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Archive for the ‘Teacher assessment’ Category

I often wonder how we can get an accurate picture of what and how educators are teaching today. We have more, and better technology than we have ever had to record and analyze data, and yet we still do not have a clue as to what is really going on in the average classroom. The pictures that we get, or the stories that are told, seem to focus on the best and the worst. Too often superintendents spin the best, and the media spins the worst. We need to remind ourselves that any story about what is going on in education is just a snapshot that is representing a very tiny portion of the big picture.

There are too many education leaders who when talking about their schools tend to focus on the best and most innovative representations their schools have to offer. Intentional or not, this creates an impression on their audience that the entire school is filled with the best and most innovative educators. That may actually be true in some instances, but my guess would be that it is a very much smaller number than such stellar tales would lead us to believe.

Of course the idea is to offer real life examples that can be used as models for exemplary teaching. I get that, but too often these stories create an impression that these models are typical, rather than exceptional. I too am guilty of putting a positive spin on the effects of such things as technology in education, student voice, student-centered learning, self-directed PD, connected learning, and open source access. I recommend blog posts that model not only the benefits of these methodologies, but give shining examples being used today in classrooms, as if that is the norm. The fact is that the very reason these are highlighted is because they are exceptional and not the norm. It is important that these stories are shared as examples and models, but I truly believe that we need to maintain our perspective as to where they fit in the bigger picture of education.

In our latest desire for innovative education, many educators are sharing their best and most innovative lessons with their principals. The principals in turn share their best and most innovative teacher stories with their superintendent. The superintendent then takes the best of the best from all of those stories to share with the public in order to create that positive vibe for the district that everyone loves. This is good PR.

The PR process however may be creating a picture of education that is not easily lived up to. People walking into a school on any given day may be expecting great innovative, tech-supported lessons in every class only to be greeted by sit and get lectures with all kids seated in rows and quietly taking notes.

Whenever I entered a school to observe a student teacher from our teacher preparation program, I would try to walk through the school to observe at a glance what other classes were doing under the guidance of veteran teachers. It was a cursory observation at best, but there were observable differences.

My students would often have me observe them doing a student-centered lesson that usually involved group work and technology. Of course they knew what my preferences were and they believed in “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. I was not tyrannical, but I was partial to innovative lessons. I was rarely disappointed in what they did, or attempted to do. In my walk around however, I was too often struck by the fact that, I observed a majority (not all) of the teachers relying on sit and get methods with kids sitting complacently in rows.

Now we have entered into an era of Do It Yourself PD. As much as many educators talk about connectedness and all of its benefits, I see very little evidence that supports connected learning is being adopted on any large-scale by educators. Judging from books, articles, speeches and posts, educators should be in a constant state of collaboration on a global scale. Again, we are creating a complete picture of education PD that is based on a few snapshots, rather than an accurate, realistic view of what is. We do need to tell stories and model where we should be going, but we can’t give the impression that we have already achieved that goal. We need schools to do an honest assessment of what they are doing in order to determine where they need to change and improve. We can’t improve without recognizing where we need to improve. Change will best be served with both top down and bottom up improvements working for the same goal. For that to happen we need better transparency, honesty, and accuracy. If we better understand what we are actually doing, we will better understand what we need to do in order to improve.

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Almost daily someone comes out with a plan to do something different in education to make some progress in reforming the system. Most of these changes require that teachers or students make the change. The truth is that until we change the culture, there will be little change in the system.

In thinking about how we approach, analyze and evaluate things, it seemed to me that the people held most accountable were the students and the teachers. They were the most visible and easily assessed, because they, as groups, are asked to perform under scrutiny while their efforts are observed, recorded, analyzed and critiqued.

I have been saying for years that if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators. In order to do that, districts need to offer some type of support for that to happen. With all that is being required of teachers today, there is not enough time for them to plan out and develop the best methods of professional practice in addition to adding their needed relevance in professional development. Things are changing way too fast. If that development is an expectation of a district or school, the responsibility for it to happen should fall on that district or school.

