McCleary & the WA Ed Funding Debate

So both House Democrats and Senate Republicans have released their proposed budgets for the 2017-19 biennium, including $44.6 billion and $43 billion respectively for K-12 education funding. At this point I’m not sure I can add much to the conversation and debate over fully funding public education in Washington State, and hopefully, ending $100,000 per day contempt of court fine the WA Supreme Court is levying against the legislature for not meeting its “paramount” duty as ruled in the 2012 McCleary Decision. However, I can pass along a couple of resources for informing yourself and then reaching out to your local legislator, along with a couple other key House and Senate players.

First, check out this Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with the Seattle Times Education Lab reporters. This is a great primer for anyone trying to figure out how our complex education funding system works in Washington State.

Next, you can take action in multple ways:

  1. The Washington Education Association (full disclosure, I’m a member) has a great tool for easily contacting your representatives in the WA State legislator. Simply enter in your address and tailor your message and BOOM you have lobbied your local reps on an issue that matters to you.   Action WEA Link
  2. If you want to go a step further here is the message I’m sending to a few linchpin legislators and their contact info:

As an educator, I support Gov. Jay Inslee’s K-12 budget plan. Please pass a state budget that increases state funding for K-12 public education and fully supports our hardworking teachers and students.
If increased property taxes in the Seattle area are required for those increases, that’s okay with me. If a per pupil funding model turns out to be better than the current Staff Allocation Model, that’s okay with me too.

I strongly oppose the following parts of the proposed Senate bill:
1) Elimination of voter-approved I-1351 to reduce class sizes.
2) Elimination of voter-approved I-732 to provide Cost of Living Allowances for teachers.
3) The lowering of teacher certification requirements, we need more prepared teachers, not less.
4) Drastic cuts to the amount that local municipalities can levy to fund their local school districts. Thank you for postponing the “Levy Cliff”. 

And thank you for your consideration of these important issues.                                                                            

Dino Rossi           360-786-7672    Dino.Rossi@leg.wa.gov

Steve Litzow        360-786-7641    Steve.Litzow@leg.wa.gov

 

 

Teach-Now in Korea

This article originally appeared in the November issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

The Teacher Certification Debate

In America, there are two debates going on about teacher preparation programs; one is happening in the media, among education policy experts and at the highest levels of education administration. The other is happening around kitchen tables in the homes of career-changers, and in coffee shops with college graduates and undergrads, who are interested in becoming a teacher. Both debates are concerned with the structure, quality and quantity of preparation needed to sustain an effective teaching career in U.S. schools in the 21st Century. However, the latter debate also includes concerns about the costs associated with taking a year or two off from making money and instead taking on the prohibitive costs (read: student loan debt) of getting a teacher certification from a traditional school of education.

Case in point: my own path as a teacher has been varied and circuitous because I was most interested in gaining actual experience in the classroom over acquiring more formal theoretical knowledge in grad school. And I found many opportunities in my own community and around the world to get into the classroom, develop a style and a toolkit of my own and grow immediately as a professional. Adding to my uneasiness about grad school was the fact that I was debt free when I finished my undergraduate studies and vehemently wanted to stay that way.

Furthermore, I knew many alums of the many prestigious teacher prep programs at the local universities while working as paraprofessional in a Seattle public school. Many of those teachers told me that the experience I was gaining in the classroom as a teacher’s aide was preparing me as much as or more than a formal Master’s In Teaching program would by itself. I felt frustrated by the limbo between having the relevant experience and lacking a flexible, affordable and high-quality path to teacher certification. It turns out I had to come to Korea to discover the answer to my teacher prep woes!

We should not forget Martin Haberman’s research showing that long-serving “star” teachers are often from low-income backgrounds, have graduated from non-elite colleges, or are people of faith. Others, like Alex Caputo-Pearl, have somewhat radical politics. What makes these nontraditional teachers special is that they are mission-driven to help struggling students succeed, and they are enthusiastic about holding all children to high intellectual standards. Those are the attributes teacher preparation programs should seek.
-Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

Teach-Now, Literally

Emily Feistritzer worked for the U.S. Department of Education studying alternative-route teacher certification programs across the country. After 30 years as a preeminent expert on the subject, she decided to create a program which addressed the holes and inadequacies that she saw in many alternative-route teacher prep programs. Thus, Teach-Now was born; a rigorous, practical and affordable teacher certification program aimed at “preparing tomorrow’s teachers for tomorrow’s learners in tomorrow’s world”.

Apart from the student-teaching portion of the program, the Teach-Now classes and coursework are completed fully online. Assignments, readings, teaching videos, discussions, and professor interaction are all facilitated via the Teach-Now online learning platform which is similar to those of EdX and Coursera. Small cohorts of 15 or fewer teacher candidates and their module instructor meet weekly online, in real time, using the AdobeConnect video conferencing program. Lectures, discussions, flash collaboration mini-projects and analysis of exemplary teaching videos happen in the VC’s (virtual class) by the cohort members and their instructor who could be many thousands of miles apart. In fact, my cohort consisted of three English teachers in three different Korean provinces, five international school teachers in three different provinces of China, an American school teacher’s aide in Germany, and a paraprofessional working in an Arizona charter school.

