7 obvious things in education that are ignored
This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.
By Anthony Cody
I offer here a short list of seven things that have become obvious, from my position as a teacher. If only our education policies might be constrained by the requirement that they honor the obvious!
1. Children do not learn well when they are under stress. This single fact is enough to explain so many things. If we were to design an ideal learning environment, there would be great attention paid to relieving all involved of unnecessary tension. A recent study found that first grade students in classrooms affected by budget cuts suffer because of the stress their teacher experiences in trying to meet their needs. Children who live in poverty experience stress at home due to insecurity around food, housing, and violence in their neighborhoods and homes. The very least we should do to address their needs is to make their schools a refuge from stress.
2. Tests, and high stakes attached to them, are very poor levers for increasing learning. We have exit exams that have reduced graduation rates, especially for minority students, but failed to increase real learning.
This new study from the National Research Council found that when there are high stakes attached to tests, the scores on those tests tend to rise, but real learning, as measured on low stakes tests, has not increased. When you make people’s jobs and pay depend on those scores, they will figure out how to get the scores up. But the underlying learning is going to suffer, as instruction is narrowly focused on preparing for the tests.
3. It takes time to learn to be an excellent teacher. Therefore it is unwise to invest large amounts of resources in programs that target young college graduates and ask them for a short, two-year-long commitment. We need to make the teaching profession a solid one, with opportunities for growth, that attracts bright people who want to stay and build their careers. Our high-needs schools especially need such expert teachers, and are suffering due to high turnover. The answer to this turnover is not more poorly-trained interns to fill the empty classrooms. It should be careful investment in programs to improve conditions, increase collaboration and build stability.
4. Programs like the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) in California, that deliver smaller class sizes and time for teachers to collaborate together and do work like this, yield much stronger results. Programs like this require us to invest time, money and trust in our teachers and students. But teachers who engage in this work feel empowered, and I believe this is the best possible antidote to stress.
5. When unemployment levels are high, and opportunities are few, students struggle to see the purpose in their education. I do not have a study for this one, just my own observations after working in the Oakland schools for the past 24 years. Students are profoundly affected by the economic and social environment in which they live. There need to be visible, viable pathways to successful careers in order to keep students motivated and on track. There is a strong connection between the opportunities our students will find when they graduate and their level of engagement and motivation while they are in school. Teachers struggle to motivate their students when they are surrounded by communities that have been left to rot. We need to uplift our schools and our communities together. No school is an island.
6. The people in charge of education policy in this country are dangerously out of touch with these obvious things. We have policies that increase stress on students and teachers by raising class sizes and pressures to perform on tests. We are planning to expand our investments in testing and data systems at the same time we decrease funding for classrooms. School performance is treated as a phenomenon in isolation from the economic and social conditions that surround our students, and schools are expected to compensate for the economic decline these communities have endured.
7. Teachers, parents and students need to take a visible, public stand to turn education policy in a better direction. We are gathering together in Washington, DC, for the free Save Our Schools march and rally on July 30th. There will be a conference on the two days preceding as well, and registration is now open.
Multiple choice tests for Yearbook? Let’s get more creative
From Jack Eiselt, a sophomore at Myers Park High School:
Recently, as part of Pay for Performance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has started making students in experiential classes take summative multiple choice exams. This cannot be justified for classes like Yearbook or Literary Magazine. I am on the school newspaper, the Hoofprint. The Hoofprint has won several awards and sends out seven, 16-page newspapers every school year. That could be four newspapers next year when we have to prepare for a test on information that in no way contributes to our product. Students in classes like these should be judged by the product they help create, not by testing them on information that does not add to the goal of the class.
CMS made this choice so it could judge any teacher’s performance on a standardized system. But this only makes the jobs of teachers of experiential classes more difficult.
Teaching to the test leads to the decline of creative thinking; these experiential classes let us express our talents and show our creativity. Students learn real-world skills that cannot be learned in other classes. On the newspaper staff, we learn how to meet deadlines and take on jobs we are expected to do. Yes, there are graded consequences for not meeting the terms of our jobs, but the greatest consequence is a reduced sense of being able to handle your assignment.
