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Archive for September, 2011

Test Scores, Multiple Measures, and Circular Reasoning

Anthony Cody’s recent reflection on this year’s Education Nation program on MSNBC offers an important caution to those trying to develop “multiple measures” for student learning and effective teaching. If the decision to use a given measure is determined solely by whether or not it’s linked to higher standardized test scores (as with the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching study), then you don’t really have “multiple measures.”

Tracking test scores can be an important tool in helping students make progress, and it is useful to know which elements of classroom practice have a significant impact on students’ performance on end-of-the-year tests. For example, teachers in Chicago who had high ratings on Charlotte Danielson’s framework for evaluating effective teaching have also been shown to have higher value-added scores. However, when test scores are used as the sole measure of effective teaching and learning — or when valuable aspects of effective teaching and important types of student learning are discarded or ignored because they don’t align with standardized test results — our students are the ones who ultimately pay the price.

Do you notice what is bothering me? Mrs. Gates begins by acknowledging that good teaching cannot be reduced to a test score — or at least that this is often said. She then asserts that the half billion dollars they have spent on research in this area have uncovered a number of things that can be measured that allow us to predict which teachers will have the highest test scores. A great teacher is defined over and over again as one who made sure students “learned the material at the end of the year.” More »

Don’t Think Class Size Affects Achievement? Think Again.

It is already obvious that class sizes are up this year — which will give School Year 2011-12 the dubious honor of being the fourth straight year of class size increases. The DOE won’t have official numbers until November, but budget cuts resulted in the loss of some 2,500 teachers this year, enrollments are rising and now we have the Day 6 class size grievance counts: nearly 7,000, up from 4,370 this time four years ago.

Will the bigger classes affect achievement? Results from just a single year suggest they will. The UFT Research Dept. looked at fourth grade, where class sizes rose an average of about one-half a child (0.47) last year. Then we divided the fourth grade into schools where class size rose more than the average, and schools where it rose less, and looked at their achievement in math. The difference was pronounced. While the majority of schools improved in math last year, schools where 4th grade class sizes rose by less than the average improved two percentage points more than schools that had larger-than-average class size increases.

School year
2010 to 2011
Growth in class size Change in math proficiency
Grade 4 (274 schools) Less than 0.47 student +5.2 points
Grade 4 (426 schools) More than 0.47 student +3.2 points

More »

StoryCorps Launches National Teacher Initiative

StoryCorps National Teacher InitiativeFrom the AFT:

StoryCorps — a national oral history project whose interviews you’ve probably heard on public radio — kicked off its National Teacher Initiative earlier this week with AFT president Randi Weingarten participating at the White House event.

The project, which launched Sept. 19, celebrates and honors the courageous work of public school educators nationwide. “This is a fantastic opportunity to hear from teachers — the people who are closest to the kids,” said Weingarten. “Their stories will be a window to the world on today’s public education — what’s working, what’s not, and what we can do better to prepare our children for the 21st-century knowledge economy.”

StoryCorps is looking to partner with schools, districts, teachers unions, community groups, and others to conduct an on-site recording day, and will send their staff and equipment to schools or events if the local or state federation can guarantee that at least eight interview pairs that include at least one teacher are available to participate. Each interview takes 40 minutes, and the participants will receive a CD of their interview.

Interview pairs for the National Teachers Initiative may consist of two teachers interviewing one another, friends discussing the impact an exemplary teacher had on their lives, a student or former student interviewing a memorable teacher, or other relevant pairings. The National Teachers Initiative will focus on these heroic teachers from a variety of ethnicities, cultures and age groups. All interviews will be archived and kept in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Select National Teachers Initiative interviews will be edited for nationwide public radio broadcasts throughout the 2011–12 school year.

StoryCorps already is planning to visit cities throughout the country during the 2011-12 school year to record stories honoring at least 625 teachers. These cities include: Albuquerque, N.M.; Baltimore; Fort Riley, Kan.; McComb, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; New York City; Orlando, Fla.; Portland, Ore.; and Zanesville, Ohio.

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, Sept. 22, 2011Highlights from the Sept. 22 issue of New York Teacher:

DOE discontinues controversial Teacher Data Reports
New York City’s Teacher Data Reports will be going the way of the dodo bird, following a Department of Education announcement on Sept. 15. The DOE said it would no longer produce the reports and instead turn that part of the teacher evaluation process over to the state.