Why not apply the same standard of observation of students’ work, and teachers’ lessons to every school’s Plan for Support. Let’s call for more transparency from our administrators. If a teacher’s support for a student’s success is as important as research tells us it is, wouldn’t the same hold true for an administrators support of a teacher, or even the entire staff?

Many, many schools will talk about their support for students and staff to be placed on websites and brochures. Those are words written in general terms, which in many cases are just painting a picture of wonderful teachers, happy at work for the benefit of wonderful happy students. It is public relations. The reality in many cases is support for teachers is whatever the state requires for professional development, as well as a place to pick up forms to be filled out for credit.

Why not really commit to something; a real plan. Write it out just as a teacher is required to write out lesson plans. Put the plan into words on a document stating specifically what is being done in your school to support any teachers’ development. Do it step by step to include everything. What are the goals and what is the plan? Call it the Professional Support Plan. Make it public for all to see. After that, observe it. Analyze its effects. Reflect on results. Modify the plan where it is needed for better results. This should be a main objective of some administrator. Hold someone accountable for the success of support for the staff. Break down the “Us vs. Them” mentality and establish that we are educators all, and we are in this together.

Many reading this will say, “we do that already”. If that is the case then roll out that existing Support Plan Document and run it by your staff. See if they think it is an effective plan. Get a little collaboration on a document that could have a profound effect on the school’s staff. It might be possible that something was left out of the current plan, or maybe it lacks relevance because it was developed in the 90’s. Years in the 21st Century may see changes that might have taken Decades in the 20th Century.

Support, Transparency, Collaboration, Communication, and Creation are the things we need our educators working on today, since they are the very things we need to teach our kids for tomorrow. We have demands of our students and teachers that force them out of their comfort zones. It may be time to ask more of our administrators. They need not do more, but maybe they need to do better. We need to break some comfortable patterns of the past for more effective plans for the future. In order to change the system we need to first change the culture. Twentieth Century methodology is far less effective in meeting the needs of 21st Century students and teachers. We need to upgrade.

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 “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” St. Jerome

After years of teaching in many buildings and several districts, I have acquired a number of observations on how teachers view and rate administrators. Of course everyone’s view is skewed by each person’s idea of how an administrator is supposed to provide leadership, as well as what amount of an administrator’s job should be administration and how much should be education. It has been my experience that more often than not an administrator’s worth is judged on faculty morale and school discipline within a building, or a district in the case of superintendents. Lack of student discipline and low faculty morale are too often indicators of poor leadership. These symptoms tend to expose the obvious poor leaders, who hopefully are not a large part of the system.

In my opinion the bigger issue is less obvious, how should we differentiate and improve between successful levels of school leadership? What are the differences between good, better, and best? Assuming the poor leaders stand out, how do we get good leaders to be better, and the better to be the best?

Getting educators to agree on generalities is not difficult, but getting them to agree on specifics is often a difficult, if not an impossible task. Most educators are thoughtful, reflective, and fair-minded when it comes to evaluating people, even administrators, since evaluation is part of their job when it comes to kids. Teachers often give administrators a wide berth either because they are kind and non-critical of authority, or compliant. Maybe more honest feedback to administrators from their staffs would affect a more positive change in the system.

School Culture is probably one of the greatest influences on the learning that takes place in any school. It is that institution’s attitude toward learning and respect for its learners. A good admin will recognize this, as well as the fact that it has the potential for coming from the bottom up as much as from the top down. A better admin will not only recognize this, but will use that culture in branding the school to the outside world. Not only is it important for a school to do a good job, it is also important for an admin to tell everyone about it. The best admins not only recognize the culture and use it in a positive form of marketing; they will feed into and nurture that culture to maximize its positive effect on staff and students alike. This then carries over to the parents involving the entire community in learning and supporting the education community.

Observations are rarely comfortable for teachers and too often a time-consuming necessity for administrators. A good admin will use it as a tool for improvement, and not a club to intimidate teachers. A fair assessment of pre-determined objectives during a lesson is a mark of a good administrator. To pay attention to pre and post conference meetings to set goals and offer constructive feedback is a higher-level observation is the mark of a better admin. Of course the more collaborative the observations, as well as using lead teachers as models, or exemplars the more comfortable teachers become with the process. They feel as if they are part of the process instead of being a target of it. Thoughtfully sharing teacher successes with the faculty is often the mark of a great administrator. This enables the admin to nurture support and improve the performance of the staff.

Of course there is the idea that the head of any school system or building should also be the “Lead Learner”. With all that is required of modern administrators and the drain on their time, this part of the job is often overlooked. Any admin should recognize the need for at least one lead learner in a building, an individual with insights into the workings of relevant teaching and learning. They recognize the need for someone who the staff can go to for modeling the latest and greatest in the profession. The better admins are those people who are the go to people for how to approach learning in relevant ways. Of course the best admins are not only lead learners, but they take every opportunity available, as well, as to create opportunities to share and collaborate on learning with the staff. They model their approach to learning every day. They innovate ways to involve and lead their staff in teaching and learning.

Relevance is another very important measurement in being an effective administrator. Most administrators are products of a 20th Century education. Too often many administrators base their education philosophies on their college training, which is usually steeped in 20th Century methodology. That works well if the school itself has a staff that employs 20th Century methods. The problem arises when we consider that we are teaching over a decade into the 21st Century. 21st Century learning uses different tools, and different methodologies from that of the 20th Century and it is the 21st Century and beyond that we are preparing our students to live in. Using 20th century measurements to assess 21st Century teaching and learning may not be the best way to assess how much learning is going on in any given school.

Relevance has become a key issue in education today. In a computer-driven society change is constant and rapid. To keep up with change and maintain relevance Administrators along with all other educators need to expose themselves to the latest theories and methods within the profession of education. Of course the poorest of Administrators will stand out like dinosaurs holding on to centuries past in education, but lets get to the rest. The good admins recognize rapid change and support technology, and recognize that things must change from the 20th Century. Better admins are reading and sharing Blog posts, supplying relevant PD to support the technology brought into the building. The best however, are not only connected educators, they Blog, provide time for teachers to collaborate, plan for the tech in their building with ongoing PD and coaching, model the use of technology in their interaction with staff and students. They are immersed in 21st Century learning and all that it involves: collaboration, communication, curation, creation, critical thinking, reflection, authentic learning, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. The very best lead their staff by providing more sources and opportunities to connect, reflect, and collaborate further.

Being an administrator today is a most difficult job. It would be highly unusual for any administrator to have all of the best attributes, but it does serve well as a goal for which they should strive. Why not reflect on what we do, and how we do it. If we are good let’s strive for better. If we are better let’s fight on to be the best. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Let’s do it one category at a time. Motivating others is an important skill for a successful administrator, but the best administrators are self-motivators as well. But then again, what do I know; I am but a retired English teacher?

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At a recent Edcamp on Long Island we had a very interesting discussion. Sessions at Edcamps are discussions as opposed to actual power-point presentations. The question posed by someone in the session on relevance in education asked, why are so few Long Island educators connected? This set off a discussion leading to the point that the mindset of teachers successful in the present system, is a belief that they need not change because whatever it is that they are doing, seems to be getting the needed results. Therefore, the better the results for teachers based on students’ standardized test scores, the less teachers need to change their approach, methodology, or pedagogy. Of course that would mean that the most “successful teachers” would need to change the least at what they do, and how they do it.

Of course this is all based on the fact that the results that we are looking for in students, and results that “successful teachers” are obviously producing are actually results that are good. Will they benefit students in the life that they will be living in world in which they will live? Here is my question: should we be basing the results of a student’s lifelong endeavors in an education system by a score on standardized test? Is that test really measuring how much a student has learned for what will be required to thrive in the tech-driven world in which he/she will live?

Of course this applies to more teachers in America than just those living on Long Island. In this environment of test mania once any teacher is meeting the needs of students to succeed on a standardized test, what is his/her incentive to going beyond that shortsighted goal for education? If a teacher is unaware of the need for kids to be digitally literate in order to be prepared for the world in which those students will be forced to live, than how will that teacher meet the education needs of his/her students? If the 20th Century methodology is meeting the needs of the 20th century goals what need is there to even talk about 21st Century learning, or 21st Century skills?

