Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Public Education News Roundup

In the "wait, what?!" category comes this story from the Washington Post's Answer Sheet - School puts nearly 100 kindergartners in one class in a teaching experiment.  The first sentence in the article says "no, it's not a headline from The Onion." 

This is being tried at the lowest-performing school in Detroit.  There are three teachers in the class.

Incidentally, the lead teacher is 30 years old, another teacher is in her second year and the third is in her first year.

It's from a story in the Detroit Free Press.  It sounds like it works (somewhat) but I honestly do not believe it is what is best for children.

The AP is reporting that Washington state is the only state denied renewal of its NCLB waiver that seems unlikely to get their waiver back (the other three states seem to be doing what Arne Duncan wants).  

Randy Dorn, the WA state superintendent said this:

Dorn said he didn't think the proposed change to state law - going from optional use of statewide tests to mandatory use in teacher evaluations without a specific goal on how big a factor the tests would be - wouldn't have changed the way teachers are evaluated.

Seriously?  Of course, it would make a difference to teachers.  That principals already talk with teachers about scores does not make the next logical step to make scores the primary driver of their evaluations. 

Speaking of NCLB, here's another dumb idea - Race to the TopEducation Week created a very fun (and funny) road map of RttT. 

Remember how everyone thought giving every student a laptop was the way to go?  Hoboken School District has a closet for you.  From WYNC:

Inside Hoboken’s combined junior-senior high school is a storage closet. Behind the locked door, some mothballed laptop computers are strewn among brown cardboard boxes. Others are stacked one atop another. Dozens more are stored on mobile computer carts, many of them on their last legs.

That’s all that remains from a failed experiment to assign every student a laptop at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. 

"We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.” 

Some rather sobering numbers from Washington State's latest GED results (via Pearson testing).  There is some fascinating linkage with Common Core and Gates and ALEC.  This is from Restore GED Fairness:

The new 2014 Pearson GED test is much harder than the previous 2002 version of the GED test. In fact, in Washington State 80+% fewer students have earned their GED from January to April 2014 as did in 2012 during the same time period. This drop is due to the difficulty of the test.


Anonymous said...

I'm all for trying new/unique things in the classroom, and 100 students in a classroom counts as new/unique, but as an experiment nobody can say it's successful until it has been replicated. These 3 teachers (and TA) are obviously highly motivated to make it work - most teachers would never take that on period, and we all know high levels of motivation can (in a small scale study) work wonders. Remember the old factory experiment of how both brightening and dimming the lights increased productivity?

Replication will also run into that killer of most educational experiments - the Decline Effect. Yep, increase the quality and quantity of experimental controls and the quantity of experiments/classrooms run and watch the results ("effect size") decline. They may learn a couple of interesting aspects about how to occasionally take advantage of combined groups, but I'm not worried about the standard class size suddenly becoming 100... union or no union.

Sea Teacher

Lisa said...

Are you sure that wasn't a TBT article from the 1970s? Remember Open Concept Classrooms? I can't find anything different about this "new" approach.

That said, many Montessori schools operate just fine with much larger class size because the materials and the other kids shoulder a portion of the teaching load.

Anonymous said...

Those idiots in Detroit trying 100 5 year olds in one room with a bunch of babysitters, oops, I mean teachers? Really, really stupid. Words fail.

Did the designers of the experiment ever meet a 5 year old? Could the "Ed Wizard" brainiac who thought this up stand to be in such a classroom?

How will sensory-integration disorder children do in such a wild high-stim environment?

Why must everything in education be new? Little kids are little kids. They need to feel safe, be well rested and well fed, they need to get excercise everyday and play time and downtown and then well thought out lessons executed by an adult who cares about them and knows them well and connects with them. With 100 kids and 3 teachers, there will be too much diffusion of responsibility and the quiet, shy, or well behaved kids will get lost in the shuffle.

Would Bill Gates put his kids in such an environment? Don't think so.

Common sense, let just common sense prevail. Whoever is still left in Detroit, this is giving that young family one more reason to flee.


Anonymous said...

Big Title IX legislative proposal coming out of Washington DC. Only targeted at Colleges. Someone in Seattle needs to write the legislators and the press and get high schools included. The way the female college students were treated sounds eerily like the some of the public discourse on the Garfield student. Also mirroring Garfield: the attempt of colleges to minimize the issue.

