Friday, October 24, 2008

Accountability

This two-week post-less stretch is the longest I have had in the last year. I'm sure that nobody noticed, but it is remarkable how much I have missed this format. I could post about the fantastic birthday party we had for Jedi Master yesterday, a great visit from my in-laws or the (pain in the butt) "Souper" Saturday I'm in charge of tomorrow, but instead I would rather talk about something that has been on my mind much this past month: Accountability in public schools.

If you are already asleep, then you can just tune in later.

In the past two months, three specific things have happened which have given rise to serious thoughts about what I would do with education if I was, you know, Queen of the Universe. I told Plantboy the other day that my ideal career would be Secretary of Education. To which he responded, "Yah, well, that can be tough to get." Still, whether my ideas ever see the light of day, it will not, of course, prevent me from having or via the miracle of the Internet, sharing them. Two months ago, Nate gave my name to a colleague of his who is currently living in Dubai, but hopes to get funding for a charter school when he returns to the States. After discussing his friend's proposal with him, Nate suggested that he have an educator with a surplus of opinions look at it. (Me.) The proposal is very broad and highly interesting. At its heart seems to be the philosophy, based mostly on anecdote and professional training of public school alumni, that public schools are doing a shockingly poor job of preparing people to compete or even function in the "real" world.

The second event that has caused me to reflect greatly on accountability for teachers and students is a ballot measure here in Oregon. This ballot measure would require teacher pay to be based on merit rather than seniority. There are many problems with the measure--it is unfunded, tests would have to be used to determine teacher qualifications though most subject areas do not actually have state-wide tests written for them, it is totally unclear what is meant be "teacher merit"--still, the frustration the author of the legislation feels is a very real public sentiment. After all, if you are routinely mediocre or lousy at most jobs, you get fired. In education, if you have tenure, you get a raise for similar performance.

When my mother-in-law was here last week, she and I had a conversation one afternoon about the problem with schools. Her bee-in-the-bonnet issue was that schools, rather than being accountable to the parents, have forced the parents to be accountable to them. Unsure about what she meant I asked for an example. The first one she came up with was reading charts. She said that the reading chart is just the school keeping tabs on what is going on at home, and that parents, instead, should have greater control on what goes on at school. Again, a very interesting perspective.

All three of these perspectives are very strongly held and come from "outsiders" to the system. It has emphasized to me just how many constituencies each local school is trying to please--eventual employers and corporations; government institutions who control the purse strings, basing their decisions on cost-benefit analyses; and parents who send their children off to school for a huge chunk of every weekday with faith that they will be better off for it and that the good will outweigh the bad.

My perspective as an "insider" to the system is different, but not necessarily better. Sometimes teachers get so caught up in day to day management, teaching their preferred agenda, and hanging on to their jobs that they lose sight of the bigger picture. A teacher can also end up in the uncomfortable position of being a sounding board for every frustration their friends and family members have with the system. Teachers unions have had many successes, but they have also had many failures as they have fought so hard to maintain the status quo that they have missed the boat on being a part of the dialogue on much-needed reform.

The ideas I'll now present here are an effort to address some of the most pressing problems in education today with a more comprehensive system that treats seemingly separate problems as more of the continuum that they actually are. How should students be assessed? Who is best qualified to assess? Should the assessments then be report cards for the students themselves, the teachers or the school? What role should parents play in exerting control over what happens at the school? How can we hold teachers accountable without resorting merely to tests, which may or may not be an accurate measurement of classroom efficacy? How should teachers be paid? What can be done about classroom sizes? How do we better retain and train new teachers?

I will argue that by radically re-thinking the system, many of these pressing and seemingly insurmountable problems can be addressed all at once, by using an idea for both students and teachers already common to business and many teacher (and other types of) re-licensing programs. My science background tells me the need to apply a system as fair and equitable and as measurable as possible.

I favor a point system, in conjunction with a radically revamped teacher training/mentoring program. The point system would enable teachers to understand, up front, exactly what was expected to merit a pay increase. Points would come from a variety of sources: a PE teacher who is not required to teach to a standardized tests (where there is a lot of pressure and public attention), would have find other ways to show equal merits with teachers who do. I'll explain more on this later, but I'll detour here to explain my mentoring program idea for new teachers.

