Teacher retention is up in reform era

Teachers are staying in the classroom, despite education reforms some said would create rapid turnover, according to a U.S. Education Department survey.

In the past, half of teachers would leave in their first five years, write Kaitlin Pennington and Robert Hanna of the Center for American Progress. But 70 percent of teachers who started five years ago have stayed in the profession.

The Great Recession started in 2009, which may have discouraged job switching, they observe. With many experienced teachers retiring, new teachers may have expected more opportunities.
Still, the new research should “give pause” to reform critics, write Pennington and Hanna.

Some claimed that teachers would react strongly to teacher evaluations that are based in part on student test-score growth and that the stress would drive many of them out. Bob Sullo, an education consultant and author, called it a “recipe for disaster.” And education historian Diane Ravitch predicted that “many will leave teaching, discouraged by the loss of their professional autonomy.”

Over the course of President Obama’s first term, about two-thirds of teachers said that if they “could go back to college and start over again,” they would “probably” or “definitely” still become teachers.

Duncan: Demand more of kids

U.S. parents need to demand more of their children, writes New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We’re raising a generation of slackers, he writes.

“Teachers are held to impossible standards” and students aren’t held accountable at all, complained a seventh-grade English teacher in the Washington Post‘s Answer Sheet.

I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice and I tried to make class fun. … (The principal) handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. . . . I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work — a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further.

Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education: “They are not allowed to fail.” “If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.” . . .  I suppose I was not giving them the answers. I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them. I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time. I was not excusing their lack of discipline.

A high school teacher in Oregon told Friedman she used to have one or two students per class who wouldn’t do the work. Now it’s 10 or 15.  Expectations keep sliding. A failing student said, “You don’t seem to realize I have two hours a night of Facebook and over 4,000 text messages a month to deal with. How do you expect me to do all this work?”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a “feel-bad” speech to the National Assessment Governing Board’s Education Summit for Parent Leaders.

In 2009, President Obama met with President Lee of South Korea and asked him about his biggest challenge in education. President Lee answered without hesitation: parents in South Korea were ‘too demanding.’ Even his poorest parents demanded a world-class education for their children, and he was having to spend millions of dollars each year to teach English to students in first grade, because his parents won’t let him wait until second grade. … I [wish] our biggest challenge here in the U.S. was too many parents demanding excellent schools.

South Korea probably has the most intense education parents in the world. But what about U.S. parents? Are they failing to demand excellent schools? Raising low achievers with high self-esteem?

It’s not the white moms, it’s the whitewash

Common Core’s problem isn’t “white suburban moms” who can’t handle high standards, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, writes Eduwonk. It’s not the white moms, it’s the white wash.

Duncan and President Obama told suburban voters their schools were fine, whatever No Child Left Behind might say. Now Duncan is backtracking.

. . . the administration is pretty much fully reactive on K-12 policy now and doesn’t have a forward-looking argument to make about K-12 schools. This lets the Common Core critics have a field day (and they are, even without gaffes that make their job easier). Meanwhile, on the other side Civil Rights groups are increasingly up in arms over the looseness of the No Child Left Behind waiver process and what it means for currently underserved students.

No Child Left Behind, which “told the states to make their own standards more meaningful,” couldn’t overcome political resistance, writes Eduwonk.  Common Core standards are much more ambitious.  “It’s basically like a couple in troubled marriage who decide that since things are not working having a baby is the next logical step.”

Duncan’s No Child waivers let suburban districts hide their inability to educate low-income, black and Latino students, writes Sandy Kress, a NCLB architect, on Dropout Nation.

Core meltdown

In Core Meltdown Coming, Education Realist looks at how the Common Core will change math instruction.

Right now middle school math, which should ideally focus almost entirely on proportions, is burdened with introductions to exponents, a little geometry, some simple single variable equations. Algebra I has a whole second semester in which students who can’t tell a positive from negative slope are expected to master quadratics in all their glory and all sorts of word problems.

