Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Tenure’ Category

Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

Read Full Post »

I just finished reading another post on how educators oppose technology, Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. The headline from the New York Times misleads somewhat from the content of the article, but it does support the seemingly anti-tech-in-education bias of the NYT. The focus of the article is on the resistance that educators and parents in Idaho are showing to legislation being moved forward in regard to mandating technology in education. As an ardent supporter of technology in education, one would think that I would wholeheartedly support this legislation.  The problem with any legislation dealing with education however is the ignorance of the legislators in regard to education and learning.

The fact of the matter seems, in this case, to be that teachers are opposed, not to the technology, but rather, the intent of its use, as well as the lack of support for training and implementation of the technology. I addressed this same issue in my last post, Another Tarnished Silver Bullet. The purchasing of mass quantities of technology to throw at students, while cutting back on teachers and salaries is not a well-lit path of enlightenment. Many or even most legislators may know about technology without knowing technology. They don’t understand how it is used as an effective tool for learning. They see it as a magical phrase that can be used to sound knowledgeable about what education needs in order to be effective. It is a sound-bite that may be THE Answer for education. It sounds very “Reformy”, and legislators are all about reform. They don’t get the fact that putting the boxes in the rooms does not get the job done. You don’t put someone in the cockpit of an airliner and expect him/her to get passengers across the country. When that flight tragically fails, legislators will blame the person for refusing to learn how to fly, and the airplane for not being reliable, while bearing no responsibility for forcing everyone into this position to begin with. Sound familiar?

Teachers look to technology as a tool for learning. Legislators see it as a way to reduce cost. It is a way to deliver more content with fewer personnel. If legislators were serious about really putting tech in education on a large-scale for learning, then they would put the money up for proper professional development and implementation. Teachers cannot be replaced by technology. Exposure to more content through technology does not enable student learning. It is the teacher who sets the stage and guides kids to use, create, collaborate, and learn with the technology. We learned the lesson that the TV screen does not care for and raise children. It is a helpful tool when parents control, monitor and regulate its use. We now have to understand the computer screen is not an educator unless it is combined with a teacher to stimulate guide and provide feedback on its use.

Of course, when this latest attempt in Idaho to legislate education reform fails, there will be plenty of blame: The intransigent, bad teachers who refuse to change, the greedy teachers unions looking to get more money, administrators who are just putting in their time until retirement. There will be no mention of ill-conceived and poorly planned legislation pushed through by overzealous politicians looking to benefit by hyping their participation in education reform legislation. It will be business as usual.

When it comes to our Legislators on the subject of Education, they seem to believe that a little knowledge goes a long way. Unfortunately, for us, and our children the opposite is true. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) an Essay on Criticism, 1709

A little learning is a dangerous thing; 
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

Read Full Post »

I recently posted another video of a Diane Ravitch interview with CNN. There are now several videotaped interviews of Diane Ravitch standing up for education reform on The Educator’s PLN. It was with this last post however, that I realized that aside from Diane Ravitch, I could think of few others who stand out on the National stage in support of Education reform beyond something more than supporting the status quo of additional standardized testing or increasing its influence in education.

It would seem that only leaders chosen by the national media or politicians are leading education reform. The “man on the street” interview also plays a huge roll in what is going in education today. The politicians who control the purse strings of education seem to depend on the businessmen who control the purse strings of politicians for advice on how to improve education. After ten years of increased dependence on standardized testing at a cost of billions of dollars with little improvement in the system, we must wonder why we continue down this path. The four companies benefiting most by these testing policies are: Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company), and NCS Pearson. Suspicious minds might wonder what lobbying efforts these companies have in place to secure testing in national education policies. More on that here: The Testing Industry’s Big Four

Where are the leaders passionate about education and learning? I can’t believe that they don’t exist. We have institutions of Higher Education teaching courses and programs on educational leadership: where are those graduates? Where are the panels of educators discussing not the failure of the system, but rather the failure of standardized testing to make positive changes? More testing does not equate to more learning. Why is this not being articulated with passion to the public?

Who will stand up passionately for a profession targeted as the reason standardized testing has failed for all these years? Who will stand up and say that it is the policy of testing that is the failure?

