I’ve argued before that one of the biggest problems with what we teach students across our nation is that it’s completely incoherent, and we do little to nurture a collective sense of values, knowledge, and civic engagement.
Here’s that problem in action:
Virginia’s standards of learning for U.S. history to 1865 include “describing the cultural, economic and constitutional issues that divided the nation” and “explaining how the issues of states’ rights and slavery increased sectional tensions.” Alabama fifth-graders “identify causes of the Civil War from the Northern and Southern viewpoints.”
Contrast that with Delaware, where school districts set their own curriculum but a syllabus for the eighth grade suggesting what might be covered during instruction says that abolition meant that the American people could for the first time “seriously claim to be living up to their commitment to the principle of liberty rooted in the American state papers.”
In Michigan, curriculum also is decided locally, though the state’s social studies standards for the Civil War and Reconstruction in eighth grade include the instructions: “Explain the reasons (political, economic, and social) why Southern states seceded and explain the differences in the timing of secession in the Upper and Lower South.”
Teacher shortages in high needs areas, such as SPED and math, with no end in sight
One of the suggestions here for addressing this makes a lot of sense to me:
“Make teacher certification national instead of state by state. Prospective teachers must pass an exam specific to the state they want to work in. But if a teacher wants to move from, say, Pennsylvania to California, they can’t immediately apply for jobs there. By having a national certification exam, teachers would have more mobility to go where they’re needed.”
There’s a problem with special education in the US. Marc Tucker tries to get down to the bottom of things
“The most likely explanation is that the very act of formally designating a student as a special education student lowers the expectations for that student’s performance held by everyone whose expectations count: teachers, parents, the student and their peers.”
I think Tucker’s hypothesis bears some truth. From my own experience as a special education teacher, I’ve seen how the label introduces its own set of psychological burdens. And we have a lot of kids being labeled who are simply struggling with academics, but not with any overt “disability” that can be clearly discerned.
“Far from suggesting that the top performers should learn a thing or two from us about helping special education students, we should be learning from the top performers how to keep students who do not truly need it out of special education by doing what they are doing to enable them to reach high standards in the first place.”
So how do other countries keep students out of special education?
“The top performers provide far more support than the U.S. does to families with young children—everything from cash awards to nutritional assistance to pregnant women to very long and well-supported family leave for fathers and mothers to universal, high-quality child care and early childhood education. But it does not stop there. It also includes a higher ratio of teachers to students in schools serving low-income, minority students; extra funds for schools serving large numbers of vulnerable students; coordinated social services; strong incentives for their best teachers and principals to serve in schools with large proportions of vulnerable students; more time for students who need extra time to reach high standards; close monitoring of student progress to make sure that students who start to fall behind get the help they need to catch up quickly and more time for teachers to work one-on-one and in small groups with students who need extra help.”
Reading this list, it just seems so common-sense, doesn’t it? Yet the tragedy is that there is little political will nor ideological support for these kinds of investments in the US. You start saying this kind of stuff too often, you get labeled as some kind of socialist or union shill. The reality is that when it comes to things like public education and social services, the people in the US who have the money and/or power to make things happen are most interested in things that sparkle and that offer the promise of a quick fix.
Yet Tucker also provides an interesting point in his conclusion, when he brings up the outlier in special education labeling, Finland, which labels upward of 38 percent of their kids:
“In Finland, they solved the problem by simply saying that many kinds of students need special help. Some may be gifted and some might have a hearing or vision problem. Some might need one-time-only help and others might need continuous help. In Finland, most students get “special education” help at least once in their school career. Because that is true, there is no stigma. Every school has a “special education” teacher trained to provide a wide range of special help to the students in that school who need it. This is an idea worth conjuring with.”
This definitely bears promise. In fact, this is how the special education team at my former middle school began approaching services. We recognized just how much of a stigma being labeled “special ed” had on kids, so we set about rebranding our work. We called ourselves Student Support services–because at some point, every student needs some kind of support.
Sounds a lot more positive, doesn’t it? Maybe special education as a system needs to be rebranded in this way.
Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.
…When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.
There’s a teacher shortage in high needs subjects and of teachers of color. Seems to me if charters can demonstrate they can train new teachers adequately without certification, then this could be a viable pathway into the profession that we should be welcoming, rather than fighting against. In the meantime, we can work on actually elevating the certified pathway by beefing up our higher ed programs and more closely examining how well they really are preparing teachers in the field.
Yes, I think charters overwork their teachers and demand a lot of them, often for less pay. I wouldn’t want to teach at Success Academy. But that would be the price to pay for not gaining certification via a more traditional route.
