Category Archives: dilemmas of teaching

Did the IPET Initiative Fail? (Part 3)

Did the Gates-funded initiative to alter how teachers get evaluated in three school districts and four charter networks between 2009-2016, fail?

A local newspaper and the RAND corporation’s independent evaluation reached similar conclusions when it came to achieving the goals of improving low-income minority students’ test scores. Both concluded that the project did not meet that goal. New policies of identifying effective teachers and having those teachers work with low-income minority students also failed to yield the promised outcomes of the donor initiative. The dominant criterion used to judge “success” and “failure in U.S. public schools for the past generation has been effectiveness, that is, were the goals of the project achieved? Yes or no. Up or down. A binary answer. Using this criterion, the initiative failed.

Yet–frequent readers of this blog know that a “yet” or “but” soon arrives–there is evidence of a mixed verdict on the “success” and “failure” of IPET. Consider the following points:

*With Gates prior funding of research on measures of teaching effectiveness, support of the Obama administration, and school districts and charter networks eager to take the money and put these ideas into practice, the process part of IPET policymaking was clearly a political “success.” IPET mobilized federal, state, and local officials to consider the project and then adopt it with accompanying funding. A donor’s huge grant to school districts and charter networks converged with federal policies. That’s no easy task and it happened.

*And the IPET program was a political success. It is clear that the federally-funded Race to the Top’s inclusion of teachers being evaluated through test scores and the Gates grant for IPET persuaded many states to pass legislation, prod local districts, and provide resources for school systems to alter their traditional ways of evaluating teachers. Over 40 states, varying as they do in their evaluation requirements, still put these programs on the radar screens of local districts and these districts, over time, have worked out varied ways of enacting different forms of teacher evaluation. A fair person could conclude that such fallout from the initiative makes IPET a precarious “success” teetering on the edge of “failure. Since data continue to come in from states and districts on what is occurring in schools, what may be down the road insofar as teacher evaluation remains unclear.

*Another political success occurred during and after the IPET initiative. Grasping multiple threads that make up policy making, influential and richly funded political coalitions came together to support government intervention to get teacher accountability for student outcomes. States and districts chose to adopt and implement particular policies. And repercussions vibrated within school districts where teachers and principals were expected to implement these policies while outside schools parents and community organizations sought and acquired private resources to press teachers to be held responsible for student performance. All of these are political actions occurring in the wake of adopting teacher evaluation policies relying on student test scores. These political facts cannot be avoided or side-stepped because they do not neatly fit into the binary conclusion policy analysts and elites would prefer to use of “success” or “failure”.

Yes, at the end of the project, student outcomes fell short of what donors and districts wanted. Yes, few low-income minority students got to be taught by those teachers rated effective. These results do matter when they appeared. However, were another independent evaluator to enter the schools participating in IPET in 2021, five years after the project ended, would the results be the same. Probably yes, but possibly no.

Some reforms require more time as policies permeate organizations. Think of the Gates funded Small Schools Project (2000-2009) that the donors stopped  because academic achievement and graduation rates failed to improve yet after the money went away, later evaluators found that high school graduation rates had actually increased over time in those schools that were part of the small schools initiative.

So it may be for IPET. The strong push to hold teachers accountable for student outcomes persisted in state laws. Moreover, many districts scrambled to gain teacher support of using test scores by having multiple measures including principal observation and peer evaluation (see here and here)

In considering the political repercussions of IPET and state-driven teacher-accountability reforms, the picture is not one of unvarnished “failure” but a mixed one. depending on which criteria are used to make judgments, partial “successes” salted with visible “failures” doesn’t fit neatly into an absolute judgment of “success” or “failure.”

What is far better, as Allan McConnell suggests, is a spectrum that runs from: “program success, resilient success, conflicted success, precarious success.” Program “failure,” insofar as degree of implementation of program objectives, how much of desired outcomes were achieved, distribution of benefits to target group, and presence or absence of opposition to program becomes again a mixed picture. In short, policy and program outcomes are cluttered. Making judgments is untidy rather than neat when it comes to policy being put into practice and the rippling political consequences of implementing programs. IPET is an example of that untidiness in making judgments about “success” and “failure.”

The final post of this series looks at the role of donors in a democracy when they plow huge amounts of cash into such  initiatives and shape national reforms. For the U.S. system provides tax subsidies to philanthropists through allowing them tax-exempt status and there are no ways now to hold foundations accountable for their actions.

 

 

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The Case for Contentious Curricula (Jon Zimmerman and Emily Robertson)

 

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-author of The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools. Emily Robertson is a professor emerita at Syracuse University and the co-author of The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools.

