Defending teachers from the noise machine

So I’ve been blogging at Forbes and spending a lot of my time talking about teachers and how teachers are under a sustained ideological assault. However, one thing I will never blog about is how teachers should be teaching. My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does. They are trained to teach by people who are often either teachers themselves or experts in the subject of teaching. And they learn from years of teaching in the trenches what outside observers could never learn reading education papers and analyzing test scores.

Education pundits, school reformers, and politicians all think they know what’s best for students and by extension what sort of pedagogy a teacher should adopt. Often, top-down reformers try to use ‘teacher-proof’ curriculums which enforce lockstep thinking and automated-teaching. I find this appalling. And even though I occasionally have an idea about how I’d like to see teaching done, or imagine how I would teach if I were a teacher, this sort of thing won’t show up at the blog. Let teachers teach, and let bloggers (and bureaucrats) talk about policies that allow teachers, parents, administrators, and students to weave together the best education experience possible.

A lot of that is going to be doing nothing, actually, or mostly nothing – or at least scaling back all this something that has been done. The years since Bush signed No Child Left Behind, and Arne Duncan followed up with Race to the Top, have not been marked by rapid educational gains and growing student achievements. Instead, they’ve been marred by anti-teacher uprisings, test-accountability zealotry, skewed test data, and a system of education pretty much turned on its head by people who have too much power and too much certainty in their good ideas.

Good intentions may sit at the root of all this reform, but that doesn’t change the direction the road they paved is headed. American public schools have served most Americans well. The problems in our system comes in areas of deep poverty, typically in impoverished inner cities, on Native American reservations, and in poor rural areas. You don’t remake an entire system from the top down due to the outliers, nor do you remake a system of education in order to compete with other countries. These are problems that need to be addressed, but not in the way we’ve been addressing them over the past decade.

Anyways, that’s what I’m trying to do at Forbes. I have a couple posts people might be interested in. First, I try to show why this chart, illustrating how horribly difficult it is to fire a ‘bad teacher’, is in fact very misleading.

Oh, and it turns out teachers aren’t overpaid babysitters. More like underpaid babysitters.

PS – I am not saying here that nobody should ever criticize teachers or that there isn’t a discussion to be had about good ways to teach or how to better identify bad teachers. What I am saying is that there is a lot of arrogance in the punditocracy and the political bureaucracy and that a lot of people think they’re a lot smarter than they are. A lot of them haven’t taught and don’t truly understand the difficulties teachers face. But I think teachers and other educators and people in the field should always be trying to find new and better ways to do things. It’s not like this wasn’t happening before the current reform craze, however. Teachers are often very involved in professional development and there’s always a debate going on about bets practices, curriculum, etc. Even school choice – done properly – could help contribute to this. Initially, charter schools were all about cooperatively working with their school districts to experiment with different teaching methods and team-teaching, and so forth. Nobody and certainly not me is suggesting that we can’t evaluate or discuss teachers. All I’m saying is that I’m not going to be blogging about how I think teachers should teach. Maybe I’ll shine a light on various ideas, but it’s not going to be something I editorialize on. Others are free to do so however they please. This is simply my own approach.






187 replies
  1. 1
    Smurfhole says:

    My mother is a public school teacher of several decades’ experience, and when I’ve asked her what the main problem she faces in her classrooms is, she says it’s lack of funding. She says that the money doesn’t trickle down into the classrooms, so that she’s still using 30-year-old textbooks which are falling apart and have pages missing. She thinks NCLB was horrid, too, because it turned classrooms into year-round exam prep sessions, but the lack of funding making its way into the actual classrooms was a bigger problem in her opinion.

  2. 2
    Poopyman says:

    As a brother–in–law to a recently–retired teacher, I say “Amen!”

    BTW, Matoko_chan’s been looking for you, Kain. Looks like your stalker is back. Just don’t play “Misty” for her.

  3. 3
    E.D. Kain says:

    @Smurfhole: lack of funding and distribution of resources are a perpetual issue, no doubt.

  4. 4
    debit says:

    Run, ED, run!!

  5. 5
    Lit3Bolt says:

    Sully is on the crusade as we speak.

    It’s amusing to watch priorities in action. Fraudulent banking practices? Excessive CEO compensation for failure? Abusive cops? Functionally alcoholic doctors? Drug addled celebrities? NO! The enemy is, and always will be, teachers, those vile public servants.

    But then again, Sullivan prefers such soft, feminine targets. He’ll bring up The Bell Curve again in 3…2…

  6. 6
    BrianD says:

    I was just recalling all the ideas i had about how teaching should be before I actually stepped into a classroom, and how none of them worked. Until you’ve actually done it, you’re not very qualified to tell teachers how to do their jobs, and this goes double for all the well-intended former corporate accountants running charter schools.

  7. 7
    theturtlemoves says:

    I taught high school for a year back about fifteen years ago, straight out of grad school. I can’t think of a single profession in the world wherein some high school dropout hillbilly thinks they can do your job better than you can and will tell you about it to your face. Do people go to the doctor and inform him that he’s “doin’ that surgery wrong?” I didn’t get a Master’s degree to have little Jethro’s dad telling me how to teach Beowulf…

  8. 8
    br says:

    ED,

    Another way to read your numbers is Wisconsin teachers are paid, on average, $2.50 per child per hour. This number includes their salary and supposedly “luxurious” benefits package.

    I don’t know what the going rate for a babysitter is, but that seems grossly underpaid to me as well.

  9. 9
    Dennis SGMM says:

    Right as rain. Our Galtian overlords’ move to cut teachers out of the herd and strip them of their collective bargaining rights and their benefits has given much aid and comfort to every jackass with a simplistic solution to What’s Wrong With Our Schools.

    AFAIK, America has never been close to the top in education when compared to other industrialized nations yet we dummies managed to win WWII and put men on the Moon. There’s an ulterior motive behind the hue and cry for education reform and it stinks on ice.

  10. 10
    Boudica says:

    Nice try on the babysitter calculation, but my teen daughter makes $10/hour babysitting, not $3. I was making $3/hour 25 years ago. So, teachers are even more grossly underpaid than you showed (as babysitters).

  11. 11
    Smurfhole says:

    @E.D. Kain:

    I was just surprised that my mother named it as the single greatest challenge she personally faced, as an educator. You’d think SOME of the money would trickle down into the actual classrooms, but apparently not as much as one would like.

  12. 12
    Poopyman says:

    @Smurfhole: My BIL English teacher lamented lack of support from an increasingly top–heavy administration. I suspect that a lot of fat can be trimmed off the very top in every school district’s budget.

    (He also lamented the young “negotiators” in the union giving away the store, but that’s a different topic.)

  13. 13
    Mary G says:

    I thought that season of “The Wire” where they focused on the junior high school kids was some of the most tragic television I have ever seen. So much wrong with their situation and the ex-cop teacher was a spark of hope, but only one kid made it.

  14. 14
    whuh says:

    So you favor allowing teachers to teach creationism?

    Incidentally, what in God’s name is your qualification for this blog? My mother is also a teacher – er, sorry, “educator” – but that hardly gives me deep insight into education policy. What is your degree in? It appears that Forbes has become a SpamBot content mill under Darth Dvorkin.

  15. 15
    Bill Section 147 says:

    Having some friends who teach is as close as I come to any insight and the reality of teaching is very different than the picture painted by the critics of teachers.

    Sadly my experience in corporations and life is that more often than not the professionals that actually have knowledge and experience in any given field are not consulted and most of the time, money and effort goes in to making some semblance of a wheel.

    Add to this, in the area of Education, there is a group of people who have a vested interest in mucking up the system partnering with a group who see political advantage in destroying the professionals on whom the system relies.

  16. 16
    Stillwater says:

    American public schools have served most Americans well. The problems in our system comes in areas of deep poverty…

    Indeedy. I’ve always been puzzled about education reform: why isn’t the solution to actually maintain the current systems, but give teachers the financial means and the latitude to effectively teach? Why isn’t that the right solution?

    Well, because black,blackity,black, and taxes, and unions, and teh ghey, and the radical liberal agenda….

    The rights assault on teachers, and public sector unions nothing to do with ‘reforming education’. Unfortunately, the teachers and the kids are the ones caught in the middle.

  17. 17
    Mark says:

    As much as I love and support teachers, I think it’s a mistake to limit the scope of your discussion by the assumption that the future of education is teacher centric. An analogy I like to make is with the theater. Our best actors make it to Broadway. Any plan to get Broadway-level actors out to every local theater across the country is madness. We solved that problem with motion pictures. We put our best actors on a stage/set and film them. And we use computer-generated special effects. I’m *not* saying we can or should just film a good teacher teaching, distribute it, and call it a day. But given the technology at our disposal, there is, in fact, a lot we should be thinking about that does not involve teachers in the classroom.

  18. 18
    Zifnab says:

    Education pundits, school reformers, and politicians all think they know what’s best for students and by extension what sort of pedagogy a teacher should adopt. Often, top-down reformers try to use ‘teacher-proof’ curriculums which enforce lockstep thinking and automated-teaching. I find this appalling. And even though I occasionally have an idea about how I’d like to see teaching done, or imagine how I would teach if I were a teacher, this sort of thing won’t show up at the blog. Let teachers teach, and let bloggers (and bureaucrats) talk about policies that allow teachers, parents, administrators, and students to weave together the best education experience possible.

    Sorry, but that’s just silly.

    The school system is an industry and education is a product of the industry. If you were running a car plant where one in ten cars came out without axles or windshields, you wouldn’t wave off management and claim we should just “talk about policies that allow manufacturers, floor managers, and car buyers to weave together the best driving experience possible”. That would be nonsense happy talk.

    And here we have the same thing. We clearly have schools that under perform. We have schools with high drop out rates and low college attendance / future employment rates. We have schools with high drug abuse and violent crime. We have schools with curriculum that handicap students more than they help them (abstinence education / creationist science – I’m looking at you).

    So simply waving off any kind of top-down mandate or high level objective is pretty foolish. Perhaps the teach-to-the-test methodology and the charter school fetishism isn’t working. But that doesn’t mean we should swear off any form of overarching reforms.

    We need to better prioritize and define our goals. What is education supposed to accomplish? How do we effectively measure that accomplishment? What tools do we have to effectively change how a school functions? All these questions remain more-or-less unanswered. That doesn’t mean we should leave them unanswered and cast idea of reform to the winds. On the contrary, it means we need to get more serious about defining exactly what a good school is and exactly how we plan to make more of them.

  19. 19
    LGRooney says:

    My 7 y.o. thanks you! As his teacher says, when complaining about NCLB, “My job is to teach kids how to think and the skills they need to support that, not teach them what to think.”

  20. 20
    Trouble says:

    To the contrary, even in well-heeled suburbs I don’t think that our public education system is all that great. For every hard-working, seasoned educator out there, there’s a counterpart who became a teacher for job security, summers off, has never held a private sector job, and complains about “being on my feet” for 7 hours a day. I tip my hat to smart people with life experience who take on often insurmountable challenges to teach in the most impoverished districts, but strongly disagree with the fact that the system does not need to be overhauled.

    A system that does NOT work for so many, and that works on an adequate (at best) level for the majority, shouldn’t be immune to revision and overhaul.

  21. 21
    CoffeeTim says:

    As a former teacher and the spouse of a professor of education at a Texas university all I can say is “Amen” ED. Get the politicians out of the classrooms and things will improve greatly. We’ve had six extra years of No Child Left Behind compared to the rest of the country and it’s been an abject failure. We’ve also got a state school commission full of right wing political appointees who seem to be most interested in turning the education system into and indoctrination system.

    According to my wife, extra money would be a boon but the first order of business is get all politics out of the schools and let teachers show you what they can do if given the chance. A fair percentage of every teacher’s time is spent documenting adherence to and incorporating all the micro managed mandates sent down from above. Just making that go away would increase the amount time each teacher could spend on actual teaching by 10-20%. Just think what that might do for test scores.

    No group of professionals is as undervalued and unfairly maligned by our society than educators.

  22. 22
    Dave says:

    We should just be able to fire the bottom five percent of humans.

  23. 23
    wenchacha says:

    The best, brightest, most talented teacher can be severely hobbled by the shitty parenting their students have experienced.

    It all goes downhill from there.

