John Alter: STFU

Jonathan Alter Joins the Teacher-Scapegoating Chorus: I'm Calling BS

It is convenient to blame teachers for America's education woes because it lets everyone else off the hook. Tragically, this has become the vogue opinion in the mainstream media, and I'm calling bullshit. Jonathan Alter's latest column in Newsweek pushed me over the edge. Here's the implicit argument:

Why do kids drop out? Not the stultifying test prep, overcrowded rooms, chronic absenteeism, or lack of personal connection to a counselor. It's bad teachers.

Why are America's test scores lagging compared to other countries around the world? Not deep-seated cycles of drugs/violence/ignorance in many neighborhoods or an antiquated school calendar with a ridiculous summer vacuum. It's complacent, unionized teachers.

What's the solution? Scrap the unions, clean house, and let the market sort it out.

Alter writes with certainty, "the key to fixing education is better teaching, and the key to better teaching is figuring out who can teach and who can't."

This spirit of exceptionalism is dangerous. According to Alter, you're either born with the teaching gene or not. You may have spent years earning a teaching degree, but that's worthless because, as Alter bizarrely claims, "most teachers' colleges teach the wrong stuff."

So who are among the special, birthrighted good teachers, benighted with secret understandings unavailable in higher ed institutions whose sole job is to prepare teachers?

Wendy Kopp, influential founder and leader of Teach For America, offered living examples of her vision for what teachers need to do in her recent commencement speech at Washington University. She cited Colleen Dunn, a rookie teacher working with struggling first-graders in St. Louis:
At the end of the school year, after nine months of days that began for Colleen at 4:30 in the morning and ended with her falling asleep over grading papers, lesson planning, writing parent newsletters, her students had made two years of progress in reading and math. The students who had started out so far behind were ready to enter second grade ahead of average second graders. Judging from Colleen's example, the achievement gap doesn't need to exist...
Kopp's speech advances the argument for a paradigm of superteacher messiahs, one Alter appears to embrace. Surely, every example of an individual superteacher is above reproach and deserving of great praise.

But if Colleen is the model, working from 4:30 a.m. until a daily collapse, who's out? Forget single parents, who know more about facing challenges than just about anyone. Forget most that don't have the access to accrue the eye-catching resumes of Teach For America applicants. Forget people who choose balance over being a workaholic. The hero-martyr superteacher, cast in the mold of Hollywood friendly Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds, is not replicable or realistic.

I agree with Alter that there are some complacent, ineffective teachers out there who should be fired. I also agree with Kopp that Colleen sounds like a superb teacher. However, this obsessive focus on cleaning house and demanding superhuman performance misses a larger point. (Time Magazine drew similarly raised blood pressure when they featured DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee on their cover in December 2008, scowling and holding a broom. The headline spotlighted her gutsy "battle against bad teachers.")

Most teachers in America are smart and dedicated enough to help their students achieve. They're not the unaccountable fiends holding kids back, as Alter portrays them with his broad brush. Poverty, deficiency of support services, disjointed curricula, overemphasis on testing, and overcrowded classes do far more to impede student achievement.

If you are reading this with the slightest inclination to agree with anything I've written, Alter has already prepared for and discounted us. He'd refer to you and me as parts of
"the Blob, the collection of educrats and politicians who claim to support reform but remain fiercely committed to the status quo."
BS. I want kids to learn and I want bad teachers to go. I welcome reform and genuine accountability in my classroom, but to do that right it needs to come from more than a single, reductive standardized test.

We need those with the biggest microphones to stop scapegoating teachers and their right to have a collective voice, and to start stepping into living classrooms to see what's really happening on the ground. Then they can tell the real story.

Sara Mead: Teacher, Be The Parents!

From Sara Mead at the New America Foundation:
PreK-3rd is a comprehensive reform strategy that seeks to improve young children's access to high-quality pre-K programs and strengthen the capacity of elementary schools to sustain student learning gains in the early elementary school years, and to integrate these two efforts so that all children receive a seamless, high-quality early learning experience that enables them to be proficient in reading and math, and to develop the social and emotional skills that support academic success by the end of third grade.
In other words, be these kids' parents. Here we go again with people claiming to be able to close the achievement gap with school policies, like the one Sara Mead describes above, which is basically be the parents.

Look, if you want teachers and schools to take over the job of parents, then give them the tools to do it. If you're not going to do that, then address the need for such surrogate parenting: POVERTY!

The Edline system used by the Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools emailed each poor grade to his mother as soon as teachers logged it in. Coretta Brunton, Duane's mother, sat her son down for a stern talk. Duane hit the books and began earning Bs. He is headed to Atlanta's Morehouse College in the fall.

If it hadn't been for the tracking system, says the 17-year-old, "I might have failed and I wouldn't be going to college next year."
The above is another bit of proof that schools are trying to do what parents should be doing. We are a nation of enablers, too lazy to parent our children.

