Monday, March 30, 2015

What Is Differentiated Instruction? | Reading Topics A-Z | Reading Rockets

What Is Differentiated Instruction? | Reading Topics A-Z | Reading Rockets by Carol Tomlinson

Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction….

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Engage Underperforming Students through Ongoing PD and Non-Negotiables | Edutopia

This is essentially what we are trying to do with our focus schools in Colorado.  I love the idea of non-negotiables because it helps to define the core values and how they are expected to be operationalized on a day-to-day basis.  When you add a container like instructional rounds to help facilitate the transmission and demonstration of these good ideas, then you really have something!

How to Engage Underperforming Students | Edutopia

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lean Production | Jacobin

Lean Production | Jacobin

On September 10, nearly 30,000 Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. This was no mere breakdown in negotiations over wages or healthcare contributions. At issue, as many have noted, was the fundamental direction of public education. The Chicago teachers asserted themselves as the first institutional force to combat what’s often called the “business model” of education reform.

Meanwhile, in Detroit...

Friday, January 31, 2014

Status of Professional Learning

Status of Professional Learning

A growing body of research and professional consensus has given us a deeper understanding about what distinguishes effective professional learning from its ineffective cousin. Effective professional learning enables educators to develop the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions needed to help students learn and achieve at higher levels. Among the promising practices that many schools implement to promote effective professional learning are professional learning communities — groups of teachers and administrators who collaborate to improve their practice to meet learner needs….

[Download the full report.]

Monday, December 2, 2013

For Some Folks, Life Is a Hill -

An unfulfilling piece from Charles Blow that tries to find a medium between the politics of blame and the notion of resilient self-upliftment.  I'm reading Sasha Abramsky's, "The American Way of Poverty" right now, though - and I think Blow (and others) continue to underestimate the barriers that poverty presents to social and economic achievement.  Poverty is more like a treacherous mountain range.  A hill wouldn't be that bad....

For Some Folks, Life Is a Hill -

Friday, November 1, 2013

Moody's: Charter schools pose greatest credit challenge to school districts in economically weak urban areas

Moody's: Charter schools pose greatest credit challenge to school districts in economically weak urban areas

This confirms the arguments put forth in Diane Ravitch's new book, "The Reign of Error" which offers the most comprehensive, level-headed, and clearly-stated arguments I've seen yet regarding the harm charters are causing to American public education.  I think Ravitch draws too hard of a line on the issue of privatization (in terms of intentions), but the negative impact of charters in already economically stressed communities should not be ignored.

Rain of Errors | National Review Online

Rain of Errors | National Review Online

I think it's really important to read Ravitch's book for yourself.  The debate about American education has devolved into a finger-pointing, loud-talking performance of people most of whom have never taught in a classroom.  The most important truth, in my view, that emerges from Ravitch's book is that school turnaround and the effort to close the achievement gap has no quick fix.  The answers to these problems require long, steady, and dedicated efforts.  It requires smart people working together in tune with a central vision.  Poverty is a problem, as is racial segregation and the lack of ability of some currently employed in the teaching....  But I do believe that turnaround at the level of individual buildings is possible, and Ravitch gives fantastic insight as to how that turnaround in public schools is too often stifled by policy wars happening t the state and federal level.  At this point in my career, I'm just about fed up with these know-it-alls who couldn't teach a kid how to communicate their thoughts in an essay or find the slope of a line.  And yet, I have no doubt that the grandstanding will continue.

Monday, September 2, 2013

At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice -

Somehow Whitney Tilson is defending the high teacher turnover of charter schools in response to this NY Times article: At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice -  He tries to make a comparison to the Navy SEALs which I find highly problematic.  The research has consistently shown that teacher attrition is one of the major obstacles to sustained teacher effectiveness, and yet, Tilson, in this case and in my humble opinion, blinded by his own allegiance to KIPP and the charter initiative, is refusing to recognize the value of the experience that a seasoned cadre of professionals brings to bear.  To argue that inexperience somehow trumps experience when it comes to teaching in the nation's highest need schools is, in a word, preposterous.  And then he goes on to grandstand about how infuriating it is that we, as a nation, don't staff our high-need schools differently than we do schools that serve predominantly well-to-do and White students.  Well, yes.  But isn't that the point.  In what world do we regard the new, un-tested worker as being superior to the more seasoned one?  In what other profession would this argument hold water?

I think Whitney Tilson often has some really good ideas and lots to say that is smart and thought-provoking - but this really shows how deeply misguided we become when we begin the discussion about what's needed to improve schools with a pre-identified end in mind.  In this case, Tilson and others of his ilk are so beholden to the politics of charter schools that they are reduced to making nonsensical arguments in their defense.