I’m all about honoring the profession. But I also know, like many other educators, that the real learning only began once I got into the classroom. It’s about whether or not you’ve been supported at that point thereon that really matters.
If charters can demonstrate effectiveness with these uncertified teachers, then what’s the problem? Isn’t this about the kids?
Each year in my classroom, I had kids who desperately needed glasses and didn’t have them. My school worked with parents and external partners to obtain them, but it was a process. And there were some of my students who I had to “remind” to wear their glasses in my glass every single day, because they didn’t want to wear them.
But something this elemental can have a huge impact. So I’m heartened to see this effort in Baltimore to bring free eyeglasses to students to demonstrate this impact.
“The outcomes were notable enough even with the small sample size—reading proficiency improved significantly compared with the children who did not need eyeglasses—that the researchers decided to radically expand the study to the whole city to see if the results held.”
Poor children who grow up in rural counties are more likely to marry
Writers such as author and CNN commentator J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, look at rural areas and see dysfunction and decline. Citing Chetty, Vance wrote that in Appalachia “poor kids really struggled.”
What Chetty and Hendren find, however, is that much of rural America isn’t a source of individual pathology but a place where we can all witness the beneficial impacts of community.
Use #CharlottesvilleCurriculum for suggestions on what to start your school year discussions off with
Queens teacher Vivett Dukes writes:
“We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.”
I agree. I’ve written before about the need to have tough–and nuanced–conversations with kids about race. You can find some useful classroom materials for doing this using the #ChartlottesvilleCurriculum hashtag.
Betty Rosa and MaryEllen Elia call for integration
“We committed to, as a department and as a Board of Regents, [the] notion of naming it,” Rosa said, referring to the state’s draft integration statement, which referred to New York schools as the most segregated in the country. “You’ve got to name it.”
Elia chimed in too, tying integration to the recent events in Charlottesville.
“I would say the last six days have pointed out to all of us that, clearly, this is something that must be on the agenda,” Elia said.
It’s nice to see them taking a strong stand on this issue, and making definitive statements. This is the most positive direction I can point to from our state ed leaders.
On other issues, however, I’ve really been struggling to understand what the vision from NY state ed leaders is for moving forward on education. The Board of Regents seems very clear about its intent to dismantle prior efforts at ed reform, but not very clear about what sort of system they would wish to put in its place. It’s easy to lambast what’s wrong; it’s much harder to put in place something better.
Janie Tankard Carnock at New America has a useful compilation of points to bear in mind when looking at data on ELs.
Here’s a good example of one: ELs at different stages progress at different rates.
“This growth principle is an important one to keep in mind when evaluating current EL progress to make claims about a school’s performance. For example, it will be easier for an average kindergarten EL to move from level 1 to 2 on the ELP exam than a sixth grade EL to move from level 4 to 5. This reality suggests the need for differentiated growth goals, ones that are more ambitious earlier on and more conservative in older years and/or at higher ELP levels.”
And another key one: Poverty affects most ELs and, as a result, their educational outcomes.
“…the school and district context as it intersects with poverty is another significant factor for ELs. Around 70 percent of ELs nationwide attend schools with disproportionately greater numbers of low-income students and other ELs. Such schools are typically under-resourced and have higher dropout rates, higher student mobility, more difficulty hiring and retaining effective teachers, and poorer quality curricular resources.”
Data is complex, people. Too many folks in schools are judging their students and programs based on one state test score.
Uncommon Schools on why some kids weren’t making it through college
“Some of the obvious reasons included the very real fact that financial problems dogged many students, as did the difficulties of transitioning to a completely unstructured college setting with complete freedom.
But Uncommon also discovered other insightful reasons why students struggled. First, students, far too often, were “undermatching.” Capable students were enrolling in colleges beneath their academic level, which increased their odds of dropping out of school. Data collected from Uncommon Schools also revealed definitive evidence that students who received less than a 3.0 GPA in high school struggled the most to stay in college.”
All school systems should be tracking and taking action on whether their students are making it to and graduating from college. This is the real work.
Though I would suggest that tracking and taking action on whether students are entering a successful career should be another component of this as well.
Sometimes responsiveness to parents can result in inequity
Some private and suburban schools are inflating grades, most likely due to pressure from parents. This puts urban kids at a disadvantage when applying to college.
“This is one of those things that works like a contagion,” Weissbourd said. “If you’re an independent school or a suburban school and you’re giving Bs and the school in the next community is giving A-minuses, you start to feel like those kids are going to get a leg up. So you start giving out A-minuses.”
Another example that context is everything (rather than isolated data points supposedly based upon meritocracy). Some colleges are adjusting for this, but most are not.
