Archive for the ‘highly qualified teachers’ Category

SAT or Not 

Monday, November 16th, 2015
high school in southern California

high school in southern California

In spring 2016 a “new” SAT test, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, will be offered to high school juniors. In both the English section and the Math section, there will be more creative thinking, problem solving, and evidence-based answers from which to choose. I answered sample questions for a passage of text from a speech about impeachment by Barbara Jordan (New York Times, Education Life, November 1, 2015, p.10) and, politically interested in the article, I enjoyed thinking through the questions and answers. Most high school students would not appreciate the history of the piece, but as PrepMatters states, the questions are not traps, mysteries, or obscure.

It is still the case that exam results differentiate between high income students, able to take test prep classes, find more books available, attend schools which stress grades and graduation, and students that live in poor neighborhoods and don’t have access to the above.

Which brings us to the trouble for schools that cannot count on well-educated parents and high-achieving students to show off their success. Do we not want poor-performing students to see the value of an education, even if they should go for welding, not philosophy (as Marco Rubio so casually suggests)? The United States Department of Education is going to have a new leader. It is my wish that he concentrate on those schools and districts that need to rebuild themselves so that middle and high school dropout rates are reduced and graduation rates improve.

I continue to advocate for improved university teacher preparation to adequately train student teachers. I advocate for funds to assign teachers willing-to-stay at troubled schools and to provide the support they need to make a change. I advocate for models where the elementary, high school, and community college in a region work together to improve student outcomes from Kindergarten to college graduation.

Unfortunately, this school year 2015-2016 has seen a huge surge in teacher shortages country-wide at all levels, but especially in special education, bilingual education, math and science. Numerous articles show the reasons that stand out: poor salaries and inadequate funding for curricular programs; attacks on tenure; reduced collective bargaining; constant pressure to evaluate teachers based on the once-a-year test mandated by No Child Left Behind legislation and continuing even though teachers, students, and parents have said enough is enough; little time for authentic teaching because of all the tests required by plans for school reform.

Even  the latest attention to the idea that a class led by three or four great teachers in a row, in spite of poor attendance, large classes, weak school leadership, and students impacted by social problems, can raise the academic success of his/her students does not hold up over time.

So, the price for an excellent SAT score still is the student’s educated parents, lots of books, attendance at a high-performing school, and desire to be high-achieving. That doesn’t mean that a student who gets an average score can’t go to college, but choose carefully and hope your school district tackles the stakes at hand so good teachers enter and remain in the field.




Tenure Issue 1: Dismiss the Teacher

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Have you read about the June 2014 Vergara vs. California decision?

High school students in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Alum Rock Unified School Districts brought the case to court because their education was impaired by “bad” teachers that were not dismissed even after long time complaints. These teachers are not the ones you hear about that have sexually harassed girls and boys, that have kept alcohol in their desk drawers in order to take a shot during breaks, or that have disrupted faculty meetings with argument, resorting to insults and physical intimidation. They can be dismissed quickly.

The teachers described in the Vergara decision deliberately performed poorly in the classroom insulting, berating, or ignoring student requests. The students cower in their seats, fearful of asking questions, or shout out in frustration.

Would you not think that there should be a procedure for the principal to dismiss that teacher immediately? It isn’t that easy.

Teachers unions formed long ago to protect teachers’ rights after an unending list of circumstances when a teacher was dismissed for untenable reasons. Now with tenure established, there is a specific set of judicial procedures that must be followed to terminate employment. Teachers are protected from unfair harassment, but “bad” teachers are protected too.

Step One to remedy this situation that wreaks havoc in the public schools is for unions (I’m a member of CTA) to rework the process for dismissal. It’s not hard when a teacher is arrested, but any number of procedures can delay the termination of a teacher like those brought up in the Vergara trial.

It is true that students deserve a qualified teacher who teaches the subject and that treats his or her students with respect. That is how the classroom should be managed, not by dictatorial insult and punishment.

Step Two, with high quality in mind, upgrade the status of teaching. Every education article you read says raise the salary and stabilize the workload so that each state can attract people who will stay in the field.