Mentoring is a relationship I have never seen work. Most mentors (and nearly all of mine) look at you and say "Sink or swim." The ones that don't, are nearly powerless to help because they are already running the department or their off-hours are so busy with their own teaching agenda that they cannot possibly come to observe or advise. In addition, when observances are done, the mentor-teacher's assessment of a new teacher's performance is virtually unheeded by administrators. Mentors are very seldom paid for their additional responsibilities and there is little incentive to help mold and shape new teachers.

In my fantasy program, each school (or district, if school or content area enrollment is very small) would have three designations of teachers--provisional, lead and master. Provisional teachers are not teachers new to the district or school, but new to the profession. Such designation is important: this keeps teachers of experience from being sent through an un-needed mentoring program, freeing up resources for other uses. The provisional period is a minimum of two years and a maximum of four. During the provisional period, the new teacher team-teaches with a master teacher. The new teacher is formally evaluated monthly by both their principal and their partner teacher. Notice is given of these formal evaluations.

Class sizes in a team-taught classroom would range from 30 to 35 students. Under this intense type of mentoring, student teaching is done away with entirely. Provisional teachers would enter a contract with a very modest salary, with no pay increase until they move out of the provisional program. Movement out of the program would require a minimum of two academic years, evaluations consistently high for three consecutive months, and problem areas consistently improved. The evaluation would be based out of 100, weighted for different skills (most districts/states already do something like this.) A "high" evaluation could probably be considered anything above an 85. Provisional teachers would be required to observe (not evaluate) other teachers twice monthly.

Once the provisional period is past, a teacher becomes a lead teacher. Lead teachers are in their own classrooms, but they are not given more than 24 students, with 18 being optimum. By averaging these smaller classes with the larger classes in the team-taught rooms, student-teacher ratios are only slightly lower than they currently are, so the cost would not be exorbitant. Teachers are also likely to demand less money when their working conditions are move favorable to what teachers want to actually be doing--teaching. Lead teachers enter a contract at a base salary. Armed with a knowledge of the point system, teachers will set out a plan from the first day of school for achieving the requisite number of points to be eligible for pay raises at the end of the year. If the system was to be based on a 100 point system, any teacher above 90 would receive the maximum possible pay raise (7%, substantial). Any teacher above 80 would receive a lesser raise (say, 5%), scores above 75 would receive a cost of living type increase (3%), all other teachers would receive no raise. Two consistent years of being in the non-raise category, would give a teacher the following two options: re-enter the provisional system to revamp your skills and start over with the accompanying pay cut, or find a new career. There would probably have to be eventual caps. Administrator pay would be based on a different meritous scale, which by no means would guarantee that a head principal is the highest paid person on the staff (which is usually the case). District administrators would have serious limits based on how much they can earn relative to the people ACTUALLY doing the work of the school district.

During the lead-teacher portion of a person's career, they are evaluated by either the principal or the vice-principal four times yearly. These visits are unscheduled, but should happen at regular intervals. (In other words, it wouldn't be fair for a principal to drop in four times in a row in mid-May because they were running behind. The drop-in without announcement evaluation is much more typical to non-school work environments. Teaching is about the only job where you can do your thing all day every day and maybe see your principal in your room during instruction time ONCE. This is a huge problem.) Lead teachers must also evaluate another teacher on the faculty once each month. This means that the agreement is reciprocated as well, with each teacher being observed once monthly. These evaluations are averaged in with the administration's observations. A third observation is also averaged in: the PTA will organize a parent committee with volunteers trained to evaluate who agree to put in five hours each month visiting classrooms and making their own observations. Each teacher will receive several of these parent evaluations each year. This evaluation score is scaled and added into the "point system."

