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.

Teachers, parents say kids are disrespectful

Fifty-eight percent of teachers and 67 percent of parents say most children are disrespectful, according to a Sesame Workshop survey.

In addition, 70 percent of parents worry that the world is “an unkind place for my child,” reports USA Today.

Sesame Workshop’s Jennifer Kotler Clarke is unhappy that 58 percent of parents think “manners” are more important than “empathy.”

“We really need to talk about the deepness that comes with behaviors around kindness,” she said. “It’s not just the surface, smiling around people and opening a door, saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you,’ all of which are important. But it doesn’t end there. It needs to be even deeper than that. In fact, sociopaths and bullies can have very good manners and be polite.”

As a parent, I taught manners first. Behave properly, whatever you think of others. Kids may develop empathy over time. In some cases, it’s very difficult.  They can learn manners at a very young age.

“Sesame plans to offer online tools to parents and educators to teach kindness, including a new website on the topic and a YouTube playlist of clips,” reports USA Today. “It’ll also build the upcoming season of Sesame Street around themes of kindness and empathy.”

Study: Students prefer teachers of color

Urban students of all races are more positive about their Latino and black teachers than their white teachers, according to a study by New York University sociologists Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter Halpin, reports Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Using the Gates Foundation’s Measure of Effective Teaching study, they looked responses by sixth- through ninth-grade students at more than 300 schools in cities around the country.
Students were asked questions such as:

  • How much does this teacher challenge his students?
  • How supportive is she?
  • How well does he manage the classroom?
  • How captivating does she make the subject?

“All the students, including white students, had significantly more favorable perceptions of Latino versus white teachers across the board, and had significantly more favorable perceptions of black versus white teachers on at least two or three of seven categories in the survey,” reports Kamenetz.

Asian-American and black students were especially positive about their black teachers.

“Controlling for student demographic and academic characteristics, teacher efficacy, and other teacher characteristics” didn’t change the results, reports Ed Week.

The study focused on urban districts, where students, including whites, tend to come from a lower socio-economic class, said Cherng.  Students surveyed were in early adolescence, when children “are struggling to form their identities,” he added.

Are Latino teachers better at connected with kids with identity issues?

Why would Asian-American students be so high on black teachers?

Crisis or crock: Is there a teacher shortage?

“The teacher shortage crisis is here,” declares U.S. News, citing a new Learning Policy Institute report on the “coming” crisis.

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“We are experiencing what appears to be the first major shortage since the 1990s,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor who runs the institute.

“At a time when public school enrollment is on the upswing, large numbers of teachers are headed for retirement or leaving the profession because of dissatisfaction with working conditions,” reports U.S. News. “Meanwhile, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is dropping dramatically, falling 35 percent nationwide in the last five years.”

 For years, teacher preparation programs have been graduating twice as many teachers as are needed, writes Kate Walsh, who runs the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Over the last 30 years, programs have graduated between 175,000 and 300,000 teachers each year, yet consistently school districts have only hired somewhere between 60,000 to 140,000, with about 95,000 being the most recent number.

. . . by tweaking just one of the assumptions made by LPI, the results are altogether different. For example, if we project that the class size average of student to teacher is 16.1 to 1 (which, importantly, it is currently) rather than LPI’s estimate of 15.3 to 1, voila! The shortage disappears entirely.

Walsh also cites Dan Goldhaber’s critique of the report. LPI incorrectly assumes all new teachers are new college graduates, he writes. In fact, most newly hired teachers aren’t new graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Some delayed entering the profession and others taught, took time off (usually to raise kids) and are returning.

Claims of a teacher shortage crisis are deja vu all over again, writes Mike Antonucci.

The real teacher shortage isn’t new, writes Walsh.

For 30 years nearly every district in the nation has struggled to find enough secondary science and math teachers. Also and for just as long, rural and urban districts have been unable to tap into a reliable and stable source of new teachers, putting band aids like Teach For America on the problem.

Most school districts have way too many applicants for elementary teaching positions, she writes, “because teacher prep programs don’t see it as their job to tell their incoming candidates that they can’t all major in elementary ed, that they’ll need to consider another teaching field like special ed or ELL where there is real need.”

Under union pressure, school districts refuse to pay more for teachers with high-demand skills.

Defiant kids stay, teachers leave

More than 200 teachers quit the Highline district near Seattle this spring,”many saying the new approach to student discipline has created outright chaos,” reports Claudia Rowe in the Seattle Times.

Three years ago, Superintendent Susan Enfield eliminated out-of-school suspensions, except for threats to campus safety, reports Rowe.

Instead, Highline would keep its students on campus — even if they cursed at teachers, fought with peers or threw furniture — attempting to address the roots of their behavior through a combination of counseling and academic triage.”

Rather than tossing kids for defiant behavior, teachers were expected to manage their outbursts in class, and refer chronic misbehavers to a kind of super study hall where an academic coach would get them back on track and connect those who needed it to counseling.

Teachers received little training in de-escalating conflicts, reports Rowe.

“Violence is rampant and behavior management is nonexistent within our school community,” wrote Jasmine Kettler, a Highline High teacher, in a farewell blog post.

Credit: Mark Nowlin/Seattle Times

Credit: Mark Nowlin/Seattle Times

“There’s a fight every week and it just feels normal — but it shouldn’t,” said Carson Torres, 18, at an Aug. 17 board meeting.

In response to the story, Enfield wrote that “eight out of ten staff members say they are safe at school.” Overall, the teacher turnover rate has declined and the graduation rate is rising, she wrote.

However, Highline High lost almost 30 percent of  its staff this spring, while Mount Rainier High lost a quarter of the teaching force, a teachers’ union official says.