Things have been busy, so newsletters have just been piling up in my inbox unread. But here’s just a few items that have crossed my radar over the last couple of weeks worth looking into.
Momentum in NYC towards increasing school diversity, from both districts and charters
“The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.”
Detroit’s new superintendent is moving in the right direction
“When teachers complained that students were spending too much time taking tests, he reduced mandatory student testing. He also promised to raise teacher pay.
And he’s paying attention to what students learn, something that he says has been neglected. He’s pushing a district-wide curriculum audit to make sure Detroit kids are getting an education that meets national standards.”
Teaching is complex. So treat teachers like professionals.
“I believe that for a teacher to deal most effectively with the complexities of a classroom you must be considered the expert in your room. No one else lives with your students all day. Only you see so many things that others are not privy to so that you, even the beginning teacher, knows your class better than anyone else, no matter their legal power or expertise. You need to be treated like the professional you are and be allowed to make your own mistakes and learn from them. In turn you should allow your students the same rights.”
Achievement First is preparing students for the long haul (and tracking whether they are successful)
“Our evolving answer involves less full-class instruction and more targeted, small group instruction. We’ve made a bet on more personalized and self-directed learning with students completing “playlists” and advancing on their own when they have demonstrated competence in a given area. Students have access to more enrichment experiences — extended exploration in music, STEM inventions, dance, and martial arts. Students also participate in twice weekly “Circles,” based on the best practices of our friends at Valor Collegiate, to build their social-emotional skills and create a strong, supportive peer community.”
To make these kinds of changes, create effective teams. Use the pizza rule for team size.
“How many should be on a team? One rule of thumb: If this group got together, could it split one large pizza? This isn’t about saving money on food provided in meetings — but when you need more than a pizza, the decision-making often gets a lot harder. You want to make sure you have enough perspectives in the room to represent the needs of your school and community, but not so many that moving an idea forward becomes too challenging.”
Stop wasting your time on item-analysis of standards and skills on state ELA tests, people
Tim Shanahan has some advice and candor that many principals and district leaders sorely need to hear.
“What makes the difference in reading performance isn’t practice answering certain question types, but practice in interpreting texts that are challenging–that pose barriers to meaning.
. . . The point isn’t that the standards should be ignored, but that teachers have to understand that reading comprehension tests do not/cannot measure single, separable, independent skills. These instruments provide nothing more than an overall indicator of general reading comprehension performance.”
This is the annual rigmarole that schools waste their ELA teachers’ time with at the beginning of each school year.
Stop it, folks. Just stop it. You’re not going to glean new insight about how to effectively teach literacy to your kids by doing intensive item analysis of the standards and questions on the ELA state test.
Instead, read real literature and engage your kids in learning about their world. Then you might actually have an impact.
“At least on paper, it is difficult to tell what separates the schools at the bottom of the list from those at the top, which cuts to the core of what makes school turnaround so difficult: nobody knows precisely what works.
‘The problem is that there is no silver bullet to turnaround interventions,’ said Priscilla Wohlstetter, a distinguished research professor at Columbia University’s Teacher College. ‘It’s a really tough thing to figure out what makes the difference in schools.’”
Make sure to read behind the headlines on the new CREDO study. There’s a lot of unknowns and nuance to their findings.
Matt Barnum does a nice job of drawing those out in this Chalkbeat piece.
“…the study can’t explain why closures happen more often in certain communities. For instance, if low-achieving schools with many white students are especially likely to be located in rural areas where there are fewer alternative schools, that may help explain the results.
Another explanation could be that the expansion of charter schools in high-minority areas puts additional fiscal and enrollment pressure on districts and charters — as charters expand, other schools may close as their enrollment declines.
What is clear, though, is that black and low-income students and communities are especially likely to have a school closed.”
Don Shalvey calls for more learning, rather than competition, between charters and districts
“Let’s leave crushing the competition to the National Football League and not act like it’s the reason educators create and work in charter public schools.”
Sounds good to me. I think the fractious debates between charter and district are largely a distraction from the real work of how to best serve families and educate kids. And I will happily learn from and collaborate with any of my colleagues working in the charter sector.
It’s important when such collaborations do occur to frame them as a two-way street, rather than one sharing “best practices” to another. We all have things to learn from different contexts, structures, and approaches.
