Thoughtful Tech for Students & Teachers

I am on a serious podcast kick. My forty minute to an hour commute affords me ample time to consume almost a podcast a day. Vox editor, Ezra Klein, consistently refers to himself and his guests as “infovores” and while I wouldn’t dare put myself in a class with Ta’Nehisi Coates and Tyler Cowen, I would like to consider myself an infovore too.

Here’s what podcasts I’ve been tuning into lately:

  • S-Town – A strange saga of a small Alabama town and one of its eccentric denizens
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – Work and live smart, but don’t expect to be as successful or productive as Tim Ferriss himself
  • Recode Decode – Tech- and media-centered podcast featuring the incisive Kara Swisher
  • The Ezra Klein Show – The Vox editor interviews fantastically interesting and important thinkers and infovores (my personal favorite podcast)

Last, On Being with Krista Tippett has been a podcast and radio staple for years now. If you don’t know her soothing lilt and curious questioning, you should! Recently I listened to her discussion with Anil Dash, a serial tech entrepreneur turned thought-leader on tech ethics and purpose.

I was ignorant of Dash before listening to the podcast, and found it pleasantly surprising to come across an industry leader asking all the tough reflective questions that seem to go unaddressed each time a new iPhone iOS is released. Dash and Tippett cover the gamut too, including personal tech use and best practices, social media pros and cons, automation, self-driving cars and machine learning.

The whole conversation is worth a listen, but if you are an educator you should listen especially closely to the section where Dash describes his thoughts on how children should engage with technology. Below is a transcript of that section of their conversation:

MS. TIPPETT: So my children are, right now, 18 and 22. And even in those four years, there was such an acceleration. And it was interesting also in terms of the platforms they and their friends use completely shifted.

MR. DASH: Totally different tools. Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And I’m actually — I find myself being really grateful that I’m not a parenting — we were still in that window where I could say, “No, you will not have an iPhone until you’re 14,” or something, which I just don’t think you can do anymore, right? And so they were already kind of formed before all of the technology entered their lives. And I know it’s changed so much now in the meantime, and you have a 5-year-old. I mean, I wonder how are you thinking about that question.

MR. DASH: We don’t have a very intelligent cultural conversation about how kids engage with technology at all.

MS. TIPPETT: No. No.

MR. DASH: I think…

MS. TIPPETT: It’s like a guinea pig generation.

MR. DASH: Yeah. Well, it’s also — I also think of the concept of “screen time.” When you’re with young kids, you’ve heard this, right? “Do you limit your child’s screen time?” And it’s like, no. I engage

with what he’s specifically doing. I don’t limit his page time. I just choose whether he’s reading a book or a magazine or whether it’s something that’s like a bunch of — he’s 5 years old, so he likes poop jokes. But — how much of that and how much of, like, smart stuff? And so the idea that they’re both on pages and are therefore equivalent is absurd, and yet we talk about screen time that way. I’m like, is he playing chess on the iPad? Or is he watching funny YouTube videos of animals falling over? Which is also awesome, but different.

And so that really — that always sticks with me because I think it’s a very unsophisticated way to look at things, and then we carry that forward. And that’s when they’re very, very young, right? 2, 3, 4, 5. They first start seeing screens. And my son maybe spends 15 minutes a day on the iPad, and he loves it, and that’s all he gets. But that’s always been the rule for him, so it doesn’t matter. And I limit it mostly just because we limit everything. I mean, you just don’t let a 5-year-old do whatever they want, or you end up in hell.

[laughter]

MS. TIPPETT: Are you saying — so, this is a radical idea. You apply the same wisdom you apply to other things to technology?

MR. DASH: Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, well that…

MR. DASH: Well, that’s the thing. It’s part of your life. I think that was the thing. I saw so many parents — and this is not judgment. I don’t judge other parents. Other parents are fine.

MS. TIPPETT: No, we’re all on this frontier, and we’re learning a language.