This article appeared in The Atlantic Online on April 26, 2017

 

On August 9, 2014, the police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Wilson is white; Brown was black. He was also unarmed. Within a few days, Ferguson was engulfed in riots. In dozens of other American cities, thousands of protesters took to the streets to condemn racism and police brutality.

Some schools in the Ferguson area delayed their scheduled opening to allow work crews to clean up the post-riot debris and to make sure that students could be transported safely. When they finally opened their doors, the schools had to decide how—and whether—to address the Brown shooting and its aftermath. Across America, demonstrators chanted that “Black Lives Matter.” How would Ferguson-area teachers make the controversy matter, and to what end?

Not surprisingly, their approaches varied. In University City, a suburb bordering St. Louis, one teacher led students in a “free-ranging discussion” of race, criminal justice, and inequality. “They were able to deconstruct the issues in terms of looking at things like poverty, education, the militarization of the police department, and the perception around the country and the world that St. Louis was in turmoil,” the teacher proudly recalled. But across the Mississippi River in Edwardsville, Illinois, school officials instructed teachers to “change the subject” whenever Ferguson arose in class. And in Riverview Gardens, the district where Michael Brown was killed, officials told teachers to talk about the issue only when students raised it. If students became “emotional about the situation,” teachers were advised to refer them to school counselors and social workers.

Edwardsville is a majority-white district, and Riverview Gardens is majority-black. But in both places, the reason for restricting discussion was the same: a fear that teachers were inserting their own biases—and inflaming an already-volatile situation. The major focus of concern remained the psychological well-being of the students, not their intellectual or political growth. Indeed, for many educators in the region, “politics” was exactly what schools needed to avoid. It conjured visions of emotionally fragile students, rising up in anger and possibly violence over the Ferguson situation. But perhaps this is the wrong approach, and public schools ought to address controversial issues that they too often avoid. The Ferguson episode merited the attention of schools: The issue was the focus of disagreement among experts and of broad public interest and concern.

On the airwaves and op-ed pages, scholars debated the origins of the Ferguson unrest and its larger implications for American race relations and criminal justice. And across the country, in person and in social media, millions of citizens engaged in lengthy and often impassioned conversations about the situation. Alas, it was precisely the volume and the vehemence of public discussion that led many educators to eschew it in public schools. And that, too, has been a recurring theme in the history of American education. As the Ferguson examples illustrate, people simply do not trust teachers to engage students on controversial issues in a knowledgeable and sensitive manner. Nor are teachers given the space to conduct these discussions in the school timetable, which is increasingly dominated by preparation for high-stakes standardized tests. As one report from Riverside Gardens confirmed, “there are too few educational hours available” to address events like Ferguson and to ready students for tests in reading and math, especially in underserved schools where many pupils lack proficiency in these areas. Indeed, as research has repeatedly confirmed, poorer students are even less likely than other youth to examine controversial issues in their schools.

Schools teach many things. For the most part, though, they have not taught students how to engage in reasoned, informed debates across society’s myriad differences. Simply put, the rhetorical commitment to “teaching controversial issues” in American schools has not been reflected in day-to-day classroom practices. Thanks to poor preparation, some teachers have not acquired the background knowledge or the pedagogical skills—or both—to lead in-depth discussions of hot-button political questions. Most of all, though, teachers have often lacked the professional autonomy and freedom to do so. That is particularly the case during wartime, when schools have sharply curtailed discussions of America’s military conduct. But throughout America’s history—and into the present—teachers have faced formal and informal restrictions on political discussions of every kind. Rising education levels have probably increased this pressure, emboldening citizen challengers who formerly might have deferred to teachers’ superior knowledge and credentials. “The high-school teacher has in fact lost relative status in recent years as more and more parents are themselves high-school graduates,” the eminent sociologist David Riesman observed in 1958. “And while the kindergarten teacher gains admiration because she can control several dozen preliterates whose mothers cannot always manage even one, the high-school social-studies teacher has a harder time being one-up on American-born parents who can claim to know as much as she does.”

That is even truer today, as more and more parents have obtained college and graduate degrees. But secondary-school teachers—and, in particular, those who instruct social studies—still face uniquely sharp constraints, for reasons that Riesman spelled out over half a century ago: “High-school teachers can become labeled by their students as ‘controversial’ as soon as any discussion … gets all heated or comes close to home,” Riesman wrote. And the threat was greatest in social studies, which “both draws on what is in the papers and risks getting into them.” In many communities, that was simply too big a risk for social-studies teachers to take. So most of them taught what Riesman called “social slops”—a litany of clichés and pieties—and avoided anything controversial that could only get them in trouble with one part of the public or another. “They fear that to utilize ‘controversial issues’ in education exposes them to criticism,” wrote future Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a few years earlier. “This has produced a nagging insecurity which in turn has forced many teachers to abandon valid educational techniques.”