We would not experience this if a day-to-day lesson plan taught us random facts for a single test. Summative exams in experiential classes would only lessen our preparation for the world after high school. The real world is not learning large amounts of information to be tested once; it is fulfilling continuous duties to support a bigger idea. This is the epitome of Newspaper, Yearbook and Literary Magazine and this is what makes these classes enjoyable.
Experiential classes do not teach the way normal classes do. In fact, it should not even be called teaching. The teachers and advisers of these classes open their students’ minds to allow them to experience whatever they will be producing. Every day in the Hoofprint classroom on campus, we do not sit and listen to someone lecture while trying desperately to keep our eyes open. We ask what it is we have to do on any given day and we do it. The learning does not have to come from a lecture. The learning comes from experiencing it for ourselves. Instituting summative exams will not help in preserving this efficient learning method.
Trial and error was the original method for learning. The cavemen did not take a standardized test to see if they knew how to make fire. They just did it, and that is how experience works. This is why experiential classes have worked so efficiently for so long.
Math and science may require more dictation than other classes. However, if these classes were then put to the test through an experiential learning environment, rather than a summative exam, maybe we would not forget the things we learned within four months.
Experiential classes cannot come to this; they are the way they are for a reason: The learning method works. The things we learn in these classes are not something to forget over the summer, and we should not lose that to satisfy CMS’ need to assess teachers more efficiently.
Report: Test-based incentives don’t produce real student achievement
Incentive programs for schools, teachers and students aimed at raising standardized test scores are largely unproductive in generating increased student achievement, according to a new report researched by an expert panel of the National Research Council.
The report said that standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance — including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by former president Bush’s No Child Left Behind law — “fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways,” according to a summary of the lengthy document.
The report, together with a number of other studies released in the past year, effectively serve as a warning to policymakers in states that are moving to implement laws, with support from the Obama administration, to make teacher and principal evaluation largely dependent on increases in students’ standardized test scores.
The practice doesn’t bring about the kind of student achievement policymakers say is necessary for the United States to compete with the highest-performing countries, according to the 17-member Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability convened by the National Research Council, which is the research arm of the National Academies (including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Council of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine).
The panelists — who include experts in assessment, education law and the sciences — examined over the past decade 15 incentive programs, which are designed to link rewards or sanctions for schools, students and teachers to students’ test results. The programs studied included high-school exit exams and those that give teachers incentives (such as bonus pay) for improved test scores.
The panel studied the effects of incentives, not by tracking changes in scores on high-stakes tests connected to incentive programs, but by looking at the results of “low-stakes” tests, such as the well-regarded National Assessment of Educational Progress, which aren’t linked to the incentives and are taken by the same cohorts of students.
The researchers concluded that the effects of incentive programs tend to be “small and . . . effectively zero for a number” of such programs.
Gains that were detected were concentrated in elementary grade mathematics and “are small in comparison with the improvement the nation hopes to achieve,” according to the summary.
The researchers concluded not only that incentive programs have not raised student achievement in the United States to the level achieved in the highest-performing countries but also that incentives/sanctions can give a false view of exactly how well students are doing. (The U.S. reform movement doesn’t follow the same principles that have been adopted by the other countries policymakers often cite. You can read an analysis of that by educator Linda Darling-Hammond here.)
Current standardized tests “fall short” of measuring student performance in “important ways,” the summary said.
When incentives lead teachers to concentrate in class on material that will be on a test (a practice known as teaching to the test), understanding of untested material can decline, it said. Constraints on testing — including cost and test length — mean that only a subset of material can actually be tested, it said.
Thus, test results may gave “an inflated picture of learning”of material that a student is supposed to know.
The researchers said that more comprehensive evaluation methods should be developed. But they cautioned that policymakers should not make such an investment at the expense of improvements in other areas of education, including curriculum and instructional methods.