There is a very convincing argument to maintain the status quo. It simply requires educator’s jobs be linked to maintaining that status quo by connecting it to student scores. There are less convincing arguments for innovation, or even to have educators strive for digital literacy. We can hardly point to professional development, as we have come to understand it, since it has obviously not worked well over the last century. Most successful digital literacy today is self-directed and on going, done by educators seeking it. Too many districts, for reasons of a lack of money and time to do so, are not supporting proper PD. If districts were required to offer properly supported PD, it would be one more mandate demanding compliance of districts to add to the growing pile of required unfunded mandates plaguing our education system. This reinforces the fact that the best PD must be self-directed, on going and relevant.

It would seem that if educators are to see a need for change from the status quo it will need to come from their connected colleagues. These are educators who are struggling forward to maintain relevance in this tech-driven culture to prepare kids with the skills to do the same. These educators recognize the need to understand collaboration, curation, communication, and creation with tools that have never been available before, and will soon be replaced by other tools with more complicated operations. Technology evolves through change. None of this will ever take hold if we depend on a status quo mindset of many of our educators. Educators, most who are products of 19th and 20th Century methodology and pedagogy that served them well in their time, are often satisfied with providing the same methodology and pedagogy for their students.

During the lifespan of our students we have seen technology take great strides. The mobile device that was a phone became the smart phone. It is a pocket computer with vast capabilities, and yes, it also enables sophisticated phone calls. We have been introduced to the iPad and Tablet. Computers now enable cars to park and make emergency stops without driver intervention. Social Media has exploded changing our views on many things within our culture. If all of this occurred within the lifetimes of our students before they have even completed their education, what lies ahead after they graduate will only be more technology moving at even a faster pace. This is a pattern we know from history. As educators, it is our moral obligation to prepare our students for the world in which they will live, and not the world that we grew up in. That is too comfortable and easy for us, but it will not help our students?

So, why are some educators stepping up and directing their learning to adjust to what kids will need to know moving forward, while many others are content with the status quo. I do not have clue other than maybe some of what I have mentioned here. Each educator will offer his/her own reasons. These are not bad teachers. A good teacher does not need technology to be good, but a good teacher using technology can be better. We need better educators not just good ones. Our comfort zones are not more important than our student’s futures. I always say, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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I have written about why I feel Tenure is important and how it is used as a scapegoat for inadequate follow through on the part of many administrators in Tenure’s Tenure. I guess it comes as no surprise that I am appalled at the recent decision in California against Tenure.

Of course the statement that upset me the most came from the presiding judge. Judge Treu wrote, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms,” I do not know what defines a “grossly ineffective teacher”. I know how I might define it, but it would have nothing to do with standardized test scores of children. Even under my personal definition, I would think it would apply to an insignificant number of teachers, many of whom could be brought up to competent levels with properly supported professional development.

Based on articles that I have read since the judgment, the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in the poorer districts referred to by the judge may have been made up on the spot by a conjecturing witness. Fuzzy Math: guesstimate that struck down California’s teacher tenure laws.

The fact of the matter is that a teacher’s role in a child’s education is very significant. It is not however, the sole influence on that child’s education. This is especially true of children in schools in areas of poverty. The unfortunate truth is that before we can apply Bloom’s taxonomy in many schools, we need to first apply Maslow’s Hierarchy. If kids are coming to school stressed because they are hungry, tired, undernourished, and concerned about their safety, there are no teachers trained well enough to convince those kids to put all that aside for the sake of schoolwork.

The issue with schools in poverty areas both rural and urban is not the teacher quality as much as it is the poverty itself. Poverty brings with it issues in schools that no amount of high-performing teachers can fix.  Teachers are beaten down in their attempts to teach in these schools. Toxic cultures have evolved as a result of fighting the good fight and being defeated by social prejudice, poor infrastructure, and lack of support. These are reasons for high turnover rates of administrators and teachers alike that are commonplace in schools in poverty areas. These are many of the reasons teachers do not actively seek positions in these schools. None of this failure has to do with Tenure. None of this failure has to do with a made up number of 3% of highly incompetent teachers.

