Monthly Archives: December 2012

Free Your Books, Free Your Mind

At Librelibros.org I have set up a place where I hope the state will sanction and facilitate the building of open-source textbooks.  Teachers and local industry such as INTEL, and Sandia National Labs, and Los Alamos, and the universities could collaborate to be the authors, and contributing teachers (at least) could get paid(!) for their work.  With all that already exists online by way of khanacademy.org, and curriki.org, and wikibooks.org,  I hope leaders in New Mexico government can help sanction and facilitate the combining of these free sources with the building of free textbooks.

The textbooks would be for print or digital readers, and materials such as manipulatives could come from re-use projects, which would be simultaneously be teaching some ingenuity and frugality rather than consumption.

The books would be for brand new teachers, which could be followed faithfully, but hopefully will ultimately inspire authorship, and ownership in the profession of their choosing.   Besides getting paid, they would be getting investment, their expertise would be honed, and their knowledge would be implicit.

The open-source textbooks could become threaded with themed, integrated strands based on standards, and could be swapped and mixed like the music genome project.

New Mexico could become a leader, an incredible epicenter for innovation in education.  Please help by going to Librelibros.org.

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Filed under Education, education solutions, Politics in education

The Formula For Success Part Two

I’m giving a talk about part one at TedxABQ on January 11th, if you wondered how I got to the sequel.  In part one, I explain how our  current system of accountability is getting off the mark.

Herein, I would like to suggest the solution.  Not just to accountability, but pretty much the panacea for the whole thing.  There will be no surprise here.  You already know the solution, too.  Before I go there though, let me say as a teacher for over twenty years in public education, that we have chased many trends pushed by publishers and salespeople who have used the words “research based”, a term with no standard definition, to provide all kinds of smoke-and-mirrors solutions for the classroom, and data to try to disprove the solution I suggest.  But the solution I suggest  has solid, consistent precedents and results,  and was even used by God himself.

Education really hasn’t changed much.  Sure, we have iPads, and smartboards, and the internet, and our knowledge has changed.  But education itself is and always has been a conversation.   And the more specific the conversation is, the better it is.

The specific conversation has to have a manageable number of students per teacher  (Pupil Teacher Ratio, or PTR in educator jargonese).  This is something we knew clear back before the one-room schoolhouse, before Christ, when Socrates used dialectic some 400 years B.C..  Socrates had discussions that were one-to-one.  That helped his “great teacher” status, he had the PTR for the specific conversation.

Another great teacher, Christ, had a pretty good PTR going too, right?  The Twelve.  And this guy was good.  So if that is God, who can handle the Whole Deal, why do public school teachers get asked to do more than God?  You’d think that would at least get them a pay raise.

Then to the one-room school house of legend.  My grandma taught there.  She had eight students.  Now we’re talking.  Literally.  Because, with eight students you can talk.  To each other.  Everyone is accountable, nobody can disappear without being noticed.  Everyone contributes.  Good practice for a democracy.

And of course, Finland.  They all know it.  That’s a major part of the reason they are #1 in the world in education currently.  Here.  Almost everyone one of those articles will mention special help or attention, or two teachers in a class, or some other PTR reducing scheme.

And you know it, too.  The people I ask about they why go to a private school, say the reason:  smaller classes.  “My kid isn’t just a number”.  Yep.  We all know it.

So why, when we’ve known it all along, do we keep throwing money at solutions that will “save us money” by promising to minimize the number or need for teachers?  We have “saved” more money this way spending it on the research, the materials, the smoke and mirrors, that if we would have spent it on lowering the number of students in the first place, we would be there.  The place of educated students.   We want that.

The two teacher per classroom solution will not cause additional building costs, and there other solutions besides spending money outright to get the personnel, too.  Cooperation with teaching programs, even high-schools and senior centers- there are precedents here, too.   But why have we abandon the goal entirely?  To save money.   Our first priority can’t be saving money.  We shoot for the goal, and then get creative to meet the budget.  It is a goal we must aim for, if we don’t pay now, we will pay later.

This system also addresses accountability, it is the solution for the accountancy distraction.  If two adults are in there, it creates an implicit co-check on the professionalism of the teachers, and there can be the mechanism for an explicit check system for investigating teachers who are not holding up their end.

