Sunday, October 10, 2010

No, No (and did I mention) NO

A manifesto of sorts from various superintendents around the country (nope, not Dr. G-J) about the state of public education in our country. This in the Washington Post.

Here's their opening line, a hopeful start:

As educators, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 2 1/2 million students in America, we know that the task of reforming the country's public schools begins with us. It is our obligation to enhance the personal growth and academic achievement of our students, and we must be accountable for how our schools perform.

Maybe, there's more to ed reform than I've been thinking. Maybe these leaders will step up and show us what real accountability looks like.

But it's all downhill from there. And you know why? Because the rest of it is all about teachers.

There is another hopeful line...

A single elementary- or middle-school classroom can contain, for instance, students who read on two or three different grade levels, and that range grows even wider as students move into high school. Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to address all the needs of 25 or 30 students when some are reading on a fourth-grade level and others are ready for Tolstoy?

...but nope, shot down again.

We must equip educators with the best technology available to make instruction more effective and efficient. By better using technology to collect data on student learning and shape individualized instruction, we can help transform our classrooms and lessen the burden on teachers' time.

Oh, it's technology that will make them more effective and efficient, not fewer kids in a class. Not teaching them how to differentiate curriculum and their own teaching. "by using better technology to collect data on student learning..." that's the ticket. Better technology is NOT going to somehow make a class' reading level go up. How does that lessen the burden on teachers?

(Wait, one paragraph about...charters. You know, how we need them and need them now. Interesting, though, because 40 states have them so why aren't these people happy?)

There has GOT to be more to ed reform than teacher evaluation and charter schools. But I'm not seeing it or hearing it.

I'm in that Scarlett O'Hara mood - Oh, what I would say if only I weren't a lady.

37 comments:

seattle citizen said...

Maybe the good people over at SeattleEducation2010 could add the following names to their chart showing the interconnectedness of the "reform" bunch? Oh, and could somebody cross-check this list with a list of Broad Academy grads?

Here's the list of superintendents, starting with the stars, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee:

Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools; Peter C. Gorman, superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Ron Huberman, chief executive, Chicago Public Schools; Carol R. Johnson, superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Andrés A. Alonso, chief executive, Baltimore City Public Schools; Tom Boasberg, superintendent, Denver Public Schools; Arlene C. Ackerman, superintendent of schools, the School District of Philadelphia; William R. Hite Jr., superintendent, Prince George's County Public Schools; Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools, Rochester City School District (N.Y.); José M. Torres, superintendent, Illinois School District U-46; J. Wm. Covington, superintendent, Kansas City, Missouri School District; Terry B. Grier, superintendent of schools, Houston Independent School District; Paul Vallas, superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District; Eugene White, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools; LaVonne Sheffield, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools (Illinois)

seattle citizen said...

Technology for data gathering:

Maybe we should just do away with teachers altogether, place the students in front of computers, and data drive them to mediocrity? Curriculum and assessment, all on one screen. Heck, we could run twenty volts through their seats and give 'em a good zap when they make a mistake.

Dorothy Neville said...

"Maybe, there's more to ed reform than I've been thinking. Maybe these leaders will step up and show us what real accountability looks like."

That's the funniest thing I have read all day!

Re the manifesto, this is a link to some commentary that the SEA twittered about the manifesto.

Sahila said...

SC... you can go to the Broad site and cross check... they have lists of alums (both fellows and superintendents) and where they are working now...

Anonymous said...

Melissa, glad to know I am not the only one feeling punchyt. Still, this will probably get the regulars crying for my scalp, but I am curious as to why teachers and SEA don't speak up about MAP testing, EDM, school closing, building maintenance back log, etc.

I hear individual teachers voicing their dislikes over MAP, EDM, why the boiler doesn't work, etc., but I don't hear a united voice. How come? I support our teachers, but some time I feel they take a much more pragmatic and political approach to the going ons within our district. Some time frankly, it feels like the children's interest is left up to the parents to fight for. How come for such a powerful political group, they seem mute (except for the MAP use in teacher evaluation)?

Do we parents need to be more pragmatic and political in our approach to get what we want for our kids? I am asking because "that fish is 4 days old and I don't want to buy it anymore", so to speak.

Mad (Hatter)

The First Arnold said...

Mad Hatter- I've spoken to a few teachers. They were totally in the dark regarding 2011-2012 budget shortfall, TFA etc. The same teachers were overwhelmed with new instructional materials, disturbed by MAP/ Eval and angered by District micro-management. My impression: they don't keep up to date on District issues.

dan dempsey said...

Here is an interesting response to the Manifesto from the South Bronx.

