Teachers move, kids stay at LA charters

Los Angeles charter school students are 80 percent less likely to switch schools than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a study by Policy Analysis for California Education researchers at Berkeley. However, LA charter teachers are more likely to leave their school at year’s end, according to a companion study.

“While charter teachers are churning in and out of where they work, charter students and parents seem more loyal to their school choice,” said Luke Dauter, a Berkeley doctoral student in sociology and lead author of the study on student mobility, in a statement.

While teachers in charter secondary schools were considerably more likely to leave than comparable teachers at traditional schools, elementary charter teachers under 30 were less likely to leave.

Both studies looked at the time frame between 2002 and 2009, when the number of charter schools in Los Angeles tripled from 53 to 157 campuses, notes Ed Week.

At all schools, mobility is lower for Latino teachers and students at all schools and higher for African-American students, the study found. Blacks were likely to leave traditional schools for charters.

Teachers struggle to aid ‘diverse learners’

Ninety-one percent of public school teachers say schools need to do more to prepare “diverse” learners for success after high school, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.  A majority said this should be one of schools’ highest priorities, notes Ed Week.

Fifty-seven percent of parents agreed, but only 31 percent of business executives surveyed said teaching diverse learners was a priority.

Asked in the current survey to identify specific resources or initiatives that would have a “major impact” on their abilities to address students’ varied learning needs, the teachers most consistently pointed to opportunities for collaborative instruction (65 percent); access to interactive, personalized learning programs (64 percent); better tools for understanding students learning strengths and needs (63 percent); and instructional strategies for working with English-language learners (62 percent).

In the 2008 survey, almost half of teachers said the “learning abilities of their students were so varied that they didn’t feel they could teach them effectively.”

In the new survey, 61 percent of the teachers said they can differentiate instruction to address their students’ diverse learning abilities. But only 46 percent of math teachers and 50 percent of teachers in schools that send few graduates to college said they were able to differentiate effectively.

Successful students say their teachers do a good job of meeting students’ different needs and abilities. But those with the greatest needs are the least satisfied.

Students who have considered dropping out of school or who do not expect to go beyond high school, however, tended to give their instructors much lower grades in this area.

. . . The survey found that, among students with diverse learning needs, low income students and students who had been told by a teacher or other adult that they have a learning problem or disabilities were the least likely say their needs are being well-served by their schools.

Teachers, parents and business leaders agree that all students should be prepared for college, according to part one of the survey. However, college readiness is a higher priority for parents than for teachers and executives.

It’s the students, stupid

We’re obsessing about teacher quality and ignoring what really matters, writes Will Fitzhugh on School Information System. It’s the students, stupid. If they do the work, they’ll  learn. If they wait for teachers to pour knowledge (or skills) in their heads, they won’t.

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be — namely the students.

Of course, it’s hard to fire lazy, unproductive students, Fitzhugh concedes.

Students assess the teacher

Letting students assess his teaching was transformative, writes Larry Ferlazzo, a ninth-grade English teacher at a Sacramento high school, in Ed Week.

Before students watched a five-minute video of a previous lesson, Kelly Young, who directs the Pebble Creek Labs, asked students to look for certain things.

• Leaning In—When we are engaged, we are learning forward, not slouching back.

• Who’s Doing the Work?—Students are working and learning, not sitting back listening to the teacher.

• Everybody Has a Job—All students are working all the time, listening and taking notes/annotating; asking questions; reading, etc.

• Tools of the Scholar—Pen, pencil, highlighter… The vast majority of the time, students have a writing tool in hand.

• Multiple Touches on Text—No “light” touches—we read the same text multiple times in different ways to deepen our understanding.

• Changing Trajectories—So you can read, do, or be what you want. We work hard so that students can accomplish their visions and dreams.

At first, students had nothing but positive comments about their teacher and themselves. Then one boy said, “Mr. Ferlazzo talked too long.”

Kelly immediately asked me, “Mr. Ferlazzo, what was your analysis of that clip?”

I replied, “I talked too much.”

Other students then began to say that I sometimes spent too much time giving instructions, and others said they would get bored as a result. Kelly pointed out that, yes, I was doing all the work then, and they didn’t have a job for far too long. He emphasized that there were many good elements in the lesson, but that we wanted to be honest to figure out how we could all get better.

After watching the next short clip of small-group activity, students noticed themselves goofing off.

“We were leaning back when the person was reading.”

“Sally was making noise with her pen instead of listening.”

“Most of us didn’t have a pencil in our hand.”

In the final clip, with most most students working, produced an “aha” moment.

Students hadn’t been lectured to about how they needed to act to be serious learners. In the period of a few minutes, they had actually seen video showing themselves when they were serious learners and when they were not.

In low-performing Newark schools, students are helping train teachers, reports the New York Times. Using a federal grant, the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education runs workshops in which students teach mock lessons and talk with teachers about what works and what doesn’t.

Joint student-teacher training is being tried in San Francisco, New York, Connecticut, Indiana and Georgia, the Times reports.

Students recognize good teaching

Students’ assessments of their teachers tend to match value-added measures of effectiveness, concludes research funded by the Gates Foundation. From the New York Times: 

Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores . . . 

Researchers are looking for correlations between value-added rankings and other measures of teacher effectiveness, reports the Times.

Classrooms where a majority of students said they agreed with the statement, “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time,” tended to be led by teachers with high value-added scores, the report said.

The same was true for teachers whose students agreed with the statements, “In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes,” and, “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class.”

“Kids know effective teaching when they experience it,” said researcher Ronald Ferguson, who designed the student questionnaires. “As a nation, we’ve wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts.”

Twenty states are redesigning their systems for evaluating teachers, often asking the Gates Foundation for help in assessing effectiveness, Vicki L. Phillips, a director of education at the foundation, told the Times.

Teachers who spend a lot of time on test prep have lower value-added learning gains than those who “work their way methodically through the key concepts of literacy and mathematics,” Phillips said.

Banning cyberbullies

Cyberbullying at school or during school activities will be banned for California students starting Jan. 1.

The law gives school administrators the leverage to suspend or expel students for bullying other students by means of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or on an Internet social networking site like MySpace or Facebook . . .

I’d guess most cyberbullying takes place at home, but perhaps it will help to tell students that online cruelty is against the law.

Learning English in 2008

Ed Week’s Mary Ann Zehr recaps English learning stories of 2008.

You’ve got to love the One Semester of Spanish Love Song.