As mentioned in a previous post,
I was a bit skeptical but excited about the School District of Philadelphia's announcement of the Transformation Corps
. Since then I have gained more knowledge about what it might turn out to be and have been quite upset at the lack of communication with its potential members.
Specifically, I have heard that the concrete tasks of the Corps members would relate directly to Superintendent Hite's Action Plan v1
. These people would be assigned one or two of the tasks underlined in the various strategies
described on the Action Plan and work with others within the District already. Some people have already been assigned from outside the District and some of the actions have already started. In the meantime, a lot of us applicants are in limbo.
I received an email on January 14th stating that I would get an update on my status by January 22nd. That day I happened to be in the offices of the School District for a professional development session so I decided to talk to the Office of the Deputy Superintendent and find out my status. I met with a woman who told me that they were so overwhelmed that I would have to wait until Friday.
Unfortunately, Friday came and went, and so did some of my trust and faith in this organization. I then tweeted:
A follower responded that he had heard it would actually be January 28th. That day has now come and gone and I am none the wiser as to my status.
To be honest, I am not upset about knowing my status - whether I get it or not is not up to me. But I am quite upset about the lack of professionalism showed to the applicants. Many of us are teachers and we need to make plans for our replacements if that is going to happen. The later and later they come, the worse I will feel about leaving my students. If only they would send a simple email with a realistic timeline, then I'd feel better and more like they cared about my application.
Instead, I am left in limbo-land. An unfortunate place for a teacher trying to help his District.
In case you were unaware, the group Teachers Lead Philly
has been running wonderful workshops to educate and connect teachers across the Philadelphia area. In the Fall they ran a workshop emphasizing the need and opportunity for teachers to observe each other across the District and across the State. In fact, they put together an easily-accessible Google Doc so that you can find people to connect with (even if only to ask a question). Check it out here.
In their most recent meeting they brought up the upcoming issue of teacher evaluation in PA whereby teachers will be measured in part by student test scores. There is a lot of confusion stemming from the vague language in House Bill 1901
(begin reading at page 40) and they want feedback. If you want to share your thoughts by January 30th, please click here to do so.
According to a recent study analyzed by the Washington Post
, homework does not seem to be as beneficial as many veteran teachers might profess. The analysis suggests that while the content on the homework may not directly affect he knowledge level of students completing it, the familiarization with exercises of this type will assist on standardized tests as they are similar. In essence, practicing via homework is akin to practicing for these tests.
Alfie Kohn is an outspoken critic of homework and points out its potential detriments. In a piece published in Education Week in 2006
he cites a concern, "any theoretical benefit of practice homework must be weighed against the effect it has on students’
interest in learning." Certainly homework is a great way to practice content but if students get frustrated by it they will opt not to continue in their studies or attempt to get answers/assistance through unseemly means. In my own practice I have tried to allow homework to become a tool for feedback instead of a tool for a grade. At first I tried assigning homework (no more than 20 minutes a night) that was not mandatory and reviewing the answers the next day. Unfortunately, because so many students are focused on their grades they prioritized work for other classes and did not complete the homework. So I changed my practice and began checking it for effort and crediting it to their participation. I saw a marked increase in completeness but am unsure how many of them are working on it themselves versus taking it from other students.I am still developing my thoughts on the subject of homework but cannot see the benefit of requiring homework to be turned in and graded on a regular basis aside from making the teacher crazy. A summary of a few research studies was unable to conclude any particular benefits, aside from noting certain groups may get more out of homework than others (interestingly, students of low-income background benefit less). Now, the question is how to put this into practice better? How does one argue with the status quo of homework when inertia is so evident?
High school students across Pennsylvania sat down to take the Keystone test for the first time over the past two weeks and some still have time to take it. While the transition hasn't been easy to these tests (many say they are much more difficult and time-consuming) they are being mandated by the State to truly assess the true knowledge of our students.
The Algebra portion of this assessment was longer than ever with more emphasis on higher-order thinking skills and application of various properties in novel situations. In short: it was harder.
One tool students had at their disposal: the graphing calculator. A stalwart in education since 1990
, the graphing calculator has been able to maintain its ubiquitous presence in the math classroom ever since. But, more interestingly, the cost has not changed significantly, and perhaps for a reason the companies are happy about
What often goes unmentioned in this debate is what happens to students who do not have the resources to get one of these, even a used one? This limit of access is one more reason for an increasing equity gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States.
Put simply: those who learn to use graphing calculators and have access to them at school and at home are better prepared to achieve at high levels in school and beyond. Without the calculator teachers are forced to recommend sharing, a process that inevitably creates a situation where one student is calculating and another is doing little to nothing. Even with the best teachers this will still be the case. With enough calculators in the classroom to borrow (a cost that Districts are less inclined to incur these days with massive budget cuts) there is the issue of home use.
