Archives for category: Teaching

Randi Weingarten proposes an alternative to end of the year tests. This is such a good idea that Congress should consider making it a replacement for annual standardized tests, which are inherently an assertion that teachers can’t be trusted to judge their students’ progress. Furthermore, Randi’s idea of testing what students know and can do will inspire student thoughtfulness and creativity, which is far superior to picking the right answer.

Classrooms that would have been abuzz with activity now sit empty, as most states have closed schools to slow the spread of COVID-19. These have been agonizing choices because schools are not simply where students learn, they are where many children receive meals and healthcare, where they learn life lessons, forge relationships and build resiliency. We are all feeling the shockwaves of this unprecedented upheaval.

But as educators and school staff know, the majority of the instructional year has already taken place, and students have learned and experienced much already. The federal government will waive federally mandated assessments as a result of the widespread school closures. There are still meaningful ways teachers can help students sum up their academic progress and bring closure to this school year. So, at this extraordinary time, I propose ending the school year by giving all teachers the latitude to work with their students on capstone or term projects instead of statewide standardized assessments — to choose age appropriate activities, assessments and projects that demonstrate their learning for the year. This flexibility will both allow districts to ensure that our school communities maintain the social distancing necessary to avoid further spread of the virus and give our students the chance to end their school year on a positive note.

Nearly 53 million of the country’s 57 million K-12 students have been affected by school closures. That number is likely to grow, and the situation is likely to persist, as states like Kansas decide to close public schools for the rest of the school year. Educators are building the plane while flying it. Within the span of one week, districts across the country have rushed to open “grab-and-go” meal centers, launch distance learning programs, meet the needs of our most vulnerable children, and provide child care for the frontline healthcare and other essential workers who are protecting the health and safety of all Americans. And state and district leaders are trying to figure this out with little guidance from the federal government, and what guidance they’ve gotten has often been unclear or contradictory.

As these logistical challenges continue to be addressed, our members across the country are simultaneously creating plans to ensure that their students’ learning does not end with the closure of their school buildings and trying to ascertain whether their efforts have succeeded. There are many ways outside of state accountability systems to show student learning, as teachers can attest. They just need the freedom to use their professional judgment. Teachers do this throughout the year — administering tests and guiding students on projects and portfolios. We know that students love to show what they know to people who matter to them. We need to trust teachers, in consultation with their principals and colleagues, to design meaningful, educationally appropriate tasks. For example: Elementary students could complete a composition on a favorite book they read this year, which could be turned in by sending it back on the same bus that is delivering grab-and-go meals (while observing scientists’ recommendations regarding safe paper handling). Middle school students could hold a virtual debate on the internet, or they could interview a relative for a family history, which is the quintessential American story. High school students could research a topic they now won’t be covering in class and present their research via video on their phone. Because of the digital divide, many students do not have access to computers, smart phones or internet hot spots, so the tried-and-true writing — or drawing or composing music — with pen and paper, should be envisioned as well.

Teachers will need time and support to develop plans for project-based assessments that are appropriate given their students’ ages, special education requirements, proficiency in English, physical needs and access to technology. This is especially important since many will be used in the context of remote learning. Local latitude and autonomy is important. Let’s give educators, working with their colleagues and administrators, the freedom to figure this out, including the freedom to determine how high school seniors can finish the year and graduate.

Teachers are working hard to maintain essential connections with their students. Let’s trust them to develop the kinds of end-of-year activities, assessments and capstone projects I am proposing. Let’s trust them to use their expertise and knowledge of their students, because no idea will work for every student and teacher. My hope is to capture and celebrate student learning and, in the process, show that we trust teachers.

This is a delightful post by Mercedes Schneider, whom we usually expect to write about scams, hoaxes, and frauds in the education biz.

But this time she shows off a student’s work in her English class.

What a delight!

She reminds us that this is what education is all about. Not dollars, but the joy of learning!

 

G.F. Brandenburg posted a graph from a recent report of the OECD–the same organization that sponsors the PISA tests–which shows the number of hours that teachers work in every country tested.