Or maybe districts need to be a little more competitive with charters
“In their rush to score cheap political points, both camps sidestep the reality that districts and charters are in a high-stakes competition for students. The truth is that unilateral opposition to charters has never stopped them from growing, just like it hasn’t stopped thousands of parents from enrolling their children in private schools or finding ways to get them into neighboring school districts. The futures of local charters and districts hinge on the same thing—the decisions parents make for their children.”
Celine Coggins advises teacher leaders to be willing to push policymakers for disagreement
“Most educators’ natural instinct is to keep the peace. Your average local politician won’t be as impolitic as the President. They’ll say they care about equity, meaning a great education for all kids. You need to get beneath the hood on that.”
Good point. I’ve met with a number of policymakers to advocate for better policies, and the tendency for these conversations is typically for teachers to share, policymaker to nod and then politely push away any accountability, everyone to get photo ops. The best conversations are when you can have a reasoned argument about something that helps to clarify where everyone stands.
Also good tidbit here from Coggins:
“Which are the policy problems and which are the relationship problems? The battle for greater equity for disadvantaged students is a war on two fronts. Some parts of the problem are best solved at the individual-level through relationships (i.e. influencing a leader’s thinking, getting invited to the decision-making table). Some parts of the problem are best solved at the system-level through formal policies (i.e. who has access to certain support services and programming; how funding gets allocated across schools). Separating the two types of problems, will help you get clear on the issues you can tackle next on each front.”
Diana Senechal asks, “What is a civics education?”
“Civics education conveys, develops, and enlivens the premise that a country is built on principles, structures, realities, and interpretations, and that each of these has internal contradictions and contradictions with other elements.”
“This will require, among other things, renewed dedication to secular education–that is, not education that denies or diminishes religious faith, but that builds a common basis and mode of discussion among people: a basis of knowledge and a mode of reasoning, imagining, and listening.”
A notable lack of transparency from De Blasio’s DOE
“Let’s talk about the New York City Department of Education,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which oversees open meetings and public records laws. “Terrible. Terrible. They’re terrible. They’re terrible.”
De Blasio, before becoming mayor:
“The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said at the time. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”
National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and TODOS: Mathematics for All are “calling on math teachers to assume a “social justice stance” that “challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics.”
If assuming a social justice stance means developing greater coherency in what and how a rigorous, sequential math curriculum is provided to all students, then sure.
Speaking of math, here’s sage advice from an 80 year veteran math teacher
The key to teaching math, says Miller, boils down to one thing — repetition. “Repetition is one of the foundations of learning.”
Repetition and rote memorization aren’t exactly cutting edge these days, but it’s hard to disagree with the advice Miller gives teachers who are just starting out: “Be sure that you know your subject.”
But it can’t be all memorization. At least when it comes to learning a language
Do not use flashcards! Do not emphasize memorization of the characters (bùyào sǐbèi dānzì 不要死背单字). Learn words in their proper grammatical and syntactic context. Learn grammatical patterns and practice them in substitution drills (that was one of the best ways Chang Li-ching used to train her students, and she was extremely successful in getting them up to an impressive level of fluency in a short period of time).
For examples of the kind of drills that would be really beneficial to all kids in teaching them grammatical patterns, refer to the Hochman Method.
Speaking of learning a language, why is the US so bad at producing bilinguals?
“…it’s ironic that we have students walking up staircases at one end of their school building to attend Spanish foreign language classes while at the other end of the same building native Spanish speakers are being taught English and content in ways that lead to their loss of Spanish.”
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.”
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.
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.
Teacher evaluation is about relationships and learning, not about scores
Long ago, I co-wrote a policy paper advocating for a teacher evaluation system that acknowledges that evaluation is a conversation that requires the context of a professional learning community, with input not only from the administration, but furthermore one’s peers.
While a pre and post-conference is included in most current eval systems, the reality is that the focus is on 1) compliance (paperwork), 2) the stakes/consequences attached to that paperwork, and 3) the demands of a very subjective rubric, rather than on the practices and content that will move learning forward for students.
So it should come as no surprise that few teachers are rated poorly by their principals. These systems have become all about summative evaluation, rather than formative feedback, and thus have lost sight of the real purpose of the system in the first place — to improve teacher practice and student learning. Effective principals will use the system to have those conversations — but they won’t rate their teachers poorly on paper unless they are intent on pushing them out the building.
“. . . challenging people to become bigger than themselves is at its core an act of respect and love. Shielding them from challenge, especially in their most formative years, is fundamentally deeply disrespectful to them and their education.”
