Tag Archives: Education

Alabama strikes a blow to understanding…

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Ah, my good ol’ home state shines again–not in the best way, of course…

Editorial by Anthony Dallmann-Jones, PhD

The Alabama Legislature gave final approval Wednesday (3/18/15) to a bill that would authorize charter schools in the state of Alabama, sending the bill to Gov. Robert Bentley.

It has been a beacon of shallow thinking for all to see…and that is a good thing. We need someone to bite the bullet and stand up and be an Idiot for Education to show us how to NOT think when it comes to what is best for our nation’s kids.

The first wrong turn…

The legislation, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, would allow the establishment of up to 10 start-up charter schools a year for five years, and allow an unlimited number of conversion schools. Teachers working in charter schools would not be required to have certifications.
Hmmm, wonder why we have insisted on certifying teachers for so long? Could it be so they Knew How to Teach with Best Practices? Could it be so they understood child development and knew how to match curriculum to kids’ levels and needs? Could it be because they develop a versatile toolbox of teaching and assessment strategies? Could it be because they are trained on the effective way to encourage internal as well as external discipline in children? Being a trainer of teachers I would say yes to all of those most emphatically. So just WHO are they going to put in the teacher’s role in these Alabama schools? None of that was decided…or even discussed. Why? I guess because everyone knows teachers are not that important. Somebody needs to remember their years in school.

The second wrong turn…

Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, a former chairman of the Alabama House Ways and Means Education committee, said that the bill was the “most damaging piece of legislation” to public education. “Ultimately, the people who are going to have control of these charter schools are for-profit corporations rather than local boards of education,” he said. [Ah a voice of sanity…but wait…]

Here it comes: A lesson in shallow thinking by people who control our schools

Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, said many public schools already contract with for-profit companies for services, such as transportation. “When they sell them computers, all those companies make money,” he said. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Not the point, Representative Rich. You not only missed the bulls-eye on the target…you missed the field it sits in!

OF COURSE we have always had for-profit companies selling schools furniture and equipment, transportation and food services, etc. What IS new and damaging is for-profit companies controlling staff, curriculum and testing – FOR PROFIT. Selling computers and furniture does not alter children’ future for profit. Hiring unqualified teachers (cheaper), selling your own curriculum to the school (making money from what is taught), and mandating teaching to the tests – that will determine how much profit is made – by the uncertified staff, is less than conscientious to say the least.

Another way to say it: “Making money from kids as if they are ATM machines without giving a hoot about their future success after graduation.”

Here is the nucleus of WHY professional educators should be in charge of school and curriculum

Professional educators teach and assess for the improvement of learning. They care about kids and know them as individuals with diverse needs, strengths and interests. They are up on the latest trends, programs, materials, effective schools and the learning brain research. They are in touch with parents all the time. They UNDERSTAND how schools work (and don’t). Legislators are basing their decisions on the least amount of knowledge about the science of teaching and, just as importantly, they know little or nothing about how schools really function on the inside…the “informal organization” that truly runs most everything and is not what the public usually sees. Teachers see it every day and know how to maximize utilization of that environment for the benefit of kids – not profit figures. Basically, certified teachers base their decisions on what is best for EACH of the kids. For-profit companies do not.

So, thank you Alabama legislators for showing us how not to think progressively and compassionately about kids and their welfare. Just because you sat through 12-16 years of school does not mean you understand teaching and true education of our young.

I wonder, is anyone asking professional educators, including professors of higher education who know the research and effective practices, what is best for kids when making these decisions?

Probably not.

[NOTE: All comics were created for this column by Zak, Wisconsin graphic artist.]

Ignored Problems with Standardized Tests

Marion Brady is one of the most insightful and intelligent commentators I know on the educational landscape, and one reason he is long-time columnist for the Knight-Ridder Tribune. One of my favorite quotes (and I have a lot of them from Marion!) is this one from last October in the Washington Post:

“Common sense says that getting schooling right begins with getting the curriculum right, but that fact doesn’t seem to have occurred to the business leaders and politicians—educational amateurs all—now pulling the education policy strings. Instead of funding a rethinking of the blueprint, the map, the pattern, the model, they’ve spent billions locking a deeply flawed curriculum in rigid, permanent place with the Common Core State Standards.”

[Washington Post October 17, 2014. Valerie Strauss.]

One reason I wanted to feature this newest piece by Marion is because it is the first time I have seen such a list (33 items) detailing the unaddressed issues with standardized testing. The runaway train of awarding more and more weight and prestige to such a flawed system can spell nothing but eventual catastrophe. There are already casualties: Many teachers – good teachers – are leaving the field because they no longer can teach creatively. That has been replaced with teaching to, and prepping students for, fairly meaningless AND unreliable tests. Further, test results have achieved the rank of “The Hatchet” in decision-making about students, teachers, administrators, schools, and, yes, even states.

