Outside experts, exhausted educators

Schools are deluged with consultants promising to explain Common Core standards, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal, in Ed Week.

Greg, who now teaches in Australia, suggests schools should just say no to outside experts and professional development.

“I’d like to challenge any school to go “consultant free” and “PD free” for 4 years. Imagine that? Just focus on being consistent and positive, providing quality teaching and communication with the community. I’d bet that school would do better than all the rest.”

Educators are trying to learn too much and do too much, writes DeWitt.

In addition to implementing the changes that are being forced upon us . . . some of us are flipping our parent communication and faculty meetings, researching ways to improve our leadership practices, or diving into old data to see what we need to change about our instruction.

At the same time we are doing our own learning . . . we have to engage in trainings and professional development to learn about the changes that are being forced upon us.

It’s exhausting. Greg’s advice — a holiday from consultants and professional development — might enable schools to get more done with less stress, DeWitt concludes.

Ed policy opponents aren’t evil

Whether you support or oppose education reforms, your policy adversaries aren’t evil, writes Daniel Willingham. Furthermore, you probably don’t know what they’re thinking — especially if you think they “don’t care about kids.”

Despite his opposition to education reformers and his “history of defending teachers and their unions,” Pedro Noguera was labeled anti-teacher (by Bridging Differences colleague Deborah Meier and others) for writing that teachers’ “unions must be clearer about what needs to change,” he complains. That’s bad strategy, Noguera writes.

If we also take the position that anyone who suggests that teachers’ unions are not doing enough to push for change in the way schools operate we will lose critical supporters, and not just me. There is widespread failure in urban schools (and many suburban and rural schools as well). Change is indeed necessary.

Some of the comments suggest that everyone who supports education reforms must be in league with right-wing knuckle-scrapers, if not Satan himself.

Standards for quality of mind?

Marion Brady describes Eight problems with Common Core Standards (just to start with) on WashPost‘s Answer Sheet. Marc Tucker begs to disagree (he doesn’t really beg) on Ed Week‘s Top Performers.


Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes.

. . . The world changes. The future is indiscernible. Clinging to a static strategy in a dynamic world may be comfortable, even comforting, but it’s a Titanic-deck-chair exercise.

. . . The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

He adds: “No amount of schooling can effectively counter” childhood poverty, which is the main reason for poor school performance; the Common Core kills innovation and the standards will lead to “national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).”  Also, the standards will “standardize” minds. Finally, the goal of “success in college and careers” is “pedestrian” at best. “The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.”

Tucker guesses that “qualities of mind” would include synthesizing material, analyzing, problem solving and writing. These are “grounded in the disciplines,” he argues.

 . . .  the core academic disciplines (the core subjects in the school curriculum) provide the conceptual underpinning for deep understanding of virtually everything we want our students to know and further, that learning does not transfer easily or well, or sometimes at all, across those disciplines. . . . Like it or not, if we don’t have standards for the disciplines, we will have no standards at all.

The world changes, Tucker concedes.But a solid foundation of knowledge will help today’s kindergarteners learn and adapt throughout their lives.

It is hard to imagine that, by some time next year, arithmetic will be obsolete, along with ratio and proportion.  Or that it will be unnecessary to be able to write a short essay that clearly and concisely expresses a few key ideas.  Or that no citizen of this country will need to know anything about the history of the development of freedom and the conditions under which it thrives and perishes. Or that the earth revolves around the sun . . .

The Common Core Standards don’t try to cover everything a teacher might want to teach or a student might want to learn, Tucker adds. The point is to “define a much smaller core that all teachers should teach and all students should learn.”

Should we focus more on poverty? OK, writes Tucker. But when there are no or low standards for low-income students, they’re taught less and learn less.

What Brady calls “innovation,” Tucker calls “chaos.”

Here is what the research shows about what happens when teachers are free to “innovate” in this way:  the teacher in any given grade, having incoming students who have been taught by many teachers, some of who have taught a given topic at length, others who have taught it only superficially, and still others who have taught it not at all, start at the beginning, at the introductory level for this topic. . . . Researchers, when asking students what they are doing as late as February, are told that, “we are reviewing last year.”

Bad tests? Nothing in the standards calls for tests to be designed badly, Tucker writes.

Standardized minds?

There is not a country that has consistently high student performance that does not have some form of student achievement standards.

Finally, Tucker defends the “pedestrian”  goals of career and college readiness, rather than exploring the “potentials of humanness.”

