Entries Tagged 'Teacher Reads' ↓

Why can’t teachers improve public education?

The elephant in the room of school improvement discussions is the educatedness of the teaching force. During their own school-going days, teachers were taught to be understanding, strong, and generous. Unfortunately, they were also taught to be unimaginative, fearful of truth, and proud. Therefore, even with new technologies, teaching materials and opportunities, teachers lack the imagination, courage, and humility needed to create richer classroom experiences.

You can’t see this, however, if your definition of “educated” is being knowledgeable and skillful, or having college degrees. All recommendations for improving education are rooted in the definition of “educated.” Are teachers asking what it means to be educated in their public school or school of choice? Are parents asking what it means to be educated when they choose a school?

Oh — I forgot — that would require imagination, strength and humility. If we mix metaphors here, we have a Catch-22. Those who want to improve America’s public schools lack the virtues needed to improve them because they attended them. That is a large elephant.

Science that really matters

When educators make sure the “science” part of STEM focuses on building a healthier, more physically fit society, I will be its biggest proponent. Here is the plan:

  1. School boards establish standards for the improvement of health and fitness of its middle and high school graduates.
  2. Schools, teachers and students are rewarded for meeting or exceeding the health and fitness standards set for them. And, of course, they are punished for failing to meet them.

Students are taught the science behind all aspects of healthy living — diet, exercise, leisure, bio-metrics, and fitness. And their learning is evaluated by their health and fitness results. Naturally, everybody would work with Physical Education teachers to improve student health and fitness; which is, by far, the most important science related to the science portion of STEM.

Until then, public education’s emphasis on ScienceTEM is just more learning of unimportant facts. We teach enough of those already.

 

Losing the war? It’s our own fault. Part 2

If you want more proof that privatizers are winning the school reform war, just look at this paragraph from an article in the New York Times about a criminal investigation of school district employees in Montclair, New Jersey (the nature of the investigation is not pertinent to this blog):

Many battles have been fought in recent years between education reformers — who generally favor high-stakes testing and the data-based evaluation of teachers — and those with a more progressive approach to schooling. But nowhere, it seems, is the fight more pitched than in this liberal, diverse township of nearly 38,000 about 20 miles from New York City.

Look at the first sentence. The position of privatizers is clear — they “generally favor high-stakes testing and the data-based evaluation of teachers.” Who can argue with that? Privatizers win because their argument is simple and clear.

Hey Progressives! What is our succinct, clear explanation of, “a more progressive approach to schooling?”

For more on this topic, go to Losing the War, Part 1.

It’s social science, not science

The internet headline reads:

Science says parents of successful kids have these 11 things in common

Let’s go over this one more time:

  1. “Science says” does not mean a study found cause and effect. It means a social scientific study found correlations.
  2. “successful kids” means what the study says it means – nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, the findings (11 things) depend 100% on the study’s definition of “successful.” We don’t know how much they pertain to your personal definition of “successful.”
  3. “these 11 things in common” – If you have worldly experience, you don’t need to read them. If you have no worldly experience, you don’t need to read them either. You need to get some worldly experience.

Update

In case the point about social science research is not obvious, here is the first paragraph from Does Your Child’s Name Influence Whether They Grow Up to Be Smart?

Want to give your baby a head start on becoming a genius? You might want to consider nixing those unique, hipster baby names from your list. Genealogy research website MooseRoots compiled the names of nearly 15,000 philosophers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, inventors, artists, composers, Nobel laureates and MacArthur fellows to make up a list of the most common names of geniuses — and none were the kind of trendy names celeb babies have been given recently.
Of course the answer to the headline question is, “No.” As I finished reading, however, the real purpose of this “research” was clear. The last paragraph has links to websites (which I removed).
If these names don’t exactly appeal to your sensibilities, you could always look at new baby-naming trends, most popular baby names around the world, most popular baby names by decade or baby names inspired by global cities for more ideas!
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Just follow the money.