Friday Cartoon Fun: Bottom Dweller Edition

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Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Perceptions Edition

An Everyday Math Shill Spouts More Noise

Andy Isaacs gets pwned in the comments of his article in Edweek claiming Everyday Math is great as a response to Barry Garelick's reasonable and researched claim against the efficacy of EDM.

Andy touts the research as well as the hardy tepid endorsement of the What Works Clearinghouse (they panned it!). Andy is either kind of dense, or needs the job (prostitute). You must go read the comments left by parents and teachers. They righteously tear this moron apart.

If your school district uses Everyday Math, this is a must read (keep in mind this guy makes his money touting this kind of curricular nonsense, and then go read the comments)...
The Case for Everyday Mathematics

Written By: Andy Isaacs

University of Chicago School of Mathematics Project

Everyday Mathematics is the most researched and trusted elementary math curriculum in the United States. It is the program of choice for nearly four million students nationwide. No other program has been developed as thoroughly and carefully over time, with full field testing prior to publication. In addition, no other program has the extensive verification that it works.

Barry Garelick’s May 15 column, “One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck,” contains misperceptions that need to be corrected. While we certainly empathize with Mr. Garelick and his daughter’s struggle in math, we feel the methods in Everyday Mathematics are validated by its successful track record nationwide.

First, Everyday Mathematics does indeed teach multiple algorithms (strategies for solving math problems). Everyday Mathematics encourages students to learn multiple algorithms because it helps them understand both how to solve a problem and why the method is valid. Students can choose the way that works best for them, allowing them to not only feel more successful but to actually understand the math better.

Everyday Mathematics materials identify one algorithm for each operation as a “focus algorithm.” The purpose of a focus algorithm is to provide children with at least one accessible and correct paper-and-pencil method and thereby set a common basis for classroom work. Each focus algorithm is chosen for both efficiency and understandability.

The highly efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms that have been traditional in the U.S. may no longer be the best algorithms for children in today’s technologically demanding world. Today’s elementary school children will be in the workforce well into the second half of the 21st century and the school mathematics curriculum should reflect the technological age in which they will live, work, and compete.

Parents who would like to become more familiar with the algorithms in Everyday Mathematics can now see them in the Free Family Resources section of EverydayMathOnline.com. These animations take users step-by-step through solving a problem with each algorithm. With clear voiceover instructions, the animations help parents, students, or teachers gain a better understanding of different ways to solve a problem.

Mr. Garelick may be happy to learn that the third edition of Everyday Mathematics addresses many of his issues with the program. For example, students have a hard cover student reference book with worked examples and a journal to keep a daily record of their work. The reference book is also available online. The program was revised for the third edition based on extensive teacher feedback.

The publisher Wright Group/McGraw-Hill has done many things to help parents support their children with Everyday Mathematics homework. Everyday Mathematics’ instructional content incorporates ways to involve parents. Each lesson has a Home/Study Link in the form of homework that includes extensions of lessons and ongoing review problems. This shows families what students are doing in math class.

Everyday Mathematics comes with the Home Connection Handbook, which helps teachers and administrators communicate with families. It includes:
· A how-to section on holding school events such as the Back-to-School Night, Open Houses, a Family Math Night, and Portfolio Day. Each event is designed to welcome parents into the math education process and provide the background knowledge for them to do so successfully.

· Materials for teachers to send home such as newsletters, Family Letters, Game Kits and Feedback Sheets.

· Family Letters provide families with information about the Everyday Mathematics structure and curriculum by explaining key content and vocabulary, directions for appropriate games, and so on. The Family Letters are available in nine languages: English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (traditional), Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.

· Recommendations on creating Parent Handbooks – including how to create them, what to include, and when to distribute.

· Suggestions for inviting parents into the classroom to observe or volunteer.

· Displays to visually explain Everyday Mathematics to parents.

· Tips for maximizing time during Parent-Teacher Conference.

· A Glossary defining math terms.
In addition, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill also has developed several online support sites for teachers and parents.
· Under the Free Family Resources section of EverydayMathOnline.com, parents can access additional resources, including Algorithm Animations tutorials.

· The Parent Connection Web site provides much of the material from the Home Connection Handbook detailed above and quick tips for helping children succeed in math.

· The EverydayMathSuccess.com site includes videos of the program in action and important research supporting the program’s effectiveness.
Another issue Mr. Garelick questioned includes Everyday Math’s pacing, which we refer to as distributed practice. First, content in Everyday Math is taught gradually over time, beginning with concrete experiences to which students can relate. Research shows that students learn best when new topics are presented at a brisk pace, with multiple exposures over time, and with frequent opportunities for review and practice. The sequence of instruction in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum has been carefully mapped out to optimize these conditions for learning
and retaining knowledge. Test results show that this approach works.