Teach-Now relies on open source readings and resources from the web, as opposed to expensive textbooks. The resources range from podcasts about Lev Vygotsky and the importance of play in learning, Rick Wormeli YouTube videos on differentiation, and, of course, the writings of John Dewey on progressive teaching methods.  

Where the Teach-Now program really excels and differentiates itself, thanks to Ms. Feistritzer’s vision, is in the hands-on experience teacher candidates get with valuable education technology tools. Assignments ask teacher candidates to analyze and dissect the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in an electronic mind map, create an academic data infographic, collaborate on a debate about blended learning via Voicethread, participate in an ed policy Twitter chat or develop a Pinterest board rich with lesson plan ideas. All individual and group writing assignments are completed, shared and submitted in Google Docs.

The final module or unit of the Teach-Now program is in the mold of a traditional student-teaching practicum in which teacher candidates need to complete 250 hours of in-class instruction in their subject area or grade level of certification. Similarly to traditional student-teaching models, teacher candidates need an experienced mentor teacher to support, observe and evaluate the candidate’s performance. What is different with Teach-Now, is that you also record a class once a week, upload the video to your Google Drive, share it with your instructor and cohort-mates, receive notes on your performance and discuss it at the weekly VC. This professional development method is precisely what the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project calls for in order to better identify and develop the best teachers and teaching strategies.

 

My Experience with Teach-Now in Korea

I had a wonderful experience completing the Teach-Now program from here in Yeosu. The opportunity to achieve my goal of becoming a certificated elementary teacher while living and working abroad, and not going into serious debt, has been a huge gift for which I am grateful. However, there were a few key factors which made the experience possible, as well as a truly rigorous and meaningful preparation that was flexible enough to work with my unique teaching situation. Keep these in mind if you are reading this and are interested in the program.  

First, I had some great cohort-mates who were located in similar time zones in East Asia. They were serious professionals with years of teaching experience before joining the Teach-Now program. I learned a lot from them and received a lot of valuable feedback on my teaching as well.

Second, my Korean co-teacher at my elementary school in Yeosu is a wonderful, progressive teacher with nearly two decades of experience in the classroom as a homeroom teacher, head teacher, English teacher and low-level administrator. Despite her years of experience in Korea, she was eager to learn from my American-style teacher preparation and therefore allowed me to experiment with some distinctly Western-style teaching methods in our English classroom.

Last, I teach a few extra classes on my own, without a co-teacher and without a curriculum. This also allowed me huge amounts of freedom during the practicum especially, but also during the academic modules. I used those free form classes to complete an assignment or put into action an emphasized teaching method.

If you do not have these elements; solid cohort-mates in your time zone, a great Korean co-teacher and some flexibility in your teaching schedule, then you may need to think twice before applying to Teach-Now. Otherwise, go for it!

  

Teach-Now in the News:

Teach-Now as a great alternative-route certification option for military spouses abroad.

Teach-Now program revolutionizes teacher preparation.

Education researcher moves into the certification business.

On Twitter you can follow Teach-Now @teachnowprogram or via #tncohort.

Social-Emotional Ed, Culture & Discipline

In the last week I have read five fascinating articles at the intersection of culture, social-emtional learning and discipline in schools. The first two articles appeared in The Seattle Times in their on-going “Education Lab” series funded by the Gates Foundation. One article reviewed the research and on-going programs in Washington state that are trying to understand and overcome how childhood trauma can affect learning and behavior in schools. The other highlighted schools in the area that are using the Yale RULER social-emotional education program.

The first article, entitled “‘You are more than your mistakes’: Teachers get at roots of bad behavior’”, discussed how researchers and teachers are coming together to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which not only affect the education and behavior of a child in school, but can also affect their adult health. I made many notes about ACEs in my blog post review of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed.

One of the Seattle area schools mentioned in The Times article is West Seattle Elementary. I worked with their staff and principal, Vicki Sacco, in the lead up to my former Seattle school’s application for a ‘Turnaround Schools’ elementary levy grant from the city in 2013. I was also pleased to once again read about the work of Washington State University Professor Chris Blodgett because I had the pleasure of hearing him speak about ACEs and the social-emotional training he leads at schools like Bemiss Elementary in Spokane, Washington.

Next came an AEON Ideas prompt on their beta forum discussing ‘how educators can help end the schools to prison pipeline’ started by Daniel Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He laments the continued disparities in discipline along racial lines in schools across America and urges schools to begin to do the basics to avoid suspending students.

Discipline Disproportionality

Losen does not directly reference the research about the root causes for discipline issues in schools, such as ACEs, but he instead speaks to the imperative of alternative, inclusive and even restorative methods of addressing undesirable or disruptive school behaviors. He says that “well publicized research by Skiba at Indiana University has demonstrated that after controlling for poverty, school principals that embrace zero tolerance discipline philosophy have higher suspension rates and lower test scores than those that fold school discipline into their overall educational mission and strive to keep students in school.” In other words, strict discipline being exacted on kids acting out because of adverse emotional trauma they’ve experienced at home or elsewhere is truly counterproductive. Therefore, Losen suggests that schools start closing the “discipline gap” by not “suspending youth who are truant or tardy” and by limiting “the use of out of school suspension for minor offenses such as disruption or defiance.” Combined with teacher training on ACEs and an integrated social-emotional education program like the Yale RULER, schools could respond to adverse student behaviors proactively and productively.

