Showing posts from 2017

Public Schools and Choice

Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my ignorance of the "far right" and the "far left" and their respective discussion points about school choice; but isn't it the case that we already have a fair amount of choice when it comes to educating our students?

"Better Schools"        I think I understand the issue of "better schools" in richer areas.  It goes like this:

Richer people (even upper-middle-class and middle class people) are more likely to have college degrees.Parents with college degrees are more likely to value education.People who value education are more likely to instill these values into their children.Children with parents that value education (especially if their parents--themselves--are college graduates) are more likely to do well in school.Hence, schools in richer areas have students who do well in school.  (I'm defining "…

We Protect Our Students - but we can do better

I just finished watching the Netflix show titled 13 Reasons Why.  It is about a high school girl that commits suicide and her life in high school during the two years prior to killing herself.  It made me think of all of the efforts and policies and hours spent on keeping students safe in our schools.  We practice fire drills and code-red drills; we encourage students to talk with an adult when they see something or hear something dangerous; and we all make an effort to have good, healthy relationships with as many students as we can.

       Still, despite these efforts we are constantly faced with the reality of high school students riding into their first attempts of adult life without training wheels.  Adults can be warm and friendly and approachable, but they are still adults.  It is too easy for teenagers to view the adults in their life as completely unable to understand the issues that they face.  We can do better.

       In 2014, 1668 teenagers (13 to 18 years old) kill…

Achievement of Poor Students is the Educational Challenge of Our Time

The data is overwhelming:

10.7 million school-aged children living in poverty (source)Over 50% of school-aged children are eligible for Free and Reduce Price Meals (source) and the results are terrible: Children living in poverty miss more days of schools than children who do not live in poverty.Dropout rates are higher among student from low-income families.40% of children living in poverty are not prepared for primary schooling.Less than 30% of students from the bottom quarter of income go to college; and less than half of them finish college. (source)        The academic achievement of poor students has been a challenge that our nation has seen for decades.  Back in the time when earning a high school diploma was less necessary for acquiring a good job, our failure to adequately help poor students was less of an issue.  The penalty for not succeeding in school, while present, was not so severe.  Low-skilled job, manufacturing jobs, and service jobs were relatively plentiful an…

Education Without Grades

Imagine P - 12 schooling without grades.

       Learning?  Yes.
       Art?  Yes.
       Clubs?  Yes.
       Teachers, friends, computers, classes, classrooms?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
       Grades?  No.

       The idea of an educational landscape without grades is not so new and (in fact) there are a significant number of schools that are experimenting this idea right now.  New York High School English teacher, Starr Sackstein, has been talking about this for years.  We still teach and we still assess.  We just don't use the traditional grading system of attaching a number or a letter to that assessment.

       The problem with "grading" is that it has grown to be a monster that we can't control.  Parents and students alike will tell you that they care more about "getting-a-good-grade" than they do about "learning".  As with so many other aspects of American life, grading has become a competition to be won, rather than a method for m…

New Teachers Don't Have to Know Everything

Starting a new job is exciting...and scary.  And when that new job involves a classroom full of students who are depending on you; and they all have parents who are depending on you; and you're expected to use technology that you've never used before; and some student don't try to do their best every day; and ... and ... and ....  Well, you get the idea.  New teachers and veteran teachers have pretty much the same job and the same responsibilities.  But I've got good news for new teachers:  You don't have to know everything.

       Today's teachers are better trained and better prepared for that first day on the job than ever before.  Policies and laws and general "good practice" have prepared our college graduates well.  Student teaching requirements and excellent mentors during teacher training programs help our future teachers to understand curriculum, experiment with teaching strategies, and learn to interact with students.  But teaching i…

If School was Equal for Everyone

If school was equal for everyone...

The most struggling students would have the best teachers.  We know that good teachers make a difference in student outcomes.  Our best teachers are also our best motivators; they help students to see the value of effort and their students try hard and do their best every day.  Students who struggle academically need good teachers who believe that all students can learn and show this by their actions as well as by their words.  I hate to say it, but students who have a lot of support at home--students with parents that value education--typically do fine in school regardless of the quality of their teacher.  If there are only a relatively small portion of the teaching force that is in the "best" category, they should be teaching the most struggling students. Students would be allowed to learn at their own pace.  They wouldn't have to "move on" because the rest of the class is learning faster than they are.  And they woul…

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is an education program (formal or informal) that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

       My school district has begun the journey into Blended Learning over the past couple of years.  As an educator approaching his 30th year in the business, I view Blended Learning as an effort to bridge all of the positive and effective teaching and learning strategies that the educational and research communities have learned over the past few decades.

