Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

New discipline rules make schools less safe

“Progressive” discipline policies such as “restorative justice” are reducing suspensions — and making schools less safe, argues Paul Sperry in the New York Post.

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

. . . everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Chicago teachers say they’re “struggling to deal with unruly students” under a new policy that minimizes suspension, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” said Megan Shaunnessy, a special education teacher at De Diego Community Academy.

De Diego teachers said the school lacks a dedicated “peace room” where students can cool off if they’ve been removed from a class. They say the school does not have a behavioral specialist on staff to intervene with students, nor does it have resources to train teachers on discipline practices that address a student’s underlying needs.

 “You have to have consequences,” fifth-grade teacher John Engels said of the revised conduct code. “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit, when you got on the Edens Expressway you’d go 100 miles an hour.”

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a "talking circle."

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a “talking circle.”

All over the country, teachers are complaining that student behavior has worsened under lenient policies, writes Sperry.

It has created a “systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive student behaviors” that “put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible,” wrote Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern in a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Los Angeles Unified also is seeing problems, writes Sperry.

“I was terrified and bullied by a fourth-grade student,” a teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District school recently noted on the Los Angeles Times website. “The black student told me to ‘Back off, b—h.’ I told him to go to the office and he said, ‘No, b—h, and no one can make me.’ ”

Oakland Unified is considered a national model for using restorative justice programs to cut suspensions in half.  “Even repeat offenders can negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involve paper-writing and ‘dialogue sessions’,” writes Sperry.

There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

. . . White teachers are taught to check their “unconscious racial bias” when dealing with black students who act out. They’re told to open their eyes to “white privilege” and white cultural “dominance,” and have more empathy for black kids who may be lashing out in frustration. They are trained to identify “root causes” of black anger, such as America’s legacy of racism.

Conflicts can take days or weeks to resolve. Teachers must use class time for “circles” rather than academic instruction.

“RJ (restorative justice) can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions,” warns science teacher Paul Bruno, who participated in talking circles while teaching middle school in Oakland and South Central Los Angeles.

Most schools still follow zero-tolerance rules. An 11-year-old boy was kicked out of school for a year when a leaf that looked like marijuana, but wasn’t, was found in his backpack, reports the Roanoke Times. The gifted student now suffers from depression and panic attacks.

Teacher: Core tests set kids up to fail

Common Core tests set kids up to fail, argues Jennifer Rickert, a sixth-grade teacher in New York, on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet.

The “New York State Testing Program’s Educator Guide to the 2015 Grade 6 Common Core English Language Arts Test” describes expectations that are way too high, writes Rickert.

At 11 and 12 years old, her students have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical situations, she writes, citing Piaget’s theories.

Yet in the guide, it states that students will “evaluate intricate arguments.”

In addition, “students will need to make hard choices between fully correct and plausible, but incorrect answers that are designed specifically to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage.”  This is not developmentally appropriate for my students . . .

Students will read passages from texts such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which include “controversial ideas and language some may find provocative.”

Is "Tom Sawyer" too "provocative" for sixth graders?

Is “Tom Sawyer” too “provocative” for sixth graders?

Children shouldn’t be subjected to “provocative language” in sixth grade, Rickert believes. In addition, sixth graders won’t be able to understand these readings because they don’t study the history till seventh or eighth grade.

Some readings will be at the eleventh-grade level. Presumably that’s to challenge the very good readers. Rickert sees it as a plot to humiliate everyone else.

I read, and loved, Tom Sawyer in elementary school.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made a big impression on me when I was in sixth grade. I also read lots of U.S. history and historical novels, so I had the context to understand what I was reading.

Piaget is not a reliable guide to what children can learn, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in a critique of the “developmentally appropriate” concept.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

School goes ‘rogue’ on Core teaching

Principal Billy Bean sits with third-graders Kendra, Ian and Edmund who are trying to decipher a Common Core reading passage. (Photo: Meredith Kolodner)

Principal Billy Bean sits with third-graders Kendra, Ian and Edmund who are trying to decipher a Common Core reading passage. (Photo: Meredith Kolodner)

Test scores fell at nearly all New York schools due to the shift to Common Core-aligned tests. The Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner looks at a rural school that raised scores by “going rogue” on Common Core teaching.

Lockwood teachers divided up lesson planning to have time to design new lessons using technology. “What’s worked well for us is the whole teamwork thing, realizing that we can’t do it by ourselves,” said Tyler King, who teaches third grade. “We show no shame in letting each other know when we fail.”

. . . the school decided to group children by ability for 30 minutes daily in both math and English across the grade. That allowed some children to catch up, and a deeper dive for others even as they all learned the same basic material together. The change meant that for an hour each day, teachers left their classes and took a group of students that could number between 3 and 15, who were at a similar learning ability for that subject.

As a result, the lessons, and the assessment of the children, had to be in lock-step. The strongest and weakest teachers worked as a team, and often met at the end of the day to discuss which lessons worked and which didn’t. They also kept track of the progress of individual students using “exit tickets” or short assessments on tablets at the end of each class.

The state curriculum included a manual with “minute-by-minute directions for how teachers should teach,” writes Kolodner. Teachers were allowed to deviate when the script didn’t give students enough time to understand concepts. The next year, they dropped the manual — and the homework that came with it. It simply repeated the day’s lessons, said teachers.

