May 2010 Archives

Hard Times for Okla. Teachers

Oklahoma teachers got some tough news this week that could hit them in their wallets.

Budgeting Teacher Layoffs

In a Washington Post op-ed, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers makes the economic case for the education jobs bill: Because unemployed teachers have to cut back on spending, local businesses and overall economic activity suffer. And the costs of decreased learning time and support for students will be felt not just in the next year or two but will reduce our productivity for decades to come. Meanwhile, North Carolina teacher Cindi Rigsbee is furious after reading that her state is cutting teaching jobs even while maintaining its budget (to the tune of $14 million) for ...

'Farewell to A Farewell to Arms'?

A new English curriculum in Nevada could eliminate the standard high school literature canon, and a number of teachers are not happy about that.

Will the Real Effective Teacher Please Stand Up?

What makes some teachers better than others? A new study from the Rand Corp. concludes that, well, it's tough to know. The study, which examined data from the Los Angeles Unified School District over a five year period, found that there was little correlation between teacher effectiveness (as measured by student test-score progress) and any particular qualifications or credentials. That includes years of experience, education level attained, or licensure test scores. Even initially failing a licensure exam showed no "statistically significant link" to a teacher's future effectiveness. So what now? The study suggests that "education experts" may need to "develop ...

Teachers as Fashion Police

Miss Eyre, in a post on NYC Educator, explains her ambigious stance on her school's student dress code policy. As well, if a child is dressed improperly, I am supposed to send that child directly to the office to either change clothes or wait for a parent or guardian to bring a change of clothes. Now, again, I am theoretically in favor of a policy like this. However, in the recent past at my school, a child has told a teacher to go f--- herself only to be promptly returned to the classroom, and another child called a classmate a ...

Help Wanted

With so-many school layoffs and hiring freezes being reported, you'd think it wouldn't be hard for a school to find good teachers right now. But Epiphany in Baltimore has found that, for a variety of reasons—most notably district recruitment and preference policies—that's not the case....

Why Can't Students Write?

A college teacher, citing some pretty ugly statistics, wonders why so many students come to college not knowing the fundamentals of decent writing, and suggests we need to rethink "the way writing is taught in high school -- and, perhaps, the way teachers are compensated." A respondent—also a college teacher—argues that part of the problem stems from English teachers' schoolmarmish inclination to mark up and fix everything that's wrong in a student's paper: Effective teachers of writing identify a small number of patterns of error -- perhaps three per writing project -- and then teach students how to correct...

Another Ill-Advised Lesson Plan

After allowing four students to dress in Klan hoods in school for a film project, an Atlanta teacher is now facing suspension or termination.

Teachers Unheard in Meeting With Duncan?

A group of accomplished teachers representing Anthony Cody's Teachers' Letters to Obama campaign got a chance to express their concerns and ideas about federal education policy in a conference call with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and colleagues yesterday. Unfortunately, from the teachers point of view, it turned out to be a frustrating experience. Both Cody and Nancy Flanagan have posted accounts of the call. Definitely worth a read. UPDATE 5/26: Interesting: Cody gets a callback....

Taking Issue With Texas' New Standards

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog tries to find "the most egregious twist of history" in Texas' new social studies curriculum standards (including some proposals that didn't make the final cut).

Monday Reading: The Unions and Race to the Top

The education-policy community is abuzz over an article by journalist Steven Brill that appeared in the New York Times Magazine yesterday (though it's been online for a few days). Titled "The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand," the piece looks at the powerful reform forces that have coalesced around the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition (with particular emphasis on its teacher-accountabilty provisions) and at the seemingly out-of-touch—not to say doomed—efforts of teachers' unions and their supportors to resist wholesale changes to teachers' protections. One flashpoint of the article is a devastating comparison (on first blush, anyway) of a regular...

Why Spilled Oil Is Worse Than Spilled Milk

A group of 1st graders in Kansas had a hands-on lesson about cleaning up oil spills this week, with the Gulf of Mexico disaster in mind.

Deep Thought of the Week

Diane Ravitch, explaining her recent change of heart on accountability-based reform, goes Jungian: I sometimes wonder whether you might be attracted to the things that you say are wrong--if you're kind of guarding yourself against something that secretly appeals to you. It's like people who are vehement, militant atheists; I think they could easily become religious crusaders, because they're almost religious in their atheism. You have to be careful what you choose to engage yourself with, because the thing you're fighting could be the very thing you want....

Bringing Kids to Togetherville

A new social network called "Togetherville" aims to be the web-safe version of Facebook for students ages 10 and under.

The Tao of Classroom Management

Ariel Sacks, on the advice of a yoga teacher, has taken to practicing mindfulness in the classroom. It's interesting stuff: When we take the time to notice things, we are creating an opportunity for ourselves to illuminate the choices we make on a regular basis, some of which we may not even be aware. Lately, I've even been taking time to notice what I notice. Do I take as much time to notice the progress one student makes, or how well a lesson went, as I do berating myself about a student who was messing around period 4? How I ...

