Feb 27, 2012

DRIVEL: Raising the Bar

I mowed the lawn this afternoon. It was overrun with wild flowers or weeds or green alien lifeforms, and, honestly, I spent an unreasonable amount of time avoiding the chore. Don't get me wrong--I enjoy mowing, but I didn't want to do it in February! 

None of that is important. 

While I mowed, I thought of tomorrow's lesson and ideas for next year. I think we need to raise the bar. I know we are hard-working and spend many hours planning, grading, and thinking. We also spend a great deal of time complaining and making excuses. If we're not pushing ourselves, we'll sputter and stall.

Unless our decision-makers engineer respect and prestige, we'll need another plan. To many people, we are disposable punching bags. We need to make ourselves invaluable.

For the last two years, I've made a point to incorporate stations into my math class. Rather than invent my own activities, I search for them all over the web. Too often, the "activities" are worksheets. Do they have their place? Of course. But I shouldn't find so many of them when searching for activities, centers, and stations. That's a low bar.

On the road to invaluableness, we need to start small. Use as many worksheets as you deem necessary, but don't use them for grades. Unless they ask higher-order questions, use them to improve skills or build knowledge, but assess them with rigorous methods. 

Cut out participation grades. Frankly, they're empty and meaningless. Unless it's optional in your class, participation is usually compulsory--rewarding it seems silly. There's value in experience, but it doesn't need a number grade. Or, find a way to assess it.

For now, I'll mention one more thing: questions. More than anything else in my class, I believe higher-order questions make the biggest difference. In lessons and on assignments, we need to incorporate tough questions. Also, don't answer questions. It's popular to say that there are no dumb questions. That's crap. There are so many dumb questions--all day long. Let them find their own answers. I'm a teacher, not an answer... er. Or something.

Feb 23, 2012

SITE: The Math Worksheet Site

Make your own worksheets. Well, make your own math worksheets, I mean.

Write it on your communicator: The Math Worksheet Site.

Feb 20, 2012

SITE: Tagul

This is like Wordle, a word cloud generator. With Tagul, though, your word cloud can take shape. Check out the gallery.

Write it on your communicator: Tagul.com.

SITE: Education.com

I have two words for you. Free. Stuff.

Write it on your communicator: Education.com.

Feb 19, 2012

ARTICLE: Value-Added

Don't Like Value-Added? Cool. So Pick Your Poison

This article is a nice summary of methods used for performance ratings--it explains choice-based accountability, peer review, parental feedback, and others. You know, I don't mind value-added. It's a ridiculous notion to use it when deciding job security or salary. There are just too many factors affecting student success. I wouldn't mind it being a part of my evaluation, though. Teachers account for approximately 10-20% of achievement outcomes, but we never get to see that. We suspect it, but we never see the numbers on it.

"What they're ultimately rejecting is not just the tool of value-added but the notion that public educators who are paid with public funds to serve the public's children ought to be responsible for how well they do their jobs. And I, along with the 'reform' community, find that an unacceptable stance... Bottom line: It's fair to note the limits of value-added and insist that this crude tool not be overused. It's also fair to critique and reject any of these other approaches in isolation. But serious critics can't serially reject every means of accountability without ever putting forward an actionable alternative. That adds up to nothing more than a recipe for public sector entitlement."

ARTICLE: Teacher Merit Pay

As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’

“'Rewards are very effective for some things — simple things, mechanical things,' he explains. 'But for complicated jobs that require judgment and creativity, the evidence shows that it just doesn’t work very well.' Teaching, of course, is one of those jobs."

ARTICLE: A Ravitch Review

The Myth of Charter Schools

"Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?"

"Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores. He shows us footage of the pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, to the amazement of people who said it couldn’t be done. Since Yeager broke the sound barrier, we should be prepared to believe that able teachers are all it takes to overcome the disadvantages of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, poor nutrition, absent parents, etc."

"Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools... But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income."

"The film never acknowledges that charter schools were created mainly at the instigation of Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997. Shanker had the idea in 1988 that a group of public school teachers would ask their colleagues for permission to create a small school that would focus on the neediest students, those who had dropped out and those who were disengaged from school and likely to drop out. He sold the idea as a way to open schools that would collaborate with public schools and help motivate disengaged students. In 1993, Shanker turned against the charter school idea when he realized that for-profit organizations saw it as a business opportunity and were advancing an agenda of school privatization."

