Saturday, January 19, 2013

Congratulations to Senator Rodney Tom on Breaking the World Record Time for Shitting the Bed After Taking Power

I'm not even talking about all the nonsense with Pam Roach, although that is a fun side story that gives the press corp something to do in this week where every committee meeting begins with 30 minutes of "I'm Representative Jones, I love kids, and my district is awesome!"

Remember last month, when the Majority Coalition Caucus came into being in the Washington State Senate and released their five governing principles?

We, the members of the Coalition Caucus, come together behind the principles of:
  • budget sustainability and living within our means;
  • creating an economic environment where jobs are plentiful and small businesses thrive;
  • providing a world-class education system through reforms and enhancements;
  • governing collaboratively to protect our most vulnerable while prioritizing the needs of middle-class Washingtonians;
  • and setting priorities for state government and holding it accountable.
How do you reconcile those principles, then, with Senator Tom's insistence on destroying the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program, our pre-paid tuition program here in Washington State? Those families that buy the GET credits are budgeting for the future and making sure that their kids are taken care of. They're doing their best to help their children access a world-class education system without having to start their adult lives $50,000 or more in the hole. They're prioritizing education by accessing a program that's great for middle-class Washingtonians. The families using GET are doing the exact right thing.

In return Senator Tom, who worries about the middle class in the same way that a hawk worries about the number of mice in a field, calls GET a Ponzi scheme (horseshit--the money is always there for those who pay into it) and tries to argue that GET is somehow driving tuition costs when it's the legislature and the directives that they've given to the colleges that's making that happen, not GET. Senator Tom is the former chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee--he knows full well why tuition has become what it has become. I mean, really:  

Tom said it's unclear exactly who the GET program helps.

It's clear as day, unless you really don't want to see.  It helps middle class families, like mine.  Someone who literally lives off of a trust fund may not get that, but our reality is different than his.  It is heartening to see that the House Republicans, most notably Gary Alexander, have already come out against eliminating GET, and I applaud them for it.

It only took five days, out of 105 in the session, for Senator Tom to have his first several screw-ups.  Here's to more of the same next week.

Other reading:

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Correlation != Causation

Keep that in mind as you read this article on how on-line degree programs make better teachers. Recognize, too, that one of the 10 Ideas the House Republican Caucus is advising to save the state money is, "Take the emphasis off bricks and mortar and put more focus on distance learning through technology."

I've taken a couple of online classes for credit. I've found them pretty meaningless, honestly. If you've had a better experience, I'd love to hear about it.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My Open Letter to the Colleges of Education

Hey there, Colleges o' Education,

Ryan here. You may remember me from the credits that I've taken from you, particularly Eastern Washington U--hey, how's it going, Cheney!--and now that I'm a union guy I spend even more time interacting with y'all on a variety of projects.

It's in that capacity that I'm writing to you today. What with the budget cuts and the layoffs and the reductions-in-force and all, it's not really easy on us union leaders. I think there's a chance that I might be able to get my members through the storm with the only job losses being through attrition, which is a trick that I didn't think I'd be able to pull off after the Senate budget came out a few weeks ago.

But really, let's cut to the chase: you guys, you Colleges of Education, are making my job an awful lot harder, and I'd really like you to knock it the hell off.

Exhibit A: One of my school psychologists. The only thing that he could be is a school psychologist, because somehow, some way, he got out of his prep program with only an Educational Staff Associate (ESA) certificate and nothing else. For the last 10 years he's been a capable psych, but with my district looking to cut back his position was at risk.

He can't go into the classroom.
He can't even become a special ed teacher, even though he's the guy who qualifies people for special ed.
The only thing that he can do for the schools is to be a school psychologist.

Exhibit B: My music teachers. The number of credits required to become a music teacher is ridiculous, which gives the college kids going down that path absolutely no time to pick up a minor, or an endorsement, or anything else. The result is that you Colleges of Education are graduating really good music teachers who are completely and absolutely SOL when the schools are faced with budget crises and decide to cut back on music.

They can't go into the classroom. They're not highly qualified under the federal rules.
Legally, oddly, they can teach the pay-go general ed preschool, but most districts don't have that option.
No, the only thing that they can do for the schools is to be music teachers.

Google "How to Avoid a Layoff" and one of the first sites you'll find is this one, which rehashes advice that we've all heard for as long as the industrial society has existed: the best way to keep yourself employed is to have a wide variety of skills that would be useful to your employer. If you can only fill one role, you're very expendable when that role is no longer needed.

