For too long, learning at school has been tied (figuratively and literally) to the old bell schedule and the Carnegie unit. 50 minutes to one hour per subject per day. Oh, then we got really creative and came up with the block schedule: 90 minutes to 2 hours per subject on alternate days.
Slowly, we are realizing that learning and time do not have to be conjoined. It is not only possible, but possibly much better for students to learn at varying paces, based on the subject matter, availability of resources, their particular learning strengths, interests, and weaknesses--moving toward common goals, but arriving from different directions.
If even the folks who gave us the Carnegie unit (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancment of Teaching) are rethinking its value, surely the rest of us can at least discuss the wonderful possibilities. To help move that discussion along, I recommend a recent piece by Shawn Cornally, "Why It's Time to Eliminate Class Schedules."
His critical thinking about scheduling parallels some questions I've been musing for while about why we cling to dividing students into grade levels.
Anybody know of U.S. schools that have replaced these models with more fluid ones? If so, what has (or might be) the reponse of parents and students? Do these types of changes make more or less sense in an age where learning is more blended with experiences an on platforms outside the brick-and-mortar school?
Just listened to a short discussion about the growing numbers of students requiring remediation in community colleges on NPR's Tell Me More. Host Michel Martin was talking with a reporter from Florida, so the conversation focused on the situation there. The discussion made some important points, but also some significant errors and omissions.
The reporter noted that most of the incoming students to community colleges in Florida are predominantly minority and/or low income. She also reported that the colleges use student performance on their college entrance tests to determine placement in remedial programs.
What was not mentioned is that in most places, individual colleges decide what scores students need to be classified as remedial. Here in Mississippi, for example, a student may be placed in regular Freshman College Composition with a score of 16 on the English section of the ACT at one community college, but need an 18 to enter that same course at another. Four-year universities, even Ivy League ones, also increasingly offer remedial classes (not mentioned in the story), and they may also have different score thresholds for determining who is or is not ready. Yet, if a student enters say--Comp I at any of those institutions and passes it, that course will transfer to the institution with the higher or lower entrance score. Hmmm. Is there really a difference in the "readiness" of the student who scores 16 and the one who scores 18? Read on.
To further complicate the college entrance/college readiness maze, the tests used to measure student ability in reading, writing, and math (especially the SAT and ACT) are known to be historically, consistently poor predictors of actual student potential, and that is especially true for minority students. At the community college where I teach, we painstakingly followed the perfomance of several thousand students and found that their initial score on the English section of the ACT had no correlation to their ability to successfully complete Freshman Composition.
Remedial programs have become extremely costly for students---in time and money. Most students who enter remedial classes at the start of their college career do not complete a degree. Ever. Remedial courses cost the same as regular college courses, but do not count towards degree credit. Many poorer students burn up their financial aid in remediation, pushing them either into student loans sooner, or out of college all together when they run out of money.
Colleges and college faculty are hardly united over what constitutes
college readiness in math or English, which presents an interesting
scenario as schools all over the U.S. scramble to implement Common Core
standards that supposedly will ensure college readiness.
Consequently, there is a rising movement to radically change both the admission process and the approach to remediation at the college level. One suggestion is to do away with remedial classes, and place all entering students in credit-bearing college courses, while providing additional supports for those students who may need it (tutoring, learning centers, web resources, etc.).
Not only does a true professional
certification process for teachers make sense, it is long overdue.
For too long, we have tolerated a
hodge-podge of teacher licensing and certification requirements across states
and within states. In some places, a potential teacher must have a master’s
degree in education before applying for a license. In other places, a person
needs only a bachelor’s degree (in any subject) and as little as three weeks of
summer boot camp to be placed in full charge of students.
The call by the AFT task force is
just the latest in a growing consensus among educators of the need to make
teaching a true profession. I have been fortunate to be part of many of these
studies and discussions. For example, in November 2010, the National Council
for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) issued the report
of a blue-ribbon commission representing teachers, parents, higher
education, state and local school administrators, researchers, and
policymakers. The Commission called for more rigorous teacher candidate
selection and preparation noting, “The nation needs an entire system of
excellent programs, not a cottage industry of path-breaking initiatives.” The 2012 book, The American Public School Teacher,
in which a broad range of education commentators reflect on 50 years of teacher
survey data, highlights the growing support among teachers for ideas such as
performance pay and peer evaluation.
