Monday, October 31, 2011
Much of the problem with the career of teaching is a lack of options to expand within the profession, other than administration. It is often refreshing to hear accounts from teachers who have become instructional leaders in their building and stay in the classroom because of it...
Renee MooreThe idea of hybrid roles for teachers is not all that new. Some of the happiest moments of my teaching life were spent at Broad Street High School in Shelby, Miss., where some courageous administrators attempted to set up teacher-leader roles within the district. I say attempted because neither my employers nor I were sure what that meant when we first started in 1998.
Initially, the administration wanted to simply anoint certain persons to be the Lead Teachers, but later I convinced them to redesign it into a teacher leadership program selected by our peers throughout the district. Once they accepted the new design, I resigned my position and reapplied for the team under the new guidelines. My principal told me, "You're nuts! You're going to take a cut in pay and reapply? What if they decide not to give it to you just out of meanness or something?" But I believed in my colleagues' integrity and their intelligence. I laid my credentials on the table and was selected for the team.
Only then was I truly a teacher leader.
Originally, I taught classes half the day. The other half I spent working with the teachers in my building individually and in groups around whatever professional development issues needed attention. Most often I was helping teachers figure out the new computer software we were required to use. One of the bright spots of being an impoverished rural school was that we qualified early for technology grants that put Internet access and computers in all our classrooms. Downside, of course, was that little or no training for faculty came with it.
So we would help each other.
We developed lesson plans. We worked together on revising our own curriculum guides. We designed our own professional development, including putting together a database of skills and talents from among the teachers in our own district and using them as the trainers for these sessions. Morale went up; test scores went up; parents' confidence in our school system went up.
And then ... as with so many education reforms, the entire program was scrapped as the administration ran after yet another grant, another promise of quick results. This experiment, however, showed that career alternatives were possible even within existing school structures. Certainly, with thoughtful and collaborative planning, such hybrid roles could become more common.
Creating hybrid roles for teacherpreneurs would particularly benefit small rural schools, where staff is extremely limited, and everyone must fill multiple roles anyway. In such settings, blurring the lines between teachers and administrators is not only pragmatic, but stabilizing since it would minimize the often traumatizing effects of teacher or principal turnover.
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
It's hard to imagine the next generation completely being taught online, but maybe it's more possible than we think...
States, Districts Move to Require Virtual Classes
State and district measures require students to take virtual classes
Two years ago, Tennessee’s Putnam County school system adopted an online-learning graduation requirement for its high school students. But district officials realized that not all students had high-speed Internet access at home, or even computers, so they came up with a variety of options to allow students to fulfill the requirement.
The state of Tennessee already mandated that all students take a class on personal finance, so Putnam County put its version online, complete with the district’s own online teachers. Students can complete the course independently before they enter 9th grade; do it at school, in a computer lab with the support of an in-house coordinator, during their four high school years; or take the course in a computer lab that includes both an in-class teacher and an online instructor. Students can also fulfill the requirement with online Advanced Placement courses or online credit-recovery classes, says Kathleen Airhart, the director of the 11,000-student Putnam County schools, based in Cookeville, Tenn.
The goal is to make sure students get an online-learning experience in a low-risk, supportive environment, Airhart says. “The reality is, when a student leaves us, whether they’re going to a four-year college, a technical college, or going into the world of work, they’re going to have to do an online course,” she says. “This helps prepare the students.”
More districts and a handful of states are starting to agree with this notion. They’re requiring students to get some form of online learning on their résumés before leaving high school.
—Shawn Poynter for Digital Directions
But concerns remain about issues of student equity, particularly in rural areas, where high-speed Internet access may be uncommon or difficult. Some cash-strapped school districts may also view such a state policy as an unfunded mandate.
“Districts have fixed costs and structures, … and equity can be a major issue,” says Bruce Umpstead, the state director of educational technology and data coordination for the state department of education in Michigan, the first state to make online learning a requirement for graduation. “But for us, [the requirement] was a signal to schools that online learning is a legitimate way of delivering instruction, and students are going to have to know how to use online learning to get ahead.”
In 2002, Michigan began instituting its requirement that students complete 20 hours of online-learning experience to graduate. Students can start collecting hours in 6th grade, and most are satisfying the requirement through an online career-planning tool used to devise an Educational Development Plan, called for by state education policy, Umpstead says.
Initially, the intent was to have the online experience be a credit-bearing course. But concerns that such a requirement could be interpreted as an unfunded mandate by local governments—something prohibited by state law—resulted in a scaling-back, Umpstead says.
Other states have followed Michigan’s model. Alabama makes an online-learning “experience” one of the criteria for high school graduation. New Mexico has a similar requirement, but it provides students with the option of meeting the criteria through an alternative method.