After ten years of policies that have not worked, I find it hard to believe that there are no education leaders that have not put together a better way to do things differently for a better outcome. Finland has been pointed out as a world leader in education. The question was then posed: How can we compete with Finland? Where are the leaders who should be screaming: What can we learn from Finland? Finland gives NO standardized tests. They do not spend months in test preparation. They teach and their students learn. Where are the American education leaders to lead us to the same policies and outcomes as Finland? We need leaders to learn from Finland and not attempt to beat them in some imaginary competition for world domination in education. Competition is the way of business and politics. Collaboration is the way of education. We need leaders to make that point clear, but few are coming forward.

Ask why standardized testing is not working and fingers are pointed to the teachers, unions, tenure, length of the year, homework, class size, professional development and even the length of the school day as problems preventing positive testing results. How many education leaders have pointed to the tests themselves as being flawed? Certainly many of these issues need to be improved, but even if all of those issues were changed, I would venture an admitted biased opinion that there would still be problems with the standardized tests. I cannot be the only one who thinks this. How do we convince leaders to stand up for educators and education? What do we do to show our support for these people? It seems to me that Diane Ravitch has many supporters, but why are no other education leaders coming forward in a national forum?  Where is the collective voice of educators? Of course there is always the possibility that I am the only one who sees it this way. Your comments on this are certainly welcomed.

Read Full Post »

I am growing tired of the number of posts and stories I read about everyone’s plan on “teacher accountability”. I see too many holes in too many plans to deal with what is being categorized as “THE PROBLEM” with education; bad teachers. Unfortunately, when the outcome of many of these ill-conceived plans like Merit Pay result in failure, that too will be blamed on the teachers for its failure to work and not the fact that the plan itself was flawed. Teachers are in a no-win situation with targets painted on their backs. Nowhere was it more evident than in the reporter’s attack on Matt Damon for his support of teachers at the Save Our Schools March in D.C.. I guess we should be grateful for, if it wasn’t for the press coverage of Matt Damon, the entire March might have gone on with absolutely no press coverage. Why cover a bunch of protesting teachers when we all know that they are the problem with education? They cost too much and do too little. The newest added dimension, thanks to enlightened Missouri Legislators, is that all teachers are suspected to be potential child molesters.

I am not saying that teachers should not be held accountable. I am saying that there is no one factor that is creating the perceived failure of our education system. I recently read a post suggesting that the professional thing for teachers to do was to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and fix themselves through self-evaluation. Of course that was my take on it, and I did comment to the blogger. You may assess it differently. Teacher Accountability & PLCs.

The one big question that keeps nagging at my brain is: Where is our leadership in all of this?  Other questions: Who is standing up for teachers? Besides Diane Ravitch whose voices are we hearing nationally in support of teachers? But the most important question of all is: Where are our local, educational leaders in this? What responsibility are the superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals taking for the “demise” of our education system?

I do not want to enter the realm of Admin bashing, but there are some observations that can be made that might be helpful in leadership evaluation. After a career in secondary education, I have a longstanding awareness of the capabilities of teachers. Additionally, my recent experience with educators involved in Social Media is also very positive, and finding that most educators are involved to improve their craft and be relevant as educators. Most educators entered the profession for reasons more noble than to bilk the system with an easy ride for high pay and healthcare. The leadership of education comes from these very ranks. What happens to the educator who transitions to an administrator? Are all administrators leaders? How much of our administrators are still educators?

The industrial model of education requires a hierarchy of supervision. Unfortunately, for some Admins, this creates an adversarial relationship with an Us/Them mentality and teachers become the problem. Those admins may no longer be comfortable with teachers and tend to lead from their office. You won’t find them in professional development workshops. Some will never enter the student cafeteria at lunchtime. Walking the halls is the lowest priority on a long list of important administrative duties.

A stable school culture is developed over time. To affect that culture in a positive way, any admin needs to spend time working on  needed change. The system however, often requires that admins move on, to move up. Aspiring admins are too often not around long enough to affect needed change leaving that to the next admin to come along. This also creates a void in teacher evaluations. Any continuing guidance an admin may be offering  a teacher in need of such structure, leaves with the admin. The new admin generally does not want to rock the boat or create enemies, so follow-through is usually tabled for the time being. That usually means, until there is a problem that is visible. Some refer to this as falling through the cracks. administrator mobility causes many, many cracks.

Leadership works best when there is a mutual respect between teachers and admins. It has been my observation that this works best when admins view themselves more as educators than supervisors. An educator who supports other educators in the goal of developing learners is a much more respectful way to lead than the Boss and Worker model. Support of teachers requires trusting teachers. That requires giving teachers power. The Power and control issue in any school creates that adversarial thing that always gets in the way.

