Teaching Math at MetWest (Part 3)

After walking into the classroom, I sit down at a table with another student and wave hello to the young teacher. On the whiteboard are the objectives for the day:


*Do Intro task now


*exit ticket

Lawrence Teng, wearing chinos and a plaid shirt is a first-year teacher and graduate of the University of Michigan. One semester at MetWest under his belt, he passes out the Introductory task–a slip of paper with three tasks for students to do–as students enter the classroom (LT refers to Learning Target). The 19 sophomores and juniors get immediately to work on the tasks.


A slide on the whiteboard replicates the square with empty space on the slip of paper students begin working on.

The large classroom has a slowly whirling ceiling fan. Tables sitting two to three students each face the whiteboard and the teacher who is working in the front of the room with his laptop and document camera sitting on some cabinets (his desk is in the rear of the room). Lawrence uses the laptop to flash images onto the whiteboard. The room has a clock and phone.

After about five minutes, Lawrence (in this school, students call teachers by their first name) asks the students to stop. He then turns to the question on the slip. “Anyone has any memories from weekend.” One student responds about what his family did. No other responses. Then teacher asks about the squares and how to find answer without counting them. He calls on Bruce who says his answer. Lawrence asks Bruce to come to front of the class to explain his strategy in getting the answer he gave. Bruce tells class each step of his thinking to reach his answer; Lawrence is at whiteboard showing what Bruce said on the grid of squares.

Teacher then says that there are many strategies to solve the problem and Bruce returns to his table. He begins applauding Bruce and a few students join in. He then calls on Maurice and he and Maurice go through the same routine of figuring out that there are 56 squares with eight missing–all without physically counting them (as I did). Lawrence sums up student answers and shows the different strategies of adding, subtracting, and multiplying to get the correct number of missing squares. During this part of the lesson. Wrapping up the opening exercise, Lawrence tells class what assignment is due Friday.

I note that there are two other adults in the room. One is a volunteer (a retired math professor whose son was a staff member at the school) who helps individual students when the class is doing independent work. Another adult is a resource teacher working with individuals who have been identified with special needs.

Then Lawrence turns to the item that was listed on his agenda for the day’s geometry lesson–$$$$$$. He shows a brief video of an art exhibit at the Guggenheim exhibit of paper one-dollar bills pasted the walls and columns of a room. After showing the short clip twice, he stops it at the dollar room.

As I scan the class, students are very attentive to the images of one dollar bills in this  museum exhibit. I do not see any students off-task.



He then asks class to write down their questions and turn to partner at table and share questions with one another. Students do so. At one point, he says aloud that he is putting Angel’s and Maurice’s name on the whiteboard for playing around. No response from either student as class works on questions.

Lawrence then asks students to tell him what their questions are and he will divide them into two categories: questions he can and cannot answer. “Can you grab money off the wall?” No, Lawrence replies, it is an art exhibit and there are security guards in room. He calls on students by name and they reply with their questions. He sorts the questions into the two buckets. One student question he pauses over: “How much money is on the walls of the room,” one asks.

With that question, teacher asks students to guess at an answer to the student’s question. Tables erupt into numbers yelled out and much quizzical laughter throughout the class.

Lawrence lists the guesses on the whiteboard:

*$20 thousand dollars




Teacher then directs students to tell table-mate how they arrived at their guess. Students’ actively engaged with one another as I look around the room.

Lawrence quiets the class and asks:”To get the correct amount of money in the room, what information do you want or need from me?

Students quickly yell out what they want from Lawrence.

*How big is the wall?

*What is size of a dollar bill?

*Are there layers of dollar bills or one each pasted to the wall?

*How many feet across is the wall?

*How tall is the wall?

At the table next to me, I ask the three students what question they came up with. One showed me what they wanted to know: “Figure out area of wall and divide it by area of dollar.”