MR. DASH: But as we’re figuring it out, they treat it as if there is life — they say this — like, “This is real life, and then there’s computer world.” And I’m like, “That’s not the thing. That’s not how their lives are gonna be.” And I think I had an unusual perspective, in that I did start using computers before I was in kindergarten, just as my son has.

And he has way better programing tools. I was like, “Gosh, if I had these things.” He’s got — because we had to do these primitive blocky green graphics on the screen when I was a kid, and he’s got this Star Wars robot that he can go on the iPad and give it programming instructions, and it follows his directions to roll around the living room. And I’m like, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Like, you wait until they go to bed so you can play with it.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: And that’s — no, he’s going to listen to this I bet. So — I don’t do that. I don’t do that.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.

MR. DASH: They were interacting with lots of humans all at once. And it makes me furious because I’m saying they’re being deeply social. It’s not in the mode that you know, but it’s actually better than when they were sitting alone at the diner with a book. And I think there’s been this misunderstanding and this misapprehension about what the tech is doing. It is connecting us to people.

And there’s so much attention paid — and with good reason — to the bullying and the other things, the cyber bullying and all those. A general rule of thumb is anything that begins with “cyber” is a lie. Like, if you say “cyber bullying” or “cyber crime,” it was probably — that’s one of those rare areas where they — it’s a behavior that existed before, and the “cyber” is not the issue. So children being unkind to each other…

MS. TIPPETT: Right. So nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.

MR. DASH: Right. And so being able to integrate it — now it can be worse because of the network effects. It can be amplified by the immediacy and the fact that it happens in your home. But the principles can carry across. And it has to be an integrated conversation, and that’s the key. It’s like, how much time do you limit your child talking to their friends? I don’t care if it’s on the phone, on the computer on messaging, in real life, in person, out in public, whatever it is. If you have a set of rules, they apply across these things. But that demands a literacy and a fluency that I think takes a serious investment in time and understanding your child’s context. And that’s the hard part.

A few key takeaways:
  • Screen time versus quality time on technology is the tech equivalent of blended learning versus traditional learning. We get tripped up thinking too much about the amount of screen time or the specific innovative model of learning, and forget that quality is key no matter what we’re talking about. I have always thought that I would limit the screen time of my own children, and I probably still will, but now I’ll remind myself that the important thing is the quality of time spent on a screen or in the neighborhood, and both can be positive for children.
  • “Nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.” However, the tech affect can amplify an experience in certain ways.
  • Mr. Dash: “But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

    I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.”

    This whole section gives me pause, because I’m not a digital native, nor do I desire to be. I want to leverage technology to serve me as a human, not the other way around, and maybe, just maybe, help create a technology that serves HUMAN learning, not machine learning. This leads me to bifurcate my life between the virtual, online world and the “real world”. While I realize that these two worlds are already indistinguishable in many respects, and I recognize that Dash’s son’s generation, the generation of my 2nd grade students, are going to see tech as a fully integrated part of life, I’m not yet comfortable with that. And I don’t know what this means for me as a teacher and ed tech user.

    Please let me know your thoughts on this tech educator dilemma if you can relate. And, if you know of any great and compelling education podcasts out there, please do share!

Ed Reading: A Review of the New A.P. U.S. History Framework

lendol

Lendol Calder, professor of History at Augustana College, leading thinker and writer on the teaching of History, member of my exclusive Club PLN and family friend, has published an excellent op-ed on the new College Board curriculum framework and test for A.P. U.S. History courses (APUSH). The piece was published in The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, for which I’m certain you have a subscription. And if you do not, consider yourself judged!

In any case, before committing to an elementary education career, I was quite interested, as are most meandering History majors, in teaching social studies and history on the secondary level. Dr. Calder provided some guidance, pointing me in the direction of Bruce Lesh, the Stanford History Education Group, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg and many other good authorities on teaching History who are listed here. In addition, I have collected some of my own social studies and history resources, my list on Twitter, my Google Drive folder and a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman newsletter. In spite of the lamentably limited opportunity to teach social studies on the primary level, my interest has not waned. I am determined to stay current on the best thinking and best practices in the field so that when the opportunity or instructional hours present themselves, I’ll be ready.

