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Mark Gardner
Vancouver, WA
teacher thinker tinkerer dad
Interests: teaching, learning, teacher leadership, curriculum, assessment
Recent Activity
Glad to know this might be useful! Another post on a similar vein involved my wrestling match with "data" and how to make sense of it: http://www.storiesfromschool.org/2014/05/reducing-my-students-to-a-number.html Thanks for reading and commenting!
I absolutely believe the month calculation, Janet! And I'd love to see team teaching become more the norm than the exception.... and in ratios you describe, not 70:2 instead of 35:1. The adult collaboration not only helps kids not slip through the cracks (we all know that certain kids simply connect with different adults) it also models for kids what good collaboration can look like...something they probably don't get to see often.
So glad you wrote this. It is very easy for people to assume that just because there are aspects of our job that are difficult that we don't love it. We talk policy and critique the system BECAUSE we love it and want it to thrive.
I'm surprised there is a school that isn't labeled as "failing" for those 14 kids to go to. They must only be in step one of improvement, or that weird pre-step? Or their "n" is so small that their scores were not considered? I know I've been on the other side of this issue from the get go, Tom, and I still support that we did not change our evaluation law--one flawed policy plus another flawed policy doesn't make sound policy. We know that NCLB is flawed policy that ultimately hurts kids. Unfortunately, until there is proof that the policy hurts kids, we're easily dismissed as just a bunch of whiny teachers. Now, when the policy can be enacted as written we can finally, unfortunately, have proof of its ridiculousness. Is it right that this is what has to happen for policy to change? No. Is adherence to flawed policy going to actually leave more kids behind? Absolutely. It's an injustice. BUT I am very, very confident that if Washington st. had caved and agreed to tie state test scores to teacher evaluations, we wouldn't be seeing the movement like what we see in the article you linked. It's a stupid political game, and some kids are going to suffer in the meantime. We need to tell the stories, like you are, of the suffering and the negative impact on students that following this law will have. Without that reality, we only would have philosophy and conjecture to stand upon. Now, sadly, we'll have real stories instead of hypotheticals and maybe a dose of reality is what is needed to make flawed policy go away.
I'm glad you've been able to find the positive in the movement. I've been teaching for thirteen years and only had my own space for two of those years. In most cases I was the one with no home base moving into others' classrooms during their plan periods. One challenge we in my building encountered was the inequity in determining who moved, how many times they moved, and how far they had to move. I had one year where I moved after every period, and three of my four classrooms (I occupied the same room twice, though not consecutively) were not only in different wings of the school, but also on different floors. I've taught English in science classrooms, speech in the band room, and this year I'll be teaching senior lit and comp in a Spanish classroom. I even had one colleague who, over the course of five periods, was actually assigned to six different classrooms, because his class would meet in one room on M, W, F, and another on T and Th. It creates chaos in the minds and briefcases of even the most organized teachers. Rather than sharing rooms, I'd rather see schools innovate to share students...to team-teach, to collaborate in instruction not just in instructional space.
This wins. I think I will be realigning my curriculum...
I will also point out that the recipe for "buttercream" cupcake frosting is basically powdered sugar and crisco. CRISCO. The stuff I fry pork chops in. (While that sounds like an argument in favor, it is not.) As a high school teacher, I don't see much of the kind of interruption you describe for birthdays, but I will say that the prom and homecoming "will you go with me?" production numbers have gotten ridiculous. Still not as invasive as the every other day birthdays that must be going on in each wing of the elementary school. School can be fun without cupcakes. Birthdays can be acknowledged, sure, but leave the party for home. I believe that cupcakes for all are more about parents trying to posture for one another and feebly trying to facilitate junior's social standing through sugar-bribery about as long-lasting as the sugar rush itself.
David, the teachers in California are very lucky to have you has their advocate.
My son's third grade in Vancouver was also piloting the SBAC. His only real complaint was that he thought he got the wrong test because it seemed much harder than what his friends said they had been asked to do. I don't know if they are in the stage where the assessment is adaptive and he was getting into tougher questions? The technology is certainly going to be a confounding factor on many levels. Powers assume that all kids have experience and access--they're digital natives after all--but the reality is not so. There are plenty of nine-year-olds out there that do not have their own iPhone, despite the claims of ubiquity thanks to a handful of visible permissive parents.
I absolutely agree, Greg, and those difficult conversations are also sometimes what vilify administrators: anyone who has to tell someone what they don't want to hear will easily be turned into the "bad guy." Done well, with a foundation of a good relationship and strong interpersonal skills, even those tough conversations can turn out a net positive. Sadly, the conversations sometimes become ego bumping power struggles--on all sides involved.
Exactly: we want teachers implementing AND we want teachers leading. Ideally, teachers lead the implementation of the policies that teachers lead the authorship of.
