Archives For Twitter

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Order for questions for #satchat 3/7/15

Rather than sleep in, hundreds of educators spend Saturday mornings (7:30 EST) tweeting away on Twitter in discussions with other educators worldwide about current issues in education. The hashtag #satchat takes educators to the discussion selected for that morning. The topics are usually posted (see left) by one of the coordinators so that educators can prepare in advance for the flurry of responses they want to make for the hour of tweeting. The topic on 3/7/15 was tweeted out by as Tomorrow’s Classrooms Today. 

At 7:30 AM this Saturday, the tweet tsunami began and soon Twitter’s#satchat was trending (by the numbers: 3654 Tweets; 603 Participants; 49.2 Tweets Per Minute according to Billy Krakower ‏@wkrakower ).

Call those engaged in this particular form of edu-communication the Coalition of the Willing. They are spread out nationwide, perhaps clustered in some geographic areas, but connected in this digital parking lot every week for the sharing of ideas with like-minded educators. At every session, and during the week, there are participants cheering #satchat as their Professional Learning Network (PLN).

These members of the Coalition of the Willing tweets out positive, occasionally fanatical, statements about the difference these virtual meetings make for them in their practice. These three samples prove such enthusiasm:

rWith Twitter the knowledge of one becomes the knowledge of all.
aStarting my morning w/ , expanding my PLN and continued growth through collaboration.
Today’s : the best proof that teachers are most certainly part of solutions in education.

Reading tweets from the Coalition of the Willing on any Saturday, there those messages that bemoan educators are not taking advantage of social interaction and information shared on links through Twitter or any other social media. Let us call those educators the Coalition of the Unwilling. Many in this coalition are unwilling because they do not see the value of a Twitter form of professional discussion; many do not have the time to participate; many are not proficient with technology and are frustrated with their attempts to engage; many do not care. For whatever reason, and regardless of platform, there will always be a group of educators currently employed who are not independently engaged.

What can be done to change this paradigm? What about looking at the next generation of teachers?

Question #5 on this round of #satchat asked about the tools can educators can utilize to involve stakeholders in the future of education. Knowing that the Coalition of the Unwilling is already not interested (not available, not proficient, etc…), I offered the following sentiment on a tweet for Q5:

For our future, engage teacher ed programs.

A response came from 

And energetic new teachers often get sucked into the status quo when they enter the “real world” of schools. 

My response?

That’s why we hook potential and new teachers into Twitter; It’s an inoculation against the status quo.

If educators today want collaboration and communication with the educators of tomorrow, then the Coalition of the Willing needs to collectively use social media to engage with the teacher education programs. Most new recruits in teacher ed programs are already familiar with social media, and understand how to make connections. They must be brought into the dialogues on social media platforms like Twitter in order to be inoculated against the isolation of those first years of teaching or serving as an administrator.

Every #satchat discussion is the perfect complement to teacher education and teacher preparation programs. Week to week, #satchat offers what could be considered the most authentic syllabus for a “Contemporary Issues in Education” course. And there are Twitter chats with hashtags for any other education course as well: #Engchat for English teachers, #kinderchat for Kindergarten and elementary teachers, #BYOD for schools using bring your own digital device approaches, etc.

The Twitter handle @Cybraryman1 (Jerry Blumengarten) updates a webpage with links to hundreds of hashtag links and the National Education Association offers an article “Can Tweeting Help Your Teaching?”  with links to support beginners such as the Twitter Handbook for Teachers.

Targeting colleges and universities with teacher ed programs to engage with professionals on social media platforms could bring collaboration in teacher preparation in the short term which might improve teacher retention in the long run.  At a minimum, professors and instructors should consider how easily participation in education chats could be used as assignments: follow students, review posted links, assessing a tweet’s 140 characters. This is more authentic, and less burdensome, than grading long papers.

At a time when professional development can be costly, there are educators with experience on education chats who are ready to lend support and guidance for free. There are educators who want to learn from each other and share what they know. They are the Coalition of the Willing, and many are already on Twitter on Saturday mornings, tweeting #satchat and trending.

