Smorgasbord: Complexity, Reading, Morals, and Algorithms

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Stop wasting your time on item-analysis of standards and skills on state ELA tests, people

Tim Shanahan has some advice and candor that many principals and district leaders sorely need to hear.

“What makes the difference in reading performance isn’t practice answering certain question types, but practice in interpreting texts that are challenging–that pose barriers to meaning.

. . . The point isn’t that the standards should be ignored, but that teachers have to understand that reading comprehension tests do not/cannot measure single, separable, independent skills. These instruments provide nothing more than an overall indicator of general reading comprehension performance.”

This is the annual rigmarole that schools waste their ELA teachers’ time with at the beginning of each school year.

Stop it, folks. Just stop it. You’re not going to glean new insight about how to effectively teach literacy to your kids by doing intensive item analysis of the standards and questions on the ELA state test.

Instead, read real literature and engage your kids in learning about their world. Then you might actually have an impact.

A Spirited Reaction to One District’s Approach to Standards-Based Reading Instruction, Shanahan on Literacy

Teach morals by human example, not using cute animals

“Books that children can easily relate to increase their ability to apply the story’s lesson to their daily lives.”

But the study also notes that “The more a child attributed human characteristics to the anthropomorphic animals, the more they shared after reading the animal book.”

So as always, it’s about how the adults reading the books with children help them pay attention to and understand what’s most important.

Human Characters, Not Animals, Teach Children Best Moral Lessons, Neuroscience News

If laptops are detrimental to learning in college classrooms, then . . .

“We find that allowing any computer usage in the classroom—even with strict limitations—reduces students’ average final-exam performance by roughly one-fifth of a standard deviation.”

Should professors ban laptops?, Education Next

Bellwether reviewed NY’s ESSA plans and provides a useful critique.

NY has a strong foundation, but it’s accountability measures may be too complex for parents and the public to make sense of, as well as too vague.

An Independent Review of New York’s Draft ESSA Plan, Bellwether Education

A Friendly Reminder: Schools are Complex

“At least on paper, it is difficult to tell what separates the schools at the bottom of the list from those at the top, which cuts to the core of what makes school turnaround so difficult: nobody knows precisely what works.

‘The problem is that there is no silver bullet to turnaround interventions,’ said Priscilla Wohlstetter, a distinguished research professor at Columbia University’s Teacher College. ‘It’s a really tough thing to figure out what makes the difference in schools.’”

For $582 Million Spent on Troubled Schools, Some Gains, More Disappointments, NY Times

And school closures? Also complex

Make sure to read behind the headlines on the new CREDO study. There’s a lot of unknowns and nuance to their findings.

Matt Barnum does a nice job of drawing those out in this Chalkbeat piece.

“…the study can’t explain why closures happen more often in certain communities. For instance, if low-achieving schools with many white students are especially likely to be located in rural areas where there are fewer alternative schools, that may help explain the results.

Another explanation could be that the expansion of charter schools in high-minority areas puts additional fiscal and enrollment pressure on districts and charters — as charters expand, other schools may close as their enrollment declines.

What is clear, though, is that black and low-income students and communities are especially likely to have a school closed.”

Schools with more students of color are more likely to be shut down — and three other things to know about a big new study, Chalkbeat

A NY City Council bill could make public the algorithms that affect the public

An innovative–and some would say, long overdue, bill has been introduced in the City Council by Bronx Councilmember Vacca.

This would make the algorithm that the city uses to sort students for high school would be made transparent.

Showing the Algorithms Behind New York City Services, NY Times

Smorgasbord: Unity, Faction, and Learning

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Don Shalvey calls for more learning, rather than competition, between charters and districts

“Let’s leave crushing the competition to the National Football League and not act like it’s the reason educators create and work in charter public schools.”

Sounds good to me. I think the fractious debates between charter and district are largely a distraction from the real work of how to best serve families and educate kids. And I will happily learn from and collaborate with any of my colleagues working in the charter sector.