Master teachers are those who have at least 4 years experience as a lead-teacher, express interest in training new teachers, and have scored above 85 in the previous 3 years' merit evaluations. For the time they spend training, they would keep their current level lead-teacher salary, with no raise eligibility, but have their own set of bonuses based on how well their provisional teacher performs. They may train up to five consecutive years before returning to lead teacher status with the salary they left at. Again, they would be evaluated as the other lead teachers and be eligible for earned merit increases.

Now, for the point system. Such programs would best be applied at a district or a state level. Local administrators would have some leeway, but too much leeway would not allow for proper consistency. For example on a system based on 100 points, teachers may earn up to 30 points for their evaluations, scaling administrator, colleague, and parent evaluations to ten points each. For percentage improvements from the previous year on mandated testing, teachers could earn points. They could also earn scaled points based on percentages of students passing the same tests. Listed below are other items that might be given point values, looking mostly at secondary schools, though many would apply to elementary schools as well:

*Not using all of your annual personal and/or sick days
*Volunteering for after school programs (paid positions would not count, though some teachers may opt for points toward raises instead of extra pay. This might be a good option for coaches.)
* Logged tutoring hours.
*College courses or teaching training with points based on hours invested and/or marks received.
*Faculty meeting attendance
*Money attracted to the school in the form of written grants.
*Regular positive parent contact in the method most approved by the school--a minimum number of positive phone calls or post cards, personal email
*Regular notification of grades--progress reports biweekly for failing students, mass e-mail through a grading program at least every three weeks.
*Grades submitted on time every grading period
*Maintenance of a class website or blog through which parents and students can access assignments, including downloads of forgotten homework
*Administration approved, objective student surveys
*Regular newsletters sent to students
*Participation in science fairs, geography bees, spelling bees, math competition, academic Olympiad, etc.
*Club advisement
*Does not exceed the school agreed-on maximum number of office referrals.
*Attendance at all requested IEP's for the Special Ed program.
* Approved classroom visitors to shed added insight into classroom topics or give career advice.
*Parent volunteer hours (this counts for teachers because teachers have to really work to get parents in the classroom, despite all of the talk about wanting more control about what goes on.)
*Regularly displaying student work with clear objectives.

More could be added, with items given relative point values. Here are examples of two very different, though effective in their own way, high school teachers who could receive pay raises this year under the merit system:

A) Miss Smith teaches English. She is strict and has excellent classroom management skills. This makes her very popular among the faculty and parents, but students groan a bit when they find out they are headed to her class. Her approach is very traditional, but kids, if reluctantly, learn a lot. Her students find that she is much better one-on-one and easier to get along with in small settings. She will put together her hundred points by receiving high evaluations from all concerned parties, being consistent about how many of her students pass their standardized English test, holding regular tutoring hours after school twice weekly, attending all offered teacher training, and taking at least one college course every summer. In addition, she runs the after school "Young Poets" club that meets almost weekly.

B) Mr. Jones teaches Spanish. He is laid back in class and very out-going. The kids love him, though most adult observers see mildly organized chaos when entering his room. His approach to teaching is conversational--the more speaking the students do, the better. He does a lot of fun projects and culture days. He will earn his hundred points by having strong, though not outstanding, evaluations. He is at school every day and helps coach the football and wrestling teams. When he isn't coaching he holds meetings of the multicultural club and exercises with students during the early morning running club. He wrote a grant to get some audio materials--headphones, software and two computers--of actual Spanish speakers for the students to listen to and practice from. He uses a lot of technology, emailing home regularly both for grades and for positive contacts. He maintains a class blog that nearly 50 students comment regularly on. He takes a large team to the district and state Spanish fair every year where they win lots of awards. He always invites a Spanish-speaking guest to their culture days.

Again, two great, effective teachers, with classrooms that have night and day differences. The list shows how much goes into being a great teacher--NOT just passing tests. The two examples above show teachers being accountable to their several audiences through positive choices that BOOM just happen to result in a very good annual pay increase. Teachers have incentive to organize, get and document their points. Teachers who are lazy, lack initiative and will not think outside the box will not cut it. The point system will provide a framework for teachers to improve while allowing each teacher to emphasize the things he or she is already good at. Because teachers are evaluated frequently and by a variety of sources, they must be prepared and at the top of their game every day. The also have incentive to work in a positive direction with their colleagues (teacher gossip is THE WORST) because those same people will have a say in evaluating them.

