Thursday, January 14, 2016

Teach Your Children Well

The lack of qualified Educators seems to dominate the news.  This was supposedly resolved by the growth of Teach for America and of course Charter Schools, that may or may not use credentialed Educators, as they seem to skirt State regulations with a myriad of issues so this is not anything that is new or different with regards to charters has placed more emphasis on the failures vs the successes of traditional public schools.

 Read the horror stories of KIPP or Success Academy and their odd discipline strategy, their turnover with regards to staff and the overall issues when it comes to students with discipline or special needs and in turn their odd exodus back to public schools should be enough to have many ask questions about how these paragons of education are so exemplary. And while the Teaching profession has been thoroughly under the microscope or gun for the last decade I can agree that there are problems when it comes to the teaching training programs and those that graduate ill prepared and with the equivalent debt of a car strapped to their back which cannot lend itself well to promoting healthy approach to education and to teaching.

The reality is I have been in both classrooms of TFA recruits and new Teachers and frankly there is little to contrast them. They are young, dumb and utterly clueless. The former six month student teaching is akin to the young sports players who pay for the privilege of doing a job that earns their colleges money.   Why anyone is paying tuition while interning is beyond understanding and that debate has happened in other professions yet teaching somehow seems ignored when it comes to that reform. And why it's the money stupid.  And it explains also the color and gender of most prospective teachers. 

We can't pay full time educators sufficient wages why would we student teachers? And we have the reform movement that is largely training said Teachers and it is showing. The odd discipline and even more convoluted use of acronyms, bizarre lesson plans and well lack of compassion for their own colleagues an almost dismissive approach of those whose professions they have joined adds to the problem of what makes a good Teacher.

When I read this I thought, yes and add to that they must Substitute Teach for a year while in College. They can be paid a lesser wage then the professionals, they can meet with their advisers and classmates and in turn use that to actually see and experience first hand the variations that exist in public schools in just one city. I am right now reading The Prize, a book about the fight over America's Educational system and it is about money and the money that is both wasted and in turn needed and it is a story that plays across all our schools and districts in America.

 Right now I am in a very white urban school in the north end. The band is below rehearsing and they are mentoring the lower grades writing. They are charming, vivacious and yes very much middle schoolers, I cannot say one thing negative as they are delightful. I am at this school for the next three days and I hope and expect to see the same. That said yesterday I was at a south end middle school near my home. I took the gig knowing it was only for a half day as we had early dismissal so it was the only reason I took it with hopes for the best, prepared for the worst.

 Last year I wandered there at the end of the year to fill my dance card so to speak and it was tragic. That was the day of the doughnut and it was something out of Walking Dead and I will leave it at that. This group was utterly oblivious that it will be MLK day on Monday and seemed to barely be cognizant about the schedule change despite repeated tellings. The odd reactions to my eyeliner and to my aquiline nose seemed to be of great interest. They are the only school too where they had been aware of my partial facial paralysis to the point of extreme that even I became exhausted. And for the record it is all the African children who seem to have this odd predisposition and ironically some of this issue has become of interest right now politically. I can say repeatedly this community simply needs help in assimilating and integrating and that includes the adults, if not predominately the adults,  as they are the 'teachers' too.

They are tragic children enrolled in schools with as many Principals and Teachers turning over every year that at some point you know these kids only constant is chaos.  So how do you evaluate the students, the teachers, the school? You can't that is the problem. This school I am at today has also had 4 Principals in 4 years and there has been a traditional turnover of staff, but there is a clear elephant in the room - families - that is the difference.

And this is where co-teaching and the idea that if you are willing to work in a struggling school you are willing to partner with another veteran and in turn that school should be a collective with supporting personnel and an Administrative staff willing to work with them as a team and a team where they agree on what they can and more importantly willing to do.  The extracurricular work and hours that seem to be the supposed plus of charters are possible in public school but then again it is about money. And no the charter people do not make more money they have an average of 60 hour a week work load it is part of the agenda and why they have such turnover. So in reality it is about those willing to compromise on that work life balance that regardless of one's age needs in order to be a fully functioning member of a community, especially a learning one.



