Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Welcome Back

Another school year is here and I have a lot to share.  Now if I can just find the time.  Over the summer the New York Times had numerous items in Room for Debate.  Check them out here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


How important is homework?  Just as a few years of teaching led me to begin questioning grading practices, they also led me to question virtually everything about homework.  Why do teachers assign it and what purpose does it serve?  At various points in my career I have assigned homework so that content could be covered faster.  At other times it was so that students practiced a skill they had learned in class.  Maybe it was to wrap up something we didn’t finish in class.  Sometimes it was simply some reading to introduce students to some content so that we could have richer dialogue the next day.  But if we are trying to teach ALL students, is it realistic, is it even fair to have all kids read content so that we can cover more in less time?  Won’t that just keep the kids already behind, farther behind still?  If homework is to practice a skill, is it doing any good if the student hasn’t already mastered the skill?  Practicing a skill wrong only leads to more mistakes.  If the homework is to expose students to some new content and they are not highly skilled readers, what have we accomplished? 
As a high school teacher, homework is just part of the landscape; it often goes unquestioned.  It needs to be.  I don’t suggest that we need to do away with homework in high school, but we ought to ask the questions that force us to make its use more educationally sound.  Is homework serving our students’ best interests?  Could we alter the homework so that it does meet ALL students’ needs?

But we must also consider when homework should be assigned.  First grade?  Seventh grade?  And how much is enough?  What is gained and what is sacrificed by asking an eight year old to spend 30 minutes doing math problems they may or may not understand and writing vocabulary words?  Does it get in the way or does it enhance family life?  Are they learning from it or just slogging through?  Is homework one of the things that end up making kids lose their enthusiasm for school? 

Consider these questions as you give this a read….

Monday, June 6, 2011


About ten years ago I started doing some serious thinking about the grades I was reporting for my students.  Early in my career my grade book was filled with assignments and few of them required great thought; too often they were busy-work.  The real evaluations, assessments and tests made up a small portion of the overall grade.  I reasoned that this allowed kids with a good work ethic but troubles retaining content to still earn a good grade.  The real world rewarded hard workers, after all.  Lots of smart people struggle to hold a job, but those willing to work.  It was however a nightmare for me.  Between grading with any integrity, tracking missing assignments and calculating grades I was exhausted.  I got to wondering….what does a grade mean?  Who looks at it and what do they think it means?  That just kicked off a firestorm of further questions and eventually conversations and possible solutions.

Please indulge me while I rattle off most of these questions.  Consider your answers too:

What do grades in elementary school mean and what message to they send our kids?  When is the right time to transition to the traditional A-F?  Should we even have those?  What do they mean?  According to most school handbooks A is exemplary, B is above average and C is average.  But what does this mean…is the “average” the average kid that age, the average kid in that school or community, the average kid in the class?  Is it measured against some absolute or against the peers, thereby making the grade a de facto competition?  Do these grades represent academic performance, reaching an achievement measure, effort, integrity, mastery of content knowledge and/or skill?  Why does the range for A-D typically cover 10% increments while the F covers from a 0% to a 59.4%?  Is it acceptable to be correct only 61% of the time or know only 61% of the skills and still receive credit for a course?  Should reported grades include evaluations early in a term while students are adjusting to new content, new expectations, a new term and teacher?  Should it be their performance at the end that matters?  If the grade represents skills and content acquired, standards met, should practice and homework assignments be counted in the picture?  Should students lose points for turning in late work or coming to class late if the grade supposedly represents mastery of content and skills?  Should extra credit exist if the grade supposedly represents mastery of content and skills?  If so, what should that extra credit be awarded for – bringing tissues, box tops, attending school events, writing extra essays?  Can a student’s performance really be discerned from a letter?  Is a C in an AP class different than a C in an Honors or regular course? (And for another time, don’t such designations create de facto tracking?)  Is a C in English 10 the same in each school, each district, state?  Who looks at and interprets these grades and do they define the grades the same way the people who assigned the grades do?  Are we all looking at the same apples?  How long do the grades matter?  Can we discern anything about a person at 30 years old based on their high school or even college transcript?

