July 2012 Archives

Andrew Hacker has a bombshell opinion piece in last Sunday's NY Times, arguing that teaching algebra to all students is a wasted effort. Students are routinely told that math is a gateway subject—you have to take advanced math to get into a good college—and Hacker suggests that this is precisely the problem:In the interest of maintaining rigor, we're actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention...


In a recent post, I suggested that standardization is a good thing at the more coarse "grain sizes," but that administrators should leave substantial room for professional autonomy when it comes to the finer-grained choices teachers make. Today I want to address the same issue from a different angle. Micromanaging is not a virtue, and teachers appreciate it when administrators stay out of the fine-grained decisions that comprise their daily practice. But it's not as if this level of practice is inscrutable magic. When you look at what the best teachers do, you see something that might be surprising: many ...


The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama's budget proposal includes $1 billion over the next several years for a STEM "Master Teacher Corps." US News & World Report offers some additional details about the plan's rationale:The teachers will be chosen by local school officials, and Duncan anticipates that when the program is in full swing, about 5 percent of STEM teachers will be enrolled. Public schools have long faced a shortage of STEM teachers who have degrees in the subjects they teach, and many of the better-qualified teachers leave for jobs as engineers or mathematicians within five years. Duncan ...


Teacher and writer/speaker/tech expert Bill Ferriter suggested in a blog post last Thursday that scripted curriculum is the equivalent of running shoes that do more harm than good, constraining healthy, natural functioning. I don't know anyone that particularly likes scripted curriculum (except people who are selling it), but I also think it's useful to an extent; it's merely a question of degrees. I agree with Ferriter that over-standardizing can take away something crucial, but there's something to be said for having everyone on the same page—though not literally. My district's elementary math curriculum does have a fairly...


This fall, I'd like to see an unprecedented amount of new technology enter our nation's classrooms. It's powerful, it's easy, and it won't cost a dime. The average classroom probably has a handful of computers, but they tend to be underpowered and out of date. The future is in mobile devices, and there's now a way to get a powerful mobile device into the hands of every child in America. Apple is on track to sell more than 100 million iPhones this year, and with the new edition coming in September, there will no doubt be somewhere on the order ...


I believe we're in a "golden age" with the Common Core State Standards. It's certainly a golden age for curriculum publishers, who can now sell the same materials in 45 states, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the classroom. The standards are being rolled out in districts and schools around the country (except in the handful of states that haven't adopted them), and teachers are adjusting their plans to match the new standards. But our worries about the assessments are still a good year away. There are detailed item specification documents on the consortium websites, ...


Standards are everywhere. All month, I'm participating in an online conference on the Common Core State Standards. Students have long been expected to meet their state standards, and now most states are making the shift to the CCSS. Last Summer, when I attended the LearningForward conference, their Standards for Professional Learning were featured prominently. This recent Wallace Foundation report recommends that school districts define standards for principals to improve their hiring practices. If you've ever driven by a factory with a large banner touting its ISO 9001 certification, you've also encountered a different type of standard, which specifies management procedures ...


I live in Seattle, so it's probably no surprise that I go to Starbucks quite a bit. Locally, Starbucks is respected to a certain point, but it's not considered premium coffee, and most certainly not the best in town. If you want an espresso that will change your life, you'd do better to hit up one of the local places. But Starbucks is everywhere - even in rural areas - and their product is consistent. I've ordered a good 500 or so of my favorite drink, a "doppio espresso macchiato with extra dry foam." I've found that this particularly phrase ...


Stephen Sawchuck has a major article out today on the NEA's struggle to adapt to a changing world. He notes that the organization's membership has dropped by about 100,000 in the past two years, and is projected to drop another 200,000 by 2014. For an organization of over 3 million, this is a small percentage, but Sawchuck notes that it's a major sign of change. The major impact: Reorganizing to focus more on politics. Given that NEA itself can't directly bargain with school districts, it makes sense that issue and candidate advocacy would be major channels for the ...


The National School Boards Association's Legal Clips newsletter reports that Massachusetts recently passed a new teacher evaluation bill under threat of a ballot initiative backed by Stand for Children: The bill sped through the state legislature with little debate in order to get the bill to the governor's desk in an effort to force a more sweeping initiative petition dropped from consideration for the fall ballot. EdWeek's Steven Sawchuck reported in mid-June that the Massachusetts Teachers' Association (MTA) struck a deal with Stand, thus avoiding a costly fight at the ballot box and potentially more dramatic changes in the laws ...


Last school year, I took a survey on teacher non-renewal, and when the researcher shared the results with me later (a common practice in educational research), I thought they were worth sharing here. Thanks to Dr. Andy Nixon of the University of West Georgia for writing the following summary of his research on principals involved in non-renewing a teacher's contract. (Note that this is a brief summary for this blog, and not the full version for scholarly publication.) Principals and Teacher Contract Non-Renewals Andy Nixon, EdD School principals confront pressure from state and federal accountability legislation to produce evidence of ...


In my previous post, I introduced Seth Godin's recent manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?). In answering his own question, Godin suggests that school is "for" some purposes that are no longer relevant, and weren't so great to begin with. Godin argues that we have public schools both to keep kids out of the labor force and to better prepare them for the compliance-oriented jobs they'll fill as adults: A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults. Sure, there was some moral outrage about seven-year-olds ...


Friday was my last day with Seattle Public Schools, so I hope to devote much more time to this blog from this point on. The topic of performance in the education profession is more important than ever, and I'm eager to re-engage with you; feel free to email me at [email protected] Over the past few weeks, I worked my way through Seth Godin's lengthy online manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School For?). If you aren't familiar with Godin, he is a bestselling author, marketing guru, and leading thinker in creativity and entrepreneurship. I went to see ...


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