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.”
An interesting piece in Nautilus makes the claim that cognition and emotions are not distinct functions of our brains (and challenges the concept of a “triune” brain), nor does associating physical sensations or signals confer a deeper read on emotions. Instead, understanding the emotions of others and ourselves stems from learning “emotion words” and making predictions based on the context of a situation and our past experiences.
The idea that you can increase your emotional intelligence by broadening your emotion vocabulary is solid neuroscience. Your brain is not static; it rewires itself with experience. When you force yourself to learn new words—emotion-related or otherwise—you sculpt your brain’s microwiring, giving it the means to construct those emotional experiences, as well as your perceptions of others’ emotions, more effortlessly in the future. In short, every emotion word you learn is a new tool for future emotional intelligence.
People who can construct finely grained emotional experiences have advantages beyond the expected social ones. Children who broaden their knowledge of emotion words improve their academic performance as well as their social behavior, according to studies by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
This is an interesting idea. It certainly lends itself to the idea that reading a wide range of literature can do much to build our students’ vocabulary of emotional words, and thus, of an understanding of the perspectives and feelings of others.
Though if this is true, then why is it that there are those who are widely read and yet are “bookish” and awkward in social situations? Perhaps it is because they are inundated with a much richer and denser swarm of emotional signals than the common nincompoop? Or perhaps it is that there needs to be some balance of immersion in translating the vocabulary and experiences one learns from books into real social situations in order to gain fluency with navigating that greater emotional granularity.
I’ve worked in ELA classrooms in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade using the Expeditionary Learning curriculum (freely available on EngageNY), and now I work supporting other ELA teachers in the Bronx, who often also use this curriculum.
I think the curriculum has a lot to offer*, but it’s also a heck of a lot of work to unpack. While each lesson provides a script, there’s few you could deliver as is. First of all, you’d never be able to get through many of them in a normal period. EL throws the kitchen sink into these lessons. Furthermore, you’d find yourself stranded in the middle of a lesson confused, trying to figure out where it was supposed to be going, or discovering you were supposed to have an anchor chart drawn up to refer to.
Like most curricula, Expeditionary Learning ELA curriculum requires each teacher to have first read, processed, adapted, and developed additional resources to complement each and every lesson. My co-teachers and I would develop our own “talking points” based on our interpretations of a lesson, then create an accompanying presentation, and finally, create a student guide/handout that matched our talking points and presentation. Doing this was intensive work for each individual lesson. The teachers I’ve been working with also find this incredibly daunting to do — most especially because they are also often told to implement the Teacher’s College writing curriculum alongside of it (. . . which is a whole ‘nother can of worms I’m not going to get into here). Suffice it to say, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can help other middle school teachers process and implement the EL curriculum efficiently and effectively.
So this summer I worked on a couple of tools to try to help ELA teams and teachers to be more strategic about how they are using the EL curriculum.
First on offer is a curricular overview of all the modules from 6-8, starting from a departmental-wide overview, then moving to a pacing calendar, which includes all of NYC’s official calendar dates. If you’re not in NYC, then of course modify to match your own district’s calendar.
At first glance, this may look like I’ve just copied and pasted a bunch of stuff from the original EL materials and reorganized it. And much of it is exactly that (my intent is to make it more accessible; EngageNY’s materials can be hard to manipulate and adapt). But I’ve also made a few editorial additions and decisions, which I will explain shortly.
In order to use the document, first make a copy for yourself, then you can edit it as you wish. Please share this with any teachers you think might be able to use it.
The first thing you’ll see is a departmental overview, consisting of Enduring Understandings, Essential Questions, and Focus Skills/Standards. These are not an explicit part of the EL curriculum itself, so I created the EUs and EQs based off the the module-level content. The focus skills I pulled from the EngageNY 6-8 Curriculum Map, which lists those focus skills for each Module 1-4 across the grades, so I thought those made sense as an encapsulation of the overall focus.
You’ll want to discuss these as an ELA team. Are these the Enduring Understandings you and Skills you want your students to graduate your school equipped with? Modify these first, then tailor the modules and units to match your focus.
I then included all the protocols and practices that EL provides as part of the curriculum. These are all good. But you would be wise to discuss these as a school, across all your content areas, and select a few common protocols and practices that you will use consistently across classrooms.
You’ll notice I’ve included every single module, including the alternative modules. So you will need to delete the columns and content that your team are not actually using, both in the section for Essential Questions/Assessments and in the Sequence section.