After asking these questions of my own practices I came to the conclusion that the grades were relatively meaningless.  The horror!  If I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say via a grade how could they mean anything?  I had the opportunity to see Ken O’Connor (  at a staff development session, and he really got me thinking.  Ever since, my grades have been streamlined and strictly about academic performance – no busy work, no points off for being late – all tests, essays, presentations – real opportunities for student to show what they know and what they can do.  Not yet perfect by any means, but I can rest much easier when I look at grades.  Mind you, to some degree they are still contrived and I am still not sure what they really mean.  But I am working on it. 

But education is far more than just mastering content and skills, right?  That’s just schooling – and Twain asked not to let it get in the way of our education.  The real world, whatever that is, asks for adults to be hard-working, responsible, thoughtful citizens.  Schools are partially responsible.  When schools and teachers insist that work be turned in on time or that students do not plagiarize, they are following through on that commitment.  But should a students’ integrity, for lack of a better word, get wrapped into a grade that supposedly measures their academic performance? 

I like O’Connor’s suggestion…give two grades.  Make one strictly about academic performance and the other about integrity.  On the academic side cut all the busy-work and practice work grades and evaluate on the finished product only?  Consider it this way… a basketball team has practice all week.  They do drills. They break the game down into small segments.  They shoot foul shots.  They dribble.  Then on Friday they have a game.  Fans, family and the media all show up.  None of them care what happened all week in practice.  All that matters is the performance at game time.  Our students need practice and drills.  They need the “game” broken down into parts.  And they may even need a few games to hit their stride.  Then they might blossom at the end into champions we never saw coming at the beginning – and they should still get invited to the Big Dance based on their strong finish.

Let’s have some serious dialogue about completely rethinking how we grade.  Let’s do this for our students.       

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer time and time to evaluate

Writing a blog about education is an interesting endeavor.  The job of teaching swallows us whole and robs us of the time it takes to write reflectively.  Then summer comes, and we just want to escape school completely.  Yet, it is with some distance, some perspective that we can most clearly critique what we do.  Summer is the ideal time for all educators to stop and think, reflect and question.  So while I am scoring AP exams with 1000 colleagues and discussing the challenges of the job think about this.... and ask yourself, why do we teach the way we do?  Who are we serving?  Could we change how we do things and serve a broader audience?  Could we reach more students?  Could we have more meaningful classes for a wider range of students?  But do your best to think about these things while sitting on a beach somewhere.  You earned it! 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

There's Hope

It is possible to make a difference.  It is possible to reach those you might think are most hopeless.  It is possible to reach those least prepared.  And often, just because a kid is from a certain family, neighborhood, or background does not mean they fit any stereotype.  Listen and learn... and teach...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Perfect for Testing Season

I imagine every teacher out there can identify with this.  Read it, feel the frustration, but rest easy in doing what is right and necessary for the good our students...

And now from Finland

We need to be willing to think outside the box when it comes to improving and changing education in America.   But I understand that it can be scary to try new things.  Furthermore, there may be more slowly changing institution that formal education. To change will take both courage and patience.  While we are figuring out what to do and how to do it it would behoove us look to places where change has begun.  Let’s look to Finland.  I read years ago that in Finland they had a unique response to low-performing schools – they increased funding to them.  Think about it… low performance leads to more funding to find and enact solutions.  Though I forget the details, I suspect the continuation of such increased funding was tied to increased performance.  That appears to be the opposite of the American model – under-perform and loose funding but still be required to lift achievement. 
Now I come across more from Finland.  I currently teach in an elite, high-stress, amazingly high performing, private school that asks for long hours, lots of homework, strict behavioral guidelines and great structure.  I teach in a school that could make many a Tiger Mom very happy.  Many people seem to think such structure and time on task is the answer to problems in our schools.  But consider this from Finland – fewer hours, less structure and greater freedom leads to top performance…

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Online Education

While I am sure there is a place for online education, it will never hold a candle to face-to-face instruction, guidance and mentoring.  The learning and teaching process is fundamentally about communication and relationships between learners.  Certainly, there are situations where it saves significant resources.  Small, rural schools simply can't hire staffs of teachers to offer 23 AP courses or six foreign languages because they have a half dozen kids to take advantage of them.  There are places where online education provides an answer to a challenging problem.  But too often I hear people talk about online education as some sort of panacea or a viable replacement for classroom education.  These are often the same people who were convinced that VCRs, overhead projectors, ceiling-mounted digital projectors, laptops, powerpoint, hyperstudio, etc. were tranforming tools.  They miss the fact that a good teacher knows his or her students as people, tailors instruction accordingly, forms bonds with his or her students and makes sure that the relationship between learners is a regular and vital part of the classroom experience.  Technology is simply a tool.  Granted, if the point of school is the aquisition of points, grades and test scores I'm completely wrong.  But I don't think that's really the reason we have school.  For more on the subject check out today's NY Times' Room for Debate at

