Thursday, July 11, 2013

Monday, July 8, 2013

Class Sizes Are Not The Only Things Growing

Corporate decisions are to families what a hurricane is to a growing tree. 

Perhaps you have seen that the latest jobs report came out.  Only 47% of adults are working full time.  
“The report, however, also provides clear evidence that the the nation is splitting into two; only 47% of Americans have a full-time job and those who don't are finding it increasingly out of reach.” 
If you are in the “middle” of your life, you probably know plenty of hard-working friends that in this past month have lost their jobs.  It's the end of the corporate quarter.  It’s reorganization time.  Out with the old, in with the new and the less expensive. 

And, the mantra has been that schools should be run like businesses.  However, in education, reorganization is called “reform.”

Reorganize... Reform, right?!  Good for the nation!  Good for the future!  Cut expenses, make money and it will all trickle down and water the trees.  Growth.

You have seen the growth:
  • Swelling tax loopholes (for large corporations, not average citizens) squeezing budgets into deficit.
  • Emerging markets and budding privatization schemes that transform public community resources into for-profit entities – all the while devouring taxpayer funds.
  • Advancing families as “human capital” and updating cheaper labor tactics.
  • Rising middle and lower class debt through pay-cuts and underemployment.
  • Prune more for growth and a better future

Do we really understand the kind of gale force winds that are stirring?  The kind of growth in wealth that is our country?  A Harvard business professor and economist, asked that very question.  You may find the answer and the reality a bit shocking:

In cash-strapped economic times, it is comforting to know that CEOs are shamelessly making 273 times the wages of the average worker yet blaming “greedy” teachers.  Even the New York Times Executive Pay Report details a 16% growth for CEOs these difficult economic times. 

Can we question why we have difficult economic times?  Why are these times so much more uncertain?  Here's a quick journey back in time to CEO vs. average worker salary ratios:

CEO to Average Worker
  • 1965:  20.1-to-1
  • 1978:  29.0-to-1
  • 1995:  122.6-to-1
  • 2000:  383.4-to-1 
  • 2012:  272.9-to-1, far higher than it was in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s.

The Economic Policy Institute report shows:
"From 1978 to 2012, CEO compensation measured with options realized increased about 875 percent, a rise more than double stock market growth and substantially greater than the painfully slow 5.4 percent growth in a typical worker’s compensation over the same period."

 Diane Ravitch points out:
Think how busy they must be outsourcing jobs to low-wage nations. Tough job, but someone has to do it.

So, growth is accepted everywhere.  CEO compensation… class sizes… underfunded school formulas… school closures... “experts”… overregulation…

Have you seen what else is growing?


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Surprising Truth: Does Merit Pay Encourage Motivation for Better Teaching?

There is an ideological belief that merit pay will do for the teaching profession what the bell did for Pavlov's salivating dog.  Teachers would dance remarkably better if the music was set to the tune of more money.

Of course, teachers should be compensated fairly for their education, skills, experience, wisdom and down-right hard work.  However, what is wrong with the thought that teachers should be incentivized?  Diane Ravitch writes:

Note that they assume that most people—in this case, teachers—are lazy and need a promise of dollars to be incentivized to get higher scores for their students. It never seems to occur to them that many people are doing their best (think people who play sports, always striving to do their best without any expectation of payment) and continue to do so because of intrinsic rewards or because of an innate desire to serve others. Teachers should certainly be well compensated, but not many enter the classroom with money as their primary motivation.

Many would argue that incentives are the way businesses are run and the same model would be beneficial to the ways schools should be run.  Professor Bruce Baker brings up a great point, here:

If rating teachers based on standardized test scores was such a brilliant revelation for improving the quality of the teacher workforce, if getting rid of tenure and firing more teachers was clearly the road to excellence, and if standardizing our curriculum and designing tests for each and every component of it were really the way forward, we’d expect to see these strategies all over the home pages of web sites of leading private independent schools, and we’d certainly expect to see these issues addressed throughout the pages of journals geared toward innovative school leaders, like Independent School Magazine.

So then, what is the philosophy taken by the elite schools - classrooms for children of reform sales-folk?  (Referenced in the Baker piece):
Independent schools are privileged. We do not have to respond to the whims of the state, nor to every or any educational trend. We can maximize our time attuned to students and how they learn, and to the development of curriculum that enriches them and encourages the skills and attitudes of independent thinkers.

Where would such a philosophy come from?  Legislation put forth by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC):

Private schools shall be accorded maximum flexibility to educate their students and shall be free from unnecessary, burdensome, or onerous regulation. 

Did you REALLY see that statement? from 
onerous regulation.  

OK.  Let's get back to the original curiosity...

