Teach your padwan well

Be a Force for Good in Your Classroom, says Teach for America.

Teacher: Core test is flawed

Julie Campbell, a fifth-grade teacher in New York, is OK with the Common Core and with standardized testing. But after training to be a scorer, Campbell thinks the new English Language Arts test for fifth graders is badly flawed, she writes in the Washington Post.

Scorers were told that any claim made by a student is correct if backed by evidence. “Making a feeble claim and using evidence out of context to support that claim” is all too common — and awarded full points.

Teenager Zac Sunderland sailed around the world -- alone.

Teenager Zac Sunderland sailed around the world — alone.

On last year’s test, students were asked to explain how The Young Man and the Sea‘s Zac Sunderland, a teenager who sailed solo around the world, demonstrated the ideas described in How to be a Smart Risk-Taker.

Students can’t argue that Zac took unreasonable risks.

Scorers were told the following answer is “exemplary” and deserves full credit, writes Campbell.

One idea described in “How to be a Smart Risk-taker” is evaluating risks. It is smart to take a risk only when the potential upside outweighs the potential downside. Zac took the risk because the downside “dying” was outweighed by the upside (adventure, experience, record, and showing that young people can do way more than expected from them). (pg 87)

It’s not smart to risk dying for adventure, the teacher thinks. But that’s the smart way to do well on the test.

Short-answer questions lead to an “Easter Egg hunt,” Campbell writes. “The wordier the written response, the more likely it is that the student will stumble upon the correct answer.”

To get full credit (two points), the student must make an inference, even if it’s irrelevant.  Let’s say the question asks: “What time is it?” Answering 12 would be worth partial credit, writes Campbell. Full credit would require the student to write: “12, which is noon when we eat lunch.”

Students are learning to use test-prep jargon to pump up their scores, she writes, after reading 300 test papers.

Empty phrases and flowery transitions were sprinkled everywhere: meaningless drivel. Clear, concise writing was scarcely seen, and when it was, it was detrimental to the child’s overall score.

. . . Wordy block quotes that may or may not support the main idea? Points. Overdone introduction with a dubious thesis? Points. Lengthy conclusion? Points. Quality thoughtful, succinct, correct information?   Partial credit.

Finally, writes Campbell, the guidance to scorers is inconsistent, contradictory and confusing. The test results will undercut good Common Core instruction.

Core tests aren’t really ‘high stakes’

Forty-four states plus the District of Columbia are giving Common Core-aligned tests this spring, but  the exams are stakes are low for students and only slightly higher for teachers, according to a Hechinger Report survey.



Acting smart

As a child in Daytona Beach, Florida, Roland G. Fryer Jr. often visited his great-aunt and -uncle’s house, where pancakes were fried in the same pan in which the couple made crack out of water, baking soda and cocaine. Eight of his 10 closest childhood friends went to prison or died young, including a favorite cousin who was murdered.

A Harvard professor who studies race and education, Fryer has won what’s considered the “mini-Nobel” for young economists, reports the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

“How do you create structures so that people don’t just beat the odds, but so that you change the damn odds?” he said. “It’s not, like, a ‘them’ thing, for me. This is my family, dude.”
Roland G. Fryer, "Acting White," Education Next (2006).Fryer’s most controversial research has found that black and Latino achievers lose popularity if their grades rise too high. African-Americans with grade-point averages of at least 3.5 (B+/A-) had fewer black friends than students with B’s or lower. For Latino students, the cut-off was lower: The more their GPA “exceeded 2.5 (C+/B-), the less popular they were.”

The “acting white” phenomenon occurs in racially mixed schools, he found. “Social pressures could go a long way toward explaining the large racial and ethnic gaps in SAT scores, the underperformance of minorities in suburban schools, and the lack of adequate representation of blacks and Hispanics in elite colleges and universities,” Fryer wrote in Education Next.

Some challenge the theory, notes the Post. In support, Frayer cited an
experiment at Los Angeles high schools. Students — most were Latino — were offered a free SAT preparation class. Those told their classmates would know if they participated were significantly less likely to sign up.

“I didn’t realize I grew up poor until I got to Harvard,” says Fryer. Now he’s raising his own child in a very different environment. “My 2-year-old starts Mandarin immersion in the fall.”

Movin’ on up

Moving from a high-poverty city to a better place improves children’s odds of upward mobility, concludes the Equality of Opportunity study. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter,” according to Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist. Chetty and his colleague Nathaniel Hendren, analyzed earnings data for millions of low-income movers.

Some places provide more opportunity, reports the New York Times.

The places most conducive to upward mobility include large cities — San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I. — and major suburban counties, such as Fairfax, Va.; Bergen, N.J.; Bucks, Pa.; Macomb, Mich.; Worcester, Mass.; and Contra Costa, Calif.

