Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You may be a bad teacher if....

One thing I have come to realize as I evaluate and mentor teachers is that the "bad" ones seldom recognize the fact that they're bad.  You can walk into any school building in America and ask students and staff to identify the rotten teachers and I'll bet you they'd basically agree.  It seems like the only ones who don't know what teacher isn't doing the job is the teacher who is ineffective.  With this in mind, I have developed this checklist for how to tell if your teaching skills lie on the wrong side of the bell curve:

1.  You may be a bad teacher if you still use the same lesson plans you laminated 20 years ago.

2.  You may be a bad teacher if you don't really check to see if students are learning until the summative assessment.

3.  You may be a bad teacher if you think students doing poorly on the test is a sign of rigor.

4.  You may be a bad teacher if students are sitting in rows in your room NEVER talking to each other.

5.  You may be a bad teacher if you publicly make fun of student errors and encourage students to do the same.

6. You may be a bad teacher if your idea of differentiation and "using data" means to re-teach a concept to the entire class when there are several low grades.

7.  You may be a bad teacher if you think assigning huge ditto packets of worksheets = effective use of supplemental resources.

8.  You may be a bad teacher if you think sharing clear learning targets is "spoon feeding" the students.

9.  You may be a bad teacher if students can master all of the summative assessments in your class but still fail because they didn't comply with your busy work paper requirements.

And finally, 10.  You may be a bad teacher if you recognized yourself in any of these statements and prefer to make excuses rather than change what you're doing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

5 Truths about Teaching

  1. Truth #1 - Kids don't acquire confidence to try new things and succeed in life by being told that they are failures on a daily basis.

    Truth #2 - People learn at different rates.  Doesn't matter how many times it takes you to learn something, as long as you really LEARN it.  You DO get multiple attempts to pass the bar exam, take the Praxis assessment, demonstrate mastery to get your driver's license.

    Truth #3 - Even in business in the "real world," if you don't master something on your first attempt in training, they're generally not going to fire you.

    Truth #4 - It is more rigorous to expect students to LEARN, no matter how many attempts it takes, rather than assigning them a D and moving on.

    Truth #5 -It's NOT OK to allow children NOT to learn.  Expect mastery, even if it takes longer.

    As part of my job, I get to go around and do fun things like presentations on formative instructional practices or differentiated instruction or best practices in math.  Sometimes, I get a little pushback from participants who are quite comfortable doing things the way they've always done them.  

    I find some of the reluctance to engage in new practices is tied to a basic philosophical difference in what the role of a teacher should be and what a grade is.  The traditional approach has teachers as dispensers of knowledge, responsible for preparing students for college, or, better yet, "the REAL world."   (as in "What's this nonsense about formative assessment and retaking tests?  They can't do that in the REAL world.")  

    I'm not sure what world you live in, but in the one I inhabit, it is IMPORTANT to make sure people are learning when they're being trained.  I'm not putting a pilot in the air with a plane alone until he has demonstrated many times that he can land.  I may allow him to use a flight simulator.  I have a veteran pilot with him as he is learning.  I allow him to take his test to be a licensed pilot repeatedly because he MUST master the material.  AFTER he is licensed, a mistake may be fatal and so I can't give him multiple attempts to land the plane on the job, but during his learning phase, I make sure he gets the skill.  When students are in school, it is IMPERATIVE that they master the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. (what that set of skills and knowledge might be is a different topic for another time)  Giving a summative assessment before students are ready and then moving on is not good practice, nor is it more rigorous than expecting mastery, no matter how many times it takes.   

    A bigger conversation needs to occur around what a grade is...what is the purpose of grading students?  What does a grade mean?  The prevailing view of grades in the 50's was a mechanism whereby students were ranked, and indeed, today, we still use grades to rank students.  Valedictorian  Salutatorian.  Honor student.   5th in the class.  Those titles are important to many people, and they want quantifiable evidence of where they stand.

    Of course today, we know that ALL children can learn and the standardization movement has forced us to consider that all children need to learn at higher levels.  Our global economy has pressured us to push students towards "College and Career Readiness" (as if those mean the same thing for every child!).  Today, a grade needs to provide us with information.  Instead of ranking children with respect to others in their classes, we look to grades to tell us where students are with respect to a given standard of education.  In other words, grades should reflect actual learning.  If a student takes 3 attempts to demonstrate mastery, he/she has learned the same material and should receive the same grade.

    If I were the goddess of education, I would not have letter grades at all, which would end the debate entirely. Until then, let's simply concentrate on good education and concern ourselves with making sure we are teaching ALL students well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kasich Through the Looking Glass

You remember the Lewis Carroll story of Alice and her adventures through the looking glass.  She entered a world in which reality was strangely distorted.  This is kind of the feeling here in Ohio as our governor continues to defend his highly inequitable school funding plan.  (Cleveland City Club, April 3)  Poor districts will receive more money under this plan while wealthy districts get less, according to Kasich.

Let's look at the facts.  These are not opinion, but cold, hard data which is easily accessible to the public:

When Ohio districts are arranged by per pupil expenditure:
Of the top quartile of  districts, that is the districts who already spend the most per pupil to educate their students, 47% receive an increased amount.  This includes Orange in Cuyahoga County with a current per pupil expenditure of over $21,000.
Of the bottom quartile of districts, 32% receive an increased amount.

When Ohio districts are arranged by median income of residents, Kasich fares better:
Of the top quartile of most affluent districts, 34% receive an increased amount.
For the bottom quartile of districts, 53% receive an increased amount.
Significantly more districts with poorer residents do get more money.  However, this also means that 47% of the poorest districts in the state receive NO new money while over a third of the very wealthiest districts DO receive more, and some considerably more.  In fact, Olentangy, the district with the highest median income in the entire state, receives 330% more state funding under this formula.

When Ohio districts are arranged by % of poverty:
Of the quartile of schools with the highest rates of poverty in the state, 54% receive additional funds.  This means 46% of the districts with the neediest learners get no new funds, and many will see severe reductions when the guarantee money disappears in two years if this budget passes.
Of the quartile of schools with the lowest rates of poverty, 30% receive additional funds.

Depending on what you mean by "poor districts," none of these scenarios provides the poorest quartile of districts with additional funds.  The best the plan does is provide a little over half of the poorest districts with money, leaving the others to flounder over the deep cuts from the past Kasich budget that cut $1.8 billion from schools.  And no matter how you slice it, whether by per pupil expenditure, median income, or percent of poverty, many of the wealthy districts get more while 64% of the districts in Ohio receive NO additional funds at all.

Kasich is either lying....or he has gone through Alice's looking glass and has a distorted view of reality.