Lawrence then flashes on the whiteboard close-up photos of the money (students see that there are no layers of dollar bills) and then slides of the dimensions of the columns and walls. He hands out a two page floor plan of the room with the surface area in centimeters of both the columns and the walls. The handout also show a photo of a dollar bill and its dimensions in centimeters. Further information on the handout states that there are 3516 dollar bills on the North Column and the same for the South Column. The dimensions on the floor plan for the width, length, and height of the room are on the floor plan marked in meters and centimeters. He calls on one student to read out dimensions listed on the floor plan. Lawrence asks class: “How do you find the area of one of the walls?” A few students respond by saying to look at the dimensions of the floor plan.

Lawrence then asks students to estimate how much money is on the walls and columns. A few students move to a file box near me and take out calculators and return to their seats. Students at each table (a “team,” Lawrence calls them) get to work. A buzz of noise arises in class as teams work at their tables.

Lawrence quiets the class and before asking them what amount of money they came up with, he asks  the class–a choral question–what strategy did each team use in coming up with their answer. In the whole group discussion, a few students reply and list the steps.

Lawrence summarizes the strategies students used: Divide area of walls by area of dollar bills. He goes over steps to find area of rectangle (base multiplied by height). A few students near me comment aloud that their estimates resemble the problem of rectangle of squares with missing ones that they looked at when class began.

A few minutes remain in the class–students look at wall clock–and begin putting notebooks and papers in their backpacks and standing up. Lawrence tells them to fill out Exit Slips. Standing students sit down and write answers to three questions on slip:

*How did you feel during lesson?

*Did your group work well together?

*Choose option that best describes you;

–I do not know what is going on

–I know how to solve problem.

–I am done with problem.

Chimes sound and students drop off slips in box on a table near me as they leave room.













Filed under how teachers teach

I Used to Preach the Gospel of Education Reform. Then I Became the Mayor (Rahm Emanuel)

Rare, indeed, do political leaders question the received wisdom they follow when they have power. Mayors pursuing school reform, as Emanuel did, came with an agenda for turning  under-performing districts into high performers. After serving as Chicago’s mayor for eight years and now leaving office, Emanuel explains what he believed to be true in 2011 and what he has learned on the jobsnce. He admits that he erred in thinking about turning the school district around and went on to change his mind about the assumptions he had when entering the post. So few school reformers ever admit to doubts or the wisdom that they swear by.

Emanuel is the 44th mayor of Chicago. He previously served as President Obama’s chief of staff and as chairman of both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Democratic Caucus.

This article appeared in The Atlantic online February 5, 2019.


During my first campaign to be Chicago’s mayor, in 2011, I promised to put education reform at the forefront of my agenda. Having participated in Washington policy debates for the better part of two decades, I felt confident that I knew what to do. Then, as now, education reformers preached a certain gospel: Hold teachers solely accountable for educational gains. Expand charter schools. Focus relentlessly on high-school graduation rates. This was the recipe for success.

Three years before that, when President-elect Barack Obama tapped me to be his White House chief of staff, I argued that leaders should never let a good crisis go to waste. I was now determined to take my own advice. At the moment of my inauguration, Chicago’s schools were unquestionably in crisis. Our students had the shortest school day in America. Nearly half of Chicago’s kids were not being offered full-day kindergarten, let alone pre-K. Teacher evaluations had not been updated in nearly 40 years. During my first months in office, I hit the ground running, determined to change all that. Then, much to my surprise, roughly a year into my reform crusade, circumstance prompted me to begin questioning the wisdom of the gospel itself.

My initial doubts emerged four days into what turned out to be the first Chicago teachers’ strike in three decades. After a series of arduous negotiations with Karen Lewis, the union president, we’d arrived at the basic contours of an agreement. In return for higher salaries, Lewis accepted my demands to extend the school day by an hour and 15 minutes, tack two weeks onto the school year, establish universal full-day kindergarten, and rewrite the outdated evaluations used to keep the city’s educators accountable.

One key issue remained: the autonomy of principals. The question was whether individual principals would have the ability to hire faculty of their own choosing, or whether, as Lewis preferred, principals would have to select from a limited pool maintained downtown with the union’s strong input. Honestly, because I’d gotten everything I really wanted, I was tempted to fold. The reform gospel doesn’t pay much mind to principals. Moreover, the new accountability standards promised to rid the schools of bad teachers.