Fewer than 20 percent of any given cohort of students entering the ninth grade end up with a 2-year degree or certificate within four years of entering postsecondary education or getting a 4-year degree with 6 years of entering postsecondary education.  I’m all for the “potentials of humanness”, but the American people are hurting, the American standard of living is falling and the American economy is suffering because we are wasting the potential of our students by failing to give them the skills they need to make a decent living.

While I have concerns about Common Core Standards, I’d be a lot more worried about schools devoted to instilling “qualities of mind” and “humanness”  but no particular set of knowledge and skills.

BTW, here’s ACT on Rising to the Challenge of College and Career Readiness.

The paradigms they are a-changin’

University Celebrates New Fiscal Year with Annual Paradigm Shift headlines Diana Senechal’s parody in The Cronk of Higher Education. Mutatus University President Owen Uberkuhn explains his big ideas:

“First of all, we need to change everything about teaching and learning. Videos are in, books are out. Instructors are out, students are in. We’re also getting rid of tenure so everyone’s always on edge. Suspense brings out people’s best. Third–”

“Where should I put this, Mr. President?” asked a custodial worker, wheeling in a six-foot box.

“One in each lecture hall. You should find a hundred thirteen of them in the warehouse.” The worker wheeled the box back out of the office. “Robot spies,” Uberkuhn said proudly. “They look like overhead projectors, but they actually send data to surveillance workers in India. We catch anyone who isn’t embracing change.”

Senior Overhaul Officer Lydia Pyle led a campus tour.

Pyle took us into the main dining hall, where a broad conveyor belt slithered around the room. “You may think the food’s going to come around on that belt, but you’re wrong! It’s the students who will ride it,” she told us proudly. “Then they have to grab food as they pass through the kitchen. It teaches them quick-thinking skills. That’s exactly what the economy is like.”

In the future, Mutatus plans to implement paradigm shifts throughout the year. Possible activities include mass executions, book burnings, merit pay awards, and drastic redefinitions of academic disciplines.


Tinkering, not transforming

Washington state’s share of $3 billion in federal School Improvement Grants isn’t funding significant change at turnaround schools, concludes Tinkering Toward Transformation by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Education.

. . . with some exceptions, districts and schools in Washington state are approaching the turnaround work in ways only marginally different from past school improvement efforts. Despite the hard work of administrators, principals, and especially teachers, the majority of schools studied show little evidence of the type of bold and transformative changes the SIGs were intended to produce.

Two of nine schools studied took a comprehensive approach to rethinking instruction, analyzing data and improving the school climate, while the rest adopted “a hodgepodge of intervention strategies.”


Why do educators resist change?

In an Education Week blog (cross-posted at Dangerously Irrelevant), Scott McLeod offers ten reasons courtesy of IBM, and another two reasons of his own.

I offered a thirteenth: “the change is seriously flawed.”

I have seen many situations where teachers’ and administrators’ genuine concerns were dismissed as generic “resistance to change.” Supposedly, if you were “forward-looking” and a “team player,” you kept your skepticism muted.

Once I worked in a library that was converting from its file catalogs to an online catalog. A “change consultant” came to train us on preparing ourselves for change. She gave us a questionnaire to assess our readiness for change. It had questions like, “How often do you buy a new pair of shoes?” “When you go on vacation, do you go to the same place every time, or do you like to try new places?” All of this had very little to do with switching to an online catalog. Nor was there much “change resistance” among the staff in this case–it seemed the management had simply anticipated resistance and brought the change consultant in.

To deal with any change, and to understand people’s responses to it, one must look closely at what the change entails. Not all change is well considered.

People change — even bullies

In the battle against bullying, it helps to teach victims that people can change, concludes research by David Yeager, a Stanford graduate student.  

“When adolescents think that victimization is something that is permanent—resulting from the belief that bullies are ‘bad’ people who won’t stop, and that victims will always be ‘losers’—then they seek more drastic, vengeful solutions to their conflicts,” said Yeager, a student in the Development and Psychological Sciences doctoral program.  “But when they believe that people have the potential for change—both they themselves and the people who treat them badly—then victimization seems less like a diagnosis of their future, and more like something that will pass.  Hence, it becomes less stressful and less threatening.”

In one study, high school students taught about people’s potential for change were less aggressive a month later than students taught coping skills.  By the end of the semester, “the message about personal change also reduced absences, suspensions for fighting, and depression among victimized students. ” At a different high school, victims in the “change” group reported less stress and higher grades.