Yes, boiling all of anything down to a single test score IS convenient…no debate. Just because something is convenient does not make it worthwhile. Read Marion’s monograph and see more explicitly for yourselves. If you are an advocate for opting out this article will add a lot to your knowledge base of supporting information.

Anthony Dallmann-Jones, PhD, Editor

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Constricting High Stakes Testing

Constricting High Stakes Testing

3/1/15

Standardized Tests: Ignored Problems

by Marion Brady

As my students were taking their seats, Myrna, sitting near my desk, said she’d just read a magazine article about secret societies in high school. What, she asked, did I know about them?

I knew nothing—had never even heard of them—but the matter was interesting enough to quickly engage my 11th Grade English class, so I let the conversation continue. Someone suggested making it a research project and I told them to have at it.

The school library wasn’t much help, but somebody figured out how to contact the student editor of the school newspaper in a town mentioned in the article and wrote her a letter. She answered, other contacts were made, and kid-to-kid communication began. How did the societies get started? Who joined them? Why? How? Did they create problems? If so, what kind? Were the societies more than just temporary cliques? How were teachers and administrators reacting?

Answers generated more questions. My students thought, wrote, took sides, argued, learned. I mostly watched.

That happened in a class in a semi-rural high school in northeastern Ohio. The participants—those still alive—are now almost eighty years old. I’d be willing to bet that if any of them remember anything at all about the class, that research project would be it.

I wasn’t smart enough to realize it at the time, but I was seeing a demonstration of something extremely important, that real learning is natural and inherently satisfying. Myrna’s question kicked off genuine learning—self-propelled and successful not because the work was rigorous and the kids had grit, but because it was driven by curiosity, because satisfaction was immediate, because it was real-world rather than theoretical, because it was concrete rather than abstract, because it required initiative and action, and because it was genuinely important, dealing as it did with complex social and psychological issues shaping human behavior.

Even if it leads to dead ends, research—at least for the learner pursuing it—is intellectually productive. It’s also, obviously, non-standard. The skills it develops and the insights it yields aren’t predictable, even to those engaged in it. That’s one of the reasons standardized tests assembled in the office cubicles of Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other test manufacturers can’t do the job that most needs doing. They can’t measure and attach a meaningful number to the quality of original thought.

Arthur Costa, Emeritus Professor, California State University, summed up the thrust of current test-based “reform’ madness: “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.”

The truth of that isn’t acknowledged by Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Lou Gerstner, Arne Duncan and the other business leaders and politicians responsible for initiating and perpetuating the standardized, high-stakes testing craziness. They either can’t see or won’t admit the shallowness of their claim that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Challenged, they dismiss those who disagree with them as defenders of the status quo.

Using the scores on standardized tests to shape the life chances of kids, determine the pay and reputations of teachers, gauge the quality of school administrators, establish the worth of neighborhood schools, or as an excuse to hand public schools over to private, profit-taking corporations is, at the very least, irresponsible. If, as it appears, it’s a sneaky scheme to privatize America’s public schools without broad public dialogue, it’s unethical.

Figuring out how to measure original thought isn’t the only challenge test manufacturers need to address. Their tests:

– Provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers
– Are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893
– Lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning
– Unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep
– Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring
– Penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways (which the young frequently do)
– Radically limit teacher ability to adapt to learner differences
– Give control of the curriculum to test manufacturers
– Encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators
– Use arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores
– Produce scores which can be (and sometimes are) manipulated for political purposes
– Assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known
– Emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance
– Create unreasonable pressures to cheat
– Reduce teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession
– Are unavoidably biased by social-class, ethnic, regional, and other cultural differences
– Lessen concern for and use of continuous evaluation
– Have no “success in life” predictive power
– Unfairly channel instructional resources to learners at or near the pass-fail “cut score”
– Are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences
– Are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality and worth
– Create unnecessary stress and negative attitudes toward learning
– Perpetuate the artificial compartmentalization of knowledge by field
– Channel increasing amounts of tax money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms
– Waste the vast, creative potential of human variability
– Block instructional innovations that can’t be evaluated by machine
– Unduly reward mere ability to retrieve secondhand information from memory
– Subtract from available instructional time
– Lend themselves to “gaming”—use of strategies to improve the success-rate of guessing
– Make time—a parameter largely unrelated to ability—a factor in scoring
– Create test fatigue, aversion, and an eventual refusal to take tests seriously
– Undermine the fact that those closest to the work are best-positioned to evaluate it
– Doesn’t work. The National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress: The use of standardized tests “has not increased student achievement.”

Most people—including many educators—don’t object to standardized tests, just think there are too many, or the stakes shouldn’t be so high, or that some items aren’t grade-level appropriate, etc.