But while I was preparing to brief reporters assembled at Tarkington Elementary on Chicago’s South Side, Mahalia Ann Hines, a former school principal (who happens to be the artist Common’s mother) pulled me aside. Hines, who holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois, had spent 15 years as a principal, at grade levels from elementary through high school. If we were going to make lasting improvements to Chicago’s schools, she argued, principals needed that flexibility. Without it, they would not be able to establish the right culture or create a team atmosphere. And, at least as important, principals would not have the leverage to coach teachers struggling to help their pupils succeed.

Thinking about it now, years after I decided to abandon the gospel of teacher-focused reform for an approach centered on empowering principals, Hines’s advice sounds almost like common sense. But at the time, it was a momentous decision. Parents are rarely surprised when I note that even the best teachers can be rendered ineffective in a dysfunctional school, or that a great principal can turn a good teacher into an extraordinary educator. But even today, reformers rarely take the impact of principals into account.

The union was loath to give in, and the strike dragged on for two additional days. But eventually they agreed, and I then decided to go all in on principal-centered reform. We raised principals’ salaries, particularly for those working in hard-to-staff schools. Chicago established a new program explicitly designed to recruit and train new school leaders. We collaborated with Northwestern University to improve professional development for principals. And we gave the best-performing principals additional autonomy by establishing a system of independent schools, subject to less oversight from the central office.

Today, the Chicago Schools CEO, its chief education officer, and two of the seven members of the board of education, including Hines, are former Chicago public-school principals.

That evolution in thinking prompted me to also question other elements of the reform gospel, including the movement’s unbending support for charter schools. No one disputes that some charter schools, like the Noble Network here in Chicago, are terrific. But what many reformers fail to acknowledge is that a lot of more traditional alternatives—places such as Poe Elementary, an award-winning neighborhood school on the South Side—are great as well. That reality has profound implications. I closed both neighborhood and charter schools as mayor, because mediocre schools of any type fail their students. The 20-year debate between charter and neighborhood is totally misguided, and should be replaced with a focus on quality versus mediocrity. It’s high time we stop fighting about brands, because the only thing that really matters is whether a school is providing a top-notch education.

The reform gospel’s focus on graduation rates obfuscates what’s really important for students in grades nine through 12. Sure, every kid should earn a high-school diploma, and in Chicago we’ve gone from a 59.3 percent graduation rate in 2012 to a 78.2 percent graduation rate in 2018. But we spend too much time talking about graduation like it’s the end of the line. If students don’t know where they’re headed after they finish 12th grade, they lose interest in their education well before the 12th grade. High school needs to be seen as a bridge to the next thing, no matter whether it’s college, military or civilian service, or a specific job. That’s why we’ve grown Chicago’s dual-credit/dual-enrollment program into one of the largest in the country, equipping half our high-school kids with college credits before they receive their diploma. Between 2010 and 2017, the percentage of CPS students enrolling in college grew from 53.7 to 68.2. That says something profound.

Finally, before I became mayor, I largely ignored conservative complaints about government subsidies for the wraparound services that complement what happens in the classroom. Elitists love to argue that education dollars should be focused exclusively on improving classroom instruction. Today, however, I realize just how profoundly asinine those arguments are. It’s unconscionable for anyone who underwrites their own kids’ private tutors, music lessons, after-school activities, summer camps, and summer jobs to argue that children from less-advantaged backgrounds should not have the same privileges and support.

Kids today spend 80 percent of their time outside the classroom, and most well-off parents have the resources to augment what happens at school. As mayor, I decided to extend those same sorts of interventions to everyone. Our after-school program has grown to serve 125,000 students. We hired teachers to staff libraries in order to help kids with their homework every school-day afternoon, and we created a summer reading program, Rahm’s Readers, to combat the so-called summer slide. Moreover, we implemented a new standard: To be eligible to land one of the now 33,000 summer jobs that the city sponsors, you have to sign a pledge to go to college. Closing the achievement gap inside the classroom requires investments outside the classroom.

Three decades ago, the Republican Education Secretary Bill Bennett disparaged Chicago’s schools, blithely asking reporters, “Is there a worse case? You tell me.” Today, I’d invite him to come back, order a deep-dish pizza, and eat his words.