  24. 24
    Smurfhole says:

    @Poopyman:

    My mother taught reading courses and remedial reading programs for 38 years, so it was probably somewhat similar. Not sure if it affects other departments, too, but it probably does. (She was laid off by the district after 38 years, but now teaches pregnant teens in some special program for the same district, as a contract employee. If I understand the situation right, anyway.)

  25. 25
    Bulworth says:

    Indeedy. I’ve always been puzzled about education reform: why isn’t the solution to actually maintain the current systems, but give teachers the financial means and the latitude to effectively teach? Why isn’t that the right solution?

    Because money doesn’t produce results* except in the case of defense spending in which money is no object.

    *all the ed reformers say so

  26. 26
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Zifnab:

    The school system is an industry and education is a product of the industry. If you were running a car plant where one in ten cars came out without axles or windshields, you wouldn’t wave off management and claim we should just “talk about policies that allow manufacturers, floor managers, and car buyers to weave together the best driving experience possible”. That would be nonsense happy talk.

    The way that Toyota builds cars is now “nonsense happy talk”?

    No wonder we’re falling behind in manufacturing. You really can’t fix this stuff without empowering the drones who actually do the work to tell you what’s going wrong and what they need to do their jobs.

  27. 27
    Legalize says:

    @theturtlemoves:
    Mrs. Legalize was in the same boat a little while ago. She and I ultimately decided “fuck it.” After teaching for years, she misses the kids, but does not miss being on the verge of tears every day due to being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from hillbilly parents.

    Hearing her daily stories about the miserable, ignorant, racist, angry, shit-heads who called themselves “parents,” has hardened my heart a little bit to the plight of working-class folks with “W” stickers on their trucks.

  28. 28
    Stillwater says:

    EDK, to what extent do you think the ‘education reform’ movement reduces to simple, unadulterated, but somewhat concealed, anti-liberalism? By asking that, I’m not suggesting that test score data be simply discounted as a metric, or that perhaps there is an alternative institutional structure which may permit better ‘results’ (whatever the hell that means).

    But really, this is all so silly. If conservatives really care about their kids education, empower the people – teachers! – who already share that concern. I don’t think they actually do care about education, however, and that this is all just ideological bullshit.

  29. 29
    Jamey: Bike Commuter of the Gods says:

    Credit where due, ED. You get it right (which means, of course, that we agree)–esp. in your reluctance to wade into the debates about how teachers should be teaching.

  30. 30
    gene108 says:

    nor do you remake a system of education in order to compete with other countries.

    I disagree with this. We would do a disservice to future generations, if we did not make sure we prepare students for the changes in the global economy. This means making sure children have the tools needed to compete internationally, because so much competition for jobs, projects, etc. is international.

    Making sure kids have some ability to learn other languages, would be a good place to start. You can start 1st graders off in a foreign language and they will probably retain whatever it is that allows people to easily pick up languages for the rest of their lives.

    Of course that’d require investing in elementary level foreign ed. teachers, but that’s the sort of thing we should be doing. To think someone in America, will only work with English speaking Americans is a very dated idea, in many industries.

  31. 31
    JWL says:

    Kain: You words echo those of my father. A few years before he died, he made essentially the same point in discussing a right wing assault on the profession here in California (and that was 20-plus years ago).

  32. 32
    Punchy says:

    But ED KAIN iz aborshun and legal feadus and cote hangrz and teh devil! Like Nazis and Darth Sideous!

    Thought I’d Goodwin, Chan, and Lucas the thread all at once.

  33. 33
    Hebisner says:

    I think its worth pointing out the purpose of requiring test data is not to get teachers fired or sully the reputation of their profession. It is to identify low performing students and schools and then try to figure out how to deal with that. If the tests and test prep is getting in the way, you need a different kind of test. But we still need some empirical data on students and schools. Otherwise, the districts and states with low performing schools and students will not be held accountable, and will be able to to do what they always have done, pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

    Part of the problem here is that NEA and other organizations (not all, AFT has been smarter) have from the very beginning of NCLB acted stupidly in how they dealt with the law, which has played into the hands of their enemies. Instead of recognizing the opportunity testing and the education reform movement presents, they engaged in silly arguments that NCLB was a right wing conspiracy, even though it had been written and supported by two of the most liberal members of Congress.

    The research on educational outcomes has one common element. Teachers are the most important element in those outcomes. Right wing cranks like Walker and the I hate teacher unions crowd don’t give a crap about teachers, students, or educating people better. They simply want to cut off support for Democrats from teachers and gain an advantage electorally. But that doesn’t mean that efforts to try to measure education outcomes or improve teacher recruitment, training and retention should be jettisoned. If we need better data, than lets come up with a way to get it. And I certainly don’t believe the current testing regimes in any state are good enough to tell you who is and isn’t a good teacher with any certainty.

  34. 34
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    @Mnemosyne: But TQM/Six Sigma/Process Improvement is a huge culture shift; that REQUIRES Senior Management support, and a willingness to change.

    It also requires metrics that are reasoned and good (and not just easy to measure) to gain an understanding.

    Plus building a car is easy compared to educating a child. With a car you have set inputs, set process, and set outputs.

    How the hell do you control all that in a school system? And until we figure that out, we’re never going to have a good handle on getting reliable outcomes.

  35. 35
    Dork says:

    Funny that the party of “small government” was the party that nationalized education.

  36. 36
    E.D. Kain says:

    @Boudica: I was being very conservative in my estimates.

  37. 37
    wsn says:

    re: babysitting

    I remember in my 6th grade class many years ago a couple guys did the math on this and came to a similar conclusion.

    More generally, keep fighting the good fight E.D.

  38. 38
    Ryan says:

    Speaking as a teacher, I can honestly say that most of the tests are deeply flawed. Maryland gives a test to tenth graders every year. A study of the 2008 test showed something like 33 of 38 questions to be ambiguous, unanswerable, or absolutely wrong.

  39. 39
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Stillwater: We just can’t keep throwing money at the problem…
    /sarcasm

  40. 40
    Stillwater says:

    @Zifnab: We need to better prioritize and define our goals. What is education supposed to accomplish? How do we effectively measure that accomplishment? What tools do we have to effectively change how a school functions?

    What is the minimum amount of money it takes to run a functioning school where kids and teachers have the resources to learn and achieve? Don’t forget that one.

  41. 41
    gene108 says:

    @Mark: Colleges offer it for various degree programs. I’m not talking about the University of Phoenix, but traditional four year colleges now have several on-line degree programs. On-line MBA’s have become very common. My brother did an on-line graduate degree from NYU about 7-8 years ago.

    I don’t see how it would work in high school or lower, where kids aren’t the sort of self-starters, who’d log-in and check on lessons and lectures, etc.

    There maybe some benefits to on-line delivery of some lessons, but I don’t see it having any significant benefit below the college level.

  42. 42
    Napoleon says:

    @theturtlemoves:

    I can’t think of a single profession in the world wherein some high school dropout hillbilly thinks they can do your job better than you can and will tell you about it to your face.

    You don’t listen to sports radio, do you?

  43. 43
    cyntax says:

    @Zifnab:

    The school system is an industry and education is a product of the industry.

    And there’s your problem in a nutshell. It’s not an industry.

    I know that’s the frame of reference we all like to default to in our rah-rah capitalist way, but education like healthcare does not benefit from thinking of it only in these terms. Teaching certainly has to produce students who have certain skill sets and certain abilities, but your car and your child aren’t the same damn thing.

    Instilling the faculties for critical thought and creativity aren’t the same as simply processing raw materials into finished products. A piece of steel can be welded to another piece of steel by a robotic arc welder every single time. Teachers have to react individual students, with individual needs ever day.

    I agree with you that we need to decide what we want education to do, but thoroughly reject your framing of it simply as an industry. Certainly there are aspects of it that can be defined by industrial terms, but collapsing all of what makes it different under the term “industry” doesn’t help resolve any of the present problems.

  44. 44
    aimai says:

    My kids go to a very good, very small, alternative private school. The teachers are fantastic–there are lots of things I think I could do better (!) intellectually or programmatically but there’s a huge difference between being a university level teacher (which I was) and being the right teacher at the right time for new learners. Thats a skill that can’t be taught from a book–and its not about teaching from a book either.

    One of the things that I love about the school is that it really spends money, and time, allowing the teachers to attend training and professional seminars and to work together across classrooms on various problems. For instance they have a working group for each teacher, composed of teachers from other grades, the arts, languages, woodworking to whom they can take problems with particular children. Instead of working just with the kids, or with parents and kids, or principle, parents and kids they can take issues to the other four teachers in their peer group and “present” the issue and get feedback.

    Can you imagine how much outside classroom time it takes for people to be able to teach twenty kids for an hour? And to deal with the separate personal and intellectual issues of each child? And to do so eagerly and joyfully, as the children deserve? Its an incredibly difficult job and people need both monetary and professional rewards to be able to do it well. They need to be able to recharge their intellectual and emotional batteries.

    I can’t believe the shit teachers put up with from their communities over benefits and classroom supplies. I think its not surprising that people treat teachers so badly–I think they come in for a lot of the same hostility that mothers come in for when children act out knowing that their mother will still love them. There is a whole lot of shock when teachers push back, talk back, or strike because they are supposed to cheerfully and silently sacrifice themselves for the general good.

    aimai

  45. 45
    Mnemosyne says:

    @DecidedFenceSitter:

    But TQM/Six Sigma/Process Improvement is a huge culture shift; that REQUIRES Senior Management support, and a willingness to change.

    Yes, it is. In fact, that’s what I thought we were talking about — the huge changes that would be necessary to fix our school system. What I’m saying is that you can’t impose TQM/Six Sigma/Process improvement with top-down directives that don’t take the actual job that you’re asking people to do into account. You can’t tell everyone that you’re going to have a TQM system, but they’re not allowed to speak up and tell you when problems arise.

    Personally, I think “management” is the biggest problem with our schools — administration is top-heavy and don’t necessarily have a lot of teaching experience. Frankly, too much “management” is the problem with a lot of our corporations, too — they, too, seem to have this idea that the way to solve problems is to throw more managers at it rather than asking the employees what’s going on.

  46. 46
    kay says:

    This, to me, is hopeful:

    Also interesting to note — the overwhelming opposition from people with children in Wisconsin public schools. Sixty-seven percent of people in that demographic disapprove of Walker, including 54% who strongly disapprove.

    Think how broad a group that is: “people with children in public schools”. Income, race, urban, suburban, rural.

    He’s managed to bring them together, in opposition.

  47. 47
    kerFuFFler says:

    Sadly I must admit that about 1/3 of my kids’ teachers were pretty bad and about 1/5 appallingly incompetent. It should be easier to get rid of the really bad ones.

    As far as NCLB, in addition to turning class-time into remedial test prep, it basically imposes the rate of learning of the slowest student in the room upon the whole class. Many bright kids tune out or turn to mischief. But of course “tracking” remains a dirty word. And teachers get no support from the administration in addressing the reality of teaching so many kids at completely different skill levels grouped together superficially by age.

  48. 48
    stuckinred says:

    @DecidedFenceSitter: What a hoax all that shit is.

  49. 49
    Anonymous At Work says:

    One general comment about teaching styles and teaching effectiveness. The second-best math teacher I had (best got a job at NASA a couple of years after I graduated) was Chair of Math Department and really strong teacher, but the best two days I had in his class were when he was out of town at an academic conference. His teaching style effectively set-up the professor that was taking over his lesson plans, with a slightly different style.
    This is why I share ED’s disdain for top-down mandated teaching styles.

  50. 50
    RSR says:

    They are trained to teach by people who are often either teachers themselves or experts in the subject of teaching.

    ah hahahaha…haha…ha

    Way too many professors are ivory tower “oh, the children” types who either wouldn’t or couldn’t hack it in the classroom. Especially those at the prestigious institutions like Teachers College.

    And they learn from years of teaching in the trenches what outside observers could never learn reading education papers and analyzing test scores.

    Precisely, which is why the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (read: the union!) has a teacher boot camp of sorts: informal sessions where experienced teachers offer insight and advice to new teachers.

    http://www.pft.org/Page.aspx?p.....rticle=257

    [T]he six-day, intensive training prepared teachers with workshops on classroom arrangement, classroom management and effective methods for teaching and motiving students.

