Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

There has been much debate about who wrote the Common Core standards.

Here is a press release that lists the names of the writing teams for each subject as well as “feedback” groups.

You will notice a large representation of people from the testing industry (College Board and ACT), as well as people from Achieve, a D.C. think tank.

Notice that the statement says:

“The Work Group’s deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.”

Notice that the statement says:

“Final decisions regarding the common core standards document will be made by the Standards Development Work Group. The Feedback Group will play an advisory role, not a decision-making role in the process.”

Count how many people on either the writing teams or the feedback groups are identified as classroom teachers. Count how many have any experience in teaching children with disabilities. Count how many are experienced in teaching early childhood classes or English language learners.

Compare that number–whatever it may be–to the number who are experienced in testing and assessment.

The following post was written by Mario Waissbluth, President of Educación 2020 Foundation, a Chilean citizen’s movement founded in 2008. Its latest reform proposals (in Spanish) are called “La Reforma Educativa que Chile Necesita”, and were published in April 2013. A book on this subject (in Spanish) is also available. These proposals were mostly adopted by and included in the educational program of the recently elected government of Michelle Bachelet, and are starting to be implemented now.

Valentina Quiroga (32) was one of the student founders of this organization and is now Undersecretary of Education.

Although Educación 2020 remains as a fully independent movement, the positions stated thereon are in many ways similar to those of the current government.

Chile: Dismantling the most pro-market education system in the world

Mario Waissbluth

In August 2013 I wrote in this blog a three piece series, called “Chile: The most pro-market system in the world.” The first described the origins and structure of the system. The second explained its educational and social results, good and bad. The third pointed the way Chile should choose to get out of this mess. If the reader wants to fully understand this situation (the most “Milton Friedmanish” in the world), incomparable with any other country, it is advisable to read those beforehand.
Although some might disagree, from both extremes of the political spectrum, we are happy to inform that the proposals we made are very similar to those being implemented now. However, the political, financial and cultural obstacles will be formidable.

Bachelet was elected by a large margin of voters and has a majority in both the House and the Senate. Nonetheless, positions within the government’s coalition are not fully homogeneous. In addition, there is an impending tax reform that is vital for funding these reforms, costing no less than 2% of gross national product in gradual increments.

Of course, many powerful companies, with strong lobbying capability, are not happy about that. The educational reforms will include dozens of new laws and budgets, covering from preschool to tertiary education.

A warning for American readers. I am fully aware that many of you are criticizing charter schools, profit, teaching to the test, skimming, and the destruction of the teaching profession. I myself have cited Diane Ravitch’s books many times. But you have to be aware that, after 30 years of neoliberal schemes in Chile, charter schools subsidized by government are a majority (55%). One third of them are religious. Two thirds of them are for-profit, and one half of them charge anywhere from US$ 10 to US$ 180 a month on top of the subsidy, therefore skimming quite efficiently.

Teaching to the test, with consequences, has been taken to the greatest extreme imaginable. Policies to destruct public education are too numerous to mention here, and the result is that this system is in acute crisis financially, managerially and emotionally. The teaching profession is in far worse condition than in the US, by any statistical criteria.

In this situation, it is simply not possible to pretend now that charter schools could vanish. Less so if millions of parents have chosen to send their children to highly segregated charters, in a country whose social inequalities are far worse than those in the US, which I know are ugly by themselves.

In short, if the US is navigating towards hell, we are already there and are trying to get out without sinking the ship. It is a very different situation.

The most difficult hurdle in front of us is not legal, political or financial, but cultural. Parents have been led to believe, for decades, that the “best” school is that which is segregated, both academically and socioeconomically. We have a true cultural and educational apartheid. Therefore, the changes will have to be gradual and careful. At the same time, the government is sending strong signals: this is not going to be a minor adjustment but a major change in the overall orientation of the school system; not to make it fully state owned, but simply to resemble the vast majority of OECD countries, probably in a way similar to that of Belgium or The Netherlands. The whole strategy is described in more detail in the above mentioned entries of this blog,

Recently, the Education Minister, Mr. Nicolás Eyzaguirre (with a powerful political and financial experience and profile) has announced the first wave of legislation, to be sent to Congress in May, whose details are now being drafted. They include, amongst other things, the radical ending of academic selection and skimming, the gradual elimination of cost-sharing (to reduce social skimming), the phasing out of 3,500 for-profit schools (to be converted into non-profits), the radical pruning of the standardized testing system, the strengthening and expansion of the public network of schools (so that they can compete in a better way with the charters) and a major reform to the teaching profession, from its training (completely unregulated so far), to improving salaries and working conditions.