To be sure, many other school subjects—not just social studies—involve potentially controversial issues. Teachers across the curriculum have struggled to balance their duty to address these issues with the inevitable pressures to eschew them. In the 1920s and 1930s, for example, American high-school science teachers emphasized physics and chemistry but down-played biology. The reason was obvious: Unlike the other major sciences, one observer wrote, biology threatened to “acquaint high-school boys and girls with the theory of evolution.”

Citizen complaints have also restricted the forays of English teachers into controversial questions. Sometimes, teachers have been barred from assigning The Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or the other so-called “banned books” that raise hackles at school-board meetings across the country. Even when such works have been allowed, however, teachers often experienced sharp limits on discussing delicate themes in the texts—especially those surrounding sex. Finally, school-mandated sex education has also been a constant target of community objections. It has typically devolved to health- or physical-education teachers, who have often stripped their lessons of anything too explicit—or too controversial—for fear of alienating one parental constituency or another.

Laws, school officials, and community opinion have all conspired to prevent or discourage American teachers from discussing controversial issues in their classrooms. This is not to say teachers have always avoided such issues: In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, a survey of social-studies teachers in Ohio revealed they were leading classroom discussions about whether President Harry Truman should have seized steel mills, whether Truman should have fired General Douglas MacArthur, and whether—as MacArthur wished—the United States should have used an atomic bomb in the Korean War. That same year, in another survey, New York City teachers reported holding debates on whether “Red” China should have a seat in the United Nations, whether Communists should be allowed to teach in public schools, whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg should have received the death penalty for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, and whether Senator Joseph McCarthy was “a menace to or savior of American democracy.”

After several teachers were dismissed for their own Communist affiliations, some admitted they were afraid to discuss anything controversial in their classes. But the survey seemed to show their concerns were misplaced, or at least exaggerated. “Let the teachers who do have these fears take heart,” the survey’s author wrote. “The very subjects which they say they are afraid to teach are being taught by many of their colleagues in adjoining classrooms and neighboring schools. Such teachers are imposing an unnecessary censorship on themselves.”

Into the present, some evidence indeed suggests teachers overestimate the constraints on addressing controversial issues in their classrooms. Novice teachers, especially, express surprise when they hear about veteran instructors who openly discuss divisive public questions with their students. “You let them talk about what?!” teachers in a recent study asked a colleague when they heard about her lessons. “You let them express what opinion?” In many ways, these remarks speak to the new teachers’ weak preparation for one of their central civic roles: to explore controversial issues with future citizens. It’s also a reminder that this kind of instruction continues to occur, despite the paucity of professional training for the task and—particularly in recent years—the shrinking legal protections for it.

When the United States attacked Iraq in 1991, students at a Pittsburgh high school walked out to protest their school’s refusal to address the issue. But 12 years later, when America invaded Iraq again, a high school in suburban New York sponsored a full-day discussion of it. At an all-student assembly in the gymnasium, five students and two social-studies teachers presented arguments for and against the war; then the students dispersed to their respective classrooms to continue the conversation. America’s classrooms are rife with opportunities for growth through controversial topics. The question is whether teachers will be empowered to address them.

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Technological Monitoring of Student Work in a Classroom

I was [in] a classroom yesterday and all of the kids had Chrome Books. They opened them midway through the class to read a few excerpts the teacher had selected. After the class, the teacher told me that he has a monitor at his desk that allows him to see what each of the kids is looking at on their computer. I don’t spend a lot of time in classrooms – I was in this one for something unrelated – but I thought this monitoring system was interesting. I’ve since found out that it is fairly common in some school districts. I wondered if you’ve encountered this and, if so, what your thoughts are about teachers having this ability to peer in on their students? It seems useful in the sense that you want to be sure students are following along. But it also feels like one more thing a teacher has to worry about. Another teacher told me he doesn’t use the system because he feels like it’s an invasion of privacy.

I received this note from a reporter working for a national newspaper. The reporter wanted to ask me what I thought about this all-too-common issue in classrooms where each student has a device–or what used to be called 1:1 computers. The reporter raises the issue directly as a clash between two values teachers highly prize: insuring students are doing what teachers directed them to do with their devices and respecting the privacy of individual students.

