Posts Tagged ‘highly qualified’

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.

Another Day, Another Look at Charter Schools

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Now that California, one of many states, has raised the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to apply for licenses each year, it’s time to look again at the realities of the charter school controversy.

California elementary charter school

California elementary charter school

Why do some praise charter schools as the savior of education in the United States?

Why are others cautious, if not outright antagonistic?

The charter school movement came to life in 1988 in Minnesota with the idea to design schools with “renewable licenses to innovate, free of most school district rules.” (John Merrow, “When Roads Diverge…” In 1992 the first charter school opened in Minnesota, followed soon by California after passage of the Charter School Act of 1992 and which now is #2 in the list of schools chartered.

Still charter schools have not, so far, swept over the country.  Let’s look at more numbers.  There are 4000 charter schools in 40 states and DC with 1.3 million students.  Minnesota has the most schools and California in 2009 has 700 charter schools out of 10,000 public schools with 4% of the 6.3 million students.

Even so, Michelle Rhee, superintendent of Washington DC schools, Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, all are doing their best to restructure their school districts by closing low-performing schools and reopening with smaller charter schools, often in the same building.

Why so?

Money.  State regulations for licensing charter schools have been revised in pursuit of federal Race to the Top funds geared mostly toward low-performing high schools, a desperate problem in large urban areas.  Limited data available does show that charter high schools outperform similar traditional high schools.  In addition, in California at least, charter high schools attract more disadvantaged Hispanic students, one of the groups the state must target for academic help.

Strong teachers and administrators who want to get away from the system of traditional public schools with union contracts that were needed for a long while, but now restrict change, love the idea of starting over with a new school.

In addition, high-performing charters are small schools (average 350 students) with longer school days and year, more time devoted to English language study, a clear academic mission, a moderate discipline policy.  Those schools do well on the assessments to ensure a license renewal.

Top charters really have tried to innovate.

K-5 Conservatory Lab Charter School in the Boston area led by Diana Lam, long time administrator, uses a curricular model called Learning Through Music to support students who must improve their academic achievement.  Teacher contract innovation also is a goal.  A management team is designing the pay formula based on 5 levels of teacher performance, each level geared to identify a teacher as s/he becomes more experienced.  In addition, the teachers collaborate, using the Cycle of Inquiry model to assess, analyze, and modify teaching strategies.

City Arts and Technology High School set in a working class San Francisco neighborhood is one of Envision Schools, a non-profit group of model charter high schools.  The curriculum is rigorous, students collaborate on learning projects, and support is available to ensure all 365 students do well on state exams.

What’s wrong?

Nothing, except those exceptional schools are having difficulty being replicated across the country and time is of the essence.  For instance, in California, elementary charter schools are less likely to serve minorities, English Language Learners, and low-income students.  The schools are small, not reaching enough children.  Studies of outcome data for many charter schools have not shown better results than traditional public schools.

Often said, the parent buyer must beware.  Disinformation has been generated about charter schools, emphasizing their good qualities, denigrating perfectly good public schools, and hiding the fact that 14% of charter schools lose their licenses, just like traditional public schools fall into the low-performance abyss.

Finally, a number of professionals associated with the education field see charter schools as a way to privatize education, paid for with public money.  Others who praise charter schools do so because they hope to drag down teachers’ unions that are accused of holding onto a fixed pay structure which offers no incentives to excel.

Looking again?

Teacher’s pay structure is being re-evaluated, but the public must support the thousands of public schools looking for a model to help students achieve, instead of antagonizing the very highly-qualified teachers needed to close the achievement gap.

It Gets Dark Early

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Autumn days have zipped by.  I’ve met with the parents of every student in my class and sent home report cards for the first of three evaluation periods.  We’ve been to Mission San Juan Bautista, the culmination of the first unit of California history, from the Native Americans to the explorers to the Californios, settlers governed from Spain and later Mexico.

This year, writing process procedures have been established much earlier than I managed last year.  Most are busy writing the third or fourth in a collection of pieces, non-fiction personal narrative or reports on, for example, the Miwok, California Native American tribe.  “How to Annoy the Teacher,” is a composition that seems to be loved by all, even the most conscientious, well-behaved students.  They can fantasize by leaps and bounds.

Not long after the latest update on our district school budget problems was presented at a staff meeting, I read an article on the front page of the Sunday, November 15, New York Times, “Selling Lesson Plans Online, Teachers Raise Cash and Questions” by Winnie Hu.

While I can find an abundance of lessons and teaching ideas to download on the Internet, this was the first I’d heard about selling lesson plans.  I suppose, in a free market society, teachers can sell their plans, just like a book or a better potato masher.  It may make sense if the money is used to upgrade the materials in the classroom, but when I read that someone had used the cash for new kitchen countertops, I thought enough is enough.  Want to see the new thing?  Check out Teachers Pay Teachers.

Just shows, though, the problem for teachers who wish to be innovative and have access to the best for their students and the inability of taxpayers, even those wishing schools well, to bring themselves to pay for the success of public schools in this country.

Here’s another school budgets issue. I was talking to my sister-in-law who has a six-year-old in a Los Angeles charter school because the local public school is too big and too overwhelmed by second language and poor families.  She didn’t think her child would get enough attention.  Funny thing, the charter school uses classrooms in the public school building which leads to complaints on both sides about space, storage, and access to the playground.