Teacher educators? Please, have your students join them…or maybe have them respond at a more reasonable hour, say, after noon?

“Stand up…. Now, put out your arms,” the instructor stood watching us.

“OK, pull your right arm back past your body.”Screenshot 2014-02-09 06.56.12

This was a EDR 500 level class, a graduate course in teaching remedial reading to pre-school and elementary aged schoolchildren. On this first night, we did not know what to expect.

“Now try with the other arm.”
We waved our arms erratically in the air.
He paused for a moment, looked amused and asked, “Can you teach someone to swim like this?”

The 26 of us were standing in a very dry classroom with no water in sight.

We all shook our heads in agreement, “No”, “Not Really”, “Probably not.

“Well, how can you learn to teach reading without actually working with students?”
We were surprised. Our instructor was admitting to the disconnect in teacher preparation programs.
“You need to be in the classroom to learn how to teach,” he admonished, “any thing else is waving your arms in the air.”

In this class, we were a mixed group in age and experience. Some of us were already employed as teachers in classrooms; others were completing degrees in order to be hired. All of us were learning how to improve student reading from 4:30-7:30 PM on a Tuesday night in a classroom. With not a student in sight, we were learning in the abstract.

Learning in the abstract is not unusual. A large percentage of learning for students in pre-K through grade12 is spent learning in the abstract. For 13 years, students practice skills they will use in college or in real world careers.

However, for those preparing to be teachers, the “real world” is the classroom. Our instructor was acknowledging that the classroom environment is the pool and prospective teachers and veterans should be immersed in that pool in order to learn how to teach. Unfortunately, the evening time slot and location of the class distanced us from authentic practice.

Accessing classrooms and students for teacher prep is largely unavailable under our current agrarian model of education. There are logistical problems for colleges and universities in scheduling, supervision, and, in today’s tense climate, security. Nevertheless,hands on classroom experience is a critically important part of undergraduate teacher preparation, and a semester or two of supervised student teaching is not enough. Teaching training programs need regular and continuous access to students. At minimum, there are must be more integration and collaboration between the teacher training programs, graduate and undergraduate, and local classrooms that are geographically located near these programs. 

In addition, the professors/instructors in teacher preparation programs must be current in the practices that new teachers are expected to know. They must be current on how their state is integrating the Common Core State Standards, the surrounding controversies around the adoption of these standards, and the testing programs that have been funded to access the effectiveness of these standards.

Also professors/instructors must be current in their state’s evaluation programs and how the teacher competencies being evaluated. Information disseminated through handouts and powerpoint presentations on these topics is not sufficient; classroom practice in teaching strategies through simulations, feedback, reflection and extensive discussions on these standards and evaluation procedures are critically important at every level of teacher training.

Finally, the professors/instructors in teacher training programs must be familiar with the wide range of technologies being used in preK-grade 12 classrooms. The disconnect between college programs and the use of technology in real-life classrooms has been widening. The professors/instructors in today’s teacher preparation programs must develop proficiency with the software teachers are expected to use. They must be familiar with Google Apps for Education, Edmodo, Twitter, Quizlet, Dropbox, Khan Academy, Class Dojo, Pinterest, Evernote.

There are forces outside the education profession that are exerting pressure and changing the face of education for new and seasoned educators alike. There is political pressure from legislators designing state evaluation and curriculum standard programs combined with pressure from testing companies. The voice that is missing in response to these pressures is leadership from those who design and implement teacher training programs in colleges and universities.

Leadership is more than just an advertising slogan or an elective course offered by colleges and universities. Teacher training programs need the leadership of professors/instructors who connected with the realities of the classroom. That kind of leadership requires direct involvement and reflection on the curriculum, instruction strategies, and means of assessment in classrooms today.

Only that kind of leadership can design programs that meet the needs of the classroom today as well as anticipate the training that prepares new and veteran teachers with both pedagogy and experience for success.