We agree with Mr. Garelick that instructional material must support teachers to be effective. The Everyday Mathematics Teacher’s Lesson Guides are robust with mathematical background information to help teachers enhance their knowledge of the mathematics. The Teacher’s Reference Manual that comes with the program also offers extensive teacher education information about the content in the program. McGraw-Hill Education also provides professional development for Everyday Math teachers routinely in the form of national user conferences, in-person training for new and experienced users, and a newsletter for teachers to share ideas.

As a final word, Everyday Mathematics’ effectiveness has been documented through a variety of studies. No other program has been scrutinized as widely, both by researchers and program users. Everyday Mathematics students have been found to be mathematically literate on a wide variety of measures, including state-mandated tests, commercially available standardized tests, tests constructed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, and tests written by independent researchers.

As a report from the National Academy of Sciences (National Research Council, 2004) makes clear, no other currently available elementary school mathematics program has been subjected to so much scrutiny by so many researchers. The agreement about the curriculum across so many research studies is the strongest evidence that Everyday Mathematics is effective.

The ARC Center, located at the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications (COMAP), studied the records of 78,000 students and found that the average standardized test scores were significantly higher for students in Everyday Mathematics schools than for students in comparison schools.

In the Everyday Mathematics Intervention Report, posted by the What Works Clearinghouse, Everyday Mathematics was found to have a “potentially positive effect” – this is the second highest rating possible – something not yet accomplished by any other elementary math curriculum.

In addition, many districts have shared that they see markedly improved student outcomes on state-mandated tests. Some of these districts include: New York City, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Virginia Beach, VA; Kent, WA; Fayetteville, AR; Citrus County, FL; and Chattanooga, TN.

For any parent struggling with their child’s math performance, it is essential to partner with the teacher to get to the root of the problem. For any teacher struggling with a particular lesson or student, it is key that they look for help from district leaders or even the publisher of the program and the author group. Wright Group representatives are always available to help.

To learn more about the philosophies behind Everyday Math, see it in action, hear from those succeeding with it, and find parent resources, please visit EverydayMathSuccess.com.

Did you notice his copious and italicized use of the proper name "Everyday Mathematics"? Did you read the comments at the Edweek site?


Quote Of The Day

Bloomberg is a boring man. This was good for a long time. New York needed boring after Giuliani. But now he's not curatively dull, he's annoyingly dull...
h/t Michael Tomasky

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Autonomy vs Micromanagement

From Schools Matter about the $125,000 salaries for teachers
Letters from today's NYT:
A Dream Teacher, on Many Levels
Published: June 8, 2009

To the Editor:
Scott Menchin

Re “Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers” (front page, June 5):

Dear Equity Project Teachers:

I know how difficult it is to find a satisfying job, and I appreciate your wanting to join my profession. It has everything going against it.

For most of us, it is neither easy nor well paid. Many people think we work for vacations, but we know that when all our hours are tallied, we work more than 52 weeks a year. We function as parents, psychologists, drug counselors, coaches, advisers, mentors and oh yes, teachers.

We love reading and writing. We stomp around the classroom broadcasting the gist of the latest piece we read in The New York Times or Sports Illustrated or Popular Mechanics or The New Yorker. We take our kids to Broadway and Europe and the Baseball Hall of Fame and a potter’s studio because we think they deserve it. We smile looking over their shoulders.

We fight with the Board of Education for the money that will allow us to enrich our students’ lives. We tell parents how it is. We hope they will come over to our side.

I wish you the best of luck. Amid the negativity and despite the difficulties, may you find half the joy that I have found as a teacher.

Monica M. Tarantino

Walton, N.Y., June 5, 2009

To the Editor:

I applaud the $125,000-a-year teacher experiment for a new charter school in Washington Heights in Manhattan, testing if “excellent teachers ... are the critical ingredient for success.”

The chosen teachers were superior because they had autonomy to hone their craft: they decided what was best for their subjects and students. They did not follow scripts, packaged curriculums, pacing guides or “best practices” mandated by administrators.

How can we expect teachers to become exemplary practitioners when educational policy denies them the self-determination these “dream team” teachers needed to excel in their craft?

Stephen Gordon

Arlington, Mass., June 5, 2009

The writer is a retired teacher.

To the Editor:

As a modestly paid middle-school teacher, I took a great deal of interest in the raise offered by the Equity Project. I agree that excellent teachers are important, but I would certainly not complain if my salary were doubled.

Maybe grossly increasing teacher salaries will cure all our educational ills, and maybe it won’t — but then, very few “excellent” teachers are in it for the money. If you want to make a difference in the lives of young people, teaching is a great career with many rewards. If you want to make a pile of money, look elsewhere. Peter Hirzel

Los Angeles, June 5, 2009

To the Editor:

Zeke M. Vanderhoek’s philosophy of what makes a great school, as featured in your article, is right on target in terms of valuing talented teachers as crucial components in creating excellent schools. But the concept that top teachers alone are the primary factor leaves out one crucial element of the equation: schools must address the “whole child,” on a social, emotional and ethical level, to be truly successful.

