Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.

As far as I can tell, no one explained how states and districts will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for hardware and software required for “the promise of Common Core.” Early estimates indicate that Pearson will have a contract of $1 billion to develop the PARCC tests. Who will pay Pearson? Who will be laid off? How large will class sizes go?

There were no Martians on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards, but there were also no classroom teachers, no early childhood teachers, no special education teachers. There were a number of testing experts.

Frankly the best and only hope for the future of these standards is that they are totally decoupled from testing. It is not likely to happen because doing so would deny the privatizers the data to prove that schools are failing and must be closed at once. That’s where the next big fight will occur.

Will they prepare all children for college and careers? Nobody knows. Will they help prepare our children for “global competition?” Not likely if the global competition works for $2 an hour for 18 hours a day under unsafe conditions.

The Common Core standards will never be national standards. They were developed in haste, paid for by one man (the guy is Seattle who thinks he knows everything), sold to the public via a slick PR campaign. They were never tried out. The tests connected to them are designed to fail most kids. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could pull a fast one and bypass democracy. Sorry, boys, you are wrong. Public education belongs to the public. Children belong to their parents. Neither public education nor children are for sale.

A teacher from North Carolina wrote the comments below. I don’t agree with his conclusion that unions are responsible for teachers’ loss of control over their work. What he describes can be found in states that never had unions, that were always “right to work.” Who is the villain of the piece? Testing companies? NCLB? I would put the blame on the accountability movement, which now belongs to Congress and legislatures. They want to know “are we getting our money’s worth?” Can’t trust teachers to tell you, must trust standardized tests.

Mr. Worley of North Carolina writes:

There was a day when teaching was considered a profession. As a profession, those who taught were trusted with the education and the evaluation of the student. I grew up in schools that worked that way. Many of you did as well.

My first few years in teaching, it was still pretty much that way. While I dreaded the work of creating fair final exams and then grading them, there was satisfaction in knowing that my kids were doing the same kind of work they had done all year, and that I was the one doing the grading of it.

What has happened?

In my 18th year of teaching now, I no longer write any finals – the state writes them all. I no longer grade any finals – a bubble reading machine does that. I no longer have to consider whether and how to set a curve on their final exam – the state does that. I no longer am even allowed to administer the final to the students I have spent a whole semester with – a teacher outside of my content area must do that. I can’t even proctor the exam.

I spend months building a relationship with my students, slowly but surely getting to know each of them, and them getting to know me. We laugh together, we struggle together, we get mad at each other sometimes. Some days are hard, some not so much, but all of them are interesting.

My favorite comment from my kids remains, “Mr. Worley, you don’t understand. I so look forward to coming to your class each day.” It doesn’t matter whether they like math or not, whether they are particularly good at math or not. In our class, we are united in the notion that our day can be better as a result of having been in math class that day. For whatever reason.

What has happened?

It’s easy to point the finger at politicians and power-wielders who have precious little understanding of just what K-12 education looks like on a daily basis. And certainly these people continue to harm public education for what appear to be selfish reasons.

But we in the education camp have to take some responsibility as well. For far too many years we allowed union representatives to dig in their heels on issues related to rethinking education. We tolerated teachers who should have been quickly removed, protecting with union rights instead of taking a stand for a high level of professionalism. And with every story in the news, trust deteriorated.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have belonged to the teachers union. I was a building representative and believe strongly in the value of collective bargaining rights.

What I’m saying is, we allowed the union to take our voice. And, as a result, we lost our place at the discussion table. Now that sentiment is generally anti-union across the country, teachers are no longer welcome to have a voice, because they don’t feel they need to welcome us. Here in North Carolina we see a state General Assembly passing one piece of vicious attack legislation after the other against educators.

At some point we, the teachers, the ones who love this profession and who are passionate about the kids we serve, need to rise up and reclaim our rightful place as professionals. I’m not sure how. I’m not sure who can or will lead such a rising. But I am certain it needs to happen soon, before public education is dismantled and turned in to a private sector business.