He’s talking about higher ed. But this also applies–arguably, even more importantly–in K-12.
A middle school in the South Bronx harnesses the power of testing & practice
This Bronx school is applying what we know from decades of research: repeated quizzing and practice of key skills and concepts, spaced out over time, transfers learning into long-term memory.
Kudos to MS 343. When you think about just how much of an outlier this approach is, it’s pretty disturbing. Most schools do not have a coherent and systematic approach to what they teach, nor consider how they are reinforcing what is most essential to learn across grades and classrooms.
Dan Weisberg writes an op-ed in The 74 against the move, claiming that “Principals would go back to hiding vacancies and would justifiably argue that they can’t be held accountable for student learning if they don’t get to pick their teams.”
“I’m going to make sure my school doesn’t have a vacancy,” said one Bronx principal who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “I’m not going to post a vacancy if someone will place an ATR there. I’ll be as strategic as I can and figure out another way.”
I think Weisberg’s suggestion makes much more sense: set a time limit on how long someone can be in the ATR pool.
Randi Weingarten calls Devos’s brand of choice what it is — but what is her union doing to fight segregation?
I think Weingarten is pointing out an inconvenient truth by calling vouchers a “polite form of segregation,” given their history and the folks that most typically foam at the mouth over them.
But I do wonder what exactly she and her union are doing to fight segregated schools. Public schools are doing plenty on their own to contribute to segregation without any consideration of charters nor vouchers.
The school year in NYC just ended on the 28th; summer school begins this week. I’ve been facilitating training for summer school programs the last few days so have been pretty busy, but I’ve still got a few ed-related links worth reading compiled for you.
I’m waaay late to this, but this NTCQ report on what teachers need to learn in ed programs is excellent
I’ve had this PDF sitting on my desktop since January and just finally got around to perusing it.
The 6 strategies, based on extensive research, are deceptively simple. And yet, barely any of them, aside from asking probing questions, are covered in most teacher prep textbooks or courses.
Here’s the 6 strategies:
1. Pairing graphics with words.
2. Linking abstract concepts with concrete representations.
3. Posing probing questions.
4. Repeatedly alternating problems with their solutions provided and problems that students must solve.
5. Distributing practice.
6. Assessing to boost retention.
These would be a good focus for any sustained PD for a school. And I would argue that numbers 5 and 6 would be the biggest bang for your buck if you looked across the curriculum of a school.
What do most teacher prep textbooks focus on? Stuff like, “How teachers and students should organize themselves (e.g., inquiry learning, direct instruction, or cooperative learning).”
You know what? That’s what most professional development focuses on, too.
Amanda Ripley forwards a wonderful idea for promoting tolerance and understanding diversity: cultural exchanges within the US
Over the last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about the problems of segregation across New York state, and something I found under-explored and often trivialized by integration advocates was how to address rural and urban divides, as well as other students who are geographically isolated in urban areas.
Plus, it must be said that the reality is that there isn’t enough affluent or white kids in our public schools to spread around, if we’re going to start counting beans. So we need to look at more than only getting kids of different backgrounds in the same schools, though that can go a long way. We also need to look at how we can bring kids together in other ways.
Kentucky is bringing people of all ages together through a Rural-Urban Exchange. This is something other states should emulate, most especially for our children.
“It’s harder to demonize someone once you’ve stayed in their homes and shared meals and stories together.”
How did this DC public school get to 100% college acceptance?
System-wide support and money.
“a strong support system within D.C. public schools made it a reality. Staff tracked students, often working side by side with them to apply for college in the library. It also took a lot of money. Grants, donations and district funds took kids on college tours, and the school incentivized students with pep rallies, T-shirts and free food.”
Rural youth are leaving (and pushed to leave) for greater opportunities
“Researchers have found that the hollowing-out of heartland communities is the result of a push-pull phenomenon: Ambitious students are drawn to the attractions and opportunities of major cities, but they’re also encouraged to leave by teachers and parents who see college as a chance to escape stagnation.”
“I was taking a class called Latina Leadership Initiative — that class is all about empowerment. When I saw that I had access to these programs to bring them to Perry, I kind of let go of [my] shyness and said – this is something I need to do.”
“The ‘hidden costs’ of carbon dioxide emissions are no longer hidden, since now we can see them clearly in the data,” said Jina, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of economics at the University of Chicago. “The emissions coming out of our cars and power plants are reshaping the American economy. Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.”