Building a peaceful school and students with emotional intelligence
At PS 80 in Jamaica, Queens, there were fights breaking out throughout the day — in the cafeteria, the schoolyard, the hallways and even during class. With skirmishes on so many fronts, longtime guidance counselor Max Nass couldn’t be in all the trouble spots at all times. He knew something had to be done — and fast.

President’s Perspective
Taking back our profession

We face many challenges this school year, starting with the hard realities of more budget cuts and austerity, exploding class sizes and increasing poverty and homelessness among our students. But in the face of challenges, the members of our union always make our schools work, and I cannot thank you enough for all that you do. More »

Trumka Urges Passage of Jobs Bill

On Sept. 19, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement in support of President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act:

Today President Obama said some things that very much needed to be said. He said we need to focus first and foremost on creating jobs, and he laid out a plan for doing just that. He said that asking millionaires like Warren Buffett to start paying their fair share in taxes is not class warfare, but simple math. He said Social Security does not contribute one dime to the deficit and Social Security benefits must not be cut. He said drawing down from Iraq and Afghanistan would save $1.1 trillion over 10 years, which the Super Committee could use to avoid any cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. And he explained once again how budget surpluses under President Clinton turned into budget deficits under President Bush: through two wars that were never paid for, tax cuts for wealthy people that we couldn’t afford, and the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression that was caused by a failed economic philosophy that Republicans in Congress are now trying to revive.

We call on Congress to immediately pass the President’s proposal for job-creating investments, to ask the wealthy to start paying their fair share, to focus on the true causes of our long-term deficits, to reject any cuts to Medicaid or Social Security or Medicare benefits, and to stop scapegoating federal and postal employees and retirees for problems they did not cause.

Trove of Old Report Cards: “400 Little Dramas Sketched Out On Cardstock”

A Slate writer on Sunday posted the first two articles in a series about a trove of report cards from a girls’ vocational school in New York City that he discovered in the basement of an old school building. It sounds like there will be some fascinating stories from his efforts to to learn more about what happened to the school’s graduates — some of whom may be the grandparents of today’s teachers and students:

I opened one of the drawers and was surprised to find hundreds, maybe thousands, of old report cards. Oddly, they were not for Stuyvesant High students. They were all for teenaged girls who’d attended some sort of trade school back in the early 1900s. Many of the report cards featured small photographs of the students, and most of them were loaded with unusually vivid commentary about everything from the students’ study habits to their personal appearance (one girl, who apparently had red hair, was described as a “real carrot-head”), all rendered in impossibly perfect fountain-pen script. I was immediately smitten.

Blue Book Looks a Little Gray

The DOE’s annual 600-plus-page Enrollment–Capacity–Utilization Report 2009-10, universally known as the Blue Book, is the official word on how much space is available in every school in the city. But the results of an audit released today by the city comptroller show that the Blue Book data is inaccurate.

The particulars are a little technical, but the impact is not. The DOE uses the Blue Book to decide on co-locations. It is also used to assign students to a building, add grades, bring in special education programs, and determine the multi-billion-dollar capital spending plan.

But in 23 percent of school rooms that auditors checked on, the Blue Book either gave the wrong size or the wrong function. For example, the room was described as a resource room but was really being used as an office, or the room was reportedly big enough for 28 kids when actually it could only hold 20. More »

Class Warfare

Class Warfare: that’s the title Steven Brill gave to his recent book on the state of American education.

With such a title, one might think that that Brill’s book would investigate how the deep class divisions between America’s wealthy class and our poor and working class, a gap that has grown immensely over the last four decades, has harmed our schools and our students. After all, educational research has shown that greatest challenge our schools face is the grinding effect of poverty on so many of the students we teach.

But Brill’s book embraces without question or qualification the diagnosis of the wealthy Wall Street hedge-fund managers who have driven much of the dominant ‘education reform’ agenda: in their view, the educational failures of schools and students are the fault of public school teachers and teacher unions. More »

Brainstorming and Re-imagining

[Editor’s note: Ms. Flecha is the pseudonym of a fifth-year elementary school ESL teacher in Queens. She blogs at My Life Untranslated, where a version of this post first appeared.]