Colleges of Education, you're prepping your students to be the proverbial buggy-whip makers if you only prepare them to be one role for their schools, and that's a damned shame for the poor schmucks paying honest money for you to get them job ready.

In a way, guys, I don't really blame you. The Professional Educator Standards Board changes their mind more often than a baby gets a diaper change, and God only knows where we are with Highly Qualified/HOUSSE right now. The hoops that the state puts up have blown right past ridiculous, with layers of well-intentioned nonsense piled atop one another; a sort of surreal, bureaucratic onion that makes you cry when it cuts you.

That said, take a serious look at the world we live in right now, and then look at the graduates that you're about to unleash. Are they really, honestly prepared? Have you given them a skill-set that gives them a real chance at both being hired and earning continued employment for as long as this downturn sustains?

Often, the answer is yes, you are. It's the exceptions that are making things quite messy, and you'd be doing everyone a favor if you'd fix the problem.

It's on you when these things happen.


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Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Good Conversation on the Costs of College

Is it unjust that people who don't go to college pay taxes to subsidize the education of those who do? It's an idea that I've been working through since some gentle prompting from frequent commentator JL, and this post at the Chronicle of Higher Education's blog speaks directly to the point.

You could argue that since we have a need for college educated workers, it's right that we pay what we do. On the other hand, we don't need more Humanities majors, which leads to a legitimate argument that the state shouldn't subsidize those who pursue those degrees that don't serve a larger societal purpose. That's a tough line to draw, though.

It relates, too, to an article in the January 9th 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education written by Ron Knecht, a trustee in the Nevada college system. The big finish:

At the same time, however, we in education should embrace the current budget challenges as an opportunity to begin, out of necessity, to do the things we should have been doing all along. We should reorient our efforts, change operational models, lower costs, improve our product, and be more responsive to our changing markets.

We must shed the barnacles that have accumulated on our ships of educational enterprise and become efficient competitors. We should not waste time and opportunity looking backward and pining for how things used to be.
The first big step I've seen out of the Washington college system is the UofW limiting the number of spring enrollees at the Seattle campus; it'll be very interesting indeed to see what the other Universities do to follow suit.

Update: Also on the topic of financial efficiency at the higher ed level, this commentary from William Massy of Stanford is worth a read.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

If You Give Me a Test, my Grandma Will Die

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Being Around Kids Is a Good Way to Learn How To Teach Kids. I'll Be Damned.

This article from the Indianapolis Star-Tribune is rather humorous to me, because it reports things that we've long known about student teaching in such a way as to make you think they're recent discoveries. To wit:

Matt Taylor shoveled mulch into metal trash cans, a wheelbarrow and a red wagon while supervising fifth-grade students who distributed the mulch to create a quarter-mile walking path at DeVaney Elementary School.

“By doing this with them, I get more of an idea of their likes and dislikes,” said the Indiana State University senior elementary education major. “Also, on days when they’re a little rowdy, it wears them out a little bit. Maybe their parents will thank you for it.”

Helping create the walking path wasn’t all volunteer work on Taylor’s part. It was a classroom project and part of Taylor’s duties as he worked alongside an experienced educator during the fall semester learning what it takes to lead a classroom before his student teaching semester.

The Newport resident is part of ISU’s pilot program Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning (TOTAL).
I've had a fairly long parade of student teachers and practicum students come through my classroom in recent years. Eastern Washington U requires 3 hours a week of the college kids when they enroll in Ed200, the first education class. Later on there's a practicum (3 hours a week over the course of the quarter), and then the 10 weeks of student teaching. If the students can schedule their practicum and their student teaching in back-to-back quarters that's a happy thing, because it makes the adjustment into student teaching that much easier.

And regarding student teaching:

“When they student teach, at a certain point in the semester the teacher leaves them in the classroom for a two-week period to plan and deliver all of the instruction,” she said. “The TOTAL student is never left alone in the classroom and is never responsible for the full day of instruction.”
2 weeks?

Seriously, that's all they ask? Two weeks of alone time? I've always made my student teachers do at least 4 weeks where they do all the planning and delivering of instruction, sort of on a model like this:

  • 4 weeks of phase-in, where they learn the classroom routines and the kids, adjust to some of the grunt work, do assessing, etcetera.
  • 4 weeks where they are solely responsible for the lesson planning and putting the day together. I'll double check their plans and share with them the materials that I have, along with providing a rough outline of where I want them to go, but how they structure things is entirely up to them.*
  • 2 weeks of phase out where I ship them to other grades and programs to do observations.
The * is a caveat to say that it depends on how the student teacher is doing; if they can't handle planning on their own, I'll certainly take it over from them and be a lot more hands on than I would normally be. They're still my kids, after all.