The whole educational philosophy idea can really muck things up as well. At the extremes we have conservatives and progressives. The conservative approach to education much as in politics, harkens back to the tried and true methods of olde. The progressive philosophy calls on teaching the 21st Century skills and employing tech tools for learning. Of course the bulk of educators fall somewhere in the middle, again, much like politics. This is where professional Development and life-long learning come into play. Better learners make better teachers. Better learners also make better leaders. This can’t happen with once or twice a year workshop day for teachers. We need Leaders to offer constant PD and to lead the way by modeling their involvement.

There is an Irony here that I feel the need to point out. I do not expect too many comments from administrators objecting to my opinions here. Most of the administrators who would even be exposed to this post are the administrators looking to learn and reflect for a better way to lead. The unfortunate part about that is that, they represent only a small, but hopefully growing number. So, the people who I need to have read this post for the most benefit, will never see it. Maybe they would, if someone printed it out and walked it into their office.

To be better students, we need better teachers. To be better teachers, we need better leaders. To be better leaders, we need better methods. To get better methods, we need more involvement. To get more involvement, we need to be better learners. Ta Da! To be better Educators, we ALL need to be better learners.

In addition to all of this, we need to be better marketers of education. Marketing is the key to success. I once took a marketing course for educators at, of all places, Disneyworld, the Mecca of marketing. That was a valuable course for me. I learned the four important points for marketing education.

  1. Do a good job. 2. Do a good job. 3. Do a good job. 4. Tell everyone about it!

Read Full Post »

I am very frustrated after attending a huge professional development conference for educators this past weekend in New York City. The conference was sponsored by WNET and The National Education Association among others. It was called the Celebration of Teaching and Learning. The event was held at the New York Hilton Hotel, and was a sprawling extravaganza of technological sights and sounds covering three floors. There were signs, banners, booths, and even a live alligator amongst the beeps, blips and colors of computer driven screens everywhere.

There were Vendors galore on the exhibitors’ floors. The booths numbered over a thousand and represented most of the players in the field of Educational Technology. In full disclosure, I was a guest of my wife’s company Vizzle, a visual learning and networking application for teachers of children with Autism. There were thousands of attendees walking through the exhibitor’s halls, as well as attending the many workshops being offered throughout the day. I have been involved with planning educational conferences for years. I know what it takes to plan a successful conference. This was a well planned and wonderful conference.

Yes, there is a big “BUT” coming up, but not yet. I am quite involved with educators through Social Media on a daily basis. I own or participate in many educational groups online. I manage #Edchat and The Educator’s PLN. I have been a teacher from the elementary level to Higher Ed since 1971.I was also an active participant and leader in a teacher’s union for over 30 years. All of this gives me a somewhat unique perspective when I attend educational conferences.

In today’s climate teachers, and what they do, are under attack from many fronts. Many educators I come in contact with are reflecting on what they do. The reform movement which is paid lip service by most is being taken seriously by many educators. They are reflecting on what they do and how they do it in order to make it better. Educators are struggling, as are many others, to understand what is important in education. The only thing we can all agree on is that Education, as it is today, is not meeting the needs of the people paying for it. Since everybody pays for it, everyone wants a say in how to fix it. With all that is involved, it seems the people with the most power (money) have the biggest say. That limits the ability of educators to affect a change in the area in which they have the most expertise. They certainly have more expertise than those who are now the loudest voices for change.

Now, back to the Conference! I did not attend the workshops, but I have no doubt about the superior quality of the content or the presenters.  I do have a problem with the lack of topics dealing with issues educators talk about through Social Media. I looked for Social Media specific presentations, banning, filtering, blogging, Social networking, or PLNs. I was more than disappointed. There were many teacher union topics which addressed the effects of reform from a labor point of view. These were much needed. Teachers need more preparation on how to stand up and protect themselves against attacks without merit.

As an aside, I saw very little, if any, Back Channeling from the workshops or keynote speeches. The attendees at this conference were not social media savvy. There was very little tweeting for a conference of this size. Most of the tweets coming from the conference were from Vendors. They get it!

