Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is technology all that?

I had the opportunity to visit the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference in Washington DC. Unfortunately, few DCPS mathematics teachers were able to attend because of DCCAS testing. I went after school on Thursday evening and Saturday until 12:00 just before the conference ended.
I was struck by the number of exhibits that relied on expensive technology. Texas Instruments, Key Curriculum Press-to name but a few-all have fabulous calculators and software that can be used for teaching.
The exhibits both excited and depressed me. I have a single computer-though access to a computer lab- and a white (not Smart) board that is nearly impossible to clean due to its mottled surface.
I have TI84 calculators-excellent tools-though they do not all feed into a central system. If they did, and I had a Smart Board, I could see all my studnets' work on my screen as demonstarted at the Texas Instruments' booth. I need also point out that I began the year with 25 TI84's and am down to nine.
Are my students at a disadvantage? Am I remiss for not pursuing grants to allow me to purchase these resources? How essential are these tools for teaching math? How technologically behind are DC Public Schools when compared to other schools around the nation?
I think we can assume that in wealthier school districts many of these tools are available. I also know that some, though few, DC schools have Smart Boards.
Suffice it to say that many of the teachers I spoke with referred to their Smart Boards casually-as if they had always had them. I assume they were purchased by the school district and the teachers were trained to use them. I do not assume that the teachers themselves raised their own money through technological grants, though some may have.
Not all the latest, and presumably expensive, gadgets are worth buying, but some are. The DCPS central office should ascertain those that are, buy them for the teachers, and train them to effectively use them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How to Reform a Teacher Salary Schedule...

A new national study by Ed Sector demonstrates that not all teacher salary schedules are created equal. By studying how experience and credentials are valued differently in different school sytems policy makers and unions can tweak their existing single salary schedule to have a powerful impact without opting for risky and unproven pay for performance schemes. This study should make for interesting reading in the light of the current negotiations between the union and district in DCPS.
Read the study summary here

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Juking the Stats

As an Algebra and Geometry support teacher at The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, I am concerned about the influence that national tests have on my, and other teachers', teaching.

David Simon, who is responsible for my all time favorite TV series, "The Wire", was on Bill Moyers last night.

He referred to our national zeal for test taking as "juking the stats", a quote that comes from an episode where teachers in a Baltimore inner city school are told that they must teach strictly from the test for the few months prior to giving Baltimore's version of the DCCAS.

The cop turned teacher from the series is familiar with his city's police force (and incumbent mayors) needing positive statistics and draws an analogy between the school's superintendent needing better test scores and the police chief needing better crime stats.

Simon adds that this need for positive statistics has made real police work nearly impossible, a theme that ran through "The Wire".

Real teaching is also inhibited when teachers are asked to abandon the literature they love or mathematical investigations that involve time and the building of things for mass produced DCCAS test taking practice materials.

A newly minted graduate of Howard University called me recently. She is working as a long-term sub at a DCPS Public elementary school.

She was overwhelmed and jittery. Her 4th graders were badly behaved and could not focus on the materials she had been given to use for the three hour Language Arts block.

"What curriculum are you using?" I asked.

"Test taking skill stuff. You know, read a short passage and pick out the main idea. Or, underline the verb in the following ten sentences. Materials like that. We have been ordered to use them."

"For three hours a day? What about history and science?"

"We have been asked to not teach history and science for the time being because they are not subjects on the test."

“Who's your principal?”

“He is new,” she answered. “Hand picked by Michelle Rhee.”

The friend that called me studied theater at Howard University. She knows how to get kids excited about language, movement, the spoken and written works. She has her favorite stories and plays.

But no, like the Baltimore Police Force, in the name of juking the stats, she has abandoned her instincts and dutifully followed her principal's orders.

How sad is that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Scandal At Three Ed Reform Organizations

In an unusual piece of investigative journalism by Juan Gonzales, reporter at the New York Daily News, a long-standing kickback scheme was uncovered involving Al Sharpton, leader of the Education Equality project of which Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are key members, and a Connecticut hedge fund. Also implicated are Education Reform Now, Democrats for Education Reform, and Sharpton's organization, the National Action Network. The Sharpton payoff raises issues about the recent and growing trend of increased business influence on education policy advocacy. (click underlined words above for the link)