Teachers in the United States reported working an average of 46.2 hours a week, according to the Teaching and Learning International Survey, which was coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and included responses from educators in 49 education systems. The global survey average was 38.3 hours a week. Only teachers in two other education systems—Japan and Kazakhstan—reported working more hours.

Of the hours U.S. teachers reported working, the bulk of that time—28 hours—is spent teaching, as opposed to on administrative work or professional development. That’s more than teachers in any other education system. The survey average was 20 hours spent teaching.

Open the link to see the graph.

Steven Wilson, founder and CEO of the Brooklyn-based Ascend Charter Schools, was fired by the board of directors after a petition on Change.org, apparently started by students at one of the charter schools, complained that an essay he had written was racist and exemplifed “white supremacy.”

Two charter-school advocates, one employed by the Walton Family Foundation, the other from the IDEA charter chain, defended Wilson and demanded that the board reinstate him. Their letter to the board was published in the rightwing EdNext.

The essay is a lengthy complaint about American public schools, asserting that they are deeply anti-intellectual and that children have been deprived of “intellectual joy” since the very inception of public education.

He argues that all children without exception should participate in “intellectual joy,” which would seem to me to be an unassailable position.

However, the critics of his essay say that it is an assertion of “white supremacy.” The board fired Wilson.

Now about that essay.

As a historian, I find much that is troubling in his depiction of the history of public education. It is true that public schools were not temples of academic learning in the 19th century. Most children left school when they were old enough to work. It was a mark of accomplishment to finish the eighth grade. Parents wanted their children to have just enough education to do what was necessary in daily life. The McGuffey’s Readers were almost universal. The McGuffey Readers contained excerpts of essays and poems that most students probably didn’t understand but memorized for recitation. The typical stuff of grades 1-8 was not deeply intellectual, that’s for sure. Most teachers were barely high school graduates. College attendance was still rare, limited only to the children of wealthy families, and they did not become teachers, which was a position of low esteem and low pay. High schools were rare until late in the 19th century, and they too leaned heavily on memorization and recitation. Most taught Latin and Greek, which no doubt gladdens Wilson’s heart. History textbooks were mainly recitations of wars, battles, and big events in the life of the U.S. or Europe. There was little about other nations or cultures. Private schools were not great temples of academic joy either.

It is fair to say that Steven Wilson would have been disappointed in the intellectual quality of most schools in the 19th century, whether public or private.

In the 20th century, the big urban centers of the nation were swamped with one of the biggest migrations of history, the transit of Europeans to the U.S. Most were illiterate or didn’t speak English or both. The big city classrooms typically had a poorly educated teacher trying her best to school some 80-100 children in her classroom, usually sitting two at the same desk. Not too much intellectual joy there.

I wrote a book about anti-intellectualism in American education. It is called Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform.

I tried to disentangle the strands of the progressive movement. Some progressives were concerned about the health and well-being of children and worked together with settlement house workers to better the lives of poor urban children. Some were interested in political activism and wanted the school to be the instrument to remake society (a hopeless endeavor). Some wanted the schools to be child-centered and to focus on the needs and interests of children. Others, including some of the child-centered progressives, were openly disdainful of the academic curriculum. Be it noted that there was good reason to be disdainful of the academic curriculum as it was then construed. Students spent endless hours memorizing words from textbooks or readers, then reciting them to the satisfaction of their teachers. Memorization played a big role–too big a role in the academic program. Even the Committee of Ten, the illustrious education leaders who called for a revamping of the academic curriculum in 1893, urged the use of active learning and projects to enliven instruction in history. Given the low standards and rock-bottom salaries for teachers, it was hard to imagine that the typical public school would ever be a beacon of intellectual enlightenment.

I was hyper-critical of anti-intellectualism, but unlike Wilson, I never smeared all of public education as an intellectual desert, openly hostile to ideas and determined to belittle the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. If you don’t see schooling in its historical and cultural context, it is easy to dismiss them as scornful of academic learning.