Lets make up our own numbers and blame 75% of the do-nothing, ineffective and incompetent politicians who do not address the very issues of poverty that actually are the real reasons for schools in areas of poverty not performing in the same realm as schools in affluent areas.

The idea that teachers are the key to getting all kids thinking and learning at the same level of competence throughout the country is ridiculous. If we can’t even attempt to standardize the environments and conditions in which kids learn, how can we expect the results to be the same nation-wide?

Tenure is only a guarantee of due process. It is not a lifelong commitment. Incompetent teachers can be fired as long as we have competent administrators providing due process. Too often administrators blame the law rather than their inability to follow it.

Without due process teachers will serve at the whim of whatever politicians are in control. Whatever trend school boards, or state legislatures buy into could be thrust upon teachers to teach or else. If the school board is of the opinion the Earth is only 9,000 years old and wants that taught in the schools, who could stand up to that at the risk of loosing a job? If books are banned by a board, who stands against that? If policies are changed in favor of budget over safety who advocates for safety?

Without due process in times of economic considerations, teachers who earn the highest wages are considered the biggest liability. Being an economic cutback is hardly a just reward for years of service. All of these factors do not create a profession that would attract and maintain the brightest and best this country has to offer. Doing away with due process is the best way to weaken an already shaky profession. Half of all teachers entering the profession leave before the fifth year. Some of the most successful and experienced teachers are leaving for consulting positions after years of teaching. The very reason many of the most experienced leave is the current atmosphere of teachers being vilified, and not even involved in discussions of reform. The profession needs to attract more and maintain what it has, and not drive people away.

Rather than talking about easier ways to eliminate teachers, why not find better ways to teach, support, and maintain them. Why not focus efforts on affecting the hard things to fix, the things that have a real effect on education and learning. Poor schools are a symptom of poverty, not the other way around. Let’s deal with poverty, as an issue and education will improve. Fixing education will come at a cost to us all and not just a cost to teachers. We can’t reduce taxes as we improve education. Great education is a long-term goal investment that, unfortunately, exists in a short-term goal-oriented society. Public education is what will keep America safe with informed citizens able to critically think, analyze, process, and create. We can’t afford not to support it.

Maybe, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court should look at politicians who obstruct any programs to address the issue of poverty as an attack on education and an obstruction to “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education”. This might have a more positive effect on education than attacking due process, tenure laws. To paraphrase or rather reuse the words of the judge, there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective politicians currently in the California legislature rooms.

 

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About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.

Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.

Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.

The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.

We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.

I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.

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Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?

Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay

The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.

I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer-delivered standardized tests.

I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.

Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.

Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen. If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?

We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.

Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great effect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.

Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.

This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.

We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.

 

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As I was picking up my Hawaiian shirts from my local dry cleaners last week, I was approached by a former student of 30 years ago, who managed to recognize me all these years and extra pounds later. He mentioned a few of the memories that he had of our student/teacher time together and then offered his view of education today. It was soon apparent that he felt that at least half of the entire student population in America was graduating school with a total inability to read anything. He stated and restated his very firm belief several times during our brief conversation. It was apparent to me that changing his mind would not take place at that moment in that parking lot, so I headed off with a simple disagreement, but not really challenging his view of education.

This encounter caused me to start thinking about other perspectives people might have on education today. I travel extensively in education circles and engage people in conversation about education on a regular basis. I am starting to believe that when it comes to what people believe, or don’t believe about education has little to do with facts. It seems to be more about who has the ear of the public in order to say things loud enough and often enough regardless of facts. Sound bites seem to be framing the education discussion in terms of taxpayer perceptions. Politicians and Tax Reformers seem to be the loudest and most persistent voices in the discussion.

I then attended the Education Industry Summit held by the Software and Information Industry Association (www.siia.net/education). It is the premiere conference for leaders in the education technology industry. This organization sponsors, encourages, and mentors companies that are education technology innovators. It is by all means an excellent organization.

My personal takeaway from this conference however, was a glimpse of how the perspective on education is viewed by the people in this industry. They are constantly surrounded by tech, so they view all education in terms of technology. They are rich with facts to support their beliefs. They talk about the impact their products will have on a technology-rich environment in education. They have charts and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations, as well as professionally produced videos to support their product’s entry and impact into the world of education.