It is also worth noting that the
membership and leadership of the much-maligned teacher unions have been at the
forefront of these calls. Earlier this year, NEA released the report
of a similar task force (Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching)
advocating for “collective accountability and collaborative autonomy.” Specifically, the 21-teacher Commission
argued for the creation of national teacher standards and for “one national
umbrella group” that would “lead to preparation, licensure, and certification
processes that are consistent, efficient, and cost effective.” At the other end of the career spectrum, we
teachers on that Commission also recognized the need for “an evidence-based,
peer review teacher evaluation system.” Tying teacher evaluation to the Common Core
State Standards specifically, may be premature and unwise, given that the CCSS
are just the most recent in a series of standards, and these have yet to be
implemented and proven in the field.
In our 2011 book, Teaching 2030, members of the Teacher Leader Network predicted many of the conditions and changes now being discussed around the teaching profession. As co-author Cindi Rigsbee correctly noted, "“We must expect the respect for teaching afforded to all other jobs. That is a goal that can only be reached once the world begins to look at teaching as a different profession that it was when our great-grandmothers taught school.”
The creation of a true teaching
profession will require cooperation among the many education stakeholders, but
it is clearly possible and necessary for our children’s sake. Moreover, Americans have shown consistently
they are willing to pay for quality education for our children. Raising the
overall quality and status of the teaching profession, lays the necessary moral
and economic groundwork for more appropriate professional compensation.
Cross-posted at National Journal.com
The Save Our Schools Coalition is sending out this timely reminder that the affects of Hurricane Sandy are not over.
While life went on as usual for people throughout the nation, for the victims of Sandy days and weeks have passed with great difficulty. Many homes and schools remain severely damaged or in ruins. And while countless individuals and organizations have contributed time and money to the relief effort, thousands of children and families are still in desperate need of our support.
All these weeks later, young and old are displaced. Thousands have no homes, neighborhoods and schools to return to. Few, if any of their belongings remain intact. Wont' you help?
Save Our Schools urges our friends and supporters to contribute as generously as possible to The Hurricane Sandy Student and Teacher Support Fund.
Funds will be used to provide direct support to at least three school communities in NY and NJ by replacing lost books, art supplies, musical instruments and other sources of joyful learning. We hope that this will help rebuild the sense of stability so vital to the recovery process.
Support the Hurricane Sandy Student and Teacher Support Fund.
Please Donate Now!
Venerable education reporter, John Merrow, has shared information about a very important project here in Mississippi that will not only keep alive an important part of our collective past, but strengthen our future.
Tougaloo is a small predominantly black college
located at the edge of Jackson, MS. During the civil rights movement,
most black colleges took a “hands off” role, especially those under
state control but many private schools as well. Not Tougaloo. Even at
the risk of its survival, Tougaloo backed its students when they got
arrested, provided space for groups to meet, invited speakers whom white
Mississippi deemed controversial if not subversive, and retained and
promoted faculty members who campaigned for an end to racial
segregation. At the time, these were very courageous, dangerous, and
Now, some private individuals with the support of the college have
undertaken a campaign to endow a “Mississippi Civil Rights Movement
Chair” at Tougaloo. In Ladner’s words, “It will be the College’s first
endowed chair and the first such chair in Mississippi devoted to the
Civil Rights Movement.” She goes on to say, “Tougaloo paid a heavy price
for its involvement. It was dubbed “Cancer College” by whites, and the
Mississippi State Legislature attempted to revoke its charter.” To this
day, Tougaloo is not able to draw on the economic elite of Mississippi
for the kind of support that many other colleges get from their areas
and states. That’s one reason this campaign is so important.
I hope you take time to read the entire piece, and to help Tougaloo with this worthy project.
As I was going through my blog reader this morning, I came across a fascinating juxtaposition.