Because education will be dead then…

There is no secret to getting great teachers, writes Peter Greene.

Everything the reformsters do is guaranteed to drive away great teachers.

Here is the secret:

“If you really want to put a great teacher in front of every child, then you need to preserve and enhance a vision of teaching that gives teachers control over their fate, their teaching environment, and the education they provide their students. You need to preserve and enhance a vision of the profession that allows teachers to grow and excel (on their own terms). You need to preserve and enhance a vision of education’s greater purposes, which are so much more than “college and career ready” and “do well on that bubble test.” And you need to offer career pay that means they’re not always wondering how they’ll ever be able to raise a family or buy a home.”

Arne Duncan recently announced his plan to put the “best” teachers in low-performing schools. These would of course be the teachers whose students get the highest scores, and most of them teach in affluent suburbs or schools for the gifted. Unfortunately, Arne has not figured out that the “best scores” and the biggest gains reflect the student population and family income.

Peter Greene has a series of scenarios for Arne.

He writes, to begin:

“This aspect of school reform has been lurking around the edges for some time– the notion that once we find the super-duper teachers, we could somehow shuffle everybody around and put the supery-duperest in front of the neediest students. But though reformsters have occasionally floated the idea, the feds have been reluctant to really push it.

“Now that the current administration has decided to bring that federal hammer down on this issue, you’re probably wondering what they have in mind for insuring that the best teachers will be put in front of the students who have the greatest need. I’m here to tell you what some of the techniques will be.

“Before Anything Else, Mild Brain Damage Required

“Any program like this requires the involved parties to believe that teachers are basically interchangeable cogs in a huge machine. We will have to assume that a teacher who is a great teacher of wealthy middle school students will be equally successful with students in a poor urban setting. Or vice-versa, as you will recall that Duncan’s pretty sure it’s the comfy suburban kids who are actually failing. We have to assume that somebody who has a real gift for connecting with rural working class Hispanic families will be equally gifted when it comes to teaching in a high-poverty inner city setting.

“And, of course, as always, we’ll have to assume that teachers who are evaluated as “ineffective” didn’t get that rating for any reason other than their own skills– the students, families, resources and support of the school, administration, validity of the high stakes tests, the crippling effects of poverty– none of those things contributed to the teacher’s “success” or lack thereof.

“Once everybody is on board with this version of reality, we can start shuffling teachers around.”

Some day we might have a Secretary of Education who cares about research, understands teaching and learning, and has common sense as well. It looks like we will have to wait at least two more years, while hoping that our best teachers haven’t chosen to leave.

Peter Greene here reviews and refutes Campbell Brown’s article in the New York Daily News about why she is bringing a Vergara lawsuit in New York. Campbell Brown was once a CNN anchor; her husband advised Romney and is on the board of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst New York. She is a fierce critic of teacher unions, tenure, and seniority. The lawsuit gives her an opportunity to act on her passionate hatred for veteran teachers while claiming to defend the “rights” of students, as the California sponsors of Vergara did.

Brown has thus far found six families to act as plaintiffs. She says that one of the students wrote an essay complaining about the quality of education she was receiving and was harassed by multiple teachers and had to change schools. Brown assumes that by getting rid of tenure, seniority, and due process, there would magically be a great teacher in every classroom.

Greene writes:

“It’s a good story because it underlines exactly what is problematic about this sort of narrative as a model of teacher evaluation. This could in fact be the story of a student who made a reasonable request, wrote an essay about it, and was unfairly hounded by multiple teachers. While I’d like to say that I can’t imagine that ever happening, it’s certainly not impossible (though the harassing phone calls from plural teachers is hard to imagine).

“But this could also be the story of a student who decide she knew better than a trained professional how the teacher should do his job, got called on it, and had the whole thing blow up when the school tried to deal with her insubordination and disrespect.