Below is a collection of notes and quotes from Dr. Calder’s piece, The Kids Are (Going To Be) Alright. Please keep in mind that I have very little context and expertise from which to judge Dr. Calder’s assessment of the new APUSH framework. I have not taught A.P. U.S. History, nor have I done a deep dive of the new standards. I did take A.P. U.S. by the venerable Dean C. Brink at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. And I did well enough on the APUSH test to earn college credit, which I used to save me some coin without regret. I am also biased towards agreeing with Dr. Calder. So, take my notes for what they are worth; a superficial exploration of a teaching interest.
The APUSH Kids Are (Going To Be) Alright

Dr. Calder starts out by making clear just how much the new APUSH framework has been politicized. And to be fair, unlike science (or maybe just like science), history has always been inherently political.

On the right:

The APUSH framework has been denounced by the Republican National Committee. It has been censured by school boards in Colorado, Nebraska, and North Carolina. APUSH has been threatened with defunding by lawmakers in Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee. Channeling the spirit of Nikita Khrushchev, conservatives believe the College Board’s history test makers are powerful and dangerous.

On the assumed left:

I’ve listened to professors questioning whether the new APUSH will deepen students’ knowledge or just put a College Board stamp of approval on continued ignorance…..There will be professors who say the test makers havespoiled everything,” deemphasizing content knowledge in order to promote mushy ‘thinking skills.’

I guess it takes the current lightning rod issue in education, namely testing, to have Americans up in arms over a subject we infamously ignore; history.

And if you don’t think there can be serious consequences for teachers and students when the politics of the culture wars enter the classroom, think again. Let me remind you of the most recent major U.S. curriculum scandal that grabbed headlines around the world; the banning of Tuscon’s Mexican-American Studies program. Check out Al Madrigal lampooning the ban for The Daily Show here.

In any case, Dr. Calder does not dismiss the APUSH concerns of either conservatives or liberals. Instead, he advocates for acknowledgement and engagement on the part of APUSH defenders, like himself.

The concerns of conservative critics should be welcomed and addressed. And especially in two places, I submit….

Many conservatives like to think of themselves as the party of reasoned deliberation as opposed to the Left’s alleged preference for indoctrination through political correctness. This means that by their own logic, conservatives have nothing to fear from a multi- perspectival history classroom, so long as the teacher doesnt put her thumb on the scale….

The answer – I should say, an answer – to concerns about how to bring coherence tothe APUSH course is to teach the conflicts.

To be coherent, courses need Big Questions. (emphasis added)

For Dr. Calder, the “Big Questions” in regards to the new APUSH framework are the following:

Are the revisions to AP History really changes for the better?

Will the new expectations of the exam make a difference in how teachers teach the course?
And can the new APUSH curriculum survive politicization in the rough and tumble of the culture wars?

The old APUSH model was based on coverage. Teachers were asked to generically introduce huge amounts of U.S. History dates, names, places, factoids and concepts. The complaints from students, secondary teachers and higher ed professors abound about the old “coverage” methodology. In fact, Dr. Calder and his History department colleagues at Augustana College do not accept APUSH test credits because of their founded concerns about the quality and meaningfulness of such a secondary history education.  

Thus, Dr. Calder seems to almost imply that nearly any change would’ve been a good change for the APUSH course and test. Nevertheless, he makes a strong case for the new APUSH framework, that it is not just any old change, but a thoughtful and meaningful one. The new framework drops the coverage model, picks up some research-based learning methods, encourages historical thinking, and gives a nod to what history professors expect of incoming high school graduates.

In the old course, history was one fact after another, a list of subjects to be familiar with. The new APUSH presents history as a murky domain of knowledge in which protocols and habits of mind are necessary to distinguish sense from nonsense and know anything about the past at all. The old test smelled like remember-ology. The new test measures how good one is with the intellectual discipline of history.