But Common Core standards add exponential functions to the algebra one course load and compensate by moving systems of equations and exponent laws to eighth grade while much of isolating variables is booted all the way down to sixth grade. Seventh grade alone bears the weight of proportions and ratios, and it’s one of several curricular objectives. So in the three years when, ideally, our teachers should be doing their level best to beat proportional thinking into students’ heads, Common Core expects our students to learn half of what used to be called algebra I, with a slight nod to proportional thinking . . .

“Half” of geometry is being pushed down to middle school too, writes Ed Realist.

In theory, students will arrive in high school ready to learn “complex, real-world mathematical tasks.” But only if they’re able to learn in middle school what many students are not able to learn in high school.

Under Common Core, college and career readiness requires passing Algebra II. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Common Core will stop us “lying to kids about whether they are ready. Finally, we are telling them the truth, telling their parents the truth, and telling their future employers the truth. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.”

Honesty doesn’t require new standards and tests, writes Ed Realist.

 We could just say to any kid who can’t score 500 on the SAT math section or 23 on the ACT: Hey, sorry. You aren’t ready for college. Probably won’t ever be. Time to go get a job.

If we don’t have the gumption to do that now, what about Common Core will give us the necessary stones? Can I remind everyone again that these kids will be disproportionately black and Hispanic?

Common Core math was designed to get schools to teach “integrated math” rather than the traditional algebra, geometry and advanced algebra sequence, writes Ed Realist. North Carolina, Utah and West Virginia have made the switch. Integrated math is a great way to hide the fact that many students aren’t prepared for college math, writes Ed Realist.

SIG: Big bucks, small gains

Most low-performing schools in the School Improvement Grant program are showing signs of progress, reports the U.S. Education Department. But, big bucks have produced small gains. It’s an open question “whether an eye-popping infusion of federal cash—$3 billion in stimulus funding alone—and some serious federal strings had a dramatic impact on the nation’s lowest-performing schools,” reports Education Week.

While more than two-thirds of schools in the first cohort (which started in 2010-11) saw gains in reading and math after two years in the program, another third of the schools actually declined, despite the major federal investment, which included grants of up to $500,000 a year. And schools that entered the program in its second year (the 2011-12 school year) didn’t post gains in math and reading as impressive as those the  first cohort saw in their first year.

Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the progress “incremental.”

Duncan regrets ‘white suburban moms’ line

In response to anger over his “white suburban moms” crack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized for “clumsy phrasing.”

In talking about the importance of communicating about higher learning standards, I singled out one group of parents when my aim was to say that we need to communicate better to all groups – especially those that haven’t been well reached in this conversation.

Common Core is a state-led movement to to pass state-created standards that will improve education for all students, Duncan stressed.

The apology is “condescending,” writes J.D. Tuccille on Reason‘s Hit & Run. “When politicians occasionally let slip the impatience and contempt they feel for their constituents, it’s usually a good idea to fake a little contrition.”

If you like your federal ed policy …

If You Like Your Federal Education Policy, You Can Keep It!, writes Andy Smarick on Education Next.

The Obama Administration, certain that it knows the “right thing to do,” boldly overturns decades of policy and institutes its own vision of a brave new world. Gradually, it appears that toying around with longstanding policies and practices has all kinds of unintended consequences, including producing policy potholes, causing implementation snags, and stirring up lots of political hornets nests. The administration is then forced to bob and weave with explanations for what’s gone wrong and then attempts an oscillating variety of micro policy fixes to patch up a growing number of cracks.

He’s talking about the Education Department’s reversal of its own policy on No Child Left Behind waivers, a sign that federal “hubris on standards, testing, and accountability” has caused a mess.

Duncan “doubled-down” on central planning, responds Ze’ev Wurman in the comments. Now he’s run out of bribe money and the administration has run out of credibility.

See the way California told him to go and fly a kite when it cancelled annual testing this year. After huffing and puffing, EDs tone suddenly cooled-off when it realized it has not much power — or credibility — left.

“Hubris always gets you” in the end, he concludes.

Sociologist Aaron Pallas sees hubris in Duncan’s claim that “white suburban moms” don’t like the Common Core because it shows their kids aren’t all that smart. It was “wrong-headed and insulting,” writes Pallas on the Hechinger Report.