First, part of the ongoing series in Hechinger Report on the new evaluation system that has become law in neighboring Louisiana. The article notes:
In English, math, science, and social studies, teachers will be measured on their students’ progress on existing state tests. But Louisiana school districts have broad latitude when selecting the exams that will be used in subjects without standard state tests. In some cases, district officials are letting teachers choose or design the assessments on which they will be judged. In other cases, school boards, superintendents, or principals are picking the exams without consulting or even notifying teachers.[emphasis mine]
State Superintendent John White said state officials recommended a few possible exams in subjects like foreign languages. They also offered guidance on acceptable learning targets for students, and advice as to how administrators can use those targets to decide whether an individual teacher is “effective.” But they felt that it would be “a mistake to impose a test.”
“Our philosophy is that local leadership should be empowered,” he said.
That last phrase is only comforting if you have competent and responsible local leadership. I'm thinking of the school district in which three of my grandchildren attend school, where the entire school board is appointed and not one member has or has ever had a child attend the public schools.
Just above that was this post from one of the Teacher Ambassadors at the U.S. Department of Education explaining the Department's official position on use of standardized testing in teacher evaluations. Marciano Guttierrez, teacher from Mountain View, California notes that:
At a speech to the National Council for Social Studies, Mr. Duncan stated, “Just to be 100 percent clear—evaluation should never be based only on test scores. That would be ridiculous. It should also include factors like principal observation or peer review, student work, parent feedback. It should be designed locally—and teachers should be at the table to help design it.” The Department’s work on educator evaluations has thus been to promote multiple measures to elicit a well-rounded perspective on one’s craft and to encourage districts and schools to primarily use these tools as a means for quality professional development. This thinking was also captured in a speech that the Secretary made to Baltimore County teachers this past fall....
...As a previous Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, and in my current work with Race to the Top states, I have seen a variety of state-developed approaches and strategies that aim to meet this vision. I have come to realize that the strongest evaluation systems have been developed with robust teacher input at every stage of the process. These evaluation systems, which are designed and improved with the practical insight of teachers, use test scores as only one of multiple measures of effectiveness, therefore allowing teachers of students like mine, to demonstrate quality teaching in ways that transcend test scores alone.
So why all the confusion? Why are so many places trying to develop teacher evaluations as if there are no guidelines, no models, and no professional educators to help design them? How is the teacher evaluation process developing where you are?
In a beautifully candid and beautifully written piece for PLP Network's Voices from the Learning Revolution, Canadian teacher Shelly Wright examines how her thinking and her classroom practice have changed.
Here's a slice:
I used to think that content was the most important thing I could teach. What was I thinking? In a Google world, most of the content I once valued so highly can be accessed in seconds, making the role of content provider obsolete. Now I think skills, like collaboration, critical thinking, and being able to locate rich, reliable information are much more important. So now I use content to teach skills. I’m a skills provider.
I used to think that ranting at students about their lack of engagement and their apathy towards learning might get a positive response. Now I realize that if you’re learning about and working on a project that is worthy of your time and attention, you don’t have to be cajoled. Students will devote everything to worthy work, in ways you can’t even imagine at the outset. Students will often defy our expectations if we give them the opportunity to do so.
It's challenged me (and I dare you) to think more deeply and honestly about what really matters in our teaching and our own learning.
Although outspent by a 5 to 1 margin, Glenda defeated incumbent Tony Bennett (R), who had been hailed as a national example of education reform. She was the only Democrat to win a state office in Indiana, and she won it with more votes than almost any other candidate.
Glenda, a 33-year teaching veteran, is a library/media specialist at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis, and serves (as I do) on the Board of Directors of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
Glenda's victory came as a result of massive grassroots reaction to Bennett's policy moves, rejected by parents and teachers across the state and across political lines. Glenda's platform, however, was straightforward and student-centered:
1. Give more time to education, less time to testing.
2. Give more control to local school districts to implement state and federal standards
3. Make sure every child is safe and respected at school and at school activities.
4. Make teacher licensing and evaluation standards top in the nation.
5. Clear the barriers to quality vocational education.
Her decision to run and her victory should serve as an encouragement to teacher leaders across the nation: Don't just complain; be the change.
As a companion to the previous post (Unfinished Business), I'm re-posting this piece from April 2008. Think about them together.
The observance of Dr. King's death always brings
mixed emotions in our home. We live two hours directly south of Memphis, in the heart of
the Mississippi Delta which is where my husband grew up. He was one of the
thousands of lesser known civil rights activists who answered Dr. King's call
in their local, Southern communities, and at great personal cost. My husband
cannot walk through the Lorraine Motel, which is now the National Civil Rights
Museum. Our attempt to visit it with our children was the first time they'd
ever seen him visibly shake with anger and cry.