These places tend to share several traits, Mr. Hendren said. They have elementary schools with higher test scores, a higher share of two-parent families, greater levels of involvement in civic and religious groups and more residential integration of affluent, middle-class and poor families.

The place where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is Baltimore, the study found. “Low-income boys who grew up there in recent decades make roughly 25 percent less as adults than similar low-income boys who were born in the city and moved as small children to an average place,” reports the Times.

After the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles 20 years ago, Congress created the Moving to Opportunity experiment. Some poor families got vouchers to move to less-poor, less violent neighborhoods, while a control group did not.

Baltimore was one of the cities in the experiment.

It was considered a failure. Compared to the control group, parents who received the vouchers didn’t earn more; their children didn’t do better in school. “Ten to 15 years after moving, children were no more likely to complete high school, enroll in college or be employed, compared to similar children who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods,” a follow-up study found.

However, children who moved before they were teenagers went on to earn more as adults, conclude Chetty and Hendren, after re-crunching the data. They didn’t escape poverty, but they were less poor.

Low-income parents who find a way to move to a more integrated neighborhood — without a voucher — are motivated, hard-working people. I’d expect their kids to do better.

Even the voucher experiment showed the importance of initiative: Some voucher recipients chose to stay in their high-poverty neighborhoods rather than risk the unfamiliar suburbs.

Angry — and resilient — in Baltimore

Eighth-graders at Green Street Academy share their concerns in light of Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore.

Eighth-grade boys at Baltimore’s Green Street Academy discuss Freddie Gray’s death.  Photo: Shereen Marisol Meraji/NPR

When Baltimore schools reopened after a day of protests and violence, NPR visited a West Baltimore middle/high school, Green Street Academy, that’s trying to help students “make sense of it all” — and stay calm.

William Richardson, a former teacher and dean of students who now works for Juvenile Services, talked to eighth-grade boys in the school cafeteria.

“Why have white people been killing us since slavery, and they’re still killing us?” one student asks.

“All these police officers are killing black dudes for no reason,” says a boy named Montrel.

“If a cop asks what we’re doing, and we’re not doing anything, do we have to answer?” another wonders.

Adults in the room tell the boys to protest peacefully, “write emails to politicians, encourage their parents to shop at black-owned businesses and to above all, be positive,” reports Shereen Marisol Meraji.

“Positive is not always the answer,” a student replies.

Get your education, a teacher says. Move up out of here. “The students don’t seem satisfied,” writes Meraji.

After lunch, Principal Crystal Harden-Lindsey visited an American Government class where a student, James Arrington, is talking about what he wants the government to do to help the kids of Baltimore.

James says young people need access to more activities, recreation centers and safe places to go after school. He wants more responsible adults in the community to count on; Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters to step in.

He says kids act out because they don’t have anyone to show them how to do better.

Harden-Lindsey asks whether bad choices are the responsibility of the kids who make them, or of adults who’ve let them down.

“I think it’s 50/50,” another student says, “’cause it’s the obstacles and the decisions you make on your own.”

Harden-Lindsey wants to focus on the “50” that’s within the control of the young people themselves.

“A lot of what you say, I can definitely understand in terms of being hopeless, of being angry,” Harden-Lindsey says.

“Yes, we have a lot of things that go against us,” says the principal, “but we’re also very resilient.”

Ten years after 10th grade

Ten years after 10th grade, 41 percent of the high school sophomores of 2002 who enrolled in college had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, concludes a new federal study. (Eighty-four percent took at least one college class.) Forty-three percent had no postsecondary credential, while 7 percent had earned a certificate and 10 percent an associate degree.

College success strongly correlates with high school grades and test scores, students’ and parents’ expectations, parents’ education, family income — the usual suspects.

It might be useful if students and teachers realized how grim the college graduation statistics are for C students.

Only 4.9 percent of C- and D students (GPA less than 2.0) earned a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s; another 18 percent earned a certificate or associate degree. For those with a solid C average (2.0 to 2.49), 14.8 percent earned a bachelor’s and another 1 percent a master’s degree. That rose to 28.2 percent and 3.8 percent for C+ (2.5 to 2.99 GPA) students.

By contrast 65 percent of B students and 81 percent of those with a 3.5 GPA or higher earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

There’s a lot here for data junkies.

Beyond college rankings

Which colleges and universities add the most “value” to a graduate’s paycheck? Brookings’ value-added rankings analyzes the difference between students’ predicted and actual mid-career earnings.

Cal Tech, MIT and Stanford do well, but so do Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, Colgate in New York and Carleton College in Minnesota.

Two-year colleges with high-value added scores include the New Hampshire Technical Institute, Lee College near Houston, and Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

U.S. News rankings imply that Harvard graduates do well because they went to Harvard, notes Liz Shaughnessy. But these schools “primarily admit rich, smart students . . . who may have done well at any college or university.”