This is an evolving situation. I will be most happy (if I can) to answer questions through this blog, and also to inform you about new developments in the future.

If you have an eye for quackery, as Peter Greene does, you will never run out of material in the world of reform tomfoolery.

In this post, Greene has fun with TNTP’s brilliant new way to identify better teachers: multiple-choice test. I kid you not.

TNTP used to be called The Néw Teacher Project. According to legend, it was founded by Michelle Rhee, although partisans of Wendy Kopp say it was her idea and she asked Michelle to do it. I really don’t know. Maybe someone who was there can let us in on the true story.

So Greene discovers that TNTP has this idea that a multiple-choice test can do what nano human can do. Identify a future talented teacher. He runs with it.

You have read here about the courageous journey of Vivian Connell. She lives in North Carolina, where she was a teacher for many years. In 2010, discouraged by the state legislature’s hostility to teachers and low salaries, she left the classroom to enter law school. She graduated last May with honors. Vivian recently learned she has ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and she returned to teaching for whatever time remains to her. Her goal right now is to raise $20,000 to take her class to the U. S. Holocaust Museum in D. C.

Read her story here.

You can find the link here to make a donation. Send $5, $10, $25, whatever you can afford.

Let’s help Vivian fulfill her dream.

Do it in the spirit of Easter. Or Passover. Or humanity.

Myra Blackmon, a regular columnist for The Online Athens Banner-Herald (Ga.), frequently substitutes in her local elementary school and enjoys it. One day recently, the class of second-graders was rude and undisciplined. When the regular teacher returned, she did not discipline or punish the students. She had each of them write a letter of apology to Ms. Blackmon.

Ms. Blackmon was moved.

She writes:

“Instead of keeping them in from recess, which really accomplishes nothing and creates different problems, or some other group punishment, this teacher had them write letters of apology. They range from perfunctory to pleading for forgiveness. Some offer excuses or explanations for their behavior. One simply wrote, “I wasn’t in school that day.”
This simple act is a classic example of restorative justice. Instead of being punished, these children had to make it right with me — and their teacher. They had to use their writing skills, they had to think about what they had done. They had to take responsibility for their behavior.

“The concept of restorative justice is not new. In Exodus 22:1-14, we read of required restitution for a variety of crimes against people. The Pentateuch recognizes that crimes of theft or arson are crimes against victims, who must be made whole.”

And she adds:

“Research has shown that restorative justice in school settings — replacing suspensions and punitive practices that teach no lessons and leave perpetrators behind in their school work — leads to fewer repeat offenses. Coupling it with counseling, tutoring and helping students figure out better behavior has shown to dramatically reduce dropout rates.

“In a season where Jews have recently celebrated Passover and God’s redemptive release from bondage, where Christians rejoice that Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins, we should reflect on restorative justice. How do we teach people to right their wrongs and not just pay for them? How do we learn to forgive in the face of personal injury? How do we as a community make our lives whole and unite in learning to love one another?

“God never said it would be easy. Jesus encouraged us to go against our very nature in loving and forgiving those who wrong us. As we learn and grow together in love and forgiveness, can we better move forward to offer a community that encourages all its members to live their best lives?

“That is my Easter prayer.”

Colorado has one of the most punitive teacher evaluation systems in the nation, passed in 2010. It was written by State Senator Michael Johnston, ex-TFA. Contrary to the conclusions of the American Statistical Association, the American Educational Research Association, and eminent researchers such as Linda Darling-Hammond and Edward Haertel of Stanford, Colorado’s SB 191 bases 50% of teachers’ evaluation on student test scores. This creates tremendous pressure to narrow the curriculum only to what is tested and to teach to the test. Senator Johnston vainly insisted that his legislation would produce “great teachers” and “great schools.”

Pauline Hawkins, a teacher in Colorado, explains here why she is resigning as a teacher in Colorado. The environment she leaves with regret was created by George W. Bush, Arne Duncan, and Michael Johnston.

Hawkins writes:

Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:

This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.

I’m sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.

I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.

Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado, I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.

Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.

I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.

It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago–and it’s only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.

I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they’ve been told they aren’t good enough by a standardized test; they’ve been told that they can’t be successful because they aren’t jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.

I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher–I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed are a proper education.

As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the “bad” teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.

Since I’ve worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: “Is this good for kids?” My answer to this new legislation is, “No. This is absolutely not good for kids.” I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children–our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children’s rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.

My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: “Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?” With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?

Sincerely,

Pauline Hawkins

In this post, New Jersey high school teacher Dan Ferat reflects on how many tests he is now required to give to his students, as compared to ten years ago.