My one big objection was the majority of Keynote Speakers. I know that WNET was a sponsor of the conference, and it is understandable that they would want media personalities on the program. However, they had to have been chosen for glitz and glamour or popularity, but certainly not for educational expertise. My problem is that the media is greatly responsible for the myths and misconceptions that are sidetracking a needed education reform movement. Media personalities are not educators. I don’t understand why their opinions would be given more weight than the voices of educators. Why do we, as educators, give the power for education reform to so many non educators?  Where are the educators, who will stand up and address what should be focused on for meaningful Education Reform? Congressmen are the only people allowed to reform Congress. Senators can only reform the Senate.  Any changes to the medical profession would not come from anyone without an MD in their title. Even the restrictions placed on wall Street come from Wall-Streeters. Of course Lawyers need no reform, but if they did…

Diane Ravitch was also a speaker at this conference. The planners failed to recognize how important her voice is to educators. The room she spoke in was too small for the audience. There were not enough chairs to sit in or space to stand on. Dr. Ravitch spoke for about an hour addressing many of the myths about education that are side tracking real Education Reform. The audience affirmed her speech with applause and cheers. I supported her by standing for the full hour in the back of the room (poor me). The planners videotaped the speech, but never streamed it over the internet, or even said if it would be available in some archive. That says a great deal about their commitment to “Celebrating Technology in Education”.

I sometimes think that educators are their own worst enemy. Many educators are doubting themselves and their worth because of the throngs of detractors. Teachers turning on teachers is a strategy to reform labor not education. Playing fast and loose with numbers of charter school results is a strategy to promote privatization. Many want to push public education to the private sector for reasons of profit and not learning. Bill Gate is entitled to his beliefs, but his misguided beliefs are being sold to the public and educators by using huge amounts of money. Influence is being bought. We need not help him in those efforts. We need real educators to step up and stop giving away our power to lead for education reform, a reform for learning and not labor.

Read Full Post »

The term Life Long Learning has been bandied about by educators for years. It is a term that has worked its way into Mission Statements of schools across our nation. It is a term that teachers use with their students. It has become a goal that every teacher strives to put in place for students. It is also a goal that many (not all) teachers, for the most part, do not apply to themselves.

I sometimes think that our culture, demanding that teachers be content experts, is a hindrance to education reform. There is an implication that an expert is supposed to know it all. That position may limit a willingness to learn. How can a teacher be the expert, if he/she has more to learn? Even if one was an expert in some content area and at one point knew all that there was to know about a given subject, there is still always more information being developed. With the advancement of technology this is happening faster, and in more volume than ever before. Content experts remained experts longer in the 1800’s. It took years to question their expertise. Change was slow.

A teacher’s response to this might be one of disbelief. Teachers may not admit to this in public. However, if we consider teachers’ responses to suggestions of Professional Development, their actions belie their rhetoric. Many are resistant to Professional Development. In fairness, not all PD is worthy of consideration. It is not always well thought out or well presented. However that is not an excuse to resist all PD. The fact of the matter is that it is a big point of contention among many educators.

Colleges are being blamed for not producing enough great teachers. Not enough content experts. That is simply ridiculous. Colleges need to educate students in their content area as well as philosophy and methods in education. They are required to make students content experts in their content area and in education in four years. Teachers are born in the college classrooms, but they develop, mature and become great teachers in the schools in which they teach. This only occurs with support and leadership from their educational leaders. It requires continuous learning over the lifetime of a career. It requires teachers and their leaders to be Life Long Learners.

This all adds to a predicament in which teachers have placed themselves. Senior teachers are being vilified more than any other group of teachers being vilified by the critics of education. They are being portrayed as unwilling to learn or change. They are being pitted against the younger more energetic teachers who appear willing to learn and change. The senior teachers are victims of the culture of education. They are the experts as they were expected to be. They believe this themselves. They have attained their lifelong goal, therefore, they believe that there is no need to learn any more, or to change the “tried and true”. They have achieved expertise status as required by the system.

The culture cultivated this attitude, but now finds it unproductive and in need of change. It is the perfect excuse for educational leaders and politicians to use to eliminate what they see as an easy way to cut the budget. The most experienced teachers are the most expensive. Eliminating senior teachers is about money and budgets, and not better education. It requires eliminating fewer senior teachers to get the most Bang for the Buck. It doesn’t consider experience and stability of the school. It doesn’t consider loyalty and the very expertise it demanded. It’s all about the money

If we are to have better education system we need teachers to be better learners. For that to happen we need better leaders, who also need to be better learners. Life Long Learning is essential for all involved in education not just the kids. If we were serious about education reform we need to work on educating the educators in earnest. We can get very, very few great teachers from college classrooms. We can get teachers with great potential, but that potential must be nurtured and taught on an ongoing basis. It is the school’s leadership and culture that will enable a teacher to be great. It will be the commitment and support of the school leadership to professional development and Life Long Learning that will move us to where we need to be in education reform. That may only happen one school at a time. It might happen sooner if the idea of social learning ever takes hold in education. The Irony obvious to me is that Educators are for everyone being Life Long Learners as long as it doesn’t affect them. (No, that does not mean you, but many of the other educators.)