An excerpt follows:

Off to a brilliant, self centered, self absorbed, look at me start already.....

As educators, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 2 1/2 million students in America, we know that the task of reforming the country's public schools begins with us.

No, it does not begin with you. Sorry to say that. It begins with the families. The parents. The children. The community. The teachers. The people on the front lines. It is not all about you. Get over it.

But those reforms are still outpaced and outsized by the crisis in public education.

There is no crisis. You created the crisis (I urge all readers to read The Shock Doctrine). As with anything in life education is fluid. It ebbs and flows and changes naturally. What you are doing is unnatural and unethical.

=========================

The reformers plan:

(1) Name a problem
(2) Suggest an ill advised change
(3) Pretend this is a solution

(4) Be sure and disregard all research that points out that your proposed change is harmful or ineffective.

(5) Be sure and say "Best Practice" a lot.

(6) If in Seattle be sure and disregard conflicts of interest and State Laws that require competitive bids on large contracts ... These are not Best Practices in Seattle.

(7) Be in a hurry these changes just cannot wait.... no time to think or analyze.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So funny, Dan, thanks for the link. I particularly liked:

From the manifesto:
21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children.

From South Bronx Blog:
You mean, "Children First?" Funny. Joel will you set the example by doing away with all the over paid consultants? What about all these network leaders, children first leaders, etc... that just take up space? Favored adults? Why then is the principal that is responsible for the death of Nicole Suriel still employed?

dan dempsey said...

Nicole Suriel

At Nicole Suriel funeral, fellow student's parent angrily confronts principal over tragic drowning.

agibean1958 said...

I find it astonishing, Dan, that you believe there is no crisis in education. Aren't you the one repeats (and repeats and repeats) the terrible gap between black and caucasian children in math across the board in Seattle?

Perhaps you mean there is no crisis as seen by the reformers but only as YOU see it?

Or maybe you mean something else, because as far as I can tell, there has been no "ebb and flow" as far as minority (and thus heavily low-income) education goes.

One of the first things I did as a new parent of a child of color in this district was to go to a district-wide meeting for parents and educators some 10 years ago. It was about the achievement gap. Parents of color were angry the gap still existed-one got up and angrily pounded on the giant post-it on the wall because he remembered a similar meeting when his own kids were small 10 years before THAT, and hadn't seen any improvement. But hey, maybe he was one of those "bad parents" so many people on this blog mention over and over again.

And spare me the numbers about how it's gotten worse since the adoption of the math you failed to defeat. The gap is there beyond math and it was there 10 years ago, and it was there 20 years ago, here in Seattle.

Take a look at the schools mentioned here over and over and over for their excellence and success: Roosevelt, Hamilton, TOPS. ALL three have significant gaps-for the last 4 years-on the WASL between white and black students. Math passing rates have stayed in the 20-30% range for Roosevelt and Hamiliton for black students. TOPS fares only slightly better, the black 8th graders hitting only 38% passing last year. For the 4th grade black students at TOPS, the pass rate was only 21%. White students at all three schools pass at rates from 70% on up. NO CRISIS? REALLY?

I tried hard to find the rates between white and black students at the elementary schools in NOrth Seattle that are often trotted out here-Bryant, Schmitz Park, heck, even Greenlake and Greenwood-but they don't have black students in enough numbers to even be reported on the WASL "annual reports". But there's no crisis, right?

And it was there nationally 35 years ago when I studied it in a summer course for college. It's still there now.

I say all of this INDEPENDENTLY of education reform. Ed reform didn't "create" this crisis, but it's another attempt to try to fix it-and maybe it won't work. But do you really mean to say that what's been done for the last 35, 25, 15 and 5 years was WORKING?

I hope not, because that would be false.

I don't want to hear how it's all the parents' fault either, because as often as this blog lists parents as the "reason" for this gap, I have yet to meet a low-income or minority parent of a kid in a "failing school" who wants anything but the best for their kids Even if they aren't sure HOW to lift their kids up, they want them to achieve.

But it's so much easier, I guess to say there is no crisis, it's all ebb and flow, and it's these dang crappy math books and the parents behind it all. Oh, and administrations. What I don't get is the anger at the reform attempts rather than the anger at the gap's being there at all. Or maybe it's because the gap doesn't really affect those on this blog? I'd really love to know the answer.

I don't pretend to know the answers. What I do know is that what's been done for decades hasn't fixed things. I was younger than 20 years old when I first studied this achievement gap and I'm over 50 now. Please Dan, tell us how we fix things. Unless of course, you don't think there's a crisis.

Sahila said...