Our students now make more progress between the third and eighth grades than their peers in 96 percent of the nation’s other districts. Taken together, my administration’s reforms ensure that children beginning their public education will get more than four years’ worth of additional classroom time before their high-school graduation. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade-level norms for reading grew from 45.6 percent to more than 61 percent between 2013 and 2018. And college enrollment has grown 20 percent since 2011.

Few things irritate progressives more than when conservatives deny the fact of climate change. That’s for good reason—the science is irrefutable. Well, the evidence on education reform is irrefutable as well. After studying what’s happened in Chicago, the Stanford education professor Sean Reardon declared: “These trends are important not only for students in Chicago, but for those in other large districts, because they provide an existence proof that it is possible for large urban districts to produce rapid and substantial learning gains, and to do so in ways that benefit students of all racial and ethnic groups equally.” The nation needs to take notice.

For most of my career, I preached the old gospel of education reform. But now research and experience suggest that policy makers need to embrace a new path forward and leave the old gospel behind. Principals, not just teachers, drive educational gains. The brain-dead debate between charter and neighborhood schools should be replaced with a focus on quality over mediocrity. To get kids to finish high school, the student experience should center on preparing them for what’s next in life. Finally, classroom success hinges on the support that students get outside school. If other cities follow Chicago’s lead in embracing those ideas, they’re likely to also replicate its result


Filed under leadership, Reforming schools, school reform policies

Cartoons about School and District Leaders

Here are some pokes at principals and superintendents that may get you to smile or grimace, chuckle or frown. Some may even get you to laugh. If so, I have accomplished what I set out to do with this collection. Enjoy!



































Filed under Uncategorized

Whatever Happened to Media Literacy in Schools?

Far more policy talk than classroom action is the short answer. The long answer is below in the questions I ask.

Where and When Did the Idea Originate?

Having students become media literate across school subjects has been talked about since the early 1960s in Europe and the U.S. but has hardly made a dent in lessons that most teachers teach. In Britain, Canada, and other nations there has been far more policy talk and even some action (media literacy Europe/Canada ). For example, in the United Kingdom, the 2003 Communications Act required the government to promote media literacy in British schools. David Buckingham and colleagues tells the story of what happened since then (see here and here).

Much less has happened in the U.S. with its decentralized system of public schools in 50 states, over 13,000 districts, and nearly 100,000 schools. A timeline for media literacy, broadly defined, begins in the 1960s.

The earliest U.S. classroom materials that I have found were created in 1972 as a Media Now kit of lessons and activities that teachers could use in their classrooms. Based on the work of media analyst Marshall McLuhan and psychologists Jerome Bruner’s Process of Education and Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives , Ron Curtis and others developed a self-directed learning kit containing 50 individual packages divided into seven modules for teachers to use. The source I used claimed that it was used in over 600 schools.

There has been much state activity in promoting media literacy in schools  since (see above timeline) but no mandated courses as far as I can determine. For example, although California curriculum standards call for media literacy skills in English/ language arts and history/social science in K-12 grades, current high-stakes state tests contain no items that examine media literacy.

Media Literacy Now, an advocacy organization, keeps tabs on state legislation that include funding, promotion, and action involving media literacy. The National Association for Media Literacy Education has made connections to Common Core standards adopted by most states.

With state and federal officials enacting laws promoting media literacy and  organizations lobbying for more of it in schools and classrooms, individual teachers in scattered schools across the country have heeded the message and introduced lessons into their classrooms. But not much more than that. Pressing teachers and students to score well on tests, graduate high school, and go to college, media literacy lessons are close to the bottom of most teachers’ “to do” lists.

What Problems Did Media Literacy Intend To Solve?

The major problem is the current inability of children and youth to parse Internet and media ads, to evaluate sources of information harvested from the Internet, and reason critically about what they see, hear, and digest from mainstream and social media.