 

Comments welcomed!

 

Read Full Post »

I am growing tired of the call for the ouster of older teachers and the elevation of the younger. I am of the older generation (some might say very older) after a career in education spanning four decades. I was also a victim of budget cuts during that career losing my job at the end of every year for my first nine years in three school districts. After 34 years, I am no longer in Public education, but I am involved with Higher Education. My assignment is to train and observe Pre-service teachers, student teachers. In that role I get to travel from school to school and observe educators on all levels.

I teach and observe student teachers for a living. I know that my students have observed over 100 hours of lessons by teachers in the field prior to their becoming student teachers. Additionally, they must show mastery in a program of courses in both philosophy and methods in Education. This is all in addition to the courses required in their content area. By the time these students have an opportunity to stand as teachers in a classroom they will literally have hundreds of thousands of pieces of information floating through their heads, being arranged and rearranged depending on the situation in the classroom at any given point.

I remember reading an article in Time Magazine in the 60’s that rated the most stressful jobs in America based solely on the number of decisions that had to be made in the course of a day. I expected Air Traffic Controller, or Brain Surgeon to be at the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own occupation at the top of the list. It was very specific; an Eighth Grade English teacher was listed. That was me, and it was true.

Experience is the best teacher in life. When observing student teachers, I often note that the mistakes being made will be eliminated with teaching experience. So often these student teachers are pumping and processing so much information through their brains that it is amazing to me that they don’t crash at the end of every class. I guess that can be attributed to the energy of youth. As experience mounts up, the brain begins to file away and store those thousands of pieces of information which are repeated over and over each day, so that the teacher no longer needs to bounce that around in the brain. many things become an automatic response. This frees up the experienced teacher to focus more on more important decisions for motivating kids to learn. As a general rule, my personal measure is about ten years in teaching before I consider a teacher truly experienced. Of course any teacher with less than ten years experience will loudly disagree.

These experienced teachers are the foundation of each school’s culture. They become the mentors of the younger teachers. They are advisors to the administrators who often come and go in a never-ending cycle. They are connections to parents whose families have moved through the school over the years. They are the keepers of the keys. This is not how they are being portrayed by politicians and people with agendas for education. These experienced teachers are becoming targets. They are being demonized as the bad teachers, the burn-outs. The only hope, we are told, is the new youthful teachers entering the system. We are told that if cuts must be made, and they must, we need to base it on merit and cut the old, bad teachers, and keep the good, young teachers. We cannot consider any loyalty or obligation to any employee, even if they were loyal to the school district for years.

This has nothing to do with good or bad, young or old. It has everything to do with a political agenda. Older teachers are more experienced and better educated, making them more expensive. Younger teachers are eager to volunteer, less experienced, less credentialed and ultimately less expensive. You have to see where this is going. It is about the MONEY. Politicians want the ability to cut the least number of people with the most impact on the budget. There is little thought given to the educational impact. Having the ability to cut the older teachers is also the best way to push through other needed reforms like: Larger classes, elimination of collective bargaining, reduction of the arts, increasing the impact of high stakes testing, and fewer extracurricular activities. These may all be good for the budget, but not great for kids needing to be educated.

We should all be for maintaining good teachers and removing those who may not be making the mark. We have procedures in place to do this. (Please refer to an earlier post, Tenure’s Tenure ) What needs to be worked on is a program for Professional Development that enables every teacher the ability to stay relevant and knowledgeable about the tools and methods of their profession. It cannot be a voluntary or incentivized program, but an ongoing required program scheduled for all educators to participate. It must be a priority, if we are to improve the quality of education. This requires an investment in Education and not budget cuts and reductions in staff and services. We need an explanation as to why we give $40 billion in incentives to an Oil Industry that shows $100’s of Billions in profits every year while we are cutting back teachers and programs to educate the very people who we will need to call upon to lead us out of this mess.