I answered the reporter’s email with a hastily constructed paragraph:

Yes, what you describe is common in districts where school provides devices to each student. The rationale is for the teacher to be aware of the level of student understanding of the lesson (often students send in their homework and assignments to Dropbox or a similar storage software so teachers can identify if students are on right track or not). Teachers having this software are able to give individual attention when needed. Such monitoring does not occur in those schools where devices are available to each student when they bring their own device to school—called BYOD. Does it invade privacy? To some it appears so but schools are tax supported institutions charged to achieve educational goals. Prior to the ubiquity of these devices, first-rate teachers would walk around the room seeing if students were on task and working on assigned activity. Was this invasion of privacy. Hardly. 

Reflecting later in the day on the reporter’s email and my response, I decided to elaborate my hasty answer in this post.

 

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Two imperatives of tax-supported schools create the tension between the above values. First, public schools compel students between certain ages to attend school. In effect, these students are a captive audience.

Second, teachers have legal and moral responsibilities for student health, safety, and learning.

Because these captive students become inhabitants of an organization called the age-graded school, they are separated into groups of 20 to 35 and put into classrooms of about 900 to 1000 square feet depending on age. Teachers have to manage these 6 year-olds to 17 year-olds groups before any real learning occur. And let’s be clear on what I mean by “manage.”

I mean that the teacher maintains order in the classroom. By order, I mean that students adhere to behavioral rules, respect the teacher and she in turn respects them.When situations arise (e.g., student refusal to do work or follow behavioral rules, clowning around, interruptions, too much non-learning talk) the teacher intervenes, takes charge and deals clearly and firmly with students. A classroom climate where students’ accept teacher’s authority, obeys directions, and do what the teacher asks while the teacher respects students, refrains from publically embarrassing them, and encourages learning is what I mean by classroom management.

These two imperatives of tax-supported public education in the U.S.seldom get openly discussed but they are the bedrock upon which lesson plans, classroom instruction, and student learning are built.

Thus, the topography of a classroom started out over a century ago with 50-plus students sitting at desks arranged in rows facing a teacher and slateboard. Teachers constantly surveil students to maintain order for learning to occur. They scan the classroom constantly to see if students are on the assigned task.

 

 

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Now here is where the above reporter’s comment on using software to monitor student screens enters the discussion about students being on-task and possible abridging of students’ privacy.*

Given the two imperatives I laid out above and the history of public school teaching in age-graded classrooms, maintaining order and constant surveillance of students has been, historically, what teachers have to do in order for students to learn. Before there were computer devices and monitoring software, teachers walked up and down aisles of desks and around the perimeter of the classroom inspecting what students were doing.

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It was the job of the teacher to know that students were working on what the teacher asked them to do.

In my judgment, when a teacher looks at student screens while a lesson is underway, there is no invasion of student privacy. It is simply what teachers do as part of their role in guiding student learning.

Had I been less hasty in my response to the reporter’s question, this is what I would have said.

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*The privacy argument is further compromised because under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools receiving federal funding are required to have an internet-safety policy and institute safeguards so that students cannot access inappropriate websites. In short, schools already intervene to protect children not their data.

 

 

 

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Facing the Trilemma of Classroom “Data Walls”

Over the past few years I have visited many classrooms. In elementary schools, I have seen pasted on a wall or cork board, “data walls” that look like these:

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Usually, students have numbers or aliases assigned to mask their identity. Of course, most students find out who is who.

Whether to use these “data walls” to spur individual students to improve their academic performance or have data displays for the entire class without individuals being noted or not have them at all in a classroom but use individual and class data only among teachers or school leadership teams has been debated in blogs, media, and journals for the past decade (see here, here, here, and here).

With the onset of the mantra “data driven instruction” largely stemming from the accountability features of the federal law, No Child Left Behind (2002), school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers have heard time and again the importance of gathering, analyzing, and using test data school-wide to improve instruction and in classrooms for students to plan individual strategies. Let’s call that “retail” data.

“Wholesale” data are school-by-school and district numbers that are aggregated  and sent to administrators, teachers, and parents. Those data may (or may not) become a basis for policy changes.

The focus on test scores since the early 1980s–remember A Nation at Risk report–has given critics the argument that NCLB further narrowed both curriculum and instruction by holding teachers and schools accountable for results. Concerned about the shame attending students’ low performance on district and state tests, teachers glommed onto “retail” data as a tool for improving student test scores with one outcome being the building of “data walls.”

And here is the trilemma that teachers face. On the one hand, most teachers prize a holistic view of student performance (e.g., intellectual, social, psychological growth) and find that tests students are required to take seldom capture the content, skills, and behaviors that teachers seek for their students. They want their students to grow in more ways than answering accurately multiple choice questions.

