Teachers on the Common Core

Gallup also took a look at what teachers specifically think about the Common Core.  As it turns out, they are pretty split.  But just to show how damn important partisanship is, Republican teachers (presumably, regardless of classroom experiences) are far more negative than Democratic teachers:

U.S. Public School Teachers' Impressions of the Common Core State Standards -- by Party ID

That’s really pretty amazing to presumably see political ideology trump actual experiences in the classroom.  What I also find quite interesting (and encouraging) is that the teachers most familiar with the Common Core are the most supportive:

U.S. Public School Teachers' Impressions of the Common Core State Standards

Finally, it is also interesting to see the strong support for actual national standards:

Teachers were given an opportunity on the poll to state what they consider to be the most positive aspect of the Common Core, as well as the most negative aspect.

These open-ended responses paint an unambiguous picture of what teachers consider to be the most positive aspect, as 56% of all public school teachers say that sharing the same standards across states is the main advantage. This is followed by 12% saying the Common Core fosters critical thinking, and 10% saying it sets higher standards or is more rigorous.

So, regardless of the actual nature of the standards, teachers seem to feel quite strongly that national standards are very much a good idea.  Alas, the Republican party has made it quite clear it feels differently.  Because, you know, algebra functions so differently depending upon what state you are in.

The polarization of Common Core

Gallup has a piece out looking at declining support for Common Core:

U.S. Public School Parents' Overall Impressions of Common Core Standards, 2014 trend

A pretty good increase in negatives in just half a year.  If you are like me, you are screaming, “yeah, but what’s the breakdown by party?!”  Fear not, Gallup provides that, too:

Republican and Republican-Leaning Public School Parents' Impressions of Common Core, 2014 trend

Wow!  The intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican party in a single chart.  The Democratic views didn’t really move all that much (I’m not going to bother given the +/- 6 margin of error).  It’s not as if all these Republican parents experienced bad stuff in their kids education in half a year.  No, they just learned from Fox et al., that Common Core is bad.  I know Common Core is perfect, but if we cannot have a bipartisan consensus behind the idea that consistent high standards, agreed to on a state-by-state basis,  that stress more critical thinking and greater depth of learning is a good thing what hope do we have for the future.  Seriously, stuff like this just depresses me so.  The good news, what little there is, seems to be that plenty of people don’t actually object to the concepts, just “Common Core” because they “know” it’s Obama’s evil doing.  Of course, it remains to be seen how much/whether they try and dumb it down here in NC.

Teachers need less time teaching; more time becoming better teachers

Last month I wrote about a great essay by Richard Kahlenberg looking at two excellent new books on teaching and education policy.   Since that time I read Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher and am now half-way through Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars.   Both, well written, interesting, and super-informative.  One thing is clear– we’ve basically been going education all wrong.  I’ve talked before about treating and paying teachers like professionals, but now I really get it.  And a big part of the story actually means a lot less time teaching and a lot more time actually learning to be a better teacher.  Nice summary in the Atlantic:

At the heart of Green’s exploration is a powerfully simple idea: that teaching is not some mystical talent but a set of best practices that can be codified and learned through extensive hands-on coaching, self-scrutiny, and collaboration. Yet her account suggests that implementing this vision may entail a bigger transformation than she quite realizes…

Green likens the approach to the Japanese practice of jugyokenkyu. “Lesson study” is the main form of teacher training in Japan, where colleagues routinely sit in on one another’s classes and then scrutinize a single session for hours, extracting general guidance for future instruction. Japan substantially outperforms America in math on international tests, and Green clearly believes jugyokenkyu is a crucial factor in the country’s success…

And here’s America’s real problem:

How much time do teachers spend on classroom instruction, and how much time do they have outside of class to devote to the other considerable, less visible aspects of the job: lesson planning, paper grading, conferring with students, calling parents, meeting with colleagues to discuss methods and goals. Here, the PISA results are not ambiguous. Every single country that outperforms us has significantly smaller teacher workloads. Indeed, on the scale of time devoted by teachers to in-class instruction annually, the United States is off the charts. We spend far more hours in the classroom on average, twice and nearly three times more in some cases, than teachers in any other OECD country save Chile. Finnish high-school teachers, for example, clock 553 hours in the classroom each year. In Japan, home of jugyokenkyu, that number is 500. In the U.S., it’s 1,051.  [emphasis mine] (Figures for elementary and middle school show roughly the same skew.)