Charters and REAL public schools

Ms. Mamie Hall is a former North Carolina public school teacher, now teaching in a North Carolina charter school. Her commentary was published November 5, 2015.

Dear Ms. Hall:

The last paragraph of your News and Observer commentary said, “My hope is that we can break down the current barriers that exist between large district(s) and charters, learn from each other . . .”

As you wrote earlier in your commentary, charter schools are incubators of innovation, so we know public schools are supposed to learn from charters. That is why I was intrigued by your other idea–that charter schools should learn from public school districts. Since you offered no suggestions for what that learning might be, here are mine:

  1. Charters should learn that REAL American public schools stand for equal educational opportunity (EEO). The history of American public education is the story of the struggle to provide EEO to all students, including African Americans (Brown V. Board of Education), females (Title IX), and students with disabilities (Public Law 94-142). The equal educational opportunity ideal is expressed in the North Carolina constitution, and the constitutions of most states. North Carolina public schools are beautiful places for young people because of the educators committed to that ideal. So, charters should learn that, if they want to be REAL public schools, and if they want to join the ranks of beautiful North Carolina public schools, they must also stand for EEO.
  2. Luckily, there is an easy and productive way for charters to do that. Let’s just pick a number — let’s say for every 20 students a charter takes from a public school district’s attendance area, the public school gets to identify one student to be enrolled in the charter school.

School districts and charters can negotiate whether the ratio should be one public school student for every 10, 20, 30, or 40 public school transfers. Whatever number triggers a charter school enrollment for a public school student, we know the public school district will send the student most in need of the community structure that makes charter schools special.

Everybody wins. Charter schools becomes REAL public schools. A public school student in need of a community of educators and learners gets to enroll in a charter school. And public schools learn they should be more communitarian and less bureaucratic.

Our best public school districts already know that, which your commentary described when you recalled working in one of North Carolina’s REAL public schools.

Vouchers in North Carolina

In summer, 1978, I was studying educational administration at the University of Wisconsin. I was the only student in my law class who had grown up in Catholic schools, so I wrote my term paper on the emerging idea of vouchers for parents of parochial school children. I made a case against vouchers for two reasons.

First, vouchers would entangle church and state. Giving tax payer money for a special purpose requires state oversight, so church-state entanglement was unavoidable.

Second, I wrote that parochial schools wanting vouchers did not understand what they wished for. Their schools are the education arms of their communities. No matter how minimal the strings attached to vouchers, anything that got in the way of community control violated the essence of a parochial education, which is community control.

In summary, my paper pointed to two principles of American democratic governance: (1) stay out of religious matters, (2) oversee use of public funds. At that time I could not see 35 years into the future, when the North Carolina legislature would toss aside both principles without debate.

 

 

Capitalists and school administrators

Providers of educational training and materials sell products. I understand that. They are businesses.

What I don’t understand is how educational administrators know what to purchase without a definition of what it means to be educated? For example, here is an Education Week advertisement for “The Evolving Role of the School Leader” (a free webinar on March 19, 2015):

The role of the school leader has never been more important or more challenging . . . Successful principals embrace and fully understand the vision and direction of the system, empower staff to collaboratively raise the achievement of all students, and build the instructional focus at every level of the organization.

How do educators know if this webinar is worth their time, if they don’t have a clear definition of what it means to be educated? Without a clear definition, how does anyone know if the webinar is worth their time?

According to the first sentence, school leadership is important and difficult. According to the last sentence, it involves: (1) understanding the system’s mission, (2) empowering staff to raise student achievement (which really means test scores), (3) building an instructional focus into every level of the organization (which really means emphasizing higher test scores).

But there is more to be learned, so administrators should attend the webinar to discover the rest. Providers of training and  materials make money by convincing administrators that their work is difficult AND complicated. In this case, practicing administrators should hear the lessons learned by others who accomplished difficult things in their schools.