There it is.  It’s simple, straightforward, and it will work.   Let’s not avoid it any longer.  We must get back to the basics.

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Filed under Education, education solutions

Ted Talk: Formula for Success

January 11th for TedxABQ:

Me:  “I teach third to fifth grade, so if you don’t mind doing a knock knock joke with me, it would make me feel more at home:  “Knock knock”…

“Orange”…

“Knock- knock”… “Orange”…

“Knock- knock”… “Banana”… “Banana, you glad that I didn’t say orange?”.

If you know that joke, you know that it is traditionally told differently, but at the age I teach, there aren’t many traditions. Over the course of the year it gets closer and closer until someone puts the banana before the orange to end with, the traditional punch line: “orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”

So first of all I would like to say thanks, because I’m a public educator, and you are the public, and you all help pay for my work, and I really enjoy it.  So thanks.  I get to be part of the renewal of a miracle.  And actually it is.  Even that joke, which is an incredible marker for the development of humor.

As Einstein said, you get to a point where you have to think that either nothing is a miracle, or everything is.   Speaking of Einstein. 

One of these formulas is his work, and represents, roughly, our current understanding of the relationship of matter and energy, and is the underpinning for much of what we currently know about the entire universe.

The larger formula is how student growth is estimated, the result of which affects how schools are graded, and may soon be how teachers are also graded and paid.

A group of scientists and mathematicians reviewed the formula in an op-ed piece for the Albuquerque Journal this past August.  They said the formula had too many incompatible variables, and was too complex for the purpose intended.

I am going to argue that the formula is too simplistic, and there are too few variables.

Have you heard that the National Transportation Safety Board is recommending a complete ban of cell phone usage-  just December 13, the board said that “hands free” is not enough.  It’s not just the hands that need to be on the wheel, its that the mind that needs to be on the road.

Let’s think of the curriculum as the road. Then think about all the potential “driver distractions” out there for children:  divorce, hunger, or homelessness, or abuse,  or neglect, or a death in the family – if talking on the phone while driving is enough to distract an adult driver from driving down a marked path, one they probably have been down before, imagine for a child who is learning something totally new, – imagine how preoccupied by those things children are.  There will need to be a variable for each one of those, if we are going use a formula.  Teachers spend time validating these experiences with children, and help them to work through those problems.

All of these variables are in my classroom every year, I expect so in most public school classrooms.  The trouble with ignoring these variables in the formula is that it will translate to ignoring those difficulties in the classroom.  I wish it weren’t true, but we’ve seen it acted out.

In a time when science is in critical condition, but reading test scores needed to go up, many schools turned science into reading about science, and called it the same.

In a time when childhood obesity ranks as the number 1 health concern by the CDC,  recesses in many elementary schools shrunk or disappeared to raise test scores.  So if we don’t pack some more variables in that formula, if teachers’ jobs become formula dependent, then things will change, for the students.  This kind of formula does not nourish the baby.

“Its nourishment, not measurement, that makes a child grow”. My principal said that. We’ve replaced a lot of nourishment with a lot of measurement, in the past 10 or 12 years.  We have mistaken high standards to mean “highly standardized”, and accountability for accountancy.  These things are not the same, and our national confusion about those terms is working against us.

The truth is, we have no control over our students, or their lives, and the attempt to do so is disrespectful of that miracle which is their lives.  We can consequence them.  We can ignore their problems.  But education -the word itself means “to draw out”.  And that is what we want to do, draw out the miracle inside to mingle with the miracle on the outside.  And for some children, that drawing out may mean the drawing out of some venom in their lives.

“You just can’t come from Amy Lauer’s class and not be a good person.”  – I heard a parent say that – which I think is the best compliment of a teacher I’ve ever heard.   There is more to be taught and learned than can be tested, and we ought to at least allow for that.

These formulas work in a vacuum, and can calculate the inanimate, but what we want are good people, powerful and responsive to the needs of a changing world.

Formulas are part of accountancy, but distract us from our true accountability.

This track will cost us more time, money,  and will eventually drive us all bonkers. Remember the joke?

Orange you glad I didn’t say bananas?

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Filed under Accountability and Standards, Education