March 2011 Archives

Renee Moore decries the persistent resource gaps between schools in poor and well-off areas: My teachers and most of those with whom I have taught here in the Mississippi Delta have done amazing work under often disgraceful conditions. I wondered then and now, how much more they could have done if they had the resources and support of their better situated colleagues? Shouldn't ending this longstanding inequity be a top priority of education reform and ESEA reauthorization? How can we seriously address determining which teachers are or are not effective when even the best teachers in poor schools are forced ...


Patrick Riccards at Eduflack warns educators not to be fooled by vendors' cart-before-the-horse claims that their products are "Common Core certified" or "approved." It's true that most states have signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative and that it will likely play a role in ESEA reauthorization, he writes, but: ... [W]e still don't know what Common Core looks like in the schools and THERE IS NO ONE TO APPROVE ANYTHING ON BEHALF OF COMMON CORE! No one is certifying or approving on behalf of CCSSI. At a time when states and districts are worried about Common Core...we...


This is kind of cool: Skype just officially launched a network dedicated to teachers, called Skype in the Classroom. Teachers have been using Skype's free videoconferencing software to bring experts to class, connect foreign-language students to native speakers, and hold virtual field trips since the service began in 2003. But it hasn't always been easy to find other teachers to connect with. The new network allows users to post and search for projects to collaborate on and find other teachers by location on a map. Skype in the Classroom began beta testing in December 2010 and, as of now, the ...


Will Richardson, the teacher-turned-tech-expert who was featured in our previous Teacher PD Sourcebook, recently gave a presentation for TEDxNYEd, a spinoff of the renowned yearly TED Talk conferences. Richardson says kids today, in the era of smartphones and constant connectivity, learn differently, and that schools need to adapt to stay relevant. He discusses the ills of test prep, saying "this system is killing our kids. It's taking all the imagination, all the creativity, all the initiative, all the engagement right out of them." Check out the video for yourself (it's 14 minutes well spent). A rising-star math teacher who is ...


In The New York Times' Room for Debate feature, education experts address a hot-button question that many policymakers believe speaks to the major difference between the U.S. and countries with higher performing education systems (in fact, it's the very question I asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession): How do we raise the status of teachers in the U.S.? While so much of the dialogue around this topic has been, well, hazy, the answers provided by these experts are, for the most part, impressively specific. Kati Haycock, president of the Washington-based think ...


In a Washington Post op-ed this morning, Eva Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of the Success Charter Network, argues that class-size reduction efforts take away from schools' capacity for innovation and teacher support: Obsession with class size is causing many public schools to look like relics. We spend so much to employ lots of teachers that there isn't enough left to help these teachers be effective. According to the city's education department, New York public schools spend on average less than 3 percent of their budgets on instructional supplies and equipment (1 percent), textbooks (0.6 percent), library books ...


Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who also attended the International Summit on Teaching in New York last week, has posted a blog post highlighting positive rhetoric used by the foreign guests in reference to teachers. In a statement rarely heard these days in the United States, the Finnish Minister of Education launched the first session of last week's with the words: "We are very proud of our teachers." Her statement was so appreciative of teachers' knowledge, skills, and commitment that one of the U.S. participants later confessed that he thought she was the teacher union president, who, it turned out, ...


An incentive program aimed at bringing National Board certified teachers to high-poverty schools in Washington state is not working as intended, according to a new report from the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education. The finding comes on the heels of Gov. Christine Gregoire's proposal to suspend the bonuses paid to NBCTs—including the $5,000 they receive for having the certification and the additional $5,000 awarded to NBCTs who teach in "challenging" schools. She projects the cuts would save the state nearly $100 million in the next two years. Since the incentive program began four years...


Here's your business news of the day: TeachersPayTeachers, the website that lets teachers sell their lesson plans and materials, reportedly paid out $1 million dollars to teachers last year. To cite another measure, the company is generating $2 million in gross sales. According to Business Wire, one unnamed teacher makes as much money selling her stuff on the site as she does—well—teaching. (But then, maybe that's not saying all that much, right?) In any case, the company's apparent growth would seem to tell us two things: 1) that what teachers do and create has value; and 2) that—at...


In a post on the Harvard Business Review's Innovations in Education blog, a Harvard-trained social entrepeneur discusses an initiative his company created to improve teacher quality in India by developing a "recipe for good teaching." Part of this involved creating a 'micro-process' for teaching that essentially anatomizes the instructional protocals for different concepts. As he describes the finished product (in a sentence that kind of boggles the mind): We created a teachers' toolkit that mapped every concept in the Indian K-8 syllabus into 8000-plus detailed experiential teaching plans ... The author claims that implementing this toolkit—in addition to providing ongoing...


Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York Bullying is a serious school issue that every classroom teacher will have to confront at some point—and the presentation schedule here reflected that. I attended the last of the four bullying-related sessions, which addressed the need for schoolwide efforts to prevent cyberbullying. Patricia Agatston, who has written cyberbullying prevention curricula and is a consultant for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, explained that conventional bullying and cyberbullying have many similarities—they are both aggressive, repetitive, and difficult for the victim to defend against. But cyberbullying, which occurs through...


Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York Great friend to Teacher Kathleen Cushman gave a presentation based on her book Fires in the Mind (our last Teacher Book Club title) today—and drew quite a crowd. By the time I arrived, it was standing room only. Seems we were lucky to snag Kathleen while we could! She played some of the audio clips from the interviews she conducted for the book about what motivates and inspires kids. I also popped into a session with David Kirp, education policy expert and author of Kids First: Five...


Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York This morning, developmental psychologist Niobe Way answered questions about why boys are struggling in school. It's a topic I wrote about a few years ago, after Peg Tyre published The Trouble With Boys. Way's take on the situation is that boys experience a "crisis of connection." Stereotypical notions of masculinity assume that boys aren't expressive and don't have—or perhaps even need—close friendships. But boys both need and want deep connections, said Way. And in her research, she's found that many boys have close friendships that are...


Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York One school that's come up again and again here at the Celebration is Brockton High School in Massachusetts. The school gained nationwide attention in September, when The New York Times published an article about its remarkable turnaround. Susan Szachowicz, the school's principal, explained at an early session today that Brockton had a 75% failure rate on state tests 10 years ago. She and a group of other teachers who were dissatisfied with those results began to work on a restructuring plan. "Leadership isn't about a position," said Szachowicz, ...


Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York In a heartwarming session, which had at least one audience member in tears, popular young adult novelist Walter Dean Myers and his now 17-year-old co-author Ross Workman described the process of writing a book together. As a bit of background, Workman wrote a fan letter to Myers when he was 13. He received a staggering response: Myers suggested that the two collaborate on a novel. Four years and countless drafts over e-mail later, Kick was completed. Myers said in the session that he embarked on the project because ...


Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York Greetings from the Big Apple, where thousands of educators have convened for the 6th annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning, hosted by WNET. At a session known as the "Teachers Town Hall," led by PBS' Alison Stewart, a roomful of educators voiced their thoughts on expanded learning time, dropouts, and turnaround schools. The discussion on why students drop out of school—the only portion of the session with no panelists—was perhaps the most insightful. It was certainly the most contentious. A young teacher in the audience...


Two reports released in conjunction with the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York highlight the lessons the United States can take from other countries' reform efforts.


Heather Wolpert-Gawron, who was among the estimated 19,000 school employees in California who received lay-off notices this week, offers "The Ten Commandments of a Pink Slipped Teacher." No. 5 seems particulary important: Thou Shalt Not Dwell on How The System is Broken to the Point of Avoiding Your Own Reality. Heather is an award-winning middle school language arts teacher who has written widely on education and instruction, including for Teacher. Somewhat ironically—or would presciently be a better word?—she published an article with us last spring questioning the indiscriminate nature of seniority-based layoff systems: Much as we might...


Amid the ongoing debates over collective bargaining and the power of unions, teachers were (yet again) a focus of major newspaper op-ed pages yesterday: In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof (apparently taking a breather from the revolutions in the Mideast), blasted the "pernicious fallacy" emanating out of the nation's air waves that teachers are somehow overpaid and responsible for the nation's budget problems. In fact, he argued, if our schools are to be competitive, we need to pay teachers more—albeit at differentiated rates based on performance: Teaching is unusual among the professions in that it pays poorly...


At a White House conference yesterday, President Obama gathered parents, teachers, bullying victims, and researchers to discuss anti-bullying efforts. The president recounted that, as a kid, he was a victim of bullying himself. "With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune," he said (in what's become a much-quoted sound bite from the event). But in a subsequent Huffington Post op-ed, psychologist and addiction expert Stanton Peele responded that that the conference "failed to hit the mark" and "will have zero impact." According to Peele, warnings and admonitions against bullying don't work. Kids don't usually bully people ...


Daniela Fairchild, a policy analyst for the Fordham Institute, lauds state legislative efforts to limit teachers' collective bargaining rights, but cautions fellow proponents that the resulting changes to educators' benefit packages could dramatically reduce teachers' overall compensation, thus making the profession less attractive. If we stop at altering fringe benefits, without appropriately reassessing teachers' entire salary scale and structure, we'll relegate teaching to a purgatory with neither compensation that is competitive with the private sector nor the career stability that may attract some. NYC teacher Miss Eyre responds by saying, in effect, "um, yeah": Thank God that this author reminded ...


Single-sex classrooms in public schools have been on the rise for a decade, but middle schools in Kansas are testing out single-sex lunch and recess, reports The Wichita Eagle. At several middle schools in Wichita, Kan., boys eat lunch while girls have recess and then the two groups switch. Principals told the paper the policy was put in place to eliminate "inappropriate smooching and boy-girl drama" and also to get students to finish—or at least eat—their lunches. "It seemed like 80 percent of our students were throwing away whole lunches," Michael Archibeque, principal at Pleasant Valley Middle School,...