@Agibean...
there is a crisis and its about poverty...poverty is the main factor behind the 'achievement gap" and the deformers (assuming they are genuine in their agenda - and that's debateable) are tackling this arse over kite - ie saying if we fix education we will fix poverty - which is completely crap... because they dont want to deal with the reality that fixing poverty will cost money and eat into their profits... cos fixing poverty means you cant ship jobs and resources overseas to have thing manufactured/created more cheaply than here... it means ensuring you pay people enough to live marginally well - not create a completely new underclass of the working poor...

Dorothy Neville said...

Agibean, to be fair, Dan was quoting someone else. From the rhetoric of the piece Dan was quoting, I think the objection is to the word "crisis" as a sudden OMG we have to act NOW! sort of thing that precludes thoughtful action. And from the thesis of Shock Doctrine, some powerful people use the word Crisis! as a way of manipulating power for their personal gain, but not actually solving the problem. Shock Doctrine says such people are actually cynically not attempting to solve the problem, just to capitalize on it for their own agendas.

As you say, the gap has been around a long time and isn't getting better. That is really bad, but it's not a crisis, by the usual definitions of unstable point, critical point, decisive moment.

What it is instead is a systemic failure, a deeply rooted, ongoing failure of the system. I believe that the reference to Shock Doctrine is important. To some, treating like a crisis is not the best method for long term success and could even be damaging as is obfuscates the systemic nature of the issue.

I wish I knew answers. I don't. What I do know is that Brad Bernatek had never heard of the middle class achievement gap. When his analysis showed this for Seattle, he was surprised. This seems like a failure of upper management to me. The fact that the gap persists nationally when only looking at middle class kids is not new or hard to find information. That's something that the chief data guy making oodles of money ought to know. The fact that he doesn't tells me that this district is not deeply investigating the gap.

The other piece that tells me Brad Bernatek and the district are not thoughtfully working toward change is that we have data that shows which schools are doing better than others in math *for their demographics.* The state provides this data. Yet, Brad just creates more powerpoints listing them with the vague comment that further analysis is needed....

dan dempsey said...

Dear AgiBean1958,

The "no crisis comment" comes from the South Bronx teacher, not me.

Have you read Ravitch's book?

There are significant problems in USA Ed and WA Ed. Changes are not solutions unless they actually produce cost effective improvements, which can be expanded.

The current ed-reform movement has largely been driven without data or pilots.

As I've often mentioned look at UW CoE, and look at New Tech Network results at current locations. We see greatly increased spending producing "academic sub-par results".

AgiBean seems to me if you really wanted to know my suggestions for changes that are solutions you would have already read John Hattie's "Visible Learning" and been taking to heart his observations on "Project Follow Through".

Please add the "Core Knowledge Blog" to your reading list.

The Core Knowledge Foundation is dedicated to the mission of educational excellence and equity for all children. To make that mission a reality we offer materials and support to schools, teachers and parents, and effective advocacy grounded in scientific research to citizens and policy makers.

The achievement gaps as measured by the WASL decreased substantially in reading and writing while expanding in math over the last 12 years.

AgiBean asked:
"But do you really mean to say that what's been done for the last 35, 25, 15 and 5 years was WORKING?"

Nope I have never said that "what was done in the past was particularly effective". What I have said is "a change is not always a solution".

We have enough data on spending and pathetic results to know that "Rod Paige's Houston Miracle" and
"Arne Duncan's Chicago Actions" were hardly the models of success that they were claimed to be.

Mr. Bernetek's Board data presentation of 45 minutes on State test results gave clear indication that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's centralization of everything under her guidance is expensive and largely academically ineffective. This result is hardly surprising given her use of the term "Best Practice" for darn near anything.

"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data."

That remains my suggestion and "Project Follow Through" and "Visible Learning" would be excellent places to begin turning the pointless direction of the current SPS ship toward a better course.

Charlie Mas said...

So often I have to resist the temptation to react immediately to things. I know that the wise course is to take time, collect my reserve, marshall myself and respond calmly to the constant barrage of outrageous crap.

I now have my response to this Op-Ed. I posted it on the LEV blog and I will cross-post it here and elsewhere.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I read this Op-Ed and finished with more questions than answers. Isn't there anything more than this? Aren't there any meaningful details behind this sloganeering? More than that, much of this piece, like much of the Education Reform agenda, is self-contradictory or poorly aimed.

These school superintendents write "the task of reforming the country's public schools begins with us" and "we must be accountable for how our schools perform", but I don't see them changing what they do and I don't see them accepting responsibility for outcomes. I just see them doing more of the same and blaming teachers. Let's not have any doubt about this. They clearly place all of the responsibility for poor student performance and all of the responsibility for "bad" schools entirely on teachers. They mention other people who work in schools and for districts, but they don't suggest that any of these people have to be incented, evaluated, more selectively hired, or fired.

