Teachers protest discipline reform

Image result for blackboard jungleMaintaining order in the classroom was an issue in 1955, when Glenn Ford starred as a novice New York City teacher in Blackboard Jungle

Under pressure to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, schools are turning to “restorative justice” programs that encourage offenders to discuss their actions and make amends.

Earlier this year, Indianapolis and New York City teachers complained about poorly implemented “restorative justice” programs, reported Emmanuel Felton in Ed Week. Now, teachers in Fresno and Des Moines are saying new discipline policies are making it harder to teach.

“As Fresno Unified officials were praising McLane High School’s restorative justice program” at a conference, “teachers at the school were circulating a petition that says those same strategies have led to an unsafe campus plagued with fights and disruptions,” reports the Fresno Bee.

At least 70 of the 85 teachers at McLane High have signed a petition demanding a stricter and more consistent student discipline policy, as well as more say in how students are punished for their actions.

The teachers paint McLane as a place where there are constant disruptions and numerous on-campus fights and where teachers are verbally assaulted.

. . . While suspensions and expulsions at Fresno Unified have dramatically decreased since then, some teachers say the pressure to curb disciplinary action has led to zero consequences for students, and out-of-control classrooms.

“Students are returned to class without consequence after assaulting teachers, both verbally and physically,” the petition declares.

There are problems in Des Moines too. “Students scream, threaten, shove and hit teachers or other students, with little consequence, students, parents and union leaders told the Register.”

Teacher layoffs: It’s not just seniority

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My old elementary school is slated for closing due to declining enrollment. Photo: Chicago Tribune

I grew up on Chicago’s North Shore in Highland Park. Our baby-boomer parents moved there “for the sake of the children.” Schools were considered excellent, though we had large class sizes. (The school’s classrooms now are considered too small!)

Enrollment is falling and the old schools — we had inkwells built into our desks — are falling apart. My old elementary school, now more than 100 years old, is scheduled to close, along with several other schools.

However, teacher performance, not seniority, will determine who’s laid off,  reports the Highland Park News. (I wrote a teen column for the News when I was in high school.)

As a first step in determining the sequence of dismissals, teachers are grouped by their areas of certification, or the positions they are qualified to teach. Once teachers are grouped by credentials, they are further grouped according to their evaluation ratings of excellent, proficient, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

Group 1, or those teachers first to be laid off, are mostly first-year, non-tenured teachers who have yet to be evaluated as well as any part-time teachers.

Under a 2011 state law, the district will consider seniority “when all other things are equal.”

To recruit diverse teachers, schools hire their grads

How can an inner-city school find teachers who understand the challenges of their disadvantaged students? A California charter network is hiring its graduates as teachers, reports Jamie Martines in The Atlantic. High school graduates are offered a job, once they earn their college degree.

Elizabeth Pérez, a new teacher joining PUC Schools through the Alumni Teach Project, and her mentor, humanities teacher Joe Garza, during a training session. Photo: Jamie Martines

Elizabeth Pérez, a new teacher joining PUC Schools through the Alumni Teach Project, and her mentor, humanities teacher Joe Garza, during a training session. Photo: Jamie Martines

“We need people who look like we do, who come from our neighborhoods and who understand what it is like to be the first, to become role models for future young people,” reads the letter students receive on graduation day, signed by the co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools (PUC Schools), Ref Rodriguez.

PUC Schools, a nonprofit charter network, runs 16 schools, primarily serving Hispanic students in the Los Angeles area.

Nationally, 18 percent of teachers are non-white, reports the Brookings Institution. A little more than half of public school students are Hispanic, black, Asian-American, Native American, etc.

Children do better when they see authority figures, such as teachers, who look like them, says Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy.

A March 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University showed that black teachers are more likely to have higher expectations for their black students; white teachers, for example, were almost 40 percent less likely than their black counterparts to expect black students to finish high school.

A school’s graduates have “deep roots in the local community and may be more likely to stay in the job, which can help address the chronic problem of high teacher turnover at many urban schools,” writes Martines.

Mastery Charter Schools, which runs 22 schools in Philadelphia and in Camden, New Jersey, is recruiting and training its alumni. Mastery runs its own residency program with Relay Graduate School of Education.

Near Baltimore, the Howard County Public School System “awarded 11 of the district’s 2016 graduates full four-year scholarships to attend McDaniel College,” writes Martines. When they graduate, students are expected to teach in Howard County for at least three years.

‘Adequate to good teachers’ are good enough

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Education Realist explains induction (guidance for new teachers) to the high school math teacher she’s mentoring.

