Why edutourists go astray

A math class in Shanghai

Edutourists often go astray, writes Tom Loveless on Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.

Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times declared the “Shanghai secret” is teacher training and a work day that allows for professional development and peer interaction.

After touring schools in Japan, Chalkbeat’s Elizabeth Green endorsed lesson study and “pedagogical reforms from the 1980s and 1990s” to boost math learning.

High-scoring Finland is a prime edutourist destination, writes Loveless. “The Education Ministry of Finland hosted at least 100 delegations from 40 to 45 countries per year from 2005 to 2011.”

Singling out a top achieving country—or state or district or school or teacher or some other “subject”—and then generalizing from what this top performer does is known as selecting on the dependent variable.  The dependent variable, in this case, is achievement.  To look for patterns of behavior that may explain achievement, a careful analyst examines subjects across the distribution—middling and poor performers as well as those at the top.  That way, if a particular activity—let’s call one “Teaching Strategy X”—is found a lot at the top, not as much in the middle, and rarely or not at all at the bottom, the analyst can say that Teaching Strategy X is positively correlated with performance.  That doesn’t mean it causes high achievement—even high school statistics students are taught “correlation is not causation”—only that the two variables go up and down together.

Edutourists routinely go to top-scoring countries, but rarely check whether their favored strategy is used in middle- and low-scoring nations, writes Loveless.

In addition, edutourists visit a selected sample of the best schools, he writes.  Confirmation bias makes it likely they’ll see what they expect to see.

Nashville teachers recruit students

In East Nashville, District school principals are asking teachers to go door to door to recruit students, reports Nashville Public Radio. It’s standard practice for charter school staffers.

“I think we’re just moving to the place where we do have to sell ourselves,” said LaTonya White, principal of Rosebank Elementary School.

Nashville has open enrollment. Per-pupil public funding of roughly $10,000 follows the student to the school of choice.

East Nashville has a number of “struggling, under-capacity schools.”

Half-a-dozen Rosebank teachers showed up  on a Saturday to canvass for students. Many teachers don’t think marketing is their job, said Carla Douglas, an art teacher who donated her time.

‘Serial’ replaces Shakespeare

Future victim Hae Min Lee and convicted killer Adnan Syden are in the center of the photo with school friends.

Serial, a wildly popular weekly podcast rehashing a 1999 murder case, has replaced Hamlet in one California classroom, reports Slate.

Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking skills and nonfiction, says teacher Michael Godsey.  Serial, a This American Life spinoff, has reinvigorated the class, he says.

(Is Serial host Sarah Koenig a reliable narrator? Is she reporting the story as it unfolds in a straightforward manner or instead dropping hints and red herrings the way a wily mystery novelist would?)

Fifteen years ago, Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore County, was murdered. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted and is still in prison. He says he didn’t do it.

In a way, Serial is about as Shakespearean as a story can get: You’ve got young lovers whose families don’t approve of their relationship. There’s a backstabbing friend. And it’s all built around the investigation of a mysterious death, though in this case it’s veteran reporter Sarah Koenig doing the poking around, not an increasingly unstable Prince Hamlet. Serial unspools its story in the same conversational language students use every day but still gives Godsey a chance to talk about the same things he can get at with Shakespeare: characters, reliable narrators, story structure, foreshadowing.

Students are “citing direct evidence that leads to explicit meaning” and “inferring conclusions based on previous evidence,” writes Godsey on his blog.

But they’re not reading Shakespeare. In fact, since it’s a podcast, they’re not reading anything.

Serial has been funded for a second season. 

Thankgiving with the family

From Politico:

Coming to America

Here’s Schoolhouse Rock on the Pilgrims in No More Kings.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Using observation to improve teaching

ednext_XV_1_steinberg_fig02-smallDoes Better Observation Make Better Teachers? Chicago Public Schools’ Excellence in Teaching Project (EITP), a teacher evaluation system based on the Danielson framework, led to improved reading performance, according to a study reported in Education Next.

However, the focus on classroom observations and feedback had little or no impact in high-poverty and low-achieving schools. In the second year, when schools had less support from the central office, the gains vanished.

(Under EITP), principals and teachers engaged in a brief (15- to 20-minute) pre-observation conference during which they reviewed the rubric. The conference also gave the teacher an opportunity to share any information about the classroom with the principal, such as issues with individual students or specific areas of practice about which the teacher wanted feedback. During the 30- to 60-minute lesson that followed, the principal was to take detailed notes about what the teacher and students were doing.

After the observation, the principal rated teacher performance, focusing primarily on classroom environment and instruction.

Within a week of the observation, the principal and teacher discussed the observation, focusing on areas of disagreement and how the teacher could improve.

All teachers are not the same

All Teachers Are Not the Same, writes Erika Sanzi in Education Post.

Upset about Time‘s “rotten apple” cover, Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal in Virginia, described the dedication and hard work of teachers.

“The Rotten Apples come into work between 6:30-7:30 A.M.” and  “teach all day even during their planning periods,” writes Chewning. “After a full day they go home and grade papers, prepare lesson plans for the following day, maintain an online classroom and gradebook, and answer emails. Most don’t stop until at least 10:00 P.M.”

Valerie Strauss excerpted the letter in the Washington Post.

