A few questions for Joel Klein

According to widespread reports, in your just-published book about your time as chancellor of the New York City Schools, Mr. Klein, you wrote that firing a teacher “took an average of almost two and a half years and cost the city over $300,000.”

I’d ask you to consider a little context, please…. The reasons we have teacher unions and tightly worded contracts in the first place is because teachers historically were mistreated and they lost confidence in their employers. And what of the “incompetent” administrators—you fail to mention them. It takes two to tango. One more thing—you hired these people. Instead of deflecting blame to Ed Schools (I’ll get to them in a second), why don’t school districts and boards take responsibility for those they hire? The union did not make you hire them. The union did not make you neglect proper induction, good supervision, mentoring, effective programs of professional development. And the union did not create the pool of low SAT/GRE applicants. You and your board did that by not paying a professional salary or offering professional working conditions for professional work. What’s that? Better compensation requires higher taxes? Well then, what exactly have you and the board done to educate the voters on this issue instead of playing the politics of union confrontation. And by the way, maybe the value-adding abilities you tell voters you want can not be had at the price voters are willing to pay. Have you told them that?

As for Ed Schools—hang on a moment—let’s talk about state licensing boards and commissions. Your state, with support of your legislature, issued licenses to these teachers. Have they met labor market demands at the expense of quality? Who told them to do that? Not the unions. With legislative consent, are they setting the licensing bar low because the salaries we pay will not draw better candidates into the field? Have you lobbied your legislature on this issue or are you just writing books about the problem and running for-profit companies to sell products to the same schools you once administered? By the way, do you really feel the problem is we have too few commercial products or that commercial products have a hope of solving the systemic problems you describe.

UOh, and Ed Schools…. Why do you persist in thinking that you are small colleges of letters and sciences? Why have experimental stations filled with scientists to solve agricultural problems produced increasing yields (anyone use a split plot ANOVA recently?). Does growing crops require science but growing children require philosophy? And about those SAT/GRE scores, Mr. Klein, have you considered that training standards are set by accreditation bodies that respond to market demand which are created by salaries that you, your board, and your voters are willing to pay.

Thank you, Mr. Klein, for listing these problems, although some serious solutions for the system in which teachers do their work would have been more edifying.

Mike Gerber
Ex-teacher

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Michael M. Gerber, Ph.D.
Professor, Gewirtz School of Education
University of California, Santa Barbara

Yet another plea to consider instruction

I am a presenter at the conference of the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) of the Council for Exceptional Children in Braga, Portugal, on 15 July 2014. There are a lot of people here who will be, in keeping with the conference theme of “Embracing Inclusive Approaches,” talking a lot about where special education happens.

In many ways, on the international scene, simply having students with disabilities included—as in not excluded from—education is important. As faithful readers will know, I think it’s great to include students with disabilities, but I think that what happens with them when they’re included is incredibly important. The instruction that occurs in schools is critical. Why send them to school to be defeated by lousy instruction? This is especially true for students with high-incidence disabilities when being “included” very often plays out as meaning being assigned to a regular or general education setting full time.

So I’m talking about including science about effective teaching…just taking the opportunity to enter another plea for teaching effectively. A PDF copy of my slide deck and a couple of pages of the references to which I refer are available.

CEC standards for evidence-based practice

The Council for Exceptional Children released a document providing guidance for identifying evidence-based practices in special education on 23 January 2014. Developed by a work group composed of leaders from the Division for Research—Bryan Cook (chair), Viriginia Buysse, Janette Klingner, Tim Landrum, Robin McWilliam, Melody Tankersley, and Dave Test—and aimed at serving groups or individuals who are understand educational research design and methods, the standards provide a means for categorizing practices as (a) evidence-based, (b) potentially evidence-based, (c) mixed evidence, (d) insufficient evidence, or (e) negative evidence. To make these determinations, groups or individuals will need to apply quality indicators, which the document also identifies to studies, to ascertain the extent to which individual studies are methodologically sound.
Continue reading ‘CEC standards for evidence-based practice’

Science and preschool policy

In “How to Get More Early Bloomers” (New York Times, 30 January 2014), Dan Willingham and David Grissmer argue that policymakers should be more cautious about the benefits of universal preschool and should employ the tools of science to examine policies so that quality can be built into the preschools that states and localities offer.

When New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, went to Albany earlier this week to talk about his program for universal preschool, the discussion reportedly focused on funding, not on whether or how preschool would actually help children. President Obama seemed equally confident when he introduced his plan for universal preschool last year, flatly stating, “We know this works.” But the state of research is actually much murkier. And unless policy makers begin to design preschool programs in ways that can be evaluated later, the situation won’t get any clearer.

You can read the entire editorial on-line. Observant readers might say the authors could have cited some other historical examples of effective preschools (e.g., Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966), but that doesn’t negate their general thrust that policy on preschools should be guided by science.

Reference

Bereiter, C., & Engelmann, S. (1966). Teaching disadvantaged children in the preschool. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Teaching computer coding

A well-resourced effort to promote instruction in coding has been underway since about 2011 or so (my guess about when I first heard of it?). In December 2013 it’s slated to hit a big crescendo, the hour of coding. The effort is founded on the growing importance of computer science in contemporary science, and it features many recognizable people from many different walks of life in the pitch. Check it out.

