Archive for the ‘School Reform’ Category

ASCD Check In “Watts Up?”

March 27, 2011

Saturday’s ticketed session on developing a thinking toolkit caught my attention for several reasons. First the presenter, Graham Watts, was an educator from London. I was interested in finding how the current state of education across the pond compared to issues facing us in the US. My interest was also peaked by the reference to Art Costa’s Habits of Mind which is one of the cornerstones I use to develop thinking in my classroom.  So I was very interested in how Watts went about integrating HOM into his practice. Finally I wanted to gauge the audience to see where their level of familiarity was with the practices of explicitly teaching thinking and of implementing Habits of Mind.

What I observed as Watts worked through the hour using an interactive lecture format was both affirming and startling. Affirming in that I could see a similarity between his use of HOM and mine; startling in that so many in the audience were not acquainted with this powerful tool.

Of interest was his concept of a Student Thinker’s Toolkit in which students gather a series of strategies that they can use to build their capacity to think. The strategies in the toolkit are classified into the four categories of questioning, critical thinking, creative thinking, and metacognition.

Most interesting was Mr. Watts’s inclusion of an approach called 3 C Thinking that functions as a blueprint of how these elements are connected. Simply stated the center of all thinking is inquiry (questioning) about the three Cs of Critical, Creative, and Caring thought. All three components were given equal weight in the visual that accompanied Watts’s description. The role of metacognition encompassed all four of these components as a means to develop within student thinkers the capacity to understand how they created a thinking response. Finally the HOM encircled the entire process. They serve as a tool student thinkers pull out of their toolkit when they run into roadblocks in the thinking process. Here is a  visual of this process. The job of the student is to decide which tool to use to shape their learning (literacy,thinking, tech).

As persuasive as this approach is I was surprised to learn that it might become the victim of a reform movement in England. This is so often the case in education. The concern with standards supersedes creativity while the race to high standardized test scores often results in the gutting of higher level thinking. Time to teach students how to think no longer is a priority.  One participant gave voice to this concern as she worried about the time needed to teach students what basic thinking patterns like analyze or compare look like (metacognition). She believed that she did not have time to waste on this type of activity. The irony is the lower level thinking involved in a “death march curriculum” is the true waste of time. As educators we must commit to build our students’ thinking toolkits with higher level activities. Only then will content be mastered.

Learn more about Graham Watts at http://tomorrowslearning.co.uk

 

 

 

Nickels and Dimes and Pennies; The Real Cost of a Teacher.

February 27, 2011

So I started to think about teachers as the CAUSE OF ALL ECONOMIC PROBLEMS IN THE U.S. today ( At least this is the image that is being projected today). I considered my salary and whether I was ripping off the taxpayers in California… who pay about $9,000 per student a year for each student’s education.

(Source: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c8/c8s1o11.htm). I decided to examine this question through several lenses.

Lens One

Using high-end figures for my analysis, my salary and benefits would equal $100,000. For clarity and simplicity I have used rounded numbers for this discussion. To begin with I teach 200 students a day for 180 days. When I divide $100,000 by these numbers I come to a daily cost of $2.78 per student per day. Now since I have reached the top of my district’s pay scale, most of the teachers at my site earn less than I do. But let’s err on the high side and say that on average teachers at my school cost the tax payer $2.50 per class for each student’s teacher. Students at my school have 7 classes a day so the teachers’ salaries (including all benefits) would cost the taxpayer $17.50 a day or$ 87.50 a week or $350.00 a month. I am paid 10 equal payments throughout the year which means $3,500.00 is the cost of a child’s teacher at my site for an entire year.

 Question …where is the other $5,500 spent?

Is a child’s education in my class worth a parent passing up a Starbucks…or a Big Mac…or a trip on the Metro? Is the cost of a day of education for a child worth a pair of movie tickets…or two margaritas…or having someone clean half your house?

Sidebar: Considered another way… the amount of money my district receives for 11 of my 200 students would cover the cost of my salary and benefits for a year.

Now let’s return to my data. You could say I cost each parent of each student in my class $2.78 a day. I spend 45 minutes instructing that child. This does not include the time spent planning and researching and grading any assignment your student is given. It does not include the hour and a half minimum I spend every day after school working with students who need extra help or a place to work or to access the technology or supplies they need in order to complete their homework. Also be aware that I have the same educational experience as a lawyer. I have a BA, a credential, a CLAD certificate, and a MS. That is 8 years of college level work. I have 36 years of experience. I belong to professional organizations, read current literature, and attend conferences to improve my practice.

Question…Which doctor, lawyer, accountant, or therapist would  you expect to provide 45 minutes of services at a cost of $2.78?

Lens Two

Next I considered my salary through another lens. How much does each student cost the tax payer for the hours I work?

Once again I will use the $100,000 figure for my salary and benefits and the 200 figure for my number of students. (My actual student number is 197 by the way).  If I add up the actual hours I work the average would be 10 hours a day. For the purposes of this discussion I will not include my weekend hours.

Next I did the math.

