A School Without Principals? Yes, Really

Teachers across the nation are looking to restructure school governance models and run them on their own, reports Allie Bidwell for U.S. News & World Report. The movement, Bidwell writes, stems in part from a frustration with the structure of America’s public school system and top-down reforms. About 60 “teacher-powered” schools operate nationwide in cities such as Denver, San Francisco, Boston, and Cincinnati. Some operate as charters, while others are formed when they receive state waivers. Some are contract schools, similar to charters in autonomy, with seats for students who would normally attend other schools in the district, but retaining district affiliation. All restructured schools give more flexibility to teachers leading them in terms of personnel decisions, salaries, curriculum development, and schedules. In some schools, a separate personnel committee handles teacher evaluation, while committees for technology, special education, and facilities, for example, focus on other needs throughout the school. The model is a way to retain effective teachers, since many leave within five years. A question remains, however, whether these novel examples can be developed on a national scale. Many are smaller schools, and required a group of teachers willing to assume the responsibility and invest large amounts of time to make the structure successful.

(Source: usnews.com)

Dispelling the Myth of Deferred Gratification: What waiting for a marshmallow doesn’t prove

Deferred gratification underlies self-discipline and grit — putting off what you enjoy until you finish what you don’t, writes Alfie Kohn for Education Week. Proponents of grit often point to a study by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, in which preschool-aged children were left alone and told they could get a small treat (a marshmallow or pretzel) by ringing a bell at any time, but if they held out until the psychologist returned, they’d get a bigger treat (two marshmallows or pretzels). It’s usually represented that children able to wait for an extra treat scored better on measures of cognitive and social skills years later and had higher SAT scores. In fact, Mischel’s central question was how children go about trying to wait, not whether they waited at all. Kids generally waited longer when distracted by a toy. What worked best wasn’t (in Mischel’s words) “self-denial and grim determination,” but doing something enjoyable while waiting, so self-control wasn’t really needed. When participants were tracked down 10 years later, those who’d waited didn’t have more self-control or willpower, only greater ability to distract themselves, which correlated with higher scores on tests of intelligence. This flies in the face of the current contention that intelligence and self-discipline are different things, and we must cultivate the latter in children.

(Source: Dispelling the Myth of Deferred Gratification What waiting for a marshmallow doesn't prove)

Proposed Texas textbooks are inaccurate, biased and politicized, new report finds

Reviews of 43 proposed textbooks for grades 6 to 12 in Texas by the Education Fund of the Texas Freedom Network have found extensive problems, writes Valerie Strauss on the Answer Sheet blog in The Washington Post. Texts suggest that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy; that in the era of segregation, only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality”; and that Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet. Two government textbooks include information that undermines the Constitutional concept of separation of church and state; several world history and geography textbooks inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims; all world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role of conquest in the spread of Christianity; one world history textbook includes outdated — and offensive — anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilization; and several government and U.S. history textbooks suffer an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system, ignoring legitimate problems in capitalism and failing to include coverage of government’s role in the U.S. economic system. The state board will vote on which books to approve in November.

(Source: Washington Post)

When Schools Can’t Get Online

About 70 percent of America’s elementary schools still rely on slow internet connections, writes Nicole Dobo for The Atlantic Magazine. The federal government has pledged financing to remedy this situation, and last year, President Obama added funds through the ConnectEd program, promising “virtually all” the nation’s schools would have high-speed connections, as well as teacher training and digital tools, by 2017. In a profile of this process underway in rural Garrett County, Maryland, Dobo describes how teachers are now using broadband to develop high-tech lessons with familiar agricultural themes. Schools no longer limit internet use for fear of overburdening the connection. Yet Garrett County still has very old computers, and two of 12 district schools aren’t linked, and won’t be soon. The county’s new needs include teacher training, rewiring of old buildings, and new curricular resources — most to be paid for by state and local funds at a time when county money is scarce. The district planned to spend more on computers and other devices, but recognized it lacked internal systems to support full use of new computers, so prioritized infrastructure over devices. Its technology grant runs out this fall, and district leaders don’t yet know how they’ll pay for more classroom technology.

(Source: The Atlantic)

So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class …

In a New York Times Magazine article that describes Bill Gates’s championing of “Big History” — a synthesis of history, biology, chemistry, astronomy, and other fields that Professor David Christian has woven into a unifying narrative — Andrew Ross Sorkin feels Gates’s goal is personal: It’s a class Gates wishes he’d had in high school. Funded by the billionaire himself, not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the project was developed with Christian and a team of engineers and designers, and has a website of interactive graphics and videos. Units begin with the Big Bang and shift to the solar system, trade and communications, globalization, and finally, the future. With feedback from teachers, it’s contracted from 20 units to 10. It’s also been pitched to individual schools instead of entire districts, to grow organically and in real time, like a start-up. Gates is tracking the venture as he would any Microsoft or foundation project, with reams of data — regular student and teachers surveys, results from classes — which allow for continuous refinement. Still, the project faces challenges: bureaucracy, teacher capacity, traditional teaching practice, and — to Gates’s chagrin — hostility towards his participation. The course’s content also has detractors, from academics preferring distinct disciplines to, who else, Diane Ravitch. Yet the project has expanded each year, and may one day rival Western Civ or World History, Sorkin says