“A lot of people are going to do what’s best for their own kids,” Nichols said. “They’re trying to set things up to give their kids the best opportunity they can have. And that doesn’t lead to particularly good public policy.”
UK research shows 2 month progress as result of “dialogic” academic discussions
“Children in Dialogic Teaching schools made two additional months’ progress in English and science, and one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to children in control schools, on average. The three padlock security rating means we are moderately confident that this difference was due to the intervention and not to other factors.”
There was one strange little tidbit in the overview on this, though:
“The consistent results across subjects and the lack of any subject specific content in the training suggest that the approach may improve children’s overall thinking and learning skills rather than their knowledge in a given topic.” (bold added)
This seems like a problematic assertion to me. I think these results across content areas demonstrate that academic discussion holds great potential as a general strategy, which therefore means that if we make it dependent upon domain-specific knowledge, then we can see much greater advances in knowledge, rather than only “overall thinking and learning skills.”
A really good piece from UK educator Harry Fletcher-Wood on approaching planning as a department
I strongly agree with this approach and have begun targeting departmental coherence as my focus when working with ELA teachers here in the Bronx. Fletcher-Wood provides some really concrete and useful guidance on how to do this work.
I’ll be writing more about how I approach this work with ELA teams.
Schools need more embedded mental health support, like this
I’ve seen firsthand just how powerful a strong team of social workers and counselors can be on kids. So many of the issues that manifest in something like an IEP or a major academic slump or behavioral outburst in the classroom can be traced to underlying psychological or social-emotional factors. With daily support and care, kids that are dealing with a lot at home and in the streets can find sustenance and succor at school that will pay dividends into the future.
What if our system of education works exactly as intended?
Smart questions from Derrell Bradford:
“…let’s assume there are lots of interests, including student achievement, that intersect in schools. Which are most important to you? Are you OK with where minority student achievement ranks against, say, the value of property? Is the maintenance of a segregated system that prioritizes the interests of those who can cluster in the wealthiest areas more important to you than whether a young child of color has the early reading intervention necessary to unlock a future of possibility?”
“According to previous research, inherent explanations come to our minds more easily than extrinsic ones. Considering the many external factors that play a role in an individual’s success or failure requires considerable cognitive effort. In contrast, “those people are simply like that” is a simple idea to process—a way to make a reasonable-seeming snap judgment and move on.
If your tendency is to simply go with that initial explanation, you will find yourself in sync with conservative values, including the idea that society is basically fair, and people get what they deserve.”
Really interesting to consider the implications of this. But I also think we need to be conservative about making sweeping generalizations from a few studies. I’m pretty sure that a study could be designed that would demonstrate some lazy thinking on the part of liberals as well.
Perhaps the one thing that can universally be stated about human beings is that we are biased towards less thinking, rather than more.
The challenge to integrating schools: people don’t want to give stuff up
“There’s a serious problem in white liberalism in New York City,” said Emmaia Gelman, a white parent in District 3 who has advocated for integration policies. “Put to the test, it doesn’t hold up. People don’t want to give stuff up.”
The blockchain is coming to education, brought to you by Sony & IBM
You’ve probably been hearing about this “blockchain” thing for a while now. It’s yet to take hold in a way that means anything on the consumer end, but it’s sending investors into a tizzy.
There certainly is a lot of potential once some “killer app” kicks it into gear. The infrastructure and protocols for building contracts and record-keeping systems are growing increasingly advanced, and it’s only a matter of time.
Sony will be leveraging the open-source work of Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project.
Worth keeping an eye on. Education data and it’s accompanying privacy concerns blew up prior work to make data centralized and more transparent. But a well-constructed and encrypted blockchain can potentially address concerns about privacy, while also making data more transparent and pooling it together.
‘Rethink who is the curriculum, who is the teaching, centered on?’ Souto-Manning said.”
…’I wanted to get away from that story of the people in power,” said Salas, who works at P.S. 75 on the Upper West Side. ‘Story acting is a culturally relevant teaching tool because it helps students develop empathy and understand multiple perspectives.’
This Chalkbeat story, which paints “culturally relevant” teaching in glowing terms, gave me pause. Some of the suggestions made in the piece, such as knowing your student’s backgrounds and experiences or how to pronounce their names correctly, are just simply common sense. One would certainly hope that your son’s teacher knows his name and who he is as a person and treats him with respect and provides him with individualized attention. That this doesn’t happen in all classrooms speaks more to the quality of our ed preparation and people that are coming into the profession than a problem with curriculum.