Teachers also embrace their professional obligations so they must give those tests.

Teachers also desire professional autonomy but  are held accountable by school, district, and state officials for their students reaching proficiency and higher on the reading and math portions of tests they must give. Consequences of low student scores fall upon teachers and students (e.g., scores are used to evaluate school, teacher, and student performance; rewards and penalties accompany scores on tests). Teacher autonomy to go beyond the test, such as to teach cooperation, respecting others, and making judgments, is seriously diminished given the available time.

Thus, the clash of values that teachers hold dear: holistic development of children and youth, obligation to mind what school and district officials require to be done in classrooms, and professional autonomy to do what is best for student learning.

When faced with such trilemmas, there is no one best solution to such a common but sticky situation. Teachers do what other professionals in medicine, law, criminal justice system, social work, and therapy do: because three highly prized values come into conflict and there is no way to fulfill one without harming the others, teachers figure out good enough compromises that partially fulfill what they seek. They know that accepting trade-offs among these cherished values is inevitable–they construct compromises. Then they manage these jerry-built compromises. In short, they satisfice to satisfy.

For schools and teachers, “data walls” are satisfices. It is a compromise that satisfies the value of professional autonomy–teachers create and tailor the displays of data in their classrooms. “Data walls” meet the professional obligation of doing what the district and principal wants, i.e., focusing on improving students’ grasp of content and skills on the state test. Finally, “data walls” touch at least the intellectual growth of students. Surely, these trade-offs do not fully satisfy all teachers–many do not have “data walls”–but it is a compromise that helps explains the spread of these classroom practices.

There are, of course, other uses of “data walls” that side-step the personal trilemma that classroom teachers face. Such “data walls” could be used at the school level by principals and leadership teams that use test data to pinpoint what skills need to be re-taught at particular grades or seek changes in instructional strategies that teams of teachers within or across grades could manage (see here and here).

Which way to use”data walls” at a time when public officials and educational policymakers prize student and school test scores is hardly a cut-and-dried problem with an easy solution. If teachers and administrators probe at the underlying values embedded in using “data walls” they will see the conflicting values and search for a compromise with trade-offs that satisfice and satisfy tailored to their particular district and school. Not an easy task but essential for improvement at a highly-charged moment in time when far too much is not only expected but laid upon public schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Have the Common Core Standards Changed What Teachers Think and Do?

Changing what teachers think and do has been the target of many reformers in the past century. Every generation of reformers, regardless of political ideology, have aimed their reform-smeared arrows at the classroom because they wanted students to remember important facts, think rigorously, heighten creativity and classroom collaboration, and, yes, increase academic achievement.

What reformers discovered then and now is that for any of these reforms to alter students’ behavior, attitudes and achievement, teachers had to first change their practices either incrementally or totally. If teachers’ classroom lessons hardly moved the needle of change, might as well forget influencing the “what” and “how’ of student learning.

So, have Common Core standards changed what teachers think and do?

Since 2010, nearly all states have adopted the Common Core standards or a modified version. Surely, those state policymakers and federal officials who championed these standards believed that adopting these reform-driven standards would lead eventually to improved academic performance for all students (see here, here, and here).

In the back-and-forth over the politics of these standards, it was easy for these policymakers to lose the critical, no, essential, connection between adopting a policy and implementing it. Any adopted policy aimed at changing students is put into practice by teachers. And the Common Core standards asked teachers to make major shifts in how they teach. So civic and business leaders and academic experts who pushed such reforms  forgot a simple fact:  teachers are the gatekeepers to the “what” and “how” of learning.  Mandating big changes in how teachers teach ain’t going to happen. Why?

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Because virtually ignoring the very people who must put a policy into practice nearly guarantees partial implementation. Without involving teachers in the process, without spending time and money on insuring that teachers are in sync with the policy and have the knowledge and skills necessary to put it–and there’s never only one “it”–into practice, the hullabaloo and promises curdle into policymaker and practitioner complaints and disappointment.

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Yet for the most part, even after initial struggles over getting the right materials and learning the ins-and-outs of the standards, most teachers across the country  have taken on the responsibility of putting these standards into their daily lessons. So how has the implementation gone?

A recent RAND study sought out responses over the past three years from a randomly selected panel of math and English language arts (ELA) teachers about the text and online materials they use and their daily classroom practices.*

Here is what the RAND report concluded:

Given that the Common Core and similar standards are being implemented in most states
across the United States, one might expect to see changes in teachers’ knowledge. However, we saw no clear changes in teachers’ knowledge about their mathematics standards when comparing teachers’ survey responses in 2016 and 2017….