It’s important when such collaborations do occur to frame them as a two-way street, rather than one sharing “best practices” to another. We all have things to learn from different contexts, structures, and approaches.

Shalvey: Dramatic Support for Educators Rather Than Political Drama, The Alumni

Or maybe districts need to be a little more competitive with charters

“In their rush to score cheap political points, both camps sidestep the reality that districts and charters are in a high-stakes competition for students. The truth is that unilateral opposition to charters has never stopped them from growing, just like it hasn’t stopped thousands of parents from enrolling their children in private schools or finding ways to get them into neighboring school districts. The futures of local charters and districts hinge on the same thing—the decisions parents make for their children.”

Don’t Complain About Charter Schools, Compete With Them, Education Next

Celine Coggins advises teacher leaders to be willing to push policymakers for disagreement

“Most educators’ natural instinct is to keep the peace. Your average local politician won’t be as impolitic as the President. They’ll say they care about equity, meaning a great education for all kids. You need to get beneath the hood on that.”

Good point. I’ve met with a number of policymakers to advocate for better policies, and the tendency for these conversations is typically for teachers to share, policymaker to nod and then politely push away any accountability, everyone to get photo ops. The best conversations are when you can have a reasoned argument about something that helps to clarify where everyone stands.

Also good tidbit here from Coggins:

“Which are the policy problems and which are the relationship problems? The battle for greater equity for disadvantaged students is a war on two fronts. Some parts of the problem are best solved at the individual-level through relationships (i.e. influencing a leader’s thinking, getting invited to the decision-making table). Some parts of the problem are best solved at the system-level through formal policies (i.e. who has access to certain support services and programming; how funding gets allocated across schools). Separating the two types of problems, will help you get clear on the issues you can tackle next on each front.”

Equity is Everything (and Nothing), Eduwonk

Diana Senechal asks, “What is a civics education?”

“Civics education conveys, develops, and enlivens the premise that a country is built on principles, structures, realities, and interpretations, and that each of these has internal contradictions and contradictions with other elements.”

“This will require, among other things, renewed dedication to secular education–that is, not education that denies or diminishes religious faith, but that builds a common basis and mode of discussion among people: a basis of knowledge and a mode of reasoning, imagining, and listening.”

What Is Civics Education?, Take Away the Takeaway

A notable lack of transparency from De Blasio’s DOE

“Let’s talk about the New York City Department of Education,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which oversees open meetings and public records laws. “Terrible. Terrible. They’re terrible. They’re terrible.”

De Blasio, before becoming mayor:

“The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said at the time. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”

485 Days and Counting: NYC’s Education Department Stymies Public Records Requests, Both Big and Small, The 74

Remember I said to watch how people spin NY state test results? Chalkbeat rounds up official reactions so you don’t have to

Ranging from “meaningless” to “delivering on the promise of closing the achievement gap.”

‘Virtually meaningless’ or ‘steady progress’? New York City reacts to this year’s state test scores, Chalkbeat

What makes math unjust?

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and TODOS: Mathematics for All are “calling on math teachers to assume a “social justice stance” that “challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics.”

If assuming a social justice stance means developing greater coherency in what and how a rigorous, sequential math curriculum is provided to all students, then sure.

Math is unjust and grounded in discrimination, educators moan, Campus Reform

Speaking of math, here’s sage advice from an 80 year veteran math teacher

The key to teaching math, says Miller, boils down to one thing — repetition. “Repetition is one of the foundations of learning.”

Repetition and rote memorization aren’t exactly cutting edge these days, but it’s hard to disagree with the advice Miller gives teachers who are just starting out: “Be sure that you know your subject.”

Paul Miller Loved Teaching Math So Much That He Did It For Nearly 80 Years, NPR

But it can’t be all memorization. At least when it comes to learning a language

Do not use flashcards! Do not emphasize memorization of the characters (bùyào sǐbèi dānzì 不要死背单字). Learn words in their proper grammatical and syntactic context. Learn grammatical patterns and practice them in substitution drills (that was one of the best ways Chang Li-ching used to train her students, and she was extremely successful in getting them up to an impressive level of fluency in a short period of time).