In this current sea change of education, teacher training programs must become the force that exerts pressure and change, not the institutions forced to respond. Teacher training programs currently offered by colleges and universities must move from the abstract, from the practice of training on dry land, in order to move teacher preparation into deep waters of classroom experience. 

Anything else is just waving arms in the air.

No common coreOne of the underlying problems in educational reform today is that so few reformers have any hands-on classroom experience. Reading about teaching is academic and informative, but the hands-on experience of standing in front of a class of 9, 14, 24, or (heaven forbid!) 31 students at any grade level is irreplaceable. Developing lesson plans is an academic exercise, however monitoring and adjusting that lesson plan for real time problems (fire drill, student absences, material shortage, technology glitch) during instruction is irreplaceable. Reading assessment data is an academic enterprise, but understanding that data in the context of the classroom with all the personalities, abilities, disabilities, and socio-economic influences is irreplaceable. Hands-on experience should be a major factor in education reform, but the education reform efforts in the  Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have little to no classroom credibility.

A recent entry on Twitter from Randi Weingarten, current president of the American Federation of Teachers, was an attempt to address the classroom experience of the creators of the CCSS. Weingarten herself does have hands-on experience in the classroom, but that experience is spotty.  From 1991 until 1997, and with the exception of a six month full time teaching load in the fall of 1994, Weingarten taught on per diem basis (substitute?) at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights, NY. Total experience? Six years, but this short experience is six more than many of the educational reformers who participated in the creation of the CCSS.

Weingarten tweeted the following on June 29, 2013:

Teachers were part of the development of #CCSS from the beginning

She was posting a link that was supposed to demonstrate that teachers, real classroom teachers with hands-on experience, had been involved in the standards from the beginning. The link led to a YouTube video featuring an ELL classroom teacher Lisa Fretzin who reflects how she “…was part of the review process starting in August looking at the the first draft”:

While Ms. Fretzin certainly has classroom credibility necessary for developing the CCSS, her participation was not exactly at the “beginning” of this process. According to her statement on the video, she was not present at the creation; she was asked to “review” which is different than “from the beginning”. Furthermore, her name is not on the list of participants who did create the CCSS for English Language Arts (or feedback group) which clearly identifies only four of the 50 participants (8%) as “teachers”. The remaining 46 participants (92%) are identified with titles such as: “author”, “consultant”, “specialist”, “professor”,  “supervisor”, “director” or “senior fellow.” In all fairness, perhaps many of these participants had worked in the classroom before moving into higher ranking positions as one would hope, but their hands-on classroom work experience is unclear.

The most glaring examples of classroom incredibility are the lead authors for the CCSS, Susan Pimentel and David Coleman; their collective classroom experience is zero. Pimentel has a law degree and a B.S in Early Childhood Education from Cornell University. Coleman’s, (termed “Architect of the Common Core”) classroom experience is limited to tutoring selected students in a summer program at Yale. He later founded Student Achievement Partners and is currently serving as the President of the College Board.

Weingarten must also know that classroom teachers for PreK-Grade 3 and grade level experts were not included in the creation of the CCSS at all. Many of these educators have express concerns that students are not cognatively ready for many of the standards in math and reading. Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post put up an editorial (1/29/13) “A Tough Critique of Common Core on Early Childhood Education” by Edward Miller, teacher and co-author of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige is Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and author of Taking Back Childhood. They note that when the standards were first revealed in March 2010, “many early childhood educators and researchers were shocked. “

The promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. They are not. There is no convincing research, for example, showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge (such as counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words) if mastered in kindergarten will lead to later success in school. Two recent studies show that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning. At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science.

Miller and Carlsson-Paige also include links to the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative and summarize their statement:

 We have grave concerns about the core standards for young children…. The proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades….

At all grade levels, therefore, there are concerns about how inclusive the creators of the CCSS were in engaging classroom teachers. The entire initiative, by its own admission, began politically, coming from the nation’s governors and education commissioners, “through their representative organizations the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).”