Other studies in the past year have also cast doubt on the effectiveness and reliability of the value-added method of teacher/principal evaluation, which takes student test scores and puts them into a formula that is supposed to factor out other influences and determine the “value” a teacher has brought to a student’s learning.
The method often ignores outside-school factors that can influence how a child does on a test, including lack of sleep, hunger and illness, but even formulas that are said to take these into account are not especially reliable, some experts have said.
So far, state and federal have ignored the evidence. Congress, as it figures out how it wants to rewrite No Child Left Behind — assuming it actually gets around to it — should not.
Watch your pockets, Delaware Health Resources Board, he is already sending out his messenger boy Selander to slander you, misrepresent you, lie about your motives, accuse you of making your decisions on premeses you never considered like “you hate jobs” you hate working people” “you hate sick people”…..he’s done it before with the whole “you hate kids, and your not committed to reform” lie.
Jack Markell has lied before and is lying again to protect his political agenda. Again he attacks an independent board just because he does not agree with them. He is a sick, sad politician with no respect for hard working volunteers……. or the truth.
Check out today’s paper for the latest “Markellian” ego trip……
May 29, 2011
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, health board at odds over proposed hospital
He supports an $18.5 million Middletown facility, but a review group recommends it be rejected
By MAUREEN MILFORD
The News Journal
A proposal by a health care company to build Delaware’s first free-standing inpatient rehabilitation hospital has turned into a showdown between the Markell administration and members of an independent board charged with scrutinizing and approving public health care developments.
In a rare move, a committee under the Delaware Health Resources Board, which has been reviewing an application from HealthSouth Corp. for an $18.5 million hospital in Middletown, decided Friday to recommend that the full board reject the proposal.
HealthSouth, of Birmingham, Ala., submitted the application for a “certificate of public review” in November for a rehabilitation hospital of 34 beds on Del. 299 at Del 1.
The hospital would provide care for medically complex patients who need 24-hour nursing care and daily contact with their physicians, said Cindy Kelleher, vice president of corporate development with HealthSouth.
The 48,155-square-foot hospital would serve patients who are no longer in crisis but need additional care after a hospital stay. That would include patients with traumatic brain injuries, she said.
Gov. Jack Markell has come out in favor of the hospital project, believing it would create jobs and provide the state with additional health care services, said Brian Selander, spokesman for Markell.
“I think the review committee voted against putting people to work, voted against expanding access to quality care and voted against recommending an opportunity that would be good for Delaware,” Selander said.
But review committee members said that despite an unprecedented level of political meddling — including the appointment of six newcomers to the 17-member board in early May by Markell — they were not convinced there’s a need for the hospital. The duty of the independent board is to foster cost-effective and efficient use of health care resources, including preventing excess capacity, board members say.
“It’s not part of the charge to the board to create jobs,” Joann Hasse, a public member who chairs the review committee, said after the vote.
The national and sometimes intense debate over state regulation and planning of major health care projects appears to have reached the First State. Some suggest this battle ultimately could lead to the demise of the Delaware Health Resources Board.
Used by states since the early 1960s, so-called certificate-of-need programs are designed to rein in health care facility costs while allowing for coordination of new construction and services, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Delaware Health Resources Board was created in 1978. Proponents of these programs say health care doesn’t respond to regular market forces because consumers do not shop for services, according to the state legislatures conference. Excess capacity usually leads to over-utili- zation, said S. Bernard Ableman, a public board member and chairman of the Delaware Health Resources Board.
“‘We’ve been hearing for years about how the free-market system is going to lower costs, and it hasn’t, has it?” said William O’Connor, a public member of the health resources board and a member of the review committee.
On the other side, opponents of these programs say there is little evidence that overcapacity leads to higher costs, according to the conference of state legislatures. In fact, such programs may keep prices high by restricting competition. This appears to be the stance of the Markell administration. Opponents say the programs are not consistently administered and certificate approval can be based on factors other than the interest of the community, such as politics or the prestige of the institution, according to the state legislatures council.
