Testing first

New York schools will spend more days on testing and test prep than instruction in 2013-14, according to Students Last, a satire site.

New York State’s Education Commissioner John King (said):  ”We acknowledge that given the number of days for benchmark assessments, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, state tests, mid-terms, finals, exams for English Language Learners and those taking alternative assessments, unit tests, make-up days for those who were absent and given that teachers typically use the weeks before a high-stakes exam for test preparation, that for the first time in New York State history there are actually fewer instructional days than testing days.”

Asked if he saw anything wrong with requiring more testing than teaching, Commissioner King responded, “I don’t really give a crap. My children attend private school.”

The first comment is satire too. At least, I hope so.

Teachers refuse to give ‘useless’ tests

Teachers at a Seattle high school are refusing to give a district-mandated exam, saying it’s a waste of time, reports NPR. Measures of Academic Progress is given up to three times a year from kindergarten through at least ninth grade, in addition to state exams.

Garfield High’s academic dean, Kris McBride, MAP doesn’t seem to align with district or state curricula. Teachers can’t see the test, so they don’t know why their students did well or poorly. (MAP adapts to students’ performance levels, giving easier or harder questions depending on how well they do, so there is no one exam for all students.)

Portfolios of students’ work could replace MAP, writes teacher Jesse Hagopian in a Seattle Times op-ed.

Seattle’s ninth- and 10th-grade students already take five state-required standardized tests . . . Seattle Public Schools staff admitted to a Garfield teacher the MAP test is not valid at the high-school level, because the margin of error is greater than expected gains.

. . . Students don’t take the MAP seriously because they know their scores don’t factor into their grades or graduation status. They approach it less seriously each time they take it, so their scores decline. Our district uses MAP scores in teacher evaluations, even though the MAP company recommends against using it to evaluate teacher effectiveness and it’s not mandated in our union contract.

Eleven teachers at ORCA K-8, a Seattle alternative school, have joined the boycott.

More than 60 educators and researchers have signed a statement supporting the test boycott, including Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

As digital gap closes, poor kids waste more time

The “digital divide” separating affluent and low-income children is closing, reports the New York Times. But access to technology hasn’t helped poor kids learn more. It’s made it easier for them to waste time.

. . . children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, children of parents who don’t have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from college-educated families. That’s up from a 16-minute gap in 1999.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering spending $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. Trainers “would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers,” reports the Times.

Let’s say Juan is killing zombies and texting his girlfriend when he could be researching the Industrial Revolution for a history paper. Is that because he doesn’t know that a computer can be used for research? I doubt it.

Is homework worth it? Kids say so

Jessica Lahey hates homework, but she assigns it — if it passes the Ben test, she writes on a New York Times parenting blog. “If an assignment is not worthy of my own (middle-school) son’s time, I’m dumping it. Based on a quick look at my assignment book from last year, about a quarter of my assignments won’t make the cut.”

Parents are complaining about “horrible homework” burdens, Lahey writes. In Race to Nowhere, which is very popular with affluent parents, filmmaker Vicki Abeles “claims that today’s untenable and increasing homework load drives students to cheating, mental illness and suicide.”

I asked my students whether, if homework were to completely disappear, they would be able achieve the same mastery of the material. The answer was a unanimous — if reluctant — “No.”

Most echoed my son Ben’s sentiments: “If I didn’t have homework, I don’t think I’d do very well. It’s practice for what we learn in school.” But, they all stressed, that’s only true of some homework.

Teachers should be careful not to assign busy work, Lahey writes. “Children need time to be quiet, play, read and imagine.”

 

Class time isn’t shorter in U.S.

U.S. schoolchildren spend as much time in school as kids in high-scoring countries, concludes a report by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants a longer school day and year, notes the Washington Times.

“Right now, children in India … they’re going to school 30, 35 days more than our students,” he said at an education forum in September, explaining one reason he thinks the American education system is falling behind those of global competitors.

“Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” Mr. Duncan said.

Students in India spend more days in school, but fewer hours in class, totaling 800 “instructional hours” at the elementary level. Forty-two states require more class hours, the report found. Texas requres 1,260 hours a year for elementary students.

High-scoring South Korea requires 703 hours for elementary students, though many parents pay for after-school lessons. Hungarian students score at nearly the U.S. level despite requiring only 601 hours.

U.S. high school students average 1,000 hours in class each year.

In Poland, high school students need 595 hours in the classroom, the lowest of all the countries in the study, yet they top U.S. students on the math and science portions of the PISA exams, the most widely used measuring sticks for international comparisons.

Finland, Norway, Australia and other nations also show higher levels of student achievement while requiring less instruction.

Of course, it’s not just the time spent at school, but how it’s used.

 

Flipping catches on

Flipping instruction — typically, students watch a video at home and work through problems at school — is going mainstream, writes Education Sector’s Bill Tucker in Education Next.

Colorado chemistry teacher Jonathan Bergmann says “he can more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions around scientific concepts, and clear up incorrect notions.” He has time to work individually with students.

Bergmann notes that he now spends more time with struggling students, who no longer give up on homework, but work through challenging problems in class. Advanced students have more freedom to learn independently.

In Washington, D.C., Andrea Smith, a 6th-grade math teacher at E. L. Haynes, a high-performing public charter school, says flipping is educational for teachers.

. . . crafting a great four- to six-minute video lesson poses a tremendous instructional challenge: how to explain a concept in a clear, concise, bite-sized chunk. Creating her own videos forces her to pay attention to the details and nuances of instruction—the pace, the examples used, the visual representation, and the development of aligned assessment practices. In a video lesson on dividing fractions, for example, Smith is careful not to just teach the procedure—multiply by the inverse—but also to represent the important underlying conceptual ideas.

USA Today also looks at flipped teaching. Stacey Rosen, an AP calculus teacher at a Maryland private school,  “digitally records her lessons with a tablet computer as a virtual blackboard, then uploads them to iTunes and assigns them as homework.” She uses class time to help students work out exercises based on the recorded lessons.

Before flipping, she couldn’t cover all the material before the AP exam. Now, she finishes a month early and uses the extra time for review, boosting the number of students who score a perfect 5.

Students watch lessons at home, sometimes two or three times, and replay confusing sections. If they’re still confused, they query a friend. If that doesn’t work, they ask Roshan the following day.

On a recent morning, she told the class a student was confused about the intermediate value theorem.

 ”It’s a really complicated name for something really simple. You guys want to go over it right now?” No one protested, so she launched into the lesson: She talked, she drew, she took students’ questions. She drew some more. Start to finish, the lesson lasted three minutes and 25 seconds. Back to homework.

Critics say flipping won’t work for low-income students who don’t have computers or reliable Internet connections at home. Of course, it also requires students to watch the videos at home.

In addition, it encourages lecturing, which many think is an ineffective way to teach. “It’s just kind of Lecture 1.0,” says Frank Noschese, a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y.

Roshan disagrees.

“In an English class, you send the kids home to read a passage, and then in class you discuss that passage,” she says. “Why in math class am I more or less having them read the passage in class?”

So far, most flippers seem to be teaching math and science classes.  I think it’s too soon to predict that it will go mainstream, but momentum is building.

Silver bullet: More time teaching at kid's level

Stuart Buck praises Barker Bausell’s Too Simple to Fail: A Case for Educational Change, which argues that “the only thing that improves education is spending more time on instruction at a given child’s level.”

Bausell suggests adding pre-K (using direct instruction) BS lengthening the school day and year. Schools would focus on relevant instruction, eliminating time wasters such as “candy sales, worthless school assemblies, loudspeaker announcements, sports activities, ad nauseam.” Disruptive students would be removed from class.  (“If this means that we have to leave certain children behind because they can’t meet behavioral expectations (or we don’t know how to enable them to conform), so be it.”)

