Education Ideas, cheap!

07/24/2012
English: Looking northeast across Lex and 91st...

English: Looking northeast across Lex and 91st at 92nd Street Y. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes you get more than you pay for.

That is certainly the case with the #140edu conference next week at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan where, if you are a teacher or student, $1.40 buys you two days of ideas, inspiration, conversation and connection with some of the more thoughtful, challenging, and engaging educators who have used social media in their classrooms or individual learning.

I should warn you, these are long days. Both of them, July 31 and August 1, start at 8:30AM and run until 5:45PM, with only 45 minutes for lunch, but don’t worry. You don’t have to sit and listen to it all. You can get up, walk out, go to the networking room or step outside, then go back for more. Trust me, you will need to do this because your head will explode if you don’t.

Just plan to be back in the hall by 11:50AM on the first day. That’s when I’ll be talking about How to Make Dropping Out of School Work for You. I don’t want to go into my whole talk here, but the thesis is that one can get an equivalent or better education using social media as one can by attending high school. I have no idea how I got included with the otherwise distinguished list of educators presenting here, but I did. Please come and disagree with me. Educators can register here for just $1.40 for the two days (you can disagree with a lot of people and make the conference even more cost effective if you like).

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...

English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you do go, and I hope you will, please come and say hello. I’ll be the one with the exploded head.


NY Clarifies Assessment Plans for Teachers and Librarians

05/04/2012
Teachers

Teachers (Photo credit: iwannt)

The NY State Education Department has issued GUIDANCE ON NEW YORK STATE’S ANNUAL PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW FOR TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS TO IMPLEMENT EDUCATION LAW §3012-c AND THE COMMISSIONER’S REGULATIONS.

This is the detailed explanation of how Race to the Top bribes have caused the state to assess teachers based on, among a very few other things, student performance on standardized tests. Most of it talks about ELA and Math teachers in grades 4-8 because those subject are the ones for which there are currently standardized exams, as faulty as they are (I’m sure you’ve heard of the pineapple problem; the multiple choice math questions, one with two right answers and the other with none).

Teachers will also be assessed by their principal as to whether they have met Student Learning Objectives. All teachers, except pre-K teachers are included, whether or not they teach subjects covered by standardized exams.

There’s a complex explanation of how the percentages of the influence on student learning any one teacher has will be computed. Examples of the math involved in that are not likely to show up on state tests because I doubt whether most mathematicians would understand it.

The document makes very clear that “School librarians and career and technical teachers are teachers in the classroom teaching service and are, therefore, subject to the new law beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.” (page 17)

How are SLOs for Library/Media Specialists established if these teachers do not 
have regular classes scheduled and only schedule on-demand/teacher-requested 
basis for specific topics and projects? (page 41)
Districts/BOCES will need to determine their specific rules around which courses must have SLOs when contact time varies following the State’s rules and the general principle of including the courses with the most students first and making practical judgments about how to consider different course meeting schedules like those in this example.
Huh?

What Would Gandhi Do?

04/17/2012
Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), polit...

Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), politischer und spiritueller Führer von Indien. Ort unbekannt English: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and spiritual leader of India. Location unknown. Français : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), Guide politique et spirituel de l'Inde. Lieu inconnu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In its infinite wisdom, the New York State Education Department has increased the length of the state ELA and math tests by 50% this year. Now three days each instead of two.

They say that the increase is due to a need to field test questions for future exams based on the Common Core standards.

In other words, they are using our students, our children, as guinea pigs.

Any other field of science requires informed consent before experimenting on human subjects. I’ve never been asked if I consent to the state experimenting on my son. The state is either arrogantly flouting standard scientific procedure or they’re saying my son, and all the other students attending public schools in the state are not human.

Either way, they’re wrong.

I suspect that if asked, they’ll say that sending our children to public schools implies consent.

That’s nonsense.

It is the same as saying that by taking our children to doctors we’re implying consent for them to be used in chemotherapy studies.

I’ve spent part of the past week, and part of a week in February, working in the library of the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan as part of the state-required internship for the MLS degree I am almost done with.

The students at the Ethical Culture School don’t take state tests. Their parents spend $38,000 a year to buy out of them. Yes, somehow, their children get educated and everyone connected with their education knows precisely what each child is learning.

Not many of us can afford to spend $38,000 a year per child for an education that exempts them from state testing that has nothing to do with improving student learning and that also conducts experiments on those students. We have to find a different way to get our sons and daughters out of the grip of the edu-business of standardized exams.

