Saturday, March 19, 2011

"63 percent of voters in union households" oppose LIFO

In New York City, 63% of voters in union household oppose LIFO.  I wonder what percentage of teachers oppose LIFO.
A whopping 78 percent of New York City voters said teacher layoffs should be based on performance, not the seniority-based "last-in, first out" law, a poll released today found.
Even 63 percent of voters in union households agree that layoffs should be based on merit, not LIFO, according to the Quinnipiac College survey.
Meanwhile 73 percent of voters said layoffs of cops, firefighters and other government workers should be determined by performance, not seniority. And a majority of voters in union households agree.
The results mirror the findings of a statewide poll released last month, which found that 85 percent of voters backed the elimination of LIFO.
Read more:

Don't allow the massive propaganda machine influence what you consider common sense. The last in, by all moral, legal and common sense, should be first out, if there must be an out. The many years of love, dedication and sacrifice, all for children, deserves better. I'm certain that this political move to protect budget mismanagement has nothing to do with the "best" teachers, but rather the bottom line of failed budget planning.
Read the entire piece after the jump.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The combination of a strong teacher with Khan Academy - too good to be true?

A pilot program of "blended" or "hybrid" instruction that brings Khan Academy into the classroom:
To teach mathematics, schools in Los Altos, California, are piloting use of Khan Academy videos and online tools, which have replaced traditional textbooks and homework in two fifth-grade and two seventh-grade classrooms. Teachers say the change has brought huge benefits.
Here's a full description from the lasdandkhanacademy blog.
In Los Altos School District, we are constantly striving to improve instruction to meet the needs of all learners and prepare all K-8 students to thrive in our rapidly changing global community. In the continual quest to improve instruction, we are investigating new instructional delivery models and are currently piloting the use of Khan Academy as a hybrid-learning model in a few math classes across the district (two 5th grade classes, and two 7th grade pre-algebra readiness classes). In our pilot, Khan Academy is being utilized as a complement to our current math program.
The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit with the mission of providing a world-class education to anyone, anywhere. It currently consists of over 1800 videos covering content in math and science one concept at a time. Concepts are arranged on a “Knowledge Map” which builds from the most basic mathematical concept to more complex concepts covered in high school calculus. Each concept is presented in digestible 10-15 minute video segments followed by practice exercises and tutorials. The software suggests next steps for students and provides teachers with a wealth of individualized student data on both concepts mastered and areas of struggle. With the use of Khan Academy as a hybrid-learning model, students are able to work through new material at their own pace during a portion of every math class. Teachers are able to use the data generated through Khan Academy to group students according to their instructional need and provide targeted math instruction.
Piloting Khan Academy provides us a unique opportunity to explore 21st century learning with our students by leveraging technology to differentiate instruction to meet the individualized learning needs of all students. We are fortunate to have formed a phenomenal partnership with Khan Academy and are excited by the potential differentiated learning opportunities for students that will develop as a result of this partnership.
The foregoing description is full of flowery edu-jargon, but there's no denying that Khan provides a superb way to track individual student progress.

Teachers and coaches can access all of their students' data. You can get a summary of class performance as a whole or dive into a particular student's profile to figure out exactly which topics are problematic. The class profile lets coaches glance at their dashboard and quickly figure out how to best spend their time teaching.
We've put a lot of energy into making sure that the Khan Academy empowers teachers by giving them access to the data they should've had for years. You'll know instantly if a student is struggling in multiplying fractions...or if she hit a streak and is now far ahead of the class.
But can the Los Altos School District gain efficiency and raise achievement levels?  A quick search found this meta-analysis:
The United States Department of Education reported recently that it's found some evidence to support the notion that blended learning is more effective than either face to face or online learning by themselves. Further, between online and face to face instruction, online is at least as good and may even have the advantage in terms of improving student achievement and potentially expanding the amount of time (and quality time) students spend learning.
Powerful potential - Here are some pulls from Bill Gates' appearance on NBC Nightly News.
The cutting edge of where education is going...
Kids like to move at their own pace...
We need to do a better job...
Teachers will always be important.  What Sal’s engaged in right now is working with teachers to see where they can use his material to relieve them of a lot of things And his interactive parts can track and the teachers can see is this kid behind, is this kid ahead.  It can help the teacher organize the class.  So the power of a combination of a strong teacher together with these resources, I see that as making a huge difference.
From The Gates Notes, here are some videos of Los Altos school administrators, teachers and students talking about the Khan Academy pilot.