I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. My public schools were typical of the 1950s. What mattered most was sports, clothes, pop music (Elvis!), pop culture (James Dean!), and popularity. San Jacinto High School had good teachers and mediocre teachers. I had abysmal instruction in U.S. history, but a stellar teacher of English and American literature who left her classes longing for more, and whose door at “sign-up time” always had a long line of students eager to learn from her. No gifted classes, no AP courses, no test prep. Yet somehow I managed to get admitted to Wellesley College, one of the nation’s best colleges. And somehow I managed to hold my own in a class where at least half the students had gone to the nation’s best private schools. And all I had was a public school education!

Wilson’s jeremiad about public schools is insulting to public schools and their dedicated teachers, for sure. What’s more, he blames John Dewey for the dissolution of the curriculum, repudiating liberal education, and denigrating academic teaching. But anyone who read the first-hand accounts of the Dewey School at the University of Chicago would know that Wilson is dealing in second-hand stereotypes. I wrote about it in Left Back:

Teachers at the Dewey School created projects and activities to enliven the studies that were taught by rote in more traditional schools. They wanted to show that the traditional subjects, so often taught without any imagination, could be turned into exciting learning experiences. Far from being hostile to subject matter, they continually experimented with different ways of involving their young students in learning about primitive life in the Bronze Age; Phoenician civilization; early Greek civilization; the voyages and adventures of Marco Polo, Prince Henry of Portugal, Columbus, and other explorers; English village life in the tenth century, the story of William the Conqueror and his conquest of England, and the Crusades; American colonial history; the European background of the colonies; Shakespeare’s plays; science; mathematics; algebra and geometry; English, French, even Latin. (Left Back, p. 171).

If there were a Dewey School today, the curriculum would be multicultural and would reflect the cultures and interests of the students, it would explore the crimes of colonialism and imperialism, but one thing is certain: it was NOT anti-intellectual. In fact, it would be accurate to say that the teachers at the Dewey School were trying to find ways to ignite the love of learning and to connect history to their students’ lives and interests.

Wilson was also in error in setting the “Life Adjustment Movement” in the 1920s. It was a post-World War II craze.

Wilson defends the Common Core and asserts that it demands “intellectual performance” of a high quality. I find this bizarre, since the Common Core is lacking in any curricular coherence; even E.D. Hirsch Jr. has abandoned it because of its vacuousness. “Regrettably,” Wilson writes, “in many states, governors capitulated to anti-testing forces and retreated from the Core.” There is more that is wrong with the Core than the testing—with its absurd passing marks—that accompanies it.

But the students (or teachers) who wrote the petition against his essay were insulted for other reasons. They thought his essay was racist. They accused him of “equating a liberal education to whiteness,” thereby displaying a sense of “white supremacy.”

The petition says:

The underlying message here is that a liberal education is whiteness, whiteness is therefore intellectual, and any challenge to a liberal education is a challenge to whiteness, so any challenge to whiteness is anti-intellectual. The article later reinforces the importance of this liberal education by stating such an education “empowers them to escape poverty and dependency.”

Perhaps it was these sentences that troubled them:

“Just as schools are organizing to overcome these challenges [e.g, overtesting], they face a new threat to intellectual engagement. As schools strive to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive and to ensure cultural responsive teaching, there is the growing risk that these imperatives will be shamefully exploited to justify reduced intellectual expectations of students. One document widely used in diversity workshops, including in the training of all New York City administrators and principals identifies 13 ‘damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.’ One is ‘objectivity,’ which is manifested as ‘the belief that there is such a thing as being objective’ and ‘requiring people to think in a linear way.” Anti-intellectualism often takes the position that there are only subjective perspectives. Another is the ‘worship of the written word,” where ‘those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued’…But how tragic it would be if any child was taught that a reverence for the written word was a white characteristic. What would they make of Frederic [sic] Douglass’s Fourth of July speech, Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, or James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew, “My Dungeon Shook’ in The Fire Next Time? As writers, they were deeply learned and dazzling stylists. Their words explode on the page, inspiring millions in the urgent work of racial justice. It’s hard to imagine a more destructive message to teachers and their students. This too will surely come to be seen as another wrong turn on the way to equal educational opportunity.”

