Blue Serials (2/22/20): Teacher Quality Edition

Wax On Wax OffWe’re going to keep things simple this week, my Eleven Faithful Followers (#11FF). As much as I enjoy our time together and the hours you no doubt spend giggling over every clever phrase and admiring my poignant insights, I’m hoping you’ll take the time to actually go read and follow at least a few of this week’s featured players. Some you’re no doubt already familiar with, but others I’m happy to take credit for introducing to you.

You’re welcome.

Now, let’s get to it, shall we?

One Good ThingOne Good Thing is a blog for math teachers, only it’s not, really. Yes, many of the posts reference math assignments or issues, but the guiding philosophy is in the site’s subheading: “every day may not be good, but there is one good thing in every day.”

One of the more prolific posters on One Good Thing is Rebecka Peterson, a math teacher from Oklahoma. Her reflections are generally brief, encouraging, and poignant – leaving many of you to no doubt wonder how the hell I can even read them without bursting into flames. But love them I do, and there are at least two recent missives you should stop and digest right now, then read again every day this week until you’ve truly got them.

Cross stitching them onto something to hang in your bedroom or bathroom wouldn’t be completely out of line.

From Piles (2/19/20):

I am swamped by grading at school. My to-do list for tomorrow realistically needs a week to attend to. And the piles and lists seem to just multiply.

But when I sit back and really evaluate this year, I am ok with those piles.

In a very weird way, I’m even happy for those piles.

I get tingly just reading it again.

From Be Less Helpful (2/20/20):

I gave my kids some not-your-mama’s-calculus problems today. I said we’re going to the gym today and working those brains for an hour…

I didn’t walk around the room for an hour like I usually do. I told them I was putting some distance between us on purpose, so they would feel that productive struggle…

I love my current students, but I miss having classes in which you could do stuff like this and have it turn out well. (Oh, um… Spoiler Alert: it turns out well.)

Follow One Good Thing on the interwebs and fall in teacher-love with Rebecka on Twitter at @RebeckaMozdeh.

Prof HCloaking Inequity is a rather serious website and blog created by Julian Vasquez Heilig, the Dean of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Education, where he also teaches. About the only thing his blog shares in common with One Good Thing is that the posts tend to be brief and to the point – two things I honestly had no idea it was even possible to do on a regular basis. I suppose I should try those eventually…

Not surprisingly, inequity towards students often involves issues with teacher quality. 

Inequitable Opportunity to Learn: Student Access to Certified and Experienced Teachers (2/21/20) primarily gathers links to research and reports, along with an excerpt from a recent study by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI). This is from that excerpt:

Access to fully certified and experienced teachers matters for student outcomes and achievement, yet many states have hired uncertified and inexperienced teachers to fill gaps created by persistent teacher shortages. These teachers are disproportionately found in schools with high enrollments of students of color…

In other words, when states force schools to grab any warm bodies they can to fill teaching positions, guess who gets the least experienced or least qualified educators?

The day before, Heilig shared some research on teacher quality assessment. The ideas won’t be revolutionary to anyone who’s been paying attention in recent years, but they’re worth revisiting. This particular study seems to bring a touch of sanity to a system still determined to rank and score teachers in some fashion, mostly because it rejects doing so based on standardized test scores at the outset and works from there.

How Should We Evaluate Teacher Quality? (2/20/20) examines the question of – well, I guess you get the basic idea from the title…

Here, Heilig summarizes some of the research he’s compiled:

In this policy brief, Lavigne and Good argue that the most commonly used practices to evaluate teachers—statistical approaches to determine student growth like value-added measures and the observation of teachers—have not improved teaching and learning in U.S. schools.  They have not done so because these approaches are problematic, including the failure to adequately account for context, complexity, and that teacher effectiveness and practice varies. 

With these limitations in mind, the authors provide recommendations for policy and practice, including the elimination of high-stakes teacher evaluation and a greater emphasis on formative feedback, allowing more voice to teachers and underscoring that improving instruction should be at least as important as evaluating instruction.

It's a bit thick on the edu-speak, but anyone who’s navigated the world of academic bureaucracy for a few years should be fine. Plus, reading big words makes us feel much good smart, don’t it? It's NOT what makes us better teachers, however, so feel free to add it to the list of silly ideas states keep pushing.