    New teachers were trained by some of the best in Philadelphia, including School District New Teacher Coaches, Empowerment Team Leaders, and PFT Health and Welfare Professional Development Instructors. They hit the ground running, covering a wealth of material: 1) Beginning of the Year Classroom Management 2) Effective Group Management 3) Planning and Conducting Instruction 4) Effective Instructional Delivery, and 5) Working with Students and Parents.

    What makes this program different from others, says Jack Steinberg, chief trustee of the PFT Health and Welfare Fund is that it “focuses on those critical beginning-of-the-year issues that often make or break a new teacher.”

    You’d think hoity-toity grad programs might cover some of this in between sessions of grand philosophizing, but too often, not.

    Union members pick up the slack once again.

  51. 51
    Mnemosyne says:

    @kerFuFFler:

    Sadly I must admit that about 1/3 of my kids’ teachers were pretty bad and about 1/5 appallingly incompetent. It should be easier to get rid of the really bad ones.

    IMO, the really bad teachers tend to be the ones who are protected by the administration, not the teachers’ union. If you’re buddies with the principal or the school board members, it doesn’t matter how bad you are as a teacher, you will never, ever be fired for incompetence.

  52. 52
    Nylund says:

    I teach 18 year olds (college freshman) at a supposed top-tier school (according to US News and World Report). Something is definitely wrong with not just impoverished school districts, but with every school, even the ones from middle class and rich neighborhoods.

    My students are simply not prepared. I definitely won’t blame HOW teachers teach. I agree that you can’t tell anyone how to do that. The people standing in the classroom know that best. What I do worry about is WHAT they teach. I don’t know if its because of NCLB and the fact that school is now a never-ending test prep course, but students don’t know how to THINK. If I outline a problem-solving procedure and tell them how to do it, they can answer endless questions correctly, but if I even slightly modify a problem so that they not only have to calculate the answer, but figure out HOW to set up the calculations, they fail miserably.

    They’ve all been taught to do A, then B, then C, but not WHY you do that. If you give them a problem where procedure A-B-C isn’t the right procedure, they’re utterly confused because they have no concept of why things are done the way they are. Most students I have can take a derivative, but very few can actually tell me what a derivative is, why its useful, or when to use it.

    I don’t have kids myself, but I have a niece whom I help. She gets endless math problems of 4×5, 8×17, etc. Sure, knowing how to do simply multiplication is good, but a calculator can do that. Its much more important to give kids a problem and have them understand WHY multiplying 4 by 5 is what needs to be done to solve that particular problem. Who cares about the actual calculation? The numbers are arbitrary in a school setting and we have plenty of technology that can do that for us.

    A long time ago, you did have to force kids to memorize multiplication tables because, back then, we didn’t all have supercomputers in our pockets, but we now do. The kids know this, so they see no point in learning that stuff. They know they have an iPhone in their pocket that can do it, so they just find the whole process utterly pointless and don’t give a crap.

    At least, that is how things seem from my perspective in the world of education.

    In short, I think our curriculum is horribly out of date, at least on the math side (what I do). I can’t speak for reading, writing, history, social studies, etc.

  53. 53
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    @stuckinred: Really? So how do you account for the successes of the organizations that implement them fully? Versus those that merely ape the actions without understanding the philosophical shifts that need to occur?

    @Mnemosyne: Oh we are. However, Zifnab’s foofy speaking line, I thought as more of a toss away of trying to do process improvement stuff without the culture shift. Which requires management to establish clear goals as to what the intended the result is, and what that would look like.

    Unfortunately, this is a multi-year process for an organization of 90 people. I’d hate to see an estimate on a nation wide plan where management changes every 2-6 years.

  54. 54
    Jager says:

    @Hebisner: We had tests every year in school, the Iowa Tests and the Sanford tests. We started taking the Iowa as soon as we could read and count with some proficiency. We started taking the Sanford Tests in the 6th grade. Both tests scored you by how ranked against your peers nation wide. That was in the 50’s and 60’snd we didn’t prep for them, just took them. Has that system disappeared?

  55. 55
    aimai says:

    @DecidedFenceSitter:

    I just don’t understand the insistence that we don’t know “what goes into success” or “how to get good outcomes.” Of course we do. People who send their kids to private school routinely get great outcomes. They get great teaching, great facilities, and when their kids need help they get it. Sometimes kids are tested–in my kid’s school they aren’t–but teachers and parents generally know how kids are doing because they are evaluated in one way or another.

    What’s different when we talk about public education is that the US simply isn’t willing to spend what it takes to give each kid a great education when and where they are. Testing of kids is a proxy for paying enough money upfront that no kid gets lost in the shuffle. Testing of kids and teachers is a way to slough off management and political responsibility for simply knowing, monitoring, and staying on top of a large number of learners.

    If money were no object–that is, if we as a society cared–we’d create multiple small schools which were overstaffed with top flight teachers, nurses, dentists, nutritionists and linguistic specialists in dense population areas. Since one of the problems for urban kids is too many kids in the classroom with too many specialized needs we’d offer super small classes in those areas. Another problem is that parents and kids move frequently so kids are pulled from one school and have to start again in another. We would pay to make sure that wherever possible and necessary each kid simply continued at the school he started in permitting kids (and their public money) to continue at a school they like as long as they are willing.

    We’d take the burden off chaotic and dysfunctional families by assigning each kid a tutor/homework manager at school and creating homework clubs. We’d offer free dance/art/music lessons to all kids after school. We’d upgrade school facilities and make them community centers as well with adult ed at night. We’d have the kids given full and free checkups, nursing and dentistry at school.

    If we did all that we’d find that except for the most difficult kids and the most dysfunctional families we’d have kids who not only tested well, but were learning. And the proof would be in the pudding. You wouldn’t need these stupid tests to prove it.

    aimai

  56. 56
    E.D. Kain says:

    Mark –
    I don’t think you understand exactly what I’m saying. I think collaboration, open-source education, and making use of technology are all really great ideas. There are lots of really great ideas that teachers and schools can implement without totally upending the system.

    Zinfab –
    Okay, but what top-down mandates do you prefer? How can you be sure that the mandates you prefer will be the ones handed down to teachers?

    Furthermore, I don’t suggest that all improvements must come from the bottom-up – but there must, must, must be teacher buy-in for a reform to work. Hence, collaboration.

    Trouble –
    Reform should be ongoing, and progress perpetual. Nobody is saying that the system can’t improve, only that the way we’re attempting to improve it now is failing because the approach is wrong.

    Stillwater –

    I think much of the recent reform movement has been very illiberal. Disregarding teachers, disregarding education experts, plowing ahead with reforms that are untested, often ignoring parents…just look at the power Bloomberg has seized in NYC! I think you’re right.

    gene108 –

    What makes you think we are not competing with other countries already? I’m all for making education great, but I disagree strenuously with the methods we’ve taken to get there. We aren’t Japan, we have an extremely different culture and cultural values, and we should focus on our strengths, not in competing against their strengths.

    Hebisner –
    Testing absolutely has its place as a metric. We need to test in order to follow progress in schools and by individual students. Nothing wrong with that. Everything wrong with using it to punish teachers, close schools, and withhold (or dish out) money.

    All –
    Thanks for all the good questions and comments. I really appreciate it!

  57. 57
    buckyblue says:

    @theturtlemoves: Exactly right. For students when you stand in front of them it’s a matter of credibility. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, good luck.

  58. 58
    joel hanes says:

    In industrial production, one simply discards all material (raw material, parts, partially-finished goods) from which six-sigma-quality products cannot be produced.

    How the [epithet] is that analogous to education,
    in which the raw material is children?

  59. 59
    Socratic_me says:

    I was thinking about some of the education issues that were being discussed at your Forbes blog (and other blogs responding to you), so I took one of my Algebra II classes that had a little extra time yesterday (horrors, I know, that they weren’t working like mad right up until the bell, but such is life) what makes a good teacher. The first interesting note was that the properties they list are very very similar to the properties that professional development experts always point to-high levels of content knowledge, consistently high standards for their students, a passion for their subject matter and sharing that knowledge with others. The second interesting note was that they all agreed the single most important factor was mastery of content, but that this had to be measured not by how much you knew and could do, but how well you could individualize your translation of the material for each individual student. Across the board, their biggest complaint was teachers who taught from the textbook as though it was a script and then were unable or unwilling to push beyond that script to help them grapple with it.

    So no, scripted teaching is not a good idea. It might give you a baseline if your teacher is absolutely terrible. It will not provide consistently good results for most students.

  60. 60
    Dork says:

    Personally, I think “management” parents is the biggest problem with our schools

    Fixed that for ya.

  61. 61
    Stillwater says:

    Here’s something interesting (I’ve been looking for a link but my search-fu is weak). About 10 years ago a public school in Boulder received grant money to introduce music and art into the teaching experience of the kids. They found that academic test scores rose dramatically after that change. The school published the data and their methodology, but it received no attention in the media or amongst other schools (like 6 schools actually inquired about this program).

  62. 62
    RSR says:

    C’mon people, what’s the half a trillion dollar elephant in the room?

  63. 63
    Chyron HR says:

    @joel hanes:

    How the [epithet] is that analogous to education, in which the raw material is children?

    Obviously we should set the bottom 5% of children on fire. Or something like that.

  64. 64
    catclub says:

    @Stillwater: “Indeedy. I’ve always been puzzled about education reform: why isn’t the solution to actually maintain the current systems, but give teachers the financial means and the latitude to effectively teach? Why isn’t that the right solution?”

    Like they say, money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy the yacht so you can sail up close to it.

  65. 65
    Svensker says:

    @Legalize:

    Hearing her daily stories about the miserable, ignorant, racist, angry, shit-heads who called themselves “parents,” has hardened my heart a little bit to the plight of working-class folks with “W” stickers on their trucks.

    Hillbillies aren’t the only pain-in-the-butt parents. I have two friends who work in different inner-city school districts, one a 2 year veteran, one a 20 year veteran. One of their biggest problems is that the only time many of their parents care is when they show up and complain that the teacher is a racist and otherwise their kid would be getting an A instead of being on the verge of flunking. The kids have figured out that if they complain that the teacher is racist it means administrative review because the school system is so terrified of that charge. The kids game the system, the teachers learn to hunker down and shut up. And it becomes an adversarial game, rather than an education experience.

    My 2-year-veteran friend comes home crying every night because of the difficulty of navigating this craziness and the hostility she faces from kids and parents, and the lack of support she gets from the administrators. The old veteran — who started out an idealist but now just hates the job — is looking forward to retirement and her pension.

  66. 66
    catclub says:

    @Stillwater: Solutions that work are really uncalled for in this area.

    See also: Venezuela and music education.

    All those extras aren’t really extras. They are crucial.

  67. 67
    catpal says:

    Teachers are more than just teaching from books. Many teachers must take on the role of Counselor and Parental substitute.

    And now must be legally educated. A Teacher told me a story about being Sued for giving a disruptive student detention. The parents sued for mental anguish and refused to take any responsibility for their child’s behavior and substance abuse problems.

    the Teacher and Admin said that the parents were obnoxious, but the school was forced to withdraw and detention or punishment against that student.

    Yeah, Teachers are Under Appreciated when they have to put up politics and with lousy parents too.

  68. 68
    Arclite says:

    Great series of posts over at Forbes, E.D.

  69. 69
    matryoshka says:

    @Hebisner: So, how should we assess teachers? As a high school teacher (English & interdisciplinary), I was observed by principals and parents; assessed by open-question, anonymous student surveys; and peer-reviewed throughout the year in the normal course of becoming tenured, which took 5 years. After I got tenure, the same course of assessment continued but on an annual basis instead of more frequently.

    It took far less time and energy for the administrators to look at my students’ grades/tests scores than to do an actual assessment.

  70. 70
    cyntax says:

    @Nylund:

    In short, I think our curriculum is horribly out of date, at least on the math side (what I do). I can’t speak for reading, writing, history, social studies, etc.

    Spent the last year teaching college freshman composition classes, so my two cents on reading and writing are very much the same. Asking the students to demonstrate their own thinking on the page is a big change for them. They’re OK at summarizing, but pretty weak at critical thought and argumentation. So if we can get them to the point where they’re ready to do that at or near the college level by the end of the semester, then that’s a wrap.