For ELA, we found a decrease in teachers’ perceptions that “assigning complex texts that all students in a class are required to read” was aligned with their state standards, despite the fact that the use of complex texts is emphasized in most state standards.

Teachers’ use of published textbook materials changed very little over the period examined in this study. Thus, despite the fact that most published textbooks we asked about in our survey were not clearly aligned with the Common Core, teachers did not appear to be shifting toward more use of standards-aligned textbooks.

However, teachers’ use of online materials did change over the period of our surveys. Specifically, mathematics and ELA teachers reported using more standards-aligned,
content-specific online sources and less use of Google in 2017 than in 2015.

On one hand, these findings suggest that teachers are seeking online materials to help them address state standards within their content area. On the other hand, Teacherspayteachers.com—a lesson repository that is not vetted for quality or standards-alignment—saw a large uptick in use, and more than one-half of the ELA and mathematics teachers in our sample reported using the site “regularly” (once a week or more) for their instruction. In addition, increases in use of standards-aligned and content-specific
materials were not even; such increases were not as clearly present among teachers of the most vulnerable students (i.e., ELLs, students with IEPs and low-income students).

These findings suggest that teachers who serve our neediest students may not always be aware of or using online materials that support standards-aligned instruction….
We saw no changes in standards-aligned practices among all mathematics teachers, and we saw few changes when comparing responses among all ELA teachers. However, the changes we found suggest that some teachers may be engaging students in fewer standards-aligned practices now than in previous years. For mathematics, in particular,
teachers serving less-vulnerable students reported using significantly fewer standards-aligned practices in 2017 than in 2016, whereas we did not see these
significant decreases among those serving more vulnerable students.

That said, teachers’ self-reports about students’ engagement in various practices should be interpreted with caution, given what we know about the accuracy of teacher self-reports….

The answer, then, to the question of whether Common Core standards have changed what teachers think and do is mixed. From these surveys math and ELA teachers do report a few changes but stability in classroom practices persist. While teacher surveys are surely helpful in suggesting what occurs when policies get implemented, they do not substitute for researchers directly observing classroom lessons, interviewing teachers before and after lessons, and analyzing student responses to teaching practices.

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*RAND writers are clear in stating that the findings from their surveys are “reported” by teachers. No classroom observations were done. Teachers answered survey questions and indicated what they knew and did in putting the Common Core standards into practice. Are there gaps between what teachers report and what they actually do in their lessons? Yes–see here  and here. But keep in mind, that these gaps in reporting perceptions compared to on-site observations of practice are common. They also apply to doctors, lawyers, and other professionals reporting what they think and do

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Teaching As a Way of Seeing (Mike Rose)

Mike Rose (born 1944) is an American education scholar. He has studied literacy and the struggles of working-class America. Rose is currently a Research Professor of Social Research Methodology in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University (B.A.), the University of Southern California (M.S.), and the University of California, Los Angeles (M.A. and Ph.D. “

“The thing I love about Ms. Marovich,” says Hazel of her automotive technology instructor, “is that when she looks at you, she sees the finished product.” What a remarkable kind of seeing Hazel describes: An act of perception that envisions growth and that helps make that growth possible.

Over the past several years, I have been interviewing a wide range of people, from students in high school and community college to professionals in their fifties and sixties, about experiences in or out of school that had a transformative effect on their education, that changed the way they thought about school and what school could enable them to do with their lives. A number of the people I talked to used some variation of Hazel’s statement about seeing, some visual metaphor of validation.

A student in a Licensed Practical Nursing Program praises an instructor she would go to when she felt overwhelmed. The instructor told her that “she could see it in me that I was meant to do this,” and encouraged her to not only complete the LPN program but to continue toward a Registered Nurse’s degree, which she did.

“I was a strange kid,” a high school English teacher says reflecting back on his time in twelfth grade, “but not to [his English teacher] Mrs. Howard. She saw me the way I wanted to be seen. It changed my life. Every day I work to see kids the way they want to be seen.”

A middle school teacher starts talking to a boy serving detention and senses a “hunger” that leads her to invite him onto the school’s fledgling debate team. When I ask how she senses that hunger, she says, “by talking to someone and answering their questions. You can see it in their eyes.”

