Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Assessing the unmeasurable

Great article by Malcolm Gladwell in this week's New Yorker drawing an unlikely (but apt!) comparison between evaluating who will make a good NFL quarterback and who will make a good teacher: briefly, both are skills that are nearly impossible to evaluate any way other than to see the person actually doing it. 
I was a bit shocked, when I started teaching, at how few assessments were done of new teachers. Somehow from seeing me, what? Three or four times over the course of the year, they felt they had some idea of how I was doing. Being in there, though, is the only way to find out!
Give it a read.

The Obama Administration is "Open for Questions"

If you've been following the presidential transition, you may already have heard about, the website that allows anyone to weigh in with the Obama administration. Over the past few weeks, they've been opening up questions: anyone can post a question, and then anyone can vote on the questions posted. The top vote getters get answers, or at least considered.

"Open for Questions" is now open again, and there's one on NCLB making the tops. If you'd like to see NCLB getting some attention and reconsideration, head over to and weigh in!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Secretary of Education nomination

I'd been trying to pull together something to post on President-elect Obama's choice of Arne Duncan as his nominee for Secretary of Education. Better than my telling you, though, why not ask the people of Chicago, whom he has been serving as commissioner of education.

Yesterday, when the temperature in Chicago was 25 degrees Farenheit, a group of parents and students braved the cold to blow bubbles.
Bubbles, you ask?
Yes, bubbles, as bubbles have become the end-all and be-all in Chicago Public Schools (something which may sound familiar to Worcester Public School students and parents):

Today a hardy group of parents and teachers stood out in Chicago's Federal Plaza and proved that you can indeed blow bubbles in 20 degree weather!

We were there to send a strong message to President-elect Obama and Secretary of Education nominee Arne Duncan that overuse and misuse of standardized "bubble" tests is bad for our children, and we want change.

In fact, we want the same thing the Obamas want – a high-quality education for our children that is not focused on standardized "bubble" tests.

Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education shared information about the high-quality educational standards at the schools the Obamas have chosen for their children, University of Chicago Lab School and Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. These schools avoid the kind of test-prep that is so prevalent in the Chicago Public Schools.

Parents want what the Obamas want for their children, and teachers want to teach that way.

Wade Tillett , a Chicago Public School teacher and parent, is planning to opt his third grade child out of the state tests this spring.

He was supported by Jim and Sue Gill, Oak Park parents who have actually opted their children out of the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests for several years. Sue talked about the struggle
they had with the school district last year over the issue. Ultimately the district changed their policy to accommodate parents who want to opt their children out.

Here's the Oak Park district policy.

CPS teachers representing the Caucus of Rank and File Educators discussed their group's opposition to the misuse and overuse of tests, including their use in closing schools under Renaissance 2010.

This "bubble" group has established a web site,, where you can get more information and join the campaign to stop the misuse of bubble tests.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How many is too many?


The Washington Post today reports that some school districts around D.C. are already forecasting higher class sizes for next year, as they look at a bleak forecast for FY10:

Nationwide, the average number of students in elementary classes dropped from 29 in 1961 to 24 in 1996, according to the National Education Association. In 2004, the average elementary class nationwide had 20 children, the U.S. Education Department says, with about 25 in the average secondary class.

And Worcester? You'll remember that we've had officials pleased that we have no elementary classes higher than 27. And that was after we fought to get extra money in the budget.

While it's often cited that there is no replacement for having a qualified, well-educated, well-trained teacher in the class, class sizes matter. As you'll see in the article, optimal size for elementary classes are 15 or 16 kids. Our local elementary school just had a class that had been 30 from kindergarten split (due to the aforementioned additional teachers) in half. The parents are raving over what a difference they are seeing their children's education. Same teachers, same kids, better ratio.
It matters. Get ready to battle it out on this one.

Say it's not so, O!

Continuing with my references elsewhere this morning, Greg Palast atHuffPo has a good handle on why Joel Klein and Arne Duncan would not be good choices for Secretary of Education: READ IT! And then send a message at

It's no coincidence that the nation's worst school systems are run by non-experts like Klein and Duncan.