—Shawn Poynter for Digital Directions
Idaho is weighing a more beefed-up requirement. The state board of education passed a proposal in September to require each student to complete two credits of online learning before graduation. To address equity issues, the proposal includes a plan for the state to buy some form of mobile-computing device for all high school students, but the expenditure would be offset by cuts to funding for teachers.
Now, lawmakers are seeking public comment, and it will go back before the board and then before the legislature in January 2012. However, the proposal is also slated to appear on the November 2012 ballot as part of a package of education changes for Idaho voters to weigh in on. That vote could ultimately derail the controversial plan.
“I don’t think there would be nearly the pushback we’re having if families and kids could make the choice, and if it wasn’t pulling dollars away from the teachers,” says Dick Cvitanich, the superintendent of the 3,800-student Lake Pend Oreille school district. Students in his district are spread over 52 mountainous miles near the Canadian border, and often, he says, it’s hard to get Internet access in some of those areas.
“We have kids that live in the valleys with a lot of snow and obstructions to getting service,” he says. “Some are on dial-up, some have no service, and some have [satellite] dishes. At school, we can create a level playing field in terms of access to technology, but when kids go home, that level playing field will, by and large, not exist.”
While Cvitanich says he believes the concept is a good one, and would give students important experience with online learning, he argues it should be optional and shouldn’t force a choice between online courses and fewer face-to-face teachers.
Districts and schools are struggling to deal with the fairness of some of the requirements, says Matthew J. Wicks, the vice president of strategy and organizational development for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, based in Vienna, Va.
—Shawn Poynter for Digital Directions
“The issue of equity exists,” he says. Working with community organizations and local libraries, as well as having school computer labs open before and after school hours can help, Wicks says.
“Does it make it an equal playground?” he says of such arrangements. “Absolutely not, but clearly there are things that can be done to provide sufficient access to be able to complete your course online.”
For example, in Putnam County, not only does the district offer a variety of options for meeting the online requirement, but it also provides a limited number of laptops that can be checked out by students on an as-needed basis, says Airhart, the district director.
She points out that schools must continue to adapt to such needs even if they don’t have an online-learning requirement. “The reality is, education is changing and we, as educators, need to change with it,” she says. Other opportunities are also on the way, says Wicks. For example, the cable-TV provider Comcast Corp. pledged to boost broadband access in their service areas nationwide as part of its deal earlier this year to take over NBC Universal. The company is now touting its Comcast Broadband Internet Essentials program, which offers Internet access for $9.95 a month to families with students who qualify for free lunches under the National School Lunch Program.
The company is also offering the families enrolled a “netbook-style laptop” for $150, access to free digital-literacy training, and free Internet-security software. However, the program would only aid students who qualify and who are in the Comcast service area.
In Florida, which is kicking off its own statewide requirement for an online-learning credit with this year’s freshman class, there’s no shortage of online options, says Mary Jane Tappen, the deputy chancellor for K-12 curriculum, instruction, and student services for the Florida Department of Education. The state boasts the nation’s largest online school, the Florida Virtual School, which served 122,000 students during the 2010-11 school year, and individual districts in the state often offer their own virtual courses as well.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
THIS IS FABULOUS
Almost better than being there because you can see all the paintings up close without straining your neck. TO VIEW EVERY PART OF THE MICHAEL D'ANGELO'S MASTERPIECE JUST CLICK above on the red words Sistine Chapel then DRAG the ARROW IN THE DIRECTION YOU WISH TO SEE.
* In the low left, click on the plus (+) to move closer, on the minus (-) to move away. Hold down the left clicker on your mouse to rotate the picture.
AMAZING. MOVE THE ARROW AND YOU WILL SEE EVERY PART OF THE CHAPEL.
This virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel is incredible. Apparently done by Villanova at the request of the Vatican , but I thought you would enjoy the quality and a bit of Rome on your computer.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Contrary to popular opinion, senior teachers can support new teachers and evaluate them well, Julia Koppich and Daniel Humphrey write. I tend to agree, depending on the person!
Published Online: October 10, 2011
Getting Serious About Teacher Evaluation
A fresh look at peer assistance and review
By Julia E. Koppich & Daniel C. Humphrey
You can hardly open a newspaper or major magazine today without finding a story about another incarnation or overhaul of teacher evaluation. But underlying nearly all these detailed descriptions of state and local programs is a near-unanimous and long-standing assumption: Whoever is in charge of improving teachers shouldn’t also be in charge of evaluating them.
It’s an assumption that makes perfect prima facie sense, but as our research shows, the assumption is wrong.
Good teacher evaluation is critical, and evaluation programs should be rigorous and comprehensive. Truly effective evaluation programs combine accountability and support.
We just completed a study of two district programs of peer assistance and review, or PAR, in California—one in Poway, in San Diego County, and the other in San Juan, near Sacramento. These districts and their teachers’ unions gave us unprecedented access, and the study provides eye-opening lessons about teacher evaluation.