The Real Problem in Schools: Administrators?

Amid all the talk about firing ineffective teachers, award-winning educator Renee Moore argues that the real cause of poor achievement in schools might just be "ill-conceived administrative restrictions": It sounds paradoxical that those charged with being educational leaders in their buildings or districts may actually be impediments to quality instruction, but that is a truth many of us in the field have to deal with daily. She notes that, faced with clueless one-size-fits-all mandates and inconsistent policies, even accomplished teachers find they often have to resort to subterfuge to do their jobs in way they know they need to. She ...

Arguing Skills vs. Content

Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review, warns against placing processes and skills above content knowledge in literacy instruction, saying that, in the manner of kudzu, they will "choke attention to the reading of complete books and the writing of serious academic papers by the students in our schools." On the Core Knowledge blog, teacher Diana Senechal seconds him and chides those who think they can have it both ways (i.e., by combining a skills-based instructional emphasis with meaningful content): Process does replace content when it is accorded the highest place on the scale of values. To put process ...

The Fine Art of Slowing Down

In preparation for a future project, we've been doing some reading recently on so-called 21st-century skills, so this story about an art teacher in Louisiana who teaches students how to draw from the right (non-verbal) side of the brain caught my eye. The idea, according to the teacher, Paulette Purser, is to get the students to slow down in their representational drawings and examine problems from different perspectives. This ultimately helps them become better problem-solvers, she says—one of the key 21st-century skills, incidentally. Several times during the course of a class Purser will reportedly exhort her students to slow...

Worst Lesson Plan Idea Ever?

A geometry teacher in Jefferson County, Ala., was paid a visit by the Secret Service after he reportedly attempted to elucidate a lesson on parallel lines and angles by illustrating where one would need to be positioned in order to shoot President Obama. The secret service did not find a "credible threat," and the teacher is not expected to be placed on leave or be terminated—though he is apparently going to get a good talking-to. "We are going to have a long conversation with him about what's appropriate," the district's superintendent said. "It was extremely poor judgment on his ...

The Meaning of the Central Falls Deal

Education bloggers react to the news that a Rhode Island is rehiring all of the teachers it had fired in a turnaround effort earlier in the year.

Teacher Blogs Get Some Love

Congratulations to Teacher blogger Tamara Fisher! Her blog, Unwrapping the Gifted, made the "Top 50 Blogs for Teachers" list compiled by Rasmussen College. Teacher's Blogboard—although now defunct—also made the list. (It's been replaced by Teaching Now, the blog you are currently reading.) A shout out to Education Week reporters who also cracked the top 50: Stephen Sawchuk for Teacher Beat and Christina Samuels and her guest blogger Lisa Fine for On Special Education. According to Allie Gray of Rasmussen the list is based on blog content as well as search-engine page rank....

Parents Chip In for Teacher Jobs

Parents from a California school district raised $2 million in two months to save the teaching jobs of over 100 teachers who received pink slips in March.

But Are They Learning?

Will Richardson posits that one problem with evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores is that it values knowledge over learning.

A Study in Black and White

A recent study finds that both white and African-American schoolchildren have a "white bias"—white students overwhelmingly so.

Fired R.I. Teachers Try to Beat the Odds

The 93 teachers who were all fired from a Rhode Island school can now reapply for their jobs, but only half can be re-hired and they're facing off against 800 other applicants.

Do Teachers Need Tenure Changes to Believe in Students?

In an editorial, the Denver Post defends a bill just passed by the Colo. Legislature that will tie teachers' tenure status to students' academic progress: Despite hysterical assertions to the contrary, it is not meant to set up teachers as scapegoats for the sociological and economic disadvantages that their students bring to school with them. It is not an effort to fire teachers en masse. It is an effort to recalibrate their mission in a very specific way. The foundation of this measure is the firm belief that even students who come from troubled circumstances can learn. These are the ...

Move Over Justin Bieber

Twelve-year-old Greyson Michael Chance appeared in a 6th grade talent show in Edmund, Oklahoma last month and today he is a YouTube sensation. With an appearance this morning on the Ellen Degeneres Show and more than eight million views of his YouTube cover of "Paparazzi" by pop singer Lady Gaga, Chance could very well be the next Justin Bieber or better. If you need convincing, listen for yourself and check out the faces on the female students as he performs—they go from mild disinterest to shock and awe. Chance explained to Ellen Degeneres this morning how he found out ...

New York's Move to Revamp Evaluations Stirs Debate

New York's State Education Department and teachers' unions have brokered a deal to revamp teacher evaluations by linking them to student test scores, according to the The New York Times. The agreement is expected to boost the state's chances of winning coveted federal Race to the Top money. Under the agreement, teachers would be measured each year on a 100-point scale, 20 percent of which would be based on student improvement on state exams. Another 20 percentage points would be based local tests developed by individual school systems, while principal and peer observations make up other parts of the evaluation. ...