You can participate in the AEON Ideas discussion forum on the schools to prison pipeline here.

Yale RULER Tool

The last two ed articles are related to one USC Rossier School of Education longitudinal study on the adolescent brain and how culture affects its social development. The study was designed by USC Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and over it’s five year period it will eventually include over 100 participants from Latino, East-Asian and bi-cultural backgrounds.

Half way through the research period, Immordino-Yang claims there are already two big takeaways about learning; first, Immordino-Yang says, “Traditional educational approaches think about emotion the way Descartes did; emotion is interfering with your ability to do well in school, to think rationally. Neuroscience is showing us that that is absolutely not the case—when you take emotion out of thought you have no basis for thought anymore. So we’re trying to understand how socially constructed emotion shapes learning, academic development and identity.” Second, Immordino-Yang says about the difference of our neurological processing of emotions and our outward manifestations of those emotions that, “There were no differences at all in how much these young adults’ brains were activating when they responded to our emotional stories—and no differences in the strengths of emotions that participants in the different cultural groups reported…But there was a strong cultural difference in how patterns of neural activity corresponded in real-time with participants’ experience—in how people became aware of their emotion.”

In other words, emotions play a big role in how we all learn, regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds, and yet those backgrounds do have a differing effect on our awareness and outward expression of those same emotions we all feel.

In one of the study’s tests, participants are asked to run up and down a flight of stairs until they can physically feel their heartbeat. The participants are then hooked up to a heart rate monitor and also simultaneously asked to monitor their heartbeats themselves, marking down every beat they feel. Somewhat astonishingly, the ability to accurately feel your heartbeat can predict the participant’s cultural identity.

“What we find is that among the East-Asian American kids, it’s the kids who are not particularly sensitive to their heartbeats who are saying they strongly hold Asian values, whereas among the Latino kids, it’s those who have a better ability to feel their heartbeat who are saying they strongly hold Latino cultural values,” says Immordino-Yang. “What that tells us is that kids’ natural awareness of visceral sensations may predispose them toward constructing a particular identity. It’s showing us how a very basic biological tendency, which we know is anatomically based, which is mainly kind of innate, is predisposing kids to adopting a particular kind of psychological self, with implications for how they act, what they believe in and who they strive to become.”

Immordino-Yang spells out the implications those results may have for educators and students. “We need to understand that the way kids feel matters. Their embodied experience in the classroom powerfully influences what children take away and how they grow both academically and personally. What science is teaching us, in short, is the need to understand the holistic emotional experience of a person, and the need to account for subjective experience when we design and evaluate educational environments.”

So think about the implications of this study in the context of a child who is growing up in poverty, who is African-American and who has a few Adverse Childhood Experiences. The holistic emotional experience becomes not just part of the learning equation for this child, it becomes the key. Educators have to try and understand how this individual child will emotionally react to different social experiences and different educational experiences because tapping a well of safe and positive emotions will help the child learn. In addition, their future cultural identity is being informed by their physical and neurological reactions to these experiences in schools. A lot is at stake and ignoring social-emotional learning, cultural backgrounds and the importance of positive discipline policies is inexcusable.

Look for more from me on the Immordino-Yang study in the coming weeks, as I will expand on my impressions of the implications of this study based on my experiences working in elementary schools in Latin America and East Asia. Unshocking spoiler; the study reinforces much of what I already assumed about how culture shapes how we learn. But, I will try not to generalize too much and I will try to give some specific examples of experiences that I have teaching abroad that will hopefully add to the discussion on this research.

Ed Book Review: The Teacher Wars

The Teacher Wars was on many lists as the education book to read in 2014. Dana Goldstein spent more than three years exploring the 175 year history of the American education system, focusing on the major debates and controversies that have persisted around the teaching profession, including teacher tenure, evaluation systems, merit pay, and teacher preparation.

teacher-wars

“Teaching is a wildly contentious profession in America, one attacked and admired in equal measure. In The Teacher Wars, a rich, lively, and unprecedented history of public school teaching, Dana Goldstein reveals that teachers have been similarly embattled for nearly two centuries.

The Teacher Wars upends the conversation about American education by bringing the lessons of history to bear on the dilemmas we confront today. By asking ‘How did we get here?’ Dana Goldstein brilliantly illuminates the path forward.”

There is a good interview with Goldstein on the Education Writers Association podcast in which Goldstein is asked to point out the lineage of ideas between major education figures past and present. Here are the important education figures who “embodied” the same ideas and controversies in different eras. All of these figures feature prominently in the book. In addition, the podcast also features a great discussion of the role of feminism and sexism in the history of American public education, which is quite possibly the most unique exploration of the book.

Wendy Kopp and Catherine Beecher

Wendy Kopp is, of course, the founder of Teach For America, a charter school advocate and the modern day proponent for “missionary teachers”.