A high school Spanish teacher raises the issue of college to a junior whose energies are more invested in soccer than academics, but who has a way with people and exhibits a certain savvy as he navigates eleventh grade. The teacher follows his instincts and connects the young man to a college bridge program. Looking back on it, our soccer player, now a graduate student, says of that teacher, “He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

These teachers seem to operate with an expansive sense of human ability and are particularly alert to signs of that ability, signs that might be faint or blurred by societal biases or by a student’s reticence or distracting behavior—or that the student him or herself might barely comprehend. Through the way they teach, through mentoring, or through some other intervention, these teachers help develop the abilities they perceive. We don’t hear a lot about this powerfully humane element of teaching, for so much current discussion of teacher education and development is focused elsewhere: from creating measures of effectiveness to mastering district or state curriculum frameworks. These are important issues to be sure, but they have crowded out so much else that makes teaching a richly humanistic intellectual pursuit….

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A Witness to the Desegregation—and Resegregation—of America’s Schools (Kristina Rizga)

Kristina Rizga is a writer based in San Francisco. She is the author of Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph.

This article appeared May 1, 2018 in The Atlantic Online

 

 

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On Rebecca Palacios’s first day in front of a classroom, one of her white students picked up his chair and threw it toward her, declaring that he refused to be taught by a “Mexican teacher.” It was 1976, Palacios was 22 years old, and many of her first-grade students were at the school because of a recently launched busing program in Corpus Christi, Texas, that the courts had mandated in an effort to racially integrate campuses. Large numbers of white students were now traveling across town to her school—Lamar Elementary—which for generations had served mostly working-class Mexican American children.

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Palacios learned about American discrimination against Latinos first-hand. Her father, a World War II veteran who worked for the public-park service in Texas, spoke frequently about the daily humiliations of being a Latino in America—of not being able to eat in certain restaurants or use certain water fountains. He would recount stories of teachers prohibiting him from speaking Spanish in school, sometimes hitting him when he spoke it with his friends.

The use of Spanish was still discouraged in Corpus Christi school buildings when Palacios became a student in the 1950s. Designed to funnel Latinos into vocational tracks such as factory jobs or secretarial work, these segregated schools didn’t offer academically ambitious students like Palacios the advanced classes they needed to attend college. But thanks to her high-school teachers—both white and Latino—who created the necessary coursework using their own resources, Palacios became the first person in her family to go to college.

Those teachers had a profound impact on Palacios’s life, and, in turn, on the thousands of students she taught in Corpus Christi. Over the three decades that followed that September day in 1976, Palacios would go on to became one of the most distinguished early-childhood educators in the country, renowned for promoting her students’ sense of agency, intellectual curiosity, and love of learning. The arc of her career captures some of the major shifts—desegregation, resegregation, and declines in public funding—that have shaped America’s schools over the past several decades.

Palacios’s first two years of teaching at Lamar Elementary were some of the toughest in her life, she recalled earlier this year, sitting in her office in downtown Corpus Christi. Palacios retired in 2010 and now works as a consultant for the district as a coach of teachers. Behind her, pictures of Palacios’s five children, her husband, and their grandchildren dotted a bookshelf.

The Corpus Christi busing program that began around the time Palacios started teaching was the byproduct of a ruling by a federal judge in 1970 that made the city the first in the United States to extend the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to Mexican American students. Prior to the 1970 ruling, Corpus Christi officials argued that Brown only applied to black-white segregation. It wasn’t until Jose Cisneros and 23 other fathers—all members of the United Steelworkers union—sued the district for isolating Latino students in inferior, underfunded schools that the courts recognized Mexican American students as a minority group with their own history of discrimination in education. In establishing that Latino children deserve the same protections as their black peers, the Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District ruling had far-reaching consequences for every school in the nation: It prompted additional rulings that eventually extended Brown’s protections to all historically marginalized students of color.

Around the same time that the Corpus Christi district started providing funding for its busing program, the federal government began sending money to schools serving children who’d grown up in poverty. Project Follow Through, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, funded intensive coaching of teachers, medical care for children, engagement of families in school governance, and parenting classes. These investments, which at their peak had a budget of $60 million, contributed the most to Palacios’s teaching successes as a bilingual early-childhood educator early on.

About half of Palacios’s first-graders at the time were white, and many of their parents weren’t happy about the new busing arrangement. But many supported the idea of integration and lobbied district officials to bring in new resources to the school, like art and science supplies, and advanced classes. Palacios recalled those years as an intense period of growth that pushed her to go beyond traditional teaching methods focused primarily on content delivery and memorization. She yearned to create engaging learning environments that challenged her students to ask questions, deliberate answers with their peers, and learn how to integrate diverse ways of thinking about the world.

In 1982, Palacios enrolled in the graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin to work toward her doctorate in education, which would, she reasoned, help her ground her innovations in the latest research, and give her more authority to bring those changes beyond the confines of her classroom. The following year, Eduardo Torres, who had left Lamar to become the principal at Zavala Elementary, asked Palacios to join his team as an early-childhood educator, where Palacios ended up working for 24 years, focusing her methods entirely on preschool-age children.