I propose education civil disobedience. We should just keep our children home on testing days. Or if we must send them to school so we can work, teach them to refuse to take the exams.

Yes, it can have a disastrous effect on a school’s AYP if not enough students take the exam. If it happens in one school no one will notice.

If it happens in all the schools in a district people will begin to notice.

And if it happens in a lot of districts our educational leaders will have a decision to make.

They can try to enforce the laws and punish parents, students and schools for the boycott.

Or they can take their ball of data and go away.

At least for a while.


Through the NYCDOE Looking Glass

04/03/2012
A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop

A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First the NYCDOE says it is going to close 33 schools because they are low performing.

But, for no apparent reason, it changes its mind about closing seven of them, but not the other 26, even though some of those 26 perform better than the seven on a variety of measures.

Then the NYCDOE says it is going to ban about 50 words from standardized exams because those words might upset students. After all, students who daily face dangers in their neighborhoods that most of us cannot imagine might get distressed if the word ‘dinosaur’ appears on an exam.

Once again, it changes its mind – this time after a public outcry – and says it is okay to use those words after all.

So either it is all right to damage students or the words were banned  for no reason. Take your pick.

Tonight the NYCDOE is conducting a public hearing to discuss whether to shoehorn a new K-5 elementary school into the building that currently houses the middle school where I work, as well as the pre-K and kindergarten classes there’s no room for in the elementary school across the street.

Most of my colleagues think that no matter how many parents come and say it is a bad idea because almost all of the classes in the school already have more than 30 students and putting the new school in will mean the middle school will have about 50% fewer classes, the NYCDOE has made up its mind and the new elementary school will take precedence. I suspect that is the case.

If the girdling occurs, it will have some major, perhaps fatal, impact on our library’s existence and my job as librarian, but I am not worried.

The NYCDOE has a very bad record of sticking to its decisions, most likely because the decisions appear to be made on a whim, and whatever they decide is like – pardon the phrase – pissing in the wind. Everyone gets wet, but especially them.

Meanwhile, after making such a big case about the public’s right to know about those teacher ratings, you know, the ones filled with errors and based on spurious information, our mayor is refusing to make public a report critical of the City’s 911 system, particularly the revamp done during his administration because it failed during a snowstorm.

Which is your position, Mr. Mayor? Does the public have a right to know or doesn’t it? Or is this just one more case of a flip-flop, a particularly self-serving one at that?

No, don’t answer. What you say doesn’t mean what it appears to, and it is all rather confusing.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? Keep everyone confused and pretty soon they’ll just give up trying to understand.

That’s when it really gets dangerous for us.


I Don’t Know and I’m Not Ashamed To Admit It

03/30/2012

I’ve done a lot of different things in my life and I ask a lot of questions.

Curiosity tears down walls

Curiosity tears down walls (Photo credit: Rosa Say)

As a result, I know a lot of stuff. But no matter how much I know, there is far, far more that I do not know. There is so much that I don’t know.

Today my not knowing was repeatedly displayed to my students. Due to an unusually crowded evening schedule this week I am even more tired than usual, but that isn’t why I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Actually, I knew that I didn’t know; I just don’t know how much I don’t know.

Third base.

Here are some of the things I didn’t know today: How prisoners give themselves tattoos; how audio tracks get attached to digital videos; and how to take the write-protection off a flash drive that somehow got write protected. Our tech guy also didn’t know that one; I didn’t ask him about the other two.

I can’t wait for opportunities to show my students how much I don’t know. Most of them think I’m pretty smart for an adult, but they’re between 11 and 14 years old, so they’re not surprised that I don’t know a lot of stuff.

They’re just surprised that I admit it.

Its been about 45 years since I was in middle school. Even though those were my favorite school years I still remember one teacher who, whenever one of us would ask a question he could not answer, would chastise us for not sticking to the lesson and for having too much curiosity.

Too much curiosity?

101 Uses for a Dead Cat

101 Uses for a Dead Cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may have killed the cat – I remain a skeptic – but it is a wonderful thing for a human to have. My curiosity is what I like best about myself.

The best tool teachers have is curiosity, theirs and, especially, their students’. Its been about 15 months since I moved from being a classroom teacher to being the librarian in the same school. I’m working harder but enjoying it more. Today I finally figured out why: I don’t have a heavy, mandated curriculum, no scope and sequence, no texts, no tests and no timeline.

