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.

 

 

Defining “effective” teachers

For three reasons I was drawn to the article, “For better North Carolina schools, link teacher pay to effectiveness.

  1. I want better NC schools.
  2. Paying higher salaries to “effective” teachers is a good idea (if it can be done).
  3. It can be done only if we define “effective” teaching.

We all want #s 1 & 2. The hard part is #3. It is not enough to describe “effective” teaching. Paying higher salaries for all those descriptions would increase spending, not keep it the same or lower it. Continue reading →

Are they smart or not smart?

A school board member wrote an email to his friend about taking the Florida tenth grade standardized test:

I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

The friend is Marion Brady, who wrote the blog (updated by Valerie Strauss). Continue reading →

Poll: “Parents back standardized tests”

When pollsters question people who know very little about the topic of the poll, we say they are polling an “uninformed population.” This poll is an example.  Although parents don’t know the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests, and they don’t know why we give the first and not the second, they “back standardized tests.”

From hearing policy makers talk about test scores, I already know uninformed people back standardized tests. I love irony.

 

Letter to teacher (also my student)

Dear Mary,

You mentioned a highly successful program in your school (brain-based ways to teach letter patterns and phonics). I believe you say it was successful because student reading scores went up. Is that right? Continue reading →

Who is responsible for wasted $1 million?

I love these stories about bad teachers (story available but not video).  This one is especially juicy because it involves the waste of more than $1 million over thirteen years. Teachers have the right to what lawyers call “due process.” In states with teacher bargaining rights, all the technicalities of this process are spelled out in the Master Contract, which is agreed to by the school board and the teacher union.

So, let’s be clear about who is responsible for this person receiving more than $1 million in salary. It is the school administration and the school boards that agreed to the Master Contract language.

Have we learned anything from this gross misuse of resources?  Apparently not. The last statement in the video is, “No major plans to change the policy have been announced.”

If you don’t need to know more than (1) we have this situation that needs to be changed, but (2) nothing is being done to change it, you can stop reading here. But if you want to know how we got to this point, here is the short story:

Collective bargaining involves lawyers in crafting language and strategies aimed at getting what they want for their side — either the school board or the teacher union. For many years school boards sought to hold down teacher salaries, so they gave teachers what they wanted in the “language” part of the Master Contract, which includes procedures for supervising and evaluating teachers. Board members agreed to many unwise language provisions so they could say to taxpayers, “I kept salaries low; teachers didn’t strike; re-elect me.”

So — to all who revere the democratic process, how is that working?  Do you like that we are paying this person more than $1 million to not teach? Do you like that we have no plans to change the policy? If not, why do you like the democratic governance of public education that created this situation?

Or is there somebody out there who wants to replace democratic governance with educational governance — governance that models the six virtues of the educated person? If not, we will continue to have uneducated school board members elected by uneducated citizens. Of course some of our most “uneducated” board members and citizens will have multiple college degrees. I love irony.

It’s a test score, not “achievement.”

Educators don’t believe in the six-virtue definition of the educated person. It’s not that they evaluated it and found it wanting; it’s that they believe an “educated” person is one who earns degrees by scoring high on tests. That’s what I call, “schooled.”

Professors of education know the importance of precise definitions. They know that studying a teaching method’s “effectiveness” starts with an operational definition of “effective.” The word has no meaning, until they give it one. That’s why definitions are important. Even social scientists start with the inductive thinking that asks, “What is the meaning of ‘effectiveness’ in this study?”

The most common way to define “effectiveness” is in terms of higher test scores. Researchers realize the shallowness of higher test scores, however, so they report their findings and rationales by saying things like, “The data show increases in student achievement (or performance, or success, or learning).

They don’t say, “Data show increases in student test scores,” because then we would ask:

  1. How much of an increase?
  2. How many more correct answers did students get?

And then we would find out that the answer to the second question is that 25 students averaged fewer than two more correct answers on a 50-item test. In other words, educators spent the whole year teaching students to get one or two more correct answers on the end-of-year, 50-question, multiple-choice test.

High standardized test scores determine a person’s level of “schooling.” More information is needed to know if the person is “educated.” I love irony.

What is a teacher’s job?

Dear Teacher:

You believe your job is to apply what research has found to be “effective.” I believe your job is to appreciate your subject matter and students. We believe in different job descriptions for the same reason — your experiences taught you to believe in yours, my experiences taught me to believe in mine.

Professors of education taught both of us that teachers should be professionals who apply what research has found to be “effective.” The difference in our experiences comes before that. You were taught to embrace what is taught in school, I was taught to challenge it.

Even though you can’t describe a time when applying what was “effective” had the desired effect, you will continue to believe that is your job because that is what you were taught. When we believe things we can’t support with experience or reason, we “just believe” them, anyway.

In this case, though, the results are disastrous for the improvement of education. Because 99% of teachers “just believe” what is not true — that teaching is an applied social science — schools have not improved over the last 50 years. If you believe they have improved, describe how they are improved and describe the social science findings that were applied to achieve that improvement.

BTW — when you had classes with education professors, did they describe the research findings they were applying? Did you ever wonder why they didn’t?  Now you know why. I love irony.

Inner game of tennis team builds character

Guest blog by Steven Fine, Social Studies Teacher and Tennis Coach

Eastern Wayne High School, Wayne County, NC

As a coach, I have the opportunity to model the six virtues to students outside my classroom.  I coach men’s and women’s J.V. Tennis.  I spend a great deal of practice time going over fundamentals, but I also talk about strong character.  I explain to the girls and boys that tennis is an individual sport, and 50% mental.  I explain that they need to overcome their fear of losing to their opponent. If they don’t believe in themselves, they will never win.

When we arrived at an important match against a school we have never beat,  I got up to give my usual pre-match pep talk.  The captain of the team asked if she could give a speech instead.  Of course I said yes.  She began talking about her first year on the team. She said she was just learning how to play, she never won a match; but, as her coach, I never let her lower her head in defeat.  She said that in one match she was so overcome with fear of losing that she started crying.  She said I gave her words of encouragement and told her to be strong.  She then told the entire team to hold their heads up don’t let the fear of losing ruin their chance of winning.

I was in shock to see that my modeling and teaching strong character enabled this captain to develop it, too. The  team lost the match, but each player congratulated the others as they got back on the bus. There were no lowered heads, just words of encouragement from teammates.

Politics on an education blogsite?

Why do I blog about politics here?  It’s because those who work in public schools know that education is directed and controlled by elected officials. As explained in TSVOTEP, however, that does not mean teachers and principals should wait for policy makers to steer public education in a positive direction. Whenever my graduate students say their superiors should read TSVOTEP, I remind them that, if we wait for central office administrators or politicians to define the educated person in six-virtue terms, we will wait forever.

Richard Elmore argues a similar point from a different angle.

Continue reading →