Control over incentives will most certainly result in improved teaching. Such teaching will inevitably result in generally improved classroom management because of consistency, a school culture where learning is paramount, even "cool," and students will be more committed and engaged. Just like they are in the best classrooms all over the country.

So what about the students? Where is their responsibility in all of this? I think graduation from high school should be based on a point system as well. In designing the point system, the state should set certain requirements (including testing) and allow the district to fill in the rest. Before creating the system, the district administration should sit down with a team of parents, students, local business leaders and educators to determine what things would help students earn their required points. In other words, the things that will help the students become the best people. This would allow local schools to keep their "flavor" but still meet state and federal funding requirements for doing the tests. Student incentive would be high because of the points they are trying to meet. Students would meet regularly in a homeroom type class with teachers and/or counselors to keep their educational goals on target.

Even with major reforms, schools will still fail. If parents want to push for Charter schools, that is is fine. But these schools should be held to the same standards as public schools if they want the money--testing, accredited programs, certified teachers, the same spending per pupil, etc. Vouchers are unfair because they route public funds to private educational establishments who, again, are not accountable under any kind of state system. Public money, public accountability. End of story.

As for home schooled kids, maybe these parents should be given some kind of double income tax credit for their property taxes to help soothe their resentment for paying taxes into a system they don't use. Though, it must be noted that LOADS of people pay property taxes that don't send kids to school now or maybe never did. Education is something that the public agrees to collectively because the alternative is just disastrous. Any society that doesn't agree to educate as many as possible for as long as possible is a generation away from losing their democracy. Failing public schools are not just a major headache for politicians and parents, they are an assault on our very future.

If you have made it this far, bless you. In my head this was a very straightforward post, but once it all came out the result is more like a wanna-be master's thesis. I'm also very interested in your feedback. What, specifically, would be a good fix for YOUR local schools?

14 comments:

Sherry said...

This post was long, but it was also very interesting. I read the whole thing.

I don't know what I would do to fix the education system, but I do believe that merit-based pay is a good idea if it's implemented well. I also believe that teachers of maths and sciences should be paid higher than teachers of the arts. I know it's a hard pill for some to swallow, but it would really help get more math and science teachers into the education system.

I have been thinking a lot with the whole financial crisis that it's really ridiculous many high schools require a "careers" class (luckily I escaped mine), but high schools do not require students to learn basic financial management. I knew next to nothing about money when I entered college. I went out of my way to learn what I do know, and I took a (terrible) class at college. But, there are a lot of folks that just don't know anything. I wonder if the financial mess wouldn't be quite so bad if schools required such a class? (I know that was a little off-topic, but it was in reference to being prepared for the "real world."

Desmama said...

The only thing I have to chime in on right now (and I'd have to go back and re-read several points) is that I get REALLY irked when home-schooler parents gripe about paying property taxes because they "don't use" the public school system. I don't care; education benefits everyone and the narrow-mindedness ignorance of this attitude drives me batty.

I'm a product of public schools. I did well and I enjoyed it and while there were certain areas that could've been improved upon, I had parents who supported my teachers, who supported me, and who were very, very involved in my education. They NEVER saw the teacher as the adversary, never saw public schools as a foe to be dealt with; they realized that working together was the best way to go. Many of the parents I see who have a gripe with public schools and try alternatives (read: enter their third grader into public schools after home-schooling for two years and then can't figure out why she can't read) need to focus on working together with teachers rather than what I referenced above.

I know this might earn me some glares, but it's what I've observed and how I feel.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

My first child is still years away from kindergarten, so I don't yet have much to contribute to this discussion. I definitely need to study up on what makes a "good" school good, and how to investigate those factors.

Welcome back to the blogosphere, by the way. :) Missed you.

Karin said...

I just wrote a really long comment, but deleted it because it didn't have the tone I wanted.