The quality of teacher preparation must be upgraded and not by slo mo action. California State Universities have begun this effort.

Professional development programs, especially with the Common Core State Standards implementation, can ease the fears about something new. Coalition for Community Schools and Communities in Schools are two organizations dedicated to caring for qualified teachers country-wide. Seek out their models.

Political policy awareness in the state government and the local community is a priority. One of the strongest decisions in the suit was to revise the “last in, first out” teacher layoff policy. The California State Legislature’s goal for the new session will be to rework (with the unions) that part of the tenure regulations. In addition, one benefit in Teach for America’s program is the Leadership for Educational Equity.

How can students be assured of success if the people teachers elect to support education do not step up?


The Latest Charter Schools

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Tired of listening to myriad solutions for ensuring the success of all 6 million students in this country? By now you know there’s no quick fix. It takes m-o-n-e-y and unyielding determination.

Here’s one possibility seen on News Hour at the end of 2012 in the middle of the struggle about the nation’s fiscal burdens. A video segment treats the latest in charter schools, institutions loved by some education experts and loathed by others.

Depicted are school classrooms that illustrate the values noted on the Rocketship Education website. Look it over, one of few that offer details for the daily schedule and, moreover, encourages visitation to its various schools.

The Rocketship scheme was founded by Preston Smith and Joel Danner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who you can hear on the News Hour segment talking about the values, similar to KIPP charter schools, encouraged by the model: respect, responsibility, persistence, and empathy. To overcome the criticism against many charter schools in California, each K-5 school deliberately includes students who receive free and reduced price lunch (indicating low-income families) and embraces a majority of English Learners. All teachers have a degree in Humanities or Math/Science. The school day is 8-4 pm and comprises enrichment programs of art, music, Physical Education, and a cultural diversity curriculum. A big enticement is the one hour daily Learning Lab. Rocketship Education charter schools hope to expand by 2020 to 50 U.S. cities, educating 1 million students.

Impressive ambition! So why are the Rocketship schools, so far, just one of many new options offered to school districts? Its website spouts the current education lingo-from “parent empowerment” to “higher-order critical thinking” to “prepare for the college curriculum”-but the model is seen as the latest, not the definite, plan to close the achievement gap.

First, teacher’s degrees in many charter schools are impressive, but they have been recruited from Teach for America which places university graduates in elementary schools with minimal pre-service preparation. On the one hand, these new teachers are provided daily training from experienced teaching personnel and paid well. However, the teachers are only required to teach for two years. Any long time teacher will remind you that, not only successful professional development, but minimal faculty turnover allows a reliable program to continue. Necessary changes can be made more efficiently when personnel are familiar with the glitches that have occurred.

The curriculum outlined on the website suggests use of well-established programs, such as Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) to support second language learners in the classroom. This particular program requires a lot of professional development and supervision. Teachers need at least two years to use the model well as this retired teacher knows.

The Rocketship Education website endorses a wide diversity of curriculum in addition to reading and math. However, the segment on the News Hour noted that no art and music was available yet.

The Learning Lab model is also a well-established tool used for many years as an hourly after school supplement for students with reading/math scores below proficiency. To be effective a detailed analysis of improvement for students using the software must be available to teachers. Not available at Rocketship schools yet.

Right now, the Rocketship Education model shows good reading/math proficiency. Due to California’s open enrollment law, enough high-performing students have already enrolled under the blanket of a county Board of Education quest to close the achievement gap and avoid union requirements, i.e., long-term dependable teachers and a supportive public school administration.

Let’s hope the model survives and replication occurs in regular public schools or it may end up as one of the many models that have been started and discarded when change doesn’t magically occur.

How Large a Class?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Teachers, you know that you have to consider the quality and consequences of yearly testing, now that every teacher will be evaluated partly by student growth in proficiency. Next, class size as one of the components of judging a high quality teacher is up for debate.

In this election year’s squabbles about the value of different propositions to increase state revenues or not for public schools devastated by budget cuts, class size has been pronounced to be a magic bullet to reduce school budgets.