Read Cloaking Inequity regularly and keep up with Professor Heilig on the Twitters at @ProfessorJVH. You'll thank me. 

Peter Greene & OffspringPresumably you’re already familiar with Peter Greene at Curmudgucation. He’s arguably the most prolific and reliably source of edu-news and commentary on the web, although I suppose Diane Ravitch deserves a shot at the tiebreaker if it ever becomes important to know for sure. Greene is always worth reading, but often he almost accidentally transcends himself with moments like this, from Shoving Babies Into The Pipeline (2/19/20):

It is not a five-year-old's job to be ready for school; it is the school's job to be ready for the five-year-old.

This is doubly true now that we have entered an era in which too many people have decided that human development can somehow be hurried along, that we can turn kindergarten into first or second grade by just pushing the littles to sit down and study. Again, there is a germ of truth attached to this movement-- children who grow up in homes that provide a richer learning environment get an extra boost in learning. I can't help noticing, however, that these council of business types never sit down to say, “What we need to do is provide young families the kind of income and freedom that helps foster a richer environment for children.”

In short, these groups could treat young parents like humans trying to raise little humans instead of meat widgets tasked with producing little meat widgets.

I mean, you just wanna hug him and laugh-cry and have his edu-babies when you read stuff like that, don’t you? No? Perhaps I simply have some strange boundary issues?

In keeping with this week’s theme, however, Greene also offers some insight on How To Improve The Quality Of Teaching With Tools Districts Already Have At Hand (And How To Mess It Up):

Like so many things, it all sounds so obvious when he’s explaining it, and yet states and districts keep finding ways not to have the slightest clue:

There is never a shortage of ideas about how to improve the quality of teaching in U.S. classrooms. From the intrusive and convoluted (“Let’s give every student a test and then run the test through a complex mathematical formula and use it to identify the strongest and weakest teachers and then fire the weak ones and replace them with strong ones, somehow”) to the traditional and banal (“Time for a day of professional development sessions that most of you will find boring and useless”), tied to either threats (“We’ll fire you!”) or rewards (“Merit pay!”), school systems and policy makers have come up with a wide variety of approaches that don’t do a bit of good.

And yet, there is a very effective method that not only improves the quality of teaching in classrooms, but increases the chances of retaining good teachers in a district. Best of all, every district in the country already has every resource it needs to implement the technique. Some are even required to do it, though many mess it up badly. What’s the magic technique?

I’ll let you read the rest for yourself. And you totally should. Keep up with Curmudgucation at curmudgucation.blogspot.com and follow Peter on Twitter at @palan57. If you don't, be prepared to explain what the $#@% is wrong with you as a person and an educator. 

Confused HistoryFinally, a few pieces to round out your weekend:

Aggie, I’m Sorry – Claudia Swisher at Fourth Generation Teacher wishes she’d read the book a few decades earlier and done one of her fave teachers proud.

Navigating Undergraduate Academic Writing: Guess What? It Depends on the Professor. – In this piece from Academics Write, it turns out that success on college essays is largely a matter of gaming each professor’s expectations and ability level. So, that’s depressing.

If you’re worried that students aren’t getting enough “real world” experience, there’s no need for concern in Arlington, Texas. They’re flushing toilets like crazy there – and successfully! #STEM

Dan and Dee Cain of Twinsburg, Ohio, better get serious about paying back their daughter’s student loans. They’ve already received 55,000 letters from the loan company. (I hope her degree was in math.)

You want a legit scandal? A Ukrainian textbook accidentally proves that Keanu Reeves really IS an ageless time-traveling vampire by showing him in a historical photograph from nearly a century ago.

Finally, if you needed any more proof that Big Brother is here and that he’s going to beat you up and take your lunch money every day “for your own good,” facial recognition technology is being piloted in New York schools – you know, “to keep kids safe.”

That’s it for this week, my Eleven Faithful Followers (#11FF). We have one more Month of Love edition of Blue Serials next week, so if you have something to say or someone to share, this is your last shot – at least until March. Be strong, and Happy Black History Month:

28 Reasons to Hug a Black Guy - SNL

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