 

Read Full Post »

If you are not familiar with #Edchat, it is a Twitter discussion on specific topics held every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM EST. A full explanation may be found at this Link: https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/edchat-revisited/. I am revealing in this post that I am the one who makes up a bulk of the #Edchat Topic choices. We do get some outside contributions, but each week I try to lift relevant topics from the Twitterstream and current Educational Blogs to explore further in an #Edchat discussion. It has been a successful formula thus far. My dilemma however, is always when is it a good time to revisit a topic. I recently received a comment from an educator that stated he always found the topic choices very interesting, but eventually we would need to discuss Standardized Testing or High Stakes Testing as a topic. Actually, #Edchat has discussed this topic in the past. The problem I have however is that in trying to keep the pulse of education concerns, Standardized Testing is the one topic that has an overwhelming majority of educators mentioning their opposition on a daily basis. Educators seem to be in agreement that Standardized Testing is a major roadblock to Education Reform. One growing opinion seems to be that the emphasis has become the tests and not the education.

Assessment has been and always will be part of education. A simple explanation: As educators we use Formative assessment to make sure we are succeeding with our students as we go. Do they get it? This allows for adjustments along the way. The Summative assessment tells educators how successful the complete endeavor was. After all is said and done, have the students gotten it?  Educators do this to determine the next step, so they may continue to build on this education. This is the teacher’s assessment of learning for the purpose of the determining of what comes next. The curriculum is the roadmap of where to go. The assessments tell the teacher if the students are there yet. Teachers can always take students beyond the original destination.

Now we should look at High stakes testing. Its purpose is to accumulate data on education. Data requires simple, objective answers that are easily converted to numbers for analysis. As a former English teacher, I often envied Math teachers whose test answers were either right or wrong. As an English teacher I was always trying to figure out shades of right or wrong with essays. That oversimplification of math testing is less true of Math today with the changes that have been made requiring more of an explanation of reasoning. I hope no math teachers were offended.

The purpose of High Stakes testing seems to be changing. If it was originally intended to assess where we were with student learning in order to offer directions for places to improve, we may have strayed from that goal. It is now used to: determine funding, determine remediation, determine school closings, determine careers, and as a stretch, determine elections. These reasons have little to do with what educators use testing for.

Of course there is a simple solution; Teach to the test. That would give everyone what was needed. A problem with this however is that it will not work. It will not work because it does not consider all of the other factors involved in a student’s education; poverty, environment, culture, and even family relationships. How do we ask questions for the purpose of converting these factors into data in order to take all of this into account? Of course a more obvious reason teaching to the test won’t work is that it is not educating any one. Teaching to the test is preparing kids for a Jeopardy round, not life.

Now here is where I begin to sound like a conspiracy theorist. I, along with almost everyone in America, recognize that we are in a dire economic period. I understand we need to cut costs and increase revenue, and we will all need to sacrifice. One of our greatest expenses is education. Education has been highlighted as a political concern. It is apparent to some of us that the call for education Reform is code for cut taxes. The high stakes tests are not being used to examine and address changes in methods and curriculum as much as to vilify teachers. This call for reform by some is not a call for education reform, but rather a call for labor reform. It is a call to do away with Unions and due process for teachers. These tests are not being used to free teachers to innovate, but rather to begin to dismantle public education for the purpose of privatization for profit.

How can so many educators on every level be so opposed to high stakes testing and still it thrives?  How can the mixed to dismal results of a Charter School movement still allow politicians to call for more Charter Schools? How can the influence on education by Poverty, Race, Environment, and Family go unrecognized as factors in need of reform?

We do need to reform education, but we need a better understanding of what changes will have a meaningful effect. There are many things that unions and teachers can do to affect change, but the greater changes however need to be made in methods and focus of curriculum. The emphasis of needed skills for a growing technology-driven society will be another game changer.

Assessment is needed and has a purpose in education. We need to focus assessments on the learning and not the Labor. The vast majority of educators are intelligent, dedicated, people-oriented, sharers. They may need to be given guidance and professional development in the latest methods and technologies, but they are the best source we have to support our education system. Firing teachers, closing schools, busting unions, and dismantling Public Education may be Reform to some, but to many others this is a destructive path. We need educational leaders to stand up and be heard on this. Voices of education need to be heard over those voices of business and politics and vocal disgruntled taxpayers. ( We are probably all disgruntled about taxes.)

Now I have to put up an #Edchat Topic dealing with High Stakes Testing. Your comments are welcomed here.