In practice, this means that most teachers in this country have zero time to work together on new pedagogical approaches and share feedback in the way Green advocates in her book. They rarely have an opportunity to watch other teachers teach, the single best kind of training, in my experience; they’re too busy in their own classrooms (not to mention outside them).

In short, we need to really fundamentally how we have teachers spend their time.  And surely that’s not easy.  It’s presumably also not cheap.  Presuming we do not dramatically cut down on instructional hours it means hiring a lot more teachers.  Now, I’m willing to pay for that because it sounds like a great investment, but there really is no free lunch (i.e., the reformers idea that if only we could just easily fire bad teachers it would solve everything).

There’s also a nice post in the Economist that takes a look at both books:

Studies show that higher teacher pay correlates with better student outcomes. Raising the profession’s salaries and esteem would attract better candidates and make it easier to filter out underachieving applicants. But what about the teachers who are already in classrooms? This is more complicated. Recent efforts at reform, from George Bush’s No Child Left Behind programme to Barack Obama’s Race to the Top, have tried using carrots and sticks to improve teacher performance, without success. Not even the prospect of a $15,000 bonus per teacher in Nashville, Tennessee, yielded better student results.

Why? Because no reward can unlock a skill a teacher does not have. Without serious professional development, merit pay is “a non-starter in terms of raising student achievement”, writes Ms Goldstein. The recent proliferation of assessments has turned teaching into a high-stakes business without offering tools for making improvements. [emphasis mine] Teachers leaving the profession often complain about limited opportunities to learn and grow in the job…

So how should the teachers be taught? … Yet Ms Green and Ms Goldstein agree on a few basic points: the best training should include regular feedback, collaboration, mentoring and observation throughout one’s career…

Both books offer a damning assessment of America’s approach to teachers. These workers are expected almost single-handedly to create new worlds of opportunity for poor children, even as low pay and limited training dooms them to failure. But the authors also offer some good news. At a time when more people teach in America than work at McDonald’s, Walmart and the US Post Office combined—and nearly 400,000 new teachers start at schools each year—it is reassuring to know that teaching well is a skill, and it can be taught.

Indeed, there is some very good news here.  It seems that a consensus has developed among those people who actually pay attention on the way forward to improve our education by improving how teachers work.  The bad news is this is not an easy transition at all.  Some real political leadership on this would be awesome.  Or, some financial leadership (I’m looking at you Bill Gates) to spur on that political leadership.

We finally know the real horror of Ebola

It makes people stupid.

Here’s a litany of people acting incredibly stupid in the face of Ebola.  I don’t have to explain to you how monumentally stupid a school district is for keeping out kids who came from Rwanda.  Those administrators should be fired for gross incompetence.  But my favorite is what Syracuse University has done.  A University damnit!:

And it’s not just the unenlightened: Syracuse University, a supposed place of knowledge, uninvited photojournalist Michel du Cille, who had been covering Ebola in Liberia, despite the fact that he had not shown any symptoms after the recommended 21-day monitoring period:

The school’s dean, Lorraine Branham, said a student who was researching du Cille prior to the workshop found out he had recently returned from Liberia and expressed concern. Provost Eric Spina spoke with health officials and made the call.

“It’s a disappointment to me,” du Cille said. “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

In the linked article, the dean references an “abundance of caution.”  Honestly, one of the most insidious phrases in the English language.  I swear, it’s pretty much short-hand for “I’m going to do something incredibly unnecessary because I am irrationally fearful.”

A Dean?!  I don’t know what I’d do if my own university were this stupid.

Let’s cap this off with a terrific Borowitz report headline:

Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes


Quick hits (part I)

1) How does a law professor get arrested for standing in a Wal-Mart?  When he’s a young black man and part of a Ferguson protest.

2) Marc Thiessen– the right’s leading torture apologist– thinks it’s only  a matter of time before ISIS starts using Ebola as a weapon.  Of course, this is simply Thiessen’s fantasy.

3) This Planet Money episode on how women started getting way less into computers in the 1980’s (when me and all my male friends loved them) was really, really interesting.

4) I’m an extrovert.  Do I look that way?

5) Who knew that Philosophy departments were bastions of sexism?!

6) On reading actual books.

7) One of the better pieces on Renee Zellweger’s plastic surgery.  All sorts of things are wrong with our ideas about famous females and their appearance, but all that said, if plastic surgery chances your appearance to the point that people don’t even recognize you, well, that’s worthy of some commentary in it’s own right.