Sanzi, an educator, school board member and mother of three, recalls a former colleague who works from 6:30 am to 10 pm, “spends summers on professional development, coaches softball and does whatever it takes for children to learn.”

But not all 3 million U.S. teachers are the same, writes Sanzi.

She lives in Rhode Island. Twenty-three percent of Providence’s teachers are chronically absent. Her son’s kindergarten teacher missed 27 days, including the day before Thanksgiving and the two days before the start of February vacation.  He told the class he was going to “Disney.”

The next year, her son had a wonderful first-grade teacher.

All teachers are not the same.

All teachers do not come in at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. Some do.

All teachers do not stay after school and then work until 10 p.m. at home. Some do.

All teachers do not spend their summers taking classes and attending conferences. Some do.

All teachers do not maintain online gradebooks and respond to emails. Some do.

All teachers do not provide their students with breakfast, medicine and clothes. Special ones do.

To imply that all teachers are alike “devalues the extraordinary teaching and generosity of spirit of our best and most dedicated teachers,” writes Sanzi.

“My belief that current tenure laws protect bad teachers doesn’t mean that I think all teachers are bad,” she concludes. “On the contrary, it means that I can easily recognize the ones who aren’t pulling their weight because they are so unlike all the great ones I’ve had the privilege of knowing.”

Los Angeles requires ethnic studies

Ethnic studies will be a graduation requirement in Los Angeles Unified by 2019, reports KPCC.

District officials estimate the new requirement will cost $3.9 million.

Several ethnic studies courses, such as Chicano Literature, African American History and Asian Studies, are offered at 19 district high schools. Only 700 students out of 152,000 high school students districtwide take an ethnic studies course, according to Ethnic Studies Now. Ninety percent of Los Angeles Unified students are non-white.

“There is a saying: ‘The real story of the hunter will be told when the lion and the buffalo get to write,'” said LAUSD board member George McKenna, co-sponsor of the resolution who represents South Los Angeles.

San Francisco should require ethnic studies, says Sandra Fewer, the school board president. “Yes, it will mean that something else will have to go,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. Her first priority is expanding the course to all high schools.

In David Ko’s ethnic studies class at Washington High School, students learn to “talk about their experiences in a way that is less about the individual and more of the cultural norms or systems of oppression,” reports the Chronicle. Many of the students “were placed in the class because there wasn’t room in their elective of choice.”

It appears that few students are choosing ethnic studies over other electives, such as music, art, drama, journalism or an AP course. Why not let them decide?

Moskowitz outmuscles the unions

In a Reason interview, Eva Moskowitz, founder of New York City’s phenomenally successful Success Academy charter schools, talks about how she built a political coalition to fight union power.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to squash Success Academy’s expansion plans, Moskowitz “bused 11,000 charter school parents and kids to the state capital in Albany to protest.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed the charter network, the mayor backed down and “state lawmakers quickly passed a bill to protect charter schools from future interference by the mayor.”

How strict is too strict?

How Strict Is Too Strict? asks Sarah Carr in The Atlantic.  Many high-performing urban charter schools “share an aversion to even minor signs of disorder,” she writes. Critics say students — most are black and Latino — face harsh discipline for low-level misbehavior.

Many parents “appreciate the intense structure, but only if they also come to trust the mostly young educators who enforce it,” writes Carr.

From the moment Summer Duskin arrived at Carver Collegiate Academy in New Orleans last fall, she struggled to keep track of all the rules. . . . She had to say thank you constantly, including when she was given the “opportunity”—as the school handbook put it—to answer questions in class. And she had to communicate using “scholar talk,” which the school defined as complete, grammatical sentences with conventional vocabulary. . . .

. . . Teachers issued demerits when students leaned against a wall, or placed their heads on their desks. (The penalty for falling asleep was 10 demerits, which triggered a detention; skipping detention could warrant a suspension.) . . . The rules did not ease up between classes: students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape.

Students wear a school uniform. Hats, sunglasses and “bling” are banned.

Summer was 14. It felt like elementary school.

Parents are very concerned about student behavior, writes Carr. “The margin for error is much smaller in black communities, especially for black boys,” Troy Henry, a New Orleans parent, told her.

But there’s been pushback from high school students.

Summer—who had received countless demerits and three out-of-school suspensions in her first semester as a freshman—was among the roughly 60 students who walked over to a nearby park wearing orange wristbands that read LET ME EXPLAIN. In a letter of demands she helped write, the teenagers lamented, “We get disciplined for anything and everything.”

High on their list of complaints were the stiff penalties for failing to follow the taped lines in the hallways, for slouching, for not raising their hands with ramrod-straight elbows. “The teachers and administrators tell us this is because they are preparing us for college,” the students wrote. “If college is going to be like Carver, we don’t want to go to college.”

Carver has modified its rules and decided to end out-of-school suspensions. Other charters also are rethinking strict discipline policies and reducing suspensions.

The changes came too late for Summer, who transferred to a low-performing magnet school.

“Restoring order and discipline” has helped New Orleans’ schools improve dramatically, writes Greg Richmond on Education Post. “From 2007 to 2013, the share of students reading and doing math at “proficient” levels surged from 37 percent to 63 percent in New Orleans. From 2005 to 2011, the high school dropout rate declined from 11.4 percent to 4.1 percent.”