I just went to observe a high school math class for a course that I’m taking. This happened to me last spring too, but jeeze, I really do miss being in the classroom.
January 29, 2007
September 30, 2006
I went to a panel on the vote no on 1 issue at the medical school yesterday. It was packed, the response mostly positive, and it was neat to see how the other half lives for an hour. However, I came away with this weird feeling of dissatisfaction with education programs as compared to medical schools.
Maybe I’m generalizing, but it really seems that doctors are trained as care-takers in their schooling, not just as health professionals. When the doctors on the panel spoke they really talked to the med students as future doctors who concern themselves with not just physical health, but social justice as well. It seems obvious to me that teachers should be prepaired in the same way, with social issues as a central concern in the curriculum. However, that isn’t how it is. Future teachers are expected to be competent in disciplinary content and pedagogical strategies. Somehow the humanity of what we do is de-emphasized and forgotten along the way.
I’m sure some of the folk in the business of teacher preparation will disagree with me, but there was definitely a vibe at this medical school panel that I never get across the street in the education departments.
October 26, 2005
There’s an article on wsmv.com about how Andrea Conte, First Lady of TN, has launched an internet safety campaign. As far as I can tell, it means that there is a website, a book, and some “educational materials” to help elementary schools and parents drill a few basic saftey guidelines (like don’t give out your personal info) into kids’ heads.
Some quotations from the article:
“If we begin in school, then work with their families, I think we can begin to make a difference” – state Education Commissioner Lana Seviers
“The beauty of this is that it doesn’t have to be done in a classroom or assembly. It can be done by parents who sign on to the Web site, who will read the book with children and watch the movie at home” – Internet Keep Safe Coalition spokesperson Iris Beckwith
“Parents are the first line of defense” – Internet Keep Safe Coalition founder Jackie Leavitt
What I’m wondering is, besides providing educational materials, how are families involved in this whole deal? According to the article Conte emailed elementary school principals about the campaign, “instructing them to inform parents”. Oh, so schools will either teach it to the kids themselves, or teach parents to teach the kids. Sounds a lot to me like an extra burdened for already overwhelmed schools. Let’s give the schools one more thing to teach, provide some half-assed “materials”, don’t provide training for teachers, emphasize the importance of involving families, then leave the rest up to schools. Meanwhile we get a nice little press release about how we care about the children.
Tennessee first lady launches Internet safety campaign [Channel 4 News, wsmv.com]
October 3, 2005
An article in Saturday’s New York Times details a report from the Government Accountability Office which found that the administrations has been spending money to analyze news for hints of approval and to disseminate “covert propaganda”.
Lawyers from the accountability office, an independent nonpartisan arm of Congress, found that the administration systematically analyzed news articles to see if they carried the message, “The Bush administration/the G.O.P. is committed to education.”
The auditors declared: “We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds.”
The report also sharply criticized the Education Department for telling Ketchum Inc., a public relations company, to pay Mr. Williams for newspaper columns and television appearances praising Mr. Bush’s education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act.
No, Mr. Bush, it’s not suspicious at all that you have to pay people to fake news reports about the success of your education program. Why don’t you just skip the middleman and pay teachers to tell kids whatever you want? Oh right, you’re already trying to do that
My favorite part:
In March, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said that federal agencies did not have to acknowledge their role in producing television news segments if they were factual. The inspector general of the Education Department recently reiterated that position.
The administration has a clear history of misunderstanding the meaning of the word “factual”. At the very least current events mentioned above make this clear. Perhaps some government funding might be set aside for vocabulary lessons? It would be like a retroactive No Child Left Behind act.
Buying of News by Bush’s Aides Is Ruled Illegal [New York Times]
In Pennsylvania, It Was Religion vs. Science, Pastor vs. Ph.D., Evolution vs. the Half-Fish [New York Times]
June 29, 2005
An article in the New York Times today recaps a City Hall hearing in New York City. Test scores for the NYC fourth grade English test went up 10 percentage points this year. The question is, why? Mayer Bloomberg and the current director of testing, Dr. Lori Mei, want to say it has everything to do with educational reforms that have been put in place:
…new intervention programs that spot lagging students early, identify deficiencies and provide extra help; the mayor’s mandatory retention program, plus extra resources like summer school to help those students; Saturday academies that prepared students for the tests; the new citywide curriculum; and more professional development for teachers.
Mr. Robert Tobias, a previous testing director for the city, listed some good reasons to be suspicious. With so much test preparation, are kids learning the material or just learning to “beat the test”? More than 900 “English language learners”, students not fluent in English, were exempted this year, eliminating a low-scoring group. Content of the test was more engaging this year, including passages about children’s literature rather than the dry nonfiction passages in the past. This test is also in its 7th year of implementation, and studies have shown that scores inevitably go up as teachers become better at teaching to a particular format. Lastly, since so many districts in the state, not just NYC, are improving, it is possible that it is the scaling of the test rather than education reforms that are pulling test scores up.