It wasn't so much the events of the past that
agitated him as it was the disappointments of the present, or as he put it:
"I went through all of that for what?" It is hard not to be
cynical. On the one hand, we now have Black people in almost every political
position, but too many of them are acting corruptly and irresponsibly. Our
voting rights, bought in blood, often seemed to have purchased us dull
figurines rather than shining champions. Meanwhile around us, our communities disintegrate, torn apart by drugs, crime, and greed.
However, the battles have been too hard fought, the scares too deep, the
casualties too dear, and the outcomes too crucial for us who remain to just
leave things as they are.
My husband is particularly distressed by what he
sees in our schools. The passionate pursuit of education has been a trademark
of the African American community since we were brought here. It is painful
today to see so many of our children so disinterested in education, so
disrespectful of educators and other elders, and so disconnected from the
lessons of Dr. King.
Along with ministering to young people through our
church and non-profit organization, my husband has worked with our local school
system as a team chaplain, assistant coach, substitute teacher, computer lab
facilitator, and de facto counselor for many years. One reason he maintains a
presence in the schools is to provide the children with some role model, as in
many of our schools today there are few or no black males. A both deliberate
and unforeseen consequence of school desegregation across the South was the
dismissal of many Black teachers, and particularly Black principals. According
to my husband, integration for its own sake was never the goal. The fight was
for freedom, access, equality: the right to not have doors slammed in our
faces, the right to not have to get up or go around back. Integration was a
means to secure opportunities for us, and especially, for our children.
Whatever one may think of Barack Obama as a
candidate, it is refreshing to see the hopefulness and energy especially among
our young people that his candidacy has spawned. Surely, we can find ways to
regenerate among them the passion for education in the service of family and
community that fueled a historic movement.
The dream lives.
Orignially Published 04/05/08 at TeachMoore
The school district in my town of Cleveland, Mississippi is drawing some unfortunate notoriety. The lead of our local newspaper summed it up:
On Friday the U.S. Department of Justice filed its response to arguments made by the Cleveland School District in the school desegregation case that has been ongoing for nearly 50 years.
Read more: The Bolivar Commercial - DOJ blasts school district's response
The back-and-forth battle has dragged on for decades, until a reinvigorated DOJ began to push the case towards resolution. Now the matter will go back to federal court on Dec. 11th.
The legal issue is the integration of the all-black high school and middle school. The district wants to encourage white attendance at the schools by offering some magnet courses or programs. For many years, students have been bussed between the two high schools to attend one or two classes at the other building. While black students do attend both of the predominantly white schools, no white students are enrolled in the black schools. Cleveland is a town that only has two high schools (one with approximately 550 students, the other around 360) and two middle schools (one with about 360 students, the other with fewer than 200)--all of which are within walking distance of one other.
The moral issue is that there are long-standing disparities in the allocation of resources among the schools.This in a town where the median income is just over $31,000. Many black parents and community leaders have argued for years that the best way to solve the problem would be to simply build one new high school (both buildings are old) and merge the two junior highs. However, that idea has met with heels-dug-in resistance, since it would almost certainly result in the mass exodus of white students from the public system. Cleveland is the only town in the Delta that still has any significant number of white students in its public schools; in other towns, they have long ago moved to the private academies or to homeschooling.
Meanwhile, our Republican controlled state-legislature voted to merge the other five predominantly Black public school districts in the county around us into two, without any input from the citizens or school boards in those towns, and over the objections of their elected representatives. Among the districts being forced to merge is historic Mound Bayou, Mississippi, (I''ve written about this before) a town established by former slaves. The forced mergers, touted as cost-saving measures, are an interesting government usurpation of local school board authority given how much the Republicans usually rail against such intrusions. Yet, when the Federal government presses Cleveland on its equity issue that's criticized as government overreach.
That not just Mississippi, but schools systems across the U.S. are still wrestling with whether and how to provide quality education to every American child almost a generation after Brown v. Board Education is a sad legacy, but reflective of just how deep and complex these questions really are and how far we still have to go.