Testing teachers

Article about a project in NYC that attempts to measure the impact of teachers in the classroom.

Clearly resisted by most parties, I was struck by the declaration of one of the NYC officials:

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

Are we going to publish the rates of new teachers who quit? Of poverty within a given school? Of principal turnover?

This data without context — how it will undoubtedly be taken regardless of how its presented — will be utterly irrelevant.

David Greenberg from Dissent

Great line from David Greenberg’s recent “read” of the candidates in Dissent:

In the ensuing debate about whether the photographer violated journalistic ethics, some pundits speculated that the Clintons had actually posed for the camera, hoping to send the public an irrefutable image of their closeness. Although this notion was absurd—“Just name me any 50-year-old woman who would knowingly pose in her bathing suit,” Hillary smartly quipped—it underscored the widespread uncertainty about what is real in political life and what is staged, what is spontaneous and what is contrived. We have become so alert to the manipulations of politicians and their consultants that sometimes the problem isn’t so much that we accept what’s false as true; it’s that we suspect that what’s true is really false.

Particularly in light of the recent episode credited with Hillary’s bounce in NH, this essay seems particularly salient.

Keith Olbermann’s take on the crying incident hasn’t emerged elsewhere — she slams Barack Obama as inexperienced in a most reprehensible way — further undermining claims that this incident was premeditated.

David Simon

This guy should be given nine more lives so that he can continue to document this big, ugly world. The Wire is the best television show ever made.

Interview with Nick Hornby is here.

Favorite quotes:

But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason. In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak. Because so much of television is about providing catharsis and redemption and the triumph of character, a drama in which postmodern institutions trump individuality and morality and justice seems different in some ways, I think.

The show would instead be about untethered capitalism run amok, about how power and money actually route themselves in a postmodern American city, and, ultimately, about why we as an urban people are no longer able to solve our problems or heal our wounds.

Success in Cincinnati

Article from Education Week describing the success in increasing graduation rates in a once trouble district. I can’t even imagine seventy-nine percent of Philadelphia students graduating. While I don’t know much about this story, one segment struck me as crucial to any genuine reform:

Respecting teachers. Both the superintendent and the school board agreed that teachers at the lowest-performing schools would be allowed to select the curriculum and professional development they thought would best help them reach their goals. Maintaining this kind of autonomy was not always easy—for the teachers or for those who advised them…

Cincinnati teachers were treated like professionals are in other fields. In addition to special off-site workshops, there was recognition for schools showing exceptional progress, along with praise—to the news media and face to face—for educators in buildings with significant signs of growth. Veteran and younger educators alike responded with genuine openness, willingness to learn, and a growing belief that major advances were possible.

Sadly, empowering those individuals who spend the most time with the children always seems to be last on the list of reforms.

Eagle’s Shadow

Reading journalist Mark Hertsgaard’s account of how Americans perceive and are perceived throughout the world. He quotes British journalist Rupert Cornwell:

No one wraps self-interest in moral superiority quite like the Americans do.

Hertsgaard, Mark. The Eagle’s Shadow : Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2002.

lucky?

In my work in Philadelphia, I’m struck by how often people declare that “the students are lucky to have _____,” whether it’s a good teacher, some exotic new technology, or some unexpected resource.

While luck has little to do with it — it’s not luck in Newton, or Radnor, or Edina –there’s another piece. What’s rarely considered is what the students bring to the table: students may be lucky to have some new computers, but the world is lucky that the students have a new avenue of expression. Students may have a great teacher but most good teachers know that it is their students who make them who they are.

Organization

There’s an article in today’s Times discussing how organizational experts benefit students, particularly boys. While I’m not opposed to these consultants (I wish they were free and available to ALL students), I do think it’s worth considering the impact that organization might have on high school classrooms.

For all too many classrooms, having a neat binder is enough. Gathering the worksheets serves as a substitute for any kind of genuine inquiry or authentic work. So I could see where a student taught to meet these requirements would enjoy greater academic success.

On the other hand, these skills will serve all students. Those involved in authentic, worthwhile projects probably need the organizational abilities even more.

My concern, though, is for the classrooms where organization is enough, where organization is the starting and ending point, where the goals of the room never move past the clean notebook. It’s tempting to make organization the focus of your assessments, particularly when the alternative — rigorous academic tasks — require so much work.

Personal

One of the things I’ve struggled with in my pedagogy courses is the intensely personal nature of teaching. The ways in which a teacher creates an effective learning environment are directly dependent on the teacher’s personality. I would argue that some traits are necessary, i.e., consistency, humility, flexibility, but the ways in which instructors manifest these attributes will vary greatly.

How, then, do you ask students to be themselves if they have minimal self-awareness? What do you do if they understand “the personal nature of teaching” to mean “I’m doin’ it my way” ?