So true. Receiving feedback is a learned practice, and something that requires some reflection in itself. The book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck has made the rounds so much I worry that the message might get dismissed as cliche despite the value of what she discusses...but in the book she talks about how people with different mindsets receive feedback--and what a "fixed mindset" individual and a "growth mindset" individual does with that feedback. I've had to consciously check myself when I receive feedback, both positive and negative, for how I process it. That concept of mindset has transformed the way I look at teaching and learning as well as the way I think about TPEP.
Great work, Spencer--and I wish more and more teachers would get inspired to ask that same question: "why not me?" Teachers have the expertise to do far more than we often give ourselves credit for, and there are many opportunities for teachers to learn, explore, advocate... the tough part is finding time. Sometimes it is worth the effort to write those sub plans, though, even if being gone is more work than being present!
Even just sharing the roles you've grown into (or adopted willingly, or not so willingly) would be helpful!
Ultimately, this all would be moot if ESEA would just disappear. I have worked formally and informally with few different districts around this corner of the state with their implementation of TPEP, and all are adhering to the law but are approaching their local implementation and decision-making very differently--which is the double-edged sword that mandates such as the "must" are trying to prevent. Like the Common Core, the rollout in some cases has been botched, which in some cases has soured people on the new evaluation model despite its strengths, and this sourness is the result of policy decisions at the local level that may or may not be wise. My point: my concern is how effectively schools will read the "must." Thankfully, the "must" doesn't state a required proportion of our final evaluation that must be tied to test scores. Also, a wise reading of the law will reveal that even if state tests must be used, they will be but one of many data points from multiple measures by which a teacher monitors student growth. In that reading, you're right, probably not a big deal. A bigger problem is when either a handful of districts OR one major district such as Seattle implement unwisely and ruin it for everyone else. It is also a matter of principle, of course. Using test scores, particularly tests whose content and prompts have not really been explored, vetted, and refined (and there does not seem to be structures in place for the revision of the standards/test upon feedback from practitioners) is not particularly good practice. We may be delaying the conversation, which will perhaps give logic more time to prevail.
Linda, I totally agree. When we stand up against whatever policy or program we oppose, we have to make sure our arguments are the best arguments. I have to admit that my personal opinions on CCSS are far closer to "indifferent" than "passionate," mainly because of my context (high school English, where the CCSS is a shift from previous standards but not in a way that I believe is unreasonable). Elementary teachers and math teachers in particular, certainly have much more valid things to say in opposition to CCSS than I do--and THOSE are the voices that ought to be raised. I have no authentic voice, and in my opinion, very little place, in that particular argument--in a sense it is similar to non-educator policymakers making education policy: I have no right as a high school English teacher to presume to know what is best for my elementary-teaching colleagues. My relative indifference to CCSS in my classroom does NOT mean that others should be indifferent as well. We all must advocate from what we know toward what we think is best. Whether that means engaging at the building or district level to help influence curricular decisions or to engage at the local or national level to make broader changes there. Other issues, such as the new evaluation system, I am very well versed in and feel much more strongly about. Because that is something I am informed about, passionate about, and have influence around, I do engage at the building, district, local and state levels in trying to help shape how this new system is implemented. This is what we all need to do. Perhaps it was shortsighted of me to try to parse out just one part (the creativity and joy piece) of these bigger arguments. My message, about joy and creativity, was in direct response to what I hear among my own colleagues but also in response to other voices being posted online here and there about these matters. I find the joy and creativity argument to be passive and self-indulgent...and far to easy for the "powers" to dismiss as petty whining. Also, I've been thinking more about that idea of "serenity" as you raised before. The line "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change" is not the line that resonates the most to me in this context. Rather, the better line is "the courage to change the things I can." Teachers with the courage to "do" change rather than just talk about it will be the ones who can make the change they want to see. By that I mean I could sit and write on this blog until my fingers break off but it will do no good unless I go out and do something about what I care about (and I do, in my case, what I care about is ensuring that the system serves to help teachers grow as practitioners, not be bogged down with documenting their practice). It might not seem like it is possible sometimes, but I do think teachers can change the broader system for the betterment of our students--and it will not be easy, but it will take courage. It will be painful--what's the saying, if you stick your head out you're more likely to get your head chopped off? That takes courage. Linda, thank you for reading and engaging in a civil dialogue (what I perceive to be civil at least, I hope you're feeling the same) since in many other domains, the comments section is nothing but polarized polemics and ad hominem attacks. Civil dialogue is a lost art, but I believe is the critical for enacting lasting change.