One national election candidate waves the issue of class size in the air as if that one aspect can solve the problem of student achievement, and, moreover, school budgets can be smaller! If you haven’t heard, the GOP candidate raised classroom size in 2003 and 2004 in Massachusetts, thereby reducing the number of teachers needed which allowed funds to be cut in the state school budget. Using the oft repeated trope that high quality teachers were more important to student learning, class size was the factor used to manufacture a balanced budget. This supposed triumph was trumpeted this past week at the Education Nation conference.

Slash investment to balance the budget? What’s the issue-saving money or improving student success?

In the New York Times on Friday, September 28, 2012 in the article “A Different Class Warfare,” one teacher quoted, “Come be in a classroom with fifth graders and tell me class size doesn’t matter.” How many of you teachers can remember teaching a classroom too full of students to provide consistent support to each no matter what high quality evaluation you received?

While the current administration wants changes that will turn around school systems in which students do poorly, high or low class size is one of a set of measures that must form a state’s complete plan to improve student success. Not a way to come up with money to balance a budget.

Whether conservative Will Dobbie and Roland Frye of Harvard or progressive Michelle Rhee, now head of Students First, list the qualities of a good teacher evaluation, similar traits highlight successful outcomes: frequent teacher feedback, analysis of data to plan curriculum, tutoring, more class time, and high expectations.

Both liberal and conservative education experts would agree ALL teachers need to be highly-qualified. But Take Care Schools doesn’t believe investment means squeezing a few more dollars through a thousand small cuts to state school budgets. Instead adequate funding for schools–decent facilities, strong administration, worthwhile testing tools, suitable class sizes-must be the top priority to escape the inequalities which hinder student achievement.

Teacher Thoughts on Testing

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Teachers, have you read about the angry strikes in Chicago, fury at the San Francisco school board, union relief that collective bargaining may not be cut off in Wisconsin?

teacher team analyzing tests

teacher team analyzing tests

Actually, the education issues that have disrupted the beginning of the 2012-13 school year drill down to more debate over teacher evaluation. But make no mistake, you can google loads of successful ways to collaboratively implement a new system.

However, put aside the fact that students from mid to high income families do well and really good teachers provide a great education. In low-income neighborhoods, difficulties arise, even in schools deluged with resources. Home situations for the students in those schools make even the safest school haven a precarious place for academic achievement.

The expert’s mantra is high quality teachers, longer school hours, and rigorous testing. Despite nodding heads, only longer school hours can be implemented and maintained with minimal contest. Good teaching can over time be developed, encouraged, improved, and supported.

Rigorous testing is a great idea, but have you ever seen a standardized or criterion-referenced test that met the student’s assessment needs all the time? The goal is to assess students’ achievement at grade level proficiency, but have you seen 50 different state tests provide consistent and comparable outcomes? Nevertheless, a single test score is the part of evaluation that preoccupies all stakeholders-teachers, administrators, department of education officials.

Even when the school relies on formative testing (assessments every eight weeks or so to analyze student success and student needs), factors outside the classroom must also be confronted before real achievement can be seen.

What about…

Who is making up the tests? A nation-wide company trying to please 50 state curriculums? A test publishing company niggling over questions to cover every single state standard for a grade level?

Do the test items really assess the grade level skill? For instance, does a first grader make an error (choose ‘bad’ rather than ‘dad’) because he hasn’t mastered the letter sounds or because he mixes the shape of the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’?

Is a student’s age taken into account in the scaled or percentile score that shows success?

Does the teacher’s evaluation, points given for how many students perform proficiently on one yearly test, take account of the transiency of students in her class during the year? Give credit for the high-performing, low-performing, and behavior modifications among students in the class? Balance the pros and cons of her years of teaching?

Teachers, keep in mind that good evaluation tools should rely on adequate professional development, decent facilities to provide students and teachers a safe learning environment, enough administrative and community support. Then good student test scores can be used for a percentage of your yearly evaluation.