I disagree. I think standardized tests are not just a monumental waste of money and time, but are destroying the institution and the profession in a myriad of unsuspected ways. Responsibility for evaluating learner performance—all of it—should be returned to those best positioned to do it: Classroom teachers. Period.

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Marion Brady is a retired teacher and school administrator. He is a college professor, textbook and professional book author, and consultant to publishers and foundations, and a long-time newspaper columnist for Knight-Ridder/Tribune.

[Purchase your copy of the new book everyone is talking about, Fixing Public Education, on our Products page. Reduced price will not last much longer!]

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Individualizing Instruction – Simple (not easy)

111Alaska Perfect Mood Food 2I was just teaching a unit on working with discouraged learners and discussing tailoring teaching…whereas I heard: “I don’t have time to do that many lesson plans!” Ummm, who said you had to have 28 lesson plans for 28 students? But that is a common ‘reason’ to avoid doing it. Could it be an excuse? Or maybe simply people do not KNOW HOW…and as we are in education, it is okay not to know something – even if you are a teacher. But the best learner in the room should be the teacher or they are not a true educator. So, let’s at least remove ignorance of what can be done…

I have been an ardent fan of “tailoring instruction” since 1969 when I was suddenly by right of being a graduate student at FSU involved in the Elementary Teacher Preparation Project where we trained every single student in teacher ed. to individualize and then in the school where we were filming these “kids” doing their clinicals (with smaller kids ;-) the teachers on staff got so excited they asked us to train them! So we had an add-on grant and trained every K-3 teacher at Walter T. Moore School to be able to individualize. We explained to them a good teacher accommodates learners recognizing that each is different, i.e., AFFIRMING diversity. One way a school has done individualized instruction is not the same as another…so let’s talk about that.

I reckon there are – as my nine-year old buddy, Ira, used to say – “lebbenty-lebben ways”* to individualize instruction. You can do IPI – Individually Prescribed Instruction – where you look at what is “wrong” or “deficient” in a kid and then “build bridges” of curriculum to where he or she is supposed to be (according to some charts somewhere, or common core standards, or the state standards, or scope & sequence of the content provided by curriculum publishers). Delivery systems are boring workbooks (like Wisconsin’s famous DPI Bluebooks – Yawn!); or, buying content provider’s work kits, like the SRA Reading Kits, or make up your own. I prefer an online delivery system for at least some of it because there is so much content on the Internet now…but you have to screen kids as not many kids have the self-discipline until they are 30 or so.

Those are “deficiency-based” models…or “pothole pedagogy”…filling in what is missing or what the kid is “behind on” and not very motivating or positive in nature. And boring, to boot!

Then there is my preference, the strengths-based model, like the January Education Model** that is also learner-centered but where we begin with building curriculum around students’ natural interests, talents and abilities…THEY help by proposing projects at some age….later they can file a “green sheet” which is a template for a self-designed project…it can be with other students also, such as I used to do with gifted kids…they had to have an individual project and a group project everyone in the room worked on.

Learning or Interest Centers work well, too, where you have “Stations” set up for, say, Science, Math, Reading, History, Art, etc. and kids can choose from a list or learning activities and do their own record keeping.

There are a lot of options that allows teachers who MUST teach CERTAIN content do it in their way. No one says it MUST be Sit’nGit or SageontheStage, i.e. lecture. One can work in small areas in any course where students get a choice to tailor the course to THEIR ideal way of learning. Look below in the PS at one of my graduate students said.

Think on it.

Let me know if you can add anything to this list of possibilities for individualizing instruction.

Dr. DJ

PS – A teacher a year or so ago listed how she individualized instruction. Pretty creative: [This will all be a quote from that teacher, but note she says “a FEW I have used”]:

Individualization can be accomplished in an almost infinite number of ways. A few I have used are listed below:

    1. Using a pretest to determine prior knowledge
    2. Allowing proficient students to design their own exploration.
    3. Modifying delivery of content based on student needs, learning styles, etc.
    4. Providing choice in student demonstration of mastery. (test, project, verbal answers, etc.)
    5. Changing the environment to promote success (standing desks, preferential seating, lighting, etc.)
    6. Providing choices in daily academic tasks (ex. leveled assignments, number of problems)
    7. Modifying tasks (length, size, format, font, etc.)
    8. Creating learning contracts.
    9. Changing location to promote success. (ex. quieter room)
    10. Use of supplemental tools (ex. iPad, calculator, times table)
    11. Collaboration (small group, pairs, peer tutor, etc.)

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*CRABAPPLE – A True Story of Hope & Miracles – The magical ninth year in boys by Anthony Dallmann-Jones – soon to be an eBook!

**FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION by Anthony Dallmann-Jones and Nine Extraordinary Educators