100,000/10=10,000 salary divided by months

10,000 /4= 2,500 cost per week

2,500/5=500 cost per day

500/10=50 cost per hour

50/200=.25  This is the cost to the taxpayer per student per hour for me to prepare, instruct, and evaluate  a child’s learning.

Question… How many minutes at a parking meter is that or how many minutes on a dryer at a Laundromat?

By the way if I completed this process using my 7 hour contracted day the cost comes to .33 cents per student per hour.
My Conclusion

I am a bargain for the taxpayers and for the children that I teach. As we work as a nation to improve economic conditions let’s not nickel and dime the education of our children. That would be “penny wise and pound foolish” (Burton).

Apples to Apples

February 13, 2011

Apples to Apples

Let’s compare apples to apples. This is what I think whenever I hear one of those dire comparisons between the public schools in the United States and India…or China…or Japan…or Finland.  Without exception the US stats pale in comparison. But are we comparing the same populations?  Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit a high school in Shanghai. It was impressive. I observed diligent students in well run classrooms; computer use by all students; high college entrance rates.  Definitely this was a high performing public school.  Or was it something else? As I passed other schools in Beijing where students hung out of third story windows cleaning the outer panes, I wondered would these young people soon be in high schools. The group I was with did not visit these schools, but I learned through conversations and observation that they would not. I learned that the school I observed in Shanghai was more akin to a prep school in the US than it was to any American public high school. Not only were young people winnowed out of schools into the workforce as early as middle school age, entrance into elite public high schools like the one I saw in Shanghai required a substantial payment. Yes there are scholarships available to needy students, but the majority of poorer students will enter the workforce or attend inferior high schools that limit college opportunity.  In more ways than one they were being hung out to dry.  How many of these students were included in the PISA and TIMSS results? How many of these students took the test.?

American schools educate the entire population into high school. There is no active institutional winnowing into career paths. American schools educate the entire barrel of apples. We do not hand pick a few golden ones. And yet the beauty of educating everyone through high school is also our greatest challenge. Meeting the needs of a diverse population; ridding our system of the passive filters that limit opportunities for some while enhancing opportunities for others; developing competent and passionate educators with high expectations for all; achievement gaps; digital gaps…the challenges are many and in these economic times they might seem insurmountable , but it must be achieved if this democracy is to remain vibrant. 

I am proud that we educate all of our students. I am proud that anyone at any point in their life can reenter our educational system. I embrace our “all apples” approach and as an educator I am determined to address the challenges educating everyone poses because the alternative of education for a select few  is the true danger to us as individuals and as a society.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has a recent article that addresses a similar idea. It is an interesting read.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2011/02/myth_of_declining_us_schools.html

What are your thoughts?

Pass on Passion

February 6, 2011

Family  Feuds

Families are often microcosms of the general population. Any family gathering I attend shares the same spectrum of political and religious views that any poll seeks to quantify. My family also has an unusually high number of educators in it ranging from classroom teachers …to professors…to consultants. So when someone who is not an educator brings up the topic of “what’s wrong with our schools” the “discussions” are always interesting and often heated by the passion of belief. Too often though the results are confirmation of everyone’s personal beliefs and a deepening of the divide that threatens to shatter our schools and our nation.  Such was the climate of a recent family gathering.

Now I am a strong advocate of following one’s passions. Such passion is the energy that fuels my 36 years in the classroom. However when that passion stops fueling positive results and is instead used to build filters so we process only those ideas that fit our own paradigm passion becomes an accelerator for destruction rather than the a fuel for growth.

The fundamentalist who shuts out or hates the person who calls God by a different name is one example. Whether that person is the Egyptian Muslim being interviewed by Christiane Amanpour or a fundamentalist Christian protesting a burial, the message is the same. I unconditionally can not hear you because your ideas do not meet my passion filter. When this happens respect vanishes and without respect no growth can occur. Stalemate or destruction are the only options available.

The same is true lately of discussions about education. So too will be the results. The casualties will be our children. As a person who believes in the power of positive passion I have been recently contemplating and reevaluating my own personal perspectives. I have considered steps I can take to ensure that I at least do not add more accelerator to the bonfire of public discussion on the state of our schools. I know that I can only change certain things, but that even a pebble can have a widening effect.

Here are some of my thoughts as of now…what are yours?

  1. There are poor and excellent schools in all systems from public to private to charter to home schools.
  2. There is room for improvement in all systems of education.
  3. There are effective and ineffective educators in all these systems.
  4. The beauty of educating everyone through high school is also our greatest challenge.
  5. Unions vs school districts …we need to lessen the vs.
  6. If we as educators want to be considered professionals, what are our responsibilities?
  7. Data is needed, but is only a piece of the puzzle.
  8. We must stop using data bites to fuel the debate on education…whether that is a case of inappropriate instruction or an improper use of a test.
  9.  Listen as Socrates would and question to learn, not to defend.
  10. Be open to acknowledging a viewpoint that differs from yours. There may be more than one road to excellence.
  11. If it doesn’t benefit the students it doesn’t belong in education.
  12. Get used to change…it is an affirmation of life.

I am not quite sure where my ruminations will end up, but I know that I do not want to have my passion for learning transformed into a fuel that will in the end destroy that about which I am passionate.