Smorgasbord: Diversity & Complexity

Things have been busy, so newsletters have just been piling up in my inbox unread. But here’s just a few items that have crossed my radar over the last couple of weeks worth looking into.

Momentum in NYC towards increasing school diversity, from both districts and charters

“The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.”

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money, Chalkbeat

“The New York City education department on Tuesday revealed a plan that officials hope will spur more economic diversity in Lower East Side elementary schools.”

Prodded by advocates, city unveils district-wide integration plan for Lower East Side, Chalkbeat

Meanwhile, in Gardendale, segregation worsens

Two great pieces out on this.

  1. The Resegregation of Jefferson County, Nicole Hannah Jones on NY Times
  2. The Department of Justice Is Overseeing the Resegregation of American Schools, Emmanuel Felton on The Nation

Detroit’s new superintendent is moving in the right direction

“When teachers complained that students were spending too much time taking tests, he reduced mandatory student testing. He also promised to raise teacher pay.

And he’s paying attention to what students learn, something that he says has been neglected. He’s pushing a district-wide curriculum audit to make sure Detroit kids are getting an education that meets national standards.”

‘Possible, but daunting’: Inside Nikolai Vitti’s early effort to transform Detroit’s battered public schools, Chalkbeat

Teaching is complex. So treat teachers like professionals.

“I believe that for a teacher to deal most effectively with the complexities of a classroom you must be considered the expert in your room. No one else lives with your students all day. Only you see so many things that others are not privy to so that you, even the beginning teacher, knows your class better than anyone else, no matter their legal power or expertise. You need to be treated like the professional you are and be allowed to make your own mistakes and learn from them. In turn you should allow your students the same rights.”

Complexity of Teaching, Robert Rose on Huff Post

Achievement First is preparing students for the long haul (and tracking whether they are successful)

“Our evolving answer involves less full-class instruction and more targeted, small group instruction. We’ve made a bet on more personalized and self-directed learning with students completing “playlists” and advancing on their own when they have demonstrated competence in a given area. Students have access to more enrichment experiences — extended exploration in music, STEM inventions, dance, and martial arts. Students also participate in twice weekly “Circles,” based on the best practices of our friends at Valor Collegiate, to build their social-emotional skills and create a strong, supportive peer community.”

McCurry & Toll: Smoothing the Path — Better Preparing Students for Long-Term Success, The Alumni

To make these kinds of changes, create effective teams. Use the pizza rule for team size.

“How many should be on a team? One rule of thumb: If this group got together, could it split one large pizza? This isn’t about saving money on food provided in meetings — but when you need more than a pizza, the decision-making often gets a lot harder. You want to make sure you have enough perspectives in the room to represent the needs of your school and community, but not so many that moving an idea forward becomes too challenging.”

Johnson: The Pizza Rule and Other Tips for Making Effective, Long-Lasting Changes in Your School, The 74

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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

Smorgasbord: NY State Test Results, Incoherency, and Teacher Shortages

NY State test results have been released: trends are positive

This year’s tests can actually be compared directly to last year’s, so inferences are slightly more valid. Statewide, ELA proficiency went up 1.9 points and math 1.1.

It will be interesting to see what narratives spring out of this. Even more interesting will be how anti-charter constituents spin the positive results from charters.

Look for all sides spinning these results in the way that suits them best.

State Education Department Releases Spring 2017 Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Assessment Results, NYSED

Speaking of measurement: How can we measure SEL?

Some interesting suggestions here from a recent design challenge:

  1. How quickly kids answer questions on an on-line test (too quickly means less self-control/engagement)
  2. Asking kids questions about a video to assess their perspective-taking abilities

Building a Modern Marshmallow Test: New Ways to Measure Social-Emotional Learning, EdWeek

It should go without saying that laptops alone do not a quality education make

You know, like, how are you actually using the laptops?