I have the freedom to go where a student’s curiosity takes us.

Sure, I have things I want to teach, but I get to allow the students’ interests, the students’ questions, their wonders and their curiosity determine when and how I teach those things. I get to let my students’ education be what mine has largely been, bottom up, driven by the learner’s curiosity and passions instead of the top-down pre-determined, marketplace-driven curriculum the rest of the teachers have to deliver.

I bet we could solve a lot of the dropout problem, raise academic achievement and reduce behavioral issues if we can only get the rest of the school to teach the way a good librarian, and even this one, does.

We’ve tried all the other ways. Isn’t it time to try something different?


Paranoia in Education Strikes Again!

03/26/2012
cover shot of Children of Paranoia

cover shot of Children of Paranoia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work for a paranoid school district.

It doesn’t trust students.

It doesn’t trust teachers.

It doesn’t trust administrators.

It doesn’t trust parents.

It doesn’t trust the public.

It is afraid that students will learn things that aren’t in the curriculum.

It is afraid that students will learn things that haven’t been approved in advance.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of the internet.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of social media.

There is a lot of good educational content on YouTube and YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let students access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let teachers access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let school administrators access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let principals override the filters that prevent access to those and other useful websites.

This can only be because it does not trust us. Any of us.

It does not let students, teachers or school administrators access Facebook in school, even though there is a lot of educational content on Facebook.

Even though we are required to teach students how to use social media responsibly.

Soon we won’t even be able model social media use for students.

The City is going to ban teachers and students from interacting over Facebook.

It doesn’t trust us.

Not at all. I bet the City would love to figure out how to stop teachers and students from interacting in the supermarket, the Laundromat, the shopping mall.

Heck, they’d probably even like to find a way to keep us from interacting in the classroom. Everyone knows how much trouble we can get into there.

There is an old adage that says you should treat people the way you want them to be. If you want young people to act like adults, treat them that way. That’s what I try to do in my library.

But the NYCDOE treats me and my colleagues like little children.

They are illogical.

They are insulting.

Or am I being paranoid?


Getting Out of the Building

01/26/2012

Teachers generally spend very little time with other adults. I spend less than most teachers.

HomePic-Teacher

In my school, when a teacher wants to talk to a colleague he or she can just walk out of the classroom and into a colleague’s next door. When I want to talk to a colleague I have to go down a hallway and up a staircase to get to anyone’s classroom.

Or I can just wait for someone to come into the library to make copies and hope I’m not busy with students at that time.

When I want to talk to another librarian face-to-face I have to leave the building.

That is why this weekend is so important to me.I’m spending this weekend in Philadelphia at the Science Leadership Academy, a fantastic high school, where Educon takes place the last weekend of January.

Educon is a different kind of conference. It is not free, like one-day EdCamps, but it is not expensive like the multi-day extravaganzas like the ISTE, ALA, or AASL conferences. But that is not what makes it special.

At Educon there are sessions but they’re conversations not presentations. I’ll be with about 400 other educators of all kinds: classroom teachers at every level, music teachers, art teachers, special education teachers, professors, theorists, advocates and even a few librarians in this school all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday. Educon2.3 conversarion

I can walk into one session and, if it doesn’t captivate me I can walk down the hall a few steps and go into a different session. I hardly ever do that. Oh, I’ve walked out of a session or two but I never seem to make it to the next one without getting caught up in an interesting discussion in the hallway.

There are times when Educon feels like a reunion. I see people there that I usually see only on Twitter or Facebook. Many of these people have been going to Educon since it started four or five years ago. This will be my third. I’ll also be meeting face-to-face for the first time some people I’ve known online for a few years.

I learn a lot in Educon sessions. I’ve become a more thoughtful teacher, a better teacher because of things I’ve learned there. Last year Educon came six weeks after I suddenly became a school librarian. What a joy it was to meet Joyce Valenza and Shannon McClintock Miller and to be able to converse with them one-on-one and have them to help me put my feet back on the ground and get my head above water (to mix metaphors). I was so needy that Shannon even gave me a big hug.

Odd, isn’t it? I’m willing to drive two hours or more to go to Educon but not to take the time to walk upstairs to visit with my colleagues at my school.