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Raise Teachers' Status

The New York Times 

March 16, 2011

U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.
Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.
“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”
The conference, convened by the federal Department of Education, was expected to bring together education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents from nine American states. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement.
“We’re all facing similar challenges,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview.
The meeting occurs at a time when teachers’ rights, roles and responsibilities are being widely debated in the United States.
Republicans in Wisconsin and several other states have been pushing legislation to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights and reduce taxpayer contributions to their pensions.
President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.
“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.
Mr. Schleicher is a senior official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., a Paris group that includes the world’s major industrial powers. He wrote the new report, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president who is a former West Virginia schools superintendent, for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation.
It draws on data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which periodically tests 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries in math, reading or science.
On the most recent Pisa, the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.
The “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, the report says, include adopting common academic standards — an effort well under way here, led by state governors — developing better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.
“Make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession” was the top recommendation.
University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report says.
Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor.
According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency).
But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.
In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.
“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Make It Personal

I have been saying for years that learning is maximized when the content touches students personally.  I acknowledge that this can be difficult in some subjects.  But therein lies the art of the teacher.  Furthermore, in my work on the achievement gap I regulalry point out that what we need to find are the strategies that lift achievement for all while accelerating the achievement of those measured below average.  Strategies that simply lift all perpetuate the same gap we have.  So how do we accelerate some, but lift all?  That is the key to closing gaps.  The National Science Foundation released this finding this week....

This isn't a new finding for those who have been searching for such solutions, but it is stated in a succinct fashion.  Bottom line...teachers, ask your students to write about themselves, their life, their values.  Get to know them and let them share themselves.  Make them a vital part of instruction.  

Memphis Schools Merge

I had briefly followed the story of a merger between two school districts in the Memphis area.  I stopped when I cynically realized there was no way the voting public would go for such a plan.  Fortunately, I was proven wrong.  Here is, in my opinion, a real sign of both progress and hope for our schools and our nation.  While not a perfect plan, it shows willingess to work together across all sorts of historical lines of division.  Well done...  

Speak Up

The White House, Washington

Good morning,
The state of the American education system today is unacceptable. As many as one quarter of American students don’t finish high school. We've fallen to ninth place in the proportion of young people with college degrees. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.
For the sake of the next generation, and America's economic future, this has to change.
Providing our nation's students with a world-class education is a shared responsibility. We can't out-compete the rest of the world in the 21st century global economy unless we out-educate them. It's going to take all of us -- educators, parents, students, philanthropists, state and local leaders, and the federal government -- working together to prepare today’s students for the jobs of the 21st century.
That's why I want to hear from you. As President Obama's chief advisor on domestic policy, I focus much of my time on education reform. As part of the White House’s new Advise the Advisor program, I've posed a few key questions for parents, teachers and students to answer so we can get a sense of what’s working in your communities -- and what needs to change.
Take a minute to let me know what you think:
The good news is that we're making progress and seeing improvements around the country already, focusing on our own Three R's: responsibility, reform and results.
Take Miami Central High School, where the President and I traveled on Friday. Several years ago, Miami Central was struggling. Achievement was lagging at the school, and morale was down. Graduation rates hovered at just 36 percent.  But the Miami Central community came together. They set high expectations, and they did the hard work to reform their school. They've turned around their performance -- academic achievement is improving, and graduation rates have improved by nearly 30 points. Miami Central is now well on its way toward providing college and career readiness for its students.
Today, we're visiting TechBoston Academy, a great example of private-sector, non-profit and higher-education partners working with communities to help prepare students with the knowledge and skills they'll need to succeed in college and careers. At TechBoston Academy sixth grade through twelfth grade students learn by using technology in their classrooms. Thanks to strong partners, TechBoston students have access to a 21st century curriculum, early enrollment in college classes, and an extended day program to provide enrichment and to deepen learning in core subjects.
These schools in Miami and Boston are just two examples of success. I'm looking for feedback from more all-star schools, as well as your strategies and challenges to reform our education system. 
As I mentioned earlier, education reform is a shared responsibility for all of us, and it's one that we at the White House take very seriously.
Melody Barnes
Director of the Domestic Policy Council
P.S. If you're passionate about education issues we've set up a special email list focused on education  that will offer more frequent updates on the topic moving forward:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Some Musing from St. Louis