Do Laptops Help Learning? A Look At The Only Statewide School Laptop Program, NPR Ed

How we teach history depends on where we teach it

I’ve argued before that one of the biggest problems with what we teach students across our nation is that it’s completely incoherent, and we do little to nurture a collective sense of values, knowledge, and civic engagement.

Here’s that problem in action:

Virginia’s standards of learning for U.S. history to 1865 include “describing the cultural, economic and constitutional issues that divided the nation” and “explaining how the issues of states’ rights and slavery increased sectional tensions.” Alabama fifth-graders “identify causes of the Civil War from the Northern and Southern viewpoints.”

Contrast that with Delaware, where school districts set their own curriculum but a syllabus for the eighth grade suggesting what might be covered during instruction says that abolition meant that the American people could for the first time “seriously claim to be living up to their commitment to the principle of liberty rooted in the American state papers.”

In Michigan, curriculum also is decided locally, though the state’s social studies standards for the Civil War and Reconstruction in eighth grade include the instructions: “Explain the reasons (political, economic, and social) why Southern states seceded and explain the differences in the timing of secession in the Upper and Lower South.”

Civil War lessons often depend on where the classroom is, Associated Press

Teacher shortages in high needs areas, such as SPED and math, with no end in sight

One of the suggestions here for addressing this makes a lot of sense to me:

“Make teacher certification national instead of state by state. Prospective teachers must pass an exam specific to the state they want to work in. But if a teacher wants to move from, say, Pennsylvania to California, they can’t immediately apply for jobs there. By having a national certification exam, teachers would have more mobility to go where they’re needed.”

Schools throughout the country are grappling with teacher shortage, data show, CNN

One way of addressing teacher shortages in SPED: draw from the paraprofessionals

They’re already in the field. Make it easier for them to transition into teaching.

Makes sense to me. But one thing to be aware of: paras have great experience in managing behaviors and working with kids, but may not have a strong background on content.

Which is why having a strong curriculum and departmental teams that can support adaptation and implementation of that curriculum are so critical.

With principals in ‘crisis mode,’ new Washington state law taps into thousands of potential teacher recruits, Seattle Times

Smorgasbord: Charlottesville, College, and Academic Discussions

By United States Census Bureau

Use #CharlottesvilleCurriculum for suggestions on what to start your school year discussions off with

Queens teacher Vivett Dukes writes:

“We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.”

I agree. I’ve written before about the need to have tough–and nuanced–conversations with kids about race. You can find some useful classroom materials for doing this using the #ChartlottesvilleCurriculum hashtag.

Here’s a particularly great one from Facing History on the Reconstruction Era. Because everything that is happening right now in VA can be traced directly back to it.

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race, Chalkbeat First Person

Betty Rosa and MaryEllen Elia call for integration

“We committed to, as a department and as a Board of Regents, [the] notion of naming it,” Rosa said, referring to the state’s draft integration statement, which referred to New York schools as the most segregated in the country. “You’ve got to name it.”

Elia chimed in too, tying integration to the recent events in Charlottesville.

“I would say the last six days have pointed out to all of us that, clearly, this is something that must be on the agenda,” Elia said.

It’s nice to see them taking a strong stand on this issue, and making definitive statements. This is the most positive direction I can point to from our state ed leaders.

On other issues, however, I’ve really been struggling to understand what the vision from NY state ed leaders is for moving forward on education. The Board of Regents seems very clear about its intent to dismantle prior efforts at ed reform, but not very clear about what sort of system they would wish to put in its place. It’s easy to lambast what’s wrong; it’s much harder to put in place something better.

State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair, Chalkbeat

Understanding data on English language learners

Janie Tankard Carnock at New America has a useful compilation of points to bear in mind when looking at data on ELs.

Here’s a good example of one: ELs at different stages progress at different rates.

“This growth principle is an important one to keep in mind when evaluating current EL progress to make claims about a school’s performance. For example, it will be easier for an average kindergarten EL to move from level 1 to 2 on the ELP exam than a sixth grade EL to move from level 4 to 5. This reality suggests the need for differentiated growth goals, ones that are more ambitious earlier on and more conservative in older years and/or at higher ELP levels.”