Suffice it to say, I think your system is WONDERFUL! You didn't say anything about federal control. Does that mean they get to stay out of it? or is that just a point you didn't elaborate on? I think allowing states some control to keep consistency and local control to keep teachers empowered is excellent. Where do I sign the petition to get you appointed to Sec of Ed?

Desmama said...

STM--mind you, I wasn't attacking your post at all. I agreed with you and hope that that came across. I hope so. If not, here's my vote of support and solidarity. ;)

EmAndTrev said...

I always love reading your blog--glad you're back from your hiatus. :) Good points, and much for me to think about, as always!

Scully said...

Very insightful! I am currently enrolled in a master's in teaching program and am having to grapple with some of these issues, especially as my bachelor's degree was not in education. Would you mind if I shared this with my program cohort?

Christie said...

So, have you e-mailed your proposal to your state's Dept. of Education? 'Cause I think they'd appreciate it. I was way impressed with the amount of thought and detail you went into, and especially liked your examples of how two teachers could both receive maximum merit points.

After reading your proposal, I could see that a big part of the reason educators don't get paid much is because the public has a hard time perceiving what they do. It's a kind of chicken-before-the-egg scenario. Do teachers get paid piddly because the perception is that "anyone" could do their job? (As so many homme-schoolers would have us believe.) If that's the case, a merit-based pay program might be just the thing to bring educator's pay in line with the purpose they serve in society.

Otherwise, this merit pay point system looks like a lot of work for a piddly paycheck.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Karin, I would love to say "Feds out." I "came of age" as a teacher during a time when testing became the main source of too much funding. Like many poor education movements, I hope to laugh about our naivety toward testing someday in the future. However, I have also taught in two Title One schools--one would have probably done just fine without any extra programs or funding, but the other . . .

It was the ugly stepchild of a wealthy, successful district in NW Houston. 95% or our population was minority and we had nearly 90% on free or reduced lunch. Though spending per pupil was the same across the entire district, our school was drastically far behind in nearly every way. (Example, a school just a few minutes to the North had a father in the PTA who was a VP at Compaq; he donated a computer LAB. We had less than 10% of our parents even sign up for the PTA. Too expensive.) Because of difficult backgrounds and terrible poverty, our students did not come to school "ready to learn" and by age 8 or 9 were already years behind their their white-skinned peers who lived a mere five miles away.

After I was no longer a full time teacher I was hired at a really good hourly rate to tutor intensive math and language arts to students straddling the border of passing and not passing the standardized tests. Such programs are not possible without federal money.

To get even more personal, my Jedi Knight is coming by his reading skills very slowly. Our district has Title One money they have put into a very extensive (and expensive) reading program aimed at the lowest readers. These kids are identified by the spring of kindergarten and placed in intensive small-group help with constant monitoring for other, greater, underlying problems. He is thriving.

I think government money is best spent when it is aimed at kids (who have few real choices and the best chance of changing behavior patterns), but there has to be a way to provide real oversight for such programs without relying solely on testing data.

Christie, do you know Janice Skousen? Her husband is a professor at USU and she teaches Spanish at your mom's school, or did a couple of years ago. Anyway, at Plantboy's graduation, I got to talking with him and he made an interesting observation. He called teaching a 3/4 time job, not a full-time job. At first I was a bit taken aback. How dare he! What did he know? His wife was "just" a Spanish teacher who worked for supplemental income to support her traveling habit!

Yet he had a GREAT point. When I was at CRMS (at least during my second year) I worked from about 7 to 3 every day--including a lunch break. I had complete autonomoy about what I taught in my classroom and was scarcely accountable to anyone. I also had lots of days off and a long summer break. A 3/4 job. Under a merit system, teachers going out of their way to make it a MORE full time job--classes, after school stuff, etc. would end up working their way up the pay scale quickly. A teacher, like me, who needed to be home at three every day and didn't want to commit to anything on the weekends or summers would have a harder time being eligible for the raises. 3/4 pay for a 3/4 job. I think it is fair.

Karin said...

Your explanation for federal money is great for why we need it now, under the current system. Would it still be necessary under this new system you've created? Is most federal money used for "programs" rather than supplies or running costs? (ie building and salary) I'm not really "up" on how they do that.