    There’s a really wide range of preparedness coming in and as a teacher you have to have a whole host of strategies up your sleeve to accommodate all the different learning styles and literacy experiences the students bring to the classroom. There’ve been studies on this and one of the primary differences between upper and lower division students is that the juniors and seniors are much more likely to come to office hours, but if those freshmen and sophomores would just drop by for some one-on-one help, it’d make a huge difference. But there’s only so much you can do.

  71. 71
    matryoshka says:

    Truth be told, folks, we know a lot about how kids learn and what makes good teachers. We just don’t apply much of it to our schools.

  72. 72
    cthulhu says:

    @joel hanes: Also, if industrial production were like teaching, it would be a far more stressful job. Let say you work in a auto plant. You have insufficient parts and time at your disposal and no consistency at what might come down the conveyor belt next. Will it be an SUV? A hybrid? A car that almost finished? A car that’s half done? Are you expected to add the electronics or the suspension or both? Oh and these cars or already owned by people who might assist you or might work against you. Finally, despite this vague and ever changing job description, your performance will somehow be objectively quantified and you will be paid accordingly. Because after all, that is how it works in other industries (well, except for upper management).

  73. 73
    geg6 says:

    Well, I have taught (post-secondary, but still…) and have an MEd in teaching and curriculum, my sister is a professor of communications and of education, my ex is a high school teacher, and I have a BIL who is a teacher. And, hands down, one of the biggest problems we have all seen in K-12 is regarding administration. First, too many of the financial resources go toward paying large salaries to principals, vice principals, assistant superintendants, superintendants, and the like. Those administrators make much, much, much more than the people who actually produce the product of education, or teachers, if you will. The only administrator that has been shown by the research to have any effect on the quality of education, for good or ill, is the principal. You could get rid of all the others, with salaries ranging from $80,000 to $200,000, and it would probably show no change in student scores or graduation rates.

    For instance, here in Beaver County (pop. 181,000) there are 15 school districts, each with the entire lineup of administrative positions and some school districts that have multiple assistant superintendants and vice principals. In addition, there is a countywide performing arts school and a vocational high school, each with their own administrators. The savings that could be realized by eliminating all the superintendants except one (or three, keeping the ones for vocational and performing arts, perhaps) and creating an countywide school system would be enormous. You could also get rid of all the assistant superintendants except one for curriculum (and again two more for vocational and performing arts) would double that savings. And getting rid of vice principals altogether would save even more. With the savings, more guidance counselors (if anyone is overworked with massive case loads, they are) and more and better teachers could be hired. There would be more cash available to go directly into the classroom and thus to directly benefit students.

    And don’t even get me started on the amount of resources expended on high school athletics (male, only) to the detriment of teaching and learning.

  74. 74
    joel hanes says:

    My sister teaches high-school special-ed in a small town in Iowa.

    For a sizeable fraction of her students, home life is simply pathological, and the parents’ interaction with the school system exclusively angry and destructive. Every year there’s some furiously-misguided parent who actively tears down any progress that my sister manages to achieve with their unfortunate child. It’s especially heartbreaking when the kid has much more on the ball than the parents, and the parents are determined not to allow their child to “think you’re better than me”.

    I don’t know how she does it.

  75. 75
    Culture of Truth says:

    Who would become a teacher in this atmosphere? Some dedicated young person, I suppose, but we’re not making it any more attractive.

  76. 76
    saucy says:

    I’m in my eighth year of teaching. One thing I have learned over the years is that each class has its own unique way of interacting. Students have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses, skill sets when they enter the classroom, etc. Inevitably, some lessons that work very well 1st period don’t work as well three periods later, even in the same school.

    Good teachers understand this and adapt. We differentiate our curriculum as much as possible, and smaller class sizes and better tools enable this sort of differentiation. We are required to be experts in both the content we teach and in our delivery.

    Top-down mandates that fail to account for the vast diversity of human minds will never succeed in benefiting education, period. It is true that there is an inherent tension between baseline standards and differentiation. However, classroom teachers are the only people equipped to negotiate that tension successfully, since we’re the ones who know how each class — and if we’re lucky, each child — best learns.

  77. 77
    The Moar You Know says:

    For every hard-working, seasoned educator out there, there’s a counterpart who became a teacher for job security, summers off, has never held a private sector job, and complains about “being on my feet” for 7 hours a day.

    @Trouble: I don’t know where people get this crap, but since the ones that do seem to be stupid as fuck, we’ll just take this one point at a time.

    Just because your child gets the summer off does not mean that a teacher does. I know. I am married to one.

  78. 78
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    @Legalize:

    Hearing her daily stories about the miserable, ignorant, racist, angry, shit-heads who called themselves “parents,” has hardened my heart a little bit to the plight of working-class folks with “W” stickers on their trucks.

    And that is why they call it ‘education’ and not ‘parenting’.

    No ‘education’ system conceivable is going to succeed when ‘parents’ aren’t doing their part…

  79. 79
    radagastslady says:

    Just retired teacher, health problem.
    1. give me students who have had good meals regularly; enough sleep that they are not sleeping during 1st block; parental concern about grades, work, etc.,
    2. give me parents who answer the phone calls and come to conferences (out of 100 students during a semester I would be lucky to see 5 sets of parents)
    3. give me a schedule that takes into account the data on teenage brains; they are asleep at 7 am even if the body is in the desk;
    4. do not give them 3 months to forget what they have learned. a school calendar that is not based on having the students at home to work in the fields
    5. give me enough textbooks, workbooks, etc.
    6. Do NOT give me 30+ students in an English class and expect detailed essay grading; I will give more multiple choice questions when you overload me with students. I need time to differentiate the lessons to EACH student’s needs.
    7. give me a society that respects learning and education and does not put down “nuance.”
    8. give me at least the respect and encouragement you give the football coach.
    9. give me a society that expects students to be educated to think and not just become consumers. I want to turn out citizens, not serfs.

  80. 80
    Brachiator says:

    @E.D. Kain:

    nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does. They are trained to teach by people who are often either teachers themselves or experts in the subject of teaching.

    While I think it important to counter the outrageous use of teachers and other public sector workers as budget pawns, this is separate from the issue of how to identify and get rid of bad teachers. And here, it is just lame to suggest that teachers make up some kind of priesthood that ordinary people cannot comprehend or evaluate.

    I also take issue with your take on how easy or hard it is to bounce crappy teachers. Not too long ago, the left leaning LA Weekly left the mainstream LA Times in the dust in a devastating analysis of “performance cases” — the teachers who cannot teach, yet cannot be fired.

    Recent articles in the Los Angeles Times have described teachers who draw full pay for years while they sit at home fighting allegations of sexual or physical misconduct.
    __
    But the far larger problem in L.A. is one of “performance cases” — the teachers who cannot teach, yet cannot be fired. Their ranks are believed to be sizable — perhaps 1,000 teachers, responsible for 30,000 children. But in reality, nobody knows how many of LAUSD’s vast system of teachers fail to perform. Superintendent Ramon Cortines tells the Weekly he has a “solid” figure, but he won’t release it. In fact, almost all information about these teachers is kept secret.
    __
    But the Weekly has found, in a five-month investigation, that principals and school district leaders have all but given up dismissing such teachers. In the past decade, LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.
    __
    During our investigation, in which we obtained hundreds of documents using the California Public Records Act, we also discovered that 32 underperforming teachers were initially recommended for firing, but then secretly paid $50,000 by the district, on average, to leave without a fight. Moreover, 66 unnamed teachers are being continually recycled through a costly mentoring and retraining program but failing to improve, and another 400 anonymous teachers have been ordered to attend the retraining.
    __
    The Weekly was able to obtain the names of all seven teachers targeted for firing, and the names of the 32 who received big settlements of $40,000 to $195,000, and the data showing the size of the group forced into retraining — 466 teachers during the past three years — only after extensive efforts. Nor is the public allowed to see student test scores by classroom — closely guarded and potentially explosive data. Education experts say the secret classroom data shows how bad teachers significantly harm children, producing students with markedly lower test scores as compared to other classrooms on the same hallway.
    __
    In the rare instances — fewer than once a year — where the district tries to dismiss a teacher because of performance, each battle wends through a tangled arbitration and court system.

    Yes, teaching is a tough job, teachers are often underpaid and under appreciated, and the attacks on teachers as a group are sad and nasty. But you have to peel away the layers of nonsense to get to some of the real issues, and under performing teachers hurt students.

  81. 81
    catclub says:

    @PurpleGirl: “We just can’t keep throwing money at the problem…
    /sarcasm”

    I bet that if the supposedly separate but equal schools in the segregated south actually WERE equal – in funding per student, in prestige, in all resources. Brown versus BOE would never have happened.

    I think that throwing money at problems is usually brought up when it is the last thing likely to be tried.

    It never seems to be mentioned when the defense department is under discussion.

  82. 82
    4jkb4ia says:

    I knew I shouldn’t be here during this OPR report stuff. It would eat my life again.

    First, I am going to endorse what Nylund said.
    Second, the hole in what ED said would seem to be that the greatest hardship areas are where you need teachers. I will gleefully refer to TNC, who is discovering Jane Austen for the first time and is awestruck. He wanted to know why classics were thrust on him in school as basically dead stuff that was good for him, or practice for finding English tropes. And TNC’s parents valued learning and wanted him to do well in school. The greater hardship the area is, the less the parents will be able to step in and mitigate the lowest-common-denominator nonsense that is being taught. That then begs the question of why political leaders want lowest-common-denominator nonsense which has already been brought up.

  83. 83
    BC says:

    One thing I have observed is that motivated students can learn even with a mediocre teacher. We need to figure out how to motivate our students to learn and that means getting parents involved in their children’s learning. We often think that schools = teachers and put the burden on teachers to teach children, when it’s schools = teachers + students + parents. If you look at successful schools, you’ll see motivated students and supportive parents. That’s the hard part, getting parents more involved in their children’s learning.

  84. 84
    Paul in KY says:

    @Legalize: Come to Kentucky. Your heart will be made of neutronium before long.

  85. 85
    4jkb4ia says:

    Balloon Juice would eat my life again. I am sure no one was confused.

  86. 86
    moe99 says:

    My three children are the products of public education and at least as to my first two, I thought they got a sterling education at a central district high school that was a math/science magnet. The oldest is set to graduate from a top tier medical school, having been admitted to the med school honorary, AOA, and selected as medical student of the year. My second actually taught high school physics for a year in Rhode Island and discovered it to be the toughest job he ever worked and is back getting an engineering degree. He said that the teachers he encountered were not interested in doing anything other than showing up, teaching class, and going home–not the experience he had in high school at all.

    So there can be differences in public education depending on numerous factors and it makes sense for parents to stay alert and involved, helping teachers. But sometimes things like this happen:

    http://moesmisadventures.blogs.....hings.html

  87. 87
    catpal says:

    @Zifnab: NO. the school system is Not an Industry. But the Republicans want to make Schools an Industry with the “charter” school system, where Administrators are collecting $500,000 salaries.

    “what does Education need to Accomplish?” it is the politicians that want to “Privatize” schools that want to answer that question and make schools an industry. You answered your question.

  88. 88
    Sir Nose'D says:

    I am a teacher. I agree with the pundits–if an ADD student from a broken home with an IQ of 70 and an antithetical attitude towards curiosity, hard work, and learning in general cannot get into Harvard, it is 100% my fault.

  89. 89
    charlied says:

    Some quick observations about teaching and public education.
    First, Teaching is a high touch profession. Children are not automobiles that can be mass produced on an assembly line. Each have their own needs and method of learning. When we acknowledge that the whole idea of diploma factories and their attendant analogies seem ridiculous.
    Second, school curriculum and the purpose of education are legitimate topics of discussion, but are easily politicized. Ideally, children leaving our educational system would be equipped to live useful productive lives and would have a full appreciation of history’s major conflicts -and by that I don’t just mean the wars, but the ideas and technology that shaped history- science, mathematics, and art. We should especially be teaching kids skeptical thinking to give them better BS detectors. Of course this would create a great wailing and gnashing of teeth by the people who have politicized education over the last fifty years.
    Finally,Technology should be a tool but not a replacement for great teachers. Movies are not the same as live theater, nor is video a sub for seeing a musician perform live. There is a thing called feedback and that is an important part of education. Testing is only one feedback method, but the daily feedback from the kids is important too.
    Not that we’ll have a serious national discussion on any of this.

  90. 90
    HyperIon says:

    EDK wrote:

    My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does.