Teach Your Teachers Well
By SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY
 Opinion Page The New York Times
 JAN. 13, 2016

 LAST month, at the urging of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s Board of Regents suspended the use of state tests to evaluate teachers. This is a wise first step, but it won’t improve our schools unless we go further and build a professionalized system of support that views teachers as learners and challenges them to improve their classroom practices.

 The national push over the last decade to strengthen how we evaluate teachers was rooted in studies that suggested that consecutive years with an ineffective teacher did lasting damage to a child’s life chances. In response, many teachers’ evaluations have been tied to how their students perform on state tests. In 2010, New York began to develop a new teacher evaluation system, new tests and curriculums aligned with the Common Core standards.

Most teachers agree that the standards are a step forward, because they ask students to think critically, write persuasively and solve real-world problems creatively. But New York’s tests are still dominated by multiple-choice questions that don’t measure this deeper learning. In many parts of the state, teachers did not have time to adapt their curriculums before new tests were used to evaluate them. This created a crisis of confidence for parents, teachers and principals. Last year, an astonishing 20 percent of families opted out of the state exams. Parents worry that pressure to raise test scores makes school boring and stressful for their children.

In many schools, there is still too much time spent on test prep, too much focus on students’ weaknesses and not enough time for the in-depth learning the Common Core standards were meant to inspire. Teachers don’t trust the data being used to evaluate them.

The evaluation system relies on tests designed for one task (measuring student learning) and uses them for another (measuring each teacher’s impact). Good data is important but we have to use it for what it can actually tell us, not for what we wish it could tell us. Teachers regularly see margins of error of 25 points in the scores they receive based on their students’ test results.

 Even more troubling, the evaluation system has sent the message to principals that we don’t trust their judgment. Principals are now required to follow a complex formula embedded in state law to arrive at teachers’ ratings. If neither principals nor teachers trust the data in front of them, the process becomes a joke.

 In a system that was supposed to be more rigorous, fewer than 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective last year. In schools, the way adults learn always defines the way the students learn. Evaluations should have teeth, but that’s not the mechanism that will put a strong teacher in every classroom. Schools need to nurture our students and our teachers. How do we do this? We need to invest in teacher preparation and development.

We hire thousands of new teachers every year, but many spend less than six weeks practicing as a student teacher and are never mentored by a strong educator before they start teaching. High quality training for aspiring teachers would combine mastery of content and child development with a one-year residency alongside a master teacher. High-performing countries provide public funding to address this need. We need to make the same investment here. We also need dedicated time weekly for teachers to meet in teams to improve their work.

When teachers don’t examine students’ work together and discuss how to improve their teaching, they stop growing. When teachers stop growing, classrooms become dead zones where everyone is watching the clock. In contrast, when educators are actively learning with their colleagues, they understand their students more deeply, they hone lessons in response to their students’ needs and they bring that lively thinking into their classrooms.

We must change the tests, too. Our current assessments still prioritize rote learning.

 If we want our children to use their minds well, our assessments must send a different signal to educators. Through the Smarter Balanced consortium, California and other states have developed assessments that adapt to students’ levels and include assignments where students apply their knowledge to real-world problems. Here in New York, the state has granted waivers to a group of high schools where students defend research papers and scientific experiments in lieu of state exams. New York should examine both models closely before it spends millions more on new tests.

 Finally, principals need the power to evaluate their teachers. It makes no sense to trust principals with the safety and educational future of children every day but refuse to allow them to fully supervise their teachers.

 School leaders need support to help teachers learn and the authority to act when teachers aren’t succeeding. We must stop constraining them with rigid mandates. We can’t regulate our way to higher teacher quality, but we can teach our way there.

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