How is it that merit pay does not work for in the field of education?  View this talk by Daniel Pink as he discusses for which type of work that merit pay will and will not work.  More importantly, pay attention to what really motivates people to work:

There is a long history of failed merit pay philosophy - since the 1920s, yet the Department of Education ignores the science and research.  As Diane Ravitch writes:

After a three-year trial, the researchers concluded that the teachers in the treatment group did not get better results than those in the control group, who were not in line to get a bonus. There was a gain for 5th graders in the treatment group, but it washed out in 6th grade.

Bottom line: Merit pay made no difference. Teachers were working as hard as they knew how, whether for a bonus or not.

But to what effect? The very next day after the release of the Nashville study, the U.S. Department of Education handed out many millions of dollars for merit-pay programs across the country and announced its intention to spend $1.2 billion on merit pay.

Ideology trumps evidence.

Or, what about this piece in the Harvard Business Review (HBR):

"A recent teacher-incentive program aimed at boosting student performance in New York City had no effect at all..."

Larry Ferlazzo references this quote from HBR:

So, just ask any good teacher this question:

Why did you want to become a teacher?
What is your motivation?

The answers will vary.
But at the core, the answer will resonate,
in the words of Steve Jobs:

"I want to put a ding in the universe."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Teacher Evaluation is Broken

You are hearing one side of the conversation on education reform.

Feel free to comment on ANY of your professional development insights.  While you are here, you may want to watch this video about a teacher in Delaware.

Let's get a conversation going about SGPs and SGOs - or any other concerns you have regarding corporate reform.  Add suggestions for action.  You can keep the conversation anonymous, if you prefer.


No Learning Without Feeling (repost)

Reposted from NY Times:

No Learning Without Feeling

Jon Han

  • SAVE
  • E-MAIL

“IT’S sad,” the kid at the far table told me, “but it’s my favorite poem we worked on.” He was talking about “The Weary Blues,” by Langston Hughes, and although his emotional language was rudimentary, his response was authentic. “So we should read literature that makes us sad?” I asked. He laughed. “Well, sadness, Ms. Hollander, is something people pretty much feel every day.” He looked up at me and smiled incredulously. The connection was obvious to him.

Related in Opinion

I like it when my students cry, when they read with solemnity and purpose, when the project of making meaning becomes personal. My middle school students turn again and again to highly charged young adult novels. The poems and stories they receive enthusiastically are the ones that pack the most emotional punch. Just as teens like to take physical risks, they are driven to take emotional risks. For teachers, emotion is our lever. The teen mind is our stone.
Put another way, emotion is the English teacher’s entry point for literary exploration and for the development of the high-level skills outlined in the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in 45 states. Unfortunately, the authors of the standards are not particularly interested in emotional risk taking but rather in the avoidance of political risk. It is a rather bloodless effort.
Agreement on the skills American schoolchildren need to learn to read and write is much easier to arrive at than agreement on what they should read and write. For this reason, the Common Core’s list of text exemplars for English at each grade level is slender, a few lines in an appendix, and centers on safe choices, like “Little Women,” a novel dismissed as “moral pap” by its author more than a century ago. The authors of the Common Core standards have, however, exhaustively itemized skills required for reading and writing at each grade level. There is so much fine print that even the young teachers I know now need reading glasses.
I spend hours with my teacher-geek colleagues poring over distinctions between Common Core grade-level skills that have little practical import in the classroom. As one of my colleagues pointed out, it is more of a challenge to avoid teaching the skills enumerated in the standards than it is to be certain you are covering them all.
Language skills as we define them are useful fictions. Many types of knowledge and cognitive functioning are embedded in every skill area, and many, if not all, of the standards merely translate the obvious requirements of English work into wordy abstractions. What does it really mean to “analyze the impact of the author’s choices”? What else is there? A real checklist of all that is involved in the act of reading would border on the absurd.
The truth is that high-stakes standardized tests, in combination with the skills-based orientation of the Common Core State Standards, are de-emphasizing literature in the English classroom in favor of “agnostic texts” of the sort familiar from test preparation materials. These are neutral texts created to be “agnostic” with regard to student interest so that outside variables won’t interfere when teachers assess and analyze data related to verbal ability. In other words, they are texts no child would choose to read on her own.
There are already hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit providers of “agnostic texts” sorted by grade level being used in English classrooms across the country. There is also a lot of discussion among teachers over whether lessons align well with the new standards, but far less discussion regarding which texts are being chosen for students to read and why. In a sense the students, with their curiosity, sadness, confusion and knowledge deficits, are left out of the equation. They are on the receiving end of lessons planned for a language-skills learning abstraction.
The writers of the Common Core had no intention of killing literature in the classroom. But the convenient fiction that yearly language learning can be precisely measured by various “metrics” is supplanting the importance of literary experience. The Common Core remains neutral on the question of whether my students should read Shakespeare, Salinger or a Ford owner’s manual, so long as the text remains “complex.”
New teachers may feel so overwhelmed by the itemization of skills in the Common Core that they will depend on prepared materials to ensure their students are getting the proper allotment of practice in answering “common core-aligned” questions like “analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure ... contributes to its meaning.” Does good literary analysis even answer such questions or does it pose them? Does it matter whether a question like this is tackled while reading an actual play, or will a short excerpt do the trick so long as the “skill” is practiced?
Language may compose who we are as much as we compose it. Language teaching, therefore, is unlike other content areas. Text selection is the most critical component of any English curriculum, but our educational leaders have avoided the discussion of what works of literature a national canon might include in favor of a curriculum that treats the study of literature as though it were a communication system unrelated to who we are as people.
My fear is that we cannot reckon with the difficult truths of real works of art, that the disturbance we feel when reading Alice Walker’s “Color Purple” is rated too disruptive to the analysis of student yearly progress to be read for a test. My suspicion is that the Common Core enumerates skills and not books because as a country we still feel that real works of art are too divisive. It is more comfortable to remain agnostic, to permit our teens to remain an education-product consumer group, fed skills-building exercises that help adults to avoid the hard truths our children have no choice but to face.
There are no agnostic texts on college campuses, but texts dense with philosophical, psychological and moral meaning. There are no state tests for college students. It is time to align our education system with college demands by opening a real discussion about what teens should read in middle school and high school. Tests given to adolescents need to be based on books students read in school.
Put this way, it sounds obvious, but it isn’t what we’re doing. Skills-based standards ignore the basic fact that language learning must occur in a meaningful context. The basis for higher-level learning — for philosophy, psychology, literature, even political science — is the emotions and impulses people feel every day. If we leave them out of the picture, reading is bled of much of its purpose.
Claire Needell Hollander is an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan and the author of the young adult novel “Something Right Behind Her.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Who’s Minding the Schools? (repost)