I am definitely inclined to agree with Mr. Tobias. There’s just too much reliance placed on these tests, not to mention education reform targeting test results. Are we tending back toward that time when schools were seen as assembly lines, and children as unfinished raw materials to be sent through a machine and some uniform end product to be spat out? Folks who claim that standardized tests are better because they are a reliable and objective measure need to stand back and remember what it is that we are trying to measure here. Is it standardized clones that schools aim to produce? “Reliable and objective” is great for bundling hay or quality assessment of rubbermaids, perhaps. I don’t think it should be the basis of measuring the learning and growth of our children.
The article concludes with this uplifting thought:
Robert Jackson, a councilman, seemed sympathetic to Mr. Tobias, but said that with the election approaching, he needed to know how he could convey such nuanced testing subtleties to voters. “What do I tell them?” he asked.
“If I were you,” said Mr. Tobias, “I’d say test scores are going up.” The room exploded with laughter.
Mr. Tobias was kidding, but everyone knew, come fall, from Staten Island to the Bronx, from Yonkers to Buffalo, that was precisely the sound bite they’d hear on the TV news.
Test Scores Are Up. So Why Isn’t Everybody Cheering? [New York Times Online]
June 27, 2005
B (still looking for an appropriate nickname) forwarded this op-ed article to me this morning about how teachers are so grossly underpaid that many of them have to keep second jobs over the summer or even during the school year. The authors point out that the starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree is around $15,000 less than the average across all professions. And with NCLB, there is even more pressure for teachers to do well, more job insecurity, but the same lousy salary. The only thing to work toward is not-getting-fired.
Imagine that scenario in the private sector. A chief executive decides he wants better performance from his company. He issues a mandate that all employees be highly qualified. Then he proposes, as No Child Left Behind does, that the staff members be more tightly controlled, that they conform closely to his top-down directives and that they be tested yearly to keep their jobs. And he wants all of this without raising salaries a penny. Who would want to work for such an outfit?
The authors then point out how rigorous demands are placed on teachers with serious consequences, yet so little respect is accorded the profession:
There’s almost something darkly comic about it all. We place the highest demands on a profession, and not just through the teacher-quality provisions of the legislation. We have unarticulated expectations that teachers be morally and ethically unimpeachable, possessed of dynamic, compelling personalities and agile minds and capable of guiding the learning, for example, of 35 hormonally charged 13-year-olds right after lunch.
After asking that of them, we pay them so little that they have to find work selling electronics and cleaning our houses. Is it any surprise that 45 percent of new teachers leave our schools within the first five years?
Why does this have to be an op-ed piece? Are these points not painfully obvious to any breathing human being? The authors suggest creating bonds to raise the necessary funds to find, train, and retain better educators. I don’t know anything about bonds, but it is clear that someone should be trying something to clear this problem up. It’s just like our government to put these laws in place without giving states the means to make the necessary changes.
Obviously, as a former teacher, it frustrates me to no end to think about this stuff. I think it has to do with the lack of respect that teachers get in this country. So many people think that it’s such an easy job, and that anyone with subject-matter knowledge can do it, and that teachers get it so great having so much vacation time. What people do not know is that good teachers need to give a little bit of themselves up every day to their students. It’s emotionally draining and time consuming. When I was teaching I worked 70 hour weeks, and that was when there were not special circumstances like exam-writing, parent conferences, sporting tournaments, or the like. I loved it, and I didn’t mind working hard for my kids, but it sure did burn when people told me that teachers should get paid less since they only work 9 months out of the year.
At any rate, I will quit with the ranting now. B is probably rolling her eyes as she reads. but hey, she started it, right?
Reading, Writing, Retailing [New York Times]
A Slashdot post from May highlights a consulting firm, Hollywood Math and Science Consulting, which helps television and movie producers to incorporate math into their scripts in a true and convincing manner. They make notes in the dialogue to make sure the math is as close to correct as possible, and the characters are interacting the way mathematicians would.
It’s kind of interesting how math has become more than just everyone’s worst memory of high school lately. What with “Good Will Hunting”, “A Beautiful Mind”, and “Murder by Numbers”, we are seeing math in mainstream culture more as something that can actually generate some neat ideas. Mathemeticians are also being portrayed more; often as lunatics, but lesbians all started out as serial killers and vampires, right? I just wonder if there will be some sort of cultural shift that will allow for reactions other than cringes when math comes up in conversation.