Dr. Calder thinks that the new methods and expectations for the APUSH will net serious results, not in small part because secondary social studies teachers are leading the push to improve history pedagogy. The bottom up reform from secondary to higher ed is reinvigorating history instruction in a new generation of academic historians and will, Dr. Calder argues, “work its way out and up to improve history education at all levels.” Indeed, even where history instruction is in need of serious professional development, the new APUSH framework simultaneously provides the guide and the incentive for stepping up to that challenge.

Last, Dr. Calder addresses the political sustainability of the new APUSH framework, a question which is extremely difficult to guess at in our current partisan political climate, but has some history to draw from.

Pushback from conservatives alarmed by the revised APUSH program triggers unpleasant memories of the mid-1990s “history wars.” When in 1994 Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch urged federal funding for voluntary national history standards, she called on UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools to draft and circulate the proposed standards. In January 1995, after weeks of furious debate among historians, policy elites, and media commentators, the United States Senate voted 99–1 to reject the UCLA standards for presenting “a disproportionately pessimistic and misrepresentative picture of the American past.” No one wants to go there again.

But Dr. Calder doesn’t want the debate about what historical themes are important for us to learn in school, what meanings can be drawn from significant historical events, which historical events are, in fact, significant, and what patterns or continuity can be gleaned from a broad historical perspective. This is precisely why he advocates for engagement with both conservatives worried about anti-Americanism and history academics worried about instructional rigor. Both those debates revolve around what it is in U.S. History that is vital for us to know and think critically about. Thus, Dr. Calder point about teaching the debates.

…as in previous chapters of America’s history wars, disagreements over the new APUSH emerge from fundamental differences people have about the nature and purposes of history. These differences are not easily reconciled. Thus, our primary task as scholars, teachers, and citizens should, arguably, be to nurture the vibrancy of a dialogue that properly crosses ideologies, moralities, and pedagogies.

This call to arms of sorts, for history academics and secondary teachers, is so completely in line with Dr. Calder’s most salient point about how people learn best. There is a wonderful coherence between his point about teaching the debates and getting students to “do” history in order to learn it.

At least conservatives begin with a truth: that ideas matter, that the stories people tell have consequences. But defenders of coverage begin with a falsehood: that facts can be stored in the head like furniture in an attic, there to be pulled down some day when a situation calls for it. But that’s not how memory works. We remember what we do on a regular basis. If we want students to know who did what when, we must ask them to do something with that knowledge again and again.

Learning the relevant history of a past debate made current, or that never was settled, such is the nature of nearly all our culture wars debates, this is a compelling way to engage students in the doing of history.

______________________________________________________________

The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era / Volume 14 / Issue 03 / July 2015, pp 433-440

Ed Reading Weekly: Google EDU, student data privacy, & school funding

Notes on the edSurge interview with Jaime Casap and Jonathan Rochelle. On Edtech Equity and the Future of Google EDU.

  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Nobody on the consumer products side was thinking about education.”
  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Teachers have always been using it, but not because it was built for education.”
  • Jaime Casap, “Ed tech has to be easy to use, manageable, to scale, it has to be invisible and these guys (Google Drive products) are trying to be invisible.”
  • Mary Jo Madda, “Really Google Expeditions is really just improving on the cool things teachers were already doing in the classroom with Google Maps.”
  • The importance of feedback from teachers, Jonathan Rochelle “There is no education classroom that is perfect, it is constant iteration and innovation.” Jaime Casap, “The feedback button has a bad rap with technology…what actually happens to that feedback…Here the Classroom team is actually reading this line of feedback and I always encourage teachers to use that feedback button.”
  • The future of GoogleEDU and ads on GoogleEDU tools, “Search and information are part of education. A lot of these things that students would be doing, they are already doing. Gmail, for example. ” Ads….
  • “Education levels the playing field. Information is education. And teachers taking information and converting it into intelligence…and I think that the web and internet is how (Google) helps to level the playing field”.