Bottled water in ... schoolteachers out by Bill McLellan
The charming thing about life is its unexpectedness. Bottled water, for instance. How did anybody come up with that? And what did the boss say when the idea was first proposed?
"You want to do what, Jenkins?"
"I want to put water in bottles, sir."
"What would you do with these bottles of water, Jenkins?"
"We'd sell them, sir."
"Let me make sure I understand, Jenkins. You want to take water — regular, tasteless water, the kind you can get out of the tap — and you want to put that water into bottles and sell it."
"Yes, sir."
It makes no sense, but it worked. Bottled water now costs more than gasoline.
Ornamental oranges are even stranger. They look like real oranges, but they're inedible. Why would that be considered an improvement? How would you present that idea to your bosses?
Televised poker is another oddity. Why would anybody watch other people play cards?
But the strangest thing of all, the thing that years ago would have seemed inconceivable to me, is the denigration of teachers.
When I was a kid, teachers were the ultimate authority figures. They were thought of as cops, but smarter.
Although they were greatly respected, teachers did not make a lot of money. They were in the middle of the middle class. They made roughly what cops, electricians and factory workers made. In fact, most teachers worked summer jobs.
Of course, in those days, baseball players worked winter jobs. Here is a strange tidbit from my youth — my seventh-grade teacher worked at the local Sears store during the summer. Sammy Esposito, a player on the White Sox, worked at the same store in the winter.
Think about that — a baseball player and a seventh-grade teacher sharing a job.
Of course, ballplayers have zoomed up the economic ladder. The average salary for a major league player on opening day rosters last year was $3.3 million.
Teachers are still in the middle of the middle class.
Yet they have become whipping boys and girls. Incompetent, lazy, selfish and so on.
How did this happen? Well, they formed unions. But so did baseball players, and while the baseball players have seen their salaries soar, the teachers unions have only been able to keep teachers safely in the middle class.
Nevertheless, you'd think they were enemies of the state. They're demonized. You can see it happening right now in Wisconsin. The governor has declared war on public employee unions, and the most visible of these public employees are the teachers.
The crazy thing about it is, it's not a crazy strategy.
We are seeing a backlash against all public employees. Part of it is human nature. I understand that part. Public employees have pensions. Fewer and fewer of us in the private sector do. Also, public employees are less likely to be laid off in hard times. So employees in the private sector get jealous and angry. We're taxpayers, we say, as if public employees aren't.
Furthermore, we are in the midst of a financial crisis. Government is broke. Public employee pensions are a big part of this. Just look at St. Louis.
So sure, something has to be done. Reasonable people ought to be able to understand that.
But the animosity toward teachers, that's the part I don't get. They do important work. Vital work. They educate our children. That's a difficult job. In some schools, it's nearly an impossible job. Teachers are supposed to overcome all sorts of obstacles that are not of their doing — poverty, violence, the gangster culture, absent or neglectful parents.
I dare say most of us couldn't make it a week in many schools.
But it has become increasingly popular these days to scapegoat teachers. For that matter, I get lots of e-mail from people who refer derisively to "government schools." Government schools? Oh yes, what we used to call public schools.
I can remember when people took pride in public schools. In fact, public education was considered a hallmark of democracy.
Of course, those were different days. We had not yet thought of bottled water, ornamental oranges or televised poker. And we respected teachers.
McClellan: Don't blame teachers when schools are bad
As far as newspaper columns go, writing about respect for teachers ought to be about as controversial as writing about the approach of spring. Who doesn't like the arrival of warm weather, songbirds, flowers and baseball? Who doesn't believe that teachers deserve our respect?
