Thursday, July 29, 2010

Common Core Standards - Good Idea or Bad Idea

In the effort to reform (for the sake of reform in my opinion), the current government administration is pushing for Common Core Standards for the entire country. Sounds like a good idea? That is what many of the top educational research organizations are saying, including the Fordham Institute.

But don't jump to conclusions based on the Fordham Institute rating scale. According to William J. Mathis, the research doesn't add up to being more economically competitive in the international community, which is one of the core arguments for those who support the standards.

With the conflicting research, why are we jumping ahead with creating national standards in education? Because we aren't doing as well as some think we should be, which therefore means we must need to make our standards more rigorous. Yet, the difference in schools in low income neighborhoods to more affluent areas is striking according to many who have taught in both places. Does creating a common standard necessarily provide a better education for all those students? While they claim that these standards prepare students for college and work expectations, I wonder if they only focus on the academics and not the practical experience of working. It seems that today the focus on education is all about everyone must go to college and locally the vo-tech opportunities seem to be diminishing (according to inside sources). But is college right for everyone?

I often hear complaints often about how we no longer make anything in the U.S. and that we live off the backs of poorer countries. I feel that this is due to the "college for everyone" attitude that seems to be more than just an "if you want to go you can" attitude and has become an "everyone must go to college to make something of themselves" attitude. Is this more detrimental to our children's psyche if they aren't good at the academics but perhaps have a talent working with their hands or in an area of art such as music or photography? Which leads us back to Common Core Standards and how they will influence education.

One final thought on common standards is that we live in a very large and diverse country. Everything I have learned in my educational courses as well as in my personal experiences, leads to the benfits of individualized education rather than a "one size fits all" mentality. When we take away control of standards from the individual school which understands their student population and put it in the hands of a higher group whether that is the district, the state, or a national board, aren't we disempowering the teachers? If they have little control over what must be taught to meet these standards, what choice do they have but to teach to the test? Why are we so keen on removing local control of educational decisions from the people who know and understand our children the most, us?

While Colorado is still considering the standards, 26 states have already adopted them. Visit to read more about the Common Core Standards. To read more opinions on the subject, check out this site.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teachers of the Future

Is it possible? Could we really be looking at the future of education to be handled by robots? According to this article, there are already countries experimenting with classrooms taught by robots and here in the US, we are already testing them on preschoolers.

The story opens with the example of a young autistic boy who successfully mimics the robot's actions. They even mention that when the boy begins to retreat from the learning session, the robot doesn't give up and soon is able to get the boy active again. A good thing, I think most of us can agree. Furthermore, "Researchers say the pace of innovation is such that these machines should begin to learn as they teach, becoming the sort of infinitely patient, highly informed instructors that would be effective in subjects like foreign language or in repetitive therapies used to treat developmental problems like autism." I wonder why we aren't spending more money on creating highly effective teachers? Wouldn't that mean that robots would become unnecessary?

Now, the funny thing is that one of the executives who is helping to create these robots made a comment that not only made me laugh, but was also one of those "Here's Your Sign" type comments. “The problem with autonomous machines is that people are so unpredictable, especially children...” Do you think so? Apparently some kids ripped the arms off one of the robots. The solution? Make the robot cry, at least a noise that sounds like crying.

They are also teaching the robots to think for themselves. After all, they need to be able to interpret when a student is learning or when a specific teaching method is not working for them.
This all makes me wonder about the possibility of such movies as Terminator or the Matrix. Of course, that could be my sci-fi freak nature coming out because we just started watching the new version of Battle Star Galactica, another "humans create robots that take over the world" story line.

But is all this necessary? They don't give much data of information, just that it is working and positive. I personally want to see the data and I want to see comparisons of adequately trained professional teachers using the same methods, in the same environment, with the same number of students. It is great if the robot works for small groups, but it has also been proven that teachers are more successful when they have smaller groups as well. The question remains, how do they compare when given the same learning situation as a real flesh and blood teacher. (Perhaps that doesn't matter, rather the fact that the robot teacher may be expensive upfront to purchase, but you don't have to worry about them calling in sick, taking vacation, or even paying them.)

Furthermore, going back to the child with Autism, one of the things important to teach children on the autistic spectrum and others with non-verbal disabilities is to focus on social relationships. These types of things involve real-world interactions that I find difficult to believe can be taught by a non-emotional machine. Facial expression, body language, and tone of voice are all important pieces of social interaction. Do you really think a robot can replace a teacher in that capacity?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Evaluating Teachers

Between the Race to the Top (RttT) fund in full swing, stage 2 now, and reforms being made in many states, including Colorado (in hopes of winning RttT), the way in which we evaluate teachers is big news lately.

Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University had this to say about the way we evaluate teachers. Basically, because so many different things influence the performance on testing, it is not an effective way to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom. Furthermore, she says that teachers should be judged by "professional standards," but does little to explain exactly what this means.

Some of the others who responded to this question made suggestions such as the outcomes of the education process, but most admit there is not a fool-proof method for evaluating this.

So what is the answer? A while back either someone told me this or I read it somewhere. (It isn't my idea, but I am unsure who I need to contribute it to. However, if you know, please let me know so that I can reference your idea in my blog.) The idea was with regards to having departmental review committees from that school.

It stems from the poor practice of having an administrator evaluate teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. This is not a valuable evaluation in my mind because those administrators are no long dealing with the day to day needs of the individual classrooms. Furthermore, for some administrators it may have been years or possibly they have never even taught in a classroom. However, having departmental reviews done by peers who are currently working in classrooms and with the curriculum appears to me to be a more sound method for evaluation. After all, in business, the CEO or President is not the one who evaluates the office personnel. Rather it is their immediate boss or peers who work alongside them in the trenches that provide the most accurate assessment of their performance.

Friday, July 9, 2010