The idea that we need to rethink our curricula to center them more on specific populations of students seems questionable to me for two reasons.
One is that this progressive rethinking of curriculum has been going on for a long time now. So take a look at actual curricula used in NYC schools and tell me how it’s not developing student understanding of multiple perspectives. Avoid vague platitudes and let’s talk actual content.
For example, one of the teachers mentioned in the pieces gives an example of a lesson on Christopher Columbus that challenges the “story of the people in power.” Yet if you examine the NYC social studies scope and sequence, which one would assume this teacher should be drawing from, here is the essential question for European exploration and colonization:
“How do issues of power, wealth and morality influence exploration and colonization?”
Such a question hardly seems to close off multiple perspectives on the topic. Arguably, therefore, this teacher is simply paying heed to teaching history the way curricular guidelines ask her to teach it.
Second reason is that I see the fundamental problem with our education system, especially in regards to integration and diversity, to be exactly the reverse as what is laid out by the notion of “culturally relevant” curriculum. The problem, as I see it, is that we don’t spend more time laying out what it means to be an American citizen, and the common values and principles we all share. And this problem is further compounded by the utter lack of coherency and consistency in the way we teach any content.
Speaking of curriculum. Florida conservatives craft a law to allow anyone to challenge school textbooks
“’We found [school books] to be full of political indoctrination, religious indoctrination, revisionist history and distorting our founding values and principles, even a significant quantity of pornography,’ he says.
The pornography, Flaugh says, was in literature and novels such as Angela’s Ashes, A Clockwork Orange and books by author Toni Morrison, which were in school libraries or on summer reading lists.”
Uh, dude, that’s not pornography. Has he ever read literature before? It’s not like Lady Chatterly’s Lover is being recommended for summer reading. . .
In any case, this law is a whole lot of sound and fury that will lead to nothing, except maybe some further fragmentation and incoherency in curriculum in Fla. What the Florida Citizen’s Alliance fails to recognize is that few schools and districts utilize any given set of textbooks anymore. Like I said before, the overriding principle of the U.S. school system is its complete lack of coherency. Most districts and schools use some amalgamation of books, resources, and materials supplied by various vendors or individual teachers.
Tim Shanahan on when to teach decoding and when to scaffold grade-level texts
A pervasive problem teachers face in teaching literacy are the increasing gaps between students’ reading abilities and the complexity and difficulty of the texts they are supposed to read at grade-level.
Shanahan provides some useful advice for teachers on this core issue:
“It doesn’t make sense to me to try to scaffold over any appreciable distance when a youngster is trying to figure out how to decode basic text. With those kids, I would teach phonics, I would engage them in reading easy texts, and I would read the seventh-grade texts to them with all of the scaffolding needed to keep their heads in the game about the ideas in those texts.
If it is the former of those queries—the one about scaffolding a great distance, like 6 or 7 grade levels, then I have a different answer for you. In fact, it is possible to scaffold that kind of distance, as long as the readers aren’t beginners. I’m saying that It is possible to scaffold the reading of an eighth-grade book for a student who now can only read at second-grade level, and there are benefits to doing this (though I’m certainly not claiming it to be an easy way to go).”
I have been privileged to attend a few workshops now on these writing strategies, and have begun including them in my work with teachers here in the Bronx. My blog post on the strategies is listed on TWR’s webpage. Nice to see my little logo up there alongside NY Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic. 🙂
The book is on pre-sale here and you can find workshops on the method from TWR here and from WITsi here.
The invisible crop killer
“Research has shown dicamba vapor can travel up to three miles, and symptoms may not manifest themselves for weeks after application. Crops with herbicide injury aren’t covered by crop insurance, and proving who was responsible and recovering damages is a little like having a hit and run on your car in the parking lot at Walmart.”
Kids struggling with disrupted education need coherent systems of support
“Thoughtfully creating coherent systems of support that enable all students to graduate from high school prepared to enter college or the workforce requires a wholesale rethinking of the ways in which education and social service agencies interact with one another, with the children in their care, and with families and caregivers.”
This one critical and overlooked aspect of the incoherency that kids experience in our educational systems. I would add to this the incoherency in content, instructional practices, and expectations to that list.
This was a key argument in support of common standards and content. Students who are struggling are often the ones who change living situations most frequently, and they experience an incoherent mess of content across classrooms and schools, rather than a thoughtfully sequenced and coherent set of topics, themes, and skills.
Scaffolding and differentiation are both words frequently thrown around in schools, often interchangeably and without precision. But there’s a clear distinction between the two that must be made, most especially as teachers are increasingly pressured to “differentiate” their lessons by school and district leadership with little guidance and concrete models.
