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Lead from the Start: April 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

Where do we stand?

A teacher finally said "No." After 8 years teaching in Washington state a middle school teacher, Carl Chew, refused to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. I learned of this act of Civil Disobedience in TeacherMagazine.

"Every year, I said to myself this is the last time I'm going to do this," said Chew, 60, who has been teaching for about eight years and said he has seen kids struggle through the test with few positive results to show for the time and effort expended over two weeks each spring. He made a decision to stand up for his beliefs as he was walking down the hall to pick up this year's test booklets.
I feel like I did when I stood on one side of a creek that ran behind our house, afraid to jump, and because of the teenage bully coming after us, afraid not to.

I want to add Mr. Chew to my list of heroes like Mark Emblidge and Billy Canaday who I placed there for working to help solve the testing issues for English Language Learners in Fairfax, VA last year. I want to stand with him... but I can't.

I can understand why he did what he did. When I teach my students black history I usually start with the story of Rosa Parks. We learn a call and response marching chant. Eventually the students do the call and I do the response. It goes like this:
Students Chant --- Teacher Response
Rosa Parks --- Rosa Parks
Mother of the Movement ---Mother of the Movement
She said, "NO!" --- She said, "NO!"
"I won't go!" ---
"I won't go!"
"To the back of the bus!" ---
"To the back of the bus!"

Teaching this to 4 year olds to explain what it means to stand up for what you believe makes sense. I am not sure I can say the same thing about what Chew did. What Rosa Parks did was to stand up to a corrupt system that was against her because of her race. Mr. Chew stood up to protest a corrupt aspect of a system that was put in place to basically correct what was a corrupt system.

Let me explain, before there were standards, there were many schools where students were not taught. The standards movement came about because people wanted teachers and students to be held accountable. Much about the current high-stakes system is not fair to students or teachers but, it is there for a reason... because we didn't have anything better at the time. I have been reading those Value-Added papers I wrote about last week. Mostly they are about making the assessment mechanism more fair by qualifying the judgment of whether schools are passing by saying, "Did you improve outcomes for this child?" and being able to verify a school did that no matter where the kids come from or where the school is located.

So we are working on it (a fairer system) ... I think. If these value-added measures become tied to teacher compensation I think we have a big problem. The statistical tools these scientists are using are already complicated enough without trying to invent a way to qualify differentiated pay as a school improvement tool. As my brilliant STAT professor said, "It won't work."

So, although I understand Mr. Chew's decision, and watching the video below will help you understand too, I can't stand with him. I have too much faith in our system and I would much rather work with policymakers towards workable solutions than point a finger and say this is not right. I think most policy makers know the way things are now is not right, if we don't work together it will keep being wrong. But when I watch the video below I think maybe I am on the wrong side. This video is from a Primetime Live episode. It will seem long but make sure to watch until about 2:30 seconds. She makes my point.

What do you think? Is Mr. Chew a hero?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Carnival is a Wonderful thing

There is something special about EduWonks hosting the Carnival. It is the difference between the county fair and Coney Island. EduWonks just seem to make it all make sense. I hope to host one day. I will go back and read a bunch of theirs before I do.

shhhh the social scientists are talking

In following Eduwonkette's series of exchanges concerning Value-added measures I found a meeting of a secret society. I found it through the New Teacher Center bloggers Sara Goldrick-Rab and Liam Goldrick-Rab. The value-added club of social engineers scientists National Conference on Value-Added Modeling (VAM) is taking place right now in Wisconsin. Have you ever wondered what the assumptions of value-added measures were? Read Raudenbush, one of the statistical godfathers of value-added measurements of teachers. Want to know what they have in store for us once they get value-added measures into the policy pipe? I was surprised to find what Douglas Harris said in his paper description:
Based on this framework and the most recent value-added-based research, I find that neither the traditional credentials strategy nor a simple value-added-based accountability strategy is likely to best address the teacher quality problem. Instead, as in the private sector, a valid policy approach requires using multiple strategies and measures that provide signals of teacher effectiveness and formative and summative assessments that facilitate and encourage improvement. Specifically, the evidence suggests that teachers be rewarded not for their graduate degrees, but for a combination of experience, certain types of professional development, and teacher and school performance. More generally, improving the quality of teachers will require a comprehensive strategy that few current or proposed policies provide.
As with most external fixes for "the teacher quality problem?" I am extremely skeptical but, slightly less so, for the moment. I don't really think it is the researchers who should be held accountable if this model of thinking about teacher effectiveness becomes policy so much as the responsibility of the policy makers. I am most concerned with the level of complexity that policy makers are interested in grappling with in order to "fix" us. Remember this is the group that decided percent passing was good enough to decide accreditation. As in, 70% is good enough. I think it may have been precisely this 70% thinking that lead us down the path to "70% ??? that wouldn't even be a C on a report card. The only thing good enough for our kids is 100%. All schools must get an A in order to pass AYP." Not very complex logic when you consider the variety of schools, students, and teachers in our system.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

a breath of fresh air for early childhood

There are no letters on the walls. There are no walls for that matter. They take the kids outside ... all day. In a global economy can you believe that some German families are giving up high stakes early childhood testing for climbing trees and playing games outside with friends?
photos by Mike Esterl
The Waldkindergärten movement highlighted in the Wall Street Journal is another in a long line of foreign forms of early learning that have influenced American schooling to greater or lesser degrees. They include Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio, and now the throw back to the first Kindergartens.

