Homophonia strikes again

Hired to do social media for a Provo, Utah language school, Tim Torkildson wrote a post about homophones — ad and add, ail and ale, aye and eye, etc. He finished with a plug for the English language classes offered by Nomen Global Language Center.

He was fired. “Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality,” said his boss, Clarke Woodger, according to Torkildson’s blog.

Woodger complained he “had to look up the word because I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about,” according to Torkildson.

No, it’s not The Onion.  It’s not a hoax.

The Salt Lake City Tribune talked to Woodger, who said, “People at this level of English may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.”

Default penalties worry community colleges

Community colleges could be penalized for high default rates on student loans — even if few students are borrowing. Colleges could lose eligibility for all federal student aid programs if the default rate exceeds 30 percent for three consecutive years.

Is the Core too much for disabled students?

Can special education students keep up with the Common Core? On the Hechinger Report, Amanda M. Fairbanks looks at a special-ed class for third- and fourth-graders at a Long Island school. Nicole Papa plays an audio recording of a nonfiction article about bullying and peer pressure. Then, she reads it the first part again and asks students to think the main idea.

Her students have “diagnoses ranging from autism spectrum disorders to learning disabilities to mood disorders.” They don’t read well enough to get through the article themselves.

“A couple of years ago, I would never have tried such a difficult passage with these kids,” said Papa, reflecting on her lesson. “My students are stepping it up and showing some unexpected successes. I see the light bulbs go on and I see a lot of growth in their comprehension, in their vocabulary and in their confidence. They know they’re doing exactly what their peers are doing right across the hallway.”

They’re doing it at a much slower pace. While the mainstream class finished the first of four English segments in October, Papa’s class was still working on it in May.

Common Core’s higher expectations is tackling a “huge underachievement problem,” said Lindsay Jones, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Nevertheless, Celia Oyler, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is troubled by the uniformity she observes when visiting special education classrooms.

“Every child is being given the same materials at the same time,” said Oyler, who runs the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project and directs the inclusive teacher education programs at the college. “The very essence of meeting the needs of children with disabilities is that learners need to be doing things at different times.”

Most special ed students weren’t meeting the old standards, notes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Jackson Ellis, who’s starting fourth grade in Louisiana, is on the autism spectrum.  “There’s always been a gap — academically, socially — between what he could do and other kids could do,” says his mother, Rebecca Ellis. “When the standards changed, the gap grew into this canyon overnight.”

End special ed

It’s time to end special education, writes Matt Richmond, co-author of Financing the Education of High-Need Students. The special ed model, developed in the 1970s to end the exclusion of “handicapped” students, is “broken,” he writes.

It assumes that only students diagnosed with a disability have needs that require attention and support. The student who reads poorly due to dyslexia gets special help. The student who reads poorly because his parents didn’t read to him – or his family moved three times when he was in first grade — is out of luck.

Monitor all students’ progress and help those who need it, without requiring them to fall into a disability category, argues Richmond. Response to Intervention is an effective model, ” but current laws limit its potential reach.”

Tearing down the divide between special education and general education would benefit everyone. The disability label is not necessary or helpful; it does not define the needs of a child or his potential — nor does the absence of a medical disability negate a child’s struggles or measure his advantage. Our laws and funding structures have created a line which is harshly demarcated but entirely meaningless. In reality, there are no special-ed kids or general-ed kids; there are simply children who need an education. Each one unique. Each one requiring special attention. And every one deserving it.

The special ed funding formula is badly out of date, writes Clare McCann on The Hill. Federal funds are based on old enrollment numbers: Districts with declining enrollment get more federal dollars per student than growing districts. In addition, small states get more than larger states.

Congress was supposed to reauthorize and revise the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) several years ago. 

Why Hoboken is tossing all its laptops

Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior High School.

Five years ago, federal “stimulus” dollars paid for laptops for every student at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. Now the school is throwing away all the laptops, reports WNYC.

Laptops broke. Laptops vanished. Students defeated the security software that was supposed to keep them away from pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. “There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Jerry Crocamo, who installed the software.

The computers were slow. They crashed frequently. “Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.”

The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. New laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each, (Superintendent Mark) Toback said. Additionally, licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

Worst of all, the school had no plan for how to use the new technology to improve teaching. Teachers received little training, concedes Toback, who wasn’t there at the time.  