Weingarten’s tweet was more than a little disingenuous when she indicated that “teachers were part of the development” when, to the contrary, there is much more evidence to prove that the ratio of teachers to individuals bearing education titles was disproportionate in favor of reformers and academics without classroom experience.

Real teachers, those with hands-on experience gained in the classroom, have had a limited say in the CCSS that they will be implementing day in and day out in their classrooms at every grade level. Excluding this important faction is why there has been pushback from teachers who recognize the difficulties in implementing many of the standards. Furthermore, there are growing concerns about the level of accountability for teachers in having students meet these same standards.

Ultimately, Weingarten should not tweet out misinformation about teachers developing the CCSS, especially when the evidence demonstrates that teachers were a only a tiny percentage in creating these standards. Weingarten must know that for any educational initiative to succeed, teachers must be engaged from the very beginning.

In these days of education reform, classroom credibility counts.

boringMany educators use Twitter to communicate as part of personal learning networks (PLN). I appreciate the means to share messages with other educators, but I am sometimes alarmed by some of the tweets I read. The brevity of 140 characters does not allow for nuances. The tweet is, by design, blunt.
Example #1: Most teachers do not share a professional language. And they don’t share prof lang with students. 
I wonder, “Really? Is there evidence to support this claim?”
Example #2: Freedom—for educators and parents—is necessary, but not sufficient, for excellent schools
I think, “Define Freedom. Define sufficient. Define excellent.”
These tweets are made of some sentiment that begins an argument, but they are so brief and banal that they cut off debate.
Such was the case this week when prominent author and educator Dr. Tony Wagner paraphrased a statement made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan (week May 21, 2013) in a response on his twitter feed.  Wagner is the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard; he is a former high school teacher, K-8 principal, and a university professor in teacher education. Wagner’s tweet read:

“‘Too many high school students are dropping out, not because school is too hard, but because it’s too easy @arneduncan’ Wrong! It’s boring!” @DrTonyWagner.

While I disagree with Duncan’s generalization that schools are too easy, I was even more disturbed by Wagner’s response, about school, “It’s boring!”
I hear this complaint enough from students before they read the class novel or before we start the unit. I did not expect to hear it from Wagner.
Students say “this is boring” so much that I will not let them use the word “boring” any more.
But, is school boring?
Is it?
I take issue with Wagner’s claim. I would like to debate this.
As someone who attended Mr. Orontias’s History and Geography class in 1970, I can confidently say I have experienced boring. His 45 minute lecture delivered in a monotone right after lunch was not in a time space continuum; the clock hands did not move.
I know boring.
In contrast, my students’ high school today is not boring. As examples, I offer the following:
  • We have a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative;
  • We employ student driven learning with choice on reading, topics, and presentation;
  • We include project based assessments and encourage reflection on tests.
We do, however, require that students do schoolwork. They practice math problems. They do research. They must complete reading assignments. They have deadlines. Some of this work is repetitious; some of this work is tedious. Some rote learning may be necessary to develop background knowledge before students can engage in active participation or collaboration.
So, when I hear from students that they are “bored” with school, often what they are saying is “schoolwork is not fun.”
This is not unexpected. A great deal of time is spent everyday in “not fun” activities inside school, just as a number of “not fun” activities are required in the real world.
I sympathize, but the reality is that not every lesson in school is fun. Education objectives require students to work rather than have the teachers be the engine of the classroom.
Wagner is one of the innovative educators who promotes education to incorporate more real world problems, reforming education to prepare students with 21st Century skills in order to engage students in meaningful enterprises. Whatever innovations are developed by education reformers like Wagner, students will experience frustrations, and experience failures. There will be efforts expended by teachers and students successfully and unsuccessfully. Work will be necessary, and some of that work will not be fun. If the goal of schools is to prepare students to learn the value of work, to prepare students for the workforce, work should be applauded, even if the work is not fun, or if the work is “boring.”
Arne Duncan’s statement that high school students are dropping out because schools are too easy is a gross overstatement. How easy will the real world be for those high school dropouts?
Similarly, Wagner’s accusation that high school is boring is infuriatingly terse, using only 20 out of Twitter’s 140 characters. How bored will students be if they drop out and cannot find fulfilling employment?
There are isolated cases of students who may write code for some fabulous new social media or video game that goes viral, but those are isolated. A high school diploma is necessary for even the most menial employment.
Today’s schools are not boring. Today’s schools are preparing students for work environments just like schools have done in decades past. Historically, teachers do not predict the job market, instead they prepare students with the fundamentals so that their students may create the job market. Some of that preparation is not fun; it is work, and in student lingo, it is boring.
Stating this needs more than a pithy remark that negates the efforts of teachers who are engaging students with 21st Century skills, with active rather than passive instruction.
Education has come a long way since my experience in the 1970s because of the efforts of education reformers like Dr. Wagner. Forty years ago, education came in primarily in the form of direct instruction. We sat in rows and listened to lectures, and yes, that was boring.
Except for the day that Mr. Orontias stepped into the wastebasket.
That was not boring at all.

Tuesday nights are #edchat nights on Twitter, and educators across the country, even across the globe, discuss topics of general interest for an hour. Last night (5/7) the topic was posted: What is BIG Shift in ed that everyone is looking for? Is there 1 idea that can positively affect education? While I was surfing the column of tweets that piling up, I was alarmed by one of the “tweets” in one of the sidebar discussions that break out between tweeters.The topic began with a comment about high school teachers by one tweeter”

Do they [teachers] need to be experts OR can they be great teachers instead?

The response to this question caught my eye and made me a little concerned: 

 HS Ts need not be content experts, but rather good directors and literate within their subject.

The brevity in Twitter-language communication often makes the tone in tweets sound dogmatic; many read like proclamations, and this was a proclamation I found startling. Yes, teachers need to be good directors, but the standard for literate is “being able to  know how to read and write” in a subject area? That definition sets a low bar for teachers.  My own experience in school guided my response; I tweeted back:

I respectfully disagree; my best HS teachers were content experts. Made me want to know what they knew.

The return tweet by was unsettling:

Good T[teachers] facilitate learning & help S[students] engage. With tech, a content-expert is less imp. 

Captured in the dialogue above is a contemporary problem in education, a growing separation between skills or content created by the exponential growth of information.  For example, in 2011, The Telegraph published “Welcome to the Information Age – 174 Newspapers a Day” which began:

The growth in the internet, 24-hour television and mobile phones means that we now receive five times as much information every day as we did in 1986.

The article written by Richard Alleyne, illustrated the explosion in the increase of information using a variety of statistics:

  • Every day the average person produces six newspapers worth of information compared with just two and a half pages 24 years ago – nearly a 200-fold increase. 
  • We now each have the equivalent of 600,000 books stored in computers, microchips and even the strip on the back of a credit card.
  • In 1986 we received around 40 newspapers full of information every day- this rocketed to 174 in 2007.
  • The ability to process all this information with computers has doubled every 18 months.

Today’s information overload is the major reason that many educators are promoting 21st Century skills; there is little hope that any human could manage the amount of information available. Instead there is every reason to believe that developing the necessary skills to access information is critical in education. However, to declare that teachers do not need to be content experts is a step in the wrong direction. 

Would anyone want a doctor or lawyer who was skilled but lacked content knowledge? Would anyone want a business manager or a craftsman who had content knowledge but no skills?  Why then do respected educators suggest that there should be a preference for skills over content in the teaching profession ? The problem appears to be that many people, educators included, connect content knowledge in the classroom with “lecture”. This association is evidenced by another tweeter who continued the conversation:

Content I agree, but just trying to focus away from “content expert” = lecturer. That’s not best role.

Really? For thousands of years, information was passed from one generation to another through the lecture format. Each subsequent generation added more knowledge in lecture formats, preparing the next generation for an undefined future. So did the Socratic method (5th C BCE) which encouraged debate and inquiry between teacher and students in order to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. Instructors used dialectic methods, arguments to persuade and inform. Now, suddenly, because there is an over-abundance of information, the lecture is dead?

Well, certainly the long and dry lecture delivered to students without their participation has always been deadening. Contemporary educators have adapted and improved the lecture by delivering content through different strategies to accomodate different learning styles.  Successful instruction is not delivered from the podium, but delivered in mini-lessons, project-based assessments, literature circles, reading and writing workshops, and labs. Yet, there was one more concern about the teacher as content expert, a concern about teacher control:

T[teachers]s direct content. S[students]s don’t have total control, but the emphasis needs to shift to the S[students]s.

While this tweet sounded blunt, the reality is that teachers do direct a great deal of content in delivering content knowledge as outlined in curriculum, and that content could be lost in turning control over to the students. There are many ways students can be offered choice in content: choice in independent reading, choice in research, choice in project presentation. Students must first have some content to make decisions and to take control of their learning. This sentiment was reflected in one of the last tweets in the conversation:

I agree content experts are important, but not as important as allowing S[students}s to access and struggle to understand.

I added my final comment:

Sure, if they [teachers] give them [students] the answers all the time. But a content expert knows questions-what to ask & where to help guide.

That struggle for understanding is exactly what has happened for millenium, from instructor to student. This Twitter conversation had come full circle, a full Socratic circle. Through Twitter’s #edchat, educators discussed the teacher as content expert or as a skilled instructor. We were participating in reasoned debate from our different points of view about a subject in order to establish a truth.

balanceThe sidebar conversation on #edchat had begun with the question, “Do they [teachers] need to be experts OR can they be great teachers instead?” This answer to this question is not a choice between content knowledge or being “great” with skill. Furthermore, the skill to dispense knowledge is enhanced not replaced by technology.

In determining what makes a teacher great, on #edchat or in any other forum, there is no “or”…the balanced combination of content and skills is what makes a teacher great.

Sensible shoes dominate the NCTE Conference.

Spotting an English teacher in the crowds moving through the glitzy MGM Conference Center in Las Vegas is easy. Just look for the sensible shoes.

English teacher stamina is the stuff of legend, built up through hours of standing in front of a class, negotiating the space between groups of students and book bags tossed casually on the  classroom floor. We have perfected the quick sprint down a hallway to the copier for extra copies of a quiz or test.  Yes, we have learned from experience the necessitiy of wearing sensible, comfortable shoes. Our footwear choices came from our hard fought classroom experience, and that training was key to participation at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference (NCTE) since the MGM conference center has cavernous corridors and sessions are scattered over several acres of property. We walk, we walk, and we walk…quickly! There are hundreds of sessions, and only a few days to share new ideas and improvements to pedagogy.

“Dreams. Connect. Ignite.” is the motto of this NCTE 102nd Conference. While I have not personally witnessed much in the way of dreaming, the igniting is thankfully limited to the videos of pyrotechnics that are an element in the  Cirque de Soleil show “Ka.”. But I have participated in and witnessed plenty of connecting. My year of tweeting on Twitter has paid off!

Twitter gives teachers the opportunity to communicate with other teachers; to form communities of educators who ” follow” other educators. This is a very individualized form of professional development since I can pick those educators who are most helpful to me in helping me improve my practice. While I am attending sessions, I tweet what I am learning as notes to myself and to others.I  use the hashtag #NCTE12 to share my thoughts with other attendees. I have discovered many educators through the English Companion Ning and specific Twitter streams with hashtags such as  #engchat, #edchat, and #sschat. I follow the Twitter stream of conferences I attend, and my own school district’s stream #rsd6.