Peer assistance and review is a relatively simple proposition. Carefully selected experienced teachers, called consulting teachers, step away from their own classrooms for their PAR terms to give a year of intensive support to beginning teachers and to underperforming veterans and, in most cases, conduct their summative evaluations. (The consulting teachers are paid a stipend for their services in addition to their salaries.)
PAR is overseen by a joint labor-management governing board whose members are selected by the district and the local union. The board has primary authority for reviewing consulting teachers’ reports and making recommendations to the superintendent and school board about the employment status of the teachers in PAR.
Our study revolved around three foundational questions: (1) What does the work of consulting teachers look like? (2) What makes the PAR governing board tick? and, (3) What kind of labor-management relations underlie PAR?
We focused first on the work of consulting teachers. We interviewed many of them and watched them work with both beginning and experienced teachers. The unions and the districts generously provided us with redacted personnel files on PAR teachers so we could examine the written record of the support consulting teachers provided, the progress of individual participating teachers, and the evidence that led to their evaluations. We also reviewed principals’ evaluations of many of these same participating teachers.
What we found belies conventional wisdom. Integrating support and evaluation works. The common assumption is that a single person cannot both provide support and conduct an exacting review of practice. We found the opposite to be true.
In Poway and San Juan, consulting teachers offer intense, one-on-one, tailored support. They diagnose each participating teacher’s strengths and weaknesses and examine each teacher’s practice based on comprehensive knowledge of the district’s standards. They then develop a targeted yearlong program of improvement and work with the participating teacher to implement it. Along the way, consulting teachers are careful to document their efforts. Their files on individual participating teachers average 190 pages in length and include multiple summary reports and detailed notes of every classroom observation and conference. They annually complete as many as 30 informal and five formal observations of each participating teacher.
Consulting teachers conduct rigorous, comprehensive evaluations solidly grounded in the evidence they have amassed—annually for beginning teachers, multiple times a year for tenured PAR teachers. These evaluations determine whether a teacher moves successfully out of PAR into the classroom or the district pursues other action, including nonrenewal of contracts for beginning teachers and dismissal for tenured teachers. Many teachers make it out of PAR, but some don’t.
We also examined the principals’ evaluation files for many of the participating teachers. What a difference. To be sure, principals do not have the time consulting teachers do to provide deep support and comprehensive reviews. Nevertheless, the contrasts were striking.
Principals’ evaluations were much sketchier than those undertaken by consulting teachers. Their ratings were based on many fewer observations. Their analyses of teachers’ practice tended to focus on one or two areas rather than on the whole picture of teaching. Documentation and evidence were sparse. Their files averaged seven pages in length.
We were privileged to observe the Poway and San Juan PAR governance boards in action. We found that board members rarely play to their roles. Listening to the discussions, we were hard-pressed to distinguish district-appointed board members from union-appointed members. Conversations focused on intensive, high-level questioning and probing about serious matters of teaching and learning. The boards ensured both that consulting teachers focused on improving instruction and that their evaluations of participating teachers were based on solid evidence.
The governance boards also oversaw, de facto, principals’ often-parallel evaluations of PAR teachers. Board members questioned principals with the same intensity they questioned consulting teachers. When the boards found principals’ evaluations to be inadequate, or in other words, not sufficiently grounded in evidence, they sent the principals back to redo their work.
Another aspect of the governance boards was revealing. These boards turned out to be problem-solving arenas where district officials and union leaders collaboratively addressed operational and policy problems that might otherwise have ended up as grievances or gone unresolved. We watched as a consulting teacher reported on a facilities problem in one of her teachers’ classrooms. The assistant superintendent fired off an email to fix the problem. We looked on as a governance-board discussion led to the realization that a local policy was hampering special education teachers’ work. The district and the union agreed to a solution on the spot.
Finally, we were struck by the collaborative labor-management interactions that form the foundation of PAR. Though both Poway and San Juan have in the past experienced rocky union-district relations, PAR has served as a springboard for building strong connections. More than simple collaborative efforts, through PAR, management and unions are doing the hard work of confronting tough, high-stakes issues and reaching accord on how to proceed when decisions carry real and human consequences.
Our PAR study served to remind us of several key issues that often seem to get lost in contemporary policy debates about teacher evaluation.
First, effective evaluation is about accountability and support. It is aimed both at improving teaching and ensuring only good teachers are in the classroom. Second, districts under increasing pressure to ratchet up the frequency and comprehensiveness of teacher evaluations confront an enormous capacity challenge. Who has the time and the knowledge to do this important work? PAR reminds us that at least part of the answer lies in the use of consulting teachers. Third, making tough decisions about individuals’ employment status is never easy. But it must be done, and done with care and rigor.
Through a collaborative labor-management structure like a PAR governance board, districts and their unions can make these high-stakes decisions in ways that are both fair and accountable.