Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Students more engaged than teachers

A recent Gallup poll investigated how engaged todays high school student are.   The results were in some ways comforting.  Students are looking for teachers who make them feel exited about the future and schools that are committed to their individual strengths.  The poll assessed feelings about friendships, a feeling of safety and praise for good work.  In response to these questions, researchers concluded that 55% of the student surveyed were actively engaged in their schools and school work.
The most exciting things about these data is that there is a high correlation between feeling engaged and being a successful learner.  The downside is that the increased emphasis on test scores and higher standards can force teachers to neglect individual needs in favor of boosting those scores.

But here is the really sad news.   Among the general public, a different Gallup poll found that 30% of workers feel engaged in their work.   One might think that teachers would be even more engaged given what they do and the importance of their sense of engagement to kids' learning.  Unfortunately that is not the case.   Teachers were polled at 31% as engaged in their work.   This difference is not even a statistical difference.  What is really bad, is that of ALL the occupations surveyed teachers fell dead last when it came to feeling that their opinions mattered at work.  And given recent events their feelings are probably an accurate impression or reality.

There is a serious disconnect here.   As a nation we need students to feel engaged.   We need them to be high achievers and we know that engagement correlates to high achievement.   Right now we think that test scores measure high achievement.  Hence teachers are pushed to ensure high achievement on test scores.   Their teaching is even evaluated by the test scores.

On the other hand, we are cutting teachers out of all the important stuff.   We have allowed people who do not teach, have not a clue HOW to teach, to make the rules of engagement for those who are teaching and know how to do it.   Why don't the teachers' unions take up this call for teacher empowerment and lay off of salaries and benefits for just a few minutes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chicago Teachers weigh in on Common Core

The Chicago teacher's union has weighed in on Common Core and it is not good.   Teachers around the country have issued concerns about Common Core, some valid and some not so much.   Of course, the first concern is a holdover from Race to the Top.   In order for states to get Race to the Top money they had to link teacher evaluations to some sort of objective student achievement measurement.   That link alone caused concern among teachers.
The along came Common Core with its, depending on your viewpoint, very high standards or developmentally inappropriate standards.   It didn't take very long for independent organizations to ramp up the issues by developing tests that would measure achievement on Common Core standards.

It was the perfect storm.  No Child Left Behind gave us high stakes testing, Race to the Top linked that testing to teacher evaluation and then Common Core set a very high bar for that testing and linkage.

In passing its resolution against Common Core, the Chicago teacher's union does not differentiate between the standards and their implementation.   The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have both supported the standards but not the implementation.  In voting against the standards, the Union has said that they "contain numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations", "reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers" and "emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of the methods".
In my view two out of three isn't bad.   I completely agree that the standards are extremely inappropriate for children's developmental level and also agree some of the methods emphasized are out of synch with reality.  Once these standards are fully implemented I think that situation will become even more evident.   You cannot decree development.   However, I think it is a good idea to align education with the workplace if we have any hope of preparing a work force that is ready for the work place.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

US students and Problem Solving

The headline read: "US Students Score Above Average on New Problem Solving Test".   Well that certainly sounded very good.   However, it didn't take very long to realize that "above average" was really not so hot.  The test is the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA.   It has sub tests for reading, math and science.  In the U.S. 1,273 15 year old students were tested in 162 schools.  The opening report states that in modern life all success is based on problem solving.  One could hardly disagree with that.
The mean score for the test for 2012 is 500.  The U.S. mean was 508.   We were outscored by ten countries that participated in the assessment; including Singapore, Korea, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Estonia, France, Italy and Germany.  So while our scores were above average, we were hardly stellar among the most advanced countries.   We did beat out Austria, Ireland and Sweden but not by a great deal.
So why is that.  First of all the countries with the highest scores are hardly known for the advancement of creativity.  American students did do much better on tasks that required they scout out some information before they could respond to the problem's solution as opposed to other tasks where all the information was given but students had to use the given information to solve the problem.
There was some good news in the report.  In the US, girls scores equaled those of boys, even though the highest scores went to boys.  Another interesting result that occurred with most countries was that socio-economic status did not differentiate high and low scores to the extent that it did with academic areas.
All of this information should inform how we teach students and measure what they have learned.  Unfortunately I doubt that it will.  We will go on measuring facts and knowledge.   This test in the problem solving area is interactive and requires students to use information to solve problems, not simply repeat what they have been told.  To my mind this test measures the fruits of learning.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Running out of control

We keep hearing that it is important for our teachers to be smart and competent.   We want them to be leaders!   We want them to be able to teach challenging curriculum.   We want them to be knowledgeable.  We want a lot!
Then we assign them to a classroom.  We give them a curriculum for which they had no input whatsoever.   We give them a "pacing guide".  The pacing guide "guides" the pace at which they teach the children.  It is as much guidance as a train schedule is guidance for the train conductor.  Teachers had better be on the right page at the right day.  The so-called good curricula even tell the teachers how to teach the content over which they have no control.  
Of course, teachers also belong to a union.  The union contract spells out the hours they are to work and what they will be paid.   They can work brilliantly or not and what they will be paid will be the same.
OK, so we want smart, competent leaders in our classrooms.  Exactly what would these smart competent leaders do in a classroom.   They don't have much to lead.   The methodology, the curriculum, and the pace of their tasks have been predetermined by other leaders.   The have no opportunity to increase their income by working smarter or harder.
If a teacher is smart and competent, she might want to change the pace of the curriculum delivery depending on the knowledge and skills of her students.  Sorry can't do that, pacing "guide" does not allow that.  If a teacher is a leader, she might want to add some curriculum that meets the needs of a particular area or community.   Sorry can't do that either, the curriculum does not allow that.
If a teacher is ambitious she might want to work harder and achieve more so she can earn more money.  Sorry she can't do that because the union contract spells out what she will earn independent of skill or performance.
We can't even keep our teachers safe.  Zero tolerance policies for physical aggression, drugs and alcohol have been determined to be politically incorrect and have been discarded in the interest of being more PC.  We aren't helping these kids with these problems, if we don't treat the problem while still protecting the rest of the student body and staff.
Why don't we just admit that teaching today has become a pink collar occupation.  Of course, even those women who used to work in secretarial positions have the opportunity to move into administrative assistant positions where they have more degrees of freedom than teachers do.  Once we accept what we have done to the teaching profession, and acknowledge that it is no longer a profession, we might do a better hiring job.   Right now we snow young grads into believing they are entering a profession where they have some control.   Once they find out the truth, they leave in droves.  Perhaps if we did truth in job advertising we might not be losing 3 out of 5 new teachers in the first 5 years.