Few things are better than a fresh start. To come at something with new eyes, new lessons learned, and a chance to do things differently than before — it’s reinvigorating. And teachers get one every September: a chance to re-imagine everything from how you teach to how you decorate your classroom. The opportunities can be endless, if you look at the things you hope to do differently with an open mind. Not many professions offer that. More »

“A Powerful Piece”

In case you missed it, the Times last week published a op-ed column by Charles M. Blow entitled “In Honor of Teachers.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, in an email to members, called it a “powerful piece” that “shows just how harmful and senseless an effect the rhetoric and contempt of so-called reformers is having on our children and profession. It will make you proud to be an educator who makes a difference every day. There truly are people out there who understand and support our work inside the classroom.”

Asking Hard Questions About “What Works”

[Editor’s note: Data analysis conducted by Rhonda Rosenberg.]

This week, the Daily News published yet another editorial taking an unjustly negative view of district schools in comparison to the charter sector — in this case, arguing that the relatively high proficiency levels in upper grades at schools in the Harlem Success and Harlem Village charter chains are primarily due to those schools’ extended days and school years. However, the latest available official data indicates that the schools in these two chains are also characterized by lower proportions of high-needs students than local district schools, and by extremely high rates of student attrition over time — in one case, a 68% drop in cohort size between 5th and 8th grades.

Even charter advocacy groups such as the New York City Charter School Center have warned against making simplistic assumptions about the causes of charters’ performance on state tests, noting in their own thoughtful analysis of this year’s results that

it would be inaccurate to draw absolute conclusions about school or sector superiority solely from these data points. There are important differences in demographics and enrollment practices that need to be taken into account in making policy conclusions. In order to control for these variables deeper analysis is required.

More »

‘Twas the Eve of the School Year

[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a teacher in an elementary school in Queens now in his fourth year. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

Twas the eve of the school year, and all through the town,
No teacher was sleeping, (sitting up or laying down).
They’d prepared their classrooms, so nicely, with care
Anticipating that the students soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of learning danced in their heads.
They thought ‘fore they slumbered, “How will it be?
Will my teacher be nice? Will my teacher like me?”

Next morning came ‘round, and there rose such a clatter
Kids sprung from their beds: school was here, all that matters.
Away to the bus they ran like a flash,
The walkers didn’t walk, but rather, they dashed.

The sun burning sharp on the glimmering playground
Made children squint looking for friends to be found.
When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a group of old classmates, and their teacher this year. More »


Chester Finn has more listings on his C.V. than there are plankton sucked into the megamouth of a feeding whale shark. Although he is an education policy adviser and erstwhile academic, he is not an educator.

He’s the president of the non-profit (in the sense of potential intellectual gain) Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Reportedly he’s a likeable chap ( likes to be called “Checker,” perhaps because he’s partial to board games as much as board rooms), and not at all brash. His murderous animus for teacher unions is conveyed with old-boy elegance and charm. (The eye is not malevolent when it winks like a pixie. With a twinkle he assures teachers that they have nothing to fear from disembowelment.)

In a recent post on the Education Next blog he draws a sharp distinction between the virtue of teachers and the vices of their unions. He practically says that teachers and their unions should be mortal enemies. They would be, he feels, if teachers would simply take to heart opinion polls that show that teachers are revered but their unions are reviled.

He sets up teachers by flattering them, seducing them with praise and suspiciously-flavored statistics from polls. He implies that if teachers cut themselves loose from the unions that exploit and are strangling them, there would be veritable peace on earth. Nothing like a choke-out to clear institutional memory!

But all conscientious teachers know that the interests of their profession and their union are not antithetical and it is not their union that is exploiting them but rather Finn and his confederates who are giving it their best shot. More »

Celebrating Labor Day

“I Will Teach These Kids” — Why Educating All Students Matters

As the school year begins, this recent speech by Texas Superintendent John Kuhn from the Save Our Schools rally in DC is worth reading (and watching) as a reminder of why the work of all our city’s teachers in teaching all of our city’s students is so important:

Let me speak for all public school educators when I say unequivocally: We will. We say send us your poor, send us your homeless, the children of your afflicted and addicted. Send us your kids who don’t speak English. Send us you special-needs children, we will not turn them away.

But I tell you today, public school teacher, you will fail to take the shattered children of poverty and turn them into the polished products of the private schools. You will be unacceptable, public school teacher. And I say that is your badge of honor. I stand before you today bearing proudly the label of unacceptable because I educate the children they will not educate. More »