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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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All followers of Edutocracy will automatically be registered for a drawing to win a $25 gift e-certificate. The drawing will be held June 1, in honor of the symbolic last day of school.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Crist Vetoes Pay-for-Performance Bill under Pressure from Teachers

On Thursday, Gov. Charles Crist, a Republican,vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature that would have introduced "the most sweeping teacher pay changes in the nation." The bill would have eliminated tenure for Florida public school teachers and tied their pay and job security to how well their students were learning, as measured (among other factors) by objective, standardized tests.

U.S. Secretary of State Arne Duncan is fond of saying, are we going to fix what's wrong with education in this country now, or are we going to keep talking about it for twenty more years? It is in the interest of the NEA, the AFT, and other cogs in the American public education machine to keep government talking instead of acting. Unfortunately for Florida's public school children, the machine won this round. Let's hope that Charlie Crist's abject supplication for votes as an Independent candidate will bring him the political loss he so richly deserves.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NY Principals May Get Power to Lay Off Teachers According to Performance Instead of Seniority

We are watching with excitement to see if the New York legislature passes a bill that would enable principals in NYC to choose which teachers will be let go due to budget cuts. Currently, principals are held hostage to the "first in, last out" rule beloved by education employee unions.

Seniority-based layoff decisions force principals to keep the most senior teachers, regardless of how good or bad their performance has been. Getting rid of this rule would be a big breath of fresh air and untie the hands of reformer administrators. We hope that it will become law.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Some States Might Not Reapply for Race to the Top Funding

Interesting how the award of only two Race to the Top grants has disgruntled some folks. Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado complained, “It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has set the bar extremely high for Race to the Top, as it should be. If we want to develop truly world-class schools, then we can't accept the status quo and throw money at it. Here's hoping that Duncan holds to the high standards.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Will Schofield's Thoughts on Standardized Testing in GA

Great op-ed piece by Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County (GA) schools, in today's AJC "Get Schooled" blog. I have reprinted his essay in its entirety, followed by my comment:

Do some individuals cheat on high-stakes tests?

Of course, some do and always have. Educators, while some of the most mission-minded individuals I have ever met, are also representative of society.

Additionally, the number of individuals who will utilize unethical means to pacify authority increases as enormous pressures are placed on them — Organizational Dynamics 101. This behavior, while understandable, is intolerable and should be dealt with fairly, expeditiously, and severely.

The more pertinent question I wish someone would ask is, “Are we testing the appropriate skills in our schools?”

The answer to that query is an overwhelming “No!” We must continue to develop and deliver metrics to our schools that measure the abilities futurists are telling us 21st-century citizens must have to be life-, college- and/or career-ready.

We must balance the testing of discrete factual information with the assessment of students’ capacities to think conceptually and solve complex problems.

Literacy and mathematics are important. Of equal importance are advanced communication proficiency (speaking, listening, and writing), critical thinking skills and a deep understanding of the physical world and its properties.

Our students must develop the abilities to discern between accurate and misleading data, to work more efficiently by utilizing the latest technology, and to participate in the democratic process by knowledgeably debating issues without being disagreeable.

Citizens of the 21st century must be able to work as effective team members within increasingly diverse groups, and they must embrace with enthusiasm the necessary skills of divergent thinking and creative problem solving. Our current national assessment system fails miserably when held up to the relevant and authentic tasks that teachers yearn to provide for our boys and girls.

We spend billions of dollars nationally working feverishly to determine what students don’t know and to remediate our most fragile learners to minimal proficiency in low- level skills.

We spend valuable hours, days, and weeks prepping for tests that ask questions such as “What are the largest cities in Kenya?” Why do we still memorize which three countries made up the Triple Axis?

I would prefer my own children to spend time comparing world conditions in the 1930s to those of today and postulating on what today’s Iran or North Korea might have in common with that decade’s Japan or Italy.

Perhaps they could create a multimedia presentation suggesting how America could have better exerted influence and possibly averted the war of the 40s and post it on YouTube.

The fact that this type of learning is more difficult to measure and cannot be determined by a multiple-choice test should not allow us to abandon it as a goal.
I have no desire to be among the first generation of Americans leaving less for my children than was left for me.

I pray regularly for thoughtful leaders who will come forward and challenge the status quo.

Mark Twain once suggested, “When your horse dies, dismount.”

We have ridden this pony laughingly called “high standards” and “accountability” into its grave.

Will we have the courage to demand better?

Will Schofield has been the superintendent of three school systems in Montana and Georgia. He is now the superintendent of schools in Hall County.

My comment: Mr. Schofield makes an excellent point. It is absolutely essential in today’s global, networked economy to educate students to be able to think critically. However, I don’t want to see the “accountability” baby thrown out with the low-level, trivial facts testing bathwater. If states are willing to spend the money it costs to score them with live assessors (rather than Scantron machines), it is certainly possible to ask students thoughtful questions to elicit multi-faceted answers. It’s just really expensive to do so.

Friday, April 2, 2010

DeKalb County Schools Citizen Task Force Abdicates Responsibility, Demonstrates Lack of Common Sense

The DeKalb County Schools citizen task force, which was appointed after outraged parents protested the planned closing of ten schools, reached a "decision" to recommend not closing ANY schools, after two months.

The appointment of this task force was a no-win situation for the school board. Had the BOE forged ahead with its own decision, which was ostensibly based on enrollment drops, it would have faced a continued firestorm from parents in the attendance zones where schools would be closed. Appointing the task force brought criticism that the BOE was abdicating its and the superintendent's responsibility and dodging the hard decisions. Truly, there was no good way out of this dilemma.

The decision by the citizen task force, however, is merely postponing the inevitable--facing a massive budget shortfall, the BOE has no choice but to cut something. If they keep all the schools open, they will have to cut staffing, which will increase class sizes. Incidentally, research has clearly demonstrated that decreasing class sizes has no positive impact on student achievement above the primary grades, but "small class size" is one of those feel-good goals that won't go away. It is another case of making adults happy without regard to whether the expense helps children. The education unions have a vested interest in keeping class sizes small--smaller classes = more teachers = more membership dues for the union.

If they keep the schools open and don't cut staffing, then the BOE will have to reduce something else. They could decrease the number of days that school is in session each week from five to four--a measure that has been shown not to have a positive impact on student achievement and could negatively impact it. So they save teacher jobs at the expense of student achievement? Is this why we have schools--to run employment agencies for adults, or to educate children?

Another cost-cutting measure could be that salaries are reduced while hours worked are kept at current levels. This would no doubt produce howls of protest from the employees. Would they rather have lower salaries or for some of them to have no jobs at all?

Regardless of what the BOE ultimately decides, someone is going to lose. Let's hope it's not the children.