Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Poverty/Education the Chicken and Egg Problem

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

At last summer’s CSTA conference a speaker from the department of education talked about education being the answer for fixing poverty. And yet many teachers will tell you that the problem with providing a good education is poverty. It is hard for a student to learn if they don’t have enough to eat, have to work long hours to help support the family or miss out on health care for financial reasons.

Yes a good education can help people break out of poverty. We see it in literature, movies and even occasionally in people we actually know. But it is hard to get that education sometimes when you are poor.  We can’t wait for one problem to fix the other. We have to work on both problems at once.

Bill Gates–The Great Satan of Education Reform

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Business and education are different. And that is putting it mildly. One of the big disconnects is how salaries are calculated and raises are assigned. In education people basically get raises based on two things: longevity and education. In industry experience counts for setting salaries and raises are determined based on some sorts of measurable metrics of accomplishment. In education just getting a degree is grounds for a raise. In business/Industry a new degree doesn’t count for any automatic increase. The assumption is that the education you have acquired will improve your ability and performance and so will be rewarded based on improved performance.

Bill Gates is suggesting (see Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls) that the education model be more like the industry model. He is calling for an end to automatic step increases and separate higher pay levels for advanced degrees. Rather he is pushing for pay for performance. Needless to say teacher unions are not happy about this.

The issue is more complicated than Bill Gates seems to think it is. It’s also more important to deal with than I think the teacher unions think it is. First off pay for performance is not as easy or working out as well at Gates thinks it is. W Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality control in much of the world, was a serious critic of the practice. His view was that there was too much subjectivity and actually much less variance between most employees to justify the differences in raises. While he believed in exceptional performers who were worthy of higher raises he was basically more of a supported of education style raises. Experience and training generally did result in better performance and Deming believed in training as a key to better productivity and performance. In education the evaluation of performance is also a lot harder than in a lot of jobs. The base it all on test scored ideal is seriously flawed for starters. People who don’t understand education really don’t seem to get that. They are looking for easy to gather metrics and have grabbed on to some that are a lot less reliable than they think they are.

On the teacher side I think many ignore the truth that there is a difference, as one superintendent of schools put it to me, between 20 years of experience and one year of experience 20 times. Years if experience is the same sort of simple solution that pay for test results is. That is it seems logical and objective but it ignores basic realities of how people operate. Some people get into a rut and never improve – or worse degrade over time. Many people do get better over time but even so not all at the same rate. And then there is the issue of training. There are teachers who actively look for and take training as a way to improve their practice. There are also teachers who attend training so that they can retain certification/licensure but have no intentions of letting that training change the way they do things. And yet the second group is rewarded in the same way the first group is. That seems somehow wrong to many people.

Ultimately we do need to reform schools I believe. But it is not going to happen unless educators are an active part of the discussion rather than the targets of reformers. Both sides need to understand the other, listen to the other, and be willing to explain why an idea is good or not good rather than just saying “no.” Bill Gates is not against good education. Teachers are not against improving the way education is delivered. But you’d never know that from the rhetoric. Dialogue is what we need but I don’t see anyone really working at making that happen. Rather we see each side (or multiple sides in some cases) just trying to marshal the public, who are generally way in over their heads in education discussions, against the other. This seems to be to be doomed to failure with our students and ultimately the country as the loser.

The Education Party of No

Friday, September 24th, 2010

These days a lot of teacher groups (not just unions though they get the attention) are a lot like the Republican party. What am I seriously comparing the teacher unions to Republicans? Well, yes, in a way. They way they are the same is that they are all about saying “no” without offering real competing solutions to real problems. The Republicans are all over the news for obstructing anything the Democrats  and Obama try to do. There is no offering of alternative solutions just a list of why the solutions being offered are wrong/bad/miss the point or what ever. This is of course not helpful but it is working for them because people are angry that Democratic solutions are not working or at least not fast enough. The situation in education is similar and different.

I think there is pretty universal agreement that we have some problems with education in the US. There are groups (Bill Gates and his foundations, the charter school movement, DC school’s chief Michelle Rhee, and others) who are offering their own ideas about fixing things. On the other side are educators who feel that these groups are picking on them, blaming them, and trying to ruin them. So they say “no” to the suggested “solutions.” And they are right in many ways. Standardized tests are a lousy way to judge learning and teacher performance. There really are other problems outside teacher control like poverty, unsupportive parents, kids who are not motivated and more. These problems do have to be addressed for education to be improved. The problem is that they are not offering much in the way of solutions. Just “don’t do what you are suggesting.”

Part of this may be a feeling of powerlessness in the area of they themselves being able to accomplish these changes outside the school building. But teachers could, and I would argue should, be making suggestions as to how to improve the things they can control such as determining who the good and not so good teachers are. Teachers should be working to improve teacher assessment in real and authentic ways. They should be making positive suggests and not just reject other suggestions from outsiders.

And teachers need to make more suggestions about how to asses students. I hear over and over again that teachers do assess students and that they do a good job. The problem is that the end results of our educational system, in some ways, call into question the accuracy of many assessments. We see “honor students” who reach college and can not handle the work there. We see high school graduates who lack basic skills in things like math and English when  they get their first jobs. While we see many graduates with good education we see far too many who seem to have gotten their diplomas without actually learning much. The reason outsiders press for standardized testing is a lack of trust in the assessment job that too many teachers are doing. Fixing that credibility problem is the key to holding back on standardized testing. It has to come by improving assessment, improving teaching and teachers, and helping to clean house of the worst teachers.

There are many huge problems that good teachers can not completely overcome. No doubt about that. But we have to remember that there are few educational problems that a bad teacher can’t make worse.

[Note that these are my opinions and may not be shared by anyone else I know.]

Knowledge and Intelligence are not the same thing

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

As a teacher one of the things that frustrated me was students who claimed not to be smart. Or that they were stupid. In most cases this was far from true. What the student  should have been saying was that there was information (knowledge) that they didn’t have. Stupidity is hard to overcome but a lack of knowledge is relatively easy to deal with. Intelligence is not knowing a lot (having a lot of knowledge) but being able to use that knowledge.

Knowing more information doesn’t make one smarter. Oh for sure it may help people make better decisions but if they were not smart enough to use the information it wouldn’t help them. I think that some of how to use information can be taught. I am not convinced that people’s intelligence (smarts if you will) is a fixed value. The mind can be trained. Information helps with that training but it is not intelligence by itself.

One of the things I used to say was that ignorance was curable but stupid was not. I’m starting to think that stupid can be improved to some extent but that it is difficult. Ignorance though remains pretty easy to cure. The problem is that it still takes some work and some people are not smart enough (or are too lazy or something) to put in that effort. And that is a shame.

I think there are a lot of very smart people who are not getting the knowledge they need to properly use their intelligence. This is the biggest problem in education today. Some kids don’t think education will help them. Others think they are stupid (often mistaking knowledge for intelligence) when they are not. Others have teachers or parents or peers or other external pressures not to learn or to make an effort at school. others think they don’t need it. I’ve known a couple of athletes who expected their athletic ability to make knowledge of other things unnecessary. I’m  not sure how to turn all that around. But we sure are missing a lot of potential when we lose the opportunity to provide knowledge to people with the intelligence to really use it.