“Either version of the story could be the truth. If we put in student hands the nuclear option of ending a teacher’s career, we are certainly, as Brown says she wants to, changing the balance of power. But I’m not sure how we get to excellence in teaching by way of a student smiling and saying, “Mrs. DeGumbuddy, my lawyer and I think you really want to reconsider my grade on this essay.”

He writes:

“Tenure– NY makes teachers wait three years and eighteen observations for tenure. This is the most obvious difference between the New York case and Vergara (California was awarding tenure after less time). This is a hard argument to make– if an administrator can’t tell whether or not she’s got a keeper after three years and eighteen observations, that administrator needs to go get a job selling real estate or groceries, because, damn!

“On the plus side, I look forward to Brown’s accompanying argument that all New York schools should be barred from ever again hiring Teach for America two-year contract temps. If it takes more than three years to determine if a teacher is any good, then clearly TFA is a waste of everybody’s time. Do let me know when Brown brings that up.

“Dismissals– Too long, too hard. I’m not in New York, so I don’t know the real numbers here. This was the weakest part of the state’s case in Vergara– while you can’t rush through these proceedings, there’s no excuse for dragging them out for months and years. It’s not good for either party.”

And he concludes:

“In the meantime, teachers here in the East can now look forward to a PR blitz tearing down teachers in support of a lawsuit designed to dismantle teaching as a profession. We can only hope the ultimate result will be better than the California version of this traveling circus.”

Joy Resmovits reports that the Onama administration plans to enforce a provision of NCLB that requires states to put experienced and highly qualified teachers in schools serving high numbers of poor and minority students.

Will this create a crisis for Teach for America, whose corps members have no experience?

Since this administration believes that teachers can be judged by student test scores, watch for policies attempting to reassign teachers from affluent suburbs to inner-city and rural schools. Watch for the next step, when those highly qualified teachers are reclassified as “bad” teachers if they can’t raise scores.

Will the Obama administration ever figure out that test scores reflect socioeconomic conditions more than teachers? They might look at research or even the recent report of the American Statistical Association, which attributed 1-14% of score variation to teachers.

Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University offers common-sense ideas about closing the achievement gap. She says that testing is less important than teaching. No surprise there.

She reviews an OECD study about teachers. What it shows is that teachers in the U.S. work longer hours under more difficult conditions than teachers in many other nations.

“Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: Teaching. The results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), released last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), offer a stunning picture of the challenges experienced by American teachers, while providing provocative insights into what we might do to foster better teaching — and learning — in the United States.

“In short, the survey shows that American teachers today work harder under much more challenging conditions than teachers elsewhere in the industrialized world. They also receive less useful feedback, less helpful professional development, and have less time to collaborate to improve their work. Not surprisingly, two-thirds feel their profession is not valued by society — an indicator that OECD finds is ultimately related to student achievement….

“Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle-school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate. The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile. Ignored by our current education policies are the facts that one in four American children lives below the poverty line and a growing number are homeless, without regular access to food or health care, and stressed by violence and drug abuse around them. Educators now spend a great deal of their time trying to help children and families in their care manage these issues, while they also seek to close skill gaps and promote learning.

“Along with these challenges, U.S. teachers must cope with larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24). They also spend many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children each week (27 versus the TALIS average of 19). And they work more hours in total each week than their global counterparts (45 versus the TALIS average of 38), with much less time in their schedules for planning, collaboration, and professional development. This schedule — a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s — makes it harder for our teachers to find time to work with their colleagues on creating great curriculum and learning new methods, to mark papers, to work individually with students, and to reach out to parents.”

She offers specific proposals for supporting teachers.

She concludes:

“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap. That means supporting children equitably outside as well as inside the classroom, creating a profession that is rewarding and well-supported, and designing schools that offer the conditions for both the student and teacher learning that will move American education forward.”

Mother Jones published this article in 2013 when Campbell Brown started her campaign against “sexual predators” in the New York City public schools (there are none, apparently, in charter schools, thank goodness!).

 

Campbell Brown is now leading the lawsuit attacking tenure, seniority, and due process for teachers in New York state. Her organization has found half a dozen student plaintiffs who claim that their teachers were “bad” teachers, which denied them a quality education.