For examples of the kind of drills that would be really beneficial to all kids in teaching them grammatical patterns, refer to the Hochman Method.

Learning languages is so much easier now, Language Log

Speaking of learning a language, why is the US so bad at producing bilinguals?

“…it’s ironic that we have students walking up staircases at one end of their school building to attend Spanish foreign language classes while at the other end of the same building native Spanish speakers are being taught English and content in ways that lead to their loss of Spanish.”

The true failure of foreign language instruction, The Conversation

Friday Smorgasbord: Neoliberalism, Charters, & Glasses

A friendly reminder: Schools are complex

“More interventions might not always be better and may have unintended consequences that impact a school’s long term ability to improve,” write Dougherty and Weiner.

New study deepens nation’s school turnaround mystery, finding little success in Rhode Island, Chalkbeat

The pervasive problem of neoliberalism

Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.

…When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.

Implications for education here.

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world, The Guardian

Irony in the daggers thrown at NY state proposal for new charter teacher training

Calling the proposal “insulting,” Rosa said, “don’t compromise my profession.”

This is from the same Board of Regents that has removed basic literacy requirements for new teachers.

There’s a teacher shortage in high needs subjects and of teachers of color. Seems to me if charters can demonstrate they can train new teachers adequately without certification, then this could be a viable pathway into the profession that we should be welcoming, rather than fighting against. In the meantime, we can work on actually elevating the certified pathway by beefing up our higher ed programs and more closely examining how well they really are preparing teachers in the field.

Yes, I think charters overwork their teachers and demand a lot of them, often for less pay. I wouldn’t want to teach at Success Academy. But that would be the price to pay for not gaining certification via a more traditional route.

I’m all about honoring the profession. But I also know, like many other educators, that the real learning only began once I got into the classroom. It’s about whether or not you’ve been supported at that point thereon that really matters.

If charters can demonstrate effectiveness with these uncertified teachers, then what’s the problem? Isn’t this about the kids?

Charter Schools Could Get to Hire Teachers With Only 30 Hours of Training, DNAInfo

The importance of glasses in the classroom

Each year in my classroom, I had kids who desperately needed glasses and didn’t have them. My school worked with parents and external partners to obtain them, but it was a process. And there were some of my students who I had to “remind” to wear their glasses in my glass every single day, because they didn’t want to wear them.

But something this elemental can have a huge impact. So I’m heartened to see this effort in Baltimore to bring free eyeglasses to students to demonstrate this impact.

“The outcomes were notable enough even with the small sample size—reading proficiency improved significantly compared with the children who did not need eyeglasses—that the researchers decided to radically expand the study to the whole city to see if the results held.”

How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores in Baltimore, Politico magazine

Poor children who grow up in rural counties are more likely to marry

Writers such as author and CNN commentator J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, look at rural areas and see dysfunction and decline. Citing Chetty, Vance wrote that in Appalachia “poor kids really struggled.”

What Chetty and Hendren find, however, is that much of rural America isn’t a source of individual pathology but a place where we can all witness the beneficial impacts of community.

Rural Upbringing Increases Odds That Young People Will Marry, The Daily Yonder

School closing and consolidations can be bad for rural communities

Schools matter to the social fabric and cultural vitality of a rural community; they are places where relationships are sustained, where traditions are preserved and values are learned.

Close A Rural School, Hurt A Rural Community, The Daily Yonder

Smorgasbord: Brotherhoods and Blockchains

Building a brotherhood to keep young men on track to graduation in a South Bronx High School

Educator Ingrid Chung is doing powerful work with her boys at the Urban Assembly School of Applied Math and Science in the Bronx. This is the type of thing that needs to be replicated and scaled.

A United Brotherhood of Young Black Men in South Bronx, The Home Room on Medium

The challenge to integrating schools: people don’t want to give stuff up

“There’s a serious problem in white liberalism in New York City,” said Emmaia Gelman, a white parent in District 3 who has advocated for integration policies. “Put to the test, it doesn’t hold up. People don’t want to give stuff up.”

