the parents I deal with try hard for their kids. One of the myths is that poor kids have parents who don’t care. That’s crap. They care.

“But I definitely deal now with more poverty and family troubles and the effects of poverty. I had a great kid this year. His father is gone. His mom works from 5 in the afternoon to 5 in the morning, so he doesn’t really see her. He comes home to an empty house. For teachers to be expected to have the same results as teachers in Finland where there is much less poverty, it’s absurd.”

What do you think about Teach for America?

“They [TFA corp members] are in my room all the time. Good kids. Nice. Bitter joke: TFA really stands for ‘teach for a while.’ Like all other teachers there are some great ones who are there for the right reasons who want to make a difference and some who want to pad their résumés. I certainly don’t think anybody can be a great teacher in five weeks. I hope this book helps them think a little bit about what they are getting into.”

“They [TFA corps members] are obsessed with test scores. It becomes all about this: If you have a kid who gets a 75 on a test and then the kid gets an 85, you are a good teacher. My wife didn’t fall in love with me because of my test scores…. They [TFA leaders] are incredibly defensive about hearing an alternate idea. What’s said is that they are constantly throwing data and money showing they are successful. But they are really not. They are no more successful than any other teachers and if you read their blogs a lot give up in horrible frustration.”

He concludes:

“The point of my new book is that it takes years to be a good classroom teacher. It takes years to be good at anything…

“With Teach For America, I just want to tell them that there’s another problem. Most TFA teachers don’t stay in the classroom long. I want them to know that Room 56 matters. What we do matters. But the kids see teachers shifting back and forth, leaving for other jobs, why would they believe anything matters if their teachers keep leaving?”

Mississippi teacher-blogger James Comans has indulged in Swiftian satire in this post about “reform.” He informed me that he was inspired by the post “Is It Really ‘All About the Kids.'”

Comans assumes the voice of a reformster. Why not require teachers to live in monasteries? Why pay them? If they are “called” to teach, they should volunteer. If they get minimum wage, they should be shamed into donating their meager salaries to worthy causes,like charter schools.

Will this make teachers better? Who knows? It will surely cut costs. What else matters? That’s how you put Children First and show that Students Matter.

Carol Burris writes of the terrible consequences that will follow implementation of Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation plan.

She urges support for the plan created by seven (of 17) dissident members of the Néw York Board of Regents. Almost all are experienced educators who have carefully reviewed research. Cuomo is not an educator and obviously paid no attention to research.

Two more Regents and the dissidents are a majority.

Lester Young of Brooklyn? Roger Tilles of Long Island?

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