When I first learned about Friedrich Froebel's "child gardens" or kindergartens I was drawn to the romanticism. Students were expected to use "toys" made from entirely natural materials. The one that sticks out in my mind was a wooden "toy" that included wooden cylinders that children stacked and placed back in to a wooden container.

Now the Waldkindergärten has jumped the pond and sprouted in Portland Oregon. Also referred to as Forest Schools the approach has a certain appeal to those seeking to connect kids with nature instead of USB plugs.

It really shouldn't surprise us that there are small rebellions. When I talk about the skills necessary for a global economy I am definitely not talking about the same skills that some wonks are describing but, then again I am talking about the skills that David Brooks describes in his Op-Ed piece,"Psst Human Capital." Brooks descriptions of human capital are exactly the types of skills that would be developed in a Waldkindergärten classroom.
He wrote:
There's cultural capital: the habits, assumptions, emotional dispositions and linguistic capacities we unconsciously pick up from families, neighbors and ethnic groups - usually by age 3.
There's social capital: the knowledge of how to behave in groups and within institutions.
There's moral capital: the ability to be trustworthy.
There's cognitive capital. This can mean pure, inherited brainpower. But important cognitive skills are not measured by IQ tests and are not fixed.
Then there's aspirational capital: the fire-in-the-belly ambition to achieve.

It might be easy to relate the first three forms of human capital to an outdoor play-based Kindergarten but the most important might be the cognitive capital and the aspirational capital. These skills would be fostered in a Waldkindergärten because in these "schools" students have to make their own learning. When faced with a problem they have to solve it and if they want to have fun, they have to figure out a way to make it. In a Waldkindergärten the only resources teachers and students have are nature and their own human capital. I wonder what some teachers would do without a chalkboard? I wonder what some kids would do without computers or legos to play with? As I have said before, 21 CL does not mean being able to use a mouse or surf the net. It means connecting, relating, and creating with other human beings through digital tools.

Besides, "The computer arrives early enough," adds Norbert Huppertz, a specialist in child development at the Freiburg University of Education and a Waldkindergärten booster in Germany.

Thanks to Luyen Chou of Need to Know and the social network for leaving a link to Brook's piece on one of posts on Schoolnet.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Warm Demanders

"You will sit down and you will pay attention and do your best in THIS class. Why? Because, we are superior to mediocrity. Do I make myself clear?" -- a paraphrase of the warm demander approach.

On TLN we have been discussing Marva Collins and Jackie Jordan Irvine. The idea of teachers as "Warm Demanders" came up because of recently hired Director of Teacher Leadership for the Center for Teaching Quality, Nikki Barnes. Nikki is one of my education heroes. She was the first African American to become National Board Certified in Virginia and was my mentor as I went through the process. One of the great things about Nikki is she "keeps it real" while still being professional.

We discussed warm demanders but seemed to expand the term to encompass all good teaching. Nancy Flanagan called our attention to this and here is my response.

I think we have a difference in cultures being played out here. As a "warm demander" of my students I have to frame this in terms of caring.
To my students families, I show I care when I visit their homes, when I call if their child is misbehaving, when their children's learning sky rockets.
I think we have to ask, "By whose definition of caring?" Do we define caring according to parents background, students background, our personal background, or Jonathon Kozol's background?
Nel Noddings' relational ethics might help us figure out how we view what a "warm demander" is.

A personal story...
Our school recently received a student who had been put out of three other schools this year for behavior. The principal met with the parent as she was enrolling her son. the parent was in tears The principal was able to communicate that this school would not allow her son to fail. When the parent left, the principal heard her say, "All them other schools ain't nobody care. I know if he act-up here she gonna kick his ***!" Would our principal actually do that? No.
But that is the type and level of caring that she was able communicate. The parent felt safe bringing her son to school.
I am not sure when or how care becomes control. Maybe it is both simultaneously.

In my school we are expected to correct a child that is out of order. If we don't it is considered a lack of care for the students or a lack of professional commitment. We aren't necessarily expected to be able to control every kid all the time but we are expected to care enough to try.
I see the relational or reciprocal aspect of this warm demander relationship on the part of students as the rising to meet high expectations that we have discussed. This is expressed by defining how the relationship will be played out (because the teacher is the most powerful force in the relationship) "I will show my care by treating you warmly and expecting you to do your best, you will show your care by doing your best." The teacher creates the feedback loop that enables the most effective scenario for learning. Many students from any background may have different relationships that have been defined by their parents and it is up to the teacher to create a paradigm shift in the student. This could have been defined as "I will feed and clothe you, and you will ___>be cute, entertaining, not a burden." This is oversimplifying but I have seen this type of relationship between some of my younger mothers and their children and between rich parents with nannies raising their children.

How is care defined in your school? Who defines it and how is it expressed? How much does the home culture affect the school's definition?