Students First

StringCheese said...

Lisa is right. I watched the video. This is almost completely like the "open concept" classrooms I grew up with in the early '80s. They each have their own spaces within a larger open space. It is not 100 kids gathered in one big group. They consider it "one classroom with 3 teachers" because they are essentially doing "walk-to" learning. Ability grouping in K is a bit odd but there is nothing new about this approach. I'm sure it is working out fine. After all, it is what many of us grew up with and look how wonderfully we turned out!

Honestly, I've always found the "sit with one teacher in a single classroom all day" incredibly limiting. My elementary was entirely open concept with 5-6 homerooms per grade level. We approached subjects in blocks, language arts and math. We used "tote trays" that went with us from room to room as we traveled with our similarly abled peers to our blocks. I benefited from increased exposure to more teaching styles, increased chances to interact and collaborate with different peers, and, because we were taught at our appropriate level/speed, I was always learning instead of waiting around for 5 different levels of "differentiation" to get to the same page.

The current system in many of the schools in SPS of expecting one teacher to teach 6 different subjects and reach 5+ levels of instructional need in each subject is setting our classrooms up for failure, at worst, and mediocrity at best.

It was a typically sized school in my city but ginormous by Seattle standards. We still had a strong community and I knew the name of every single kid in my grade level. The fear surrounding these 500-650 kid schools is just plain silly.

(sorry for the overuse of quotation marks)

Watching said...

Here is an update on Seattle's preschool initiatives:


PS- Will someone tell me how to do a hyper-link?

Watching said...

Regarding the city and I 107:

The unions also have filed an ethics complaint against the city with the state auditor, the state Public Disclosure Commission and the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission.

The complaint alleges the city improperly made policy decisions opposing I-107 behind closed doors and provided The Seattle Times editorial board with a fiscal analysis of I-107 that the city refused to provide to the coalition.

The lawsuit accused the City Council of discussing and carrying out legislative duties related to I-107 in those closed-door sessions in violation of open-meetings laws.

Lynn said...


You can find directions here.

Carol Simmons said...

Dear Friends,

Please read School Board President Sharon Peaslee's post in response to the the Seattle Times editorial. She is accurate in her response.

Anonymous said...

When my kiddo was starting kindergarten we toured schools and I'm pretty sure it was Maple that had open-walled classrooms. There was some activity going on with at least 100 kids in one space along with several teachers. We ended up going in a completely different direction but the kids seemed happy and wasn't Maple in the news for doing really well on test scores?

And the above is right-many Montessori schools operate using large classrooms and several teachers/aides to work with small groups within the larger setting.

I don't think this is new or scary at all.

One Done

Anonymous said...

Carol Simmons better link here

Melissa Westbrook said...

StringCheese, what is confusing to me is that this open concept idea seems to wax and wane. The district, in public documents on facilities, sometimes like having buildings like this and sometimes don't. They used the open concept argument at the former Sharples building to tear it down and rebuild for South Shore. I toured the building before it was torn down and all the teachers could do is complain about the noise and the inability for students to concentrate.

Anonymous said...

I think President Peaslee would have been better served asking for an op-ed response to the ST editorial instead of commenting on the editorial in the reader comments. I wonder if she requested such and was denied. I wouldn't be surprised.

--- swk

Patrick said...

I agree, SWK. As Charlie has pointed out in the past, the arguments in the online comments do not get printed, so the Times' paper-only readers get no clue how ridiculous the Times' editorials masquerading as news really are.

Anonymous said...

Yup, when I was in elementary school the open concept classrooms were called "pods" and they were a pain from a noise and overstimulation standpoint. Inevitably one class would be doing an activity while another tested or had quiet reading. I actually preferred the one year our grade was in portables, because at least it was contained.


StringCheese said...

Melissa, I think that the devil is in the details of how the building and grade band pods are arranged. Ours was in a "U" shape with an enclosed multipurpose room between the tips of the U. Of course, back in the day, we also had art in a separate art room, science in a science lab, music in a music room... the classrooms weren't having to act as catch-all spaces for overcrowded schools and the arts weren't having to be thrown on plates of the classroom teachers. Big difference.

However, contained or open concept, I still stand against the insanity of expecting our teachers to teach every subject well at 5 different levels. We should be looking for creative solutions that take advantage of teacher strengths while allowing students to progress at at their own developmentally appropriate pace.

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