Lots of people, it turns out. Wednesday's musings about teachers — musings set off by the current battle in Wisconsin — elicited a great deal of response, most of which was against my pro-teacher stance.
Much of the more rational criticism was directed at unions.
"I can remember articles like 'Why Johnny Can't Read' and the like from the 1970s when I was a teenager. Many promises, much money and 30 plus years later, urban public schools are in even worse shape. The teachers union has been a force against reform and improvement in the urban public schools. P.S. Your Clayton school district is probably the best in Missouri. Dan V."
Many other readers struck a similar chord. They suggested that the real problem is with the teachers unions, especially in the urban districts.
David M. took that even further.
"Here's a story to investigate. Growing and radical disparities in the performances of school districts since the late '60s have done much to exacerbate the income inequality that liberals say they are so concerned with. During the real estate boom, the soaring values of houses was closely tied to school district performance, with houses in 'good' districts selling for many times the price of identical houses in 'bad' districts. Those families with houses in 'good' districts had incomes and credit leverage far beyond those in 'bad' districts, with their homes' equity the main source. Ask any Realtor about that.
"In other words, teachers' bad performance helped distort real estate markets. In the immediate postwar period, parents could look for any house they could afford, confident that the closest public school was adequate. That was not true beginning in the late '60s with the erosion and politicization of teaching standards and the subsequent 'sorting' of families into good and bad districts. But I don't suppose any 'mainstream' paper is interested in that investigation. It doesn't fit neat liberal narratives."
No, it doesn't, but it's an interesting thought. Bad teachers distorted the real estate market and exacerbated the income inequalities that liberals like me so often decry.
The last thing I want to do is demean teachers, but I really think that both Dan V. and David M. are giving them too much credit. What I mean is, teachers can only do so much. They are not working in a vacuum.
I agree with Dan V. that urban school districts are in bad shape, and I agree that the Clayton School District is terrific. For the most part, the teachers are great.
But if you were to take the Clayton High School faculty and move them en masse to Vashon High School, Vashon would not turn into Clayton. All the graduates would not magically start going to college. It would still be Vashon. Some of the kids would be motivated, and others would not be. Some would be able to read well and some would hardly be able to read at all. Even the best teachers can only do so much.
In a similar vein, I reject the theory that bad teachers caused bad schools, which in turn distorted the real estate market. Parents, neighborhoods and culture have more to do with schools than do teachers.
I recently wrote about the shooting death of a teenager who was called "Little Bill." He wasn't a small kid. So why the nickname? Because he had joined a gang at the age of 10 and the older gang members — kids in their teens — called him "Little Bill." The name stuck.
Think about that — a fifth-grader in a gang. If you're the teacher in that school, what are you supposed to do? I don't know. Maybe it's triage. Maybe you try to save whoever can be saved.
As for unions, I would never argue that they are always a force for good. Much more good than bad, I'd say. Do they protect their members? Sure, and as a member of a union, I'm glad they do. Do the teachers unions sometimes stand in the way of reform? Yes, and I'd say if a district wants a certain reform, that should be addressed in collective bargaining.
Same thing with pensions and pay. As I mentioned in Monday's column, I think there are legitimate concerns about government employees and pensions. Some of the pensions seem unsustainable.
But those are incidental points. My main point remains — a society that does not respect its teachers is not a healthy society.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wisconsin showdown: A teacher responds