Critics say NYC’s progressive mayor isn’t doing enough to integrate schools. Here’s why he might be dragging his feet., Chalkbeat

And ICYMI, the podcast The Weeds had a deep dive into segregated schools

The Weeds: the quiet comeback of school segregation, Vox

The blockchain is coming to education, brought to you by Sony & IBM

You’ve probably been hearing about this “blockchain” thing for a while now. It’s yet to take hold in a way that means anything on the consumer end, but it’s sending investors into a tizzy.

There certainly is a lot of potential once some “killer app” kicks it into gear. The infrastructure and protocols for building contracts and record-keeping systems are growing increasingly advanced, and it’s only a matter of time.

Sony will be leveraging the open-source work of Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project.

Worth keeping an eye on. Education data and it’s accompanying privacy concerns blew up prior work to make data centralized and more transparent. But a well-constructed and encrypted blockchain can potentially address concerns about privacy, while also making data more transparent and pooling it together.

Sony wants to digitize education records using the blockchain, TechCrunch

Chalkbeat surfaces some damning information about discriminatory schools and voucher money

Choice for most: In nation’s largest voucher program, $16 million went to schools with anti-LGBT policies, Chalkbeat

Who’s to blame for the fading of ed reform momentum in NY? Apparently, Cuomo

An in-depth review from Eliza Shapiro.

How New York stopped being the nation’s education reform capital, Politico

Smorgasbord: Summer Detritus

New organization and report promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion in education orgs


 

The Hochman Method has a new book

I have been privileged to attend a few workshops now on these writing strategies, and have begun including them in my work with teachers here in the Bronx. My blog post on the strategies is listed on TWR’s webpage. Nice to see my little logo up there alongside NY Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic. 🙂

The book is on pre-sale here and you can find workshops on the method from TWR here and from WITsi here.

The invisible crop killer

“Research has shown dicamba vapor can travel up to three miles, and symptoms may not manifest themselves for weeks after application. Crops with herbicide injury aren’t covered by crop insurance, and proving who was responsible and recovering damages is a little like having a hit and run on your car in the parking lot at Walmart.”

STUCK IN THE DICAMBA CLOUD, The Daily Yonder

Kids struggling with disrupted education need coherent systems of support

“Thoughtfully creating coherent systems of support that enable all students to graduate from high school prepared to enter college or the workforce requires a wholesale rethinking of the ways in which education and social service agencies interact with one another, with the children in their care, and with families and caregivers.”

This one critical and overlooked aspect of the incoherency that kids experience in our educational systems. I would add to this the incoherency in content, instructional practices, and expectations to that list.

This was a key argument in support of common standards and content. Students who are struggling are often the ones who change living situations most frequently, and they experience an incoherent mess of content across classrooms and schools, rather than a thoughtfully sequenced and coherent set of topics, themes, and skills.

Korman & Rotherham: You Can Help Schools and Social Service Agencies Collaborate Better for Students, The 74

MOOCs and metacognition

Nice little profile on Barbara Oakley and her work, made freely and easily accessible via MOOC, on how to learn how to learn. Includes useful learning tips for students.

Learning to Learn: You, Too, Can Rewire Your Brain, NY Times

ClassDojo moves beyond behavior management

ClassDojo is expanding out its repertoire beyond a behavior tracking system to include some really useful tools such as a random student selector, a noise meter, and a timer.

All of these tools can be projected from the front of the room while the teacher controls it using a smartphone.

Well-designed tools such as Google Classroom, Plickers, and ClassDojo are slowly shifting classroom tech use away from mere novelties and distractions.

ClassDojo Launches “Toolkit” to Help All Teachers Create Incredible Classrooms, PR Newswire

Abundance is also a state of mind

“Having enough is a matter of perspective. And sometimes people with just enough lead remarkably rich lives.”

IN A TIME OF ENOUGH, GENEROSITY IS SCARCE, Daily Yonder