It’s a vain attempt to close the achievement gap, ER tells her young colleague. Reformers were unwilling to admit that some students can’t meet much higher cognitive demands. So they tried to increase teachers’ cognitive abilities.

Anyway, at some point in there progressives and conservatives found something they could agree on. It was ridiculous to assume that teachers could just….teach. They sit in ed school, which is widely agreed to be a waste of time…”

“Mine was.”

“…and do a few weeks of student teaching, and suddenly, shazam. They’re teachers! Once all the professionals sat and thought about that, they decided it was stupid. After all, these professionals had insanely great test scores and got into terrific schools, but teachers, who have our nation’s kids’ future in their hands!–go to crap schools, have low SAT scores, and then we just put them in a class. This has to change. Some of them are terrible. Some quit. Let’s  invest in their success!  Give new teachers more support. Improve student achievement.Blah blah.”

Teaching is a performance art, argues ER. Would-be teachers who can’t handle it “run screaming” from the classroom. “Everyone who continues teaching is at least an adequate teacher. And beyond adequate, no one can agree on the attributes of a great teacher. Manifestly, great teachers aren’t necessary. Adequate to good teachers are sufficient.”

Discuss.

Teachers are good (or bad) in different ways

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There’s more than one way to teach effectively — or to flop — concludes a new study.

Analyzing test scores doesn’t measure teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, writes Meredith Kolodner on the Hechinger Report.

When children in Classroom A and Classroom B show the same improvement on their math tests, Teachers A and B get the same evaluation score, and the assumption is that both teachers excel at the same things.

But that assumption may be entirely wrong. Teacher A is a rock star when it comes to imparting math content while Teacher B is not, but Teacher B excels at getting students to persevere when they hit obstacles. So the Classroom A students did well on their tests because they knew the content, while the Classroom B kids did well because they didn’t give up easily and reviewed their answers.

Matthew A. Kraft, who works at Brown, and David Blazar, who works at Harvard, “used student surveys and test score results and pored through hours of video of teachers at work in four urban school districts,” writes Kolodner.

They examined four measures of students’ skill that have been demonstrated individually to predict future academic success and job prospects – high math scores, good behavior, happiness in class and perseverance in the face of difficulty. Their research looked at whether “good teachers” were indeed successful at improving all four of these outcomes.

It turns out they’re not.

“What we find is that teachers who are successful at raising test scores are not [not necessarily] the teachers best at improving behaviors,” said Blazar.

Happy students are more likely to have higher test scores. the researchers found. “However, teachers who improve test scores do not always make students happy in class.”

If distinct teaching skills can be analyzed, they can be taught to new teachers, said Blazar. “We have millions and millions of teachers who work in classrooms, and we do a disservice to the profession if we say we’re only going to try to find those teachers who have that natural spark, when we have evidence that these skills are teachable.”

It’s time to teach civics

It’s now or never for civic education, argues Robert Pondiscio, who’s taught civics at a Democracy Prep high school in New York City.

In an informal study of the mission statements of the 100 largest U.S. school systems, he found 60 percent didn’t mention civics or citizenship. Not one used the word “America,” “American,” “patriotic” or “patriotism.” Twenty-eight districts used “global” in phrases such as “global society,” “global economy” or “global citizens.”

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College Board’s redesigned framework for Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics requires students to read “19 Supreme Court cases and nine foundational documents, from Federalist No. 10 to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Pondiscio writes. That requires a high level of literacy.

Serious civic education also requires teachers who can teach well and fairly, he writes. “Fears of teacher bias are not misplaced and surely make district officials gun-shy about any political course content, but that squeamishness is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

Teachers are promoting anti-Trump hysteria, charges Larry Sand on Union Watch.  United Educators of San Francisco issued a “Lesson Plan on the 2016 Election” as a guide for teachers. It includes:

DO NOT: Tell them that we have LOST and that we have to accept this.  We do not have to accept ANYTHING except that we must and will fight for justice against an unjust system and against unjust people.

If Clinton was your choice, “you did lose and you do have to accept it,” Sand points out.

So, who’s going to teach civics and government?

Pension costs crowd out ed spending

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“Per-student spending on K-12 education has risen steadily over the last two decades, but student test scores, and teacher salaries, are stagnant,” editorializes American Interest. Where’s the money gone? “The cash infusion to K-12 has been used largely to pay for irresponsible pension promises politicians made to teachers’ unions and justified to the public with shoddy accounting.”