Sam Wineburg and colleagues surveyed in 2016 nearly 8,000 students from middle school through college on their skills in judging Internet information. The survey made a splash in media outlets. He says:

Our most reported finding was that 82 percent of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between an ad and a news story. But putting it that way isn’t really fair to kids: While dozens of outlets reported this nugget, none mentioned an industry study that showed 59 percent of adults couldn’t tell the difference, either.

Wineburg’s solution?

The answer is not to affix another barnacle to the curriculum’s hull. We need to rebuild the entire ship. What should history teaching look like when kids can go online and find “evidence” for the canard that “thousands” of black men put on grey uniforms to take up arms for the Confederacy? What should science teaching look like when anti-vaxxer sites maintain a “proven” link between autism and measles shots (despite a retraction by the journal publishing the claim and the fact that “no respectable body of opinion” supports the linkage)? What should language arts class look like when ad hominem arguments, name calling and “alternative facts” overwhelm civil discourse?

What Does Media Literacy Look Like in a Classroom?

I offer two examples of lessons using new technologies, one in a Canadian elementary school on analyzing candy ads after students had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a Providence (RI) high school social studies lesson on World War II.

Watch on YouTube the Canadian elementary school teacher, using an interactive white board, teach a lesson on candy ads.

For the high school lesson, journalist Dana Goldstein describes a lesson where the teacher had students use laptops to analyze sources–her example of students working on media literacy skills.

I sat in on Jennifer Geller’s 10th grade Contemporary World History class at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. That day’s state-mandated lesson objective was to “trace patterns chronologically for events leading to World War II in Europe.” But Geller, a 12-year veteran in the district, used technology to layer a more ambitious and contemporary media literacy skills-building session on top of the dry history.

First the sophomores read the following paragraph in their Prentice Hall World History textbook:

With the [German] government paralyzed by divisions, both Nazis and Communists won more seats in the Reichstag, or lower house of the legislature. Fearing the growth of Communist political power, conservative politicians turned to Hitler. Although they despised him, they believed they could control him. Then, with conservative support, Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933 through legal means under the Weimar constitution.

Geller asked the kids to go to the back of room and pick up individual laptops, which had been borrowed for the day from the school’s library. Their task for the rest of the period was to search online for additional accurate information about Hilter’s rise to power that had not been included in their textbook, and then present it to the class.

Geller engaged the kids in a conversation about how search engines work. “Does anyone know how the first link on Google becomes the first one?” she asked. “It’s not the best — it’s that the most people linked to or clicked on that site. You should not always trust the first thing you see!”

Geller encouraged the students to look at Wikipedia, but skeptically. “Anyone can write these articles,” she explained. “The fact that anyone can change them or fix them means if something is wrong, it can be fixed. You have to be careful with it, just like you have to be careful with your textbook.”

Geller continued, “Who do you think gets to write a textbook? And how often is it updated? Maybe a downside is the textbook doesn’t change much from year to year.”

After searching online, the students learned that it wasn’t just “conservative politicians” who supported Hitler. In fact, a full third of the German public had voted for the Nazi party. “That’s why you use two sources!” Geller proclaimed.

The lesson was relevant to both historical research and day-to-day fact finding online. It also gave the students something pretty disturbing to think about regarding the relatively broad support enjoyed by Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933.

In both lessons, digital technologies were used to get students engaged in tasks that built and used critical thinking skills to parse a textbook paragraph and candy ads. But the technology didn’t spur students, it was the teacher’s questions about candy ads and a textbook passage about Hitler becoming Chancellor that mattered.

Does Media Literacy Work?

Hard question to answer. Because media literacy is multidimensional (print and non-print–TV, digital, mobile phone) and because it covers efforts to increase knowledge and influence behavior among both adults and children, and, finally, because so few classroom and school studies have been done beyond teacher and student surveys, results are all over the map.

There is, for example Renee Hobbs seven year study (2007) of the English department reorganization of the 11th grade at Concord High School (New Hampshire) into “Media/Communication.” Academic outcomes from the experimental Media/Communication group exceeded those of a control group, according to Hobbs.

A meta-analysis of media literacy interventions (51 studies) to increase knowledge,change beliefs, and alter behavior did show some positive evidence of changes but marginally so.

Advocacy to spread media literacy (however defined) is prevalent and shapes responses to the above question far more than research and evaluation studies.

