Bob Shepherd on what teaching is really like

An excellent description of how insanely hard teachers have to work, and why I am so glad I was able to retire before having a nervous breakdown or dying from stress and overwork. For many, many workers, including teachers, the idea of a ‘mere’ 40-hour work week is a joke. There is no possible way to get all the required tasks done even with a 100-hour work week, which ought to be illegal.

The only remedy is much, much smaller class sizes – like what they have at the very best private schools.

(This is from Diane Ravitch’s blog, but written by Bob Shepherd)

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For many years, I held various jobs as a publishing executive (in later years at very high levels). I thought that I worked very, very hard.

Then I returned to teaching.

Everything I did before was a vacation by comparison.

Teaching is relentless in its demands on one’s time and energy. I came to school this year and found that I had 190 students, 3 minutes between classes, no prep period on half my days, car line duty in the morning, 20 minutes for lunch, two extracurricular activities to coach (including plays to produce), administrative meetings one day a week after school, 20 detailed lesson plans to prepare each week (specifying the class, period, standards covered, lesson objectives, assessments used, bellwork, vocabulary covered, and ESOL strategies and 504 and IEP accommodations employed), a requirement that I post 16 grades per quarter per student (for 190 students for 4 quarters, that’s 12,160 grades in the school year, or 67.56 grades per day), enormous amounts of paperwork (filing, photocopying, keeping a parent/teacher log, filling out reports of many kinds, preparing class handouts and tests, keeping attendance logs, posting grades), many, many special meetings (parent-teacher conferences being among the most frequent), and classes and tests to take to maintain my certification.

If I assigned a five-paragraph theme to each of my students, I would have 950 paragraphs to read–roughly the equivalent of a short novel.

Basically, there isn’t enough time for ANYONE–even the greatest of teachers–to do the job at all adequately. This is the great unspoken truth about teaching. This is the real elephant in the room. If you want to improve teaching and learning, you have to give teachers more time–MUCH, MUCH MORE TIME.

And somehow, with all those demands, you are supposed to give each student the individual attention that he or she deserves. Anything short of one-on-one tutorial is a compromise, of course. And that’s that the job boils down to. A great compromise.

And the attitude of administrators is typically, “Well, what’s the matter with you? Why don’t you just do x? Why didn’t you just do y? Any good teacher would be doing z every day.” As though teachers were people of leisure with all the time in the world. I have noticed that administrators label practically every email that they send out IMPORTANT and use exclamation marks ALL THE TIME: “Due today! Must be completed by Thursday! Mandatory attendance!” I have sometimes wondered whether they shouldn’t be issued, at the beginning of the year, a maximum number of quotation marks that they can use. Of course, they are just responding to the similar insane demands that are placed upon them by the central office and my regulatory requirements.

Published in: on July 5, 2015 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Rally for Transparency and Open Government

  

I attended a small rally for open government and transparency this morning at the Wilson Building in downtown DC, sponsored by the Washington Teachers’ Union.

The issue is a move to make it so that no one — not even the WTU, which is the bargaining agent for all DCPS teachers — would be able to see any teacher evaluation data, even with names or other identifying information redacted. To be sure, the Union is not interested in having names and scores of teachers printed in the Washington Post or put on-line. However, Using leaked data from DCPS’s first year of the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, I have shown on this blog that the evaluation system is basically invalid, since there is only a very low correlation between classroom observation scores and “value-added” scores computed by an incomprehensible “black box” algorithm whose details teachers are not permitted to see or examine.

If we had more data on these invalid scores, we would probably discover that, as in New York City, the “Value-Added” scores jump around wildly from year to year for any given teacher, even if they are teaching the exact same subject and grade level and at the same school, teaching very similar kids. (R-Squared in NYC was less than 0.1, which means essentially no correlation at all! In DC, r-squared correlation between classroom observation scores and “value-added” scores was about 0.13, also quite low.)

That’s me in the back holding the handmade sign with graphs I made. 

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Demonstrate at the Wilson Building Tomorrow at 9 AM to Allow the Washington Teachers’ Union Access to Important Teacher Data

ACTION ALERT!

Join us tomorrow

to demand access to information on IMPACT

  On Tuesday, June 30 at 9 am join fellow DCPS educators, parents and other WTU allies at the Wilson Building to oppose cutting off access to information about the DCPS teacher evaluation system, IMPACT.  

Tomorrow morning the City Council will vote on legislation that would cut off access to IMPACT information, which your union, researchers and others need to judge the fairness and effectiveness of the evaluation system, and to determine whether D.C. Public Schools’ policies are really helping our children succeed.

The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) has always stood for transparent decision-making and open government. The union and others have urged the mayor and council members to remove from the Mayor’s Budget Support Act the provision that would prevent the union, educators and others from having access to IMPACT data, and to hold hearings on the provision.   

This is an urgent matter!
Be at the Wilson Building (14th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW) on Tuesday morning at 9 and let the DC City Council know that you strongly oppose keeping important IMPACT evaluation data secret.