"While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force. His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students. Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers. It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5–10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. Finland has a national curriculum, which is not restricted to the basic skills of reading and math, but includes the arts, sciences, history, foreign languages, and other subjects that are essential to a good, rounded education. Finland also strengthened its social welfare programs for children and families"

Dr. Ravitch has much more to say. It's a meaningful article. If you haven't read The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I strongly recommend it.

ARTICLE: Ridiculous Fines

Charter School Collecting Steep Disciplinary Fines From Low-Income Families: Report

"An alternative school program championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel is drawing ire from students and parents for collecting nearly $390,000 in disciplinary fines from low-income students for minor infractions like chewing gum or failing to make eye contact with teachers."

Unethical. Children are children. They will chew gum and act out. Those parents desperately believe that the charter school is a chance for their children to escape poverty and find success, so they find the money and pay the outrageous fines. It's absolutely shameful.

Feb 18, 2012

ARTICLE: Standardized Hazing

How Would You Do on a Standardized Test?

Rich Roach, a school board member from Florida, took the 10th grade standardized test. He's a business man with several degrees and experience in the classroom. On the Reading section, he scored a D, and he correctly answered 10 of 60 questions on the Math section. He said, "A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took." 

"Roach suggests that the tests are being created by for-profit entities with very little accountability or perspective. 'There’s a concept called reverse design that is critical,' he said. 'We are violating that with our test. Instead of connecting what we learn in school with being successful in the real world, we are doing it in reverse. We are testing first and then kids go into the real world. Whether the information they have learned is important or not becomes secondary.'”

I remember taking a test as a kid. It was long and boring, but I never felt nervous or worried. Now, it just seems like the state is trying to prove something. Why can't a test simply assess the objectives? Why is it necessary to bury the objectives under a pile of convolution, secrecy, and threats? It says something important when a successful businessman, a member of the real world, questions the validity of the test. 

Whether the FCAT from Florida or the STAAR from Texas, arrogant decision-makers are relentlessly hazing kids before they can enter the fraternity of promotion.

VIDEO: Arne Duncan, part 3

VIDEO: Arne Duncan, part 2

VIDEO: Arne Duncan, part 1

Feb 16, 2012


The next Race to the Top? Arne Duncan outlines vision for teacher reform

Teachers, you must read this article. If you go on to read the comments, you too may become skeptical, but, at last, we're hearing the right things. There's a degree of hope. It may never happen in its present form or it won't happen for many years, but there's hope. Now, we need to see Mr. Duncan on every show on every channel, preaching this message.

I don't want to say too much or add sections to my blog. Read the article.

Feb 14, 2012

ARTICLE: NY Teacher Ratings

City to Release Teacher Ratings After Union Loses Suit

After many news agencies asked for the publicizing of teacher ratings, the state agreed! What good could come from this? Like standardized tests, evaluations are meant to guide or improve instruction. If a teacher receives a series of negative evaluations, consequences are perfectly natural. Frankly, crappy teachers should be fired. This has nothing to do with that. Releasing teacher ratings to the public will only lead to embarrassment, disrespect, and second-guesses. Honestly, though, I'm off-topic. We're not talking about evaluations at all--this article is about the Teacher Data Reports, which is based on student test scores... only. Yeah, that's a great idea--release those ratings.

From the comments: 

Leonie Haimsom: Can you think of any other employees, from the public or private sectors, who have ever had been subject to having their job evaluations printed in the newspaper? Yet another method to further undermine teacher morale. Charter school teachers are not subject, of course, to this unreliable and damaging teacher evaluation system; which is probably the reason that DFER, the charter lobby, and the corporate reformers have all pushed so hard on this new system: yet another way to favor the charter sector and weaken our public schools. Punitive and destructive “accountability” systems for everyone but themselves.

Feb 12, 2012

ARTICLE: Lessons from Finland

Finland Schools' Success Story: Lessons Shared At California Forum

I know, I know, I keep talking about Finland. I just appreciate their desire for success. They made an intelligent plan, understood it was a lengthy process, and stayed committed to the dream. In addition to international success, everyone (teachers, students, parents, community) has bought into the system. 