NO CHILD LEFT UN-MINED? STUDENT PRIVACY AT RISK IN THE AGE OF BIG DATA

This is a really important issue if the field of education is going to take full advantage of the learning powers of the internet, mobile devices and emerging technologies in general. As an educator who has managed intimate academic and personal data on students in a public school, I know that the well-intentioned push to use data and technology to help students learn can easily push aside privacy and security safeguards for students and families.

Every educator and parent should be aware of the pledges many companies make regarding the collection and use of student data if they voluntarily sign on to the Student Privacy Pledge. In addition, the US Department of Education has created a preliminary set of requirements and best practices around student data use that can be found here.

I am impressed by ed tech companies like Clever that can simultaneously make technology more accessible and more manageable for teachers and students in schools, while also assuring privacy and security of student data. But administrators, teachers, and parents need to keep an eye on the ever changing user agreements of such apps and tech tools. This article really emphasized the importance of district tech directors and school administrators doing their due diligence and actually reading the privacy policies of the ed tech apps used in their schools. Just another thing to add to the plate of overburdened principals, right?!

If you want to read more about the legislative solutions that are being proposed for this student data issue and also let your Congressman know how you feel, get the Countable app and browse through the education bills they have listed there.

How School Districts Seal Their Students Into Poverty

We all know that how schools are funded play a big role in the disparate student outcomes we have in America between racial groups and socio-economic levels. It can be difficult to understand how these often times complex funding mechanisms work, and even harder to visualize them.

Well, this week the folks at CityLab introduced me to the new ed policy center, EdBuild, which has created an interactive map of school districts and the percentage of students living in poverty in each of them. The smart folks at CityLab do a great job of breaking down some of the startling discoveries that can be made by looking at this data across the country, but just by browsing on my own my former district (Seattle, WA) and my prospective future district (Portland, OR), I can start to see my way to an explanation of disparate resources, student test scores and the overall reputations of those districts.

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!

New Teacher Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

COP Interview Tips

Jennifer Gonzalez and her Cult of Pedagogy site is one to follow on social media. Her YouTube Channel is full of great and immediately usable how-to videos ranging from classroom management strategies to the Jigsaw Method. She recently published a series of interviews with educators in various administration positions that have extensive experience in the teacher hiring process. I was very interested to listen to the podcast and follow the transcript of the conversation for a couple reasons.

First, I am going to be interviewing for my first classroom teacher position in about a year from now. While I have had my own ESL classroom in Guatemala, Colombia and South Korea, I have not been certificated and charged with my own elementary homeroom class yet.

Second, it’s no secret to those who know me personally and professionally that I aim to lead a school community one day as a principal. While this is a long ways off and ultimately contingent on my professional development and competency as a classroom teacher, it is my long-term professional goal as an educator. Thus, I am always interested in hearing about different administrators’ scouting, recruitment and interview strategies.

As a bilingual instructional assistant (paraeducator) in a Seattle public school, I sat on many hiring committees, including those interviewing vice principal, head teacher, classroom teacher, special education and paraprofessional candidates. Therefore, I have some of my own insights about best practices in educator interviews, both from the hiring perspective and the interviewee perspective. Many of my own ideas jibbed with what I heard from CoP’s group of administrators and some of their advice was novel. Below I have included my favorite quotes from this interview series along with some of my own commentary in italics.

Chris Nordmann (@ChrisNordmann), Academic Dean at the Kaleidoscope Charter School in Otsego, Minnesota.

“….just their willingness to continue learning. What are they doing to better themselves? How can they inspire others around them, students and staff, to improve themselves as well?”

“Also somebody who values what other people do within the building. For example, we had someone who was talking about, you know, a lunch lady was gone and they went back and served lunch for the day. Somebody who was willing to go above and beyond to do something outside of their responsibility for the good of the school. I think that’s– If somebody has those things, I can overlook some experience.”

I think being a teacher who is also a lover of lifelong learning themselves is essential. Honestly, I don’t know why you would be in the profession if you aren’t a lover of good books, new information, intellectual exploration and personal growth.