Michael Winerip at The New York Times has a detailed yet intelligible explanation of the failures of the value-added assessment model. He uses a persuasive example: Stacey Isaacson, a University of Pennsylvania and Columbia-educated third-year teacher who works 10 ½ hour school days and gets rave reviews from her principal, fellow teachers, and students. In her first year teaching, 65 of Isaacson's 66 students scored proficient on the state's language arts test. And dozens of her students have gone onto New York City's most competitive high schools. But as Winerip explains, "According to the [value-added] formula, Ms. Isaacson ranks in the ...


In California, State Senator Mark Leno—who is one of the first openly gay men elected to the legislature—introduced the country's first bill to integrate gay people and events into school curriculums, reports the New York Times. The bill would require all history textbooks to include figures and events in gay history portrayed "in a positive light." Citing recent suicides by gay teenagers, many educators are advocating for a gay-friendly curriculum; but conservative groups have vowed to protest, according to the paper. "The homosexual activists have repeatedly been pushing for more and more in sexual curriculum when our kids...


Both Reading Is Fundamental and the National Writing Project are in jeopardy of losing federal funding permanently, after President Obama signed a temporary spending law this week that axed support for the literacy programs. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Teach for America, and New Leaders for New Schools also suffered cuts, but are (luckily for them) not as reliant on federal funds as RIF and NWP. As Alyson Klein at Education Week explains, "Technically, the cuts are only in place for the two-week time period covered under the bill. But their restoration is considered extremely unlikely, given the ...


A recently rejected Virginia bill to give tax breaks to businesses for funding poor students' tuition to private schools—and the larger issue of school choice—has the state's black community divided, reports the Washington Post. According to the paper, members of older generations remember how Virginia avoided desegregating its public schools by closing them and giving vouchers to white children to enroll in private schools. They oppose the tax-credit bill, saying it would re-segregate education—by class. But younger generations of single parents and working-class African-American families see the bill as a way for their children to receive the...


Kevin Huffman—spokesperson for Teach for America, winner of the Washington Post's inaugural America's Next Great Pundit competition, and ex-husband to Michelle Rhee—has been named Tennessee's new education commissioner, Governor Bill Haslam's office announced. Huffman has not been shy about expressing his views on the need to pay effective teachers more and hold teacher prep programs accountable for their graduates' performance. Stephen Sawchuk has a bit more on this over at Teacher Beat....


A dedicated Oregon teacher of 35 years, worn down by accumulating pressures and degradations, realizes suddenly that she doesn't want to be a teacher anymore: It wasn't a single thing that gave me this feeling. I'm hoping it doesn't last. Maybe it was the severely autistic boy who showed up at my door the first day with no notice, but I don't really think so. Maybe it was the rigid schedule the principal passed out for everybody to be doing the same subject at the same time of day, or the new basal reader we have to use that we ...


Responding to the Bill Gates-generated class-size kerfuffle, education writer Dana Goldstein allows that there is little proven correlation between small class sizes and student performance. But, she notes, there's more to the issue than just test scores: The problem [with increasing class sizes] is that American parents are concerned not only with their children's test scores, but also with their day to day experiences at school. Parents want their children to have meaningful personal relationships with educators—the sorts of life-changing experiences many of us remember fondly when we think back on our favorite teachers, whether they helped us score...


Here's a gem of a headline from the Star-Telegram, which could have you crying or cringing: Fort Worth 2nd-Grader Hopes Sack of Change Will Save Teachers' Jobs The eight-year-old in the article is quoted as saying, "I thought I would bring some of my money from my college fund to my school so more teachers wouldn't get fired because I don't want anyone to go away." From there, the school office staff weeps and the superintendent vows to do everything she can to avoid teacher layoffs. Worth a read, especially if you haven't gotten your daily dose of looking at ...


Earlier this year, teacher Natalie Munroe sparked a national debate when she was fired for blogging about her students and claimed her First Amendment rights were violated. Now, an English teacher in Arizona is making the same claim after being let go for refusing to part with a bumper sticker, reports Care2. After a handful of parents at Imagine Prep complained about one of Tarah Ausburn's bumper stickers—which asks, "Have you drugged your kids today?"—administrators told her to remove it or park her car off campus. Ausburn refused both options and was consequently fired, according to Care2. The...


Just months after being diagnosed with cancer, Francisco Mendoza—who has earned several teaching awards throughout his 25 years in the classroom—lost his job and his health benefits, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Last spring, Mendoza spent five months in a hospital undergoing chemotherapy for multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. Upon his return home, he was greeted by a termination letter from Chicago Public Schools, according to the Sun-Times. "He read it and just broke down crying. He put in 25 years as an art teacher, and that was the thanks he got," Mendoza's nephew, James Larralde,...


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