In the Rubber Room

In The Rubber Room, a feature-length movie, follows six New York City educators waiting in “teacher’s jail” to learn if they’ll be allowed to teach again.

Ed classes are too easy

Students train to be P.E. teachers at Westminster College in Missouri.

Education Majors Are Too Easy, writes Cristina Duncan Evans, who teaches social studies at a Baltimore high school, in Education Week Teacher.

After graduating from an Ivy League college, Evans entered teaching through alternate certification. She earned a master’s degree in teaching and takes education courses to maintain her certification.

Her education coursework has been short on rigor and problem solving, she writes. Instructors often use exercises that treat teachers as though they were children.

“Too frequently instructors simply show teachers an instructional practice, have them play the roles of students, then move on to the next portion of the session,” Evans complains. There’s no debrief on what worked and why.

Too often I’ve come to the end of an education class and had practical questions about how the theory I learned was supposed to guide day-to-day interactions with my students. I took the state’s required literacy courses, but I didn’t know how to assign texts in a way that built both literacy skills and content knowledge until I began reading professional texts independently.

Teacher education programs’ low entrance requirements and unchallenging coursework are a turn off for high-achieving students, writes Evans. “When people who love learning don’t find it remotely appealing to study education, something’s wrong.”

Prospective teachers are misled about their preparation for the classroom by Easy A’s, concludes a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Videos improve teacher observation

Classroom observations can be stressful to teachers and burdensome to supervisors. Teachers often think they’ve been caught in their worst teaching moments, not their best.

The Best Foot Forward project at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research analyzed the use of digital video to let teachers record lessons and choose their best to submit for their classroom observations

Observers provided time-stamped feedback aligned to specific moments in the videos.  That facilitated discussions with the teacher on his or her teaching.

Compared to a control group, the digital videos “boosted teachers’ perception of fairness of classroom observations, reduced teacher defensiveness during post-observation conferences, led to greater self- perception of the need for behavior change and allowed administrators to time-shift observation duties to quieter times of the day or week.”

Videotaping and teacher evaluation don’t mix, writes Anthony Cody. Teachers don’t trust promises they’ll control who sees the tapes.

MOOCs, which work best for educated people, could help teachers learn new skills, writes Derek Newton in The Atlantic.

A MOOC approach to professional development—having teachers watch and learn from other successful educators who are actually teaching—could help move these offerings past the status quo.

. . . “Being able to actually see teaching practices modeled—as opposed to just being lectured to on the concepts—is a game changer in professional development,” said Alvin Crawford, the CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems(KDS), which provides interactive professional-development programming for teachers.

It should be much easier to watch good teachers teaching — perhaps to watch three good teachers try different approaches to the same subject.

Is your school’s namesake worthy?

Florida has more schools named for manatees than for George Washington.

Some want to rename the nearly 200 K-12 schools named for Confederate leaders, writes Robert Pondiscio. As a teacher of civics and history, he sees a teachable moment.

So here’s a challenge for every school in this country named after a president, military figure, athlete, civic leader or any prominent person: Commit the coming school year to a close examination of the life and work of your school’s namesake.

. . . Let (students) debate, defend or challenge the merits of their namesake – but from a position of deep, informed conviction.

. . . Agree that the current name must stand until or unless an alternative person – not a street, natural feature or other bland, inoffensive name like Valley View High – is chosen if the current honoree fails to pass muster.

It’s increasingly rare for public schools to be named for people, according to a 2007 paper by Jay Greene and colleagues.  It’s easier and safer to choose a name from nature. That’s why Florida has 11 schools named for manatees and only five for George Washington. Arizona has as many public schools are named for the roadrunner as for Thomas Jefferson.

“Unfortunately, such caution betrays public education’s civic mission,” Greene and his colleagues wrote. “To teach civics effectively, we have to affirm that democracy and liberty are superior to other systems of government and that the history of democratic societies – shaped by the leadership of people whose names we should know – reinforces this point.

Is there anyone we can agree to honor?

Bright kids can’t get ahead 

Why are American schools slowing down so many bright children? asks Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews.

He cites a new report by the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. It’s a follow-up to a 2004 report, A Nation Deceived.

Only nine states explicitly permit accelerating gifted students, while one state, Louisiana, prohibits it. “Sixteen states prohibit early entry to kindergarten.”

“The research shows that many biases against acceleration, such as the fear that children will feel awkward with older classmates, are unfounded,” writes Mathews. “But resistance to grade skipping still rules many schools.”

When I was in fifth grade, I tested at the 12th-grade level in reading. I’d accelerated myself by reading in class. But our district never skipped anyone — except for my sister. My husband also skipped a grade in Catholic school. He thinks his fifth-grade teacher wanted to get rid of him.

High schools offer a lot more acceleration options than in the past, including Advanced Placement and early college programs. I loved tracking, which started in ninth grade. Until then, I read a book a day.

Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, a distance-learning program designed to accelerate math students, has been replaced by a Core-aligned curriculum called Redbird, a parent complains. “This is an unfortunate development for mathematically gifted students,” writes Nicholas Tampio.