He then goes on to discuss a closed door conversation in which he refers to the word intellectual, and someone in the group says that the word “has a connotation. Intellectual speaks to colonized and oppressed.” The group prefers the word rigor.

But, he says, when the session is over, the members of the group tell him to ignore the discussion.

Clearly the students (if they were students) who reacted strongly to his paper did not ignore it. They thought his paper was patronizing and racist and that it reeks of white supremacy.

They see his crusade for intellectualism as elitist and condescending.

His defenders from the charter sector accused the board of succumbing to “racialist bullying.”

Clearly there is a failure to communicate.

On all sides.

Since I am a historian by training, not a teacher, I can’t weigh in on how to teach “intellectual joy.” I know that being an intellectual won’t make one a good teacher; I have seen very well educated people give up as teachers because they were unable to connect to their students. Clearly something in Steven’s tone sent a message that he did not intend. The critics of the essay had antennae that he did not understand.

I asked my friend Anthony Cody, who is an experienced teacher who taught science in the Oakland public schools, about engaging students’ love of learning, and he offered this advice:

When I think of how we go about igniting passion for learning in students, it has more to do with connecting to their experiences and building on them — stretching them to consider new approaches that still relate to their realities. The conception of “intellect” in this essay seems to me a rather abstract one, which would struggle to inspire most of the teachers I have worked with over the past decade. 
For me, one of the most valuable things we could do for students would be to get their teachers actively engaged in a lively intellectual process of questioning what, why and how they are teaching. When that lively process is taking place within a school, it will infect every classroom and provide students with a variety of models of inquiry, experimentation and reflection, all of which are the basic processes of intellectual growth. That is why packaged curriculum and prescriptive standards and timelines are the death of real thought in our schools.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Rubinstein writes here about an article he was surprised to read in  Chalkbeat. 

He was surprised because he expects more of Chalkbeat.

The article lauds a young TFA teacher who has just finished her first year.

He writes:

The basic premise is that Angelique Hines a first year TFA teacher placed in a brand new charter school in Tennessee is featured in a series of interviews by Chalkbeat called “How I Teach.”  The premise of the interview series, according to Chalkbeat is “Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs.”  So already there’s an issue of whether Hines is really an educator who has been recognized for her work.  She has been teaching for 9 months in a brand new charter school that has no track record at all.

One thing we do know is that her students can sit with their hands folded in front of them in a very obedient way.

So the article explains its title.  Hines speaks about how a student said he misses his old school because that school was much more fun.  One example of how the old school was more fun, he says, is that in the old school they watched more movies.

Gary writes that the article assumes that the old school was “bad,” but provides no evidence. The article assumes that students can’t learn and have fun at the same time. The article assumes that the first year teacher “has been recognized” for her work as a teacher but who recognized her and for what? How many teachers are recognized as exemplary at the end of their first year in the classroom?

Mary Holden is a teacher in Nashville, Tennessee. I have met Mary on several occasions, usually when I was in Nashville. She spent 15 years teaching  high school, then switched to middle school, teaching sixth grade. She wasn’t sure how she would react to the change. In short, she LOVED it!

There are many weird things that happen in middle school that I never experienced as a high school teacher. Boogers. Penises drawn in weird places. Bad smells, especially after PE on a hot day. Excessive bottle flipping. Weird dance moves that kids break into constantly and at the most random times. Fortnite, Fornite, Fornite. Pokemon. K-Pop. More Fortnite. Do you play Fornite, Mrs. Holden? No?? Why not? Some unusually phrased graffiti in the bathroom because these kids think they know what they’re talking about when it comes to sex but really they have no idea (most of them, anyway).

