No silver bullet for remedial woes

Reformers are transforming — sometimes eliminating — remedial education at community colleges, but fixing remedial ed will be “vastly more complex” than they think, argues Hunter R. Boylan, who runs the National Center for Developmental Education.

Virginia’s community college system raised success rates for unprepared students by lowering math demands for non-STEM majors. Carnegie’s Pathways reforms focus on statistics and quantitative reasoning rather than advanced algebra.

What about kids who aren’t ‘job material’ either?

Some students aren’t college material and would be better off on a vocational track, Mike Petrilli wrote in Slate. Now, he concedes one of his critics’ points:  Kids who aren’t “college material” aren’t “career- and technical-education material” either. Strong CTE programs require academic skills that many students lack. So what do we do with ninth graders who are way behind?

Sixty-four percent of eighth graders aren’t “proficient” in reading and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They’re not on the college or career readiness track. Even worse, “just 14 percent of blacks and 21 percent of Hispanics are proficient in math at the end of eighth grade; for reading, it’s 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively.”

If we push the “pedal to the metal” on every school reform, we’ll still have many ninth graders who aren’t prepared for a true college-prep route or high-quality CTE, writes Petrilli.

 . . . we encourage such students to muddle through “on-level” quasi-academic courses in large comprehensive high schools. Eventually, they drop out or get labeled as “over-age and under-credit.” At that point, various credit-recovery (or dropout-recovery) initiatives kick in. If the students are diligent and lucky, they squeeze out a credential. And then?

That’s hardly a strategy, a system, or a solution. And keep in mind that in some big urban districts, we’re talking about upwards of 80 or 90 percent of today’s kids—and, for all of our reforming, big fractions of tomorrow’s, too!

What would work best for these students? Petrilli doesn’t have the answer, just the question.

Carnegie’s Opportunity by Design is working with urban districts to design high schools that improve the life chances of underprepared students, respond Michele Cahill and Leah Hamilton. Their goal is to raise the number of underprepared students who complete high school, enroll in non-remedial college courses and stay in college for at least two semesters.

Remedial ed: Can it improve?

Reformers are trying to keep students out of dead-end remedial courses. Low-skilled students can’t handle college coursework without help, argues a professor.

Carnegie’s Statway is getting students out of the remedial rut: Half of Statway students earn a college math credit in a year, compared to 5.9 percent of similar students in traditional remedial courses.

‘A’ students don’t belong in remedial ed

More ‘A’ students are being placed in remedial college classes. It’s not grade inflation, says a researcher.

Carnegie’s math pathways for remedial students are showing signs of success. Students learn statistics or “quantitative reasoning.”

Hiring, retaining talented teachers

Teachers reject quality-blind layoffs, reports The New Teacher Project, which advocates A Smarter Teacher Layoff System.

Fully 40 percent of the nation’s teachers (1.25 million) work in one of 14 states — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin — where it’s currently illegal for schools to consider job performance in making layoff decisions. Ten of these states are facing budget deficits greater than 10 percent, meaning that layoffs are a real possibility.

Under quality-blind policies — sometimes called “last-in, first-out” — schools are mandated to lay off the least senior teachers first. This hurts students by depriving them of excellent teachers who are forced to leave simply because they have not taught as long as others.

Teachers want their job performance considered, according to a TNTP survey.

Putting talented teachers in every school will require a coordinated strategy concludes a new Carnegie report.

The report outlines a number of strategies for preparing teachers better. They include holding teaching colleges accountable for their graduates’ performance and encouraging them to implement urban residency programs and alternative certification processes; hiring top-level graduates; and offering incentives for such graduates to work in schools where they are needed most. The report also recommends supporting teachers and principals with ongoing, on-the-job professional development; using data to assess teacher effectiveness more accurately; and, based on comprehensive, performance-based evaluations, retaining only the best teachers.

“The least effective teachers and principals are all too often found in high-poverty, high-minority, and high-immigrant schools,” said report author Talia Milgrom-Elcott.

Why do we treat newer teachers so badly? asks Sara Mead.

Recruiting and training good teachers

We know teacher education needs radical changes, writes Deborah Loewenberg Ball in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Let’s do it.

First, let’s agree that teaching is about more than just being smart and knowing a subject, that it requires a set of skills that prospective teachers must be taught and should demonstrate before they take over a classroom. . . .

Second, let’s identify the set of skills that are fundamental to safe and responsible teaching. These should not be pedagogical generalities, such as “knowing learners” or “classroom management,” but specific, crucial skills, like being able to explain fractions in several different ways, or to gain and maintain the attention of a class, or to accurately and fluently diagnose specific student confusions. These should be the compact list of teaching practices that put children at risk when teachers cannot do them well enough. The work on this is well under way; the University of Michigan will have a draft of a score of such high-leverage practices available within a few months.

Many teachers and ed writers blogged about last week’s conference on recruiting and training good teachers organized by Carnegie and the Education Writers Association, including Manderson’s Bubble, EDLeaderNews, The Jose Vilson, Outside the Cave and Ed Beat.

Effective teachers know their students, wrote TeacherKen, who has more here.

Teach to the dreams, wrote TeacherManDC in his conference post.

Ms. No Neck will never be America’s Next Top Model if she cannot answer questions from Tyra Banks using proper English.   Mr. Pretty Boy will never hurdle his way into the Olympics if he continues to dodge whatever emotional challenges confront him.  The characters and ideas we encounter in literature and essays will help Ms. Bag Lady discard personal weight she should never have had to bear.  Crisp, succinct writing (and thinking) will assist Mr. Detective as he seeks to unravel, decipher, and defuse the turbulent racial history he inherited.

The fact that they know I expect each of them to pass the AP English Language exam in May is part of it, but not most of it.  The most-of-it part is that they expect it too.  I did not give them that; it was there all along.  Like the teachers I met on Friday, and the ones with which I share a  building, I just help them find the courage to dream the dream out loud–and then claim it.

Ariel Sacks suggested an excellent story idea for education writers:  Does innovative teaching lead to better test scores? There’s no need to teach to the test, one presenter argued. Teach well and students will test well.

Let’s hear from innovative teachers who see big gains in their students’ test scores but do not seem to “teach to the test”.  What populations do they work with?  What type of schools do they work in?  What do they focus their curriculum on, and to what do they attribute the success of their students on the test?  Are there things these teachers think are important to teach, but leave out, because they aren’t tested skills or content?  Where do “soft” skills like collaboration, self-reflection, creativity, and empathy figure into their classrooms and curriculum?

Let’s also hear from teachers who refuse to teach to the test and who may not see huge gains on test scores, but who have been deemed excellent, innovative teachers by other measures, such as National Board Certification, feedback by their colleagues, school leaders, students and parents.  What is their rationale for the choices they make regarding curriculum and teaching style?  What growth do they see in their students, and why don’t they think it’s being measured accurately or at all or by the standardized test?

A testing expert once told me that research had found that time spent teaching to the test is wasted. When teachers spend more time teaching writing, their students’ scores improve in both English Language Arts and math. Why would it help in math? Writing improves logic and thinking skills, he said.

Update: EWA reports on the conference on EdBeat.