My daughter used EPGY to take algebra in seventh grade. She wasn’t mathematically gifted — just wiling to do anything to escape a “fuzzy” pre-algebra course.

Proficient — or just pretending

Why Proficiency Matters, a new site created by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, shows the gap between reading and math proficiency levels reported by each state and scores reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The gap is 30 percentage points in many states. In Alabama and Idaho, the gap is nearly 60 points.
Enter your state to see how well its proficiency cut scores align with NAEP.

“When the proficiency cut score is too low, it conveys a false sense of student achievement to parents, teachers and educators,” warns the foundation. “This false sense of achievement damages students’ long–term chance for success in college or the workforce.”

First-year college students spend $7 billion a year to learn what they should have mastered in high school, according to a 2012 study.

Common Core standards may be pushing states to raise proficiency standards in reading and math, writes Paul Peterson in Education Next.

Asking an Asian for math help is racist

Saying that “America is a melting post” or that “everyone can succeed” can be a “racial microaggression” at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, reports Social Memo.

New faculty are expected to read the list of microaggressions.

Urging a Latino or Asian person to “speak up more” makes the list. So does “asking an Asian person to help with a Math or Science problem.”

SF plans computer science for all

Volunteer Aimee Menne helps teach computer science at San Francisco’s Mission High. Photo: Andra Cernavskis

San Francisco’s public schools plan to expose every child to computer science from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, writes Andra Cernavskis on the Hechinger Report. What does that mean? The district is trying to figure that out.

“We are not trying to produce an army of software engineers,” said Bryan Twarek, SFUSD’s computer science coordinator. “We want to open all doors to this industry, and right now those doors aren’t open to everyone.”

In fact, only 10 of San Francisco’s 18 high schools offer any kind of computer science class, with just 5 percent of all high school students enrolled in classes at any level, from introductory to Advanced Placement. Most of the students in that 5 percent are white or Asian males. Of the few hundred students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in 2014, only 22 percent were female, and only 3 percent identified as African American, Latino, or Native American.

For the younger grades, educators want to design a program that isn’t just about bringing gadgets and technology into the classroom, writes Cernavskis. Computer programming is a form of problem solving, said Julie Flapan, the executive director of Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS).

3rd graders spend 75% of day on iPads 

Third-graders follow and annotate a text on climate as their teacher reads it aloud. Later the children will be asked to post photographs related to the topic. Photo: Gail Robinson

Third-graders follow and annotate a text on climate as their teacher reads it aloud. Later the children will be asked to post photographs related to the topic. Photo: Gail Robinson

In Glued to the screen, Hechinger’s Gail Robinson looks at third-graders who spend three-quarters of the day on IPads. The affluent New York suburb of Mineola has supplied tablets to all students.

In Morgan Mercaldi’s class, many students use eSpark, which creates a “playlist” of education apps geared to each student’s needs, reports Robinson. After researching online and in books, students organize a first-person narrative about frogs on their iPads, then write it up on paper. The teacher pairs each student with a partner to revise their writing.

“Working with eSpark, Mineola selected apps, readings and videos” geared to Common Core standards, writes Robinson.

Third-graders began with the variety of apps available on eSpark and then added MobyMax, which provides electronic curricula, mostly for math. Teachers began using Edmodo to allow students to submit their work electronically for quick review.

Mercaldi teaches a short math less on multiplying to determine the area of rectangles. Students use their iPads to answer questions she’s posted on Edmodo. The software makes it easy to see where a student may need extra help.

Later the class will divide into four groups working at different levels.  While one group reads with the teacher, the others will do lessons on eSpark, Edmodo or MobyMax.

Mineola also is working with School4One to “compile digital portfolios that will track student progress in meeting individual Common Core standards.”

In Pixar’s world, Joy needs Sadness

Go see Pixar’s Inside Out, writes Greg Forster. In the movie’s portrayal of a child’s emotions,  “Joy is life. Sadness is wisdom.”

Dan Kois, Slate’s culture editor,  has rethought how he talks to his children about emotions since seeing Inside Out.

“Aren’t you a little bundle of joy?” Riley’s dad asks his infant daughter in her first moments of life. Indeed, for the first years of her life, Riley’s defining characteristic is joyfulness, as depicted in the movie by Joy (Amy Poehler)—the wide-eyed, blue-haired chief of headquarters, where the five anthropomorphized emotions work together to manage Riley’s feelings from minute to minute. The other emotions, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness (Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith), look to Joy for leadership, because there’s no situation so scary or upsetting that Joy can’t find a way to turn it around and find the happy.

But Sadness has a critical role to play. Relentless positivity isn’t everything, writes Kois.

In the U.S. children are expected to be happy, says Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner,who consulted on the film. “That makes it harder to grapple with sadness.”

The movie’s view of childhood is narrow and trivialized, writes Richard Brody in The New Yorker.  He wants more going on in Riley’s head. Where’s her Bullshit Detector? he asks.