One thing I've also wondered is that many of the "disadvantages" to education have to do with socio-economic status or parents motivation. "Dumping money" into schools doesn't seem to be helping with that problem(as was shown with your example). Can you think of a way (ie PSA or some such campaign) to help motivate parents to help their children be more ready? A way to help parents know what is needed from them to make their children successful in school. I know that I often get "fliers" from school with bullet point lists for helping my child, but they are often poorly written and presented and very rarely motivational. And often with old recommendations or old research that does not apply any longer.

I'm not sure I'm being articulate enough with what I'm asking. How does education become "important" in our culture (of all backgrounds)and what exactly is it that's important? (Is it the book learning? the critical thinking skills? the social aspect? all of it? more than that? less than that?)

It's taken me a long time to formulate my own idea of what a "good education" looks like and I fear that it is different from many people. I think we have common ground in thinking that it should *not* just be a glorified daycare, however What else does it look like?

I know this may be another post by itself, but it's nice to discuss with someone who holds a differing view and is willing to discuss and think. :-)

Science Teacher Mommy said...

There is a charter school movement in Chicago that has created a system of six or seven alternative high schools that are churning out very successful disadvantaged kids.

How do they do it? Four years is required in all core subjects. Low scores in any of those subjects require additional study hours. They work extended day AND extended year. There is a high expectation for hours of homework completed every night. The first of these schools opened in the 90's and the waiting list became so long within a couple of years that another and then another opened. Each school is kept to no more than 500 students. There are no sports or extra curriculars to distract kids. Even with all of the schools now open, the waiting list is still hundreds long.

So, even with poor kids, it can be done.

The things is, however, that the parents of these kids, despite their poverty and basic lack of knowledge about teaching their own kids, are completely committed to their education because they have agreed to the heavy responsibilities exacted by this system. (Being charter, they reserve the right to boot kids from the system too. Public schools don't have that choice.)

There are lots of parents in poor communities who would love this format. But there are others too. Here is a sampling from the school I worked at:

* The boy who told me that his dad routinely put beer in his bottle because it had helped him sleep
* A learning disability rate well above normal because of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy and pre-maturity
* Students who you could hear getting screamed at (or worse) in the background if I called home to speak about poor classroom behaviors
* Again, less than 10% signing up for PTA so there was little awareness about what happened at school
* A student routinely caught with pornography IN CLASS or drawing lewd pictures on his folders. Dad's response was "boys will be boys." It turned out he ran a strip club and the biggest porn store in our area.
* A vast number of girls totally immature because of strange social skills, or so mature that they are menstrating and sporting women's bodies by age 11 and dating guys in high school a year later
* A 16 year-old 8th grader with two kids stole a teacher's keys. Mom's reponse was a shrug and a "boys will be boys" response.
*An administration dealing with thirty or forty office referrals daily, some offenses very severe.
* the most church-going boy in my class showing everyone the condom he carried in his wallet (during a lesson) though he was just 14
* an 8th grader spiking his and all of his friends iced tea during lunch with shot bottles he'd brough from dad's unlocked liquor cabinet
*Middle school students laughing that their mothers were just a year older than me (I was 26 at the time)
* the best football team in the region until grades came out and half the team gets cut. . .

You get the idea. A REAL failing public school because it is in the middle of a failing community. It was a tough district to break into professionally and that school was a bit of a dumping ground for teachers who would not have cut it on any of the other campuses. Teachers had either been there forever and were trying to earn some kind of reward in Heaven, or they burned out after just a few years.

Federal money can be used wherever, but there are a lot of rules programs must follow. The program that Jedi Master is in at his school pays for very good aids who have been through an intensive certification process. He is pulled into a seperate room that is just the reading room where there is a lead, coordinating teacher. He has special reading materials there aimed at low readers. So in this case, the federal money pays for salaries (6 at our school alone), materials and forces the school to reserve room space for the students. The program is at every school in the district and the children test into it. There is not a maximum number of kids taken, they take every kid who falls below a certain cut-of criteria in the testing.