While at Zavala, Palacios developed an innovative curriculum—in collaboration with her colleagues—that the district adopted for all preschools from 2001 to 2010. Palacios’s two-week units were based around the theme of families: human, animal, plant, and insect “families.” With that change, for instance, rather than reading a book on farm animals, and then developing vocabulary by answering simple questions about the book, and memorizing key words and concepts, Palacios’s lessons now integrated multiple disciplines in every hour of instruction, including literacy, math, science, and social studies. As students investigated farm animals—often guided by their own questions about the topics—they could leverage and build on previous knowledge they learned while exploring other families.

Because integration of different disciplines helps children engage with new concepts through familiar themes and patterns, such approaches can make classrooms more inclusive and engaging for diverse children with varying skills and interests. A child who finds certain math tasks, like memorization and repetition, boring or too abstract, for example, forgets that she is engaging in those tasks by counting the wheels of the farm trucks or comparing the shapes of the buildings on a farm.

For Palacios, such approaches—which fall under the rubric of teaching “the whole child,” in education jargon—require well-trained educators, sustained funding for learning materials, such as building blocks or paint, and supportive administrators like Torres. “When my teaching partner and I would come to the office of Mr. Torres, asking for something to implement our latest innovation, he’d always say, ‘If it’s for the kids, we’re going to make it happen.’ Having that stance was a critical base for my ability to succeed and stay in teaching as long as I did.”

Just as Palacios reached a degree of success in her sixth year of teaching at Lamar, the Corpus Christi school district, the courts, and the Cisneros plaintiffs were sparring over the mechanics of busing. District officials were constantly changing bus routes and school assignments, which exacerbated the growing resistance to integration among many parents. By 1982, the plaintiffs agreed to end the court-mandated busing, settling for a district program that would allow students to attend schools outside of their neighborhoods but wouldn’t cover the cost of transportation. The court also mandated increased funding to high-poverty schools like Zavala and Lamar as the means of fulfilling the 1970 ruling.

This marked the end of one of the 20th century’s most significant civil-rights battles. Corpus Christi schools soon resegregated. Today, 93 percent of students at Zavala Elementary are Latino, and 95 percent are poor. Roughly two-thirds of its students, meanwhile, are labeled as “at risk of dropping out” based on their achievement levels and disciplinary issues. Most of the extra local funding that came as a result of the Cisneros lawsuit also disappeared over time, compounded by the deep state cuts, which have reduced the overall pool of funding for all of Texas public schools.

Meanwhile, Palacios continued to refine her methods, developing “journals” to detect what her 4-year-olds—who typically can’t yet read or write fluently—learned every day. Students would respond to Palacios’s questions by drawing pictures and telling stories about them, using new concepts and words they’d learned. She also started coaching parents every six weeks, including by modeling lessons on how to teach reading at home, which she said became one of the most effective strategies she’d implemented in her career.

“The hardest part about teaching before I retired was seeing the disintegration of support for public schools,” Palacios said over lunch at a local restaurant, during an all-day training session for preschool teachers she organized in collaboration with the district. “What I’ve seen over time, especially in the last 10 years, [is that] there are so many new, unfunded demands and programs. STEAM [science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics] initiatives, for example, require resources. You can’t talk about granite if the kids haven’t seen granite. You can’t talk about water pressure, water displacement, or buoyancy without water droppers, PVC pipes, or water tables that make up these experiences.”

When touring classrooms in the Corpus Christi district a few years ago as part of a teacher-training initiative, she observed that worksheets had replaced the paint, glitter, and building blocks that once dominated preschool learning spaces.

Despite the retreat from integration efforts and anti-poverty programs by the courts and the government, Palacios still views the legacy of the Cisneros case as crucial progress. “Schools resegregated, but the eyes were open: Separate is not equal.”

These days, as Palacios coaches dozens of teachers in Corpus Christi, she talks to them about the importance of leadership and advocacy, just as much as she talks about teaching practices. Palacios tells them how she created a pre-kindergarten professional association, which, at one point, convinced the school board not to cut the district’s paraprofessional positions. She also hosted a yearly open house in preschools for school-board members and administrators across the district to show them the promise of effective and engaging teaching through sustained funding.

“I know it takes a lot of energy to do all that, but if you’re going to complain about it, it’s never going to make a difference,” Palacios said at the end of a long day of coaching teachers. “You’ve got to be in there, be the advocate, and make the changes for the children.”

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