Now, however, help me with this question, please. What do we know about effective instruction in teaching students about technology? Much? How about the relative effectiveness of different ways of teaching coding (i.e., programming)? I’ve not researched the literature on this matter. I hope the folks at code.org have.

I like the idea of helping students become proficient users and producers of technology…a lot…a heckuva lot! Let’s do it effectively.

We have a hot one

Over on Pragmatic Education Joe Kirby provides his take on

  • What makes a great education system?
  • What makes great teaching?
  • What makes a great curriculum?
  • What makes great training (CPD & ITT)?
  • What makes great assessment?
  • What makes great school leadership?

Mr. Kirby has a distinctly British view. One may have to learn some lingo specific to how folks in Great Britain talk about schools (this isn’t a criticism), but it’s well worth the effort. I’ve not dug through all of his posts, but I’ve read several, including these that will resonate with loyal readers of TE:

I’m virtually certain I’m going to find some entries with which I’ll disagree and some ways of posing ideas that I would recommend be shaded differently, but I’m betting that Mr. Kirby’s posts will provide a lot of fodder for my biases. Highly recommended. His blog is going in the side bar.

Neuroimaging data do not validate left- vs. -right-brain types

If you believe in learning styles, personalities, and so forth, skip this entry. It just reports that another of those balloons has been popped. However, it you’re into understanding the fascinating nature of humans’ thinking, there are a couple of morsels here.

Unless you’ve been putting your thumbs in your ears and wiggling your fingers while loudly saying, “Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m not listening to you. I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” you’ve probably heard some educator talking about left-bained or right-brained learners, schools as catering to left-brained learners, girls as better at left-brained tasks and therefore better in schools, and so forth. (Think I’m kidding? Try this example from the widely circulated magazine, Scholastic or check on the sales of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)

Fortunately, some folks have called “bologna” on this already. See, for examples:

Well, if that’s not enough (and it should be), a group of neuroscientists at the University of Utah (abstract and source follows) studied images showing the neural connections in the brain hemispheres of over 1000 people ranging from seven to 29 years of age. Although they found that there were functionally separate areas in the brain (e.g., language regions or hubs), these connections consistently showed lateralization between the major “hubs,” not a general individual type. They said that their

…analyses suggest that an individual brain is not “left-brained” or “right-brained” as a global property, but that asymmetric lateralization is a property of individual nodes or local subnetworks, and that different aspects of the left-dominant network and right-dominant network may show relatively greater or lesser lateralization within an individual.

Before you get carried away with interpreting that statement, please read the article. It’s available for free!

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson M. A., Lainhart J. E., & Anderson J. S. (2013) An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071275

Abstract

Lateralized brain regions subserve functions such as language and visuospatial processing. It has been conjectured that individuals may be left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant based on personality and cognitive style, but neuroimaging data has not provided clear evidence whether such phenotypic differences in the strength of left-dominant or right-dominant networks exist. We evaluated whether strongly lateralized connections covaried within the same individuals. Data were analyzed from publicly available resting state scans for 1011 individuals between the ages of 7 and 29. For each subject, functional lateralization was measured for each pair of 7266 regions covering the gray matter at 5-mm resolution as a difference in correlation before and after inverting images across the midsagittal plane. The difference in gray matter density between homotopic coordinates was used as a regressor to reduce the effect of structural asymmetries on functional lateralization. Nine left- and 11 right-lateralized hubs were identified as peaks in the degree map from the graph of significantly lateralized connections. The left-lateralized hubs included regions from the default mode network (medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and temporoparietal junction) and language regions (e.g., Broca Area and Wernicke Area), whereas the right-lateralized hubs included regions from the attention control network (e.g., lateral intraparietal sulcus, anterior insula, area MT, and frontal eye fields). Left- and right-lateralized hubs formed two separable networks of mutually lateralized regions. Connections involving only left- or only right-lateralized hubs showed positive correlation across subjects, but only for connections sharing a node. Lateralization of brain connections appears to be a local rather than global property of brain networks, and our data are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater “left-brained” or greater “right-brained” network strength across individuals. Small increases in lateralization with age were seen, but no differences in gender were observed.

So, can the bunk. Quit blaming kids’ outcomes on irrelevant factors and let’s get to thinking about what matters: The things we can do to alter the teaching environment to improve those outcomes. Let’s see, we could start with having more light in the classrooms. O.K., how about adjusting the temperature up or down one degree? What? You think it would be more important to change the teaching?

Well, I agree.

Is my teaching effective?

How does one know whether one’s teaching is working? That’s a dang important question. Over on myIGDIs, Scott McConnell provides a quick and clear introduction to the answer. In How Do I Know if My Classroom Practices Are Working?, Professor McConnell explains that one needs (a) goals or standards, (b) points of comparison against which to assess change or difference, and (c) trustworthy ways of measuring students’ performance, if one is to assess the effects of one’s teaching.

Although Professor McConnell’s analysis is aimed primarily at early childhood education, it’s base is general enough to be applicable across age groups. He’s talking about Individual Growth and Development Indicators, or IGDIs. Those are important tools in an effective educator’s apron. I’m thinking myIGDIs, which provides research-based, preschool language and literacy measures, looks like a valuable site. These link nicely to RtI, CBM, and other models that align with monitoring progress systematically.




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