I really enjoy having the college kids come through my room. I often learn just as much from them as they do from me, and that synergy can really make the classroom hum.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

"Educational Brutalism"

That's the term coined in this interesting post at the Chronicle Review's blog site, Brainstorm. Written by Stan Katz of Princeton, it's a thoughtful look at how University has evolved from a liberal arts focused, "man of letters" ideal into, increasingly, job preparation and job preparation alone.

When I was going to Eastern Washington U. there was a proposal floated to mandate an additional 4 credit class that would be a sort of synthesis of thought symposium; something related to your discipline, but bringing in other disciplines as well. I loved the capstone class I took--in fact, I expanded out and made the program my minor emphasis--but a lot of folks went nuts at what they perceived as "one more thing" that they had to get done before they could get out and get a job.

What, to your mind, should the function of the University be? Does that function vary based on the school, or is there a purpose that it can be argued every school should aspire to?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speaking of Single-Sex Schools….

….how about those single-sex colleges? Particularly the ones that are only for men?

According to the May 9th Chronicle of Higher Education, there are only 4 all male 4-year colleges left in the United States: Hampden-Sydney, Wabash, Morehouse, and Saint John’s University of Minnesota. It’s an interesting digression to consider what the scene looks like in postsecondary, since the single-gender classroom is a hot issue in K-12 right now.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bridging the Academe/K-12 Divide

I think that anyone in education who has worked towards a master’s degree has met the sort. They’re nice enough, in their tweed jackets and sensible shoes, many of the things they say make sense on a visceral level, and their doctorates lend a sense of credibility to what they do. Then, one day, the realization comes to you. It might be as sudden as the flap of a hummingbird’s wings, or it might suddenly make itself obvious like an expected landmark on the horizon, but it’s an undeniable truth, and it’s earth shattering.

I speak, of course, of professors who don’t know what they’re talking about.

I’ve been blessed in my Leadership program to have had quality instructors, but I had some real lulus during my masters program. One had an academics understanding of teaching, but hadn’t actually taught in the classroom in better than 20 years; another crowed about how she went and read at her grandson’s elementary school for an hour a week. These were your strict Vigotzkians who believed that all knowledge could be discovered eventually through play, that all classes would follow the rules if only they wrote them for themselves, and that phonics was a plot by the same people who hate Head Start to take all of the joie de vivre out of education. These were the same folks who are telling my student teachers that an acceptable lesson plan is about 5 pages long when I’m telling them you should be able to write it on a note card.

These people are idiots.

I bring it up because of an excellent commentary in the February 28th Chronicle of Higher Education (Creating a Third Culture), penned by Robert Weisbuch of Drew University, where he talks about the “gorge” that divides the theory of the academe from the practice of the schools. I think that it’s an important topic, because if we were able to harness the brainpower of the colleges to give all of us in K-12 those things we actually need (Kindergarten readiness tests! Quick and easy phonics screens! A DIBELS for math!) the whole system would benefit.

It’s a thoughtful article that would benefit anyone interested in education policy. I've also written some other posts about the research-to-practice gap that you can find here.

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New Teachers Get Hammered, Don’t They?

There’s an interesting post over at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog on when students declare their college majors:

Increasingly, freshmen arrive in my office for advisement already having declared a major. That might make sense for future neurosurgeons, who need to start early on their occupational requirements. It also makes sense, unfortunately, for future high-school teachers, whose entire curriculum is strictly regimented by the state. What surprises me, however, is the first-semester freshman who announces that he or she wants to be a marketing executive or a public-relations consultant or an investment banker. How the heck do they know?

I think this is an important point. Consider, for example, what’s required to get a Bachelor of Arts in Education degree with a Biology emphasis from Eastern Washington University:

*53 credits in biology classes
*22 credits in other support classes, including chemistry and biology
*46 credits in the education program

...for a bare minimum of 121 credits. If you don’t go to school thinking you’re going to be a biology teacher, instead deciding at the end of your sophomore year, then you’re going to be there for a long, long time. Chemistry Education is 122 credits; those pikers over in Earth Science only ask 110. Go over to the math department (remember, we need math teachers!) and you may well be tempted to give up: Elementary Math is 145 credits, Secondary Math 118.

This, I think, is where the push for alternative certification programs comes from.

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