Catherine Beecher, is the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe and daughter of a Calvinist preacher. Beecher wanted to recruit elite east coast woman, train them for five weeks and send them west to rural one room school houses. “Beecher was a lifelong opponent of women’s suffrage; she thought politics a dirty game that would corrupt women’s God-given virtue. But that virtue, she thought, made women the ideal educators. Beecher saw the home and the school as intertwined, two naturally feminine realms in which women could nurture the next generation.”

Michelle Rhee and William McAndrew

Michelle Rhee is the former chancellor of D.C. public schools and William McAndrew was the superintendent of the Chicago public school system after the turn of the century. Both were/are big proponents of using student data to evaluate teachers, both fired a lot of teachers in order to improve education outcomes and because they feel/felt passionately that education is always about students. Thus, schools “are not set up to protect teachers.”

“Student test scores had increased incrementally under Rhee, but it turned out D.C. voters saw their public schools—which had been some of the first in the nation for African Americans—as more than just achievement factories: They were neighborhood meeting places, sources of treasured civil service jobs, and repositories of community history and racial pride.”

Mike Feinberg/David Levin (KIPP) and Anna Julia Cooper

Feinberg and Levin are the founders of the well-regarded KIPP network of “No Excuses” urban charter schools and Ms. Cooper, the daughter of a slave and the white man who owned her, was an extremely accomplished and respected teacher who taught for more than six decades in Carolina and D.C. schools. Ms. Cooper may very well have been the unwitting mother of “No Excuses” urban education for children of color. She employed a militaristic school culture to achieve her high expectations for her black students; nothing short of a college education.

“Klein had never before seen black children engaged in such feats of intellectualism, and he reported in his subsequent book that Cooper was one of the most skilled teachers he had ever met. He was also impressed with her strict disciplinary strategies. She required M Street’s 530 students to walk the hallways in military silence (a common practice at today’s “no excuses” charter schools). Each school day began with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.”

Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie

Carnegie and other industrialist education reformers were big on vocational education for southern black students. They partnered with Booker T. Washington, government, schools and educators on the ground to push this agenda.

The Gates Foundation is an education policy juggernaut, influencing national, state and local school policies simply by the enormous sums of money they grant. They also partner with governments, education bodies, non-profits, districts, schools and teachers on the ground to study and experiment with different pedagogies, teacher evaluation systems, and leadership structures.

“In 2009 economist Thomas Kane and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation began a massive study on teacher effectiveness, known as the MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) project…..And the Gates Foundation MET study found that when teachers are observed by both principals and peers, observation scores are more likely to match value-added ratings than when principals alone do the observing. The MET project’s concluding report had a peculiar circular logic, in which all teacher evaluation methods were judged according to how strongly they correlated with value-added scores. Given the Gates Foundation’s longtime orientation toward measurable student achievement gains, that is no surprise. Yet another interpretation of the study’s results is that classroom observations and value-added scores actually measure different elements of successful teaching, and thus should be used side by side even—perhaps especially—when they do turn up different results.”

 

 

In the Epilogue, subtitled “Lessons from history for improving teaching today”, Ms. Goldstein draws a few conclusions about the history of American education policy issues and in turn outlines a few suggestions on how to improve both the profession for adults and the education for children based on those lessons from history. In general, I am on board with all of her suggestions. The devil is in the details, of course. That being said, many of theses suggestions are well worn topics within the education community, and from my experience most teachers would see them as reasonable and welcome changes.

Below I have included the headings of her improvement outline, my favorite quotes from those sections and a few of my own thoughts in italics.

 

Teacher Pay Matters:

“The worst part is that teachers’ income stagnate in comparison to their college-educated peers just as people begin to think about starting a family or buying a home. This is undoubtedly one reason why some ambitious people leave or never enter the profession, and why teaching is less culturally respected than it should be.”

It’s hard to argue that salary level does not equal professional prestige in America. Many teachers have the same level of education as doctors and lawyers, yet there are few teachers who reach the same pay grade as the starting salaries for those professions. As Goldstein rigorously points out in the book, the unequal pay for equal education has it’s historic roots in sexist attitudes towards the perceived ‘female’ profession of teaching. However, teacher salary certainly plays a role in the current debates on the value of public education and a good teacher.

 

Create Communities of Practice:

“In New York City and Chicago, a coalition of charter networks launched the Relay Graduate School of Education, which teaches “no excuses” techniques to first-year teachers seeking an alternative certification.”

“Yet it should remain intellectually diverse, since different communities have different expectations of schools, ranging from strict discipline to Montessori. Communities of practice should be able to demonstrate to states that they are rigorous and evidence based. Once they are, they could earn the freedom to choose their own curricula, assessments, and teacher evaluation practices.”

My Personal Learning Network is growing and becoming robust. I am part of a Project-based Learning community on Google+ and count differentiation experts like Rick Wormeli as regular Twitter contacts. I have taken one Professional Development MOOC via the Relay Graduate School of Education, and have plans to take another later this spring. I believe that this idea of communities of practice, who specialize, support and develop people, ideas and techniques is a powerful one.