    I would rephrase it as: No one who has never taught should presume to tell a teacher how to teach.

  91. 91
    dave says:

    @aimai: Yes, but it should not be necessary to send your children to a PRIVATE school to achieve this.

  92. 92
    joel hanes says:

    Brachiator :

    “Education” is not one thing.

    I deny that one can study the (stipulated deep) problems of the LA schools and from that study draw any useful conclusions about the need to fire low-performing teachers in small towns in Iowa.

    Culture of Truth :

    > Who would become a teacher in this atmosphere?

    I taught reading to 3d and 4th graders for two years, and I have never done anything else as rewarding. I really hope to be able to do more teaching after I retire from engineering.

  93. 93
    Dork says:

    The kids have figured out that if they complain that the teacher is racist it means administrative review because the school system is so terrified of that charge. The kids game the system, the teachers learn to hunker down and shut up. And it becomes an adversarial game, rather than an education experience.

    And if the kids dont don’t do it, the parents will. And the admin will always rule in favor of the parent. Teacher has little incentive to do anything but parrot lessons.

  94. 94
    cyntax says:

    @Brachiator:

    But you have to peel away the layers of nonsense to get to some of the real issues, and under performing teachers hurt students.

    This is absolutely true and as teachers who do care about our students, we have to find a way to address it. Part of the problem is how interconnected teaching is to the previous instruction the student received and various environmental factors both at the school and at home, none of which the student’s current teacher can control. So having some protections in place preventing a teacher from being fired off the cuff do make sense, but as one of my teaching instructors told me [and she’s taught for over 25 years at all levels] there are bad teachers out there.

  95. 95
    The Moar You Know says:

    Who would become a teacher in this atmosphere?

    @Culture of Truth: My wife actively urges students to not take it up as a profession.

    My students are simply not prepared. I definitely won’t blame HOW teachers teach. I agree that you can’t tell anyone how to do that. The people standing in the classroom know that best. What I do worry about is WHAT they teach. I don’t know if its because of NCLB and the fact that school is now a never-ending test prep course, but students don’t know how to THINK. If I outline a problem-solving procedure and tell them how to do it, they can answer endless questions correctly, but if I even slightly modify a problem so that they not only have to calculate the answer, but figure out HOW to set up the calculations, they fail miserably.

    @Nylund: My wife has been dealing with this in the high school classroom as well. Bear in mind this is a pretty high-end district; wealthy, to say the least. The kids become utterly furious when they are asked to apply any critical thinking, or problem-solving skills AT ALL. They refuse to do it, and the parents will call and email and come in and BACK UP THE KIDS, saying it’s unfair to ask them to do analysis of a problem or a question.

    My wife handles it well. I couldn’t handle it. I would love to haul all these kids and parents into a room and say “You know, in a few years I’m going to be the guy who will be deciding whether to hire your kid or not, and I’ll tell you this right now; if they cannot work their way through a process or analyze a problem, they can serve fries at Burger King for the rest of their fucking lives; I’ll go and get a bunch of H1-B visas and import some other country’s children who can and will do the work that you’re insisting that your kids shouldn’t have to do.”

  96. 96
    Old Dan and Little Ann says:

    My first year teaching in Prince George’s County in Maryland I had to force feed the MSPAP (MARYLAND SCHOOL PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT PROGRAM) down the throats of 33 of my second graders. 15 of them were English as Second Language students. When I complained that they knew very little English to even speak it let alone take a week of testing……..well, nothing happened. They had to take it anyway. What a fucking joke. That was 12 years ago and it still boggles my mind. I wonder what happened to those kids all the time.

  97. 97
    catpal says:

    @geg6:

    And don’t even get me started on the amount of resources expended on high school athletics (male, only) to the detriment of teaching and learning.

    Yep. my local school district budget has increased by 25% in recent years, for the Schools’ various New Athletic facilities, like fields and pools. But some of the sports increase is due to the parents screaming at Board meetings.

    The parents all think their child will be the next greatest professional athlete.

  98. 98
    someguy says:

    You’re right, ED. It’s important for guys who blog to define who can talk about what.

    Libertardianism – FTW!

  99. 99
    Davis X. Machina says:

    In an age of $6.00. $7.00, $8.00 on up a gallon diesel, and heating oil, out in the country and the exurbs, the buses will eventually stop rolling, and then you’ve got the opening everyone — everyone except students and teachers, that is — has been waiting for — one ‘teacher’, in a studio somewhere, ‘teaching’ ten thousand students geometry while local ‘teachers’ provided by an educational Aramark maintain order, take attendance, and answer what questions they can for $11.25 and hour and no benefits, in a church basement or other venue within a half-hour’s walk or so.

  100. 100
    catpal says:

    @radagastslady: well said.

  101. 101
    HyperIon says:

    @Ryan wrote: A study of the 2008 test showed something like 33 of 38 questions to be ambiguous, unanswerable, or absolutely wrong.

  102. 102
    kerFuFFler says:

    I considered becoming a teacher and took several courses towards certification. The professors were THE WORST I had ever had. They stoked their egos by testing us on the “knowledge” they had made up themselves. (“List the ten properties of a mentor” ) There was often very little material to cover in class. I remember there was a six credit course called “Schools and Society” about the history and philosophy of education. We met twice a week for three interminable hours and learned almost nothing about what should have been a fascinating topic. It turned out that the state (Michigan) had doubled the number of credit hours necessary for certification, so the department simply wrote 6 instead of three credits in the course catalog and scheduled those long sessions but with NO corresponding increase in material covered. What a waste.

  103. 103
    Zifnab says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    The way that Toyota builds cars is now “nonsense happy talk”?

    The way Toyota builds cars is still a system that was spelled out and implemented from the top down. Individual manufacturing plants didn’t come up with muri, mura, muda on their own. Toyota doesn’t issue block grants to car plants and let them just kinda do whatever.

    @Stillwater:

    What is the minimum amount of money it takes to run a functioning school where kids and teachers have the resources to learn and achieve? Don’t forget that one.

    I kinda file “amount of money” under “tools”. And the cost of running a school can vary from area to area. A teacher in New York City needs to be paid much more than a teacher in Podunk, Kansas strictly based on cost-of-living. Cost of utilities, size of campuses, student population growth – all of that can make the cost calculus difficult.

    But it’s a cost calculus we should attempt to formulate.

    @cyntax:

    Instilling the faculties for critical thought and creativity aren’t the same as simply processing raw materials into finished products. A piece of steel can be welded to another piece of steel by a robotic arc welder every single time. Teachers have to react individual students, with individual needs ever day.

    Software development is an industry. Health care provision is an industry. Telecomm is an industry. Engineering makes up the backbone of a plethora of industries. All of these require critical thought and creativity.

    But successful industry has a system and a means of measuring costs and returns. The education system really doesn’t have any of that. We have standardized tests that come in and out of fashion. We have mandates that try to achieve goals spelled out 30 years ago, and may or may not get enforced. It’s a perpetual challenge to even determine whether a school is improving or not, because we have very few metrics we can even agree upon. :-p

    I guess I could have used a better term, but I don’t really know what that term would be. Education is a service provided by professionals to a large body of the public. That sounds like an “industry” to me.

  104. 104
    kerFuFFler says:

    Correction: Doubled the number of credit hours pertaining to the history and philosophy of education, that is.

    Wish the “click to edit” still worked.

  105. 105
    HyperIon says:

    @Ryan wrote:

    A study of the 2008 test showed something like 33 of 38 questions to be ambiguous, unanswerable, or absolutely wrong.

    Yes. I encounter this almost every week when I do math homework help at my local library. The questions are often poorly formed. How can one learn math when the textbook writer is a sloppy thinker and writer? This drives me nuts.

  106. 106
    geg6 says:

    @kerFuFFler:

    Funny, because most of my MEd profs were some of the best profs I’ve ever come across in all my years as a student (undergrad and grad) or as an educator (21 years). I’d question the particular institution’s hiring practices more than I would the vast majority of education academics.

  107. 107
    jl says:

    I teach. Teaching is hard work, if you want to try to improve.

    I do not see how teachers are getting different treatment than anyone other non rich person has, is, or will get.

    There are two classes of people in the US: money bags who have spent their entire careers studying how to control cash and credit, and getting as close to those as possible.

    And everyone else who does something useful, who are specialized in useful activities, from making food, to making things, to teaching, to putting out fires, to policing, to delivering medicine to people. They are chumps and walking ATMs.

    All chumps will get their turn at the defamation and economic resource sucking machine sooner or later.

    I am cynical today.

  108. 108
    geg6 says:

    @HyperIon:

    Heh. You should see the history texts, if you think it’s bad in math.

  109. 109
    HyperIon says:

    @kerFuFFler wrote:

    Wish the “click to edit” still worked.

    Hey, I noticed a couple of days ago that it wasn’t working anymore. I thought maybe it was because of my NoScript settings. So is everyone having this problem or is it just you and me?

  110. 110
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Right click, open in new tab, and edit there.

    Easy as pie/Bob’s your uncle/the back of your hand.

  111. 111
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Zifnab:

    The way Toyota builds cars is still a system that was spelled out and implemented from the top down. Individual manufacturing plants didn’t come up with muri, mura, muda on their own.

    And management didn’t come up with it all on their own and impose it on their employees. They actually, you know, talked to their employees to find out what they needed and then built the program that way. They had experts observe the factories for hundreds of hours to see what people did all day and how the company could make it easier for them to do those jobs.

    So your claim that school administrations can successfully impose changes on schools without consulting the people who actually do the work — the teachers — to find out what needs changing is ridiculous.

  112. 112
    cyntax says:

    @Zifnab:

    I guess I could have used a better term, but I don’t really know what that term would be. Education is a service provided by professionals to a large body of the public. That sounds like an “industry” to me.

    Healthcare and Education are more similar than anything else you cited. Yes software development and really every other industry requires creativity on the part of the people working in the industry, but there are no software engineers whose primary responsibility is to instill creative and critical faculties in another individual.

    But getting back to healthcare and education, they both have outcomes that aren’t directly attributable to cost-benefit analysis. Civic engagement? Awareness of social justice? These are the purview of education but they aren’t easily measured. People need healthcare and they need education, no one needs a flat-screen TV. So while I agree that some elements of it can be constructively evaluated under the rubric of “industry,” much if what is currently wrong about education has to do with the misapplication of industrial tropes–see NCLB and Race to the Top.

    It’s a perpetual challenge to even determine whether a school is improving or not, because we have very few metrics we can even agree upon. :-p

    Well, as you said, and I agree, in part that’s do to the fact that we haven’t had a constructive conversation about what we want education to do. But I also think the failure of the application of industrial style metrics is because they often aren’t the right kind of metric. Remember the end “product” you’re evaluating isn’t a car, or software, or any other kind of widget–it’s a person. So given that fundamental difference, why are you so convinced that applying something like a six-sigma system to people is a good idea?

  113. 113
    Brachiator says:

    @joel hanes:

    I deny that one can study the (stipulated deep) problems of the LA schools and from that study draw any useful conclusions about the need to fire low-performing teachers in small towns in Iowa.

    This is a general blog about the topic of education in general. We are all brining a lot of perspective to the issue. How do they fire low-performing teachers in Iowa?

    I taught reading to 3d and 4th graders for two years, and I have never done anything else as rewarding. I really hope to be able to do more teaching after I retire from engineering.

    I wish you much success. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen worked in other fields besides the Education Industrial Complex before they became teachers.

  114. 114
    FlipYrWhig says:

    At what point will we start to have comparable concern for finding ways to punish, humiliate, and fire everyone who sucks at every other kind of job?

  115. 115
    geg6 says:

    @cyntax:

    why are you so convinced that applying something like a six-sigma system to people is a good idea?

    The only reason I can imagine one would do that is because the person is someone whose expertise is in an area that has nothing to do with education and has never been in front of a classroom or read/done any research into education, learning, curriculum, or pedagogy.

  116. 116
    Annamal says:

    I think it is worth studying education policies in other countries, if only to avoid our mistakes (the now-mostly reversed education reforms in New Zealand in the 90’s often made for some pretty crap school experiences both for me as a student and my dad as a teacher).

    Putting schools in competition with each-other has such obvious flaws ( schools spend money and effort on competing with each-other rather than on students and are blind chances for collaboration with neighbouring schools) that at the very least you could use case studies of our failure in order to avoid traveling down the same road.