"Among the oft-repeated differences between the two countries: Finland's teachers spend fewer hours in the classroom and are among the most-respected, highly credentialed professionals in the country. Unlike the U.S., where the results of near-annual standardized tests under the No Child Left Behind Act call the shots, the Finns have only one mandatory -- albeit lengthy, high-stakes and rigorous -- standardized test at the end of high school. Finnish schools provide universal health care to children on the ground that being healthy is a prerequisite for learning."

ARTICLE: Accountability Systems

The Problem With School Accountability Systems

This article was written by Dr. Thomas W. Payzant, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"The problem starts with the mistaken idea that assessment drives results. Viable accountability systems must first build capacity to improve teacher and school leader effectiveness. In seminal school reform research, Anthony Bryk and his colleagues at the Consortium on Chicago School Research liken "turning around" troubled schools to baking a cake -- five key ingredients, including school leadership and quality instruction, must interact to enable real, sustained progress. Using test results to drive teacher and leader effectiveness is akin to poking the raw batter with a toothpick. Which is why it hasn't worked and is not going to."

Be sure to read the rest of the article. It's interesting to see educated opinions from prestigious institutions. Also, it's unfortunate that educated opinions aren't influencing our nation's education system. The gut feelings of politicians and the public seem to be enough.

Feb 11, 2012

SITE: Lunapic

In Social Studies, we're working on an American Revolution project--a comic book. I considered having the students draw pictures, scan them, and add them to PowerPoint. That would require lots of time and lots of pictures, so I thought of something else. The students will download photos (morguefile, flickr, etc.). In PowerPoint, we will set up the photos like comic book panels, but not before running them through Lunapic. Whether at home or in school, this editor has lots of effects for your photos.

Write it on your communicator: Lunapic.

COMIC: Any Questions?

Write it on your communicatorA Teachable Moment #26.

Feb 10, 2012

SITE: Clutter-Free Classroom

Whether I'm hunting around on Pinterest or other sites, this one keeps popping up.

Write it on your communicator: Clutter-Free Classroom.

SITE: The Teachers Corner

This site doesn't go on and on like some, but it has a few cool things: crossword puzzle generator, word search maker, cloze sentences, brain teasers, sudoku puzzles, word scrambles, maze maker, printable maps, etc.

Write it on your communicator: The Teachers Corner.

SITE: Better Lesson

Free lessons and materials from real teachers.

Write it on your communicator: Better Lesson.

SITE: Edutopia

I haven't read much, yet. But, this site looks promising. The topics are relevant. Here's a few...

Lessons from a Public School Turnaround
This middle school is rebuilding itself by using research-based teaching strategies.

Differentiated Instruction: Fast Track to the Top
Mesquite Elementary mixes teacher collaboration with differentiated instruction.

How to Improve Each Other's Game
A team of high school math teachers have struck upon a formula to improve their practice and increase student achievement.

Multiple Intelligences Leave No Child Behind
A K-12 school struggles to keep instruction personalized in an era of standardization.

How to Assess Learning Authentically
A guide to better understand the many ways you can assess student learning. 

Write it on your communicator: Edutopia.


Diane Ravitch: Education has become search and destroy mission and teachers are often the targets

I'm going to begin with a comment.

Political Spectator: She is a smart lady. It has not taken her this long to figure out standardized testing is overuse and it stifles creativity. The difference is a Democrat is in office. Before you drink from Ms. Ravitch’s Kool Aid, understand that her views are subject to change when the politics change.

I'm not going to criticize Political Spectator's opinion--I, too, am a cynic. Given the research that Dr. Ravitch had conducted and compiled, though, I think something natural has happened: The research forced a change in her viewpoints. Frankly, that should happen throughout academia. 

"A longtime critic of education fads, Ravitch says that at first she didn’t realize that No Child Left Behind was just another of those fads... She also identifies two other fads — choice and charter schools — that will also fail to create lasting improvement in schools... Merit pay, another education fad, also draws her disapproval. In her view, it has not improved student performance and has become another way to beat up on teachers..."