What Has Happened to Media Literacy?

While there is much tumult in states over the need for media literacy in schools, there is far more policy talk than policy action, and even less media literacy, however defined, put into classroom lessons than advocates desire. Since Ron Curtis’s Media Now kits developed in the early 1970s, media literacy remains far more talk about its importance in classroom lessons than what occurs when teachers close their doors. According to Wineburg, the situation–students unable to sort out fake from factual news, judging the veracity of sources on the Internet–calls for more than new courses, occasional lectures, or professional development days for teachers on the subject. As long as the curriculum standards, testing, and accountability regime remains intact as it has for decades, more policy talk about doing something to educate children and youth in parsing media and the Internet will occur than policy action.








Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

The Internet Is Sowing Mass Confusion. We Must Rethink How We Teach Kids Every Subject (Sam Wineburg)

Sam Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University, is the author of “Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone).”  This op-ed appeared in USA Today, February 12, 2019

In 2016, months before the presidential election, my research team surveyed nearly 8,000 students from middle school through college on their ability to judge material from the internet. We concluded that students’ ability to navigate online information could be captured in one word: bleak. We released our findings two weeks after Donald Trump’s election and were immediately swept up in the media maelstrom.

Our most reported finding was that 82 percent of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between an ad and a news story. But putting it that way isn’t really fair to kids: While dozens of outlets reported this nugget, none mentioned an industry study that showed 59 percent of adults couldn’t tell the difference, either.

We are all in the same boat. That boat is taking on water.

In the wake of mass confusion caused by the internet and social media, there have been calls for a renewed commitment to teaching civics and instructing students in the foundations of democracy. But if we think this challenge is only about civics, we’re deluding ourselves. Bringing education into the 21st century demands that we rethink how we teach every subject in the curriculum.

We’re still teaching history using only print texts even as kids are being historicized online by Holocaust deniers and Lost-Causers. We’re teaching science in an era when online anti-vaxxers gain traction by using scientific language to deceive and intimidate. We’re teaching students to solve math equations while remaining oblivious to the fact that they’re being bamboozled by cunning infographics that mask rising temperatures by playing fast and loose with the X and Y axes.

Massive education response needed

We will fail the challenge posed by the digital revolution if we think there’s a cheap way out of this mess. A new course in media literacy or a half-day presentation by the librarian is a Band-Aid. Ushering education into the digital age will demand the educational equivalent of thehuman genome project: a decade-long effort that cost billions of dollars, engaged thousands of scientists, and relied on international cooperation with teams from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other nations.

The first step is to get an accurate fix on where students are at. We can’t confuse kids’ ease in operating digital devices with the sophistication needed to evaluate the information those devices yield. We’ll need a host of innovative assessments that can be administered online and that take advantage of artificial intelligence and natural language processing for scoring.

Next, we’ll need massive curriculum development and experimentation to help kids succeed on these assessments. We will need to develop new approaches to professional development for teachers, who sometimes are as confused as their students. And we’ll have to overhaul teacher education, so that new teachers feel prepared when they tell kids to open their Chromebooks.

Digital threat is a national defense issue

Most of all, we’ll need public education in the deepest sense — the education of the public — in our libraries, our community centers and our places of worship — to reach parents and grandparents so we can help them help their children become informed citizens.

In October 1957, a whirling orbital ball known as Sputnik roused Americans from their slumber and set into motion a rethinking of our educational system. I don’t see the equivalent of the National Defense Education Act coming out of Washington anytime soon. But the threat to democracy by a digitally credulous citizenry is nothing less than an issue of national defense.

Treating it as anything but guarantees a further erosion of democratic society.


Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies, technology use

How Little We Know about How Teachers Teach Common Core

Peter Greene, a retired teacher in Pennsylvania, had this to say about teaching the Common Core standards:

What happens to a teacher who doesn’t teach to the standards?
Oh, teachers still had (and have) to submit lesson plans that show alignment to standards, based on curriculum that is aligned to the standards. However, the alignment process is simply a piece of bureaucratic paperwork– you can simply write down the lessons and units that your professional judgment considers best, and then just fill in the numbers of various standards in the blanks. Maybe you have an administrator who will hold your feet to the fire (“Mrs. McTeachalot, I believe your use of standard RL.5.2a is not entirely on point”), but mostly, life will go on, your paperwork will be filed, the district’s report to the state will show that teachers are teaching to the standards with fidelity, and you can close your classroom door and do what you know is right. As long as the paperwork is good, reality can take care of itself.