Similarly, one can read in a 2010 report on uninsured Americans
, "because the uninsured are less likely than the insured to have regular outpatient care, they are more likely to be hospitalized for avoidable health problems and experience declines in their overall health" (p. 11). A lack of health insurance causes more problems which can often snowball for the economically disadvantaged. Having health insurance gives individuals a leg up in their general life outlook.
Simply put: this is not fair.
While I am woefully unqualified to suggest policy shift when it comes to the health crises, I do think of myself as a person with a moderate amount of knowledge in the sphere of education. With the current budget crisis in Philadelphia and the economic recession we are still digging ourselves out of, we need more resources to ensure this generation of student is not left behind. We need to think carefully about how to distribute those resources, of course, and track them better to make sure they are not wasted.
But, at the moment, we are treading water and are about to sink. Help us and advocate for more funding for public schools.
Secondary school math teachers across the country are often plagued with the student phrase, "I'm just not good at math." Parents often support this statement, saying, "I wasn't good at math in school either." These claims - while believed to be true - are really a reflection of the lack of understanding they have concerning what mathematics truly is: an interconnected set of definitions and relations that can (and should) be used to make sense of the world.
As education pundits often point out, the US is currently mid-range in its mathematics performance on international standardized tests. The TIMSS 2011 assessment
shows us as being 9 out of 42, beat out by countries like Finland and Korea. In the battle for technological greatness in the 21st century, it is important to the United States to be shown as a leader in mathematical understanding. Therefore, this number is not a good one to show off.
Unfortunately, mathematics education in the US is not focusing on the correct content. The low performance on math tests across the country (including college entrance exams) points to a larger problem. In a recent research article in Educational Psychologist,
the researchers point out that students are "apt to attempt procedures that are partially or incorrectly recalled without regard to the reasonableness of the solution" (p.190). Across the country, "the practices of American teachers often do not correspond at all well with the strategies [believed to] promote deep learning and acquisition of the conceptual structure of mathematics" (p. 190).
Stated succinctly: students think of math as a series of procedures and steps instead of the interconnected set of definitions and relations mentioned earlier.
The most recent example of this in Philadelphia is the Benchmark exam, a test crafted by CTB McGraw-Hill for use by teachers across the city. The exam consists of 25 multiple-choice and two open-ended questions for students to answer. While these questions are supposed to be modeled off the concepts in the Common Core Standards, they instead rely on much procedural reasoning in their implementation. Analysis of patterns was hardly a concept much focused on in this test.
If we as a country want to improve our understanding of mathematics on a deeper level we have to think about how to assess this information. Standardized tests are not the way to go - they are too simplified for this purpose. We need to deeply understand what it means to be mathematically knowledgable and assess comparably. Unfortunately, the fact that the Keystone test was administered last week does not matter to those in position of influence - we were just reminded of the upcoming benchmark assessments to be given in 2 week's time. I do not imagine they will be of much more use than the first set.
I apologize for the extended absence from posting. I was in Australia over Winter Break and - while recovering from massive jet lag - my body decided to capsize into strep throat. I am now better, back at school, and ready to blog once more.
As the new superintendent, Dr. William Hite, is arguing over instruction, teacher evaluation, school closings, and more in his new Action Plan v1.0
, there is something important missing from the conversation: how to effectively prepare students with organizational and motivational tools for life.
Yes, these skills are supposed to be intertwined with curricula across disciplines: English teachers can have students write papers about ethics; Social Studies teachers can analyze the Civil Rights movement and how organizing helped ensure the right for Blacks to vote. Unfortunately, with the increased focus on test scores (and the impending evaluation of teachers using tests), these units are falling by the wayside. The only true time when students are free to ponder the world is during advisory, a time overlooked by many.
A brief look at schedules across the District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now;
with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of schools in Philadelphia who provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one
) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.
Happy new year to all! I hope you enjoyed whatever break you may have had in your routine and are ready to get into 2013 with gusto! I am trying to as well but made a small error - this piece was supposed to be posted last week but was not due to my being in Australia. I'm back and posting it now - feel free to read at your leisure.
For the past few weeks I have been hearing rumblings that the School District was going to announce a program allowing non-administrative staff to help in planning for the future of our school system. Today, they announced the creation of the Transformation Corps, a group of people dedicated to making the our school system better. Obviously, I am interested in applying and I urge other educators to do the same. Click here for a job description and application info
This position does beg some questions, however. In the information it says that the position would take precedence over what you are currently doing. For me, that would mean someone else would be in charge of teaching my students. Am I willing to do that? Do I think there would be a quality person put in place? Do I get any say into who that person is? How would my students view all of this?
Also, they announced this on the Wednesday of Winter Break and expect applications for the first phase by Friday - a very
tight window. Are they really trying to offer this to everyone? Or is it being announced now to filter who applies?
I hope their intentions are truly genuine because I plan on applying. If I do get involved, I would hate for my suggestions to be tossed aside because they had other people in mind for these positions. Obviously, this sounds somewhat jaded but I want to be cautious in how I approach this situation.
I hope teachers apply in droves and are able to influence policy with their knowledge. And have a happy Winter Break in the meantime!