David Brooks: Data-driven Politics is a Fiasco

Oh David, it’s not such a big leap to apply this pholosphy to education, is it?

Diane Ravitch's blog

Education is being destroyed by data-driven decision-making. The algorithms make no sense. VAM doesn’t correctly identify teacher quality. The essence of good teaching cannot be reduced to a number. The metrics are fraudulent. Big data misleads. People cannot be treated as widgets.

Now David Brooks is saying these things about our politics.

He writes:

“Unfortunately, the whole thing has been a fiasco. As politics has gotten more scientific, the campaigns have gotten worse, especially for the candidates who overrely on these techniques.

“That’s because the data-driven style of politics is built on a questionable philosophy and a set of dubious assumptions. Data-driven politics is built on a philosophy you might call Impersonalism. This is the belief that what matters in politics is the reaction of populations and not the idiosyncratic judgment, moral character or creativity of individuals.”

Just substitute the words “education” or “schooling,” and the same points are valid…

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Committee to Advance Teacher Compensation & Careers: One True Thing…Please!

The parking lot was already full, and the skies had just opened when I arrived for the Town Hall meeting hosted by the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. Attending a meeting called by a group with a name like this should stir up the excitement and anticipation of being on the brink of something new and wonderful. A committee had been appointed by the governor for the purpose of advancing my compensation, and my career? Of course, not one committee member knows me personally, nor are they thinking of any particular individual’s quality of life, or career. But they were obviously commissioned to develop a plan to advance the compensation and careers of teachers in the state, and I am one. And advancement is good, right?

Only a teacher who’s been in a coma for the last 5 years would be fooled by a title like that. What one thing has Governor Markell proposed or implemented that has improved the quality of life for any teacher in the state? Indicated any concern about the careers of teachers? What one thing has Governor Markell proposed or implemented that has improved conditions in our schools? Or better equipped teachers to meet the diverse needs of students?

What Governor Markell has implemented is a relentless assault on teachers by crushing them with untold hours of meaningless “data” gathering and recording, less actual prep time so that after work hours paperwork is not only unavoidable, but at an all-time high for most; an unfair and burdensome evaluation system that even the state admits needs work, and torturous PLC’s good only for the embellishment of someone else’s resume.

Now this. His coup de grace. A way to demean and divide teaching professionals throughout the state once and for all: Create a low-wage work force, in competition for the very limited number of extra pay positions that are temporary, and, so far, undefined.

Name one thing, one true thing, Governor Markell has implemented with positive consequences for teachers or teaching in the state of Delaware.

The Tipping Point

Being “first” doesn’t always mean a win.
The writer makes a valid point about the what could be called a relentless onslaught of of “implementations” that have so exhausted those on the front lines, they have just enough energy to function day to day in their classrooms.
This week, I have STEM projects to grade and record, Benchmarks to grade and record, report card grades to be entered, and two PLC’s which will eat up precious time that could be used for these and other instruction related tasks.
And, oh yeah, I’m teaching too – in a room with flourescent lights that sound like an amplified bee hive. They drive me crazy, and even my students ask, “Could we please turn out the lights?’
So, too, while reform proponents are talking about a “world-class” education – (whatever that is), many teachers are in the dark about what is brewing on local, state and national levels regarding their profession, and how though it too may pass, will cause irreparable harm to our profession and to our children.

Minding My Matters

Since I began teaching in August of 2001, there have been many changes in education. For every change, every transition, every “newfangled” thing, there have been folks all around saying, “this, too, shall pass. We’ve seen it come and we’ll watch it go, and if we’re lucky enough to still be around, we’ll see it come back again later.” Part of me believes that’s exactly why the education profession has become so degraded and maligned; if educators always blow with the wind and never stand up IN PUBLIC for what we know is right, we become part of the problem. But that’s a story for another day.

Over the past year there has been a groundswell of awareness of and disciplined rebellion against the never-ending parade of reforms with associated acronyms often more memorable than the actual name of the regulation. Article after article has surfaced demonstrating multiple angles behind…

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@DSEA1 and all DE teachers: Does this document reflect your views?

This document in no way reflects the reports of teacher participants presented at a recent association meeting.
My suggestion at that time is that we refuse to participate, because, as history as taught us, teacher participants are only being used as pawns in the games of this administration. And notice in the introduction that teacher participation was emphasized.

“They” allow the illusion of participation, if being heard, but, once again, teachers are being used. And allowing it.

Remember “Seatwork”? It’s ba-ack!!!

The bees are angry, and ready to swarm. At this week’s second PLC, a “Common Core Aligned Unit Template” was introduced to all teachers. It’s one of those things that an over eager graduate student might produce, or perhaps someone from district or D0E with too much time on their hands and a fat paycheck to justify. Whoever authored it, though, is surely someone who has spent little to no time as a classroom teacher. Of that, we are certain.