They continue to believe – mistakenly – that "the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is… the quality of their teacher". This simply isn't true. The primary determinant of a student's academic achievement is the involvement in that child's education by an adult in the student's home. Even with regard to school-based factors, they continue to neglect the impact that school and district policies and practices have on teachers' effectiveness. A teacher cannot be as effective without needed supports. A teacher cannot be as effective if burdened with challenges like large class sizes, students with special needs, ineffective curricula, or administrative mandates. Yet the vast bulk of their focus falls on the idea of identifying "bad" teachers and firing them. If that really is their focus then they need to get on with it. They have the authority they need to do it, so they need to stop whining about how much work it is and do the work.

Continued ...

Charlie Mas said...

...Continued

Even if it takes two years to fire a bad teacher then I would expect that after three years on the job there would be no more bad teachers in any of these superintendents' districts. Surely after four years they would have that job done since it is so key for them. If it is so key, then it should be the primary focus of their work and they should make it the primary focus of their principals' work. Do they?

They need to get off the idea that they can use "financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers". Teachers respond to other incentives a lot more than they respond to financial ones. Want to get great teachers into schools full of struggling students? Make those school attractive places to work – make the schools safer for teachers, provide funds for enrichment activities, reduce class sizes, provide supports like IAs. Don't put the money into the teachers' pockets, put it into the schools and you will not only attract the best teachers to those schools, you will help the students succeed. Want to recognize great teachers? Give them what they want. Sure money would be nice, but is that what THEY say that they want or is that what other people say they want?

These superintendents glance briefly at reality when they reference the fact that "A single elementary- or middle-school classroom can contain, for instance, students who read on two or three different grade levels, and that range grows even wider as students move into high school." But then they lose touch immediately when they suggest that technology that measures that diversity will somehow help the teachers cope with it. No. What will help teachers cope with it are smaller class sizes and more help with the struggling students.

They continue to believe in the idea of "bad" schools that need to be closed or "restructured" – whatever that means. Did you know that Aki Kurose middle school in Seattle has been restructured? How's that working out? There may be bad schools, but not entirely because they are schools with a lot of struggling students. School quality shouldn't be based on what students come to it. Measures of school quality should be based on what happens for those students when they come. Do struggling students get the support they need to work at grade level and do advanced students get the challenge they need to work beyond grade level. Yet I see no mention of addressing the needs of individual students in this "manifesto".

This piece exemplifies the problems with the Education Reform movement – the overemphasis on teachers' contracts instead of teachers' work, a misplaced focus on struggling schools instead of struggling students, a bizarre misunderstanding about what motivates teachers, a refusal to acknowledge district policies and practices that can either support or burden teachers, and a refusal to acknowledge the proven methods for improvement is search of undiscovered ones.

Continued...

Charlie Mas said...

... Continued

That's one of the funniest parts of all of this. We know how to improve academic outcomes for students. We have public schools – ordinary neighborhood public schools – that do it. Yet their solution is too small and boring for the exciting big idea Education Reform folks. Their big ideas don't work, but the small, boring, and student-centered ideas do.

Look at how Everett improved graduation rates. Look at how Maple Elementary in Seattle improved academic outcomes. Look how Van Asselt and Dearborn Park were able to duplicate Maple's effort and are duplicating Maple's success. Success doesn’t come from top-down mandates for change, it doesn't come with technology or new fancy assessments. It comes from setting and maintaining high expectations and helping students – one at a time – to meet those expectations.

We do need to change the way that education works in America. We do need to shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children. Mostly we need to reduce central administration and focus more of our resources on students. That's how successful charters do it. They don't have elaborate organizational charts or layers of bureaucracy. They don't have "coaches", curriculum directors, assessment departments, or legions of administrators writing reports for other administrators to read and making powerpoint presentations for other administrators to watch. They put their money into the classroom and so should we.

dan dempsey said...

Dear AgiBean,

Here is another thoughtful book.

Chris said...

Agibean, I just read this on the CRAP blog and thought of your comment.

"The first 30+ years of this experiment with increasingly centralized control and oversight has been a period of increased dropout rates and high remediation rates for new college students."

One can definitely argue there is a crisis. One can also argue that the post-NCLB era exacerbated the crisis, so why are we (to quote Alfie Kohn, The Homework Myth) so hell-bent on "doing more of what doesn't work ?"

Also read Mr. Kohn to understand why top-down control might lead to reduced learning.

Anyway, the crisis has been around a very long time, and the corporate types have a lousy record on improving it. Maybe time to do a local-control experiment.