 

Keep Teaching Interesting:

“In Singapore, after three years on the job a teacher selects one of three leadership paths to pursue, in curriculum writing, school administration, or instructional mentoring.”

This is critical. For me, teaching and learning is not all about the students, however controversial that is to say in this day and age. As long as adults are involved in the work of educating children, the work is about both children and adults, students and teachers. We can’t expect to engage children in schools if the teachers are not engaged themselves.

 

Deal with the Legacy of the Normal School:

“We should not forget Martin Haberman’s research showing that long-serving “star” teachers are often from low-income backgrounds, have graduated from non-elite colleges, or are people of faith. Others, like Alex Caputo-Pearl, have somewhat radical politics. What makes these nontraditional teachers special is that they are mission-driven to help struggling students succeed, and they are enthusiastic about holding all children to high intellectual standards. Those are the attributes teacher preparation programs should seek.”

Like identifying and developing the next great NFL quarterback, I’m quite sure we don’t have those processes mastered for the next great teacher. This is certainly an area of education that is a mixture of inherent character, art and science. As a graduate of an alternative-route certification program, I have to believe that successful and sustainable teachers can come from many backgrounds and forms of training. For me, what is important to remember, is the above essential qualities that research has identified as the indicators of a “star” teacher.

 

Focus on the Principal as much as the Teacher:

“And we shouldn’t overburden principals with reams of teacher accountability paperwork. As banal as it sounds, paperwork is the major reason that historical attempts to improve teacher evaluation failed. Teacher rating rubrics must get “put on a diet,” The New Teacher Project recommended in 2013. How about focusing on ten effective instructional behaviors each school year instead of sixty?”

After reading this, and following the blog back and forth on Ed Week between Michelle Rhee and Jack Schneider last year, so many of the long-standing, seemingly intractable debates around the teaching profession hinge on effectively, fairly and efficiently evaluating teachers. I believe that a lot of rancor and hand wringing about how to hire, fire and develop effective teachers, along with improving education outcomes for those students who need it most, would be mitigated if it was easy to identify, assess and evaluate good teaching. It seems like it should be simple, history has proven it is not.

 

Return Test to their Rightful Role as Diagnostic Tools:

“While we once used tests to draw conclusions mostly about the capacities of individual students, today we believe they tell us much less about the student than about his or her teacher.”

Amen. ‘Nuff said.

 

Teachers Benefit from Watching each other work:

“Ideally, school districts that serve at-risk children would limit their supply of first-year teachers when adequate veterans are available. Another idea would be to change the structure of teachers’ workdays so all effective veterans spend some time watching novice teachers work and coaching them. Beginner teachers, in turn, should have time to observe veterans’ classrooms and to work with colleagues to plan effective, engaging lessons.”

If you could separate the Measurements of Effective Teaching framework (MET) from the Gates Foundation and their lightning rod ed policy status, I think most ed policy wonks, administrators and teachers would have to admit that it includes a comprehensive set of elements to develop and support effective teachers, and evaluate them. The Teach-Now clinical student-teaching process is a facsimile of the MET professional development structure; watching exemplary teachers in action, focused methods of emphasis, recording our own classes, self-reflection, analysis by peer community, evaluation by an expert mentor teacher, discussion of strengths and weaknesses, and identification of specific techniques to focus on next time.

Recruit more Men and People of Color:

“Men are more likely than women to value higher pay, and teachers of color are more likely than white teachers to have student debt to pay off.”

I am a man, I am interested in being a teacher and educator for life. I am also interested in supporting my family and pursuing professional interests. I can’t speak for people of color, but it seems like all people are interested in professions that allow them to pay off their student loan debt, support a family and improve professionally.

 

End Outdated Union Protections:

“Yet LIFO makes little sense as research tells us more about what effective teaching looks like. A sensible layoff policy would use seniority as a tiebreaker between teachers with similar levels of performance on the job.”

LIFO stands for Last in, First out, the policy that favors teachers with more years in the profession, over more effective teachers, at least when making staffing decisions. It has a negative connotation in that it emphasizes the supposed job security experienced, yet ineffective teachers have. I’m not against the idea of only using it as a tiebreaker, but I am trying to break into the profession, so….

 

Let a Thousand Policy Flowers Bloom:

“Just a decade ago the movement to desegregate schools was considered hopelessly outdated; today a growing number of charter school leaders acknowledge the research showing that integration promotes academic achievement and social-emotional growth for all kids.”

This speaks to a return to a more decentralized system, one that is more diverse because it is less influenced by the national government’s Race to the Top grant programs or similar reform-minded monies available through the Gates Foundation. Desegregation of schools as a tool to close the achievement gap is not on anyone’s radar in the U.S. public school district I last worked in. The issue of racially segregated schools that reflect the national achievement gaps between white students and students of color was talked about a lot, but no one ever suggested reinstating the old busing policies that were in place when I attended those same schools. Is there a way to combine community schools and desegregated schools within some districts?