Also, farts. I mean, audible farts during class. Oh, and burps, too. And lots of talking about farts and burps. Do these kids not realize the embarrassment it might cause them? No, not in 6th grade, they don’t. I’m teaching 7th grade next year – next summer, I’ll give a full report on whether or not they care about these things yet.

In 6th grade, there are loose teeth and boo-boos healed with Band-Aids. Silly jokes. Random stories that go on and on about what they did over the weekend. And there are hugs. Hugs because they are happy and hugs because they are feeling sad. There are tears sometimes. Tantrums, even. I’ve been called Mom more than once. That doesn’t really happen in high school much. I mean, think back to your own experience in middle school. It’s a really strange and awkward time in life. It’s something we all have to get through. And so teaching middle school is full of unusual things that happen on a daily basis.

But I also experienced real joy. Kids who love to read. (YAY!!! This makes me so happy!!) Kids who still see the magic in things. (I may or may not have squashed a student’s belief in the Elf on the Shelf being real.) (Yes, in 6th grade!) (Also, I’m sorry about that, kiddo, I thought you knew!) When we were studying Ancient Egypt in Social Studies class and we mummified a chicken, they were really into it! And when we read The Giver, Freak the Mighty, and Refugee in English class, they were really moved. Like I could see the awe and fear and sadness and joy in their faces as we read and talked about each book. That kind of thing dwindles away as we get older and is much harder to detect in high school. Kids this age are creative and love to show it – they wrote creepy tales of their own and created ABC books about ancient civilizations. I feel like I really got to know my students this year and, as a result, really grew to care deeply about them in a way I didn’t always experience at the high school level. And as a bonus, most of my students really like school and learning new things! It was inspiring to see.

Mary reminds me of what I tell future teachers when they ask if they are doing the right thing by going into teaching.

In the future,  your students won’t remember the name of the mayor or the governor. They won’t remember the name of the superintendent. They will remember you. 

 

Follow the money is a basic principle.

To understand an organization, see who funds it.

Take Teach for America.

It presents itself to the public as a noble charity.

Unfortunately, it promotes the bad idea that anyone with five weeks of training can teach. That has the effect of undermining teaching as a profession.

Does anyone believe that five weeks of training is adequate to become a doctor or lawyer or architect or engineer?

TFA supplies the workforce for a large proportion of charter schools, 90% of which are non-union.

TFA simultaneously undermines the teaching profession and teacher unionism, which assures that teachers have rights and voice in the workplace.

Who would promote these goals? .

Who funds  Teach for America? 

Larry Cuban was asked this question by a reporter. His answer was no, because part of the job of a teacher is to conduct surveillance of students and to monitor their work.

“..Maintaining order and constant surveillance of students has been, historically, what teachers have to do in order for students to learn. Before there were computer devices and monitoring software, teachers walked up and down aisles of desks and around the perimeter of the classroom inspecting what students were doing.

“It was the job of the teacher to know that students were working on what the teacher asked them to do.

“In my judgment, when a teacher looks at student screens while a lesson is underway, there is no invasion of student privacy. It is simply what teachers do as part of their role in guiding student learning.”

He does not engage in the issues that most concerns readers here: the mining of student data collected by the software corporation as students work and the relentless drive by tech companies not only to monetize personally identically information, gathered without the knowledge or consent of students, but the effort by those corporations to replace expert teachers with technology.

 

 

How do you do emergency planning when the teacher is in a wheelchair? The teacher wondered. The students had a plan.

“Like teachers all over the country, Marissa Schimmoeller returned to her high school classroom the day after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last week with a heavy heart. She told TODAY Parents she knew the day would be a tough one for her ninth and tenth grade English students at Delphos Jefferson High School in Delphos, Ohio.

“Schimmoeller went to school that day prepared to tell her students exactly what they should do in the case of an active shooter on their own campus. It turned out her students had a plan of their own — and when Schimmoeller revealed one key detail of it in an emotional Facebook post, the story quickly went viral….