Charlie Mas said...

There is a crisis. No doubt about it.

I happen to see it not as a single monolithic one but as an aggregate of thousands of individual crises. There aren't groups of students who aren't getting what they need, there are thousands of individual students who are each not getting what they need.

Since it is not a group problem there is no group solution. There are thousands of individualized problems in need of thousands of individualized solutions.

We need to grant the person responsible for providing the solution with the discretion to tailor it to each student instead of having someone who doesn't know any of the students to dictate a solution for all students (or groups of students).

Think of how Everett successfully improved their graduation rates.

We need to have people in our schools who know our students providing the supports needed by each individual student in every grade from kindergarten to graduation.

The presumption that this is a wholesale problem instead of a retail problem is an artifact of statistics - it doesn't reflect reality. This is a student-by-student crisis that requires a student-by-student solution.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would just like to go on record.

There is an education crisis.

There are multiple reasons for it as well as multiple solutions.

Ed reformers seem to be consistently pointing to just two reforms - teacher evaluation and charters. And yet they don't have good proof that what they want to use to evaluate and motivate teachers will work nor that charters work well on large scale.

I am absolutely right to get out there and support change but I need to see, well, change I can believe in (to coin a phrase).

There cannot just be two things we change and voila! all done.

seattle citizen said...

"Ed reformers seem to be consistently pointing to just two reforms - teacher evaluation and charters."

Plus the standardized (and computerized) curriculum and assessment that a) drives the reformer's model of teacher evaluation and, perhaps, the preferred model of instruction at the charters.

Take away HSPE and MAP, etc, and wither goest the "teacher evaluation" tool? Take away a packaged curriculum that teachers are scripted with, and wither goest the correlation to the standardized tests?

The third "reform" of the reformers is data data data, standardized data as far as the eye can see: Not unmeasurable, qualitative data, but data packets composed of "expected growth as adjusted with the expected attributes and performance related to race, class, and special need." Outcomes that are derived from formulas of what an "ideal" student of any given "type" should look like.

THIS is the biggest change of all - education becomes standardized, formulaic, and it's not real children the teachers teach, but children as models, abstract models created through quantitative data and assumptions about ability based on race and class.

dan dempsey said...

It seems to me that with the rise of the information age via internet etc., there could be a major reduction in middle management.

The ability to make effective site based decisions has been greatly enhanced with each individual school's personnel access to relevant data and research. As Charlie says this is about educating individual students in an efficient effective way. It is quite clear that MGJ's plan is pointless an unable to meet the needs of students.
===========

In the pharmaceutical industry, there is more money to be made by treating symptoms than there is to eliminate disease.

In a way, the education industry (edudustrial complex?) might operate on a similar principal - the sicker our schools are, the more they will clamor for products to alleviate their symptoms. If schools operated in a healthy manner, far fewer "products" would be needed.

As things have been, are, and will continue to be, the vendors and central office administrators will be gorging at the public trough for a long, long, time.
==============

Technology as in the technology that provides school principals and staff access to information to make intelligent site-based decisions could cure many of our current ills.

It is time to enter a new era of school decision-making. Charters are not needed. What is needed is real accountability. Give school principals tools and responsibility and hold them accountable.

If someone still insists on merit pay, let it be awarded on a school wide basis for attaining goals that are reasonable given the characteristics of the student population of the school.

Look at the Southeast Education Initiative for how defective MGJ's plans have proven to be. The fact that UW CoE and NSF pumped in enormous resources to Cleveland and recently (last two years) into RBHS and produced disaster speaks volumes about centralized direction. It is hard to miss our current math program manager's connection to UW and her advocacy for largely pointless no-results math direction.

It is time to allow principals and teachers the tools and flexibility to provide students efficient effective instruction as well as interventions. Then someone can be held accountable and likely lauded for success.

Central Office incompetence and excuses seem to be given perpetual passes by the School Board. Accountability .... is a joke.

wsnorth said...

OK, I'm sure there are more serious Linguists here than me, but just how long can a "crisis" be a crisis? Not to nit pick, because I agree with the gist here, but maybe there is an impending crisis, or a potential crisis? We risk sounding a little too chicken little-ish.

Josh Hayes said...

I hear agibean's cri de coeur. At AS1 the racial nature of the achievement gap has been a real concern for the last several years, and there's been a real effort to raise consciousness about the pervasive effects of institutional racism. This is something we as a school have worked hard on the last few years and it's unfortunate that the school seems to be sinking.