Here at the conference I have met other educators with whom I have been communicating over the past year, and the conversations we have had face to face are simply an extention of what we have been saying online. I have enthusiastically shared my use of Twitter with other attendees; “Look, you have to get on Twitter and follow this (speaker, educator)!” I greet those who tweet to me or follow me with the same enthusiasm I would greet old teaching companions. Meeting at this conference, we are free of the 140 character limit, the constant trimming of thought. Face to face we can complete a sentence without an abbreviation or a hashtag.

There are so many offerings at this conference that am I rushing from session to session. I do try and pay attention, however, to those who pass me in the maze of hallways and lobbies, scanning a name tag looking to see if one of attendees passing me might be one of my twitter “friends.” How do I know who to look at? Well, first, I look at the shoes.

Et Tu, Kristof?

September 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

Dear Nicholas Kristof:

Not you too? I have always looked to you as the defender of just causes; a voice of reason in times of crisis. I agreed with your passionate opening in your New York Times column Students Over Unions, September 12, 2012, noting the role of poverty as a factor in “the most important civil rights battleground” and that “the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in schools.”

In adding your opinion to the Chicago teacher’s strike, you considered that today’s inner-city urban schools, “echo the ‘separate but equal’ system of the early 1950s. In the Chicago Public Schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.”
In this opinion piece, you also made the good points that I look for in your columns:
  • The single most important step we could take has nothing to do with unions and everything to do with providing early-childhood education to at-risk kids.
  • Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools.
However, you lost me at, “How does one figure out who is a weak teacher?”
Your solution is to have schools look at value added measurements (VAM) using test data. You suggest that researchers are improving the use of VAM and that, “with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.”
Before you put your faith in VAM, you might have perused, John Ewing’s article “Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data” in the publication Notices of the American Mathematic Society.  Ewing’s thesis in the article addresses a common misuse of mathematics that “is simpler, more pervasive, and (alas) more insidious: mathematics employed as a rhetorical weapon—an intellectual credential to convince the public that an idea or a process is ‘objective’ and hence better than other competing ideas or processes.”
As the president of the organization”Math for America”, Ewing disputes the use of tests to evaluate teachers, schools, or programs, and he short lists four of the most important problems:

1. Influences. Test scores are affected by many factors, including the incoming levels of achievement, the influence of previous teachers, the attitudes of peers, and parental support. One cannot immediately separate the influence of a particular teacher or program among all those variables.

2. Polls. Like polls, tests are only samples. They cover only a small selection of material from a larger domain. A student’s score is meant to represent how much has been learned on all material, but tests (like polls) can be misleading.

3. Intangibles. Tests (especially multiple-choice tests) measure the learning of facts and procedures rather than the many other goals of teaching. Attitude, engagement, and the ability to learn further on one’s own are difficult to measure with tests. In some cases, these “intangible” goals may be more important than those measured by tests.

4. Inflation. Test scores can be increased without increasing student learning. This assertion has been convincingly demonstrated, but it is widely ignored by many in the education establishment. In fact, the assertion should not be surprising. Every teacher knows that providing strategies for test-taking can improve student performance and that narrowing the curriculum to conform precisely to the test (“teaching to the test”) can have an even greater effect. The evidence shows that these effects can be substantial: One can dramatically increase test scores while at the same time actually decreasing student learning. “Test scores” are not the same as “student achievement”.

In pointing out the flaws of VAM in testing, Ewing concludes:

“Of course we should hold teachers accountable, but this does not mean we have to pretend that mathematical models can do something they cannot. Of course we should rid our schools of incompetent teachers, but value-added models are an exceedingly blunt tool for this purpose. In any case, we ought to expect more from our teachers than what value-added attempts to measure.”

Ultimately, Ewing determines the tool, the data from a single metric, used to measure teacher performance is fundamentally flawed. I ask you to consider what other profession evaluates on a single metric?