Linda, I'm glad you can see my main point. However, I wasn't intending to compare "acceptance of CCSS" with accepting a cancer diagnosis, just giving the background for how that book showed up. And... I didn't say to accept with serenity... at the end I do call on people to make their voices heard and that we must argue against what we think is not best for education. (See the last two paragraphs of the post). No matter what, the first step in making change is figuring out what we are in control of and what we are not. I likewise agree that the standards are developmentally inappropriate in many cases. That argument is the argument policymakers need to hear. In fact, I agree with every policy point you make in your comment. In no way is my post asking teachers to just shut up and accept these :) but instead to make sure that we are arguing the right points when we stand in opposition of them. Ultimately, we need to make sure that our reasons for opposing whatever we oppose cannot be rooted in arguments around joy and creativity, which are wholly in our control. If our arguments include those points, it is far too easy for those in power to disregard everything we say.
So right. This not a raise. This isn't whiny teachers asking for more money. This is teachers justifiably asking for (1) what voters already said they supported for teachers and (2) eliminating de facto yearly salary DECREASES.
I'd be okay with eliminating early releases, late starts, etc., if they instead funded one LID day per month where students did not attend but teachers could engage in meaningful collaboration. Local bargaining agreements could then figure out what proportion of that time is taken up by district or building meetings, and what proportion is provided to teachers for collaboration. Actually, scratch that. We need what the other high-performing school systems in the world have: DAILY collaboration time. (1) reduce each teacher's overall student load, (2) increase the amount of preparation and collaboration time each day, and I'd bet the farm that the result is higher student achievement. We can write new standards and tests until our hands fall off, but nothing will change until the issue of time is addressed in a meaningful way.
I haven't begun digging into the details of the Thirty Million Words research, but I wonder if the key is the connection fostered (by language) between parent and child rather than the linguistic development itself? We teachers know that learning and growth occur best in an environment of good connections... No matter what, this line is key: "The most important thing non-teaching education stakeholders can do to support education in this country is to help parents help their children." This could easily be misinterpreted as the government nosing in on our parenting. The reality is that success in school starts at home, period. Those who overcome absent parents and home struggles are the wonderful exceptions, and sadly not the rule.
I'm with you on the priorities: I'd rather see class sizes reduced and more investment in high-poverty schools before I get my COLA. I'm just a few years from maxing out on the state salary schedule anyway, so the COLA will be even greater when I no longer am stepping due to experience. Every year of my career, I too have done side work, right now some months that amounts to a third of my total take-home pay in order to supplement my teaching income. (True, all this is to pay back my student loans and some poor credit-based decisions from my single days, but since those public schools I attended didn't make sure I understood interest rates even though I learned calculus... maybe I should sue?) Smaller classes absolutely do impact my students and their learning. BUT, paying a strong competitive wage to early service teachers so they don't burn out and turn away so quickly would certainly impact students. Better yet, pay them more, give them smaller classes, more collaboration time, and appropriate resources for professional development and we might just have the beginning of a solution.
This is great information. My big worry is that student growth percentiles LOOK like a very simple solution to anyone not directly involved with education. And since those are the people who make decisions about education policy, we need to inform them.
What a wonderful way to entice good people into the teaching profession. And the bonus is that no good teacher who wants to continue supporting his/her family will take on a challenging caseload of students, as that will result in data-driven public embarrassment of the kind that would drive a good, hireable employee into some other profession in search of a family wage and an iota of respect. I wonder if the Times could be sued for defamation (by individual teachers in a class action sort) if it were to make claims about teacher quality or effectiveness related to this decontextualized student data, the suit under the premise that partial information constitutes libelous publication. What if they were to also publish the names of the parents whose kids are associated with each teacher... after all, the education of children is a partnership. I wonder at the logic: will this "hold teachers accountable"? Will this inspire a crappy teacher to suddenly work harder? Or will it just further villainize and demean the profession to the point that the teaching force will only be full of quick-to-burn martyrs and babysitters cycling through a revolving door?
Thanks so much for sharing this perspective--ultimately, what I take away from this is bigger than how I can better work with students who have dyslexia. Rather, it is more about what our system has been and what we need to reconsider: as you point out, too often, we are deficit focused... we look for where kids fail and pour energy in to that instead of looking for ways for them to cultivate their strengths. I see the same at all levels of education, from the classroom to policy-making. It is easy to label a kid, a school, or a system as failing if we only adopt the perspective of what struggles or failures exist. We can always find those. Instead, as you point out, we need to harness the strengths each student, school, or system has going for it.
I like your loophole. I think there might already exist such language, though, where the current law (RCW 28a.405.100f) says that "student growth data that is relevant to the teacher and subject matter" can be used. Honestly, it would be easy to make the case that your third grade test scores are relevant to neither you nor your subject matter (since the standards for your subject matter are different from grade level to grade level). My worry is that when the law is opened up for revisions, some public-school-hating policymakers will jump on the opportunity to tinker with more than just a "can" to "must" shift.