Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Kids know all the right answers

Kids have all the right answers
Kids have all the right answers, we just don’t ask the right questions.   Let’s look at some of the questions we ask.   We teach lots and lots about world history.   We teach the story of the Pilgrims over and over again. We teach about algebra and skills that few people ever need.   We have a very limited amount of time to teach our students.  We need to spend that time on what really matters and be prepared to give a thorough justification for why we are using up a child’s time with this stuff.
What are some of the questions we neither ask nor teach about?  How do I manage a bully besides filling out some form?   How do I change my community?  How can I make my community a better place to live? 
Our school does a follow-up survey of our graduates every year.   One of the questions we ask is, “what else could we have taught you?”  One of our respondents answered, “how to wrap my sandwich with aluminum foil”.  Pretty basic and this is a smart kid who has a good job.
So, what should we be doing in school?   We already know that the tasks required by the Common Core are not only mostly irrelevant but are beyond the developmental levels of the students involved.  We know that the testing program required by No Child Left Behind has not improved the proficiency level of students starting college at all. The testing require by ESSA will do no good as well.  In fact, the number of students requiring remedial classes as freshmen has gone up not down.
Everyone agrees there are problems in our educational system but no one is interested in looking at student outcomes and student needs.  Decisions seem to be a poker game of who can up the ante the most and who can have higher standards, whatever those are.
Every child does not need to go to college.   Every young adult does need a job, either after 4 years of post-secondary education, after a 2-year training program or after high school.  Why not sort kids out based on skill set and interest and prepare them for what they want not what looks good on a politician’s resume.
Kids will tell you what they want out of their future lives.  Some of those things are not very likely.  But others are very realistic. 
We need to ask the questions that will yield the information we need for an education that is learning process based, not one that is based on storing up lots of information.  Information is all too easily found these days.  Students don’t need to answer those questions.  They want to give us answers to the how-to questions and we need to start talking about what those significant questions are.

Kids know the answers.  Let’s start asking them the right questions.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Who wants to be a principal?

Who Wants to be a principal?

Turns out not too many people are all that interested.  In the DC public schools, one in four schools has had at least three principals since 2012.  The common wisdom is that a principal should stay in a school at least five years to implement his/her vision and to build community support.  That is just not happening. For once in education the issue is not salary.  Principals are paid relatively well.  There are multiple other factors that are at play in this constant churn.

Since No Child Left Behind, principals have been evaluated by the test scores of the children in their buildings, just as teachers are evaluated by the test scores of students in their classes.  Many principals want to be in districts where the socio-economic levels lead to higher test scores.  So, principals with seniority get to get transferred within the present district to a “better” school.   Others want to get out of the system all together and seek out other school systems.

Being kicked to the central office in a school system is often a very good thing.  That means no more teacher personnel issues, not more haunting test scores and no more complaining parents.  Many principals work hard to land what are perceived as easier jobs at the same or higher salary.  There used to be a time when being a principal was the aspirational job.  That isn’t true anymore.

And the unions are not making it any better.   Unions are all too ready to sacrifice the right of students to a decent teacher at the alter of keeping jobs for union members.   Most big school systems have a holding tank of teachers in reserve.  Many of these people are in the ready reserve because they are in the process of having their employment terminated.  That termination is, of course, being fought by the union.   Others have lost positions because of being excessed by other principals for budget cuts.  A new policy of the New York City school system is requiring principals to select new staff from this pool.  Many of the teachers in this pool are there for disciplinary reasons and shouldn’t be in a classroom at all. 

School systems are getting better at keeping principals in schools but the forces of union protectionism, rating principals based on test scores of students, and limiting the principal’s authority to hire and fire, all conspire to keep the weakest principals in the schools that are in the most desperate need of good leadership.   But then again, who wants to be a principal anyway?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

And all of the teachers are effective

And all of the teachers are effective…

Remember Lake Woebegone, that wonderful place where the men are strong, the women good looking and all of the children smart?   Now we do not need to travel to any fictitious place.   It seems that right here, in our very own country, all of the teachers are doing such a great job.
Principals overwhelmingly rate teachers as being effective.  In 2009, principals rated fewer than 1% of classroom teachers as ineffective.  In a most recent survey only New Mexico identified 30% of its teachers as needing improvement and 6% as ineffective.   Maryland principals rated about 5% of teachers as ineffective but no one as needing improvement.  Is it no wonder that politicians and the general public want teacher ratings to default to using test scores.   For years, teachers’ unions have insisted that ratings by principals would invite political interference and principals would punish teachers with low rating if they did not like the teacher or to intimidate the teacher to “go along”.   Seems like those fears had not much basis in fact.
Surely, principals do not live in Lake Woebegone, nor could they possible think that almost all of their teachers were effective.   So what is going on here?
Multiple reasons are advanced by principals for the high ratings.  What is very interesting is that none of the reasons cite teacher quality for the absence of ineffective ratings.
One of the reasons principals won’t give low ratings to teachers is because they do not want the teachers to dislike them.  They want good relations with the staff.   It appears that Neville Chamberlin is not the only appeaser-in-chief.
Secondly principals have said the stakes are too high.  Teachers could lose their jobs or receive less compensation from a poor rating.  They do not want to be responsible for that happening.
Secondly, unions have written a long and complicated procedure before any teacher can be given a poor rating.  There needs to be a great deal of documentation and, in the end, the teacher can say the principal was biased and ask for a transfer and so the dance starts again.   Most principals just don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze. 
When researchers asked principals what the teacher ratings would be if the teachers would not know who did the rating, the answers were that the ratings would be much lower.
There continues to be a huge disconnect between what principals say about teachers privately and what they put in a formal review.
Is it any wonder that there has been that very strong push to link teacher evaluations with test scores?
In the end who suffers?   Clearly it is the student.   Ineffective teachers keep being ineffective and receiving pay raises for living another year and staying in their jobs.  Principals avoid the aggravation of having to be made uncomfortable in truthful evaluation, students be damned.
It is the students who continue to have ineffective teachers because the people who are paid to do something about that won’t and the unions are in full force to protect the weakest among the membership.
Since it is the students who suffer the most, why not make them in charge.  They may be more fair and honest than the foxes guarding the school house.  Couldn’t be much worse.  Welcome to Lake Woebegone, where are the teachers are highly effective and the kids are smart enough to do the rating.