There's no question, though, that while socio-economic factors play a huge role, there's also the pervasive sense that the "typical" student - and indeed, the "typical" PERSON - is a white guy. Even math problems feature Billy and Jane going to the store and figuring out how much change they need -- never DaJuan and Shalequa, or Javier and Pilar. This just feeds into the perspective that everything, even silly little math problems, is about white people.

I AM a white person, and I have to admit, facing up to the facts about institutional racism and white privilege has been a harrowing experience. But until we recognize these factors, we'll never close, or even reduce, the achievement gap.

I also think that a lot of what underlies the socioeconomic factors is also driven by racism, but that's wandering pretty far off-topic, however appropriate it might be to bring it up on a day of such dubious honor (Columbus Day, I mean - not Canadian Thanksgiving!).

Charlie Mas said...

wsnorth asks an excellent question. After thirty years can we still call it a crisis?

We can because it is an immediate crisis for each child currently in school. For them it is an emergency. For them it is urgent.

It hasn't been the same kids in schools for the past thirty years, just the same systems and outcomes.

Charlie Mas said...

Dan's writing about technology has made a light bulb go off in my head.

I don't have all of this connected up just yet, but it goes something like this.

The "new economy" is all about technology. It's all about taking things to scale. It's all about mass-produced custom-made goods.

In the new economy there are lots of ways for technology to create value. First there must be access, then there is work that emulates human judgement such as agents that dive into the ocean of data and pull out the few bits you want. There are filters that block most of the ocean and let through only the bits you want. There are certifiers that attest to the quality and accuracy of the content. There are compilers and aggregaters that bring together related bits of content.

The one thing that technology cannnot replace however, is real human judgement and creativity provided interactively in realtime. People are working on it, but we aren't there yet.

And that's what teaching is.

So despite our desire to reduce teaching to an automated process like telephony (press "1" for sales, press "2" for service) to make it more efficient, in the end it is irreducibly about a real live human being teacher bringing their attention, professional training and experience, and human creativity to bear on the problem of an individual student struggling to learn.

Like I wrote. I'm not entirely there yet, but I'm tapping all around it with my cane.

I can feel their frustration that they can't reduce the teaching function to something that can be automated, digitized, infinitely reproduced, and taken to scale. But they can't - not unless they completely de-professionalize it.

Charlie Mas said...

Teaching is a personal service. It has to be provided in real time with the teacher and the student together in the same time and space.

Moreover, it requires a personal context - it is a relationship, so teachers can't really have more than about 150 students because that's pretty much the human limit for these kinds of things.

That makes teaching an irreducible expense.

The focus of any effort towards efficiency should be directed at maximizing the extent that students can work independently to maximize the amount of individual attention the teacher can give to each student in turn.

To further extend the students' ability to work without the teacher's supervision it might be helpful to have another adult in the room to oversee the students in their independent work and do some classroom management while the teacher is working with students one-on-one.

Still, it's not the sort of efficiencies that are possible with technology or that our post-modern computer dominated culture would lead us to expect.

Jan said...

Charlie -- I am not for the "automating" of teaching, but I think I disagree with (or have a different take on) a few of your statements.

You said:
The one thing that technology cannnot replace however, is real human judgement and creativity provided interactively in realtime. People are working on it, but we aren't there yet.

And that's what teaching is.

True -- but there is lots of experience "out there" with language programs (one example is Rosetta Stone) and math programs (my online experience is too old; less technological ones would include the Kumon system) that require far less "teacher time" in order for students to learn.

BUT -- for these systems to work well for large numbers of students, they must be seen (and used) in the context of a much larger learning experience (fitting the technologized or systematized portions) effectively into an entire curriculum -- as none of these (certainly not Kumon) is a replacement for a real curriculum. AND -- that part MUST be done on a student by student basis. Because not all kids have identical brains, backgrounds, home support, attention spans. I think much "interactivity real time" and "seat time" is vastly overrated. Some of that time (and it may vary kid from kid) could be better spent reading, analyzing, writing, manipulating data, and thinking. This in no way justifies anything that is happening in ed reform, though. They are "standardizing" and "automating" not to give kids a more individualized education and more thinking/analyzing time, but to make thinks LESS individualized, and more time consuming.

Jan said...

Charlie: you also stated:

Teaching is a personal service. It has to be provided in real time with the teacher and the student together in the same time and space.