    I think top-down change is needed for education in America but it needs to be rough guidelines not rigid enforcement and it needs to focus on teaching kids how to think, learn and find solutions to problems rather than regurgitate facts for tests. It also needs to have buy-in from teachers, principals and (to at least some extent) students.

    I also think that schools should be seeing themselves as co-operating with other schools (whether charter or public) rather than in competition. For an example of the benefits of this, my dad teaches computer programming at his inner-city(well inner-city by NZ definiton) school but video conferences with students from local rural high-schools who don’t have access to a computer science teacher.

  117. 117
    chopper says:

    @Dork:

    yes, a winnah. in the last 40 years more and more families have gone from 1 to 2 incomes to make ends meet. byproduct: in the last 40 years fewer and fewer families have had parents with the time to be a part of their child’s education, and more and more parents are either not interested, downright clueless or obstructive with regards to it.

  118. 118
    PNW Warrior Woman says:

    So my husband is a public high school math teacher with classes in statistics and pre-calculus this year. He has 10 years experience with our local district. He earned his stripes doing his first 5 years at the junior high.

    Coming to teaching he brought along two master’s degrees, an ivy league school education from Columbia University in engineering, a 17 year career in solid state science in private industry and a Tier I state university, published research in peer reviewed physics journals and he’s on a patent: Heterojunction Interdigitated Schottky Barrier Photodetector.

    I hear about the challenges of school and students every day. You know…like making the educational experience good for children of politicians like Gov. Scott Walker. He and his cabal of not so secretive GOP masters don’t know shit about teachers, classrooms and appropriate compensation.

    E.D….you’re my new fav here on BJ. BTW, I worked in a regional ad sales office of Forbes back in 1989-92. You’ll be improving the editorial side dramatically as it has gone down considerably during the Bush years. Many congratulations.

    @radagastslady above is spot on!

  119. 119
    liberty60 says:

    I think there is a wekness in seeing educational improvement as being solely about the teaching method, o rteachers themselves.

    I have never seen a convincing analysis that explains the empirical data- such as, why do some schools/ students do so well while others don’t?

    The only factor I can claim witness to is parental involvement and determination.

    For every poorly funded school that does poorly, I can point to one that does very well; for every privately run school that does well, I can point out two others that are total crap.

    The only consistent factor in scholastic success that I can see is that when there is a critical mass of involved, determined and dedicated parents who want their children to succeed and reinforce the school’s task- that is, demanding that homework be completed, that students behave, that they show up regularly, and so on, the school overall will do pretty well.

    The wailing about lousy teachers is just scapegoating as far as I can see.

  120. 120
    Dennis SGMM says:

    @geg6:

    The idea of applying SQC (Statistical Quality Control) or SPC (Statistical Process Control) to education is ludicrous. Both worked very well for us in aerospace but, that was because we had control of the process from end to end. We could be sure that we started with the best materials available and that the things we made (I was a machinist) were in the optimum condition at the end of each step before they went on to the next one. Yes, we achieved six sigma although if we’d started out with batches of, say, twenty five parts in twenty five different states of readiness from twenty five suppliers over whom we had no control then six sigma would have been a pipe dream.

  121. 121
    liberty60 says:

    @Dork: OK you said it first and much more succintly.

  122. 122
    Legalize says:

    @Paul in KY:
    To late ;)

  123. 123
    Legalize says:

    I mean “too late.” I don’t know why the edit function isn’t working.

  124. 124
    gene108 says:

    @E.D. Kain:

    gene108 –What makes you think we are not competing with other countries already? I’m all for making education great, but I disagree strenuously with the methods we’ve taken to get there. We aren’t Japan, we have an extremely different culture and cultural values, and we should focus on our strengths, not in competing against their strengths.

    We are. I just disagree with the statement you made that we shouldn’t worry about competing with other countries.

    I haven’t been involved with education in many years. What I know, I read or observe other people’s kids, who are in school.

    For better or worse, the cornerstone of American education has been giving people 2nd, 3rd…..Nth number of chances to keep getting an education. This sets America apart from the rest of the world.

    I personally view it as a strength, but unlike Japan, India or Europe, where a demotivated 16 year old, who doesn’t do well in school will never get the opportunity to go to college, there’s always a possibility to do this, when the 16 year old is old enough to get his shit together.

    The flip side of this is that in India, Japan, Europe, etc. middle class families, with 16 year olds, make sure as hell the kids not that demotivated, because they know there’s only on shot at going to college. This accounts for some of the differences in test scores, etc. between the U.S. and other countries.

    @Dennis SGMM:

    AFAIK, America has never been close to the top in education when compared to other industrialized nations yet we dummies managed to win WWII and put men on the Moon.

    Just pointing out how your statement is false and / or irrelevant, in the eyes of many people.

    Prior to 1980 or 1970 or whatever the cut off date is, America had the GREATEST SCHOOLS IN THE WORLD!!! People going to high school, in the 1930’s received 100,000 times better education than kids anywhere else in the world. That’s how we won WWII. Our high school kids in the 1930’s, were smarter than Japan’s and Germany’s college grads.

    This continued until, as stated above, some time in the 1970’s or 1980’s, when schools started going to hell in a handbasket. Kids no longer knew how to behave respectfully or dress properly or have good taste in music.

    The average American college graduate today is about 1,000,000 times less well educated than a high school drop out from the 1930’s.

    I’ve gotten into education discussion with older folks and that’s pretty much how they summarize their feelings about their education versus their kids or grandkids or neighbors kids or anyone a generation younger than them.

    In the “good old days”, we kicked ass. Right now, not so much.

  125. 125
    cyntax says:

    @geg6:

    The only reason I can imagine one would do that is because the person is someone whose expertise is in an area that has nothing to do with education and has never been in front of a classroom or read/done any research into education, learning, curriculum, or pedagogy.

    As someone who’s been in the business world before teaching, I can say that much of what works there, doesn’t translate well. At all.

  126. 126
    chopper says:

    @radagastslady:

    do not give them 3 months to forget what they have learned. a school calendar that is not based on having the students at home to work in the fields

    god knows, the way the economy and energy system in this country is going, we might just need to hold on to the idea of kids working in the fields all summer.

  127. 127
    Dennis SGMM says:

    @gene108:
    I’m an Old Guy (62)and I disagree with your disagreement. :)
    I received a hell of an education and it enable me to lead a rich (Not wealthy) life. Try the Eighties, when two earner households became a necessity and latchkey kids became the norm. That was when the burden of not only educating children but of enculturating them (Turning them from little savages to reasonable human beings) shifted to the schools. When mom and dad aren’t getting home until six or seven or later the notion of family time, let alone helping the youngsters with their homework in any effective way goes out the window. Strong families that encourage curiosity and learning do more to advance students than any so-called reforms ever could.

  128. 128
    geg6 says:

    @Dennis SGMM:

    Yes, you are exactly right. My SO is currently a consultant that helps companies implement Lean/Six Sigma/SQC and also has a PhD in education. He says that what works in manufacturing and business is not at all analogous to what works in education. And after listening to him discuss Six Sigma and such (and reading a little about it), I’d have to say that he’s right.

  129. 129
    Zifnab says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    So your claim that school administrations can successfully impose changes on schools without consulting the people who actually do the work—the teachers—to find out what needs changing is ridiculous.

    I never suggested that teachers and parents shouldn’t be consulted. I simply dispute the idea that a national education plan can’t be formulated.

  130. 130
    HyperIon says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Right click, open in new tab, and edit there.

    Then Save, then switch back to the original tab, then refresh the original tab to see your edited comment.

    Used to be easier, no?

  131. 131
    dave says:

    Teachers are literally “on stage” from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm five days a week. No time to daydream, zone out for a second, surf the web, take a cigarette break, or post an idiotic comment on a website for 7 straight hours a day (20 minutes for lunch).

    Its probably the hardest professional job there is simply because you have to be “on” at all times.

    This is not to mention the fact that you are dealing with packs of wild teenagers all day long.

    Also, American education has been steadily improving since the 1960’s so maybe we can all ease up on all the handwringing and ponder who exactly has been misleading us into believing that things has been getting worse since the golden 1950’s.

  132. 132
    matryoshka says:

    @cyntax: Part of the problem is the business paradigm applied to schools. Very often, the parents feel as though they’ve paid you to “give” their child a diploma or a passing grade, and they are rarely concerned with the actual content of the diploma-making program. In fact, I second the commenters who addressed the howls of protests and retribution paid to “hard” teachers, the ones who try to get kids to think, reason, etc. Principals are, by and large, paternalistic doofuses. (Don’t get me started on the layers of vice-prinicipals! Middle mgmt. bloat at its worst!) Teachers have to deal directly with the raw material in this analogy, which comes from numerous sources with widely variant degrees of quality control.

    But schools really aren’t marketplaces, and turning out thinking, problem-solving, conscious human beings turns out to be quite a bit more complex than making widgets.

  133. 133
    gene108 says:

    @Dennis SGMM: As a latch-key kid growing up in the 1980’s, I disagree that somehow you guys got a better education and / or schools started dealing with more problems, in my generation.

    I graduated from high school in 1992. I sort of straddle the old high school is for hanging out and finding yourself era that preceded mine versus the, I need a 6.0 GPA and can’t take those gym classes until the second semester of my senior year or else an A in it will pull down my GPA, because they only give four grade points and my class ranking and plans for going to a good college will be shot to hell mindset, some kids seem to have today.

    All I can say about education is that like income, I think the disparity between the best and the brightest and the people at the bottom, seems to be pulling apart. The extra-curricular activities seem to be more and start at a younger age and access to information, via the internet, is more than when I was a kid. The people, who don’t have access to these things, end up further behind their peers.

  134. 134
    Dennis SGMM says:

    @gene108:
    I didn’t mean to imply that we received a better education, just that we received a damned good one with a rich array of options in addition to math and reading.

    Your comment about the difference between those at the top of the heap and those at the bottom is spot on. Those with access to information will do considerably better than those without it. I would guess that a computer and internet service remains pretty much out of reach for low income people who are working several minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. It would be sadly ironic if the Internet widened the knowledge gap between the haves and the have nots.

  135. 135
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @HyperIon: Yeah, and Popsicles™ were a nickle, too. Progress, she is wonderful, no?

  136. 136
    Annamal says:

    Gene108, why do you keep on comparing the US education system with India/Japan/Europe when Canada, Australia and New Zealand have much more similar societies and attitudes towards continuing education?

    All three countries also offer 2nd, 3rd and 4th chances after high school and all three consistently outscore the US in the PISA tests.

    Surely Canada is similar enough to the US to examine what they’re doing as a society that is working compared to what you’re doing that is not?

  137. 137
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @Lit3Bolt: I concluded a long time ago that Sullivan’s useless, no matter how much people like him. He’s the appendix on the body politic’s colon.

  138. 138
    cyntax says:

    @matryoshka:

    Part of the problem is the business paradigm applied to schools. Very often, the parents feel as though they’ve paid you to “give” their child a diploma or a passing grade, and they are rarely concerned with the actual content of the diploma-making program.

    Very often the students feel this way too. It’s one of the primary ways in which the “industry” analogy breaks down. Students very often view themselves as passive consumers of the product that the teacher imparts to them. The old knowledge-banking model. But, as you know, education is highly determined by what the student puts into it; thus the need to motivate. And that’s part of the reason teaching gets squishy and hard to pin down, because what works for one student doesn’t work for another, and what captured my class’s interest one semester won’t necessarily work the next.

    And as you imply, seeing education only as a means to end [the diploma/the job] short changes much of what we seem to think [or used to think] education could and should do. So that’s where I find myself very much in agreement with Zifnab. As a country we gotta have talk about what we want education to do.

  139. 139
    hitchhiker says:

    @radagastslady:

    Thank you. I believe that’s the whole list.

    I was a high school math teacher for 12 years . . . left to do instructional design, make twice the money easy, and get more respect in a day from adults than I used to in a semester, except from parents, who were embarrassing in their gratitude that somebody was actually taking the trouble to make sure their kids knew how to problem-solve AND do calculations.

    As someone said upthread, we know what to do. We just don’t want to do it.

