Video of the day

Time lapse of braces at work:

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.

You must watch this

Okay, now that I have a three-year old daughter, I do find a My Little Pony parody explaining economic inequality especially appealing (Sarah regularly watches MYP videos with more prosaic messages), but regardless, this is pure awesomeness.  More at Vox.

Photo of the day

From a Big Picture gallery of Fall Colors:

Delmar Parris, of Port Orchard, Wash., casts his fishing line off Bay Street in Port Orchard during a fall sunset. (Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via Associated Press)

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.

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