Send us an email at dialogue@wtulocal6.net

and let us know you’ll be joining us!

“Math for America” teachers meet with some members Congress and apparently give them some sound advice

During the First National Math Festival here in DC (which I missed), back in April, some Math for America – DC* teachers I know were invited to speak with some Congressmen and Senators. According to the press release I was recently given, my colleagues appear to have given the elected reps** sound advice that may or may not be heeded.

{** including Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Shumer, Al Franken, Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray, Steny Hoyer, among others}

I quote from the press release, in green and my own comments in black:

“House and Senate leaders, field experts, and MfA DC teachers spent the first hour and a half engaging in dialogue on how the ESEA reauthorization would affect the classroom. Joe Herbert spoke to the adverse effects standardized tests had had on his school and his classroom. David Tansey, a[n] MfA DC Master Teacher, offered criteria that such tests should meet in order to provide instructional value to the teacher and the student.”

{notice the clear implication, which Tansey has spelled out to me in detail on several occasions, that the standardized tests that he and his school are required to administer many, many times a year are of absolutely no use to teachers in figuring out how to help their students learn more stuff, better.}

“Joe Herbert wrote, ‘I spoke of the harmful effects of standardized testing on K-12 education, and of the complete lack of statistical basis for evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores.'”

While Max Mikulec, one of the other teachers, was initially somewhat awestruck by listening to amusing anecdotes from Senator Al Franken, he …

“…went on to say, ‘As I reflected on the day, my initial reaction of pride and hope turned into a feeling of skepticism and apprehension. You cannot imagine how great I would feel if the nation spent billions more dollars developing math education and math teachers. However, I do not see this happening in an effective way. There are endless debates over what standards should be taught in our schools and what the kids should be tested on. Amid all of the debates, the ones who are losing here are the nation’s kids. In their most formative years, a time where they struggle to find any consistency in their own lives, they are being let down by an educational system that will change several times before they graduate high school. Ev en though all of these powerful and important people say that they support math education and that [they] see math teaching as a real profession, I will not believe them until something is actually done to show their support.'”

In addition, Joe Herbert wrote me the following:

“Another point I made is just how much money gets wasted on these tests. I don’t remember the exact number now, but I looked up how much is spent annually on testing before I went to the event (I remember the number was in the billions), and I made the point that we could increase spending on education by that much money without raising taxes a penny if we got rid of the annual testing mandate in NCLB.

“I know that many liberal groups have been proponents of annual testing because it sheds light on the achievement gap. I noted that NAEP provides these same types of data, but does so using statistical sampling so that we don’t have to test every kid every year.”

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*Note: MfA and MfA-DC are as far from the TFA idea as it is possible to be. Unlike ‘Teach for Awhile”, MFA actually gives its members a FULL YEAR of math-content and math-pedagogy classes and student teaching experience, assigns them a mentor, and in return expects them to stay in the city, teaching, in their field for a full five years, and does not pretend to have a one-size-fits-all “no excuses” magic wand that will miraculously reproduce the irreproducible miracle that Michelle Rhree pretended to achieve at Harlem Park Elementary in Baltimore in the early 1990s, magically moving 90% of her students from below the 13th percentile to being over the 90th percentile. Right now, MfA DC teachers are some of the most senior math teachers anywhere in DC, either in the regular public schools or charter schools.

Is there really a STEM shortage? And do we want to emulate China or Korea?

You have all heard the mantra that we don’t have enough young people studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and that is the reason that so many Americans are doing poorly.  If you agree with this call, this article in the New York Review of Books might make you think about the subject differently.

A few important points:

(1) The United States graduates way more engineers and scientists every year than can ever hope to get a job in their fields.

(2) As a result, large percentages of STEM graduates do not work in their chosen field

(3) As part of their profit-maximization strategy, tech giants like Microsoft nonetheless encourage this glut of STEM applicants while at the same time complaining that they need to hire foreigners on H1B visas, who earn on average about 57% of what a similarly-qualified American worker makes.

(4) While many, many American high school students fully plan to go into a STEM field in college, many are discouraged by poor teaching at the college level — even the instructors at elite STEM universities like CalTech get low marks from their students. And many of the instructors are, in fact, themselves temporary workers, neither full professors nor having any hope of tenure…

(5) The article also looks at Korean and Chinese school systems. It is true that they are producing tremendous test-takers and lots of engineers. But do we really want our children attending day and night classes every night until 10 pm, and what would we do with all of those unemployed future engineers anyway?

A few excerpts from the article, which reviews several books and documents:

“A 2014 study by the National Science Board found that of 19.5 million holders of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, only 5.4 million were working in those fields, and a good question is what they do instead. The Center for Economic Policy and Research, tracing graduates from 2010 through 2014, discovered that 28 percent of engineers and 38 percent of computer scientists were either unemployed or holding jobs that did not need their training

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its latest Occupational Outlook Handbook, forecasts that by 2022 the economy will have 22,700 nonacademic openings for physicists. Yet during the preceding decade 49,700 people will have graduated with physics degrees. The anomaly is that those urging students toward STEM studies are not pressing employers to ensure that the jobs will be there. And as we shall see, the employers often turn to foreign workers for the jobs they have to fill.