So, the advertisement goes on:

Join Phee Simpson, Mike Oliver, and Sue Gendron (moderator) in a discussion of successful school leadership and Q&A centered on the challenges they have faced and the solutions they have implemented in their schools.

I did not attend, but I know what they said. They described difficult situations created by ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride and selfishness. Then they described how understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility and generosity made things better.

In spite of what providers of goods and services tell administrators, leading schools is difficult, but it is not complicated or expensive.

The art of singing (and teaching)

Harrison Craig was a contestant on “The Voice”– Australia. Before his performance, he said,

What I feel that I have to do is pour my heart and soul into that song — make the coaches hear what I am feeling (2-minute mark on the video).

That is the best definition, ever, of the art of teaching.

But if you just want to hear something beautiful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-3lpscXPrw

At the 5:03 mark, about Harrison’s voice, Seal said, “That is a gift, brother.”

I love irony.

 

Although I am right, I am irrelevant

Richard Elmore recently edited a book entitled, I used to think, and now I think. Twenty well known educators wrote essays on this topic. I was struck by the ridiculousness of what they used to think, and the common sense of what they now think. In other words, they used to think what they were taught within the social science paradigm for school improvement. Now they simply use common sense and experience, when they look at school improvement.

Here is my personal IUTTANIT:

Like many education professors, I used to believe:

  1. Good teaching cannot be defined, so we describe it in hundreds of ways, hoping aspiring teachers learn something from those descriptions.
  2. Good teaching produces test scores that are better than the ones students would have gotten with less “effective” teaching. (Teaching is an applied social science.)
  3. Teachers should be held accountable for the development of student knowledge and skill. Student test scores are the bottom line.
  4. Our beliefs about education should be based on “research-based” facts and reason because those are the “best” beliefs.

Now that I am wiser, I believe the opposite:

  1. Good teaching can be defined. A definition says what something always is and what it never is. Good teaching always involves understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. It never involves ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride, or selfishness. It is difficult to be a good teacher, but it is not complicated.
  2. Good teaching starts with teacher appreciation for the subject and students. It ends with student appreciation for the lessons and teacher. (Teaching is an art.)
  3. Knowledge and skills are not “measured” by standardized tests. Test results are not points on a ruler, they are like light switches that are either “on” or “off.” Therefore, teachers should be held accountable for modeling and teaching the six virtues that lead to knowledge and skills. They are easy to observe. No standardized tests needed.
  4. Beliefs are based on experiences, not facts and reason. All of us “just believe” many things. An example is those who just believe that “beliefs should be based on facts and reason.”

Nobody believes what I believe. So, although I am right, I am irrelevant.  I love irony.

“Rotten Apples” and TIME

Dear Defenders of Public Education:

Get a grip. Outrage over the TIME magazine cover (November 2, 2014) reveals your ignorance of American capitalism. Describing teachers as “Rotten Apples” on the cover is meant to sell magazines — nothing more, nothing less. The real article headline (pp. 34-35) is “Taking on Teacher Tenure,” which is placed under a picture of three good apples and a rotten one.

Today’s lesson on the chalkboard as you enter the classroom:

Examples of Partial Truths

1. Teachers are rotten.

2. The percentage is 25%.

When it comes to magazine covers and graphics, partial truths are good enough, just as they are in all forms of advertising/marketing/promotion. “Rotten Apples” is a partial truth because, although it is not true that a high percentage of teachers are rotten, some teachers are. Using an illustration that says the ratio is one in four is also a partial truth because the actual percentage depends on the definition of “rotten.” Few people believe 25% of teachers are “rotten,” (as that word is commonly used), but some believe at least one out of every four teachers is “rotten.” There you have it — partial truth. We can’t know the actual percentage, and some people believe it is at least 25%.

Instead of outrage, do your job. Teach young people how our society works by helping them understand partial truths in advertising/marketing/promotion. Examples are all around them.