       Like any new initiative, Blended Learning will take some time for teachers and students and parents to learn and understand.  We will have to discover new and better ways to implement it in a way that is most beneficial to our students.  This effort will be well worth it.  Blended Learning--as I see it--addresses the following educational beliefs:

Learning at your ow…

How much Parental Involvement is 'Just Right'?

Parents are an important part of the educational process.  But some parental involvement is too little and some is too much.  What is the "sweet spot" of parental involvement; What would you consider to be (as Goldilocks would say) "just right" when it comes to parental involvement?

       No one would dispute the value of a strong connection between the home and the school when it comes to better outcomes for education.  We (educators) want parents to be involved.  We want parents to celebrate with us the academic successes of their children, and we want parents to support and to assist us when struggles and obstacles occur along the way.  As teachers, what do you consider to the right amount of parental support?  Is it possible to have too much involvement from the home? What do you consider to be too little support?  As a parent, how do you approach your involvement in your child's education?  Do you leave it all to the schools and the teachers?  Do …

Three Simple Steps to School Success

Every parent wants their child to do well in school.  When kids are in elementary school, parental influence and assistance is usually plentiful.  Parents generally understand the content well enough to help their children during homework time.  And elementary children are more likely to do as they're told to do, and to respect the authority of adults in the school.  They generally want to please their parents and their teachers.  When elementary students struggle academically, public schools provide lots of help and assistance in a caring and nurturing way.

       As children move on to middle school and then to high school some of those attributes that helped students to be successful in elementary school tend to lessen.  The school work is more rigorous, children are more concerned with pleasing their friends, and parents who may feel that their children should be more responsible for their school work may take a step back when it comes to reminding them of due dates.  A…

Great Teachers are Constantly Improving

The best teachers are constantly improving.  "Good enough" isn't good enough for them.  The world is changing and teachers need to change as well.  The traditional classroom that your parents had when they were in school should not be the classroom of today.

       Here is a short list of characteristics of teachers that work to be their best for their students:

The student is the center of the learning experience; not the teacher.We want students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do.  It's not enough for students to merely sit and listen and take notes.Learning new tech resources for use as instructional tools in the classroom and as learning tools for students.Less paper and more use of digital resourcesUsing Twitter to connect with other educators and to learn with other educators.Learning about and implementing student engagement strategies in the classroom.        The need to improve is necessary because students learn differently.  Teaching i…

When Students are Engaged, Grades Don't Matter

My daughter's girl scout group had their annual Thinking Day recently.  Thinking Day is a special annual day when Girl Scouts around the world think of each other and express their thanks and appreciation for the International Girl Scouts organization.  Since my daughter is in high school, her group was tasked with creating a game or activity for the younger girl scouts to do.  They decided to do a Lifesize Hungry Hungry Hippo game.

       The game has four competitors who begin the game in one corner of a square floor space with lots of small balloon in the middle of the square.  Each competitor is on a scooter facing the middle of the square and holds a laundry basket.  An older girl pushes the competitors towards the middle of the square and their job is to capture as many balloons as possible with their laundry baskets.  A jump rope is tied to each scooter and the older girls pull the competitors back to their original corner and collect the balloons they have captured…

Let's Hear It for G.L.A.M. - Girls Love Advanced Mathematics

One of the elementary schools in my district organized a lunchtime group for their Math League.  After a few meetings, the adviser for this group received an email from the parent to say that her daughter didn't want to participate anymore.  This was the fourth girl to drop out.  Yikes!  This was a problem and while the teacher didn't want to require students to miss their recess and lunch to attend this voluntary group, she also had a concern that her girls (and only girls) were leaving.

       The teacher held a special meeting with the girls that left the group and the girls that remained in the group.  She asked them why they thought there were fewer girls than boys in the Math League.  This is what she heard:

Girls might not think they are smart enough or able to do the math work.Girls were concerned that the boys would say that they aren't smart enough.Girls start to believe it when they constantly hear that they aren't as good as boys in math.        The te…

High School Should Not be a GPA Competition

You may need good grades to get accepted to college.  But what you really need is good learning (and a good ability to learn) to graduate from college.  Lots of people go to college, but not a lot of people graduate from college.  A study completed in 2015 found that only 52.9% of students who began college in 2009 had earned a college degree by 2015.  This means that even if we allow students an additional two years to complete a 4-year degree, we are still have only barely half of the students graduating from college.  (Imagine the outcry if the high school graduation rate was 50%!)