Keep in mind that there is no evidence that implementing the Common Core on a national scale will improve the learning outcomes of anyone’s children. The effects might be positive, but we won’t know for some time. And in the meantime, the rollout of the Common Core, and ways of assessing mastery of the standards, has been uneven and unsteady—sort of like another federally supported initiative we’ve been reading a lot about lately.

Anthony Cody is ready to give up on Common Core, he writes in Education Week Teacher. “Common standards, if crafted in a democratic process and carefully reviewed by teachers and tested in real classrooms, might well be a good idea. But the Common Core does not meet any of those conditions.”

Duncan disses ‘white suburban moms’

Why the resistance to Common Core standards? “White suburban moms are learning “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told state superintendents Friday.

That’s annoyed Common Core critics.

Duncan believes the alternative is to say, “Let’s lower standards and go back to lying to ourselves and our children, so that our community can feel better,” said aide Massie Ritsch in an e-mail to the Washington Post. 

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, back the Core, but slammed the rollout:  “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.

Arne Duncan is right, says RiShawn Biddle, a strong Core supporter.

A worksheet for kindergarteners on how to fill in test bubbles –don’t color the pictures! — is for sale on TeachersPayTeachers.com, reports EAG News. Maggie’s Kindergarten charges $5 per download for the test prep practice sheets, which cover Common Core (and non-Core) skills.

Duncan tells schools how to assign teachers

Uncle Sam shouldn’t try to manage school staffing, writes Rick Hess.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking “waivers” from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else. In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that “effective” teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

Arne Duncan, who’s not the school superintendent for the U.S., wants to staff high-poverty schools with more effective teachers, writes Hess. That’s a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t be dictated from Washington.

 Ill-conceived policies might move teachers from schools and classrooms where they are effective to situations when they are less effective. Heavy-handed efforts to reallocate teachers could drive good teachers from the profession. And we are far less able to identify “effective” teachers in any cookie-cutter fashion than federal officials might think.

Some teachers who are effective with easy-to-teach students aren’t effective with hard-to-teach students, Hess points out.

We need more tests, but what kind?

American Schools Need More Testing, Not Less, writes Ezekiel J. Emanuel in The New Republic. Students learn more when they take frequent, short tests.

A young neuroscientist named Andrew Butler has gone further, showing that testing can actually facilitate creative problem solving. In Butler’s research, undergraduates were given six prose passages of about 1,000 words each filled with facts and concepts. (Fact: There are approximately 1,000 species of bats. Concept: how bats’ echolocation works.) He had the students just study some of the passages; others, he repeatedly tested them on. Not only did his subjects demonstrate a better grasp of the tested material, but they also fared better when asked to take the concepts about which they’d been quizzed and apply them in completely new contexts—for example, by using what they’d learned about bat and bird wings to answer questions about airplane wings. When students had been tested on the passages, rather than just reading them, they got about 50 percent more of the answers correct. They were better at drawing inferences, thanks to the testing effect.

Only tests written by teachers are useful, responds Diane Ravitch. “Today’s standardized tests are useless.”

What he really admires, and appropriately so, are the regular weekly tests that he took in high school chemistry. His chemistry teacher Mr. Koontz knew what he had taught. He tested the students on what they had learned. He knew by the end of the day or over the weekend which students were keeping up and which ones were falling behind. He could act on that knowledge immediately to make sure that students understood what he thought he had taught and to explain it again to those who did not. He also learned whether to adjust his style of teaching to communicate the concepts and facts of chemistry more clearly to students. Mr. Koontz used the tests appropriately: to help his students.

Standardized exams are being used as “a ranking and rating system, one that gives carrots to teachers if their students do well but beats them with a stick (or fires them and closes their school) if they don’t,” Ravitch writes.

Most researchers say that teacher quality cannot be reliably measured by student test scores, because there are so many other variables that influence the scores, but the federal Department of Education is betting billions of dollars on it.

The job of writing, grading and analyzing tests belongs to “Mr. Koontz, not to Arne Duncan or Pearson or McGraw-Hill,” concludes Ravitch.