Read Full Post »

I recently read how Bill Gates is pushing for video-taping teachers as part of an assessment process during the observation of lessons. His goal is to include videotaping of all teachers in the process of their evaluations. On the surface this sounds workable and even helpful; after all it does work for athletes. For many years now, coaches and recruiters alike all said, ”Let’s go to the Video Tape” it will show us the way.  Of course the media has changed and gone digital, so actual video tape is being replaced by other technologies, nevertheless we call it videotaping.

I have had myself videotaped at times during my career to objectively view what I looked like, and how I delivered a specific lesson to my students. It was my choice of class, my choice of lesson, and my choice to view and use. I knew what I was looking for in my lesson.  I did find it to be helpful, but it was my choice to use it as a tool, and I chose how to do it. I have used videotaping with students doing oral presentations. It enabled them to see what the audience saw as the presentation unfolded. I think under the right conditions videotaping can be a useful tool to improve presentation skills.

I have also seen videotaping used to record the lessons of perspective teachers as they applied for positions. The video tape was then played back before the hiring committee. This was far better than the alternative of having the entire hiring committee sitting in the back of the class during the lesson. All in all I am not averse to using videotaping as a tool for assessment.

One problem with videotaping all teachers for assessment is that all lessons do not lend themselves to the videotaping process. Direct instruction or a lecture may be the best forms of lessons to be videotaped. We all love TED Talks. However, there are other types of lessons that may be considered “controlled chaos” that would not play well on the big screen, but they do promote learning. The teacher is not always the focal point of the lesson. Talking is not necessarily teaching. Some lessons like simulations, group work, or projects extend several days before yielding results.  A single period videotape would not capture the results of the efforts of the teacher.

Another consideration is the introduction of the camera to the class. Once the discovery of the camera runs through the classroom, some students may exhibit different behavior. It also must be said, that not all teachers will be themselves when the camera starts rolling for the big production. With a room of thirty individuals in a classroom the introduction of a video camera must have an impact on behavior and performance of some. It has the potential of changing the dynamic of a class.

The idea to use this method for assessing all teachers may be well-intentioned, but that intention only works if it is to benefit the teacher. It is a great tool under the right conditions for specific lessons to assist the teacher in honing communication skills. However, here is the rub: some may see this video-taped observation not as an assessment tool to help the teacher, but a tool to remove the teacher from the class.  Even if that is not the case, it will be the view of many teachers. With that view, teachers will begin to give to the camera what the camera views best. Lessons will be tailored for the camera, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. Administrators will fill their video libraries with direct instruction lessons.

Teachers are not athletes who can adjust their physical skills to enhance performance. This is not to say that some things may not be improved by a videotaped intervention, as long as the teacher is open to it and the conditions are right. Their relationship with their classes is difficult to capture on a 40 minute video. How does the camera capture learning as it happens? It will certainly not be viewed on the face of the teacher.  The focus of the camera might be more telling, if it was trained on the faces of the students. Video-taping as a tool for improvement with everyone’s cooperation and willingness to use it for that goal can work. Using it as a tool to bludgeon a teacher in a year-end review should not be the intent.

My real problem in this is that it would seem that education is being guided by the vision of the likes of Bill Gates. His view of education is to have all teachers lecturing like TED-Talk lecturers in five years. I do not agree with his vision, but what do I know? I am but a lowly educator.

Read Full Post »

It was only two days ago that I attended the Education Nation Town Hall meeting in New York City that was hosted by NBC and sponsored by a bunch of businesses. The entire event took place in what amounted to an elaborate Tent. There were several hundred educators there of all ages and from many schools, representing both Public and Charter School educators. I commented on the shortcomings of this meeting in my last post, so I will not cover that ground again. There was one striking comment however, from one young educator that sent chills down my spine, only to have them go up my spine by the applause that followed her statement. As an educator of 40 years, I was truly awed and upset. Her statement was that she did not need Tenure. She only wanted to be evaluated on her teaching and she was confident she would have a job the next year. She saw no need for Tenure (down the spine). TEACHERS then applauded (back up the spine).

The sound of fingernails on the blackboard for that statement ripped into me. What she was asking for is what Tenure IS. It is a guarantee of due process. It guarantees that the only thing you can be fired for is that which you are responsible for in your teaching duties. What you CAN be fired for under the Tenure law is: Misconduct, Incompetence, Insubordination, Physical or Mental Disability, Neglect of Duty, or a Lack of Teaching Certificate. Additionally, it cannot be a blind accusation, it must be documented. It is also presented at a hearing with all parties under oath. This guarantees fairness in firing people. Why would any teacher say they don’t need that? If the world were as this young teacher assumes it is, having all teachers judged on the merits of their teaching, it would be a wonderful world. History shows us that it has not always been so. Forty years of experience gives me a firsthand account of history.