This has been a problem since the invention of the personal computer.

“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” said Allison Powell, who works for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

The district plans to pay a recycling company to dispose of the laptops. I’ve got to believe they could find a nonprofit to rehab and donate them.

Teaching grade 12½

The first year of college has become grade 12½, writes a community college writing instructor. Actually, it’s more like grade 7 1/2: He’s teaching punctuation, grammar, sentence structure and spelling.

On the blackboard …

Heh..

Can we teach like the Japanese?


Elizabeth Green’s Why do Americans Stink at Math? didn’t go far enough, writes Dan Willingham. Improving math instruction is even harder than she thinks.

The nub of her argument is this. American stink at math because the methods used to teach it are rote, don’t lead to transfer to the real world, and lead to shallow understanding. There are pedagogical methods that lead to much deeper understanding. U.S. researchers pioneered these methods and Japanese student achievement took off when the Japanese educational system adopted them.

. . . Traditional classrooms are characterized by the phrase “I, We, You.” The teacher models a new mathematical procedure (“I”), the whole class practices it (“We”), and then individual students try it on their own (“You”). That’s the method that leads to rote, shallow knowledge. More desirable is “You, Y’all, We.” The teacher presents a problem which students try to solve on their own (“You”). Then they meet in small groups to compare and discuss the solutions they’ve devised (Y’all). Finally, the groups share their ideas as a whole class (“We”).

Reform math comes around every 30 years, but never gains traction, writes Willingham.  Green blames “lack of support for teachers, and the fact that teachers must understand math better to use these methods.”

Green’s take is that if you hand down a mandate from on high “teach this way” with little training, and hand it to people with a shaky grasp of the foundations of math, the result is predictable; you get the fuzzy crap in classrooms that’s probably worse than the mindless memorization that characterizes the worst of the “I, We, You” method.

True enough, writes Willingham. But there’s more.

Green’s preferred method requires teachers to make quick decisions in class when a group gets on the wrong track. “Do you try to get the class to see where it went wrong right away, or do you let them continue, and play out the consequences of the their solution? Once you’ve decided that, what exactly will you say to try to nudge them in that direction?”

Japanese teachers discuss individual lessons in detail to prepare for this. They agree on the best way to teach each lesson down to what numbers are best for examples. And they expect all students to learn the same content with no regard for individual differences.

U.S. teachers are used to teaching autonomy.

Superwoman doesn’t teach here

In Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, Elizabeth Green argues that Japanese teachers are teaching math for understanding, while U.S. teachers haven’t been able to make reform math work.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

“This observation, that poor teacher preparation turns everything to garbage, strikes me as the skeleton key that unlocks so much of our failure to make and sustain gains in American education,” writes Robert Pondiscio.

Want to play a drinking game? Every time someone blames sloppy implementation for their pet reform’s poor results, take a drink. You may never be sober again. Drink every time someone says the answer is “more professional development,” and you might die of alcohol poisoning.

This needs to stop. Your preferred pedagogy, curriculum, approach, or technology has to be within the skills of ordinary teachers to implement well and effectively. If it takes a superstar teacher it’s a nonstarter.

Green’s upcoming book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that good teaching can be taught.

Pondiscio has high hopes for the book, because of Green’s “clear-eyed” New York Times Magazine profile of Uncommon Schools’ Doug Lemov. The story launched him as a teaching guru.

Lemov changed the conversation from “teacher quality” to “quality teaching,” Pondiscio wrote in a review of his book, Teach Like a Champion.

“The difference is not who the teacher is, but what the teacher does,” he writes. “And what the teacher does has to be learned, practiced, and mastered by the teachers we have, not the teachers we wished we had.”

We “lionize” teaching super stars, who never will exist in sufficient numbers, Pondiscio concludes. “Teaching has to be a job for millions of well-trained men and women of good will and general sentience.”

“You don’t need to be a genius,” Green told New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. “You have to know how to manage a discussion. You have to know which problems are the ones most likely to get the lessons across. You have to understand how students make mistakes — how they think — so you can respond to that.”

Ivies get the ink

The New York Times wrote more about Harvard last year than about all community colleges combined.