”This is 24-year-old Schimmoeller’s first year of teaching, and she has more considerations that others when it comes to active shooter drills in her classroom: Schimmoeller was born with cerebral palsy and she uses a wheelchair.

“Her students are familiar with the day-to-day implications of her condition, she told TODAY Parents. “I begin on the first day by talking about my disability,” she said. “I tell them that they may be asked to assist me in the classroom — by passing out papers or writing on the board for me — and I allow them to ask me any questions they want to.

“However, last Friday was the first time that I had to share my limitations in terms of protecting them.”

“When her student asked what they should do in case of an attack, Schimmoeller said she felt “a bolt of fear and sadness run through me. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I want them to feel safe in my classroom….”

“On Facebook, Schimmoeller wrote that she told the students, “I want you to know that I care deeply about each and every one of you and that I will do everything I can to protect you. But — being in a wheelchair, I will not be able to protect you the way an able-bodied teacher will. And if there is a chance for you to escape, I want you to go. Do not worry about me. Your safety is my number one priority.”

“Her students had other plans. “Slowly, quietly, as the words I had said sunk in, another student raised their hand,” Schimmoeller wrote.

“She said, ‘Mrs. Schimmoeller, we already talked about it. If anything happens, we are going to carry you…

”When I was in front of those amazing kids as they told me they would carry me out of our building, if, God forbid, we were faced with a situation like the one in Florida, it occurred to me that every child, every one of my students, is so full of light and goodness.”

“I wanted to share that with those around me, because I spent so much of my day angry about the violence, and I knew that people needed reminding of the good in this world just as much as I did,” she said.”

Next time anyone complains about the rising generation, tell them they don’t know these kids. They are our hope for a better future.

Jack Schneider is a historian of education at the College of the Holy Cross and research director of the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.

He explains here why billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs is on the wrong track in her effort to “reinvent” the American high school. She commandeered four major networks to present a glitzy television program showcasing the ideas she is funding. While none of them is fundamentally wrong, the premise of her project is, writes Schneider.

Americans expect more of their schools than just “college-and-career-readiness.” They see them as places that develop the full spectrum of their children’s social, emotional, academic, aesthetic, cultural, and physical needs. And besides, it is a silly myth that high schools have not changed in a century. Only someone who has not spent much time in high schools believes that.

He writes:

“XQ might highlight some exciting innovations. Unfortunately, however, the project is rooted in fiction. The schools themselves may be real, and some might even turn out to be “super.” But the assumptions underlying the project are false. And given that, the entire XQ extravaganza threatens to do more harm than good, by undermining what we know to be true about our schools.

“The first falsehood of the XQ narrative is the claim that a dramatically changed world requires us to rethink public education. Students today, they argue, need a totally different kind of education because, as the XQ website puts it, “we’ve gone from the Model T to the Tesla and from the switchboard to the smartphone.”

“Do new technologies require us to rethink the purpose of American education?

“If the primary goal of school is to teach students to build products, the answer might be yes. But interviews my research team has conducted with educators and parents show that Americans maintain broad and complex aims for education. They want students to develop interpersonal skills and citizenship traits. They want schools to teach critical thinking and an array of academic skills. They want young people to be exposed to arts and music, to have opportunities for play and creativity, and to be supported socially and emotionally.

“Many would also like to see students leaving high school with some job-ready skills. But as the latest Phi Delta Kappan poll indicates, Americans continue to support the broader purpose of education. That’s why students have always done far more in school than train for work.

“If Laurene Powell Jobs and her friends at XQ want an answer for why the Tesla and the smartphone haven’t transformed our schools, the simplest one is this: Our students don’t spend their days building cars and designing phones. Instead, they’re developing their full human potential, across a wide range of activities.”

It would have helped if anyone associated with the XQ project had any understanding of the history of American schools. They might have known of past attempts to redesign or reinvent the schools. I recall the first Bush administration’s $50 million project in 1991 to design “Break the Mold Schools.” Several teams won millions to create innovative models. Did you remember that? Neither does anyone else.