So what is differentiation?
Differentiation asks teachers to plan different tasks or learning experiences for different groups of students, with the idea being that we can better meet the needs of diverse learners.
So for example, if we had our “high” student, our “medium” student, and our “low” performing student, we might provide a different text for each one in order to ensure they would be reading something at their “level.”
But there’s a problem with this. If the so-called “low” students only ever receive less complex and challenging expectations, texts, and learning experiences, they will continue to perform at a lower level.
This is why too many of our kids end up in “remedial” classes if and when they make it to college. This is why too many students consigned to a segregated “self-contained” program rarely even make it to graduation.
There’s another problem with differentiation. It demands quite a bit from a teacher to design (at least) 3 separate tasks or resources for any given lesson — time and energy that could perhaps be more effectively spent elsewhere.
To acknowledge these problems is not to say that differentiation can’t be applied effectively nor that it is universally the wrong thing to do. Structures for guided reading, for example, draw from this model and can be very effective in a school and classroom that have developed the necessary systems and routines. But these problems are big enough that they should give us strong pause before mindlessly evaluating and chiding teachers about whether they are adequately “differentiating” their lessons.
What is scaffolding, and how is it different?
The concept of scaffolding shifts how we approach meeting the needs of diverse learners.
We may have students coming into a learning experience with differing levels of knowledge, ability, or background, but rather than providing them with something different, we instead consider how we can provide the scaffolding necessary to ensure they can work together in grappling with a common task or text.
This is a shift offered by common standards, which demand a shared set of expectations for all students. For our students who may struggle in meeting these more rigorous demands, we must consider how to scaffold the concepts, procedures, and environment to support their engagement in practice with the texts and learning experiences that can enable them to meet those expectations.
This is certainly not an easy thing to do, either. But if I had to take a pick about what is going to give me the most bang for my buck, designing access and practice with common vocabulary, tasks, and texts is where I would ask educators to more wisely invest their time and energy.
“…a remark by a DeVos spokesperson last week — ‘the ultimate accountability for schools is whether or not parents choose to send their children there’ — should be seen as an attack on the idea that school quality matters. It’s fake accountability.”
This is an important point to bear in mind. There are some choice advocates who argue that rich parents already have choice and no one critiques or limits their choices, so why shouldn’t poor parents be able to make their own choices, misinformed or no?
While there’s rhetorical attraction to that proposition, it’s also a circular argument, since the primary reason choice advocates call for choice in the first place is because parents with only poor performing schools located near them should have access and options for higher quality schools.
Other than the hard-line free-marketeers, few choice advocates would argue for unfettered choice without adequate oversight. How about we have more arguments about the oversight itself, rather than choice as some mystical holy grail?
Should vouchers be equated with segregation? It’s complicated.
Matt Barnum brings in the nuance. Like many things in ed world, we need to avoid painting vouchers with a broad partisan brush (saying this as much to myself as to you).
And a lot of how vouchers or education savings accounts are perceived has to do with how they are framed.
“Advocates for school choice often point to the support of black and Hispanic voters. An Education Next poll found that nearly 64 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics — compared to 50 percent of white respondents — would back a tax credit program to fund private school tuition.
But support for private school choice programs tends to drop substantially when the word “voucher” is introduced or the use of public dollars is emphasized.”
Charters should be able to hire uncertified teachers
Given that most ed programs haven’t exactly demonstrated a concern about outcomes and actually preparing their teachers for real classrooms, seems to me that it would make sense to allow charter schools in NY to hire uncertified teachers and train them as they see fit. Hold them accountable for the results.
And let’s be honest–the most successful charters have tightly managed structures that pair assessment, curriculum, and professional learning that could probably better prepare teachers — or send them on their way if they don’t perform.
Teen herd behavior channels the opioid epidemic into schools
“The 16-year-old, a student at a specialized and highly competitive public high school, says drug use runs rampant at her school.
‘I was drinking and smoking (pot) because it was accepted,’ said the teen-age girl, who asked to remain anonymous to prevent bullying at her school.”
During finals and midterm exams, she said, students pop prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin to aid their studies.
‘It’s crazy,’ she said. ‘Even the kids who never use drugs want to enhance their brains, so they’re taking these drugs.’
The girl’s mother thinks the school didn’t do enough to help her daughter.
‘I still don’t understand why the school had no control over what kids are doing besides academics,’ she said tearfully.’
‘Teenagers are very hormonal and go through a lot of changes,’ [the student} explained. ‘Those emotions have nowhere to go. It’s the only way that they can get a grip on themselves and their feelings.’ ”