If Scott Walker removes my job protection, he won't just be hurting me -- he'll be compromising the whole system

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More on Relationships

Educational Leadership
March 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 6
What Students Need to Learn    Pages 82-83
Relating to Students: It's What You Do That Counts
Robert J. Marzano

Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction. If the relationship is strong, instructional strategies seem to be more effective. Conversely, a weak or negative relationship will mute or even negate the benefits of even the most effective instructional strategies.

But exactly what constitutes good teacher-student relationships, and how do you develop them if they don't exist? Both research and theory provide some answers (Goodenow, 1993; Marzano, Pickering, & Hefelbower, 2010; Wentzel, 2009; Wubbels, Brekelmans, van Tartwijk, & Admiral, 1999).

Perhaps the most powerful message from the research is that relationships are a matter of student perception. They have little to do with how a teacher actually feels about students; it's what teachers do that dictates how students perceive those relationships.

This fact can be quite liberating. Teachers will certainly have an affinity for the majority of students in their classrooms, but from time to time they may react less positively to a given student. However, this won't really affect how the student perceives his or her relationship with the teacher. The major factor is how the teacher interacts with the student.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Teachers Are Outraged

At CNN...


Excellent commentary -

Found on Facebook...

This is great... Read this if you appreciate or even hate teachers.

by Eedroj Remier on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 1:42pm
Are you sick of high paid teachers? Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - baby sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan — that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now how many do they teach in day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE…. That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 peryear. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

You Need Strong Relationships

I don’t think there is anything more basic, more vital to the classroom than good, supportive relationships between teachers and students.  The best pedagogy, flawlessly aligned curricula, and vast content knowledge will not count for much if the teacher doesn’t explicitly care for the students.  Furthermore, this is most important to our lowest performing students.  Any teacher or potential teacher can master lesson construction, use a solid curriculum and master content.  How do we teach teachers, new and experienced, to form the sort of relationships necessary in the classroom?  We must remember that the classroom is fundamentally about human relations and communication, and we must teach teachers how to form these relationships.  While I have been saying this for years because my students taught it to me, I’ve not been able to put my finger on exactly what it looks like so as to be able to teach others.  Finally somebody has.  Mary Kim Schreck’s You’ve Got to Reach Them to Teach Them: Hard Facts About the Soft Skills of Student Engagement hits the nail on the head about the many facets of teacher-student communication.  Go get a copy now.  I think you will be glad you did.
Full disclosure: I was a blind peer reviewer prior to publication, but I made nothing and make nothing from its sale.  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Teacher Education

A few years ago I started getting very interested in teacher preparation.  How do we prepare a young person to step into a classroom and be a teacher?  How do we help them be the best teacher they can possibly be from day one?  Their students don’t have ten years to let them develop into Master Teachers, so what can we do to make sure a rookie teacher is truly ready to go?  Can teacher education program really do it?  What is a school or district’s role in the process?  Once hired how do professional development programs support and develop excellent teaching?  For the good of our students we have to figure these things out.  I’m not sure the system as we have it is working very well.  We lose too many young teachers in their first few years.  We don’t even get too many capable and passionate young people to even give it a try.  In the last couple years these three articles inspired some deep thinking on the subject…

Thursday, February 17, 2011

School Size Matters

As a teacher in a small, private school now and formerly in a large public school, this article struck several notes.  But I don't think it is quite as cut-and-dry as this makes it seem.  It still comes down to the quality of instruction and the curriculum.  Still, read it and consider...

How do we fix public education?

Here's an excellent editorial that raises questions we must all answer nation-wide.

Tiger Moms and Panda Dads

Unless you live under a rock, you saw something about Amy Chau, The Tiger Mom, and her book about her parenting skills.  She has caused quite a stir, gotten much backlash and more than a few supporters.  Her initial Wall Street Journal editorial ( may have overstated a few things and her book has received more balanced coverage ( ,,8599,2043313,00.html).  But I think the best response was this… from a Panda Dad.  Sure it is funny, but there is an important point.  We need to consider what sort of children we wish to raise.  Do we want them to be independent, creative, free thinkers who may or may not end up in charge and wealthy?  Do we want them to ace every test and accept nothing less than first place?  What is the role of happiness and quality of life?    

History Education

Education Week published an interesting article about history standards and various states' performance relative to them  (  What should a social studies education be?  Depth or coverage?  Skills or content?  Thoughts?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where should we start?