In contrast, Brookings Institution focuses on the value-added boost that these schools actually provide their graduates when controlling for such factors as student’s wealth, their academic profiles and their majors. Depending on government and private sources, the think tank analyzes the difference between actual alumni outcomes (like salaries) and the outcomes one would expect given a student’s characteristics and the type of institution.

Cal Tech alum with 10 years of work experience, for instance, earned 49 percent higher salaries than would have been predicted, with the average grad earning $126,200. Grads from Colgate, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, were earning slightly more at $126,600, which is 46 percent more than would have been predicted.

Colleges rank higher if they encourage high completion rates, offer generous financial aid and produce more graduates in engineering, health care, computer science and business.

The ranking also looks at graduates’ ability to repay their student loans and the salary trends of alumni’s occupations.

Charters try not to ‘churn and burn’ teachers

Charter schools are trying to hold on to teachers by cutting work hours and adding perks such as on-site child care and retirement plans, writes Alexandria Neason on Slate.

Often charters hire new teachers, ask them to work long hours and then replace them in a few years.

At YES Prep, a network of 13 charter schools in Houston, the average classroom teacher stays for about 2 ½ years, writes Neason. At the start of the school year, Superintendent Mark DiBella decided to change that.

(He) pored through student test-score data, and found that more experienced, stable teachers were producing noticeably better student results.” He quickly assembled a committee of teachers to devise recommendations for getting more teachers to commit to at least five years in the classroom.

The network announced earlier this month a series of initiatives to improve retention, including across-the-board pay raises. In addition, more seasoned teachers will have a personal budget to spend on professional development, and more input on how their job evaluations will work. The network has also cut back on school hours and mandatory after-school activities.

KIPP, the country’s biggest charter network with 162 schools, changed its training for principals to boost teacher retention. Ninety-two percent of principals now stay beyond four years. Annual teacher retention has risen slightly to 70 percent last school year. The goal is 80 percent.

Nearly a third of KIPP teachers now have access to on-site child care and “some KIPP schools have shortened their school days and eliminated mandatory Saturday sessions,” writes Neason.

By the 2012-13 school year, the most recent data available, turnover at charter schools had decreased to 18.4 percent, she reports. That’s slightly higher than the 15.5 percent rate for teachers at district-run schools.

Teacher turnover — moving schools and quitting the profession — is higher at high-needs schools, notes the Shanker Blog, citing the Teacher Follow-up Survey.

A new federal study of public school teachers’ attrition and mobility rates in the first five years includes both charter and district teachers. “During their second year (in 2008–09), 74 percent of beginning teachers taught in the same school as the previous year (stayers), 16 percent taught in a different school (movers), and 10 percent were not teaching,” according to the report.

At the end of five years, 83 percent were teaching, though some had switched schools. That’s much higher than previous estimates of new teacher turnover.

Can 4-year-olds play their way to algebra?

Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You argues that digital gaming can “make our kids smarter.” But Toppo hopes gaming “is not the Next Big Thing” in education,, he said at a Fordham event. “Because the Next Big Thing in education always sucks. It always fails. I hope it’s the Next Small Thing, and it just keeps going under the radar. Keep it away from the real rule-makers.”

“Many educational fads start out as compelling insights, then collapse beneath the weight of enthusiasts’ cheers and the hucksters’ attempts to cash in,” adds Robert Pondiscio.

Preschooler can learn algebra by playing a game called DragonBox, writes Toppo on the Hechinger Report.

But inventor Jean-Baptiste Huynh, a Vietnamese Frenchman living in Oslo (who taught math in Spain), says the game is about “speed and imagination,” not algebra.

“Mathematics is creativity. It’s play,” says Huynh. It’s asking “what if?”

In his game, a box arrives with a baby dragon inside. The dragon must be alone before it will eat. Players must figure out what to do.

The game board is divided into two sides, with your little dragon-in-a-box on one side. On both sides are “cards”—random images of lizards, horned beetles, deep-sea fish, and angry tomatoes. . . . To win each level, you must touch and tap and drag the cards to get rid of all of those on the dragon’s side. Once you do, he noisily eats everything that remains on the other side and the level is done.

. . . On level 12, one of the animal cards has mysteriously been replaced by a little black “a.” Five levels later, there’s a “c.” Finally, on level 18, the little wooden dragon box is momentarily replaced by a floating letter “x.” You’re doing proto-algebra. It’s been about three minutes since you downloaded the game.

. . . Addition, multiplication, division, fractions—all of them appear, without fanfare or explanation. By game’s end, at level 100, you’ve moved seamlessly, baby step by baby step, from a cute baby dragon eating a spiky two-headed lizard, to this: “2 over x plus d over e equals b over x,” which you solve, fearlessly and perhaps even a bit impatiently, in exactly 14 steps. You are 4 years old.

Here’s a video:

Liz Kolb has advice for teachers on how to “gamify” the classroom.