The editorial cites Feeling the Squeeze: Pension Costs Are Crowding Out Education Spending, a new Manhattan Institute report by Josh McGee:

Per-pupil spending on equipment, facilities, and property fell by 26% between 2000 and 2013, likely resulting in a growing backlog of expensive repairs and  replacements that will need to be made sometime down the road. Spending on instructional supplies (e.g., textbooks) declined by 10% per pupil. More than half of states (29) spent less per pupil on instructional supplies in 2013 than in 2000. […]

The vast majority of taxpayer contributions into teachers’ pension plans are now used to pay down pension debt owed for past service rather than to pay for new benefits earned by today’s teachers. As the value of this debt has increased, most current teachers have experienced stagnant salaries and reduced retirement benefits, while spending on classroom supplies, equipment, and building upkeep has declined relatively or even absolutely.

“Education ought to be a great equalizing force in our society and, in theory, an efficient way to invest in the future,” concludes American Interest. But, in many states, new education spending is really “a transfer payment to retired employees of the public schools who have been promised untenable lifetime pension benefits.”

27% of teachers are ‘chronically absent’

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Chronic absenteeism among teachers is on the rise, according to federal data, reports the Washington Post. Twenty-seven percent of teachers — more than 75 percent in some districts — missed more than 10 days of school in 2014.

Absenteeism is highest in poor, rural areas and inner cities.

In the Alamance-Burlington School System, located between Greensboro and Chapel Hill, N.C., 80 percent of its 1,500 teachers missed more than 10 days of school in the 2013-2014 school year. Cleveland reported that about 84 percent of its 2,700 teachers had excessive absences. Nevada’s Clark County School District, which includes Las Vegas, reported that more than half of its 17,000 teachers were chronically absent.

Students learn significantly less if their teachers are absent for 10 or more days, concludes the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Fifty-eight percent of teachers were chronically absent at Washington, D.C.’s Stuart-Hobson Middle School in 2014, reports the Post. Several said it’s a stressful place to teach.

“I would wake up in a panic and feeling like there was a pit in my stomach,” Sean McGrath, a former social studies teacher. “It was a feeling of dread and despair.” After logging seven absences in September, McGrath quit his job.

Feds: Selective teacher ed hurts diversity

Eager to increase the number of black and Latino teachers, the U.S. Education Department wants teacher education programs to keep entry standards low, writes Jackie Mader for the Hechinger Report. It’s OK to be unselective, under new federal rules, as long as teacher education programs “maintain a high bar to exit.”

Only 18 percent of teachers are African-American, non-white Hispanic, Native American and Asian-American, according to a new Brookings report. Slightly more than half of public school students are non-white.

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The report predicted the number of Latino teachers will fall even farther behind the rising number of Latino students.

Students do better with same-race teachers, some research shows, Mader writes. Black teachers expect more of black students, according to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study. “For example, white teachers were almost 40 percent less likely than their black counterparts to expect black students to finish high school.”

Lowering standards is an insult to blacks and Latinos, said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “I’m very much opposed to anything that would lower the bar for entry, for a simple reason: It’s already about as low as you can go. In many institutions in the United States, there are lower bars for entry than playing college athletics.”

Why has ed tech made so little difference?

Why has education technology made so little difference? asks Marc Tucker on his Ed Week blog.

He recalls three ’80s software programs that he’d thought would be transformative.

In one, players searched for dolphins while learning the basics of navigation and observing “weather, water temperature, currents and so on.” Students “were inevitably very excited, totally engaged.”

The second piece of software, created by Marge Cappo, was stunning.  She captured everyday phenomena like a child pedaling a bike down the road, and then, with the software, made it possible for the student to highlight the motions of the bicycle wheels in such a way that the abstract motion of the wheel as it moved traced classic curves on the screen that corresponded to the algebraic formulas that described these motions.  It enabled the student to actually ‘see’ the abstractions of mathematics and connect those abstractions to the formulas that described them.

Tucker thought it would revolutionize the teaching of geometry and algebra.

The third program simulated “the dynamics of the systems that function in every city — from the subway system to the bus system to the water distribution system to the sewer system and so on.”  Students could “change the variables and see what would happen.”

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What happened? Not much.

Dolphins, navigation and ocean currents aren’t in the curriculum, teachers told him. They’re not on the tests.

Beyond that, most primary and middle-school teachers “know very little about the curves described by a point on the bicycle wheel or the uses to which knowledge about such things can be put.,” writes Tucker. “How many elementary school teachers know anything about coastwise navigation or systems for distributing electricity or the crucial role that feedback plays in the control of such systems or the role that designed systems play in virtually every aspect of modern life?”

Instructional technology will not improve learning without large investments in teaching teachers “about the doors that the technology can open,” he writes.