 

Be Real about the Limitations of our System:

“The United States Constitution never mentions education, leaving it as a responsibility of states, cities, and towns. Today only 13 percent of the financial support for local schools comes from Washington, with the rest about evenly divided between municipal property taxes and state funding.”

“In the absence of these “bridging instruments” between policy and practice, I fear American politics will continue to reflect profound disappointment in teachers, and teachers themselves will continue to feel embattled. But there is hope. If we accept the limitations of our decentralized political system, we can move toward a future in which sustainable and transformative education reforms are seeded from the ground up, not imposed from the top down. They will be built more upon the expertise of the best teachers than on our fears of the worst teachers. This is how we will achieve an end to the teacher wars.”

Having realistic expectations for our school system is a huge, enormous, elephant-in-the-room-sized issue in all this controversy around education reform, past and present. First of all, it needs to be expressly made clear by local, state and federal government education agencies that now an official part of their mission is to fight poverty. Ideally, there would be a big public debate on the issue, both in the public sphere and in Congress, which would result in this being codified into law somehow. Otherwise, it’s an assumption that varies with the governing party or politician, and lacks any clear long-term direction or funding, and will always come with some serious confusion and debate. The implications of such a public debate would be profound. For example, if we really want our teachers to be educators, mentors, community pillars, psychologists, event planners, project managers, triage specialists and anti-poverty missionaries, then we’ve got to value their work as such and provide them with the commensurate pay and support.

In the mean time, teachers tend to be the scapegoat for not living up to the outsized expectations in an environment of scarcity. There have been moments in the last decade, especially following the release and furor over the “Waiting for Superman” documentary, in which teachers could rightly feel similarly to returning Vietnam War vets in the 60’s and 70’s. Teachers found themselves looking around and saying, “I did my duty, I served my country, I did my best to survive and complete my mission, and in turn my country blames me for a political problem?!”

If only teachers had more time to wine like this, but the truth is they don’t. Most teachers are too busy worrying about their students, planning the next lesson, calling a parent, wondering when they will get their next bathroom break, or generally going balls out to end poverty!

To be clear, no one is asking the general public for a free pass for teachers. High expectations and accountability are to be expected in public service. Just remember who is really to blame for an unclear mission and chronically underfunded schools; the politicians!

South Korea Education in the News

Lately, there have been a few trending education articles in the U.S that have mentioned the South Korean education system, comparing it favorably to that of the American K-12 ed system. These references to Korean education, and other Asian education exemplars, Hong Kong, Shanghai, etc, follow the usual U.S. media narrative of marvel, favorable comparison and limited perspective. There are certainly many aspects of the Han River Miracle which can be attributed to praiseworthy aspects of the Korean education system. And I would always acknowledge the value in observing and taking note of the strengths and innovations of foreign education systems. However, in my opinion and with few exceptions, U.S. educators, policy makers and journalists tend to selectively cite the Korean education system, ignorant to a few key realities here. As a Native English Teacher currently teaching in a public elementary school in the Jeollanamdo Province of South Korea, I’d like to make a few observations in response to a couple recent headline-making ed articles in the US.

 

OECD Instructional Hours

First, in a widely-read guest post on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post, Ellie Herman makes a compelling argument on the extreme challenges that result in high rates of teacher burnout in inner-city, high-poverty American schools. I want to first say that I do not for one minute doubt the veracity of her burnout story, as I have seen it happen first-hand with my classroom teacher colleagues in a Title I public school in Seattle that I worked at before coming to Korea. I know that teachers in these challenging, high-poverty schools in the U.S. operate in “executive function overload” for most, if not all, of the school year. Part of the problem certainly is disproportionate amount of instructional time versus planning time in the US. Herman also writes about the other major problem, that teacher “planning time” is either so structured and prescribed by district mandates, Common Core trainings, staff meetings, or Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) that it cannot seriously be considered planning time. Or, teachers have many parents to contact, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting to attend to discuss the special needs of one student, a School Improvement Team (SIT) meeting to attend to discuss the behavior of one student, nevermind a leadership team or union meeting to help further an innovative school or professional initiative. For me, there is no question that in most Title I schools in the U.S. there is little to no time during a long work day to actually plan relevant, differentiated lessons. That kind of lesson planning requires time to reflect, time to create materials and time with a brain that is not in a constant state of emergency.

That being said, there is one statistic cited in Herman’s piece that I had to question and feeds into the rosy and incomplete picture of the Korean education system that many Americans most likely have. Herman writes that according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the research and policy organization of the developed world, “the average secondary school teacher in the U.S. puts in 1,051 instructional hours per year” while the average Korean teacher puts in 609 hours. Admittedly, I am not sure where that Korean instructional hours number comes from exactly, how it was calculated or what report Herman found it in. This is what I do know, the average Korean homeroom teacher on the elementary level spends at least four hours a day in front of students according to my own Korean colleagues in my school. That means that in a single school year, which lasts 220 days here versus 180 days in the US, the average homeroom teacher would teach 880 hours. From what I know the same estimation would be true for secondary teachers here in Korea, and this is a conservative estimate for both. Even if you estimate an average of four instructional hours a day over a 180 day school year, Korean teachers would still teach 720 instructional hours per year on average.

