Tag Archives: changes in education

More on promoting reading for kids

21 Oct

In a July 2011 post, “Instilling a Love of Reading, By Whatever Means,” I commented on an article suggesting bribery to get kids to read. That’s still not a bad idea. <a href="http://wp.me/pWVCn-3V&quot; title="Instilling a Love of Reading, …"

Now I've come across even better ideas from a famous author I have newfound respect for: James Patterson who, with Hachette Book Group, took out a full-page ad in the Oct. 13, 2011, New York Times.

"We Can Get Our Kids Reading." made salient points about parent involvement, noting that to leave the development of a love for reading entirely to the schools is a tragic mistake. "Moms and Dads, it's important that your kids see you reading" was one of several statements that got my attention.

Must pass along a few great websites Patterson cited: GuysRead.com (for boys who are reluctant readers), ReadKiddoRead.com, FirstBook.org and the Kids Reading List at Oprah.com


Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 3

12 May

So far I’ve talked about teacher salaries and student motivation. Getting back to the perception of teaching as a profession, I want to mention a May 10, 2011, New York Times article headlined: “New to teaching, idealistic, at risk for layoff.”

The article noted that NYC’s budget cuts will lead to the dismissal of teachers with the least tenure — a lot of them. So the city will be retaining those teachers who practically do it in their sleep and losing some of the best/brightest/youngest — those three adjectives often go together in describing new teachers.

And it’s a shame. Likely, some teachers who might have been frustrated short-timers anyway will be let go. But many teachers, like the middle school teacher from Teach for America interviewed for the article, are just getting their groove on.

Should education reformers continue trying new ways to evaluate and then retain or fire teachers other than pure tenure? Yes, with caution. Just as public schools are filled with a lot of deadwood faculty, there are arguments that it’s not fair to evaluate teachers on the basis of student test scores or other new means. I’ll be interested to hear how my former colleagues like their district’s new evaluation system.

Like the good newspaper it is, the Times left the best quote for the clincher, at the end of the story:

“As news of the impending layoffs began to sink in, Ms. Sherwood found herself thinking back to her college graduation, when some of her relatives told her she was too smart to become a teacher, as opposed to, say, a doctor or an engineer.

“ ‘ Didn’t they all need teachers,’ she noted, ‘to learn what they needed to do their jobs?’ ”
And here’s where we get to many misguided perceptions of teachers, including the ugly “they can’t do …, so they teach.” I admit there were many times when I felt overqualified for my job, but it wasn’t necessarily because I felt “too smart.” It was because of the paper shuffling, tedious grading, classroom cleaning and other grievances. Smart? Yeah, I had better be smart to keep up with kids’ ingenuity and energy. I can remember leading discussions on literature during which star students had much more profound things to say about Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, etc., than I did. And smart, yeah, if I wanted to continually do my best to come up with engaging lessons.

Comments from outsiders like the one in the NYT article really rankle me.

Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 2

5 May

I feel a little bit of validation whenever I see student disrespectfulness as a reason for teachers leaving their jobs. It’s usually not as substantial a reason as poor salaries, administrative hassles or other issues, but it’s there. Certainly my exhaustion over run-in’s with students was part of my decision to leave.

Most of my problem students were lacking motivation. Either because of that or in addition to that, they were always at odds with the expectations for them in a classroom setting. And these were rather straightforward expectations: stop talking when others are speaking, do your major assignments, aim to pass the class, have good attendance, respect the teacher. Stuff you would think high schoolers would know after several years in the system.

Yet so many of them didn’t — I hate to use the word — conform … and we clashed.

So Education Reform Idea Number Two: Move problem students into a setting better suited to their needs.

I cringe to think how many of my former students didn’t experience the full joy of learning, simply because they were distracted by the “icky kids,” as a colleague once called them. I would grant that many miscreants outgrow their problems and are eventually fine in a regular classroom. But even if their disrespectfulness and disregard for toeing the line — at least a little bit — goes on for just a few months, that’s too long. It’s time to consider alternatives.