For the Focus Skills/Standards for each module, I literally went through every single lesson standard for each unit and looked at what was consistently practiced across the unit, then counted only those most practiced as the focus skills. I then pulled the “I can” statements that were developed by EL to align with those standards. But even still, you’re most likely going to want to focus and narrow these down to make them even more targeted.
I didn’t include the Focus Skills/Standards for Unit 3 of any modules because I’ve made the strategic decision to advise the schools I am working with to cut Unit 3 from each module. There’s simply not enough time, and while Unit 3s are nice, they are not essential. They are the fluffier “performance task” pieces. There’s a lot more to explain about my rationale on this, but not going to get into it now. Ask me if you want to know more. In any case, I didn’t want to waste my own time digging into something I wasn’t going to use.
Now you get to the pacing calendar. This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s nice to say you want to do all 4 modules. Go ahead, try to pace those out, while ensuring you’re including assessment days for MOSLs, baselines, iReady, test prep, or whatever the heck else your school will throw into the mix.
Or don’t. I already did it for you, leaving some extra time in there in March with the assumption you’re doing some test prep. If you wanted to do full modules, including Unit 3, you’d only be able to barely get through 3 modules.
So either you barely do three modules (probably still would need trimming). Or you cut Unit 3s and do Units 1 and 2 only for four modules.
You then need to consider your marking periods. Do you want the modules to align with those? If you’re doing four marking periods, it can be done. But it requires cutting Module 1 quite a bit. What you can do is cut Module 1 at the Unit 2 Mid-Unit assessment. This isn’t as tragic as it seems, since if you think about it, module 1 is really about getting students up to speed and engaged in reading and writing — then you can move on for deeper work in module 2.
Finally, the next thing you’re really going to need to take a look at as a team, aside from the actual lesson planning and development, are the mid and end-of-unit assessments. Do these align with the focus that your department has for your students? Do you want to modify them to include more multiple-choice, or more short-response writing? Do you want to design your own to supplant them? This is important work, because it will determine the type of data that you are looking at most closely to determine student feedback and grades.
Here’s an example of an adapted calendar in which Units have been cut and paced out in order to match a real school’s calendar. You can see that once you cut out all the school’s assessment days and “skill” days on Fridays, you’ve only got roughly 100 calendar days for the EL curriculum, and even that’s probably being optimistic.
The other resource I’d like to share is that EL has done some nice work turning the standards into student friendlier “I can” statements. But unfortunately, they embedded these wonderful statements deep within and across their many lengthy documents. So I pulled them all out and put them alongside the relevant grade-level standards so that you can access them more easily.
I am aware that the NY standards are being revised, but let’s be honest — they aren’t substantially different than the CCSS, and tests won’t align to the new ones for a few more years. I’ll update these accordingly, but it will just be a matter of some shifting around and deleting of a few of the standards.
I hope these are useful resources as you plan for your upcoming school year. Please let me know if there’s anything that I need to clarify or revise, or if you need further assistance in using these. Good luck!
* As a footnote, I want to note that Expeditionary Learning’s materials have a long way to go before they could be considered a viable curriculum in practice (in my opinion). And yet, comparative to most other ELA curricula, this is some of the better stuff out there, though I’d advise you to check out LearnZillion’s work with Louisiana’s Guidebook Units (disclosure: I’ve done a little bit of work on those and with LZ in general) or Great Mind’s Wit and Wisdom for clearer and more user friendly ELA curriculum.
What this tells us is that we’ve got alot of work to do before we have rigorous curricula in more ELA classrooms that every teacher can effectively deliver.
But I also want to point out that the fact that EngageNY has provided this curriculum under an open license and for open access is the only reason that we’re able to have this conversation and that I’m able to provide these resources. I can’t do that for Teacher’s College curriculum because it’s proprietary. So the more we can share open educational resources, the more transparently and widely we can develop better stuff.
Thanks, Expeditionary Learning, EngageNY, NYSED, and the Public Consulting Group for providing these resources to the public. Now let’s get to work making ELA curriculum better and more usable.
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.”
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.
“…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.’ ”
What’s fascinating about this is that it seems to present a real-world solution to a problem commonly referred to as the “tragedy of the commons,” in which the self-interest of individuals leads to the destruction and overuse of shared natural resources.
Spatial patterning often occurs in ecosystems as a self-organizing process caused by feedback between organisms and the physical environment. “The centuries-old Balinese rice terraces are also created by feedback between farmer’s decisions and the ecology, which triggers a transition from local to global scale control,” explains Lansing. “Our model shows for the first time that adaptation in a coupled human-natural system can trigger self-organized criticality.”