If it were not for Tenure, I know I would not have survived 34 years in the Public School System. I would have been fired, not for a lack of teaching skills, but for being a vocal advocate for learning and fairness. I stood up publicly and confronted administrators, Superintendents and Board of Education members when I did not agree with policies they were mandating which were not in the best interest of kids. These administrators were not bad people, just misinformed. As Educators we deal with ideas and everyone has opinions about ideas. Some people are threatened by certain ideas. If we, as educators find truth in those ideas, we use our best skills and passion to teach them. If someone in power disagrees with those ideas, our effective teaching becomes a threat. As educators we work under people who are political by the nature of their positions. Sometimes administrators prefer dealing with the person pointing out a problem as an easier task than addressing the problem itself. In this era of economic despair budgets are being cut. Education Reform too many is code for cut my taxes. With senior, experienced teachers making the highest salaries, what better way to cut expenses? Teaching quality be damned. Tenure protects educators from these attacks. It insures our academic freedom as an educator. Again, it only guarantees due process; it does not guarantee a job for life.

Now let’s talk about why people attribute Tenure to “BAD TEACHERS”. It is the most convenient of excuses for administrators who fail to do the right thing. It is not always their fault, but nevertheless some people are not being held accountable. In order to get Tenure a new teacher is supposed to be observed by several administrators over a three-year period. If at any time during that period a non-tenured teacher does not meet the standard, he/she can be summarily dismissed without explanation. It is reasonable to assume that after three years of administrator observations that an accurate assessment of a new teacher can be made. It is after three years that the recommendation for tenure is made. If no decision is made by the administrator, it does become automatic. That only occurs if the administrator allows it to happen. A big problem in the process is the time administrator’s need to complete the observations that they are required to do. Administrators don’t always get to it. It is not intentional, but many things must be prioritized over the course of the year and observations do not head the list. This is further complicated by the administrator turnover rate. As administrators come and go a clear picture of observed teachers is not always there. There is no continuity for observations or personal conferences. If a teacher is brought up on charges of any kind to force a firing, administrators often do not have the documentation to prove the accusations. It is a quick step to say, I couldn’t fire him because of Tenure. A more truthful statement would be I couldn’t fire him because people did not do a follow-up for the process to prove incompetence. The biggest problem in my estimation however, is that not all administrators are cut out to be leaders who make tough decisions. They do not want to be a bad guy and say we have to let you go after your three years of service. This makes the capable leaders weakened in their attempt to do the right thing.

That being said we need to address the problem. It is not Tenure, but the lack of enforcement of the process that grants Tenure that has the most flaws. The observation process also needs to be addressed. Administrators as well as teachers are often upset when an incompetent teacher fails to be removed. Tenure allows incompetent teachers to be removed as long as it is done fairly. Bad teachers make it bad for all teachers. A union however, has a responsibility to defend all teachers to make sure the rules are equally applied to all.

I am most upset at the scab-picking and bickering by teachers. The ugliness of this reform movement is in the name calling of teachers by teachers: Public school teachers against Charter school teachers; Young teachers against experienced teachers; Non-Tenured Teachers against Tenured teachers. The common word in all of these pairing is teacher. We need to work together for positive change and work to build ourselves up, not tear each other down. Teachers are of the most educated people in our society. We can’t point fingers at folks who teach differently or have different educational philosophies and say they are incompetent, FIRE THEM! We need to push this reform to include teaching teachers and parents as well. We can’t hold people accountable unless we train them for what they are accountable for. Learning is ongoing. We need to professionally develop all of our teachers continually. It is not an expense, but an investment.

By the way, I became a teacher at a time of declining enrollment in New York. I was granted Tenure, but I was excessed (not rehired until September) every year for my first nine years of teaching. I knew I was a good teacher, but had to live with the fact that I had to leave while others, that I deemed not as good, remained in their positions. I still support Tenure and I still support seniority.

If we are moving forward with reform let’s do our best to identify the real problems as educators. We need to take a more prominent role in a discussion that is being hijacked by business people and politicians. I understand that this topic will draw on many emotions based on one’s perspective in the system. Please try to stick to the facts and not address the myths on this. Your comments are welcome.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 854 other followers

%d bloggers like this: