The ins and outs of standards-based grading.
At least once a month I hear from a journalist whose school district is moving toward standards-based grading—being measured on whether students know the content and not whether they do the work (or, for that matter, show up). Peg Tyre summed up
the issue nicely in the New York Times this weekend. I think journalism on this topic, this piece included, tends to set up too simple of a dichotomy: you grade students on being friendly and compliant, or you grade them on mastery of material. It is possible, and common, to set up a traditional grading system that doesn’t credit “good behavior,” as the headline provocatively suggests.
But the piece captures the general idea, and shows through example how a reformed system works in real life. A frequent, understandable criticism of standards-based grading is that it allows students to slack on homework and other tasks, because in the end all that matters is whether they know the material. The middle school Tyre featured in the piece has come up with what seems like sensible balance. For example, homework doesn’t count toward a student’s grade, but he or she cannot retake tests for better scores unless they complete the homework.
If the districts you cover have not yet adopted standards-based grading, they are likely to consider it soon, so it is a good idea to look at how it is (and isn’t) working elsewhere.
Giving thanks: It gets better.
I have spent so many hours with American middle schoolers that I think I can safely, and sadly, say that whatever schools are doing to prevent bullying is not working. This is especially true when it comes to homosexuality. As I wrote in my book
, “fag” is still considered the greatest insult one 12-year-old can spew at another, and while kids may tell you on a survey that they think being gay is okay, their ugly actions (and words) speak far louder.
Much is made, and written, about school anti-bullying guidelines and programs. Unfortunately the policies are a mass of grey area, they go unenforced, and until teachers actually sit with middle schoolers at the back of the field trip bus they will forever be ignorant of the worst offenses. It makes me sick to think about my friends and relatives having endured even for a moment the anxiety and shame typical of gay preteenage-hood.
Don’t get me wrong: I am glad we are adopting policies and guidelines and character-education lessons and all that. They will, however, never have the power of every single adult modeling truly accepting values and behavior. And given that that
is not happening anytime soon, given that we are not going to stop the perpetrators, we need to focus on helping the victims. In that spirit I’d like to bestow my Thanksgiving gratitude on the It Gets Better Project
, which in concept and execution is more powerful than any anti-bullying effort I know or could imagine. In these videos, which you probably already heard of but might not have taken time to watch, thousands of gay adults explain to young people that life as they know it now—in which each day might be an exercise in avoidance, insecurity, or worse—is not necessarily the life they will live as adults. They will grow into love. Simply put, it gets better.
I would like to read about what kind of impact this project is having on the internal lives of gay teens. Obviously not an easy story to pin down, but to hear what students who have seen the videos make of them, and what they think of their school-based programs, would be interesting. I am familiar with critiques of the project—it’s too easy, it’s not concrete, etc.—but I am so emotionally drawn to it that I would like to see a Nobel Prize created for Awesomeness, and Dan Savage
be named the first recipient. I would like to read more journalism that goes inside gay children’s minds, which only seems to happen these days after they die.
Leaving our high schoolers behind.
Do read this analysis
by Chad Aldeman of Education Sector on why it might be that NAEP scores have improved over the long term for younger students but not older ones. It is likely the same trends hold in your own districts, and if so—or if not—this would be a great national issue to localize in a story. One thing I wonder: Has anyone looked at the connection, or lack thereof, between whether a state has a high-stakes graduation exams and whether its graduates are truly ready for college (perhaps indicated by percent in remediation at college)?
I am always getting e-mails and IMs from young friends when I know they are in class. I scold them, and at the same time, I know I wouldn’t be able to resist the Internet on my laptop during lectures either. Clickers to keep tabs on student learning in colleges—and, just as important, to keep them from sleeping and surfing—is not new. I remember the first wave
from 2005, and use of the technology predates that. But the media has taken to clicker stories lately: Here is one
from Trish Wilson of the Philadelphia Inquirer in September, and another
from Jacques Steinberg at the New York Times this week.
I love stories about teaching and learning in college classrooms almost as much as I love articles proclaiming the primacy of pie
When students fail themselves.
I have great respect for my colleague and friend Jay Mathews at the Washington Post, but I was disturbed to read
that only this week did he learn that lack of effort had anything to do with the stagnant or worse performance of so-so students in Montgomery County, Maryland, and, by extension, America. Isn’t this obvious to those who spend time with teenagers who aren’t super-strivers? What a wide variety of students put into school, and what they get out of it, should be a major focus of our education coverage, from elementary school through college.
This isn’t to excuse the myriad ways in which schools fail their students, but sometimes students fail themselves, and we’ve set up structures that enable them to do so. It is imperative to explore how and why.
Hooking up, analyzed.
While submersed in years of middle school research, I kept hearing how girls had gained so much power. If that was true, why was I watching them abase themselves to impress boys every day? Yes, they spoke up more. They were sassy. But an awfully large number let boys grind into them at dances even when it made them uncomfortable and cared more than anything what boys thought of them. To me, that wasn’t power at all.
Annie Lowrey writes in Slate
this week about research on teenagers that confirms my concerns. Peter Arcidiacono and Marjorie McElroy of Duke and Andrew Beauchamp of Boston College used Add Health
data to determine how high schoolers pair up. They found
that girls who don’t want to have sex wind up doing so anyway, because having a relationship is that important to them (and boys aren’t interested in relationships without sex). These findings aren’t surprising to anyone who know teen culture well, but empirical data about adolescent relationships is rare—check out the study, “Terms of Endearment” (really?), for more.
How four-year-olds spend their time.
Latino children in Illinois are far less likely to go to preschool than their peers are, according to a new report by Bruce Fuller that’s being discussed today at a meeting EWA is cosponsoring in Chicago. Rosalind Rossi wrote about
the research in today’s Sun-Times.
You frequently see some form of the statement “Latino children are more likely to be taken care of by relatives,” but I have always wanted to see beyond that. I would love to read a story that compares, in up-close narrative, how three- and four-year-olds in various forms of care (including the aforementioned relatives) spend their time. What kinds of communication are they exposed to and do they engage in? How much time do they spend in front of screens? What kind of emphasis is put on interpersonal relations, manners, following instructions, creativity, play, work?
In all the conversation around funding of preschool, this could be a powerful piece of work.
You need to learn more about professional development.
I have finally consumed every word of this massive Education Week package
on professional development, most of it by Stephen Sawchuk, along with Bess Keller and Mary Ann Zehr (and others I have probably missed). Thank goodness for it. The topic is all but ignored in the policy conversation and journalism, yet so important, as PD swallows so much money and time.
“Swallow” has a negative tinge to it, which might not be fair. Except that it too often is. There are many people out there in the policy world who think professional development is a waste of time and money, because mediocre teachers cannot be improved. That’s an awfully cynical view, and even if you don’t share it you know that teachers have to waste a lot of time in training that is not well thought-out or implemented. This set of articles sheds some light on the bad vs. good—there is
good out there; I liked this piece
on Lexington, Mass.—and most of all, the inability to even determine which is which.
My favorite quote in the project: “There’s probably not a district out there that doesn’t think it’s doing PLCs,” one superintendent said. YES. And there’s probably not a journalist out there that hasn’t written about a district adopting PLCs. But writing clearly about what that means and doesn’t mean in reality? We need more of that, to say the least.
Warning: Education Week is not good about getting articles in front of the paywall, so you might not be able to read all of this. Then again, if you are really interested in education, you should be subscribing to EdWeek anyway.
The Chronicle of Higher Ed has published a doozy of a first-person account
from a guy who writes students’ papers for him. I dare you to read it without feeling a little ill. I am surprised he makes only $66,000, frankly. Less surprised that education students are among his most frequent clients, unfortunately.
The winner of Slate’s classroom contest.
After a month and hundreds of cool entries, here
is the winner of Slate’s Hive contest to redesign a fifth-grade classroom for the 21st century. Would you like to teach or learn in it?
Leaving charters behind in Chicago.
Linda Lutton of WBEZ and Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago collaborated on a project about the student attrition rate at the city’s charter schools, which is higher than at traditional schools. It is a worthwhile listen
, given how often people talk about charters “pushing out” or “counseling out” students but rarely have substantive reporting behind those comments.
It’s not that the schools portrayed in these pieces actively encouraged these kids to leave (although at least parent quoted seems to be saying that). Higher standards certainly played a part. It’s hard to imagine how to hold on to a student who says, after leaving her charter for a regular school, “I like it a lot better. It’s so much easier. I don’t have to worry about stupid things. ... And I don’t be waking up every morning like, ‘Oh my God, I gotta go to school.’”
The most surprising element, to me, was how much money it costs to fall short at some of these charter schools—fines for breaking rules, relatively high fees for makeup courses. I suppose it’s easy for a family with no money to just say “to hell with that.” The underlying question is whether the school operators want to make that conclusion more difficult to come to.
Why computer science matters.
Are your universities and school systems cutting back on computer science? If so, you should care, according to this important and elegant piece
by Kevin Carey in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.
(Full disclosure: I am married to a coder, and I agree.)
RtTT: You can write a rubric, then life happens.
Given that the Race to the Top grants were doled out according to such a specific rubric, and states sometimes won or lost by a hair, it is quite a story that in states with new leaders, we really have no idea which pieces of the promises will endure, and what the Department of Education will do about that.
Take the case of Ohio, which Catherine Candisky laid out
in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday. Will the feds withdraw the whole $400 million if Gov.-elect John Kasich gets rid of certain elements laid out in the proposal? Could the state get compensatory credit, as it were, for Kasich’s support of charters, as a spokesman suggested? If the reality of reforms or even a new leader’s stated intentions do not match the RtTT application, yet the state holds onto its funds, is that fair to states that came close but lost out? If funds are withdrawn, might they be diverted to the also-rans?
Ohio is not the only Race to the Top winner to have a new leader; so do the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee. New leaders would not necessarily divert the reform agendas that won them RtTT money, but it’s a question to pursue, aggressively. (And know that continuity in leadership does not prevent other wrenches
from being tossed into the political works too.)
What are parents doing with the value-added info?
In the debate about public release about teachers’ value-added scores, you see a lot of quotes
of the “parents would want to know” variety, but not a lot of quotes from parents themselves. Three months after the Los Angeles Times project
blasted into the edusphere, I think we are due for some articles, in California and elsewhere, that really get into the issue of what parents want, or do not want, regarding this information, and what they are doing with it if they indeed have access to it.
While everyone debates what Joel Klein’s resignation
means for education, I’d love to talk about what it means for journalism: The leader of the country’s most prominent school system quits and A REPLACEMENT IS PICKED and nobody heard a word?!
I would love to blame this on the talented Jenny Medina leaving for the L.A. bureau
, but there are other terrific reporters in New York. I have a feeling it has more to do with a sort of awesome (and scary) degree of discipline within the Bloomberg administration.
I really wanted one of the kids’ entries to rise to the level of finalist in the Slate Hive project I have been leading to design a better classroom for the 21st century. Alas, that didn’t happen. I was rooting for the school-bus classroom
too. Still, there are very cool finalists
at the top. Most of them took the classroom outdoors, in full or in part, and/or divided classrooms into a variety of learning spaces. Stay tuned to find out the winner later this week.
PISA, leaning even lower.
, who has embarked on interesting work on international education as a New America Foundation fellow, has a new piece
out in the Atlantic. She discusses research by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessmann that slices PISA results compellingly, and disturbingly, thinly: state-by-state, the smartest white kids in America still don’t fare well compared to peers in other countries. The methodology is not clear to me—they laid PISA results over NAEP in order to drill down?—but the message is.
Whenever I’ve spent a significant amount of time observing a school, the teachers seem to be figuring out a new curriculum in some subject or another. This post
, by teacher blogger Jennifer Scoggin, reminded me of that. This is a great, simple story idea as far as I’m concerned: go into any school and find out how long the curriculum in each subject has been around, and what came before that, and what came before that.
A la recherche du temps perdu.