Greene may well be right. For so little is known about how teachers actually teach the Common Core in their daily lessons.

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?

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.

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?

Do one really knows since few researchers, pundits, and policymakers have systematically examined a representative sample of actual classroom elementary and secondary teachers (across academic subjects) teachers teaching lessons aligned to the Common Core standards. Yes, that sentence is correct. Actual classroom observations have seldom occurred. What is available are surveys teachers completed over the past five years.

Sure, surveys asking teachers about their teaching to the Common Core standards is useful. Teacher perceptions of what and how they teach lessons geared to the Common Core such as content, activities, and assessments give a glimpse of what happens when teachers close the classroom door.  That glimpse, however, is a self-report by someone who recalls what happens in their lesson. Useful but insufficient to judge what actually occurs in that room during the lesson.

So what have surveys of teacher opinion on their lessons revealed thus far about teaching the Common Core?

A 2016 national online survey of elementary teachers teaching math Common Core standards sponsored by the Fordham Foundation, an advocate of the standards, listed the following “takeaways” from the survey:


  • Teachers know what’s in the Common Core—and they’re teaching it at the appropriate grade level. Though it may seem unsurprising, it is notable that teachers are able to identify from a list of topics (some of which are “decoys”) those that reflect the standards—and they report teaching them at the grade levels where they’re meant to be taught. Once upon a time, teachers shut their doors and did their own thing. Now we have many instructors teaching to the same high standards nationwide.
  • Further, they’re changing how they teach. More teachers report incorporating the standards into their teaching, including the 64 percent of teachers who say they  increasingly require students to explain in writing how they arrived at their answers.
  • But teaching multiple methods can yield multiple woes. The Common Core math standards require that students “check their answers to problems using a different method.” And sure enough, 65 percent of K–5 teachers are teaching multiple methods more now than before the standards were implemented. But 53 percent of teachers also agree that students are frustrated when they are asked to learn different ways of solving the same problems.


Then there is a recent RAND study (2018) that 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….

That last sentence is key. Yes, teacher surveys (both Fordham’s and RAND’s) give a partial picture of practice. They are useful bits of evidence. But self-reports need to be handled carefully since earlier studies that collected teacher perceptions of how they taught were compared to independent observers who were in the very same classrooms (including students) and gaps arose  between teacher perceptions and observers’ reports (see here, here, and here). Thus, the reliability of such surveys is suspect.

The answer, then, to the question of whether Common Core standards have changed what teachers think and do is mixed. From these surveys of 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.


Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies

Failed Predictions on Technology in Schools

Over five years ago, Petar Jandric a professor at the Polytechnic of Zagreb, interviewed me about my decades of writings on technology in schools. The entire interview appeared in the journal E-Learning and Digital Media (2015) Here is a portion of that interview about my poor record in predicting the future.


PJ: Three decades ago, you published Teachers and Machines: Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. Only four years after the famous appearance of the computer on the cover of Time magazine in 1982, you dedicated a whole quarter of the book to ‘the promise of the computer’. Some of the presented conclusions are just as relevant today. For instance, it cannot be disputed that ‘to question computer use in schools is to ask what schools are for, why teachers teach certain content, how they should teach, and how children learn’. At the time, however, it was impossible to predict the depth and extent of social change brought by information and communication technologies.

Standing on the shoulders of previous research efforts, we can learn from fulfilled predictions just as much as we can learn from failed promises. Based on the most successful predictions and the deepest historic failures, therefore, what can be learned from the first one hundred years of marriage between education and technologies? If you set out to rewrite Teachers and Machines, what would you do differently?