As you can see, my rudimentary calculations confuse the OECD findings for me. I speculate that the Korea number and the U.S. number are skewed, Korea to the lower end and the U.S. to the higher end. In Korea they hire many contract teachers, a category of teacher we do not have in the American public schools system. These contract teachers may teach a specific subject like art, music or English and have a defined amount of weekly instructional hours that may average out to 3 hours or less per day. In contrast, in the U.S. we do have some 0.5 FTE teachers, but usually we bring their status up to 1.0 by combining part-time positions, or the teacher has full-time instructional hours cobbled together at multiple schools. Thus, these contract teachers may skew the number downward for Korea, while the hiring and funding systems of the U.S. produce more teachers with full-time instructional hour schedules.

 

OECD Homework Hours

Another OECD education statistic which confused me this last week came from a Vox.com article on the amount of time students spend on homework in developed countries. Again, I am unsure of the methods that the OECD used to collect this homework data, nor I am sure of what specific OECD education report Vox is referencing. In any case, the article displays the following graph which shows that Korea is second only to Finland in how few hours students spend on homework per week.

Homework Hours

This statistic absolutely shocked me as a teacher currently working in Korea. Unless the Korean education system has significantly ramped up the amount of homework given to students since 2012, and did so without regard for the already outstanding PISA results of their students, then I am baffled as to how this number was tabulated. I have no hard data on the amount of homework my elementary students or secondary students in general in Korea undertake each week, but within the country the workload of Korean students is notoriously and proudly high. Parents and educators are not ashamed to say that students should spend long, hard hours studying. For example, most of the students at my school attend the famous or infamous hagwons or after-school academies where they sometimes get even more rigorous instruction in STEM subjects, English as a Second Language, or the arts as they do in their regular homeroom. More to the point, students receive homework from their hagwon on top of the homework they get from school. I would assume that most of my elementary students do more than OECD number of three hours per week in homework just from their regular school studies. And from what they tell me, and what I see after school, they are doing much more than that when you include their hagwon workload. I’m talking about 3rd and 4th graders here!

 

Korean Education Realities

In the past few weeks there have been two realities that have been revealed to me about the Korean education system, which I somehow suspect will never make it into a Washington Post international education policy article. These facts of the Korean education system are completely unrelated to each other, but they both add some complexity to the discourse about the merits and shortcomings of the Korean and American systems.

The first is an allegedly atrocious act by a Korean hagwon teacher here in Yeosu, my town of residence. The police have taken into custody a teacher who allegedly beat a 6th grade student with a Kendo stick causing her to fall, hit her head and die. The police are investigating, but there are reports that the girl stole something from the unregistered, illegal hagwon and at the request of her parents she was corporally punished by the hagwon teacher, leading to her death. Corporal punishment was essentially outlawed in schools in 2012, but there is a significant legacy here and it is not without it’s proponents in the current teacher ranks in Korea.

Second, in my teacher certification program we were asked to identify the primary objectives of the district in which we work so that we could align our unit and lesson planning to meet both the district objectives and the educational standards. I worked with my wonderful Korean co-teacher to translate the Jeollanamdo Office of Education objectives into English. The one that stood out was this, “Reduce the workload of teachers.” I think most teachers in the U.S. would consider this an unfathomable objective to propose in a district strategic planning meeting, even if they thought it to be a good and reasonable idea that would net better outcomes for students.

I mention these two things because they add some nuance to the perception of the Korean education system. Like most things, the system here is not black and white, it is not all academic gains and happy students, nor is it all rigorous teaching based on extensive planning time. There are significant systemic problems here too. These problems are functions of the local culture and context, just as many of the strengths of the Korean education system result from the specific socioeconomic and cultural situation of the country. I think Ellie Herman makes a strong case for more unstructured planning time for U.S. teachers and I also think there is significant research that says that, depending on the developmental stage of a student, a certain amount of homework can start to do more harm than good. Considering our unique makeup in America, Korea and Finland will not always show us the way educationally speaking, and these statistical comparisons can act as red herrings. If the logic and the research are there, lets rely more heavily on those arguments. If we are going to use international comparisons to boost our policy point, lets be more rigorous in our acknowledgement of the nuance unique to each educational system.

What We Know Now (and How It Doesn’t Matter)

Doing some fall cleaning of my Education email archive and came across this blog post link. Happy to repost Dr. Furman’s piece on what we already know about what works in education based on scientific research. This is a good resource of research-based information and the links to scholarly ed articles.

radical eyes for equity

Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos (2006) explores the evolution and Intelligent Design (ID) debate that represents the newest attack on teaching evolution in U.S. public schools. The documentary is engaging, enlightening, and nearly too fair considering Olson admits upfront that he stands with scientists who support evolution as credible science and reject ID as something outside the realm of science.

Olson’s film, however, offers a powerful message that rises above the evolution debate. Particularly in the scenes depicting scientists discussing (during a poker game) why evolution remains a target of political and public interests, the documentary shows that evidence-based expertise often fails against clear and compelling messages (such as “teach the controversy”)—even when those clear and compelling messages are inaccurate.

