Losing the war? It’s our own fault. Part 1

In the Foreward to Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education (EC: RTAOPE) Deborah Meier wrote:

And we need resistance to the continuing assault on public education that reduces schools to market-driven factories that select and sort our students, distorting visions of communities of learning and growth and activism. We can’t internalize the norm that’s out there and can’t accept that this is “the way things have to be.” We mustn’t adjust to injustice, losing our visions, our hope and our active resistance. (pp. x-xi)

I’m on the side of resistance because I agree with Meier.

Continue reading →

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 →

A perfect analogy

Bringing the six virtues to learning situations improves education just like burning more calories than are consumed reduces weight. The analogy holds in two ways:

Continue reading →

“Abstinence” and the six virtues

An old friend of mine used to warn about analogies: “They can both clarify and distort relationships.”

I thought of that as I read the Asheville Citizen-Times column headlined, “Abstinence is the answer” (July 20, 2013, p. A6). The author is a woman who periodically argues against abortion in our local paper. In this column she quoted Reverend Dahl B. Seckinger:

There is an alternative for the unmarried, and that is through the practice of chastity. It is foolproof, it is not hazardous to your health, parental permission is not needed, it is nondiscriminatory between the sexes, as either can practice this form of birth control, it is cheaper than any other form of birth control. It is energy-saving, it is tax-free and does not require billions in federal spending, nor is any red tape involved. I might add that it eliminates much of the danger of contracting venereal disease. Is this too simplistic an answer to the problem? It is medically sound and safe in its practice. There is no question about its moral implications. It is biblical. Why not deal with the cause rather than effects?

Reverend Dahl’s answer to the abortion question is like my answer to the school improvement question. We both want to address the cause of the problem — he wants to eliminate unwanted pregnancies, I want to improve education. Refraining from sex (chastity) does, in fact, prevent unwanted pregnancies, just like bringing the six virtues to a learning situation does, in fact, improve education.

But neither is a viable solution to the problem. People often fail to be chaste and teachers can’t model virtues they don’t have. Opponents of these solutions don’t say we should not be chaste, or that teachers should not model the six virtues.  They say we sometimes fail to be chaste and teachers sometimes fail to be virtuous.

In other words, my argument for the six virtues is like the chastity argument because it does not solve the problem, even though it is based on what is true. Reverend Seckinger lists the truths of the chastity argument. And the six-virtue argument is based on the truth that all virtues are combinations of these six. But neither set of truths solves the problem because the problems are caused by another truth — people fail to be chaste, and teachers can’t model and teach the virtues they lack.

But let’s be careful with analogies.  The chastity and six-virtue solutions are not analogous in one important way. Chastity is only one thing. It is the absence of the act that causes pregnancy. That is why “abstinence” is in the headline. But bringing virtues to learning situations takes many forms. Education improves whenever teachers bring any of the virtues, even if they can’t always bring all six.

It’s all in the definition, what’s yours?

The headline about the George Zimmerman verdict read: “Jury instructions at center of verdict: Reasonable doubt, justifiable force definitions played part in decision.” (Asheville Citizen-Times, July 15, 2013, p. A4)

Later that day I opened the July 8/July 15 TIME cover story on happiness. The author wrote:

Part of the solution, however, may lie not in a product or a program but simply in a better understanding of the particular way Americans define happiness in the first place. (p. 27)

There you have it.  Every discussion related to the Zimmerman case depends on your definition of reasonable doubt and justifiable force. And every discussion related to happiness depends on your definition of happiness.  Of course they do, just like every discussion related to education depends on your definition of “educated.”

What’s yours?

Facing a challenge with courage

Guest blog by Danielle Cairns, Instructional Coach

We all aspire to have courage, and many people think they have it. If asked, many would say,  “Yeah — I have courage, who doesn’t?” But many people do not possess courage, and they don’t realize it until they are faced with a challenge.

This year a teacher in my school was on the verge of an action plan, due to personal circumstances that occurred last year. Before then, she was an excellent teacher.

I asked my principal to let me work with this teacher. I wanted to see if she could overcome the difficulties of the past and return to the virtuous teacher she had been. This teacher showed courage by admitting she needed help. We worked side by side, day after day, and now she is back.

Admitting something is wrong and accepting help takes courage and humility. The teacher is benefiting from the virtues she demonstrated and her students are benefiting, too. After all, that is why we teach — to benefit the students.

What educational problem does technology solve?

Technology Crap

This morning’s newspaper has an advertisement that shows bored business people in a conference room. The man on the left is looking down; the man in the center has his head on the table; and the woman on the right looks disgusted.

Beneath the picture the text reads:

Don’t let an outdated conference room limit the impact your organization can have on all of its audiences.

Cut the Crap

Nobody in a boring meeting says, “This meeting needs modern technology to have a greater impact on me and our audiences.” But that is the “pitch” in the ad.

And that is the same “pitch” educators make when they argue that disinterested students become interested, when teachers use smart boards instead of chalkboards, when students read ipads instead of books, or when computer-based simulations replace role plays.

Just like business people who want a shared purpose for their meeting, students want a shared purpose for their learning. Purpose makes learning relevant and important, not the tools that are used.

When educators say schools need modern technology to generate student interest, they really mean students who are interested in the purpose of a lesson benefit from using modern technology. Those who are not interested won’t care what tools are used — just like the people in the newspaper ad.

If modern technology improves the interest of those who are already interested in learning, what educational problem does it solve?