I agree, but don't agree with what I think is your assumption. The goal here is not teaching. It is learning. The end product of education is not "good teaching." It is effective learning -- by (in Seattle's case) 47,000 different student brains. We have concluded, with some logic, that this end REQUIRES "good teaching" but when we emphasize the teaching process, we may lose sight of the learning process. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons school systems find it so hard to move from a "seat time" basis for graduation to a "mastery based" system --where kids would move at their own pace, and be allowed/encouraged to move on to more difficult academic work as soon as they had mastered the easier stuff. Some, but not all, of this "learning" requires real time interaction between a teacher and a student. For some students, more of such time is required. For some, less. If kids can move through Algebra I in a semester, they should be in Geometry the next semester -- and the ones that need two years in order to really master Algebra I concepts should be in classes that give them that time.

To learn effectively, kids need to have information made available to them in ways that are effective (on an individual level) and accessible (to their learning style). This is the crux of at least some of Dan's complaints with Discovery math. It makes math "inaccessible" to children who require direct instruction and/or mastery learning methods in order to master basic concepts that will be required for future success in high level math/science/engineering courses.

I think there is MUCH more we could be doing with technology in schools that would further, not hinder student learning -- but the more targeted and individualized education becomes -- the more seriously we take the LEARNING of each student -- the more important it will be that we have really really GOOD teachers as part of the process.

In many (but not all) cases, it does permit a reduction in teacher/student time, as teachers (based on an individual child's learning styles, differences, etc.) can use available resources to help that child learn without as much direct teacher time. But it will take highly skilled, and highly energized, teachers, in my opinion, to manage/direct that process.

In the end, of course, the "learning" process belongs to the child -- and we can affect it only at one step removed -- by adding/subtracting teachers, curricula, materials, learning environments, peerg group environments, rewards/punishments, etc. All of these things have effects (and they are not the same for each child). But this is why -- the more "centralized" control and decisionmaking becomes, the harder it is to deal with each child. The two people closest -- the teacher and the parents -- will almost always be in the best position (assuming they know what they are doing) to make the right call for each child. Those calls are what they should be accountable for.

This is why school districts that don't want "choice" through charters need good strong alt schools of various kinds. This is why money that is being siphoned to central office projects needs to be redirected back to materials, texts, and other school based resources.

This is far from the highly centralized, standardized "curriculum in a box" doled out by the the least expensive, enthusiastic "room monitor" you can hire for the position. But nor is it "teaching" the way I understand it to be currently taught in education colleges, or the way it is being practiced in most public schools.

agibean1958 said...

Josh Hayes-yes, exactly. You nailed it precisely. Poverty and race are closely intertwined, and white privilege plays a huge part in what's going on-both in the classrooms and for and against reform efforts.

At the same time, teachers play a huge role in this, but not in the way you'd think. There are some teachers who are great-as long a their students are high achievers with white skin. On paper they're the kids of teacher's you'd want.

That is, until they recommend the model minority Asian kid for APP while telling a bored black kid's mom he's a troublemaker. Never mind that Rainier Scholars comes calling for that same "troublemaker". Or there's the teacher who tells the black kid that her essay is ok, but really, blacks didn't have it all THAT bad in segregated schools. But hey, she's a good teacher!

Also, I hear so much about these bad parents being a problem in kids' lack of success-but I have yet to meet a low-income, immigrant, minority parent who DIDN'T want their child to succeed. Their kids want to be doctors and lawyers and biochemists too-but the parents might not know HOW to get them there. That they often work two or three jobs, or don't speak English doesn't make them uninterested in their kids' education.

And it doesn't help that as you said, the math problems,(and the reading choices, and often the test questions) reflect a white world with which the children have no commonality.

I find it interesting that the bulk of the opposition to reform in Seattle comes from north of the ship canal-where students by and large do very very well-unless they are black. And this is true no matter how far back you go looking at test results.

That ties into the word "crisis". It's not a surprise to me that many minority groups in this city and elsewhere have gone on record supporting the reform efforts. Black kids have never done well in school as a whole, and that goes back decades before reform, before New Math, before Everyday Math, before phonics was popular, before whole word reading was popular, before Black History Month's token efforts began. Latino and Native kids have had the same poor results in school.

THERE'S the crisis, "wsnorth". Maybe it's the perfect storm of national efforts and the politial administration's open support. But I think it's more this: when I took that class 30+ years ago, we listened to a song. I don't recall all the words, but this one line stuck with me. "We've been down so long and we had to make somebody listen."

Even if people don't agree with the WAY reform is going, at least white privilege is listening when it comes to the inequities of minority education.

Maureen said...

agibean, you say: Even if people don't agree with the WAY reform is going, at least white privilege is listening when it comes to the inequities of minority education.

I was at the Kevin Johnson event at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. I think your statement would have resonated with most of the people in the room.