I also just love Mr. Nordmann’s emphasis on valuing all the little things that different school staff members provide to the school community. When I taught an after-school poetry and soccer club in Seattle, the night janitor would often walk in to our classroom in order to do some cleaning or maintenance. I made a point of introducing him to the group of students, asking them if they knew what he did for them each day, and explicitly clarifying the importance of the janitor’s role at the school. You’ve got to model and teach that every life has value, but you’ve got to see and believe it for yourself first.

Penny Sturtevant, Principal at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio.

“We’re looking to see that you’re pliable, you’re open, you’re willing to collaborate and be a piece. So I think they can relax and say – It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m not an expert in that.” And give that honest response. Take that off your weight that you have to be the expert.”

“They’ve shown the initiative to know our school, and maybe just something about our community. That they felt it was important enough that they spent, invested their time to go and find out, and maybe even know a little bit about who’s interviewing them if they have that opportunity.”

“They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field.”

“So I would encourage them to pause, think their response, speak their response and not worry about having a vast majority. Short interviews sometimes are the best. I got what I needed.”

“Openness, willingness to learn, and then I think, make yourself unique. You may not think about what makes you unique, think outside education. It could be something as simple as “I’m a runner and I would love to bring running club to the kids.” “I have traveled the world.” Or–I have one staff member who knows American Sign Language so she started an American Sign Language club.”

Growth mindset, initiative, enthusiasm, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, Ms. Sturtevant is describing the kind of people I would like my students to become. Why should her expectations for the teachers teaching and mentoring those students be any different.

Also, her anecdote about a career-transitioner claiming to have the enthusiasm of a beginner, but the experience of workplace veteran really resonated with me. I have taken an alternative route to the elementary classroom and in my first year I will have the enthusiasm and nervous energy of a beginner. But, I have been in a lot of classrooms and have a lot of experience, nearly a decade in fact, with schools, students and the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning. I am going to use that line!

Herbert O’Neil (@herbertoneiljr), Director of Academics for Lifeschool in Dallas, Texas.

“…..so I believe people need to really, really focus on being confident and showing the committee or whoever it is, that you confidently work well with students in just about most situations, or that you have potential to be able to do that.”

There is a great TedTalk for almost all things of interest at this point, and, not surprisingly, for interview body language as well. Amy Cuddy gives a great talk about the importance of your pose and posture in different life situations, and advises interviewees to practice their ‘superman’ pose before going into an interview in order to boost their confidence. Check it out here.

George Couros (@gcouros), Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and learning for Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

“It is a really high priority, so I want to hear the word relationships in your interview. You know, over and over and over again, not just in the first answer. Like if I ask you what the most important quality and you say relationships, but then you never hear about it again, then that tells me something.”

“One of the traits I look for– I’m looking for school teachers, not classroom teachers, in the sense that if I’m looking for a grade three teacher in our school, I don’t want you only working with your children. I want to know that when you go on supervision, and that’s part of what you do, that you’re making the time and effort to connect with kids that are not in your class–and what are you doing outside of this?…..Every kid in that school is yours, not just the one you teach that year.”

“I want to create an opportunity where those people who connect with me walk out a better teacher. Whether they get the job or not, they become a better teacher because if they don’t get the job with me, they’re probably still getting other interviews. They’re going to be working with children. So if I can help them, even if they don’t get it, that’s beneficial to all of education.”

Relationships, relationships, relationships. Mr. Couros’ emphasis on relationships heartened me because I feel it is a strength of my practice as a teacher. Working in South Korea, with over seven hundred ESL students, our limited shared vocabulary and cultural experience, along with the sheer numbers, are barriers to building relationships. Yet and still, I have managed to create some incredible bonds with many of my students, and I feel like if I can do that here, it may come easier when I am back home, working in a more familiar cultural context and using a common language with fewer students.

Joe Collins (@collins6HCPS), Assistant Principal at Harford Technical High School in Harford County, Maryland.