I’m not saying anything against my colleagues, many of whom are wonderful, warm, intelligent hard-working professionals, it is just that Educon is so much better. Instead of a five minute conversation between periods or over the copying machine, I get to spend hours and hours, breakfasts, sessions, lunches, dinners and even time having a few drinks with 400+ of others who, just like me, can’t think of a better way or a better place to spend a weekend.

I might even see the Liberty Bell.

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Standardized tests: good for the geese, good for the ganders.

12/11/2011
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

Image via Wikipedia

Something remarkable happened the other day.

A school board member in one of the nation’s largest school districts had the temerity to take the 10th grade standardized tests that he and his cohorts require students to take.

I think this is an excellent idea.

After all, if the tests are appropriate to see what students know then they are also necessary to see what school board members know. School board members should be required to take the same tests students are required to take. To be fair, I’d only require them to take the 10th grade tests. I wouldn’t want to challenge them too much.

Standardized tests are necessary to see what members of state boards of education know. If the state requires an exit exam so students can graduate from high school, then that is the exam the state board members should take. If they can’t pass them they should be removed from their positions and required to repeat high school.

Standardized tests are also necessary to see what the mayors who control school systems and the chancellors they appoint know. After all, if the tests are adequate to judge teacher ability they must certainly be able to judge the ability of the people who hire the teachers, set curriculum and allocate assets to schools.

President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

Arne Duncan should take standardized tests. So should President Obama.

And the results of those exams should be made public.

In fact, standardized testing is a great way to see which of the presidential candidates is most up to the demands of the job, which one can understand the math of the budget or the tax system. I’m sure Newt, Mitt, John, Rick, Ron and even Michelle could pass those tests with flying colors.

I’m starting a movement to have everyone who sets educational policy take the standardized tests, the same ones students do.

Join me. Send a tweet, a text, an email or phone to your school board members, your state legislators, your Congress people, Senators and presidential candidate of choice. Tell them that it is time for them to sit down with a couple of #2 pencils and show us what they know.

After all, it is only fair.

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Why I Don’t Like Differentiated Instruction

10/04/2011
A class in a newly rebuilt secondary school in...

Image via Wikipedia

I have read countless books, articles and blogs on the importance of differentiating instruction. I disagree with almost all of them because of the teacher-centered approach they take. Learning isn’t instruction; learning is acquisition.

Instruction focuses on what the teacher provides or what the teacher tells the student and differentiation merely postulates that teachers need to provide a variety of materials and tell in a variety of ways.

That is teaching.

Learning is something else.

Learning is inquisition, investigation and association.

Inquiry Cycle

Learning starts with questions. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why? What happened? What will happen if…?

Investigation is not the teacher providing the answers before the question is asked. It is the process of the student seeking potential answers and testing them.

Learning emerges as the result of information gleaned in the investigation phase associating with prior knowledge leading to the synthesis of new knowledge and, when it works best, new and better questions.

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Is it Ever About the Students?

06/02/2011
Question ?

Image by Ninja M. via Flickr

Is it ever about the students?

No matter where I turn I hear teachers, principals, superintendents, mayors, governors, education secretaries, regents, newspapers, radio stations and the President saying it is all about the students – every lesson, every decision every policy is about doing what is best for the students.

Really?

Let’s start with the President. You remember him, he’s the guy who promised change but doesn’t seem to have the knowledge, interest, ideas, or power to effect it.

Sure, the Race to the Top looks a little different than No Child Left Behind, mainly because there seems to be more of a willingness to leave some children behind (there’s not enough room at the top for everyone). Still, decisions remain based on misguided ideas about testing, teaching, learning and incentives. For the President it is all about political game playing and not doing anything radical that might interfere with his re-election is 2012.

Instead of a freethinking leader we have a gullible man doing pretty much what his predecessor did and calling it something else.

Barack Obama

Image via Wikipedia

Gullible? That’s my take, but a case could be made that the President is deliberately misrepresenting the success of the program he cited in his State of the Union Address for having a 97% graduation rate. It appears that the Bruce Randolph School in Denver didn’t actually prepare those graduates for academic life beyond high school. In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Diane Ravitch cites Noel Hammatt, a former teacher and instructor at Louisiana State University. He looked at data from the Web site of the Colorado Department of Education and found that while the school did, in fact, have a high graduation rate, ACT scores there were well below the state average, meaning students are not well prepared for college.

A high school diploma should mean that the student receiving it is ready for further education or skilled employment. That would be about the students. Instead, we have school cooking the books on their graduation rate to make a program look like a success when it isn’t.