 

Here is a sample, read it all:

 

So, in only ten years, we have gone from students taking five exams per year (six for juniors with the HSPA) to 34 exams per year (30 for seniors) with many more in sight because there will be a PARCC for EVERY SUBJECT supposedly because there are CCCS for every subject except electives (plus those PSAT/SAT/ACT tests which I’m not even counting).

 

Forget the amount of time teachers will have to spend grading all these exams and writing them and adjusting them over the years. Honestly, that’s beside the point when it comes to education. It’s true we don’t get enough time “on the clock” as it is, but the real issue is the students. See, I always thought education was about LEARNING a subject in a classroom from readings, teachers, and experiences (like labs). But with all this testing, there will be less learning and more studying for tests. We teachers are evaluated on how well our students do on all the tests, so of course we’re going to teach to them. One would be a complete moron not to since one can wind up fired if one gets too low scores in two years. This will narrow curricula, which means less information and fewer skills learned. It will standardize curricula more, which means fewer choices for students and less of a need for EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, who share so much of their insight and experiences with students to bring their subjects to life. But if everything is just straight out of a book, like a script, all you need is a warm body to watch the kids and lead them through the standardized curriculum.

 

If parents understood this, they would not be happy. They would begin to recognize what the legislators and the federal government are doing to undermine genuine education and to dampen students’ ardor for learning as well as to demoralize teachers.

 

 

Jack Schneider, a historian of education at the College of Holy Cross, deconstructs the claim that the biggest problem in education today is the quality of teachers. The clarion s of the Status Quo never tire of telling us that “great” teachers can turn every student into college-bound scholars. For a time, they said that the teacher was the most important influence on student test scores. Then, as social scientists reminded them, again and again, that the family has far greater influence than the teacher, the Status Quo shifted gears and began saying that teachers were the most important factor inside schools, which is true. Economists say that the family accounts for about 60% of academic outcomes, the teacher about 10-15%. The Status Quo doesn’t like to put those numbers out because it might persuade the public that our society should do more to improve the lives of families, communities, and children. Bit it is so much simpler to complain about teachers. They are an enticing target.

Schneider says, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the Status Quo, that we have a good corps of teachers:

“If assertions about the poor academic preparation of American teachers were accurate, the policy fix would be easy. But such hysteria is generally unfounded. Teachers go to legitimate schools, they get decent grades, and the overwhelming majority of them possess degrees in the subject they teach. More than half possess graduate degrees. Consequently, there’s very little low-hanging fruit to pick.”

Actually, the biggest problem we face is not how to attract Ivy League graduates into teaching (there being no evidence that Ivy League graduates make better teachers than graduates of state universities), but how to stop the relentless attacks on teachers that are driving out so many good veterans. It has been documented many times that a sizable proportion of those who enter teaching–40% or more– will leave within five years because the working conditions are so poor and stresses of the job are so hard. No other profession has this exodus of trained personnel. Far fewer people are entering the profession now than in the recent past, no doubt because of the attacks on teachers that have become commonplace in the media. Teach for America advertises its success as if to prove that five weeks of training is sufficient and that teaching is a stop-gap enroute to one’s real profession, not a career choice.

The biggest problem in teaching today is that the profession has been demeaned for years, especially in the past five years. The Status Quo crowd seems determined to prove that first-year and second-year teachers are best, and to drive away experienced educators, perhaps to save on salaries or pensions.

States and districts should have higher standards for entering teaching. Once people become teachers, districts and schools should give them the support they need to succeed. Incompetent teachers should be removed as quickly as possible, with a fair hearing if they have due process rights.

Schneider shows that teaching as a profession needs the same respect as other professions, the same professional opportunities for growth, the same time to work together and learn from research.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says that experienced teachers get better results than inexperienced teachers!

It might seem too obvious to be a headline, but the fake reformers have railed against “last-in-first-out” and veteran teachers for years. Those “reformers” insist that the veterans are burned out while the new teachers are great on Day One.

There is even a lawsuit in Los Angeles to eliminate tenure.

Will wonders never cease!

Peter Greene, high school teacher in Pennsylvania, read Anthony Cody’s article about teachers taking action, and he remembered why he had been reluctant when he should have spoken out. Then he realized that the time had come to speak up and not allow his profession to be diminished by uninformed critics.

In this post, he gives practical advice about how teachers must overcome their reluctance and become warriors on behalf of their students and their profession.

He boils it down to four principles:

Trust your judgment.

Network.

Speak.

Act.

To fill in the details, read his post.

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