In addition, Buck summarizes:

The entire curriculum should be exhaustive and detailed, and computerized tests should be based exclusively on the curriculum.

. . . Teacher behavior should be “monitored constantly to ensure the delivery of sufficient instruction, as well as satisfactory coverage of (and minimal departures from) the established curriculum.”

. . . Use efficient instructional methods. Bausell points to an example of inefficiency: “My son once had a teacher who had an elaborate class project involving building a medieval castle out of popsicle sticks that stretched over a period of several months. Regardless of what the teacher thought she was accomplishing, this is valuable time wasted . . . ‘”

Finally, recruit volunteer tutors who can help students practice reading sight words or learn math with flash cards.

Most teachers are supposed to “differentiate instruction” for children with a wide range of learning needs. Some students are way ahead, some on track, some way behind. Some speak English fluently; some don’t. A few students have disabilities. Others are behavior problems. If teachers had more time, no distractions and groups of children working at the same level . . .  Teachers, what do you think?

Extend the school day, but do it right

Extend the school day to make time for academics and foreign languages, sports, music, drama, debate and other enriching activities, writes Sehba Ali, chief academic officer for KIPP’s Bay Area schools, in Newsweek.

I met the dynamic Ali when she was recruiting students for KIPP Heartwood Academy, a public charter school in San Jose that ranks in the top 10 percent of California schools, despite its low-income, minority enrollment. KIPP’s school day typically goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with a mandatory three-week summer-school program, Ali notes.

But a long school day that’s all math and reading will burn out students, Ali warns. Teacher burn-out also is a risk.

At KIPP, we build in time during the day for teachers to meet with colleagues in the same grade or subject, enabling them to share lesson plans and coordinate instruction. This not only saves time for teachers but also helps ensure that expectations for both behavior and academics are consistent in every classroom. My school’s teacher-retention rate isn’t perfect, but while recent studies show that more than half of educators leave in the first five years, we keep 82 percent annually.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for a longer school day and year. Hundreds of schools are changing their schedules to provide more learning time for students. But I think Ali is right: More time for the same, old teaching is more likely to exhaust than enlighten. And it’s important to design school schedules that work for teachers who aren’t hyperactive 23-year-olds with no personal lives.

The $221,000 child

A middle-class family will spend $221,000 to raise a child born in 2008 to age 17, estimates a government report. That doesn’t include college. From Time:

The report by the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion identified housing as the largest single expense, followed by food and child care/education costs.

However, the study overestimates the cost of a kid, argues Overpopulation.com.

First of all, the USDA did not measure what it costs to raise a child, but rather what parents of differing income levels actually spend. There is an important difference between the two.

Second, the methodology behind the USDA, is goofy, as even its own study notes. For example, the largest part of the “cost” of raising children in that $200,000 estimate is more than $53,000 for housing costs. How did the USDA arrive at that figure? It simply assumes that if a couple has two children and a house valued at $200,000, then each family member incurs $50,000 in housing costs,

An Oregon State study urges adults to reduce their “carbon footprint” by having fewer children. It also helps to stay married and get married, so you’ll maintain only one household for two people.

We’ve been hosting my husband’s first grandchild, Baby Julia. She’s definitely a big-footprint child.

Time for national standards

It’s time for national standards in reading and math, writes Walter Isaacson in Time. The K-12 system is “burdened by an incoherent jumble of state and local curriculum standards, assessment tools, tests, texts and teaching materials,” he writes. States can lower standards to define every student, however illiterate and innumerate, as “proficient.”

Today’s wacky patchwork makes it difficult to assess which methods work best or how to hold teachers and schools accountable.

. . . These 21st century American Standards should be comparable to, and benchmarked against, the standards of other countries so that we can determine how globally competitive our nation’s economy will be in the future.

“Straightforward and sensible,” writes Eduwonk. Commenters wonder: Why doesn’t Isaacson want mathematicians to help write math standards?