    And by the way . . my degree is in math, my masters is in curriculum & instruction, and I taught in the private system because I never went through the 1-year certification process that consists of paying for university while teaching. Couldn’t afford it. My state (WA) does not allow me to work in public high schools today, although it’s fine to teach in community colleges.

    Go figure. I’m a walking example of about half a dozen things wrong with the educational system.

  140. 140
    Batocchio says:

    However, one thing I will never blog about is how teachers should be teaching. My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does.

    As a former teacher, I appreciate this, but if it’s appropriate, certainly you can discuss what worked well for you – and that way, you’re having a discussion versus being yet another dictatorial blowhard. Students learn differently, and the same method won’t work for all of them. Generally, good teachers use a mix of approaches over the course of a term or unit. There’s nothing wrong, and in fact there’s value, in non-teachers discussing what they personally found helpful or unhelpful as students, and good teachers seek out that kind of feedback. The danger comes in dictating that all teachers should do it this way, or in insisting that standardized tests should become the primary focus of a education, rather than remaining a useful-but-flawed tool that’s occasionally employed.

    Here’s a good one I’ve heard – Want to have a good conversation about education and teaching? Ask someone to tell you about the best teacher he or she ever had. People tend to get animated and excited.

    (Later, you can broach the subject of how well that type of teacher should be paid….)

  141. 141
    gene108 says:

    @Annamal: When keep hearing about who the kids will compete against, they keep bringing up the Asian countries. I threw Europe in because they did well in the PISA tests.

    Surely Canada is similar enough to the US to examine what they’re doing as a society that is working compared to what you’re doing that is not?

    Other than the fact they look like us and sound like us and can fool anyone into thinking they are Americans*, I don’t know how much they really – in a deep down, cultural sense – are like us. I think they are shockingly foreign, in their world view versus Americans.

    Also, too, their immigration policy and geographical location, with America as a buffer, allows them to restrict immigration to the educated foreigners, who meet their eligibility requirements.

    Canada doesn’t have the surge in immigration, the U.S. has had, from less educated people, who will work in low skill jobs.

    Forget who did the break-out of the PISA data, but one of the things that drags down our test scores are poor immigrants, as a subset of our large percentage of poor kids, who under perform and pull down our averages.

    I bet Canada, New Zealand and Australia don’t have to figure out how to integrate millions of English as a second language students into their school systems every year.

    I’m guessing that’s part of the difference.

  142. 142
    Jules says:

    The thing is we know a lot about what will help students do better.

    You want teens to do better in school? Let them sleep in and start school at 9am and go till 4 or 5pm. That is what their brains and bodies want, but we insist on starting high school at 7am.

    We know all kids do not learn at the same rate but we still insist on using age as the criteria for grade levels instead of rate of development…..espically when it comes to reading.

    There is no reason why great teachers (some people are just really good at explaining subjects in a way that every learning type gets it.) are locked into only their classroom instead of being shared around the country via the internet everyday.

    And this is something I noticed when taking my LD son to our local school for specialized reading instruction. The classrooms with teachers who were “well off” (had spouses with good jobs, or were single with no kids) had more learning materials in them. We need to stop expecting teachers to supply all the extra materials to their classrooms. These are the items that help kids who learn differently get concepts and succeed.

  143. 143
    Annamal says:

    I bet Canada, New Zealand and Australia don’t have to figure out how to integrate millions of English as a second language students into their school systems every year.

    NZ has a total population of 4.5 million so no, we’re not talking millions but we are a nation of immigrants and more than 20% of our population was born overseas. The largest city of Pacific Islanders in the world is Auckland (many of the politics around Islanders mirror the politics around immigrants in the States).

    All three of the countries mentioned are immigrant nations who have taken in waves of immigrants at various times.

    Bottom line being, yes there are differences but they aren’t that huge and they don’t account for all of the results.

  144. 144
    chopper says:

    @gene108:

    yeh, getting into college is crazy now. colleges haven’t grown with the population that intends to go to college so now you need a 3-foot thick CV and stellar test scores just to get an interview at a college that kids went to in the 60s to get out of going to vietnam.

    never mind that college costs, due to the dwindling supply, are going sky high. and the fact that everyone and his brother thinks you have to have a college degree to get a middle class job. K-12 isn’t the only sector of education that’s seeing a perfect storm brewing on the horizon.

  145. 145
    matoko_chan says:

    euwwwwwwwww
    I thought Cole finally gave you the hook.
    Sadly our useless token glibertarian wanker returns..with more brain numbing glibertarian wankery.
    Allow me.
    NCLB mandated that all children should be above average.
    How dumb is that?

    the Statement of Purpose for its key title:
    __
    The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

    This is mathematically impossible.
    Now EDK and the rest of the glibertarian whorebags sucking bankstah Koch (Forbes, Cato, Reason, Atlantic)) want to fix our education system with…..wait for it!
    The SUPERAWESOME Power of the Free Market (fapfapfap)
    So whatever it takes…charter schools, vouchers, meritpay, some combination of the above.
    EDK is a fifth columnist for free market education.
    Having failed to force all american students to be above average, now the glibertarians are turning their focus to free market teachers….and mandating that all teachers shall be above average.
    @liberty60: you are correct. The most significant correlate with student educational performance over the last 30 years of measurement is parental involvement. And that means jobs, education, civil rights and civil welfare for the parents. All of which I see Obama attempting to improve, and EDK and the glibertarians trying to supress. The most significant correlate with school performance over the last 30 years is SES of the parents in the district. Again that means jobs, education, civil rights and civil welfare for the parents.
    EDK has preserved his dreadful lack of reading skillz it seems.
    Race to the Top is actually a bottom up program that address improving parental involvement and improving schools from the roots.

    So why did Cole take you off the masthead EDK?
    didn’t want the association with your co-bloggers co-glibertarian fucktards at Forbes?

  146. 146
    Chris says:

    I mostly agree with this, but I don’t think you can be so categorical about it. I agree that teachers are in the best position to know the most effective way to reach a given teaching goal, but:

    1. The goals themselves have to be something that we can debate. The teacher might be great at teaching to the test, but that’s a bad goal.

    2. Teaching methods, even if effective, can also have side-effects. Corporal punishment, for example, might actually “work” to achieve at least short-term learning goals, but it obviously offends other values that we care about, and can’t be “off the table” for comment. (It remains legal in about twenty states, by the way.)

    Today at my kids’ elementary school, a teacher confiscated some eraser a kid was playing with, and left it unguarded on her desk. When she wasn’t looking, it disappeared. When no one would confess to the theft, she had all the kids search each other’s backpacks and desks. Would that count as a teaching practice that we laypeople shouldn’t criticize?

    I know we can always come up with anecdotes about things we wish teachers would do differently, and that most of the time they’re just not worth talking about, because no one expects perfection from a group that large of fallible human beings. So to that extent I agree with you. But I do think there’s a pattern of increasingly authoritarian practices being adopted as a result of NCLB’s pressure to raise test scores, and that the only way to point that out is by referring to specific practices when they occur.

    She never did find that eraser though.

  147. 147
    matryoshka says:

    @Jules: You are right about the adolescent brain and the need for a later start to the high school day. I was part of a restructuring team that made this recommendation to our school board after 5 years of study and discussion. The reason we could not implement this was the football practice schedule for our school’s conference. True story!

    Our restructuring committee was eventually reduced to writing a mission statement that is plastered everywhere but evident nowhere.

  148. 148
    matoko_chan says:

    Oh Noah and Dr. Manzi still spinning.
    From EDKs Forbes blog. not linking ;)

    Evaluations establish the principle that there is such a thing as performance in the first place. A great deal of discussion nowadays in education revolves around the idea that what we need to “fix the schools” is great teachers. But if that’s what we need, we’ll never do it. What we need, instead, are mechanisms for getting marginally better performance, year after year, from a teaching pool that remains merely adequate.
    __
    One bit of low-hanging fruit for achieving that goal, meanwhile, is the ability to dismiss the bottom 5% of teachers in terms of performance. Not only are these teachers failing comprehensively in their own classrooms, but their mere presence has a corrosive effect on an entire organization – on the teachers, on the students, on the management of the school. But right now, firing these teachers is essentially impossible. For all the difficulty of doing a rigorous evaluation in order to improve teaching performance across the board, I suspect it is a whole lot easier to identify the worst teachers in the school. If that could be done, the pressure to be able to terminate them would be significant, and that could do a lot to improve school performance right there.

    Lets just spit it out. EDK and the bourgie conservatives at TAS, including, sadly, my darling Dr. Manzi, want to give us a free market solution for education. They have been wanking about this for years.
    I know, I was there.
    And their free market solution will do exactly to our educational system what their free market solution did to America’s economic system.
    Think of the intellectually horrifying NCLB as the analog of the Bush presidencies. Fixing America’s educational system with free market schools and free market teachers is the exact analogy of repairing the Econopalypse with more deregulation.

  149. 149
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @cyntax: I like to put it this way. What is the educational system supposed to produce? Most of the reformers (those who talk about global competitiveness and the workplace of tomorrow and all that jazz) are basically thinking of the educational system as producing good workers. This is in line with the growing amounts of homework being handed out to primary school students… teaching them to accept unpaid overtime without complaint!

    Personally, my thinking is that the educational system is supposed to produce good citizens.

    When you start thinking about the point of schools as being producing good citizens, it completely changes the way you approach how schooling is planned, done, and measured.

  150. 150
    matryoshka says:

    @cyntax: Agreed, though I have often suspected that the country secretly wants cheap babysitting, not education.

  151. 151
    matoko_chan says:

    So, EDK….talk is cheap, and education is expensive.
    How do you plan to fix Americas educational system?
    You favorable links all point to free market evangelists….free market teachers, free market schools.
    I understand that you are a free market evangelist yourself.
    Are you unaware of the actual documented correlations between school and student performance and the anti-empiricism of free market solutions ever addressing those problems?
    The ones I brought up to lep?
    I will repeat them.

    The most significant correlate with student educational performance over the last 30 years of measurement is parental involvement. And that means jobs, education, civil rights and civil welfare for the parents. All of which I see Obama attempting to improve, and EDK and the glibertarians trying to supress. The most significant correlate with school performance over the last 30 years is SES of the parents in the district. Again that means jobs, education, civil rights and civil welfare for the parents.

  152. 152
    matoko_chan says:

    EDK, I have argued this issue with Dr. Manzi more than once.
    He has never won yet.
    I think you are punching out of your weight class.
    Again.

  153. 153
    cyntax says:

    @polyorchnid octopunch:

    Personally, my thinking is that the educational system is supposed to produce good citizens.

    Definitely agree, but whose definition of “good?” Although I’m pretty sure most people commenting here would have very similar definitions, for the top 1% [of our economic pyramid] I don’t think we can assume that they want the bottom 90% to think critically or be able fact check Glenn Beck. Thus the rush to slash education; the plutocracy will always get the education they demand.

    @matryoshka:

    It seems to be what the system is delivering these days.

  154. 154
    matoko_chan says:

    SES means Socio-economic status…for the uninitiate.

  155. 155
    matoko_chan says:

    @cyntax: actually our highschools were designed to produce good assembly workers for factory floors in manufacturing.
    There is some trending away from that now, since those jobs are largely extinct.

  156. 156
    matoko_chan says:

    @Chris: again, NCLB is mathematically imposssible, even with teaching to the test.
    so to make NCLB “work” the educators are forced to redefine “proficient”.
    As a result America falls further and further behind globally, where proficient has not been redefined to accomodate NCLB.
    You guys think I’m kiddin’?
    I have argued this with Dr. Manzi in mails at least 5 times.

  157. 157
    matoko_chan says:

    Think of Dr. Manzi as a much smarter, much hotter EDK who is also a glibertarian wankstah.
    With an IQ of 170 and the ability to speak pidgin french.
    He looks quite a bit like Vin Diesel in Pitch Black, only without the shades and the leather wife-beater.
    ;)

  158. 158
    matoko_chan says:

    hey.
    Are you guys even aware that NCLB is a “free market” solution?
    School funding is dependent on test scores.

  159. 159
    matoko_chan says:

    Could we have Dr. Manzi as a Front Pager, instead of EDK?
    Please, huh, please could we?
    If you must have a glibertarian wankstah on the front page, why not have the very best?

  160. 160
    cyntax says:

    @matoko_chan:

    Oh yeah, that’s very true. Even down to the gridded out layout of the classroom.