First of all, a refresher as to what constitutes a “unit” in the planning of instruction. A unit should not be confused with a lesson. A unit is a collection of lessons on a particular topic. For example, a unit of fractions might include lessons on “learning fractional parts”, “comparing fractions”, “ordering fractions on a number line”, “adding fractions with like denominators”, “subtracting fractions with like denominators”, and so on. A unit of instruction may take about a month to complete.
Back to the template. The template itself is 5 pages long, with “spaces” for answers to questions about some specifics of the unit, but also, how instruction will be delivered to a diverse student group, and assessed. Sounds reasonable, right? Let me share with you just one of the questions on this Common Core Aligned Unit Template:

Relevance/ Rationale/ Essential Questions: Why are the outcomes of this unit important in the real world? Why are these outcomes essential for future learning? What are the essential  questions the students will need to be able to answer? What are the differing levels of questions  that you will use for students to answer?

Yes, this is just one of the questions on the 5 page, 8 question and reflection guide template. How would one adequately answer this question? How much time would be required to do so? I’m usually not one to respond superficially, and anticipate this to take a lot more than the three and a half inch space below it. But of course, this is a template so I am not limited to three and a half inches. I recently completed a unit with my students that had thirteen essential questions. (And that is just one part of the four part question) Consider, too, that I teach 7 different units to two different levels throughout the year. Imagine the length of just one completed document; of a year’s worth.

And, really, who would read it anyway?

The Essential Question here is “What is the purpose for this type of curriculum reconstruction by those on the front lines?” I don’t disagree about the significance of the question, but I do disagree with where this work should take place.

This is work for the curriculum specialists, the curriculum designers, not the classroom teacher. This is what the folks making the big bucks at the district office or DoE should be doing. This is heavy, thoughty, time consuming stuff. Stuff that should be delivered to those engaged to teach. If teacher input is valued, schedule a summer institute and pay teachers to build the curriculum. After all, the teacher must plan the lessons, gather materials, create materials, differentiate for individual needs, teach, assess learning, reteach when necessary, confer with students, confer with parents, record parent conferences, record progress, copy, administer, grade, and record the state Measure B tests, copy, administer, assess and record district benchmarks, attend IEP and 504 meetings, complete FBA forms, complete student collateral forms, complete questionnaires from students’ physicians, teach STEM lessons, grade STEM projects, prepare work to be completed for suspended and sick students, prepare DPAS documents, perform hall and bus duty, and yes, attend PLC meetings during what once was planning time. This list is not complete, nor does it include the occasional blog posting.

We’re angry, state and district officials. Angry that you choose to pour resources into developing busy work like this for already burdened teachers rather than investing in smaller class sizes, increased planning time (No lectures, please. Just planning.), and the critically needed services for our most disadvantaged students. We’re angry too, because we know why you do it. You take the onus off yourselves for reform, for rigor, and meeting diverse needs, and place it on the “workers”. You do it because it’s easier. Easier for YOU.






If It Ain’t Broke

The current buzz among teachers at my middle school is the loss of our rotating schedule. An example of a rotating schedule would be as follows: Monday’s first period class is Tuesday’s second period, Wednesday’s third, Thursday’s fourth, and so on. At fewer than 25 days into the 2014-2015 school year, there are murmurings about “that last block” of students. They’re “chatty”, “inattentive”, “antsy”, “parading to the bathroom”, and “watching the clock”.

Should we expect anything different? Most of these young adolescents left their homes in the dark pre-dawn hour, struggled through first period to stay awake, made it through lunch, and are nearing the finish line. Many can hear the arrival of the afternoon busses, and their minds are on the race to “their” seat, seeing their friends, and freedom.

Several years ago when I began using data from state tests to assess the growth of my math students, a pattern emerged. Each year, my last class of the day had the lowest measure of growth. Some years the gap was smaller than others, but the gap was always there. I brought this to the attention of my principal, who responded with a condescending “that’s interesting”, and passed on the opportunity to examine, or even glance, at the data I had gathered and organized into a small binder.

Eventually, though, a rotating schedule was introduced at our middle school. Some wondered if the students could figure it out, but the reality was that they caught on more quickly than a lot of the teachers. Early on, I remember thinking between classes, “What’s next? Sixth grade? Eighth grade? Intervention? Silent reading?”

Gradually, we all settled into the routine and were glad we didn’t have that tough class first period all year, or last period all year, and that chronically late students weren’t always missing the first fifteen minutes or so of the same class.

Late arrivals are more than a disruption and inconvenience, and they are costing so much more than 15 minutes of lost instructional time. They are usually playing catch up for the rest of the class, a distraction to their peers, and often distracted (and distressed) themselves by their last interactions with a frantic parent.

Students with early dismissals for any variety of reason were now not consistently missing the same class or portion of the same class. The rotating schedule seemed to create a balance that minimized the affects of several intrusive and negative factors.

But the biggest impact seemed to be on student achievement. Sure, I still had one class that achieved the most growth, and another that lagged in comparison, but this was not destined to be determined by the time of the day I had those students in class. This seemed to confirm the validity of the data I had collected.

It was a beautiful thing, really. Running smoothly for several years. Not a point of contention among staff – and there were plenty that could have been addressed. But a rotating schedule is now a thing of the past in our district. Decreed by some unnamed administrator in the castle, with no teacher input. One person. And if my suspicion is correct, I have never seen that person in our school, nor heard of a visit to any of our schools.

“If it ain’t broke……..”