Obama certainly knows this. I know he knows because he's chosen, as head of his Education Department transition team, one of the most highly respected educators in the United States: Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

So here we have the ludicrous scene of the President-elect asking this recognized authority, Dr. Darling-Hammond, to vet the qualifications of amateurs Klein and Duncan. It's as if Obama were to ask Michael Jordan, "Say, you wouldn't happen to know anyone who can play basketball, would you?"

A good post

I just had forwarded to me a good post on the MCAS and its real-life effect on students.

The woman (we shall refer to her as Ann) was asked to attend an IEP (individualized education plan) meeting about her twelve-year-old daughter and one of the recommendations was to move her daughter from her small-group math environment back into the main classroom. When Ann mentioned that this was attempted before without much success, the teacher’s comment was that her daughter was not being exposed to enough of the material that would be appearing on the MCAS. Period. Ann, never having been a supporter of MCAS, took the bait. When she continued to ask questions about the move and made the comment that the move was being made to accommodate the test, not her daughter’s needs, one of the meeting participants commented, “That’s where we are right now.” Ann’s final rebuttal was that her daughter’s grade might suffer. Her teacher piped up again that, “her exposure to the material is, to me, more important than the grade.”

Ann thought about that logic for a moment. First of all, what the hell does ‘exposure to’ in educational terms? Does it actually mean ‘teaching’? From Ann’s perspective, it was nice of her teacher to award her daughter a theoretical pass on the grade but, unfortunately her school very much cares about her daughter’s grade. Two failing grades in one year will result in the student having to repeat the grade. The long and short of the story is that Ann ended up agreeing to the switch and now she was unsure about that decision.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where the money really goes

A comment made in passing by Ms. Thompson during her presentation at the CPPAC meeting jumped out at me, as one who so closely followed the allocation of money last spring. She said (and I am paraphrasing here) something along the lines of, she didn't have enough money to save positions, so she moved money around to put money towards people rather than other things.

Now, I've got no problem with "people" as a priority. The problem is, this isn't Ms. Thompson's call. The School Committee is the body invested with the power to allocate funds along these lines, not the heads of departments. She said this (in the presence of at least one School Committee member) and no one blinked an eye.

To parallel: can you imagine Commissioner Moylan coming into a group of citizens and saying, "I didn't agree with the allocation the City Council made, so I didn't buy a new snowplow but instead funded another DPW position." No? This is the same thing.

The School Committee has oversight, but in order to truly have oversight, they have to use their oversight. It isn't happening. And that's a problem.

Notes from CPPAC: finished!

(CPPAC, for those of you without a running list of abbreviations in your head, is the Citywide Parent Planning Advisory Council. In theory, every school has two representatives to this body; in practice, many parents, even those active in PTO's, have never heard of it. It meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7 pm at the downtown library, and all parents, in fact all community members, are welcome to attend.)

Two numbers jumped out at me from a length presentation by Judy Thompson (who head the Child Study office):
  • 65% of Worcester public school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. That's last year's number; it's expected to be higher this year.
  • 10% of Worcester public school students are homeless (by McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act standards, which include kids in foster care and in transitional housing). That is September's number.
I don't know that there's anything to add to that but "wow."

The Curriculum Subcommittee of the School Committee is waiting for a report back from the Administration on requiring four years of math in the Worcester Public Schools.

There's hope that we'll have hired a new superintendent by the end of the week. We're "getting some language straightened out."

And, here's something to look forward to: the Worcester Public School's contract with teachers expires in August. Negotiations, here we come!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Worcester Educational Development Foundation fundraiser

This Friday and Saturday, December 5 & 6, Barnes & Noble in Lincoln Plaza will be devoting a portion of all proceeds to the Worcester Educational Development Foundation. Gift wrapping will be offered by Girls, Inc. and Habitat for Humanity. MENTION THE FUNDRAISER WHEN YOU CHECK OUT TO GIVE THE WEDF CREDIT!!

Performances by:

Friday December 5 from 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.,m.

Burncoat Brass Ensemble

Burncoat High Select Chorus

West Tatnuck School Chorus

Worcester Arts Magnet School Show Choir

Worcester Arts Magnet School African Drummers

Saturday, December 6 from 10:00 – 11 a.m.

Story time with the Cat in the Hat

and a Sing Along Story Time