Helping a reporter on a foreign language story reminded me of a piece I’d always wanted to do, which I will now suggest you
do. Look at how many years of foreign language instruction students in your districts received in elementary and middle school, and whether they wound up placed in Spanish I in high school anyway. This is nothing against studying langauges—pienso que es muy importante
—but I know way too many kids who were in this boat.
Gilding the lily in college admissions offices.
Eric Hoover of the Chronicle of Higher Education
did a terrific job in the New York Times
this weekend—as part of a new collaboration between the two publications—exploring the aggressive recruiting top colleges conduct even among students they don’t have any intention of admitting. I tend to dislike admissions stories because they too often take the flavor of, “Dylan applied to 19 Ivies and she doesn’t know where she’ll get in!” (Yes, I know there are not 19 Ivies.)
But this piece lays out a far more meaningful issue than stressed-out affluent teenagers and parents. Universities clearly have become far more ambitious about drawing in applicants even though they are not actually increasing the size of their freshman classes. The goal is more impressive selectivity numbers. And the consensus seems to be that the larger applicant pools do not improve the quality of the student body; after all, Hoover points out, “the most competitive applicants couldn’t get more amazing if they levitated.”
This is a good story to localize: students who were recruited only to be rejected.
Is that cut really a cut?
A follow to my post yesterday on budgets: No matter what your superintendent says, a no-growth budget may be a bummer, but it is not a “cut.” Trimming to his or her proposed increases is not a cut either, if the total budget is not reduced from what it was the year before. Just because the politicians and PR folk play with semantics doesn’t mean you should too.
Questions to ask when budgets are cut.
If you have ever had to cut your household spending, you know it makes you rethink each of your expenditures, your priorities, your life even. When school systems and universities face big budget cuts, likewise, it’s a chance for some soul-searching—and for journalists, it should be a chance to ask some tough questions. How big is the district’s work force compared to its student enrollment, and how have those numbers been moving over the last decade? How much do employees contribute to health care premiums and what are their copays? What kind of retirement packages are top administrators getting? How big are class sizes, especially for electives in middle and high school? Budget conversations can, and should, go beyond how many people are (or aren’t) hired and fired, so the journalism should too.
The "why not" story.
Yesterday I mentioned that if a college you cover doesn’t offer any online coursework, that is a story in its own right. There are a lot of potential “why not” stories floating around in the K-12 universe too. Why do reforms with so much national momentum pass by certain jurisdictions completely? It is an interesting and important question to ask, regardless of what people think of the reforms. If you find yourself writing about a teachers contract
that hinges on health care and ignores evaluation and performance, or if you are in one of the 11 states
or many districts without charter schools, that doesn’t mean you’ve dodged a reportorial bullet. It means you are due for a “why not” story.
Labels: teacher_evaluation, teacher_evaluations
Lazy Headlining 101. Unimaginative U.
When I titled my last blog post “Hybrid U.” I was really just aiming for a teachable moment. And I couldn’t think of anything better. College culture has handed us two of the easiest, most obvious headline/title cliches in the universe, “Blank U” and “Blank 101.” (The cousins of “Blank 2.0” in technology stories.) I sort of want us all to resolve to ban them. But then I won’t have them to fall back on.
As I have said before, if you cover higher ed, you have
to write about online learning. If your beat is narrowly drawn to cover only schools that don’t offer it, then that’s a story too: why not? All the better if you show what the actual course-taking or -teaching experience is like, which given the nature of the endeavor is no small feat. It is difficult to achieve a compelling and illuminating level of descriptiveness about someone typing on a computer. (The lede of the story about me writing this blog item would include messy hair, frequent toggles back to e-mail, and lots of pauses while I lean my chin on my hand, thinking
. And any sane editor would send it back for more.)
But it’s not impossible, as you can see from Tomorrow’s College
, Marc Parry’s piece this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the mashup of face-to-face and online learning becoming ubiquitous on many campuses. I love how Marc shows us the rhythm of these students’ learning and studying, is not afraid to pull back and make unattributed assertions gleaned from thorough reporting, and lays out the pros and cons through the students’ own observations. It doesn’t hurt the power of the story that a woman admits to cheating, though it may hurt her week.