In other words, ID advocacy has often won in the courts of political and public opinion despite having no credibility within the discipline it claims to inform—evolutionary biology.

With that…

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Bill Gates on Teacher Feedback

Feedback For Bill

Bill Gates’ most recent Ted Talk already has over a million views and has made its rounds through the interwebs in a variety of ways. The theme of this Gates talk is on teacher feedback and the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) which his Gates Foundation has developed. He identifies the key elements of MET:

  • Video recordings of lessons
  • Identification of effective teaching practices like deep questioning and providing multiple ways of explaining or demonstrating an idea
  • Student surveys of their teachers

I am currently in the middle of the clinical portion of the Teach-Now teacher certification program. This is a unique, all online certification program and as a result it requires us to record our lessons during our student-teaching clinical practicum. I am pleased to say that the teacher preparation program has asked me to do all three of the key elements of MET system. I have developed and implemented two student feedback and goal-setting surveys. I record one lesson per week to be evaluated by myself, my Korean co-teacher and my Teach-Now instructor. We use the District of Columbia’s IMPACT Teaching and Learning Framework to identify and develop my effective teaching practices, or those that are lacking at this point.

Without getting too much into what has become Gates’ controversial role in education, I would like to point out a few flaws and misconceptions he presents in his talk. Like many big-picture ed policy players, he is quite focused on the failings of the US education system when compared to those of other developed or developing nations. He displays a graphic that shows that 11 out of 14 countries who are ahead of the US in terms of student reading proficiency have a formal teacher feedback system in place already. Interestingly, Finland, which is often held up as the exemplar education system for how they prepare teachers, the quality of education for all students, and the test results they have as a nation, does not have a formal teacher feedback system.

At minute 3:05, Gates uses the much bandied buzzword in education over the past 15 years, ‘failing’, as in the US education system is failing, among many other things, to give teachers adequate feedback to grow as effective educators. He implicitly makes the specious correlation between anemic or absent formal teacher feedback systems and our student achievement rates in reading, math and science. More questionably, he is also implying that Shanghai’s and South Korea’s student achievement scores on international standardized tests like the PISA is due in large part to the development of effective teachers through robust teacher feedback systems.

I say that these are specious implications because I am unaware of any research which makes the correlation between a good teacher feedback system and student achievement results. Nor am I aware of any research that indicates that a certain teacher feedback system has developed better teachers who get better results in their students. Maybe I am ignorant to this body of research. Please let me know!

However, he is also positing an utterly simplistic notion that teacher feedback systems are at the root of student achievement in Shanghai, South Korea and elsewhere. I work as an English teacher in Yeosu, South Korea. From my experience of the South Korean education system’s professional development this seems like a specious argument in many ways. One South Korean commenter on the Ted Talk site put forward another reason for student achievement in his country, one of many contributing factors:

Gates cites Shanghai’s teacher feedback system as exemplary and says it includes:

  • Younger teachers have the opportunity to watch master teachers at work
  • Weekly study groups where teachers talk about best practices
  • Peer observation and feedback among teachers within a school

Well, this interesting because the last US school I worked in had a professional development system which included weekly Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), learning walks where teachers did peer observations based on the Danielson Framework, and we had Board Certified teachers mentoring University of Washington student-teachers in their classrooms. It had room for improvement as a formal ‘system’, but it had the components and I believe many other schools and school districts already have this in place.

Gates makes the claim that, “If today’s average teachers could become as good as those (highly effective) teachers, then our students would be blowing away the rest of the world.” I am not obsessed with the achievement results of American students compared with their international counterparts. I know that I don’t want American children to have the same childhood and student pressures that a South Korean student has, even if that means we are below them in the math and reading PISA rankings. I am concerned with my students’ growth as learners and people from the day they first enter my classroom. That is a personal evaluation which is much more valuable and relevant to both the teacher and student, but less so for policymakers.

Despite some of these critiques, I think that teacher feedback as a part of professional growth is an inherent good for the education field. Every teacher should want to develop and grow their practice and I think student surveys, observation of master teachers and recording one’s own lessons are certainly integral parts of that feedback formula. If Bill Gates is desirous to put his considerable clout and force behind an effort to improve and professionalize teacher feedback, kudos to him, I’m confident some good will come of that effort. In fact, you can read about 6 tools for teacher feedback on the Gates Notes blog, where he surveys how ed tech apps and services like Edmodo and ThinkCERCA are helping teachers better evaluate themselves and their students along with developing better lesson plans. There are some very interesting sounding tools there that I will have to do further research on later.

The absolute best part of the entire Ted Talk does not include Gates, but instead a teacher, and not just any teacher. Sarah Brown Wessling is a superstar teacher featured regularly on the Teaching Channel site. Her comment about capturing video of her classes is the key takeaway from the entire Ted Talk, “I think it is a way to exemplify and illustrate things that we cannot convey in a lesson plan, things you cannot convey in a standard…or book of pedagogy.” And I furthermore agree with Gates’ conclusion following the Wessling interlude, that, “You should be able to watch a video of the best teacher in the world teaching fractions.” The Teaching Channel is good start to such a resource, but I am sure there is more and better to come.