 

The big difference between then and now in Campbell Brown’s group is that in 2013 her public relations firm was connected to Republicans.

 

Her current PR spokesman is Robert Gibbs, who was President Obama’s White House press secretary.

 

What Ms. Brown seems not to know is that there are sometimes false accusations made by students. I recall that when I lived in D.C. in the early 1990s, a junior high school teacher was accused of sexual misconduct by several girls in his class. The evidence seemed overwhelming given the number of complaints. The teacher was pilloried in the press. But when the police interviewed each girl individually, they did not corroborate the other stories, and in a matter of days, they all admitted they had trumped up the charges to punish a teacher who had given them too much work and had too high standards. That was an elementary lesson: an accusation is not a conviction. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

 

One curious aspect to this copycat case is that no one has been able to establish the basic claim that every child would have a “great” teacher if no teacher had due process rights or any job protections whatever. What seems more likely is that teachers will flee to affluent districts, if they can, to avoid the low value-added scores that are attached to teaching the most challenging students. Inner-city schools attended by the poorest children will find it more difficult to maintain a stable staff. Some victory that would be.

 

If people like Campbell Brown really cared about poor kids, they would fight for small class sizes, arts teachers, school nurses, libraries, and improved conditions for teaching and learning. They don’t.

 

 

Roxana Elden teaches high school English at Hialeah High School in Miami. In this very funny video, she explains to education writers how demanding teaching is and how prevalent are the misconceptions in Hollywood and the media about the “super teacher.” Elden is a National Board Certified teacher and the author of “See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers.” She is a Teach for America alum who stayed in teaching. In the video, she says she is in her tenth year of teaching.

Olivia Chapman taught for five years in the public schools of the District of Columbia. Then she decided that her philosophy of education was diametrically opposed to the District’s demands. She resigned her position. Her letter of resignation was first posted on Rachel Levy’s blog, All Things Education.

When she resigned, she was asked what DCPS could have done to retain her. Her letter of resignation began like this:

“I truly don’t think that there is anything that you could have done to retain me in the district. Our educational philosophies do not align, specifically what those philosophies look like in action, not necessarily how they are written and presented. Although it would seem that your will and proclaimed dedication to educating all students and improving struggling schools are aligned to my own beliefs; stating your beliefs and acting on them can be extremely different.

“In my opinion and based on five years of experience in a struggling school (which I believe you now call a “40-40″ school), the actions that you have imposed that are supposed to be helping to educate all students and improve the education of underprivileged students are backfiring. I know some of your test scores are going up, but that means so little when morale decreases and discontent from the community, teachers and students increase. Additionally, student behavior continues to worsen as their teachers are “impacted out”, the students are over-tested and the constant change in leadership causes students to lose faith in anyone sticking around long enough to invest in their successes. Your standards are higher while our resources are lower and the teachers are less effective because of constant turnover and poor training programs (Yes, I am referring to Teach for America and DC Teaching Fellows).

“IMPACT and high stakes standardized testing are deteriorating education. I have enjoyed working with each and every one of my students, as challenging as some of them may be, but I can no longer participate in a system that is tearing them down, wasting their time and breaking their spirits. I can no longer participate in the rigid guidelines of IMPACT/Common Core/Standardized testing; it is not what my kids need or ever needed to be successful. Yes, they need quality teachers, learning standards and assessments-but the manner in which you have delivered these three essential components of education are not effective. I have been witness to this for five years. You can throw data and numbers at me all you want, but it is not working for my students nor my school, and I know I am not alone in stating this, especially in Ward 8. You have poured enormous amounts of money into IMPACT and testing and not nearly enough into professional development, technology or character education programs for students. We have lacked the supplies and trainings to properly implement Common Core for the last three years. Honestly, you can call the standards whatever you want, revise them, increase their “rigor”, do whatever you please; but until communities, families, parents and students are held accountable for their participation in education, none of this matters…”

Read on.

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