What vexed me about this perspective was that I did not recognize the education system that they described in a majority of their presentations.

There are many schools with a culture that supports technology and innovation, but I question whether it is a majority of schools. Technology in education has been introduced in bits and pieces as it developed. Few schools had systematic plans for integration. Many were required to have what were called five-year plans, but five years in technology is a lifetime. Dog years don’t even come close. Many schools are playing catch up in this age of technology. Integrating new tech-driven methodology into a system steeped in 19th and 20th century methodology is not going to be accomplished overnight, or in some cases over a decade. We have many schools trying to teach their kids for the future while relying on methods and technologies of the past. Too many schools do not have the mindset or culture to support systematic conversions to the latest and greatest innovations of technology. These points are not being made in power point presentations, or professional videos of the industry people. They discuss the impact of their technology on students, but ignore the impact on teachers.

One would think that educators would have the best perspective on a view of education and many do. Their view however is determined by their teaching experience. There is a vast difference in perspective when talking to an urban teacher as opposed to a suburban teacher. Rural teachers have a completely different view. There is a big difference between schools of poverty and schools of affluence. How can we ever address the solutions to the problems in a standardized way when the problems are so diverse? How can we have a national discussion on education when the problems for the most part exist on a local level? How do we listen to politicians, profiteers, tax reformers, education reformers parents, students, teachers, administrators, and concerned citizens while each has a different motivation and view of education? Should each of their views carry the same weight? Will it ever be possible to find common ground between the likes of Diane Ravitch and the likes of Michelle Rhee?

Before we decide on the changes maybe we should reconsider the needs. Before we went to standardized testing, maybe we should have determined some basic standardized professional development. Maybe in reflecting on how we approach teaching on a national level, we could be less concerned with what we teach. The emphasis might go from what kids learn to how kids learn. If the national focus was on creating learners instead of test takers, we might make a more effective difference. If our educators rededicated themselves to learning as models and mentors, we might see significant change in a system long in need of updating. It would take a commitment to professional development. It would seem more likely to affect a significant change in our students, if we could first affect a needed change in their educators. Committing to educating educators to the needed changes in methodology and pedagogy as a priority in modern education.

The next time my Hawaiian shirts need to be picked up from the dry cleaners, I should ask my wife if she would please help me out and pick them up.

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I recently put out a tweet that was meant to be provocative. I often do this to stir things up in order to benefit ye olde creative juices. I tweeted that I recently had a heart procedure done, (which I did) and I did not ask the doctor to use any 20th Century methods or technology to complete the task. I thought it might stir up a discussion of relevance in education as an offshoot of that tweet. That did not happen. Someone asked, based on that tweet, why I thought educators could not be good teachers if they were not connected. My intent was to point out relevance. The idea I attempted to convey was that any profession, especially medicine, can no longer employ technology and methodology of the 20th Century, since we are well over a decade into the 21st. It was the tweeter who attributed a value on a teacher who was not connected. It was the being connected part which that tweeter took as being relevant, but there is more to relevance than just being connected.

Relevance is something that is important to the matter at hand. Of course in education, the matter at hand changes with every topic in the curriculum. Since educators need to be masters of content in their subject area that covers a great deal of ground in which educators need to be relevant. To complicate the teaching profession even further, educators need to be masters of the methodology and pedagogy of education as well. Educators need to maintain relevance in both areas. An understanding of this begins to offer insight into how difficult the position of educator can be.

Education however is based on relationships. There are student/teacher relationships, and collegial relationships. All of these relationships take place in an environment of learning. The idea of what is relevant is not something determined by the teacher, but it should be weighed and judged by the student. It is the student who needs the learning that will be used in the space that the student will occupy moving forward. If the student finds the teacher’s ideas and information irrelevant, it won’t matter how relevant the teacher finds it, the student will move on to something he, or she determines is relevant, leaving the teacher behind.