“If they couldn’t do it in class, there’s no use having them get frustrated at home,” said (third-grade teacher Traci) Krist. For the students who did understand, teachers didn’t see the value in having them simply repeat the exercise. Lockwood teachers assigned their own homework.

Knowing parents were frustrated by the new curriculum, Lockwood staffers invited parents to meetings to ask questions and express their concerns.

NY charter parents sue for equal funding

New York underfunds charter schools, discriminating against low-income, black and Latino students and denying them an equal education, charges a lawsuit filed today by Buffalo and Rochester parents.

Buffalo’s district-run schools get $23,524 per student, while charter schools receive $13,700, according to the suit, filed with the help of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. That’s about 60 percent of district funding. In Rochester and New York City, charters get 68 percent of the per-student funding allotted to district schools.

“New York’s charter students receive a fraction of what their friends in district schools receive—that’s unfair, unconstitutional, and discriminatory,” said NESCN Interim President Kyle Rosenkrans. “And because the formula provides no money for buildings, charters must divert their already shortchanged classroom dollars to pay the rent.”

Some 107,000 New York students attend charters and more than 50,000 are on charter school waiting lists. Ninety percent of charter school students are black and Hispanic compared to 41 percent in district schools. Some 80 percent are considered economically disadvantaged vs. 52 percent in regular district schools.

Never diet without a scale and a mirror

Never Diet Without a Bathroom Scale and Mirror, writes Thomas J. Kane, who directed the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, on Brookings’ blog. And don’t give up on measuring teachers’ effectiveness just because it’s difficult to do well.

“We can change textbooks, shrink class sizes, publish test scores, and build new buildings, but unless we change what adults do every day inside their classrooms, we cannot expect student outcomes to improve,” Kane writes. That won’t happen without feedback.

Does anyone believe that simply describing new standards, providing new textbooks and showing videos of successful instruction will be sufficient to change teaching?  Would anyone expect that an analogous strategy—e.g. showing videos of healthy people exercising and smiling over their salads—would be enough to reduce smoking or shrink waistlines?

. . . Investing in professional development without an evaluation system in place is like launching a Weight Watchers group without any bathroom scales or mirrors.  It wouldn’t work.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, professional development hasn’t worked in the past.

The transition to Common Core is a good time to reinvent teacher evaluation, argues Kane.  It’s “safest for teachers to ask for help” in a time of transition.

Kane hopes to change the U.S. “norm of autonomous, self-made, self-directed instruction — with no outside feedback or intervention.” In most high-performing countries, teachers “expect standards, they expect feedback from peers and supervisors and they expect to be held accountable — for the quality of their delivery as well as for student results.”

On the Shanker Blog, Matthew DiCarlo analyzes New York’s teacher evaluation system. What’s most important is how teachers and principals respond, he writes. “For example, do teachers change their classroom practice based on the scores or feedback from observations?”

My husband has lost 70 pounds and 3 1/2 sizes this year by measuring calories, carbs, protein, weight, body fat, muscle mass, etc., analyzing results and modifying his eating plan. “What you measure, you improve” is his mantra. I eat the low-carb meals he cooks — “vegetti” instead of pasta — and monitor my exercise via FitBit. I’m down 23 pounds and two sizes. And that doesn’t count my size 4 jeans. (Women’s clothing is prone to “vanity sizing.”)

Core enables life, the universe . . .

After criticizing Common Core’s implementation in New York, state teachers’ union president Karen Magee asked, “If not standards, then what?A free-for-all? Everyone does what they please?”

On NYC Educator, Arwen E. gets a little sarcastic. “We never had standards before the Common Core was handed down to us, writes Arwen. “I discovered a picture of our planet pre-Common Core, barren, desolate, dry of ideas and pathetically ‘standardless’.”

The Educational Landscape Pre-Common Core:

Common Core made civilization possible. Now, look how far we have come:

Test-free accountability?

“Concerns” about Common Core standards primarily are about “the consequences of high-stakes tests attached to the standards,” write Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. They call for a “new accountability.”

Their model is California. Their bad example is New York.

They call for a “support-and-improve model” instead of a “test-and-punish approach.”

The “new accountability” appears to mean no accountability, respond Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and her former colleague, Russlyn Ali.

The Weingarten/Darling-Hammond piece is rife with omissions and unsupported innuendo. Our particular favorite from among their many claims is the assertion that California’s record graduation rates and recent gains on national eighth-grade math and reading exams are the result of new funding formulas and testing policies that weren’t even put into place until after these gains.

Teachers’ unions are trying to get rid of John King, New York’s commissioner of education, write Haycock and Ali. He’s “in a hurry” to improve education, while California’s system suffers from the pobrecito phenomenon. Expectations are low for poor immigrant students and “hugging kids is too often considered an acceptable substitute for teaching them.”

There are “huge real-life consequences” for students who don’t meet educational standards, even if their states link no official “stakes” to exams, Haycock and Ali write. “Those who exit high school with the skills to succeed in college have a real future in our knowledge-based economy; those who do not have strong skills are essentially toast.”

Where the money goes

“Inflation-adjusted federal per-pupil spending (part of the goal of which was to narrow achievement gaps) has nearly tripled” since the 1970s, but the gaps remain, writes Heritage’s Lindsey Burke on the Daily Signal.

Schools are employing more adults — especially more non-teachers — per student.

School funding declined in 2012 for the first time in 35 years, reports the Census Bureau. New York was the top spender, at $19,552 per pupil, while Utah spent only $6,206.