    @matoko_chan:
    Yeah, I was citing that and Race to the Top as examples of why applying the industry frame to education isn’t always a good idea.

  161. 161
    gene108 says:

    @Annamal:

    All three of the countries mentioned are immigrant nations who have taken in waves of immigrants at various times. Bottom line being, yes there are differences but they aren’t that huge and they don’t account for all of the results.

    Just pointing out what I’ve read, regarding the differences between U.S. and Canadian immigration, which I think would account for some of the differences in test scores as well.

    From the Aussie’s I’ve known, including foreigners who’ve gone to college there, I think they don’t have issues with a wave of illegal immigrants residing in their country, like the U.S. has. Being an island, gives NZ and Australia a natural barrier, we just don’t have.

    Add on legal immigrants, who get in via family sponsorship, who may not be well educated and you have a large amount of people, who need help to get the most out of our educational system.

    If our illegal immigrant population is 12 million and our overall population is 300 million, that’s 4% of our population that’s illegal.

    I don’t think NZ, Canada or Australia has 4% of their population their illegally. I could be wrong.

    Again, this is just my hunch. Not based on scientific surveys. You ask why there’s a difference in our PISA scores. I think it’s the higher rates of poverty in the U.S., coupled with the fact that within our poor population are a lot of immigrants, who are dealing with language and other barriers, which limit their ability to get the most out of our educational system.

  162. 162
    matoko_chan says:

    oh hay.
    I get it.
    EDK is link-whoring over here because his Forbes shit isnt getting much traffic.
    niice.

  163. 163
    matoko_chan says:

    @cyntax: well….the whole set of free market solutions (the ones EDK is fake-exploring) are just anti-empirical, like Industrial Highschool.
    We have argued this at TAS forevah.
    I guess EDK has had a glibertarian mindwipe and forgot how it cant work.
    ;)

  164. 164
    matoko_chan says:

    @gene108: and also NCLB, like I explained.

  165. 165
    MikeJ says:

    @gene108:

    I bet Canada, New Zealand and Australia don’t have to figure out how to integrate millions of English as a second language students into their school systems every year.

    25% of the population of Australia is foreign born.

  166. 166
    matoko_chan says:

    @Chris:

    But I do think there’s a pattern of increasingly authoritarian practices being adopted as a result of NCLB’s pressure to raise test scores

    I think this is less of a problem than teaching to the test and redefining “proficient” downwards as the result.
    NCLB is part of a family of “free market” solutions.
    Schools are funded by test scores.

  167. 167
    MattR says:

    @matoko_chan:

    Think of Dr. Manzi as a much smarter, much hotter EDK who is also a glibertarian wankstah.
    With an IQ of 170 and the ability to speak pidgin french.

    Is this supposed to impress us? You’ve already demonstrated that (supposedly) having a high IQ has nothing to do with being able to make a coherent argument.

  168. 168
    matoko_chan says:

    @MattR: im just sayin’ he’d be way more fun.
    He is also a millionaire that retired at age 43.
    Frankly EDK, is boring. He is too high verbal and has no maffs.(maths)
    ;)

  169. 169
    matoko_chan says:

    @MattR: is this argument incoherent?

    The most significant correlate with student educational performance over the last 30 years of measurement is parental involvement. And that means jobs, education, civil rights and civil welfare for the parents. All of which I see Obama attempting to improve, and EDK and the glibertarians trying to supress. The most significant correlate with school performance over the last 30 years is SES of the parents in the district. Again that means jobs, education, civil rights and civil welfare for the parents.

  170. 170
    chopper says:

    well, it was a great thread until the Word Salad showed up.

  171. 171
    matoko_chan says:

    C’mon EDK….a response please?
    This like your original first posts here where you ran away and hid instead of responding in the comments.
    do you favor free market solutions for Americas educational woes?
    I know you are afraid to call it that. But that is what it is.
    NCLB, firing bad teachers, breaking tenure, vouchers, charter schools, and merit pay all are examples of free market solutions.
    Free market teachers, free market schools, free market students.

    bi la kayfah.

  172. 172
    matoko_chan says:

    @chopper: its better than cream of glibertarian soup.

  173. 173
    Sarah, Proud and Tall says:

    @matoko_chan:

    Heavens, what a strange young woman you are. You remind me of little Misty Higgins who used to wet herself in class and then point at it as if she had achieved something.

    Just a word to the wise dear – young men do like a girl to be able to capitalize her sentences and spell “math” without any letter fs.

    Washing occasionally is also recommended, but I suppose we can’t have everything.

  174. 174
    chopper says:

    @matoko_chan:

    jesus, you’re just a buffoon, aren’t you.

    i’m waiting for your manic phase to end and the depressive one to start.

  175. 175
    matoko_chan says:

    @chopper: I unnerstand this is all fresh to you juicers. But this is what the glibertarian wankstahs have been churning out for the past two years at TAS.
    Try to get your pointy little head around this– there are 30 years of actual documented correlations between school and student performance and the SES and involvement of parents….. and free market solutions (like EDK is pretending to explore) are EMPIRICALLY incapable of ever addressing those problems.
    EDK knows this.
    The glibertarian mindmeld has appenttly tipped him into premature senilia.

  176. 176
    matoko_chan says:

    @Sarah, Proud and Tall: lawls. shouldn’t you name be Sarah, Proud, Tall and Older Than Dirt?

  177. 177
    matoko_chan says:

    Haay Juicers.
    Go comment on EDK’s Forbes blog or at the LoOGies.
    I promise, you wont ever see me there.
    You can fawn and slobber over EDK and the other glibertarian wankstahs to your hearts content.
    :)

  178. 178
    Mark says:

    I support the collective bargaining rights of teachers, but let’s stop fellating them. Teachers have the lowest college GPA of any profession, and who among us doesn’t remember a frustrated teacher tearing a defenseless 10-year-old a new asshole? Teachers, like other humans, are flawed, and they spend a hell of a lot of time complaining that they’re underpaid and trying to limit oversight of their jobs, even if their results are pathetically poor.

  179. 179
    Mark says:

    @The Moar You Know: I got it from one of my high school teachers who complained that she didn’t get paid all summer and that it was very difficult to manage her money over that time.

  180. 180
    Sarah, Proud and Tall says:

    @matoko_chan:

    I am older than dirt, dear, but at least I can use ellipsis properly, and spell “apparently”.

  181. 181
    matoko_chan says:

    @chopper: Look, EDK is just here link-whoring.
    For some reason mistermix and DougJ have stopped giving him mercy links and welfare epics.
    Go comment at Forbes or LoOG.
    I PROMISE you will never see me at either place.

  182. 182
    CT says:

    @geg6:

    Just got my license very recently and am in my first job. In my experience, my Ed teachers who had several years in the classroom before moving into the college environment were great-they had a lot of experience with what actually worked in real life, and also how adaptable you had to be, because an approach that worked great in first period might fall flat with the kids in second period, just because the personality of the group is different. And, they actually modeled the teaching practices they talked about in our classes, so we could see what they looked like.
    On the other hand, the profs who had got out of the K-12 classroom after only a couple of years were much more to not practice what they preached (e.g. giving a long tedious lecture on how you shouldn’t do lots of extended lecturing in your class), and to be perfectly satisfied with hitting all the appropriate buzzwords rather than giving us practical training. Fortunately, there were much more of the former than the latter in my program.

    I taught several years of college prior to my current high school job, and high school is so much more challenging it’s ridiculous ( and I’m in a great
    district).

  183. 183
    jake the snake says:

    At least matoko_chan is entertaining.

    SPT, whose sock puppet are you? You have a long way to go to get to BOB level.
    BTW where is BOB. I miss his free form delusions.

  184. 184
    Comrade Kevin says:

    @matoko_chan: I don’t care where you post, as long as it isn’t here, matokook_chan.

  185. 185
    matoko_chan says:

    @Comrade Kevin: wish in one hand, spit in the other.
    EDKs whole approach is wrong.
    “Fixing” the “teacher problem” can empirically do nothing to fix the education problem. Because the education problem is the parent problem, parental SES and parental involvement.
    EDKs favorable links all go to the glibertarian hivemind at TAS. Manzi and Millman. ALL those guys talk about is free market solutions. I have known them for years.
    Doing anything about teachers to reform education is EXACTLY like bailing out banks to create jobs. There is no linear relationship.
    The glibertarian wankstahs all know this. They never acknowledge it, they just keep spinning. It is what they do.
    I loathe EDK for the same reason I loathe Douthat. They cloak anti-empirical free market solutions in a fog of pretty language and fake reasonableness in the name of “discussion”. EDK developed a formula here.
    EDK used his formula of “run a conservative meme up the flagpole, get ass kicked in comments, rinse, repeat” until he hit pay dirt with the unions and the teachers.
    So now he can front as a “reasonable libertarian/liberal-tarian” and churn out free market chum larded with a few bits of BJ sanity at the Forbes bullshit mill.
    That would be BJ sanity that he stole from you guys. :)
    You see ……it doesnt come natural to EDK. That is why is was so incredibly hard for him to give up on fetus=slave. He doesnt really see anything wrong with it.
    For example…..

    Quote for the day
    __
    by E.D. Kain
    __
    “And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.” ~ Barack Obama in 2007 on the campaign trail.
    __
    Guess that means the President is headed for Wisconsin, folks.

    Glibertarian playbook page 21….snark about something Obama once said. Make it about Obama.
    You see…..EDK doesnt have any integrity of his own….so he had to borrow some from you….long enough to a get a column at Forbes.
    Forbes has to have “reasonable” libertarians to give cover to the endless stream of trickle-down-free-market-innovation-supply-side wankery that they pump out.
    And EDK is just the ticket.
    A lot of people here seem to be emotionally invested in EDK.
    I’m sorry but I’ve known him for years…..he hasnt changed. He is still a free market evangelist.
    And free market solutions can never reform education.
    NCLB is a free market solution. Did you know that? School funding is based partly on test results. Has NCLB worked?
    We know the answer to that.

  186. 186
    J. Lev says:

    Found this blog after googling “defending teachers” after hearing another group of pundits bellyaching about “bad” teachers being the root of our education problems in America on CNN this morning. You can’t compare U.S. test scores with other countries. In other countries students who are disabled, learning disabled, underperforming, poorly behaved, disinterested, poor, etc… are often removed from the school system or not allowed in school to begin with. Next they are divided into those going to college and those routed to vo-tech. Having been an exchange student I can attest that the systems are very, very different. I once went to a public library with my host brother, a final year medical student in his country, who had not the first clue how to check out a library book or look up information, something American students learn in elementary school. Those fabulous math stats coming out of other countries may very well be coming from “math” tracked students who chose the math track beacause they love it, take ONLY math all day, and after their schools have weeded out the poor math students years ago and sent them on the vo-tech track as early as 6th grade. Due to litigation, weak administrators, and the horribly damaging effects of federal special ed. laws American teachers have almost no ability to remove a low student or horribly behaved student from their class but are held accountable for their classroom test scores. This is wrong. Now there is a big push for “inclusion” to get even more special ed. students to take up loads of their teachers time so districts can do get rid of more higher paid special ed. teachers. And let’s talk about the fact that cities are still recovering from white flight and the current prevelant attitude of parents to move ever further out of town to the “good” schools which everyone knows is code for the newest-whitest schools. I am sick of teachers, your unions, your families, news media allowing conservative blowhards to demonize the profession with little to no backlash! Stand up, speak out, and let the general public know what it is like to teach in American schools today. It is very, very difficult and those of you who stay are true professionals despite bullcrap test scores.

  187. 187
    giovanni da procida says:

    Kerfuffler.

    I considered becoming a teacher and took several courses towards certification. The professors were THE WORST I had ever had. They stoked their egos by testing us on the “knowledge” they had made up themselves. (“List the ten properties of a mentor” ) There was often very little material to cover in class. I remember there was a six credit course called “Schools and Society” about the history and philosophy of education. We met twice a week for three interminable hours and learned almost nothing about what should have been a fascinating topic

    This is why I quit teaching. I was teaching and didn’t have a credential. The district had this program that you could teach and get your credential while you taught.

    The program was so bad that I quit teaching. Teaching was tough but rewarding, but I simply could not make myself go to these horrible classes. So I left after my second year. I wasn’t making progress towards my credential, and so I probably wouldn’t have been able to renew my emergency credential.

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