I would like to ask you the question I would have asked Mayor Johnson if I had the chance:

Which model of education do you think works best for poor kids of color and why? (1) racially and socioeconomically diverse (say 20-40%FRL) schools where instruction includes elements middle class families expect and support (like field trips, drama....) OR (2)schools that are predominantly (>80%) poor and majority minority that focus instruction intently on basic education skills and explicitly teach learning strategies?

This is an honest question. I ask because charter supporters (there seemed to be quite a few them at Mt. Zion that night) seem to focus on the second kind of school. My kids have gone to the first kind, but as you pointed out above, our school, despite over ten years of 'courageous conversations,' multicultural education and targeted professional tutoring, has not closed the gap. I value the diversity at our school, but I would never send my kids to the second kind, ever. I want to think that we can close the gap without resegregating our schools, but I don't feel like the charter/reform movement supports that point of view.

agibean1958 said...

Maureen,

I would suggest a third model-what I saw in my child's kindergarten class, and have seen in other classes in some public schools across south Seattle (in some of the "worst" schools, often mentioned as such by Charlie).

In these classrooms, which were full of kids of color (most had no white kids at all), many from low-income households, one thing was a constant-an engaging, CULTURALLY COMPETENT teacher who seemed able to work with each child at their own level.

These are not special programs. They don't have small class sizes. Most don't have aids. They have kids who are new to the English language. They have kids who have behavior problems. And yet, the kids are learning. So what's different about them vs. these many, many schools and classrooms where kids of color fail?

It's the TEACHERS. Some are new, some are older, some are on a third career, some have been at it since I was a kid 30+ years ago. But they listen to each kid. They keep the troubled ones on track. They discipline the behaviorally challenged ones without adding to the statistics of black kids being suspended the most. They find ways to keep the bright ones learning new things. And above all, they have high expectations of ALL the kids. That might not mean that all kids will pass the WASL (or MAP) but they will leave those classrooms better than they came in.

Most of all, the classrooms reflect their populations. You won't find a lot of "classics" in the reading bins. You might find a picture of George Washington colored brown by most of the class. Black History month is more than a worksheet or two.

So that's my uneducated ideal school-fill one with such teachers and a principal who supports them and I'll bet you'd see a difference.
Unfortunately in these same schools I saw/see teachers who won't call on the black kids, can't control them, punish them in disproportionate numbers, and tell kids who want to be microbiologists that that can never happen. Or they don't see gifted kids for who they are, or see ELL kids as a problem to be shunted off to someone else. And so on.

Here's a great look at WFS by a teacher of color, who's taught in low-income, primarily minority schools. She NAILS what I've been trying to say here, but so much better.

http://loveisntenough.com/2010/10/13/are-you-waiting-for-superman/comment-page-1/#comment-871950

cascade said...

we had a school like you described Agibean.

Cooper.

The superintendent recommended its closure er repurposing for the Pathfinder program. The board complied.

agibean1958 said...

Well, I don't know cascade. Looks like in the last year Cooper was around, only 3 black 4th grade students passed the math portion of the WASL, and only 30% of all
4th graders did.

Also, there were only 16 black kids in the entire 4th grade-a lot compared to say, Bryant, but not even half of the 4th grade population. I keep saying this-you can't compare schools full of one population to schools with another population entirely.

But from everything I've heard, the majority of parents were happy with Cooper even with such low scores.I'm VERY curious though-why is it that I see on this very blog continuous references to closing schools like Hawthorne which is underenrolled and has low scores, but the same people lament the close of Cooper, which was underenrolled and had low scores...

Charlie Mas said...

Which schools were you describing as successful, agibean?

agibean1958 said...

I wasn't Charlie. I said there are some wonderful teachers in some South Seattle schools who GET IT-who can work with all levels of learners in their classrooms in a culturally aware manner. I said that if you had a whole school of such teachers with the support of their principals, that would be an ideal school.

No such school exists here in Seattle that I know of. Black kids, Latino kids and Native American kids are, by and large being left behind, even in the "best" schools that north end parents are bursting at the seems. That is, if they can get in.

So I wouldn't really call any of them "successful".

Maureen said...

agibean, I think you have described the teachers (especially the K teachers, but many in the upper grades as well) at my kids K-8. But the fact is that a gap still exists. Some kids come in disproportionately behind, they make great strides over the school year, but then slip back again over the summer. Every year they slip further and further behind and then I see them starting to act out and not even try to do their work. Those culturally competent teachers can only do so much. If we want to erase the gap, the district needs to help catch those kids and keep them learning over the summer. They can't be allowed to lose ground. Even if they had great teachers every year, they would fall behind their classmates who had those teachers and spent the summers reading. Learning happens everywhere, all of the time, teachers can help and they can hurt, but I think families shouldn't blame them for the parts of the kids' lives they have no control over.