       Another study has found that one reason for this dismal college graduation rate is a lack of preparation in secondary schools.  As a educator with 30 years of secondary school experience, I would suggest that it isn't so much that we don't prepare students well, but instead (perhaps) we struggle in our communication with students (and with their parents) when we talk about their ac…

The Value of Reasoning in an Era of Fake News and Alternative Facts

What do you believe?  Why do you believe it?  How do you decide what you believe?  Is there a difference between your perception of something and the actual truth?  Have you ever thought something was true for a long time only to discover what you thought was true (for months or years) turned out to be false the whole time?

       The old adage is "Don't believe everything you read."  This is valuable advice today just as much as it was in the past.  The Information Age not only increased the volume of information coming at us on a daily basis, it also increased the sources that create and publish this information.  Ordinary individuals can write blogs (case in point: me [!]) as easily as large institutions.  Information may or may not be vetted and fact-checked before being published.

       Another common source of information is friends and family; people you trust.  But what if your circle of friends and family is composed of lots of people that are just like …

Learning and Thinking - (getting the right answer isn't good enough anymore)

Learning and thinking have always been closely linked.  But sometimes, in our schools, we only achieve the appearance of learning--often accompanied by very little thinking.  This problem has been recognized by educators for a long time.  In recent years, however, we have been addressing this issue on various fronts.

       Let me begin by explaining what I mean by the term Appearance of Learning.  This is when students get good grades, but their actual learning is very low.  The grade to the students and to their parents makes it appear as if they have learned a lot, but the attainment of those grades may have been based partly on non-academic measures such as good behavior or mere compliance with rules such as turning in homework on time.  This is a problem because when students move on to more complicated coursework that requires previous knowledge, they struggle due to never actually learning the earlier content in the first place.

     Over the past few years, there has b…

Evaluating Teachers

Learning is highly dependent on the skills and abilities of the teacher.  According to Hattie, the following influences rank very high in their ability to raise student achievement:
teacher estimates of achievementcollective teacher efficacyteacher credibilityclassroom discussionteacher clarityimproved classroom instruction        Since we know that teachers influence student outcomes, we want to be sure that our teachers are the best that they can be.  Hence, teachers are evaluated on a regular basis to be sure the they are effective and (hopefully) are improving.
       A common tool that some school use to evaluate teachers is the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching.  This tool, updated in 2013, looks at the job of teachers in four different domains: Planning and PreparationThe Classroom EnvironmentInstructionProfessional Responsibilities Each of these four domains are further divided into five or six components that zero in on specific factors that influence effective …

Flaws in the Letter Grade System

What does it mean when you get an A in a class?  I'm not asking, "What is it supposed to mean?"  I'm asking, "What does it actually mean?"  Does the "A" in Chemistry mean the same as the "A" in History?  Does the "A" in Physical Education mean the same as the "A" in English?  What does a "B" mean; what does a "D" mean?  Did you ever get an "A" in a class--middle school, high school, or college--and then brag to your friends that you didn't learn a thing?  Did you ever get an "A" or a "B" in a class and fail the final exam?  Did you know someone who consistently earned "A's" and "B's" in math classes and couldn't score over 500 on the math portion of the SATs?

Howard Pitler list four major problems with our current system of using letter grades:
There is no consistency from teacher to teacher or from school to school.  Schools an…

Why Is Teaching Mathematics So Different Than Teaching Other Subjects?

My entire professional career has been in Secondary Mathematics.  As a middle school teacher, high school teachers, department chair, and supervisor; I have been immersed in the field of teaching and learning mathematics.  Whenever conversations arise about the instruction for very weak students or for very advanced students, there seems to always be special considerations for students when it comes to mathematics.  Principals, school counselors, and special educator alike all agree that the teaching and learning of mathematics seem to require very different skills compared to the teaching and learning of reading and history and (perhaps) other subjects.

       Keith Devlin has a relatively simple answer to this question which he explains in his paper written for the Mathematical Association of America titled, In Math You Have to Remember, In Other Subjects You Can Think About It.  Devlin explains that mathematics is often taught as a series of rules that you just have to memori…