Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not with a bang but with a whimper

Stephen Krashen is one of the bigwigs in language acquisition theory, and one of the main reasons we have shifted from the grammar-focused, drill-and-kill methods of the past to a listen-and-understand model of language instruction.  He also has lots of interesting things to say on the subject of teaching as a professon and teachers; generally he is opposed to approximately everything that reformers want to have happen.

In this post he links to another post that predicts that by 2018, the teaching profession will be a very tightly-controlled, 1984-type dystopia.  Then Krashen suggests that the author is being too generous, that by 2018 there will be no more teachers.  I have very much been wondering if that isn't the ultimate goal of a lot of big-money reformers.  I'm not sure what to do with this, but I thought I should link to it.  I imagine I'm going to want to find this again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bill Gates, $5bn, and a good idea gone horribly wrong

I'm feeling more reflective than I have in a while.  Maybe it's the approaching end of the school year.  There's less to look forward to, which is not to say there is less to do.  It was in the mindset of thinking back on the school year that my RSS feed told me about Bill Gates's 5 billion dollar plan to film teachers and use that to evaluate them.  I'm broadly in favor of filming teachers teaching.   The first several times I felt self-conscious, and I felt like I was changing my behavior away from my norm and towards what I though I was supposed to be doing, usually with disastrous results.  I can only imagine how the students felt about it.  After they got done mugging for the camera, maybe they just felt like I was spying on them, despite my reassurances that I wasn't recording them, I was recording me.  Whatever the case, I consistently get a good idea of what I'm doing after watching myself do it.  Some brave souls even open up their videos to student critique in class time.  I'm not there yet--I still feel like I know what good teaching looks like better than they do--but I see the value in it.

Having said all that, I agree 100 percent with Valerie Strauss's evaluation of this system of evaluation.  It should be used strictly in a coaching environment, and not as an "evaluation."  The conversation should be, "This is how you get better," not "This is what you did wrong."  There are a number of problems with billionaire philanthropists paying for social changes in areas they know nothing about, but among the problems with this particular movement is one of timing.  Teacher improvement and teacher evaluations are not the same thing.  To use the lingo, we should be talking about formative assessments for teachers, and instead summative assessments are taking up all the oxygen.  Instead of talking about turning good teachers into really good teachers, we're talking about firing bad teachers, and making the metric for "bad teacher" eventually impossible to overcome.  Futher, while I agree that having strangers (presumably experts, but somehow I doubt it) watch our videos and provide us with feedback could provide an unbiased perspective, it also would remove all context from the lesson.  That context makes all the difference.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Morning musings

I have a sub this afternoon, so I should be writing my sub note.  Plus my cereal is getting soggy.  But we talked about the declining student count all over our county at our staff meeting last night, and I wanted to know more about it.  So without further ado:

Number of Public School Districts in Michigan, 1976-2012

In the '70s, Michigan had 579 Local Educational Authorities.  I'm not sure, but my guess is that that means school districts.  In the '80s, there seems to have been a mild push for consolidation, since by 1992, there were 559 school districts.  This number was fairly stable, and for the next 20 years, we have lost 10--in 2011-12, there were 549 school districts.

In 1993, the first public school academy / charter school opened in Michigan.  They have grown since then, often bumping up against state-mandated caps in their early years.  In 2011-12 there were 256, up nine from the previous year.  This growing effect means that the state of Michigan has increased the number of school authorities since the 90's to a total of 862 different local school authorities.  (Charter schools and public schools operate with different administrations.  For that matter, they play by different rules.)

Since the 1970's, Michigan has had a student population decrease of almost half a million students or 25%.  We used to have over 2 million kids, now we have a little over 1.5 million.  So to a certain extent the consolidation of public schools, while tragic for us in the teaching industry, is understandable and necessary. 

How this jives with increasing the number of school entities and spreading increasingly rare resources even more thinly truly escapes me.