Adventures in Rebranding

We can all agree that the "Behavior Developing Institute" is a terrible name for a district's program for troubled students. But isn't changing it to "The Oxford Center" maybe going a little too far?...

British Teachers Try Teaching Like Champions

U.K. educators aren't wild about the teaching style outlined in the hit U.S. education book.

Mass. Looking for Star Teachers

Education officials in Massachusetts announced a new initiative to recruit high-quality teachers for jobs in underperforming schools across the state.

Why Shakespeare Speaks to Struggling Readers

How is that a high school freshman who reads at the 5th grade level is picking Shakespeare more quickly than other students in his English class? His teacher, Epiphany in Baltimore, doesn't think it's a big mystery: I told him this was because he knows what it means to work at reading while he's doing it and the other students don't. He is willing to sit and grapple with the language and the other kids who are not used to working hard are not willing to. Therefore, he's getting it quicker than the others....

Going the 'Catholic Route'

Can this story be real? Apparently the teacher-job market in Ontario is so tough that some non-religious educators are taking up Catholicism in an attempt to get coveted positions in parochial schools, according the Canadian Press. "I don't particularly like going (to mass) every Sunday, but if this is what I have to do, then I'll do it," said a Toronto-area teaching-candidate. According to data cited from the Ontario College of Teachers, some 12,200 new teachers are vying for about 5,000 open public school positions in the province. All employees of Toronto's Catholic schools, meanwhile, must be Catholic—and...

Walking a Mile...

After betting his Spanish teacher that he'd wear the same pair of shoes daily through all four years of high school, a football captain is only weeks away from fulfilling his promise.

Ariz. Students Protest Immigration Law With Walkouts

Arizona students took to the streets last week to protest a controversial new immigration bill that the state recently passed.

Smartboard Love

Doug Johnson, a district technology director, posts the highly positive results of a survey of teachers in his district on their use of smartboards. While acknowledging recent criticism of the devices, he notes: "When it comes to the classroom, I will listen to the teacher long before listening to the pundit." Generally a good policy, but it's worth noting that (beyond Johnson's district) teachers' opinions on smartboards are nowhere near uniform. Which raises the question of how much teachers' experiences with them are determined by the strengh of the district's implementation....

The Upside of Standardized Testing

Bellringers notes that, during testing week in her school, "teachers were allowed to wear blue jeans all week, and I even got to use my chicken to direct hallway traffic." It's the little things...

Feeling Appreciated?

Kind a downer of a Teacher Appreciation Week, huh? According to a good overview story in the the Christian Science Monitor, teachers unions and lawmakers had to use the occasion to bring attention to looming mass education job cuts and, more hopefully, to newly proposed federal funding to avert layoffs. Not that everyone is necessarily of the opinion that more money is a good idea: "The likelihood that our kids are going to thank us for running up another $23 billion on their tab so that we can avoid making responsible decisions is unlikely," said the American Enterprise Institute's Frederick ...

Allington Responds to Critics

Our recent interview with Richard Allington on response to intervention has generated a lot of interest, including a number comments from readers taking issue with his views. I just wanted to note that Professor Allington has posted a response to those comments. (You may need to scroll down to his post.) He's not exactly backing down....

Free the Nings!

The social networking service Ning—which hosts many thriving teacher groups—created a great deal of angst last month when it announced that is moving to a subscriptions-only model. The details on the pricing scheme are still being worked out, but the New York Times' Bits blog is now reporting that the company has worked out a deal to keep the service free for teachers. They apparently realized it just wasn't worth asking schools for money. "For public educators, the process for buying anything tends to be so arduous, and we're going to make it easier to use Ning," Jason...

Teacher Sues Over Disallowed F's

A 4th grade teacher from East Baton Rouge, La., is suing her principal, superintendent, and school board because she claims she was prohibited from assigning failing grades to students "under any circumstances," according to Courthouse News Service. Sue Goudreau says that at a meeting of 4th grade teachers at Riveroaks Elementary School, Principal Sholanda Shamlin, "adamantly directed ... teachers to assign a D to students who were definitely not going to pass 4th grade and not to fail a student who has even the slightest chance of passing [the state test]." The district's policy had been to give a student an ...

Stop Blaming the Parents

Renee Moore thinks recent murmerings from teachers about blaming parents or holding them more accountable for students academic performance are ill-advised.

N.J. Principal Wants Students Off Facebook

A New Jersey middle school principal wants his students off Facebook.

Look Before You Leap?

In Des Moines, Iowa, district officials have moved to block scheduling, despite questions about whether teachers have had enough time or training to manage the switch.

'All Teams Must Make the State Playoffs'

A humorous meme that is going around the teacher blogosphere: What if NCLB were applied to football?...

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