“To me, because that implies that they can learn. By that they can learn the language of the system, of the school. They can learn what’s important to that principal and often times incorporate it into the conversation. The best that I’ve been in you can tell they’re not experts by any means, but you can tell they have a strong grounding in their instruction.”

“You know, you’ve delivered a lesson, twenty kids, ten got it, five didn’t, five thought you were teaching Spanish and it’s a Social Studies class and five are way ahead of you. What do you do? It’s the person that can just go beyond what you expected, which was “Oh, we’ll differentiate” and “Maybe I’ll pair up the five who are really ahead and…” That’s what you would expect to hear, but it’s the person that might say “I don’t really know how I know they got it…what kind of formative assessments would I do to make sure that they got it?” Then you start to perk up and you go Ooh, okay. Then you can get the conversation going to a different level because they already speak your language.”

“ They’re the ones that are asking you the questions. And they’re asking you, “What’s the demographics of the classroom? What kind of technology do I have? Is there a curriculum that’s already provided for me or will I be developing my own?” Those are all things where they’re way beyond the basics. They don’t– Throw any scenario at them, they’re going to handle it because they’re grounded in their beliefs and what they know.”

“You know Lead Learner? I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lead Learner from England. He’s one of the guys that I follow religiously and he’s a head — kind of an executive director in England, so it’s not really applicable to my situation at all, but he gives such great insight.”

Mr. Collins’ point about asking questions and attempting to engage the administrator or hiring committee in a conversation is huge! This is my main takeaway from my experience on hiring committees. The candidates who did not ask questions, who did not prepare questions beforehand, who did not attempt to engage their potential colleagues in a conversation, did not show interest in the job, the school committee, and, frankly, us as potential co-workers. This also indicates a lack of curiosity and a lack of imagination. It is strange not to be curious about how this school works that you may work at soon, don’t you want to know what it’s guiding philosophies and pedagogies are? In addition, it is unimaginative to think that an unsuccessful interview is a wasted interview. If we want our students to learn from failure then we need to imagine how our own interview failures might teach us something, and not be failures at all in the long run.

Character Readings for the Classroom

This week, while on vacation, I ran across two small pieces to spur reflection and action in building character strengths for teachers and students.

The first came in my inbox via the weekly Brain Pickings newsletter, which I highly recommend subscribing to and following on Twitter. Maria Popova shared some of the highlights on habit from Mary Oliver’s book Long Life. But she began the piece by quoting William James, who is credited with saying:

 “Habit and character are essentially the same thing.”

Below are the collected sections that Ms. Popova quoted in her post on Mary Oliver and her thoughts on habit. I found them incredibly eloquent and to be a great impetus for reflection among teachers when talking about character, practice, mastery, growth mindset and self-regulation.

In the shapeliness of a life, habit plays its sovereign role… Most people take action by habit in small things more often than in important things, for it’s the simple matters that get done readily, while the more somber and interesting, taking more effort and being more complex, often must wait for another day. Thus, we could improve ourselves quite well by habit, by its judicious assistance, but it’s more likely that habits rule us….

The bird in the forest or the fox on the hill has no such opportunity to forgo the important for the trivial. Habit, for these, is also the garment they wear, and indeed the very structure of their body life. It’s now or never for all their vitalities – bonding, nest building, raising a family, migrating or putting on the deeper coat of winter – all is done on time and with devoted care, even if events contain also playfulness, grace, and humor, those inseparable spirits of vitality. Neither does the tree hold back its leaves but lets them flow open or glide away when the time is right. Neither does water make its own decision about freezing or not; that moment rests with the rule of temperatures…..

What some might call the restrictions of the daily office they find to be an opportunity to foster the inner life. The hours are appointed and named… Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers… And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.

The other source of character building inspiration I came across this week, was the famous poem by William Ernest Henley entitled InvictusIn my readings and reflections on Stoicism, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and character building, I have again and again found references to this poem. This week I read it over a few times, began to memorize it and stashed it away to use as a class motto in the future. Here it is for your enjoyment:

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.