(Source: The New York Times)

Let teacher leaders lead Common Core professional development

One of the best aspects of the Common Core State Standards is their focus on student literacy across subjects, rather than segregated in a single subject period of ELA, writes teacher Susan Carle on the Center for Teaching Quality website. Yet many non-ELA teachers have found cross-curricular literacy an uneasy transition. Some difficulty stems from educators asked to teach with unfamiliar Common Core techniques and texts — and without sufficient support. Some districts require scripted lessons, denying teachers an opportunity to adapt materials based on expertise and knowledge of students’ needs. As the Small Learning Community Lead Teacher at her school, Carle created two professional-development workshops: one for English and history teachers, another for math and science. She took colleagues’ individual and team needs into account to create workshops that were hugely successful. Teachers took away strategies for implementing the standards in class; learned to use familiar texts in innovative and engaging ways; aired concerns about the standards; and learned to better collaborate across the curriculum. By using teacher-leaders trained in Common Core techniques and curriculum writing, districts can effectively and cost-efficiently transition into Common Core implementation. Each school and classroom has specific needs, best evaluated and met by the teachers who work in them, Carle says.

(Source: teachingquality.org)

The Myth Of The Superstar Superintendent?

A new report from the Brookings Institution is the first broad study to examine whether district effects on student learning are due to the superintendent in charge. Analyzing student-level data from Florida and North Carolina for 2000-01 to 2009-10, the authors found superintendency to be a short-term job. The typical superintendent stays three to four years, and student achievement does not improve with longevity of superintendent service. Hiring a new superintendent is also not associated with higher student achievement. In all, superintendents account for a small fraction (0. 3 percent) of student differences in achievement. While statistically significant, this is orders of magnitude smaller than effects associated with any other major component of the education system, including measured and unmeasured student characteristics; teachers; schools; and districts themselves. Individual superintendents who have an exceptional impact on student achievement cannot be reliably identified. Ultimately, the authors conclude that when district academic achievement improves or deteriorates, the superintendent is likely to play a part in an ensemble performance in which his or her role could be filled successfully by many others. In the end, it’s the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are basically indistinguishable

(Source: NPR)

Six Myths in the New York Times Math Article by Elizabeth Green

In a post on the Brookings Institution website, Tom Loveless outlines six myths he found in Elizabeth Green’s New York Times article about American math reform and its failures. The article’s glaring mistake, Loveless feels, is its suggestion that a particular approach to mathematics instruction is the answer to improving U.S. math learning. Green’s first myth is that Japan scores higher on math tests because Japanese teachers teach differently. Green relied on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 1995 Video Study for her conclusion, yet the study itself collected no data on how much kids learned during lessons. Her second myth is that non-school factors are unimportant to Japanese math success. But what of juku, or “cram school,” the private, after-school instruction most Japanese students receive? A third myth is that American kids hate math, and Japanese kids love it. PISA data on enjoyment show that American students consistently report enjoying math more than Japanese, 45.4 compared to 33.7 percent. A fourth myth is that international scores support math reform. Yet Japan’s scores are declining — worse now in absolute terms than in the 1960s, prior to reforms — and U.S. scores are rising. Myth five is that a blind devotion to procedure and memorization caused the failure of 1990s U.S. math reform. The suggestion that teachers were left on their own to change their teaching is simply inaccurate, Loveless says. Myth six is that the Common Core (CCSS) addresses teaching practice. In fact, the CCSS website states, “Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. These standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach.” Loveless feels Green’s article is based on “bad science, bad history, and unfortunate myths that will lead us away from, rather than closer to, the improvement of math instruction in the United States.”

(Source: brookings.edu)

Are Great Teachers Born or Made? A thoughtful new book argues that teaching is a craft anyone can learn. But there’s a big difference between competence and excellence

Popular culture promotes the notion that good teachers possess magical charisma, writes Nick Romeo in The Atlantic. Elizabeth Green’s new book presents teaching as technically demanding, with complex component skills that can be studied, isolated, practiced, and improved. Teaching can be taught. Green emphasizes that no specific method can transform any teacher, but argues for the teachability of teaching with case studies, research, and cross-cultural comparisons. And yet, Romeo observes, a gulf separates teaching competence from excellence. Can we expect even the best training to transform a significant number of teachers? Some people learn more deeply and effectively, are better able to anticipate student confusion, admit and correct their own shortcomings, and adapt to the flux of a dynamic classroom. The idea that great teachers can be made is appealing: It offers hope our schools can improve, and sends the democratic message that we’re all equal. But self-improvement requires learning, and the undemocratic truth is that some are better learners than others. Green’s title is Building a Better Teacher. Making teachers better is a reasonable and laudable goal, Romeo says. But it’s important to honor the fact that teaching — like any other profession — has its geniuses. Better training could make many mediocre teachers competent. It’s less likely to make competent teachers extraordinary.

(Source: The Atlantic)