And I'm not sure that PSA type stuff is super effective. PBS already does this. Most of their shows for kids are funded by "Ready To Learn" grants. The programming, however, is worth much unless parents "get" what the programming is trying to do and reinforce its concepts or put it in context. But TV? Most parents use TV as a babysitter and PBS isn't nearly as entertaining as other kids' shows.

I'm kind of with Desmama here. I think most parents in most communities want to work with the school and do, accepting whatever limitations are there, making up the difference at home with other educational activities: teams, lessons, books, church, etc. Other parents think the schools can't do what they can do and then homeschool. (For a public school teacher, I'm always surprised by how many friends I attract who homeschool!)

Other parents end up in the category of "I want to help but don't know how!" Those parents just need to walk in the door and say "Put me to work" in their local schools. Most teachers, the "good" teachers, will welcome it. Also, I was required to have a very transparent classroom. CC School District requires that teachers update grades regularly as well as missing assignments because parents can actually access their child's grade reports at any time. Grades are also emailed regularly. I even tried to maintain a class website, but I just didn't get much response. This is gaining popularity however.

Still fewer parents end up in the "I don't care, as long as they are out of my hair every day" category. These parents cluster in failing communities. Hence the rotten schools. The Department of Education did a study that determined that an average child needs 1000 hours of "lap-time" before he or she is ready to learn to read. Lap-time isn't just reading: it can be singing or counting or doing rhythms. Any of those pre-reading skills. 1000 hours is achieved in 15 minutes daily from the time of birth, or 30 minutes daily from toddler age. If you wait to get most lap time until age 6-7 (first grade),three hours daily over a whole year will be needed before a child will be ready to read. Maybe the PSA program should be called "Ready to Parent?" and talk about condoms!

Teachers often argue that federal money is our highest leaders affirming that education IS important and hoping the attitude will trickle down. It has happened before. Kennedy talked about going to the moon when nobody had an idea about how such a thing was possible. To put his money where his mouth was, he poured hundreds of millions in NEW federal monies into math and science programs and NASA. The "race to space" became a national past time and education was given a top priority.

We may be on the verge of this happening again. Both candidates, though Obama more specifically, have talked about pouring large amounts of money into math and science ed again to create the next generation of engineers and scientists who will lead the green revolution and give us new energy. This is VERY exciting. Every now and then we need a little revolution.

Suburban Hippie said...

I'm glad super smart people like you are trying to figure this out because it gives me a headache.

Anonymous said...

Nan,
I love to read your posts, and rarely comment just because I rarely feel I have anything intelligent to say. I do have a comment on your idea of mentors. I have to say my school district has implemented what I think is a great plan for first year teachers. As a first year teacher, I not only have an level 2 teacher in my school who is paid a small stipend (very small) to mentor me, but the school district has an "instructional coach" for every grade. These instructional coaches are teachers who apply for the position every year. They don't let them be a coach for longer than 2-3 years because they don't want these coaches to be too far removed from the classroom. My coach teaches a cohort class for 2 1/2 hours once a month where I go to get hands on ideas and details about how to teach specific things. I attend this class with other first year kindergarten teachers from the district. We get to know each other and offer support, ideas, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. Our coach comes to our classrooms about twice a month. They model lessons, observe, give positive feedback and help us put our portfolios together. They are also great at lending us books or lesson plan ideas, keeping us informed of training meetings, and offering whatever help we need. I don't feel at all like I was hired and then "thrown to the wolves" like I have heard so many other first year teachers complain about. Sometimes I feel it gets a bit overwhelming with all the information my coach gives me, but she has really been a great resource and the district claims teacher retention has increased since they implemented the instructional coach program.

Marci

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Marci,

Your program sounds awesome, and ends up addressing the same issues--teacher retention and training, which automatically improves management and learning. There are school districts doing a great job, which is why local control is the best. There has to be a way to get the word out about successful programs as models. Somebody in your district should attempt to get a masters degree studying the longer term effects on the students, teachers, schools and districts as compared to others without such things in place. I'm so glad that you're having a good experience. It makes me excited to (one day) go back.