8) Want teenagers to wait longer to have sex?  (I do).  Then let Planned Parenthood teach them Sex Ed.

9) A couple of my FB friends are totally pushing this ridiculous new competitor to FB that monetizes your posts in a pyramid scheme.  Seriously!  How many people are looking to make money off FB?  There’s far more psychic value in posting photos like this and getting dozens of likes.

10) Interestingly, breast self exams have no value added beyond that which comes from simply paying attention to any changes in your breasts.

11) I’m fascinated by the business of fast food.  Good article on why Chipotle is thriving and McDonald’s is not.

12) Lawmakers who support Voter ID and not so interested in responding to their minority constituents.  Surprise, surprise.

13) I’ve only read one Percy Jackson book and was way disappointed.  Not that that’s the point of this essay on Rick Riordan books and YA fiction.

14) On Ginsburg’s dissent on Texas Voter ID and the Texas Election Law blog via Hasen.

15) I want some Breaking Bad action figures!

16) More on the Republican attack on science funding.

I grade like a Brit

Interesting piece on the out-of-control grade inflation in American universities:

At the beginning of this school year, Princeton University changed its contentious grading policy. The university had previously limited the number of students who could receive A grades, but rescinded for a variety of reasons, including fears that the lower GPAs disadvantaged Princeton students on the job market and discouraged the top students from applying to the university in the first place.

Grading can feel like the cruelest part of the semester for teachers and students alike. And no one seems to have quite gotten it right. Commentary on grading brings to mind the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like the porridge that is too hot or too cold or the bed that is too big or too small, grading policies are either too lenient or too harsh. Top U.S. universities have come under fire in recent years for grade inflation. A grades have been the most common grade atHarvard for 20 years, and the median grade there today is an A-. There’s even awebsite that has tracked grade inflation in American schools and universities over time.

In the face of this, Heidi Tworek advocates grading more like the Brits do:

A final suggestion draws inspiration from the country where I pursued my own undergraduate education. Why not simply have fewer grades and accept that the majority of students might receive the same mark? The United Kingdom’s system only has three classes of grades: first, second, and third (although second is split into 2:1 and 2:2). A first denotes work of outstanding quality. In 2012 to 2013, 19 percent of students graduated with a first. An overwhelming 76 percent of students received a second-class degree (51 percent earned a 2:1, 25 percent a 2:2). Only 5 percent were given a third.

That’s not actually very far off from a typical grade distribution in one of my upper-level classes (though, I usually have somewhat more than 5% in the C range).   I never intentionally set out to grade this way, but my grading basically evolved such that I am really not that hard to get a B from, but you really need to earn that A and I rarely give out more than 20%.  I’ve never been quite sure what to make of it, but now that I know I’ve basically stumbled onto the British way on my own, I’m pretty happy with it.

North Carolina students– not smart enough for Common Core?

Yes, according to some.  I don’t doubt that some Common Core standards might be a little too optimistic, especially in lower grades, but I really am concerned by the sound of these complaints (via WUNC):

A state commission in charge of reworking the Common Core academic standards has begun reviewing them…

The 11 members were politically appointed to review and possibly make changes to the academic standards after lawmakers heard complaints from parents and teachers that they do not progress in a natural or developmentally appropriate way.

“Our kids are not common,” said Jeannie Metcalf, co-chair of the commission and long-time Forsyth County school board member. “They are different and they may not be able to achieve some of these higher level expectations.”

Wtf?  That sure sounds a hell of a lot like our kids are just not smart enough.  Wow, is that really the direction we want to go with state-wide standards.  Will you be shocked to learn that Metcalf is from the Tea Party brigade.  Oh, and how is this for classic Orwellian doublespeak:

Metcalf and others explained that some of the standards may need to be rearranged without lowering the bar for students.

“I don’t think any of us want to lower the bar,” said Jeffrey Isenhour, a principal from Catawba County. “There needs to be some alignment, things have to make sense in terms of how students learn.”

Ummm, right.  Standards need to be “aligned” but not “lowered.”  Yeah, and ignorance is strength.  Again, in all fairness some of the standards may need adjusting, but I really don’t trust the people who think the solution is to entirely ditch the higher, better, standards of the Common Core because North Carolina is somehow “unique” or “different.”  At this rate we will be, though– uniquely behind in public education (of course, not really uniquely, we’ll always have Alabama and Mississippi to make us feel good).


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