“There’s clearly a strong difference of opinion between the governor’s office and the three members of this review committee,” Selander said. “The governor believes wholeheartedly that putting people back to work and improving our quality of life needs to be the government’s top priority. This review board voted to say they don’t share that priority. The full committee still has a chance to show they disagree with the decision.”
The full board of 17 members is expected to vote on the HealthSouth application no later than July. Ableman said the full panel has never overridden a review committee’s recommendation in the nearly 20 years he’s served on the board.
HealthSouth said it’s still hopeful the full board will approve its hospital development for the 6.5-acre parcel it will lease.
“I’m disappointed,” with the recommendation, said Kelleher of HealthSouth. “But I believe at some point we’ll be able to develop in Middletown. We’ve had the support of the governor, the mayor of Middletown and legislators.”
From the beginning, HealthSouth was selling the project as economic development, O’Connor said.
“And we very early told them: ‘We’re not in that business,’ ” O’Connor said.
HealthSouth said the development would create up to 80 full-time jobs for professionals and generate 200 construction jobs during the building process.
Alan Levin, the state economic development director, said he wrote a letter to board chairman Ableman supporting the project because it will put people back to work and fill a health care need in the growing Middletown area. The way Levin sees it, competition drives down health care costs.
State Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said she felt HealthSouth would fill a need for care for traumatic head injuries and home health care.
HealthSouth also hired powerful lobbyist Robert Byrd to develop community support.
Lawmakers spoke at a public hearing and review committee meeting in favor of the application for economic development reasons, committee members said. Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, said all the lawmakers sent a letter of support for the proposal.
But the political interference into the board’s independence reached a new level in early May, according to review committee and board members.
Two members of the review committee — Thomas Mulhern and Christiaan Francke — received letters from Markell saying their terms had expired and would not be renewed.
“The letter came as a surprise. It was very unexpected, especially in the midst of a review committee. You don’t expect that to happen,” said Francke, who was a public member of the board and served six years.
Francke finished his term this spring.
Mulhern, administrator with Limestone Medical Center, served as chairman of the review committee. He had served on the board for more than six years.
Although Mulhern’s term had expired in January, he had been working since February on the HealthSouth application.
“I understand my term had expired. But I was surprised and disappointed after spending over three months on this application. I was disappointed with the timing,” Mulhern said.
The two slots held by Mulhern and Francke were among the six seats filled by members that Markell appointed in early May. Some of the vacant seats had been open for more than a year, Ableman said. Among the new members are Bettina Riveros, who is Markell’s policy adviser on health care and head of the Delaware Health Care Commission.
When asked about the changes, Ableman said while he’s a “devoted fan of Jack Markell,” he is troubled by the dismissal of Mulhern and Francke, who gave countless volunteer hours to the board.
“Most disturbing is the timing of the dismissal of these board members — at the very time they were at work on a five-member committee evaluating one of the most significant applications before the board — the establishment of a new hospital,” Ableman said. “This is akin to replacing five of the 12 jurors halfway through the trial. The statute creating it declares that ‘The Board is an independent public instrumentality,’ but the clear message from the timing of these dismissals is that we are not so independent after all, and good citizens will surely be discouraged from volunteering for future board and commission assignments.”
It appears Markell is trying to stack the deck in his favor, some board members said. O’Connor said the administration “interfered with the process.”
But Selander said the governor has the right to appoint members to boards and commissions across the state.
“This board has historically been opposed to — or less than thrilled with — the opportunity for greater competition, and the governor believes there is value in having members that share the belief that we should be expanding opportunities for quality health care and looking for ways to put people to work,” Selander said. “I would not be surprised if new members that filled open seats feel that competition can be a positive thing.”
Ableman said Selander is incorrect.
“During my service on the board since 1995, not one application has been denied, and a review of the hundreds of applications filed since the board was created in 1978 disclosed that only five were denied — with some of these at the request of the applicant,” Ableman said.
But Ableman said the board has imposed conditions on approvals, mostly to do with the charitable care and quality of service.
HealthSouth an ‘outsider’
For his part, Byrd said Delaware’s health care community is parochial and close-knit.