I'm including the text of Tilson's email below:
In my last email, in which I commented on the front-page story in the NYT last week, At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice, I forgot to make a critical point: the four charter networks mentioned in the story (all of which I’ve visited), YES Prep, Achievement First, Success, and KIPP are all kicking serious butt, doing AMAZING things for kids: breaking the mold, showing what’s possible for even the most disadvantaged kids, and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that demography is NOT destiny. So why is the NYT writing an article that makes it seem as if these schools’ high teacher turnover is a bad thing? Looking at their astonishing success, why didn’t the article instead ask the following, obvious question: “Given how these networks are succeeding with the toughest kids, whereas EVERYTHING we’ve tried as a nation for decades with these same kids has failed miserably (and tragically), why isn’t EVERY school in America serving this demographic of kids shamelessly copying what these networks are doing??? Things like long hours, high expectations, and a ton of hard work, by both students AND teachers. This means hiring a very different kind of teacher – and dealing with higher turnover – but what’s the alternative? Continue to fail millions of kids? I keep coming back to the Navy SEALs (perhaps because I recently had the honor of meeting the Navy Seal who was one of the guys who shot Osama bin Laden and wrote (under the pseudonym Mark Owen) the best-selling book, No Easy Day – a great book, by the Here’s an excerpt from the SEALs web site: 
How long does it take to train a Navy SEAL?
Training of a Navy SEAL takes at least a year and a half from boot camp until the time he is ready to go to a SEAL Team. Once at a SEAL Team, he usually has an additional year or more of training prior to his first deployment. Even then, a SEAL's training is not complete he continues to hone and enhance his skills throughout his career. 
How many people make it through BUD/S? 
Each year, about 1,000 men start SEAL training. Although training success rates vary per class, usually about 200-250 men succeed each year. Candidates who have Physical Screening Test scores below 800 are three times more likely to succeed than those men who only meet the minimum requirements. To see the Physical Screening Test score requirements, visit our page on Navy SEAL enlisted general requirements
Thanks to this highly selective process and extraordinary training, these guys are the baddest a** warriors our country can produce and they tackle our toughest, most dangerous missions. But the work is incredibly intense and not really compatible with family life, so few are doing active missions for their career – they move on into management/leadership positions or go into the private sector (egads!). Could you imagine the NY Times writing a snarky story about high turnover among SEALs?! When our nation decides that something is really important, even if it’s really hard, it usually does a good job training people to tackle the problem. But not teachers. Other than the yeoman work of Teach for America and a few hundred high-performing charter schools, this country is doing very little in an organized, focused way to help the 5 million or so kids (out of 50 million K-12 students in total) who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are trapped in horribly failing schools, and are thus on the fast track to welfare, jail, and broken, ruined lives. Why can’t we be honest and say that teaching in the South Bronx is NOT THE SAME as teaching on the Upper East Side or Scarsdale? When kids come into school with two strikes already against them, we need to provide schools that have BETTER principals, BETTER teachers, LONGER hours, MORE rigor, HIGHER expectations, etc. to give these kids any chance to have a decent life. Schools serving such kids need to do pretty much everything DIFFERENTLY and BETTER! So what do we do? Precisely the opposite. By and large (with some praiseworthy exceptions), as a nation, we give the neediest kids WORSE principals, WORSE teachers, SHORTER hours, LESS rigor, and LOWER expectations. And then, to cap it off, we throw up our hands in defeat (“You can’t blame schools when there’s so much poverty.”) or, worse yet, BLAME THE VICTIMS (“What can you expect from those kids and those parents?”). This is an outrage, an abomination. It infuriates me.
Yeah, Whitney? You know what infuriates me?  When rich, grand-standing, do-gooders rail on about what it takes to teach well WHEN YOU'VE NEVER HAD THE EXPERIENCE OF TEACHING!  I wonder how strong this same argument would be considered by Tilson if I made it about his profession?  (He's a hedge-fund manager, by the way.)  I doubt that when applied to his line of work that he'd fail to see the holes in the logic.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fabulous TED Talk by Chemistry Teacher Ramsey Musallam: 3 Rules to Spark Learning

A must see for all teachers.

The 3 rules:
  1. Curiosity comes first!
  2. Embrace the mess!
  3. Practice reflection!

Prison Is a Member of Their Family

This summer I read Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's epic tale of two women and their travails trying to survive in a world where the proverbial chips seem to remain perpetually stacked against them.  I was uber-curious to see what the characters looked like and had been trying numerous google search combinations to get a glimpse of one of the people I'd spent so much of my intellectual time with as I poured through all 409 pages of Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx.  I eventually found this NY Times Magazine article published a few months before the book's release entitled "Prison Is a Member of Their Family."

These are pictures that were printed with the original article on January 12, 2003:
NY Times Caption: "In photo, Nina holds to her jailed father - in a stack of pictures. She is the only one of his children to have seen him out of prison."  This is most likely Mercedes.

NY Times Caption: "Family portrait, Woodbourne Correctional Facility, Right: Lolli with one of her (but not Toney's) daughters." I'm thinking this is Cesar, Coco, Nikki, and maybe Milagros kneeling.
I have to say that this was one of the most exhausting reads I've ever had - not because it wasn't written masterfully, but precisely because the story was told so poignantly.  At about 275 pages in, I sat the book down on my lap and uttered to myself: "This isn't going to end well.  We aren't gearing up to a 'They all lived happily ever-after conclusion....'"  At that point, I had to make the choice.  Do I stay invested or move on to something lighter.  This journey with LeBlanc was taxing for me on a personal level.  Like many readers I suspect, I was drawn into the lives of Coco and Jessica, and I found myself suffering with them.  But beyond compassion, Random Family gave me insight to the choices parents in desperately low-income living conditions make every day; and that insight makes me wiser.

I try to bring this awareness into my work as a school change consultant everyday.  When I cease to see the stories behind the behaviors of even the most obstinate persons, I have fallen into the same likely traps as those whom would appear to be the enemies of improvement - be it school staff, parents, or the students themselves.  What LeBlanc did - and at great personal cost I might add - is tell a story of humanity that is too easily and often ignored.  She pulls the reader into full view of the details of life in urban poverty, but I don't see this as a book about poverty per se.  This book about the choices we all make.  The choices made by Coco, Jessica, Cesar, and Lourdes... yes.  But it's also about the choices of LeBlanc.  The choice of what to see and how to see it.  It's also about the choice of the reader.  How willing is one to try to see the world through the lens of someone else's experiences?  Do you choose to ignore the world in which LeBlanc immersed herself for over a decade.

The male narrator who opens the NPR story on Random Family calls it a "new book on poverty," but I think he's wrong about that.  This isn't a book about poor people.  It's about you and me and the choices we make every single day.