My cousin sent a series of articles from the September 2009 Denver Post on charter schools, detailing the sunny-side-up viewpoint of the League of Charter Schools and the down-side views of longtime public school educators.  A “Letter to the Editor” from Louise Benson, Broomfield, Colorado, way back on Sunday, September 20, suggested my point of view: improvement for public schools means “teachers and staff buy in to programs known to increase achievement, and… avoid some union work rules that impede better instruction.”

Late November my class started its unit on earth science, analyzing rocks from each strata of the earth’s crust, delving down to the core of burning magma, always enjoyed by fourth graders.

What got in the way?

My jury duty summons from the Santa Clara County Superior Court arrived in the mail.  Same problem for every working adult, it came just at the wrong moment.  I spent my time writing lesson plans that will disrupt the class as little as possible, while doing my citizen’s duty checking on the Internet daily to see if my number had come up.

I never had to go to court, we spent our days looking at rocks and using all the strategies I know and the lesson plans I’ve gathered (without paying a penny) to make sure my students are achieving.

I feel lucky.  The parents in my district are happy with its highly-qualified teachers, innovations, and facilities; not asking to set up a charter school with funds from my strapped district.

Next is the Gold Rush unit.  Nuggets of shiny metal from the dark earth glittered in men’s eyes, a symbol of California wealth, hidden right now in the dark of the state legislature.

Next Year

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

When I read the newspaper I wonder how schools will ever change.  Budget cuts threaten everyone and everything associated with teaching students.

Now, I’m the lucky teacher.  My district cut costs in the 2008-9 budget, somehow recognizing the dangers lurking in the economy.  Also, the residents in my school district, who strongly support education, passed a parcel tax at the last election.

The district has saved so much money that, at the end of the school year just completed, we were assured of weathering the disasters affecting other districts.  The major disruption will be a reduction of before and after school classes.  They will only be offered for students with learning difficulties.

On the other hand, funding for adult education classes, touted to retrain the unemployed all over the country, is being slashed (the New York Times, May 28, 2009, and the San Francisco Chronicle, July 1, 2009).  I question how people are going to get back to work without the programs offered in the community colleges?

In Oakland, California, a school district under state takeover after making a mess of its finances, is now back under the guidance of its school board, along with $60 million of debt.  How is that low-performing district going to devise a plan to raise its students reading and math achievement when it’s searching for money to clean the school restrooms?

A teacher friend in a large district in San Jose, California, told me the schools will revert to 30-1 students per teacher.  The 30-1 formula reduces the number of classrooms needed.  That’s when teachers will not be rehired and the “who-to-lay-off” question comes into play.  A young highly-qualified teacher or a tenured teacher?  In my school, the issue has been put off for a year because of the massive savings held by the district.

In the huge Los Angeles district, I’ve read that most summer school programs have been cancelled.  The cuts leave students whose parents work at loose ends; leaves teachers who depend on the summer income searching for work in a recession; and worst of all, leaves the achievement gap, that most worrisome of school issues, to expand because students don’t have access to learning opportunities.

Most students in my school have highly-educated parents with time and money to provide all sorts of opportunities during the summer.  In my small district I only worry about keeping students at the top of the achievement benchmarks in California.

It’s infuriating that the federal stimulus funds, supposedly available to support a turn around in low-performing schools, will likely be used for basic services.  Why?  Because the legislature in California and other states gives funds and takes them away from the budget depending on the temper of the governor and legislators from one day to the next.

As a teacher I surely want clean restrooms in my school, but I also want to teach my students with all the resources available, not simply ‘make do’.

Is It a New Day?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

School reform can be hashed over until the end of time, but here and now a few changes have flipped to the top of the pile.

In the February 2009 stimulus package authorized by Congress, a $54 million “stabilization” fund was established to protect schools and school districts against teacher layoffs.  As any current or former teacher knows, laying off and hiring again at the last minute is the worst hindrance to stability in a school, certain to add an obstacle to classroom academic achievement, the improvement of which is every school’s goal.

Next reform of importance is holding down student-teacher ratios.  In spite of studies that support both sides of the teacher-student ratio argument, schools that have increased the number of students who are proficient in reading and math (the current standard), did so with the help of extra teaching personnel that reduced class size in the most important subject areas.  Data from Success for All, originally developed at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, provides an example of the improvement possible.

Of course, the one issue that is up front in any discussion of education reform is the need for “highly qualified” teachers.  See, for example, George F. Will’s “The Last Word” opinion in Newsweek (March 23, 2009).  Now, much research has delineated the best practices that teachers should use to benefit their student’s achievement.  In California, teacher preparation programs have improved since the concept of best practices has been introduced and new teachers are well- equipped for the instructional goals in today’s schools.

Complaining about bad teachers doesn’t help.  To make sure new professionals continue to receive staff development and that experienced teachers have access to new practices, funding is necessary.

Careful planning and use of funding resources helps.  An example is the interactive DVD which allows for training in multiple staff development situations and doesn’t require the cost for trainers to come to the school site.

So, three reforms that every state governor in the union must address if the stimulus money is directed to him or her: stop laying teachers off, reduce the student-teacher ratio, provide resources to keep teachers on top of the game.  A good place to start.