Will an educator be able to determine when he or she has become irrelevant? Does everyone become irrelevant? How does one maintain relevance? Do educators have a moral obligation to point out a colleague’s irrelevance? Is relevance something that is measurable? Is it fair to include “relevance” comments in an observation? What about irrelevant administrators? Is irrelevance always a generational condition? These are all the questions that are flying through my head that I would love answers to.

Of course being a huge advocate for connectedness, I feel an obligation to point out that collaboration and collaborative learning go a long way in keeping people relevant. It is only part of the answer however. We need to keep an open mind, as well as a mindset to continue learning. There are many, many ideas of the past that are relevant today, but we need to be able to exhibit that in relevant ways to new learners in terms that they understand, because if they don’t understand it, or question its relevance, they will not accept it.

I think awareness is a key to staying relevant. One needs to be aware of changes that happen so quickly in our technology-driven culture. Having a willingness and courage to step away from the comfort of the status quo is essential. Developing an ability to listen more than lecture should be a goal. It will take willingness to be more of a learner than an expert. It will require a flexibility to examine, question and reflect on what we know in order to see how it may, or may not fit in with what we will need moving forward. These are all traits of life long learning. Educators talk about life long learning for their students all the time. It should be a goal for all learners. Educators sometimes forget that they are learners as well. To be better educators, we need first to be better learners.

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I recently read a number of mission statements from randomly selected schools to see if there was some sort of pattern in what schools view as their mission. One thing that many had in common was a distinction between the learners and the educators. I guess that is fitting in the sense of what each shareholder’s position is, but maybe we would be better served if we thought of ourselves as a community of learners one and all. At least in that perspective when a mission statement refers to helping all learners reaching their potential, we are including the faculty and administration in that goal. Yes, it is all about the kids, but will not a more learned faculty lead to a more learned student population?

Then I thought about IEP’s and how they might apply to educators as well. Most schools reserve the IEP, Individualized Education Program, for students with special needs, since they are also a requirement of the law. In my imaginings I wondered:Would we all not benefit by having some sort of IEP for every learner in the building? As long as we are dreaming here, maybe we could even give each learner a say in their learning to help develop an IEP. Initially it would take up some time to do, but once completed it could be easily updated each year. If it was considered a priority, the time would easily be allotted, just as weeks of test-prep time is alloted for standardized tests which are today’s priority. The IEP idea however might have a more lasting positive effect.

If we consider our educators (Teachers and Administrators) as learners as well as our students, then they would also need to have IEP’s. Maybe we could call their IEP an IGP, an Individual Growth Program? Of course this is a big “what if?”, but as long as we are here let’s look at IGP possibilities. Each educator could help devise an individual plan for growth. It would mean creating a starting point with skills and knowledge already acquired. We would need to consider how much personal time and how much school time could be utilized for each learner. We could spell out the responsibilities and provisions of the district, which will be balanced with the responsibilities and provisions of each educator/learner. We would also need to have a means to assess the growth progress. Certificates are measurements of seat time, so maybe proof of accomplishment from observations might be a better indicator. At least it gives recognition and credence that a brain in action is more important than an ass in a seated position.

Of course the IGP would need to be revisited and updated each year, but that could also be part of a year-end review. Maybe a day of developing, or updating IGP’s could replace the day usually dedicated to an inspirational speaker followed by almost meaningless “sit and get” workshop presentations that educator/learners sit through in so many schools across the country each and every year.

Imagine a school with IEP’s for every kid, and IGP’s for every educator making it a truly learning community. Of course the IEP’s for special needs students will continue to be highly regulated according to the laws, but IEP’s for the general population of students need not be as regulated. Of course the IGP’s will also be tailored to each educator/learner, so that any special needs for specific skills, or adjustments in attitude may be specifically addressed. This will require closer relationships, more collegial collaboration and a great deal of support from all stakeholders.

Of course this is my own mind fantasy and people will come up with hundreds of reasons not to do it. I could only offer one reason to do it. It is better than what we do now. Yet, for many, it will be a bridge too far. The status quo is easier and safer. It may be less effective, but people live with it without complaint. “No need to reinvent the wheel.” I wonder if that would hold true if the invention of the wheel was oval or square-shaped. That might require some reinvention.

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