Addressing the “whole child” is even more critical in underserved inner-city communities like Washington Heights, where children from a young age face a multitude of daunting social and emotional problems outside the classroom, whether gangs, drugs, domestic violence, poverty and/or homelessness.

The emotional stress of coping with these issues saps children’s cognitive energy and prevents them from performing to their full ability in school. Mr. Vanderhoek’s Equity Project school would benefit from incorporating into its model the concept of addressing the “whole child” with professional social workers to provide emotional and social support to give all students the skills they need to succeed both academically and in life.

Michelle Sidrane

Exec. Dir., Partnership With Children

New York, June 5, 2009

To the Editor:

What seemed to have prompted the principal of the Equity Project school to hire the math teacher at $125,000 is what I have been promoting for all of my 45 years as a math educator: a teacher’s love for mathematics with a concomitant enthusiasm for teaching it must be the single most important criterion in selecting teachers of the subject.

All the other essentials, like the teacher’s knowledge of the subject and teaching style, will follow automatically.

This characteristic is particularly essential at the pre-secondary level, when young minds are shaped all too often to fear or dislike math. When teachers’ attitudes toward the subject become more positive, future adults in society will no longer hold weak performance in math as a source of pride!

Alfred S. Posamentier

New York, June 5, 2009

The writer is a professor of mathematics education and dean of the School of Education at City College, CUNY.

To the Editor:

What should really amaze us is not that a school is willing to pay $125,000 salaries for great teachers but that this level of compensation is so unusual as to rate front-page placement in a national newspaper.

Isn’t it amazing that a whole range of professional and business people, some in their first year of employment, can earn more than the people who taught them how to read, write, compute and think?

Isn’t that the way to build our national house on sand? Stephen Davenport

Oakland, Calif., June 5, 2009

The writer is a retired head of school and teacher in independent schools.


ED.gov: It's Parents!

The "reformers" like Arne Duncan and Barack Obama would have you believe that schools and teachers are the biggest impediment to student success, right? Then why, on the ED.gov website, in the section for Tools for Student Success, are the vast majority of these tools ideas for parents to do with their children to help them with their education? Could it be that it's parents and families that need to make a stronger effort to help their struggling students? Could it be that those families need the rest of America to deal with poverty in a meaningful way, allowing families the resources they need to be able to help their children?

When the website is structured to meet the needs of students, you know, by making it obvious parents need to do their part, but the words and actions coming from those in charge seem to indicate that parents have little part to play, you know we are in for a rather difficult battle fraught with cognitive dissonance!

Arne Duncan = Big Brother

From Arne Duncan today:
"Hopefully some day we can track kids from pre-school to high-school and from high school to college and college to career," Duncan said. "Hopefully we can track good kids to good teachers [what about bad kids to bad teachers? WTF??] and good teachers to good colleges of education."
Yeah. And maybe we can track buying habits and medical procedures, and cable viewing habits and beer consumption. And then we can punish someone! Great idea!

Arne has no idea what he is doing, and, I am afraid, neither does Obama. The billions set to be doled out to the "reformers" promise to be wasted on non-scalable, charter-style, non-replicable-for-myriad-reasons interventions and programs when what we should be doing is trying to level the playing field for all Americans by providing basic needs; health care, housing, PUBLIC education, early childhood education, and other social services. You know, like Finland!


Obama's Speech Seems To Be Working

'WISE ENEMY'.... The AP reports this afternoon that President Obama's speech in Cairo this week has already begun "undercutting extremists" in the Middle East.

Hamas, for example, was predictably unsatisfied with the president's ongoing support for Israel, but officials praised Obama's "shift in tone." A Hamas spokesperson said, "We think we can build on this speech."
From Lebanese guerrillas to Saudi preachers, Islamic extremists have warned followers not to be taken in by President Barack Obama's conciliatory words _ a sign that some may be nervous about losing support if animosity toward the U.S. fades. [...]

[M]any Muslims were heartened by Obama's speech because they saw it as a significant change in the tone of discourse with Muslims. They noted he did not use the word "terrorism" or "terrorist" once in the 55-minute address -- words that many thought had been devalued under the Bush administration and too often equated with Muslims.

They also heard a more respectful U.S. leader who quoted from the Quran, or Islamic holy book, greeted them in Arabic, and removed his shoes when he toured a Cairo mosque.

One militant Web site that often carries statements from al-Qaida had unusual praise for Obama after the speech, noting his quotations from the Quran demonstrated respect for Islam and branding him the "wise enemy."
It's a start.
h/t Steve Benen

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