These fads aren't parachute pants, Members Only jackets, and skinny ties. They are wasting time and preventing us from designing an education system that works. 

Feb 9, 2012


In Texas, a Backlash Against Student Testing

"One day, when he was bored in class, Christopher broke a pencil eraser off in his ear canal. It was the tipping point for Chamness, a former teacher, and she asked to observe his Austin elementary school classroom. What she saw was a “work sheet distribution center” aimed at preparing students for the yearly assessments that they begin in third grade and that school districts depend upon for their accountability ratings. Now, with Christopher in fourth grade, Chamness will take a more drastic step: She intends to pull him out of standardized testing altogether this spring, in protest of the system that she said had sapped her son’s love of learning."


"In a high-level turnaround, Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, said Tuesday that student testing in the state had become a “perversion of its original intent” and that he looked forward to “reeling it back” in the future." 

He sees the light after spending $90,665,041.00 for the STAAR. I think "in the future" won't happen for a long, long time.

ARTICLE: Value-Added

Tennessee Teacher Evaluations: Using Value-Added Analysis

"To close the achievement gap between poor and affluent students in Tennessee, some students may need to learn at double the rate of their high-performing peers, according to Tennessee Department of Education materials."

So, to this point, they haven't kept up at the same or slower rate, but the Tennessee teachers should pick it up anyway. Maybe they could teach twice as fast.

"In Tennessee, 45 percent of teachers teach in subjects with standardized tests, and for more than a decade, Tennessee has rated these teachers using their students' progress on the tests. School officials use complex statistics to predict how individual students will perform, based on their past scores."

I'm torn on value-added predictions. On one hand, I think it could show that teachers are making a difference--even in low-performing schools. At the same time, it could point to the teachers that need to pick up the pace. On the other hand, these complex statistics are just numbers. An arbitrary set of numbers. It's impossible for those numbers to represent everything that contributes to growth. If a student's parents divorced during the year, would the complex statistics take that into account?

"The 55 percent of teachers who don't teach in subjects with standardized tests will be rated based on the test-score ratings of other teachers in their schools."

Oh, yeah, no problem there. No anxiety. No resentment. No pressure. The perfect plan.

ARTICLE: Money and Scores

Michigan Education Funding: Gov. Rick Snyder's Budget Ties School Money To Test Scores 

"The education money would be divvied up based on district performance, not individual schools. Districts would get a share of the money if their third- through eighth-graders have shown a year's worth of learning in reading or math, or have acquired above-average knowledge in several subjects over a four-year period... 'Putting a fraction of that $1 billion back into schools doesn't fix the problems that such a massive cut caused last year. It only continues to enrich the corporate special interests who benefited from the $1.8 billion tax cut that the education cuts enabled,' Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook said in a statement."

To me, this illustrates three things. First, the decision-makers have no idea how to fix education. None. They make decisions based on their flawed theories and dice-rolls. Unfortunately, they're crippled by a lack of imagination, idiot advisers, or the inability to read--they truly believe that money is the answer. You're not doing well--we take money. You're doing well--we give money.

Second, if a teacher or school or district shows improvement or success, why do they need the money? If the money goes into the pockets of the teachers, I say, great. But it won't. This is highly disrespectful. Teachers and district, you're not doing very well, so we'll bribe you to do better. Your students won't find success because of your hard work or love of children or personal goals. It's going to take cold hard cash and greed.

Finally, I think low-performing schools need money. Not money that the teachers can waste on floor chairs, personal iPads, or incentives. They should hire more teachers or teacher assistants. Small classes would allow the teachers to spend more time with each student and  teacher assistants could handle the grunt work, allowing teachers to focus on teaching. They need the money now. I've worked at a low-performing school--how stupid of them to think that teachers are just horsing-around and need this kind of incentive to work harder.

Feb 5, 2012

SITE: Khan Academy

Forget the movie stars and professional athletes. This guy should be making millions. He's wicked smart, could be making a bundle working at a firm or research facility or wherever rich people work, but, here he is, making videos for other people. History. Algebra. Physics. Calculus. Astronomy. Finance. Statistics. And more. I know, those are pretty easy topics. I wish he was around when I took Physics and Statistics, two topics that punched me in the face. I've used his videos in my class--they're colorful and interesting--attention grabbers.

