Monday, September 24, 2012

Race to the Top: Winners and Losers

It's been quite a while since I've utilized the blog, but my new tech discovery/addiction this month is Twitter. Twitter is wonderful for quick finds for #edtech and #edchat but it's also useful as a sounding board and keeping up with educational policy. (If you are a teacher and are new to Twitter, be sure to check out those hashtags - and don't forget to 'follow' me!) I have learned so much in the last few weeks about innovations and upsets in the education world. But it's not always possible to share my thoughts within 120 characters, hence I felt the need to reboot the blog for my occasional long-winded rant. This afternoon I caught up on one of my favorite shows - "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart". The last episode on my DVR had Bill Clinton as a guest. You can say what you want about Bill Clinton, he's extremely intelligent. He was talking about how innovation and change happen much faster when the government, non-profits, and businesses all work together instead of having competing interests. This reminded me of an article that I had read recently on Twitter about what makes the school system in Finland so successful - one of the features is that they do not encourage competition, but instead promote teamwork. This is exactly what is wrong with the Race to the Top program that is currently transforming education. It seems like Arne Duncan has forgotten a key component in any race, there is a winner and losers. Let me make that more plain - there is ONE winner; everyone else is a loser. It doesn't matter what your ending time is or which position you finish in - everyone past the number 1 spot loses. I'm sure that Duncan would point out that the nature of Race to the Top is not to create losers, but that everyone wins because they tried and participated, and innovation occurs in the race to beat everyone else. But that is not the way things work in the real world, and certainly not in a classroom. Let's look at the trickle down effect of the Race to the Top competition-based incentive. At a state level, Illinois has already put into place requirements that a percentage of a teacher's evaluation is based on student data. In my district, data also reflects on the principal. At least in my own experience, the principal is less worried about what interventions are best for the child's learning and classroom performance and more worried about making sure that the child is receiving interventions specific to the data set that they (the principal) will be judged on. The principal will be compared to others in the district to see where their data falls. Every principal wants their own data to look good and wants to "beat" the others, so they are less likely to share knowledge about what is or isn't working in their own building. At a school level, innovation can not happen when teachers are competing. Teachers who are competing with each other to be the most successful are much less likely to share successful resources, lessons, and materials with other teachers. When it comes time for an evaluation, the principal (or at least mine) will look at my data and compare it with the other Kindergarten teachers - and if my kids are not performing better than the other classes, it will be reflected in my file. What incentive do I have to share great lessons, intervention activities, etc. when I'm trying to "beat" the other teachers around me? Competition is a fundamental component of American society, and there are times and places to employ it in the classroom. But I think the people in the Education Department who are making up the rules to the game as they go should consider the fact that this game is going to have a WHOLE lot of losers...And those could ultimately be our country's children.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New school year...already got the blues

Wow...My school as been in session for just about 2 weeks, and it's sad to say that already that beginning of the year optimism is about gone. You know, teachers tend to be the 'glass half full type' - at least until about Thanksgiving or Christmas when we've just about lost our minds and are wondering WHEN we're going to start seeing the gains in our students! But this year I think it has fled very early in my building.

It could be the fact that for the first time, our school has not made AYP - that great and powerful standard by which all students (but really teachers and schools) are measured. (Though it actually has little to no impact on the actual children and their families, which are generally where the learning issues start - but I digress). But I don't think that's really what's bringing us all down. It could be that in a manic effort to somehow prevent another year of not making our AYP goal, our principal has instituted a rule of turning in a (somewhat) detailed plan of how our daily lessons will be geared toward our school focus. And yes, there are a number of staff that feel that this is madness and don't like the extra work. (Ok, so everyone pretty well feels that to one degree or another!) It is a kick in the face to be asked to turn in lesson plans because that implies that what we've been doing - the lessons and curriculum that we've been REQUIRED by the district to do - isn't right. But really, more and more schools in my district have started requiring teachers to turn in lesson plans, so it's not like we didn't see this coming to some extent.

I think the main cause for the pessimistic attitude is that we're all starting to feel that no matter what we do, and how hard we try as teachers - we can't win. We worked our butts off last year...and it wasn't good enough. Now, our lesson plans aren't good enough. It's beginning to feel like there's no right answer. And let's face it, there isn't one. If there was a magic formula for how to pour knowledge and skills into a child's head, it would have been bottled years ago and surreptitiously placed in their lunchtime boxes of milk!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Not all TV is bad!

I'm constantly amazed at the redundancy of the "TV is bad for your children" hype. Don't get me wrong, there are some mind-numbing kids shows out there, and too much of anything can definitely be a bad thing. But since I myself grew up watching "Seseme Street" and "The Letter People" - and I'm convinced to this day the latter was why I was always a good reader in school - I just can't pass up the power of TV to educate children. And having a toddler and a preschooler at home, I've learned a thing or two about the shows out there for the not-yet-school-age set.

Believe it or not, there are some great early learning programs on television right now. One of my favorites is Super Why on PBS. I have even used it in the classroom this year with my kindergarten students. This show covers the gamut of letters and sounds, spelling, word recognition, comprehension, and even teaches social skills! The characters in the show become super heros to read, and the animation and story lines really keep the kids interested. Although they're not too good about updating it, PBS Kids has a free video podcast of the shows available on iTunes. The website has a lot of great educational games for young kids too.

Another one of my favorites for my kids to watch is Pinky Dinky Doo on Noggin. This show is about a little girl who likes to tell (somewhat outrageous) stories. They also tend to teach a life lesson, but the thing I think is really great about the show is that it teaches vocabulary words like "enormous" or "engrossed" to very young kids in a way they can understand and remember what they mean. It also does a great job of teaching story concepts and comprehension skills. Also one nice thing I just realized after checking it out, you can watch full episodes directly from the website.

Not that everything my kids watch is completely educational - at the moment, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins and My Friends Tigger and Pooh are all right up there on the "must watch" list. And don't get me wrong, Mickey does a great job of teaching colors and math concepts, and the Little Einstein expose kids to art and music, which I do think is very important. But for phonemic awareness and reading skills, I've yet to find anything that beats the other two. Now if they would only re-release the old "Letter People" shows...

Friday, June 22, 2007

IDT 516 @ WIU

This blog has been specially created for a course I'm taking this summer at Western Illinois U. I hate the idea of throwing something out here on the web just to meet a requirement, so it took some thinking for me to determine what the purpose of this blog would be. If I'm going to take up cyberspace, I might as well be constructive about it!

The pupose of this blog will be to give me a place to post new things I learn about instructional technology, tools, and how they can be incorporated into teaching. I'm sure there are already a number of identical blogs out there, but if nothing else, I can share this with other teachers I know and work with, and maybe they can use the things I find and help me gain a better understanding of instructional technology.

One thing I've already come across while developing this blog as well as my other blog - wouldn't it be helpful to be able to search blogspot for blogs by a topic or keyword? Maybe that's already possible and I just haven't figured out how to do it yet. If anyone can help me out in this endeavor it would be greatly appreciated!