And, Khan Academy is FREE! 

(I haven't read this yet, but here's more on blended learning:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Florida ending tenure for teachers

Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign a bill ending tenure for new teachers.
The legislation, which positions Florida as a leader in the teacher tenure battle, would require new teachers to work under one-year contracts beginning in July, effectively ending tenure. As of 2014, contracts would be renewed based on evaluations, half of which would be tied to how students perform on assessment tests. The evaluations could lead to raises, or dismissals if teachers perform poorly two out of three years. Tenured teachers could opt into the merit pay system, but they would face the possibility of dismissal because of unsatisfactory evaluations regardless.
Teachers who work in troubled schools or in certain specialties, like special education, could earn more money under the bill. 
Details and funds for implementation seem shaky, with the schools assigned responsibility for developing some of the tests to be used for evaluating teachers.
Plus, they said, the bill comes with no money attached to develop the required tests or hand out merit raises. Once the bill becomes law, school districts will have until 2014 to develop tests. The state’s biggest standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, will be used for some grades and subjects, but districts must develop separate exams for all other subjects in each grade, an expensive undertaking.
Florida House Approves Ending Tenure for New Teachers – NYT, 3/16/11

Rachel's Challenge

Rachel's Challenge is a national anti-bullying program named after the first person killed during the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, Rachel Scott. Her journal, found after her death, was filled with words of hope and understanding. In particular, Scott wrote: "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same."
Rachel's Challenge's mssion:
We exist to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.
Program elements generally include school assemblies, student/staff training and community presentations.  It was recently implemented in our local middle school.
Eastchester Middle School's main corridor and cafeteria have been given over to colorful chains, kindness slogans and life-size silhouettes of students, all carefully limned on what had been cream-colored walls and old bulletin boards.
The mural project drew dozens of teen volunteers who stood on ladders and sat on floors, carefully filling in outlines of slogans and classmates. Their team effort paralleled the anti-bullying messages the students were illuminating: When people work together in harmony, anything is possible.
Does Rachel's Challenge really work?  What results have been measured?  Is a mural a meaningful measure of results?  From the Rachel's Challenge website FAQs:
Q: Do you have any data that supports your program?
A: We are currently working on an efficiency study for the near future. So far, most of our data is anecdotal.
Related:  Tuckahoe schools to host Rachel's Challenge
“We’ve heard from other school’s who’ve used Rachel’s Challenge and it has gotten great reactions from students and parents,” Moschetta explained, “everyone is encouraged to come.”

To read the entire article:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"once in a lifetime" teacher likely to be layed off because of LIFO*

My daughter's English teacher is one of the best either of my children has ever had.  His instruction and intense feedback is superb.  A school administrator describes him as a "once in a lifetime teacher."

In the cuts that are proposed as part of our belt-tightening 2011-12 school budget, this teacher would be terminated because he was one of the last teachers hired.

*LIFO = Last In First Out = Policy mandated by New York State law that bases teacher layoffs solely on seniority and not on merit.

Related:  Keep Great Teachers

A funny, but sad, take on the gender inequality issue

Here's Mark Perry's "fantasy editing"* of an article describing President Obama's concern about how poorly women are faring today.  It should make us think about which gender is experiencing more inequality.
"President Barack Obama said women men have made great some strides toward full equality with men women over the past 50 years, yet more progress is needed to close an economic, college degree, and labor market gender gap.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said women men are still more likely than men to live in poverty, are: a) are underrepresented in math and engineering education for college degrees at the associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s levels, b) are underrepresented by academic field for degrees in biology, communication, education, English, foreign languages, health professions, psychology, public administration, social sciences, visual arts, optometry, pharmacy, osteopathic medicine, veterinary medicine, osteopathic medicine, and naturopathic medicine, and c) earn, on average, 75 8 percent as much as men less than women for the cohort of unmarried, childless workers under 30 who live in large cities, and d) are 20 percent more likely to be unemployed than women (over the last year).   
“We have to work even harder to close the gaps that still exist, and to uphold that simple American ideal: We are all equal and deserving of the chance to pursue our own version of happiness, he said.  The facts that: a) 150 women will earn college degrees this year for every 100 men, b) young, single women earn 8% more than single men, and c) the negative effects of unemployment and job losses in the last recession disproportionately affected men, demonstrates that a lot more progress is needed before we achieve full gender equality.”
* Strike-outs and bold font text are Perry's edits.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New York school districts must "look at ways to cut costs"