Repost from New York Times:


Who’s Minding the Schools?

Jon Han

IN April, some 1.2 million New York students took their first Common Core State Standards tests, which are supposed to assess their knowledge and thinking on topics such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and a single matrix equation in a vector variable.

Related in Opinion

Jon Han

Readers’ Comments

Students were charged with analyzing both fiction and nonfiction, not only through multiple-choice answers but also short essays. The mathematics portion of the test included complex equations and word problems not always included in students’ classroom curriculums. Indeed, the first wave of exams was so overwhelming for these young New Yorkers that some parentsrefused to let their children take the test.
These students, in grades 3 through 8, are taking part in what may be the most far-reaching experiment in American educational history. By the 2014-15 academic year, public schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia will administer Common Core tests to students of all ages. (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have so far held out; Minnesota will use only the Common Core English test.) Many Catholic schools have also decided to implement the Common Core standards; most private, nonreligious schools have concluded that the program isn’t for them.
Many of these “assessments,” as they are called, will be more rigorous than any in the past. Whether the Common Core is called a curriculum or not, there’s little doubt that teachers will feel pressured to gear much of their instruction to this annual regimen. In the coming years, test results are likely to affect decisions about grade promotion for students, teachers’ job status and school viability.
It is the uniformity of the exams and the skills ostensibly linked to them that appeal to the Core’s supporters, like Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Bill and Melinda Gates. They believe that tougher standards, and eventually higher standardized test scores, will make America more competitive in the global brain race. “If we’ve encouraged anything from Washington, it’s for states to set a high bar for what students should know to be able to do to compete in today’s global economy,” Mr. Duncan wrote to us in an e-mail.
But will national, ramped-up standards produce more successful students? Or will they result in unintended consequences for our educational system?
By definition, America has never had a national education policy; this has indeed contributed to our country’s ambivalence on the subject. As it stands, the Common Core is currently getting hit mainly from the right. Tea Party-like groups have been gaining traction in opposition to the program, arguing that it is another intrusion into the lives of ordinary Americans by a faceless elite. While we don’t often agree with the Tea Party, we’ve concluded that there’s more than a grain of truth to their concerns.
The anxiety that drives this criticism comes from the fact that a radical curriculum — one that has the potential to affect more than 50 million children and their parents — was introduced with hardly any public discussion. Americans know more about the events in Benghazi than they do about the Common Core.
WHAT became the Common Core began quite modestly. Several years ago, many organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, whose members are top-ranking state education officials, independently noticed that the content and scoring of high school “exit” tests varied widely between states. In 2006, for instance, 91 percent of students in Mississippi passed a mathematics exit exam on the first attempt, while only 65 percent did so in Arizona. At the same time, students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progressoften differed from the state results.
This was not just embarrassing: it looked unprofessional. The governors and the school chiefs decided to work together to create a single set of standards and a common grading criteria. Private funding, led by some $35 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, allowed the coalition to spread its wings. Aligning tests became an opportunity to specify what every American child should know.
In 2009, an education consultant named David Coleman was retained to help develop the program, and he and other experts ended up specifying, by our count, more than 1,300 skills and standards. Mr. Coleman, a Rhodes scholar and the son of Bennington College’s departing president, is known as a driven worker as well as for his distaste for personal memoir as a learning tool. Last year, he was selected to lead the College Board, which oversees A.P. exams and the SATs.
Of course, the 45 states that have decided to implement the Common Core did so willingly. While federal agencies did not have a role in the program’s creation, the Obama administration signaled to states in 2009 that they should embrace the standards if they hoped to win a grant through the federal program known as Race to the Top.
For all its impact, the Common Core is essentially an invisible empire. It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff. Its Web site lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number.
On its surface, the case for the Common Core is compelling. It is widely known that American students score well below their European and Asian peers in reading and math, an alarming shortfall in a competitive era. According to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, the United States ranks 24th out of 34 countries in “mathematics literacy,” trailing Sweden and the Czech Republic, and 11th in “reading literacy,” behind Estonia and Poland. (South Korea ranks first in both categories.) Under the Common Core, students in participating states will immediately face more demanding assignments. Supporters are confident that students will rise to these challenges and make up for our country’s lag in the global education race. We are not so sure.
Students in Kentucky were the first to undergo the Common Core’s testing regimen; the state adopted the standards in 2010. One year later, its students’ scores fell across the board by roughly a third in reading and math. Perhaps one cannot blame the students, or the teachers — who struggle to teach to the new, behemoth test that, in some cases,surpasses their curriculums — for the drop in scores.