And another key one: Poverty affects most ELs and, as a result, their educational outcomes.

“…the school and district context as it intersects with poverty is another significant factor for ELs. Around 70 percent of ELs nationwide attend schools with disproportionately greater numbers of low-income students and other ELs. Such schools are typically under-resourced and have higher dropout rates, higher student mobility, more difficulty hiring and retaining effective teachers, and poorer quality curricular resources.”

Data is complex, people. Too many folks in schools are judging their students and programs based on one state test score.

Seeing Clearly, New America

Mike Goldstein is guest blogging over at Eduwonk

On tutoring:

“Strategy matters, but execution matters more. . . . Without elite/unusual execution, it’s hard to help kids make large gains through school-based strategies.”

Old-School Personalization, Eduwonk

Uncommon Schools on why some kids weren’t making it through college

“Some of the obvious reasons included the very real fact that financial problems dogged many students, as did the difficulties of transitioning to a completely unstructured college setting with complete freedom.

But Uncommon also discovered other insightful reasons why students struggled. First, students, far too often, were “undermatching.” Capable students were enrolling in colleges beneath their academic level, which increased their odds of dropping out of school. Data collected from Uncommon Schools also revealed definitive evidence that students who received less than a 3.0 GPA in high school struggled the most to stay in college.”

All school systems should be tracking and taking action on whether their students are making it to and graduating from college. This is the real work.

Though I would suggest that tracking and taking action on whether students are entering a successful career should be another component of this as well.

King & Peiser: College Completion — Charter Schools as Laboratories, The Alumni

Dennis Walcott speaks up about Success Academy controversy

“If Success is a civil rights organization and liberates and educates students of color, then they’re going to have to grapple with this,” Walcott said.

Bloomberg schools chancellor warns Loeb remark could ‘undermine’ Success Academy, Politico

Sometimes responsiveness to parents can result in inequity

Some private and suburban schools are inflating grades, most likely due to pressure from parents. This puts urban kids at a disadvantage when applying to college.

“This is one of those things that works like a contagion,” Weissbourd said. “If you’re an independent school or a suburban school and you’re giving Bs and the school in the next community is giving A-minuses, you start to feel like those kids are going to get a leg up. So you start giving out A-minuses.”

Another example that context is everything (rather than isolated data points supposedly based upon meritocracy). Some colleges are adjusting for this, but most are not.

“A lot of people are going to do what’s best for their own kids,” Nichols said. “They’re trying to set things up to give their kids the best opportunity they can have. And that doesn’t lead to particularly good public policy.”

The newest advantage of being rich in America? Higher grades, The Hechinger Report

UK research shows 2 month progress as result of “dialogic” academic discussions

“Children in Dialogic Teaching schools made two additional months’ progress in English and science, and one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to children in control schools, on average. The three padlock security rating means we are moderately confident that this difference was due to the intervention and not to other factors.”

There was one strange little tidbit in the overview on this, though:

“The consistent results across subjects and the lack of any subject specific content in the training suggest that the approach may improve children’s overall thinking and learning skills rather than their knowledge in a given topic.” (bold added)

This seems like a problematic assertion to me. I think these results across content areas demonstrate that academic discussion holds great potential as a general strategy, which therefore means that if we make it dependent upon domain-specific knowledge, then we can see much greater advances in knowledge, rather than only “overall thinking and learning skills.”

Dialogic Teaching, Education Endowment Foundation

A really good piece from UK educator Harry Fletcher-Wood on approaching planning as a department

I strongly agree with this approach and have begun targeting departmental coherence as my focus when working with ELA teachers here in the Bronx. Fletcher-Wood provides some really concrete and useful guidance on how to do this work.

I’ll be writing more about how I approach this work with ELA teams.

Improving teaching and learning: ideas for heads of department, Improving Teaching