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli stating the obvious:
"Many school districts have taken steps to align spending with today's economic realities. But it's imperative that every school district look at ways to cut costs and plan strategies that help them deal with fiscal stress,"....
"Raising taxes should be a last resort," he said.
General-fund expenditures declined in 209, or 33 percent, of New York's districts in 2009-10, indicating many are already developing ways to manage financial challenges, the report said. From 2007 to 2008, 34 school districts, or 5.4 percent, cut spending.
ADDED:  The comptroller's report - Staying Ahead of the Curve:  School Districts Responding to Fiscal Challenges

For the entire article:

Follow-up: results of New Rochelle schools survey

I previously posted about this survey designed to gauge voter sentiment regarding school priorities to be considered in developing next year's budget.  No surprise about the results, but the choices offered to respondents were limited.  For example, there were no questions about whether taxpayers wanted union contracts reopened and renegotiated to rein in the cost of benefits.
More than half of the respondents to an online survey by school district officials said maintaining small class sizes was their most important priority.
New Rochelle school district administrators had posted the six-question survey to the district's website for a week last month.
Their aim was to learn what parents, residents and taxpayers thought they, the administrators, ought to be focusing on as they crafted the budget for the 2011-12 school year.
Of the 528 respondents, two-thirds said they are parents or guardians of school-age children.
Keeping class sizes from ballooning was the top concern, with 53.2 percent of the respondents selecting it.
After that, 44.4 percent said preserving advanced placement and other honors classes was most important.
About one-third of the respondents cited having the latest technology in classrooms as their top priority.
"I am not surprised to learn that class size is of critical importance to most people (who) responded to the survey," Superintendent of Schools Richard Organisciak said. "That has historically been the case in this district."
Also, 57.2 percent of the people who answered the survey said it was concerns for programs being added, reduced or eliminated that drove them to the polls to vote on the budget.
A bit less than a quarter of the respondents said it was the prospect of their taxes increasing or decreasing that motivated them to vote.
This assessment of the community's education priorities comes as school officials face daunting challenges in crafting their budgets.
As costs continue to rise, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed cutting $1.5 billion in state aid to schools.
New Rochelle stands to lose $4.3 million if the cuts are enacted.
Discussing the governor's proposal recently, Organisciak said the loss of state aid, combined with other factors, could cost the district some jobs.
"We're going to lose good people," he said. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kristof argues for higher teacher pay

In a NY Times editorial, Nicholas D. Kristof says we should raise teacher salaries.
We all understand intuitively the difference a great teacher makes....
One Los Angeles study found that having a teacher from the 25 percent most effective group of teachers for four years in a row would be enough to eliminate the black-white achievement gap.
Recent scholarship suggests that good teachers, even kindergarten teachers, increase their students’ earnings many years later. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that an excellent teacher (one a standard deviation better than average, or better than 84 percent of teachers) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000....
A teacher better than 93 percent of other teachers would add $640,000 to lifetime pay of a class of 20, the study found. 
Here's a problem.
Look, I’m not a fan of teachers’ unions. They used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective
It appears to be a chicken and egg situation.  What should come first?  Should we pay all teachers more now, and then hope that reforms will help match pay with performance in the future?  Or, should we institute pay for performance standards now as the way to reach that end?  Either way is bumpy, but what can we actually afford?

And what about class size?  Increasing class sizes could free up money to pay top teachers the salaries they deserve.  Remember, the money has to come from somewhere and in this dismal economy taxpayers are just about tapped out.
Indeed, it makes sense to cut corners elsewhere to boost teacher salaries. Research suggests that students would benefit from a tradeoff of better teachers but worse teacher-student ratios. Thus there are growing calls for a Japanese model of larger classes, but with outstanding, respected, well-paid teachers.
ADDED:  Kristof is getting bashed in the blogosphere for insulting teachers with this:
These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).