Write it on your communicator: Khan Academy.

Feb 3, 2012

Feb 2, 2012

ARTICLE: Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day Candy Banned By Horace Mann School In Massachusetts

"[T]he elementary school's principal has suggested handing out origami instead of sugary treats..."

That can't possibly taste as good.

"Back in December, a Florida 10-year-old was arrested and charged with battery after allegedly attacking her teacher when the educator confiscated the student's halloween candy."

I feel the same way when my wife steals a drink from my Dr. Pepper.

From the comments...
Dancenownzen: TECHNICALLY since it is ST Valentines day the school should not allow CANDY or any celebrator­y activity ST VALANTINE ST PATRICK CHRISTMAS EASTER keep religion and anything linked to it OUT OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS 

Good point. I don't think we needed all of the capital letters, but good point. Can't have teachers promoting the Christian principles of chocolate and little heart candies. Since Valentine's Day--nay, St. Valentine's Day--is on Tuesday, I wonder if my church is having an evening service.

ARTICLE: Biblical Principle

Shadrack McGill, Alabama State Senator, Says Keeping Teacher Pay Low 'A Biblical Principle' 

"'Teachers need to make the money that they need to make,' McGill said, according to the Times-Journal. 'If you double a teacher's pay scale, you'll attract people who aren't called to teach ... and these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It's just in them to do. It's the ability that God give 'em.'"

In case you missed the context clues, Senator McGill is a republican. And an idiot if he thinks anyone is buying that crap.

ARTICLE: Charter Schools

What Happens to the Kids When Charter Schools Fail?

Unintentionally, this article makes a point about choice and charter schools. Parents want to make the best choices for their children, but, blindly attracted to charter schools, they're quick to abandon public schools. The subject of this article, a mom, enrolled her daughter in a charter school, witnessed small classes and caring attitudes, and felt satisfied with her decision. Unfortunately, the charter school was, according to the state's ratings, unsuccessful.  

First, a charter school is simply another school. You can pack it full of ineffective teachers and ignorant administrators. If you open a charter school using invented theories and lack of research, it will not prosper. My wife wanted to enroll our daughter in a brand new charter school because, she assumed, it would have smaller classes and other charter school benefits. In a mild rage, I declared that we know nothing about the teachers or philosophy. Who cares about class size?! Japan has huge classes--they handle it just fine. She won't learn in a small class led by an idiot.

Also, it's silly to assume that a caring atmosphere was translating into learning. The sweetest teacher with the best intentions can prove ineffective. And, to complicate things further, a caring, effective teacher is still dealing with children, small humans with personalities, issues, and preferences.

Charter School Controversy -- A Look at the Numbers

This article has interesting data, but I want to offer one of the comments.

SarahC: The larger controversy is whether parents can distinguish between good schools and bad ones well enough to make wise AND tax-payer supported choices for their children. After all, we may agree that parents have the right to treat their cancer-stricken child with herbs from the Amazon, but neither private insurance nor Medicare will pay to send the child to Brazil to get them. The article by Ms Butrymowicz suggests once again that parents have trouble making those distinctions

I thought that was a clever analogy.
New Grades On Charter Schools
"The study found that, in general, students at charter-network schools outperform similar students at traditional public schools, although sometimes not by very much. But that overall average masks an enormous variation among different CMOs. High-performing CMOs are so effective they are providing the equivalent of three years of schooling for students every two years. But CMOs at the low end are so bad they are effectively costing students a year of learning every two years. Bottom line: 10 of the 22 CMOs are outperforming their public-school peers in math and reading, in some cases substantially; eight are middling; and four are serious laggards."

Obviously, this is a small sample of the national collection of charter schools. I can't help but notice, though, that the results are mixed and unconvincing. Why aren't charter schools revolutionizing the American education system with success across the board? Education is more than a name. Beyond all doubt, I believe that a school is successful when its teachers are well-trained, respected, and free to make decisions. That can happen at a charter school or a public school.

Ultimately, I think the debate of public school vs. charter school is distracting us from a larger issue. The United States of America is average and falling. The very nature of our education system is crippling. Even the most successful charter school is simply a bandage on a fractured limb.