Online learning seems to work OK at my former school. Kids who fail a class — sometimes it’s a chronic illness reason, not lack of motivation — have a chance for “credit recovery” by taking a core course online while a facilitator is in the room. It’s basically just the student and the computer; readings, discussion questions, quizzes and culminating tests are all online. Students can work at their own pace, listen to music with headphones, sneak in a computer game, surf the web. But the novelty of their independence soon wears off, and students turn to the coursework. The session in the online learning lab is part of their daily routine, before or after they go off to elective classes or core classes they can handle. Are there disadvantages, such as less socialization and lack of interaction with a teacher? Sure, but this is the answer for a lot of high school kids who aren’t succeeding in a regular classroom. Online learning as part of a regular school day seems like a good compromise versus online learning at home. The students who don’t fit in during classroom time can still have collegial time with friends the rest of the day.

At-home schooling is an alternative I have to respect, especially for younger kids and parents who have the patience. I also see merit in back-to-basics charter schools, but many of them don’t hire qualified administrators and teachers. I would be interested to know whether charter schools “interview” students as to their motivation and work ethic before admitting them.
Alternative primary and secondary education continues to be in the news. Districts are looking at online learning as a cost-saving measure; some critics say it hurts the quality of education. This New York Times article looks at the pros and cons:


I don’t mean to belittle or dismiss the problems of students dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence. I’m just saying that if high school or middle school isn’t working for them, there are plenty of alternatives.

Next blog — Let’s talk teacher salaries.

Making the grade

6 Aug

The controversy:
Should teachers be assessed on the basis of how well their students do on standardized tests? Furthermore, should teachers’ pay and job security be linked to student achievement?
It’s in the news here in Arizona as our state follows several others that are enacting laws that up the ante on teacher performance. And a new look at teacher assessment is certainly a priority for President Obama, given his “Race to the Top” speech this week.
It’s got me thinking: would I have wanted to be graded as a teacher based on the grades or scores my students received on mandated tests? For now, I’ll say no — there are too many variables. Yet I can see the need to compare and contrast one teacher to his or her colleagues based on test scores. It might indeed reveal teacher effectiveness.
I can remember several instances when our department head revealed our school’s AIMS scores in writing and reading, broken down by teacher. Whose sophomore class had the most kids making the “meeting” or “exceeding” grade? I don’t think I ever won that contest, but I can remember feeling relieved that my particular students at least performed in the average range. I never taught honors, so I seldom had students who exceeded on the test. And since I didn’t teach remedial English, by the same token I seldom had students who failed the AIMS exams. But if either situation had occurred very often, who’s to say that I would be responsible, as their teacher?
Here are just a few variables that come to mind:
The fabled kid who marks all C’s on the bubble sheet is real. Should a teacher be held accountable for that? There really are kids who have no motivation to do well on a standardized test, even if it’s turned into a graduation requirement. The testing period turns into a display of comic immaturity, followed by a nap. Also realize that there are kids who have no business taking a standardized test; they are often learning-disabled kids who been shoved into the wrong classes all through grade school and have no idea how to answer the questions. Perhaps they have slipped through the cracks in a particular teacher’s classroom as well — I’m sure I had students whose learning problems I didn’t catch.
Another variable: a capable kid who is just having a bad day and is destined to bomb the test. The makers of AIMS tests and the like probably have no idea how often this occurs in a high school setting. Drama at home, drama at school — teachers may make fun of teen angst, but it’s real, it’s frequent and it affects school performance.
Yet another variable: overconfidence. A student may think, “Oh yeah, we studied this in Ross’s class” and choose an answer that seems like something Ross would have said on the topic. The student boldly marks the answer without taking the time to fully understand the question. I can imagine overconfidence often takes hold on writing exams, when the student gets a prompt that seems familiar from English class and essentially regurgitates a previous essay.
That’s my two-cents worth for now on the possible unfairness of using standardized testing to grade teachers. Many experts say it needs to be just part of the assessment package — that many other factors, including teacher observation and professional development, should be used to gauge teacher effectiveness. That sounds a bit more on the mark.
An editorial in USA Today that questions teacher seniority as the sole basis for retention and advocates the use of student test scores in rating teacher effectiveness:
The Republic had an in-depth piece on the pros and cons of measuring teacher success in light of the new law (S.B. 1040 goes into effect in fall 2012). I liked this quote from a teacher in Mesa who is active in the union:  “We don’t evaluate a dentist based on how many cavities his patients get because those patients do things outside the dentist’s office,” said Kirk Hinsey, an eighth-grade English teacher.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/08/01/20100801grading-teachers-arizona.html#ixzz0vqrIbxv6

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