“Among the high school seniors who took the ACT and SAT tests last year, fully 23 percent said that they intended to major in mathematics, computer science, engineering, or a physical or natural science. And those contemplating programs related to health made up another 19 percent. But something evidently happens between their freshman and senior years. By graduation, the number of students who start in STEM fields falls by a third and in health by a half. In engineering, of every one hundred who start, only fifty-five make it to a degree.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 10:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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How computers “grade” essays

Computers cannot understand an essay. They can merely follow a mathematical model or algorithm that the authors hope will work. However, as one of the companies marketing these programs states in a FAQ:

“It is important to note that although PEG software is extremely reliable in terms of producing scores that are comparable to those awarded by human judges, it can be fooled. Computers, like humans, are not perfect.

 

“PEG {the software} presumes “good faith” essays authored by “motivated” writers. A “good faith” essay is one that reflects the writer’s best efforts to respond to the assignment and the prompt without trickery or deceit. A “motivated” writer is one who genuinely wants to do well and for whom the assignment has some consequence (a grade, a factor in admissions or hiring, etc.).

 

“Efforts to “spoof” the system by typing in gibberish, repetitive phrases, or off-topic, illogical prose will produce illogical and essentially meaningless results.
“How does PEG evaluate content?   

 

“Like most automated scoring technologies, PEG, when properly trained, can determine whether a student’s essay is on topic. PEG can identify the presence or absence of key words that give clues to the content. For example, references to the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria would lead PEG to the conclusion that the topic was related to the voyage of Christopher Columbus–provided that these keywords were defined prior to the analysis (or were frequently referenced in the training set).  

 

“However, analyzing the content for “correctness” is a much more complex challenge illustrated by the “Columbus Problem.” Consider the sentence, “Columbus navigated his tiny ships to the shores of Santa Maria.” The sentence, of course, is well framed, grammatically sound, and entirely on topic. It is also incorrect. Without a substantial knowledge base specifically aligned to the question, artificial intelligence (AI) technology will fail to grasp the “meaning” behind the prose. Likewise, evaluating “how well” a student has analyzed a problem or synthesized information from an article or other stimulus is currently beyond the capabilities of today’s state of the art automated scoring technologies.”
So, in sum, computers are in fact not a real replacement for human judgement. If you want to teach students to write well and solve problems involving math, you need small class sizes so that teachers can have enough time to read and reread the entire essay and/or decipher how the student solved the problem, and give sound, professional judgement on how the student demonstrated partial or full understanding, and then decide what path to take to reach a more complete mastery of the topic at hand.

Bill Gates most definitely doesn’t understand this, even though he went to schools where teachers had that sort of mandate.

Thanks to Diane Ravitch for bringing this to my attention.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Slave Population of South Carolina in 1860?

When the voters (ie white male population) of South Carolina voted to betray the Constitution of the United States and secede from the Union in 1861* because they did NOT believe that all men are created equal, they certainly did not speak for a majority of the state’s population.
According to the official census data for 1860, slaves constituted 57% of the population of SC at the time. In case you weren’t aware, in today’s elections, any time a candidate gets 57% of the vote, pundits talk about “overwhelming majorities”.

By the way, you should sign the petition to drop the charges against the brave woman who removed the flag of slavery, treason and racism from Charleston SC.

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(*I stupidly wrote 1865 originally. I don’t know why I did so. Being a pro-union kid growing up in a Border State, I am quite aware of the dates of the Civil War. Thanks to a commenter for correcting me.)

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 8:55 am  Comments (1)  

Taking Down the Flag of Treason, Racism, Slavery and Torture in Charleston

A young black woman climbed up the flagpole in Charleston and took down the Confederate flag, and was of course arrested, along with the young white guy who was helping her. Kudos to the two of them!

Too bad they didn’t think to bring along some lighter fluid and a match as well – the flag of treason, racism, slavery and torture was treated much too gently, in my opinion.

confederate flag takedown

Here’s the link to the YouTube video.

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Temps Who Have Never Taught are Grading Common Core Tests

Makoto Rich of the New York Times, Peter Greene of Curmudgacation, and Diane Ravitch all discuss the way that Pearson is running the scoring of the Common Core tests, employing temporary employees who have never taught, at $12-14 per hour, with of course no benefits.

If you’ve worked in a mass-chain fast-food joint, then you know what Pearson wants: mindless uniformity. Isn’t that what parents and kids really, really want from our public schools?

Here’s the link.

Different Aspects of Corporate “Reform” in Newark and Montclair, New Jersey

A long article in Rethinking Schools comparing and contrasting corporates educational “reform” as it has played out in almost-completely poor, black and brown Newark and relatively affluent and integrated Montclair.

Here’s the link:

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/29-3_karp.shtml

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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