Our education secretary, Mr. Duncan, was part of the cabal that cooked the books in Chicago to produce apparent gains in standardized test scores. What gains? Where did they go? Rhee in Washington? Same thing? What gains?

I’m not even going to touch whether the tests measure useful learning; that’s for some other post.

The head of my school district, who also happens to be Mayor of New York City, is also not above cooking the books. He is fast to toot his horn when testing results seem to indicate that his programs are leading to huge jumps in student learning, but he is strangely silent the next year when those apparent gains disappear.

I have to give Mayor Bloomberg some credit. He has been willing to spend money on education, but he spends that money on data systems and consultants who set up the data systems and then interpret the data for him. The mayor cannot do that himself, probably  because he is busy running the rest of City government single-handed.

NEW YORK - JANUARY 03:  Cathleen Black (R), th...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Worse, he has utter contempt for students, teachers, parents and all the other stakeholders. That’s clear from his appointment of know-nothing Cathie Black as schools chancellor without, he claims, even considering anyone else, especially someone who actually knows a little bit about the system he or she will be running. That contempt is reinforced daily in the mayor’s comments about parents and the dismissive way parents are treated in setting the policies that affect their children.

Now he wants to spend even more money schools are desperate for to create additional tests to give students, tests explicitly designed – he claims – to assess teacher effectiveness. Even if they do that, which is doubtful, at best, what benefit do students get from these tests? How does taking even more time from their school day to administer these tests, not to mention lessons preparing for these tests, and whatever anxiety the tests might cause them, benefit the kids sitting in that classroom?

Does anyone doubt that if teacher jobs are dependent on student performance on these new tests teachers will spend time prepping the students to perform well on them?

In New York, a board of regents is supposed to oversee all education systems in the state. Despite all his money and power, Mayor Bloomberg could not get his know-nothing chancellor hired without a waiver from them. Of course they gave it. They’re all about the politics, not the students.

FOX News Channel newsroom

Image via Wikipedia

The media? They’re not for the students. They exist to sell newspapers, magazines and airtime. Most want to spend as little as possible on gathering the news. That precludes paying reporters to take the time to actually look beyond the press releases, or even ignore the press releases, and do independent, investigative and interpretive reporting. If the media reached its highpoint during and in the wake of the Watergate scandal 40 years ago, we can only hope they are reaching their nadir now and can’t possibly get any worse. See, I’m still an optimist.

Principals?

I don’t know about anywhere else, but in NYC principals are rewarded financially when the schools they run show improvements in test scores and the use of the data the tests generate to drive teaching. My principal, whom I like and respect, used to ask the tough questions like ‘what do the grades we give really mean?’ and ‘how can we change our practice to focus more on genuine learning and less on test scores?’ He doesn’t ask those questions anymore.

Perhaps this is because he, with the teacher’s agreement, has decided that an additional set of meetings between parents and teachers, that fewer than half the parents come to, is more important than regular staff meetings. The teachers would much rather spend a couple of hours one evening with some parents than a monthly 40 minutes Monday afternoon staff meeting.

Now we come to teachers.

This is a hard one for me. I am a teacher, but when I look at what we do and how we do it, I am forced to admit that we are not focused on students either. Where is the activism against standardized teaching? Where is the activism against the way parents are treated in our system? Where is the activism against the huge amounts of money spent on invalid data and consultants? Where is the activism against test prep and in favor of empowering student learning? Where is the anger? Where is the energy? One would think it is all focused on saving our jobs, but fewer than half the staff comes to union meetings.

I do see some teachers giving up a Saturday to attend an EdCamp to engage without compensation in a self-generated process of developing or honing skills, methods and ideas that can lead to better teaching. EdCamps are fantastic, energizing, reaffirming events for very dedicated teachers and the EdCamp movement is growing exponentially. Excellent, but there is a dirty little secret about EdCamps; fewer than half the teachers who enroll to attend actually show up.

Half

Oddly, that is about the same percentage of teachers who show up at union meetings at my school and about the same percentage of parents who show up for the parent-teacher meetings at my school.

Slightly less than half is what you can believe of what is printed in the newspaper about education and it is about the amount you can believe of what our President promises about education policy.

I’m feeling a little better now.

When I started this essay I was convinced that nothing that happens in education is about the students, but I was wrong.

Slightly less than half of what happens in education is about the students.

Doesn’t that make you feel good, too?

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