TFA is Shrinking Again

Where is our teacher?

Where is our teacher?

Teach for America is shrinking.  Not only is the number of applications going down, but placements are declining.  Mercedes Schneider reports that the 5,800 TFA members were reduced to 4,100 last year.  Given that there were 20,000 fewer applicants in 2016 than in 2013, TFA will have to make some organizational changes.

The President of TFA, Elisa Beard provides some interesting quotes.

 

 

 

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Competency Based Education Questioned

by Laura McCrary

computers-332238_1280Competency based learning is not really new, but it is newly promoted.  Students use computer-based courses broken into chunks of content.  They can move at their own pace within a course and across grade levels.  Strategies vary.  Some programs grant credit for relevant experience.  Some combine online and in class instruction.  Many collect student data which is used to track progress.

The concerns raised relate to quality and intrusive data.  Opponents argue that competency based learning is really a cost saving tool with very questionable quality control.  The federal government supports projects.

We have an online charter high school that uses this approach.  Its graduation rate is about 17%.  We should pay attention.  Read Laura’s comment.

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New Vision for Common Core Assessments?

business-15822_1280A manifesto appeared in support of a “new” approach to testing signed by a seemingly random list of educators and instructional materials developers.  It is frankly a little bizarre.  So, I looked up the federal grants they mention which support assessment.  Now, I understand why this collection of people is trying to build support. It is the federal department of education’s response to the Common Core testing fiasco.

I am not really opposed to at least some testing, especially if it is used to help students and teachers improve instruction.  When I used to be involved in testing, I was intrigued by the possibility of using technology for innovative learning–especially simulations and critical thinking.   These end of year marathons for which our district began to prepare 4o days in advance are, however, something else.

This new vision puts an emphasis on individualized learning.  Every student moves at his/her own pace.  Computerized testing periodically provides feedback.  This means cumulative data records must be kept on each child.

It troubles me. Children learn from each other.  Teachers facilitate that learning.  Computers are machines, not teachers.  Yet, I want computers in the classrooms.  I want children to have easy access to information, simulations, complex problems and alternative solutions.

We can’t be afraid of the unknown.  We have to experiment–yes, even with our children.  We cannot move blindly forward either.  Technology is creating change all around us that we all recognize.  Our phones are attached to us and too often control us.  Their convenience is addictive but not necessarily productive.  I am sitting here at 7:30 in the morning with my computer on my lap.  I should be outside!  Who is in control, me or the machine?

So here is the manifesto.  We will be OK as long as we are watching, thinking and in control.

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How to Fix Failing Schools and How Not To

directory-466935_1280The League asked the Florida State Board of Education:  “What Next?”    What should be happening to fix problems, not just point fingers?

The New York Times published some solutions that are working in Union City, New Jersey.  Note that it is not Newark, New Jersey where big money and celebrities tried to impose charter school solutions. Less hoopla and more methodical, careful community planning make a difference in Union City.  See how.

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Congress Passes New Federal ESEA Bill

legislation1We posted several analyses of the updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Current legislation, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is on its way to the President’s desk.   No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top are gone.  What remains are annual testing requirements and support for charter schools.  Responsibility for most education accountability reverts to the states.  Thus, each state can determine how test scores are used for teacher evaluation, school grades and the Common Core.

States are required to identify schools with under performing students and help fix them.  What this means is unclear.  For a good analysis, see Education Week.  Many provisions are subject to different interpretations.  One thing is clear, citizens need to turn to their state legislatures  to make reasonable, valid decisions about how test scores are used.  Continued policies that force districts and teachers to focus instruction on ‘passing the test’ can be changed, if the voters insist.

 

Facts to Counter Bias Against Teaching Profession

skills-835747_1280Some groups are making teachers into scapegoats to justify opposition to unions, taxes, or facing problems in low income neighborhood schools.   In a 20014 speech, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan claimed that academically, our teachers were in the bottom third of their college class.  He argues that new teachers are underprepared, and low-income students get short changed.  Somehow better qualified teachers would improve our ranking on international tests.

A New York Times article by Daniel Willingham Teachers Aren’t Dumb takes a different view and gives facts to back it up.

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Testing, When is Enough, Enough?

dmbtestI wrote this piece as a lead in to the testing forum sponsored by the Gainesville Sun on September 16th.  The issues are there.  So are some ways to think a little differently about current tests and testing alternatives.  The article was published today.  It starts like this:  “Florida has been using tests to drive instruction for years”.  It ends with putting Florida’s legislature to the test.   In between are  some ways to think about improving our schools.  See the article here.

Nathan Crabbe, the Gainesville Sun’s editor, announced a forum on testing to be held on September 16th at 6 p.m. in Pugh Hall on the University of Florida  campus.  He will moderate a panel that includes Superintendent Owen Roberts, Sue Legg (President Alachua County League of Women Voters, Susan Bowles (Teacher of the Year), and Shan Goff, Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Rawlings is Dancing…and Singing…and Acting…and Creating Art!

rawlings1Can you imagine a school like this?  It is real.  Rawlings School has been transformed.  It was one of our lowest achieving public schools last year.  Three months later there is an excitement and energy.  Rawlings is now a magnet school for the arts.

Inside the building, the space is beautiful and well lit.  It is designed for music, art, dance, and theater.  As you enter the school, music will greet you.  I plan to follow the school to see their new staff in action.  Follow it with me.

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