LC: Thanks, Petar, for recalling that quote from Teachers and Machines. It is the one I have used often. Please allow me to reproduce the blog post I wrote about this topic five years ago:

A quarter-century ago, I described and analysed the history of machines deployed in classrooms (film, radio, instructional television and the newly arrived desktop computer) to help teachers teach more, faster and better. Then I did something foolish in the final chapter. I predicted future uses of computers in classrooms from my vantage point in 1986.

Of course, I was not alone in making predictions. Seymour Papert dove into the same empty pool that I did a couple of years before my venture into crystal ball gazing: ‘There won’t be schools in the future… I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum –all of that’ (Papert, 1984).

Based upon my research in schools and experience as a teacher and superintendent, however, I was far more skeptical about the penetration and use of computers than Papert.

Here is what I predicted in Teachers and Machines for computers in schools:

I predict that…in elementary schools where favourable conditions exist, teacher use will increase but seldom exceed more than 10 percent of weekly instructional time [roughly 3 hours a week]. Pulling out students for a 30-to-45-minute period in a computer lab will, I suspect, gain increasing popularity in these schools…In secondary schools, the dominant pattern of use will be to schedule students into [labs] and one or more elective classes where a score of desk-top computers sit…

In no event would I expect general student use of computers in secondary schools to exceed 5 percent of the weekly time set aside for instruction. I predict no great breakthrough in teacher use patterns at either level of schooling. (Cuban, 1986: 99)

As events unfolded in the next quarter-century, my prediction flat-lined. Access to computers –desktops, laptops, hand-held devices and interactive white boards – soared. In writing Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms (Cuban, 2001), I did find higher percentages of students and teachers using computers in preschools, secondary schools and universities that ruined my 1986 prediction.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers across the country have received 1:1 laptops, tablets and white boards.

In researching classrooms since 2001, again, I have found higher use by teachers and students in both elementary and secondary classrooms. More teachers – my guess is over 30% across different districts – use machines for instruction (I include the whole panoply of available high-tech devices) regularly, that is, multiple times a week. Another 30 to 40% use computers occasionally, that is, at least once a month. The remainder of teachers – still a significant minority – hardly ever, if at all, use machines for instruction. This continues to puzzle researchers and policymakers since they know that nearly all teachers have high-tech devices at home. So my 1986 prediction on teacher and student use of computers for classroom instruction was inaccurate and died a quiet death. Compassionate readers seldom remind me that I flopped in peeking into the future. The facts are clear that students and teachers use high-tech devices for instruction more than I had foreseen.

One final confession. I stated clearly in Teachers and Machines and subsequent writings that the uses of new technologies for classroom instruction would seldom satisfy those advocates of more instructional use in schools, because teacher use would tend toward the traditional, blending both teacher- and student-centered approaches, and such approaches were seen as unimaginative. Not all teachers, by any means, but enough for the charge of pedestrian teacher use to be commonly pointed out. Both of these predictions have turned out to be accurate.

I confess to my errors in foreseeing the future for no other reason than to remind readers, both champions and skeptics of computers in schools, that accurate predictions are rare and inaccurate ones are not only common but often memorable. So if I re-wrote Teachers and Machines today, what predictions would I make?

I would predict that well over 90% of US schools a quarter-century from now will be age-graded and brick-and-mortar, not virtual ones. There will be much more blending of online and face-to-face instruction in classrooms as students get older – more of the latter in elementary schools and more of the former in secondary ones. Most teachers – at least 75% – will use some form of device regularly in parts of daily lessons because they have expanded their repertoire of teaching activities to achieve their goals for student learning. Those uses by teachers and students will be far more integrated into daily lessons, yet will still be criticized by that future generation of techno-enthusiasts as obsolete and unimaginative….


Given my confession of being a poor predictor, readers may well chuckle at what I said in this interview of five years ago. So be it.

Unmentioned in the above post has been the poverty in student achievement gains that can be attributed to use of devices and software. The existing body of research on the effects of technology on achievement would give willies to the purveyors of hyped claims that new devices and software would raise students’ test scores, increase their critical thinking, and boost school performance. Alas, no such outcomes have materialized after billions have been spent on machines and software. But that will be the subject of another post.


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Filed under how teachers teach, technology use