Here’s one high school math standard: Represent addition, subtraction, multiplication, and conjugation of complex numbers geometrically on the complex plane; use properties of this representation for computation. Included on New York state’s suggested reading list for ninth graders are Doris Lessing, Albert Camus and Rainer Maria Rilke. (In many parts of the country, Kurt Vonnegut and Harper Lee remain the usual fare.)
More affluent students, as always, will have parental support. Private tutoring, already a growth industry, will become more important if passing scores on the Common Core are required for graduation. Despite worthy aims, the new standards may well deepen the nation’s social divide.
The Common Core is not oblique in its aim: to instill “college and career readiness” in every American teenager — in theory, a highly democratic ideal. In the past, students were unabashedly tracked, which usually placed middle-class students in academic courses and their working-class peers in vocational programs. New York City had high schools for cooking, printing and needle trades. (There was even one in Brooklyn called Manual Training.) Indeed, the aim of these schools was to prepare a slice of society for blue-collar life. Since the 1960s, this has been seen as undemocratic. Today, students are typically required to take algebra, so they will have more options upon graduation (should they graduate). The irony — and tragedy — is that students who don’t surmount these hurdles now fall even further.
Already, almost one-quarter of young Americans do not finish high school. In Utah and Oklahoma, roughly 20 percent don’t; the proportion rises to 32 percent in South Carolina and 42 percent in Nevada. What does the Common Core offer these students?
The answer is simple. “College and career skills are the same,” Ken Wagner, New York State’s associate commissioner of education for curriculum, assessment and educational technology, told us. The presumption is that the kind of “critical thinking” taught in classrooms — and tested by the Common Core — improves job performance, whether it’s driving a bus or performing neurosurgery. But Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, calls the Common Core a “one-size-fits-all pathway governed by abstract academic content.”
IN sum, the Common Core takes as its model schools from which most students go on to selective colleges. Is this really a level playing field? Or has the game been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail?
Debate is now stirring within partisan circles. Glenn Beck sees the Common Core as “leftist indoctrination.” The Republican National Committee calls it “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Republican governors and legislators in Indiana, Kansas, Georgia and several other states are talking about reconsidering their participation. Yet conservative scholars at the Manhattan and Fordham institutes laud it as promising “a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K-12 education.” Some corporate C.E.O.’s favor it because they say it will upgrade the work force. Mr. Duncan is one of the lone liberal voices in support of the program. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, supports the plan, which she calls “revolutionary.” That said, she has called for a moratorium on judging teachers and schools by the first round of assessments, which she fears are sometimes being implemented hastily and without needed support.
For Diane Ravitch, a historian of education and former assistant education secretary, the program is predicated on “the idea that you can’t trust teachers.” If we want our children taught from standardized scripts, she told us, let’s say so and accept the consequences.
For our part, we’re tired of seeing teachers cast as scapegoats, of all the carping over unions and tenure. It is time teachers are as revered in society as doctors or scientists, and allowed to work professionally without being bound by reams of rules.
Still, there’s an upside to the Common Core’s arrival. As the public better appreciates its sweep, there is likely to be much discussion about schools and what we want them to do. Ideally, this will involve a reconsideration of the contours of knowledge and the question of how we can become a better-educated nation.

Andrew Hacker is an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York. Claudia Dreifus is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. They are working on a book about mathematics.