What issues in education bother you the most?  What most concerns you?  What do you think we need to start with? 
Anyone who has worked with me knows I am interested in thinking outside the box and entertaining at least conversation on all the possibilities…and a few impossibilities while we are at it.  I like to ask people to design an entire educational system from the ground up and see what we have.  What would be different if we started with a clean slate?  If we would design anything other than what we have, then we all need to be working for change.  This is about our students, our children, our communities and our long term quality of life for all.  So let’s get to work.  Let’s quit with the excuses.  Bus schedules can be changed, vacations can be altered, contracts rewritten.  For the good of our society, let’s get it all on the table.
So here is a little brainstorm of issues I see with a short comment on each.  You tell me what you think is most important.  Where should we begin?
In no particular order
-The racial achievement gap, performance disparity between Black, Latino and White and Asian kids – I believe this is THE civil rights issue of our day and it has been time to stand up and get something done on this for a very long time.  What is stopping us?
- School Funding – The economy is in the tank, but some areas of our government budget remain healthy and funded.  Can we do the same for education?  Are we ready to pay for it?  Where should the money be spent if we had it?  How can we get improved student performance without more money?
-Increased obsession with test scores – Can we have strong test scores and a good education?  Are they the same thing?  At what cost do we increase test scores?  Do the scores really tell us anything?  Recess, arts programs, physical education and more have been cut to provide more time on the skills measured by high-stakes tests.  Is this okay?
-Loss of enrichment programs like Physical Education and the Arts – Do these not go hand-in-hand with an academic education?  Strong mind, strong body?  Do students with creative outlets perform better? 
-Loss of athletic programs – see above
-Technology – Does having a projector make you a better teacher?  Should students all have laptops?  Can Facebook and Twitter be used to enhance education?  How can teachers get a handle on the varieties of software, websites, and social media in such a way that we improve what and how we do?  How much can or should the hardware impact the classroom?  Are there ways to harness the power of smartphones, iPods, etc. to enhance education?
-Institutional Food – Can we enhance acamdeic performance by serving higher quality food in school?
-The Calendar – We know summer loss is a real concern for our lower-performing students.  What about year-round schooling?  But doesn’t summer vacation help enhance our wealthiest students’ performance?
-The Daily Schedule – little kids wake up wired and teens….don’t wake up.  Why do teens start school earlier in the day than the little ones when we know that this is physiologically unsound?
-Administrative Overhead – We have more administrators now than ever.  Why?  Do we need them?  Can we incorporate them back into the classroom to teach real students once a day? 
- Poorly prepared teachers – Did your university education have you prepared to teach?  Do you wonder if your son or daughters’ teachers know their craft?  What would an ideal teacher preparation program look like?  Should there be a long apprentice-ship program?  How do we improve on-the-job training?
- Teaching as an Art – Is it even possible to learn to be a good teacher or do some just have it while others do not?
- Lack of respect for an education – From Beavis and Butthead to Survivor, have we become a culture so obsessed with the rude, cynical or trivial that we don’t actually care about a well-rounded education?  To what degree does pop culture, advertising and the media send messages that fly in the face of intellectual development, thus making it a gigantic uphill battle for teachers to have any impact?
-Science and Math – Have we emphasized these areas to the detriment of social studies, language arts, foreign language, art, music, and physical education?  Are these equal pursuits?
- Educational Inequity – as highlighted by the movie Waiting for Superman, are we harming families and communities with poorly funded school districts in the communities most in need?  How do we provide excellent resources and educations to the places with the least ability to fund it?
-Obsession with Achievement – as highlighted by the movie Race to Nowhere, do we have students and families so obsessed with getting into the best schools, having the highest test scores, and making the most money that we have lost sight of getting an education, being a kid, and quality of life?
- Parenting – Too often we have parents who seem to want to hold their child’s hand every step of the way, sheltering them from anything difficult, anything that might injure their fragile self-esteem.  On the other hand we have too many parents who seemingly do not care.  At my first position on back to school night I met 4 students’ parents out of 134.  In my current job I met with 63 of 65.  Should parents be bothering their kids’ college professors?  Should parents be skipping IEP meetings for their 17 year-old children? 

Racial Identity and Education

The New York Times posted an interesting series of editorials concerning race in their Room for Debate.  This ought to be a major issue for schools.  When we try to close achievement gaps it is inevitable that some will use statistical and political tricks to change the issue.  Some of these editorials allude to that possibility.  Should race be used as an identifier?  If so, how do we define race?  Who gets to define it? 

Speak Your Mind, Achievement Gap

One of the coolest programs at my old home….

Can Teachers Complain? But is there a right way?

I’ve been out of commission sick and busy for the last few weeks.  But I am back.  Check out these stories.
First, consider the case of this teacher caught complaining about her students on her blog.  Thoughts?  Is her conduct acceptable?  Worth suspending her for it?  Does she have a point?  Did she make it the right way?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How do we improve schools?

Certainly there are thousands of opinions, but one I hear all the time is to extend the school year - more time = more learning.  This article also points out that a shorter summer is a way to minimize summer issue that affects our lower quartile students far more than others.  Check this out...

Friday, January 28, 2011

You will all enjoy this...

Thanks to a friend, I am passing this along.  Watch this video and be provoked into re-thinking schools and education.

So, how about some education reform?  I am not sure where to start and don't have the answers, but let's entertain the questions.  What can we do with school structures, grades, calendars, curriculum, even our very basic philosophies of education???