“This is the first time a real outsider has come to Delaware, and that makes it a challenge,” he said.
Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover and Broadmeadow Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Middletown publicly objected to the HealthSouth proposal.
Jason Sinclair, who is a financial analyst with Bayhealth, told the review committee that the HealthSouth development wouldn’t provide a level of service not already available in Delaware.
Richard Beck, who spoke on behalf of Broadmeadow, echoed those sentiments, saying the Broadmeadow facility has not had to turn patients away because it’s unable to accommodate people.
Sinclair and Sharon Kurfuerst, vice president of rehabilitation and orthopaedic services at Christiana Care Health System, called the review committee’s recommendation “fair.”
Christiana Care bought 108 acres on Del. 299 in 2008 for a hospital and offices. Christiana Care did not specifically object to the HealthSouth proposal but simply presented the review committee with its level of services.
Byrd said the process has been difficult because the application is “very sophisticated” and one that had not been seen by the board before.
“The board and staff have been challenged,” Byrd said.
To O’Connor, that’s not a fair criticism.
“They’re trying to make it out that we’re incompetents,” he said.
Teacher: Of 8,892 data points, which ones matter in evaluation?
This was written by Charles Duerr, who has taught for nine years at a Title 1 elementary school in Bellevue, Washington. A National Board Certified Teacher, Duerr read the following statement to the Bellevue School Board in response to the district’s recent bargaining proposals as well as the national movement to tie teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores.
By Charles Duerr
By year’s end I will have entered 8,892 data points into my district’s data collection systems — Gradebook and Reading 3D. This data is from homework, assessments, and report cards.
Which of these 8,892 data points are the important ones? I mean, which of these data points will count towards my evaluation? And what problem are you trying to address by including student assessments into teacher evaluations?
All of my assessments results are posted online. We have student scores, the District Data Analyzer, and reading progress all available for an evaluator to see. If my scores are consistently lower than my colleagues then that gives an evaluator an indication of where to look and to see that best practices are indeed implemented. This can happen currently.
As teachers we are expected to use research-based best practices. We are held accountable for our ability to implement these practices. It concerns me that policy makers are hoping to adopt a practice with mixed results at best and at worst creates a further narrowing of the curriculum, higher stakes testing, incentives for test manipulation or misrepresentation, and provides no new data to inform my practice than is currently available.
In my classroom I have a pronounced achievement gap. I have five students who are reading far below grade level. All speak a language other than English at home and receive free or reduced lunch. Those traits are not indicators of performance. I have similar students on track to make more than a year’s worth of academic growth in 2nd grade.
What is the factor that separates these students?
My five lowest readers do not read or complete homework with any regularity. Facing this I’ve scheduled interpreted conferences, recruited colleagues to translate letters or have them call home. Often there is no working number and notes home are never returned.
This is hardly surprising. One student lives alone with her father. Her brother is in jail. Her dad washes dishes at a local bar. He works late into the evening but comes home with food. They eat and go to bed. Another student lives with multiple families in a single house. He shares a room with his mother and father. They sleep together in the same bed. Both parents work at the same restaurant along with other families in this house. This student misses his dad and waits up until midnight or later to see him. In the mornings this student often doesn’t hear his own name: he is asleep at his desk.
My five best readers have homework averages of 100%. They have not missed a single assignment. I receive calls and emails from parents when their student doesn’t understand. Their reading level rises over the summer.
My lowest readers receive support from the ELL & Literacy Facilitators. They receive bi-weekly progress monitoring to track reading fluency and comprehension. I meet with them every day in a targeted literacy group for 30 minutes. One third of my entire literacy block is devoted specifically to these five students and they are still falling further behind their peers.
By all indications I’m an effective teacher. But I am not good enough to overcome the barriers some of my students face. I don’t know who is. But I know if next year I have 10 students who face the barriers of my lowest five then you’ll see a drop in my students’ performance. For this I’ll be held accountable. If this is the case what is the incentive to teach at a school which serves our community’s neediest families?