This is absolutely fascinating, and it’s interesting to consider this in relation to other ideas on a “self-organizing criticality” that we’ve explored here before, such as in brains and sand piles.
For proponents of ed reform who argue against centralized control, this seems like it could be worth digging into further.
The aspect of fractals here is also tantalizing. After chatting with a colleague about the article, he referred me to Ron Eglash, a mathematician who has studied fractals in African history and culture. Do yourself a favor and watch his TED talk, it will blow your mind.
Eglash raising an interesting point about self-organizing principles: they can be wonderful, as in Google search, or our brains. But there is also a dark side, such as in the spread of HIV or the damaging effects of capitalism. He suggests that the fractal algorithms employed in Africa could present us with “robust” “ways of doing self-organization — of doing entrepreneurship — that are gentle, that are egalitarian.”
I’d love to explore more about how the fractal design of school structures and systems could be utilized for a productive purpose. Please share if you’ve got more on this.
Their study and modeling seems to suggest that smaller self-segregated communities within a society are desirable in the long-run.
They found that the downside of the segregation is that it increases the social disharmony throughout the society as a whole. The upside, however, is that the social disharmony within each community becomes very low. In some communities, individuals are more likely to keep cooperating with each other—using the shared resource fairly—compared to the situation without segregation. These results were very similar to what the researchers observed in the segregated society of the Balinese subak.
This seems to be a dark side unmentioned in the more recent study on how the Balinese farmers exemplify a self-organizing society in harmony with nature. Or perhaps this isn’t a dark side — it’s a suggestion that some self-segregation can be positive.
But I don’t know anything about the Balinese subak, either, so not sure how much to read into this. Certainly worth going deeper into this. If any readers have knowledge of African fractal algorithms or Balinese subaks, please share!
Robert Pondiscio suggests that the strength of SA’s curriculum is that it’s based around rich knowledge and texts.
Though from my (admittedly cursory) glance at a unit, SA literacy looks pretty darn similar to the “balanced literacy” approach that has been utilized for years across NYC.
So what’s the difference? There are firm guidelines for how a classroom must look and the practices that accompany the curriculum. And the units do seem to be firmly oriented around text sets that can build knowledge.
To my mind, the key differentiator in SA’s favor here is coherency and consistency.
“The theory here is that chaotic schools — a loud hallway, a messy class — simply reproduce the stress that children may bring from home. Rules should be the same across the school, so students know what to expect. And students should be met with understanding and patience.”
CMOs, on average, are more effective than independent and for-profit charters
My guess is this is because a CMO provides greater knowledge sharing and network effects.
“Students attending a school run by a charter management organization seem to benefit the most. CMOs lead to small but statistically significant annual gains in math and reading, relative to both traditional public schools and other types of charters.”
“I’ve had charter school people call me lots of times over the years and ask for my advice on how they keep the union out of their schools. My advice has always been the same and it’s not what they want to hear. You don’t keep the union out, your employees keep the union out because they’re happy. Happy people don’t say *we really need a union here.* They form unions because they’re unhappy and they need protection and the unions provide that.”
He also has some good advice for NEA and AFT union heads worth heeding.
NYSUT, unsurprisingly, heralded the NY Board of Regent’s recent move to limit testing from 3 days to 2.
As a next step, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta stated, “NYSUT will be strongly advocating that the new benchmarks be age appropriate, fair, and accurate in order to ensure that students and public schools are not unfairly labeled.”
So. . . All kids should get an achievement award! Woohoo!
NCTQs Kate Walsh on recent moves to jettison teacher tests and credentialing requirements
“While there is good research describing the benefits of matching teacher and student race, let’s remember that those benefits are based on studies involving black and white teachers of otherwise comparable ability. Any benefits from matching race are erased when we no longer make our first priority the effectiveness of a teacher or our best estimates about who will be effective. While it’s uncomfortable to push back for fear of appearing insensitive to real problems of educational inequity, we must insist on prioritizing what’s best for students—having the most skilled teacher”
Healthier lunches don’t decrease obesity–but they increase test scores!
“In this paper, we test whether offering healthier lunches affects student achievement as measured by test scores. Our sample includes all California (CA) public schools over a five-year period. We estimate difference-in-difference style regressions using variation that takes advantage of frequent lunch vendor contract turnover. Students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score higher on CA state achievement tests, with larger test score increases for students who are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches. We do not find any evidence that healthier school lunches lead to a decrease in obesity rates.”