Evaluate performers in any other profession and note the number of metrics used to determine success. Athletes have pre-season games, games, playoffs all of which give important data to determine improvement over time. Multiple industries release profit statements quarterly while parsing through the tremendous amount of targeted consumer data now available. Lawyers, doctors, and other professions are ranked not by single cases, but by professional performance accrued case by case. Government agencies use multiple measurements to determine progress in various sectors (employment, demographics, investments,etc) and provide monthly reports to determine progress; even the presidential race has a primary before the election. Yet there are those who would want teachers to be evaluated using the metric of a single test, taken one day out of one school year.

The single metric test is given state by state to measure growth in skills and subject area content in reading, writing, math and science. Elementary school teachers and teachers at the high school in these subject areas receive the most scrutiny. Many state standardized tests are given at specific grade levels. In other words, in my state of Connecticut, teachers in 5th, 8th or 10th grade who teach one of the “core” classes carry a different evaluation burden; their test results are widely publicized as the school ranking against other schools. Elective teachers (art, PE, music, foreign language) or “off-year testing” teachers do not receive the same level of examination by the public.

However, I do not advocate increasing tests at every grade level or in every subject in order to even the playing field. You write that the reliance on tests and VAM “are stirring skepticism and anger among teachers” because the evaluation system is being created by those who do not have authentic or extensive classroom experience. Instead, the evaluation system is being handed over in large part to the testing industry, and that testing industry lives in an incestuous relationship with publishing and educational “support” developers. The testing industry proclaims a school system’s success by evaluating data from a test, but within that same industry are multiple businesses that profit from a a school system’s need to purchase programs and materials they promote as necessary to pass the standardized test. “Failing the standardized tests? You need our reading/writing/math/science program!”

Before you hop onto the bandwagon with those advocating a one-test metric, consider how this opinion piece “Students over Unions” differs in both research and sentiment from your columns that bring national attention to the poor and the disenfranchised. So different was the tone of this piece as to have a caught the attention of several other writers who called you out specifically: Sarah Jaffe from Truth Out Five So-Called Libreral Pundits that are Attacking Teachers; and Education Week contributor Larry Ferrlazzo on his blog “When Bad Ideas Happen to Good Columnists” to name two.Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post in Why Rahm Emanuel and The New York Times are Wrong about Teacher Evaluation  also found and incorporated the Ewing argument in explaining the lack of union support from your paper. You even got into a Twitter-tiff with education advocate Diane Ravitch

Ultimately, I am confident that you would not want one column, specifically this one column, to be used to define you for an entire year.  You would not want one metric to measure your success as writer for the New York Times. You would not want one single opinion piece be used as measurement in order to evaluate your annual performance.

Well, neither do teachers.

I read a tweet by the National Education Association’s (NEA) president, Dennis Van Roekel, which brought me to this quote: “I’m so tired of OTHERS defining the solutions….without even asking those who do the work every day of their professional life.”

Consider how solutions determined by others have determined the profound changes in education in the past 12 years. The legislation for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS), have come from stakeholders who are looking into  the classroom as if they are looking through a one-way window. This one-way window prevents the sounds of education, limits other visual perspectives, and prevents dialogue with teachers. The one way also window prevents the teachers from seeing or communicating with those stakeholders who have made these changes.

This past week, in my Twitter feed, I found links to information which made me wonder, with the increasing adoption of technology in education, how might this one-way window dynamic change?

The first piece of information came from a tweet by @webenglishteach. On a recent post titled “My career by the numbers (so far)” on her Chalkboard blog, Carla discussed her retirement as an English teacher and reflected on the numbers in her educational career, for example, the number of papers she had corrected or numbers of students she taught over the course of her 32 year career. She has spent the past year with the Department of Education (DOE), and noted:

“People at the DOE like to identify themselves as teachers. ‘I taught 2 years.’ They’re good people, but teachers make more decisions that affect other people on Monday than someone at DOE does all week. Be proud of what we do.”

The second piece of information came from a link in the article The Gates Foundation’s Education Philanthropy: Are Profit Seeking and Market Domination a Public Service?  tweeted by Education Week . The article comprehensively argued against the agenda of wealthy philanthropic enterprises that partner with public institutions, a public-private partnership.This article by Anthony Cody contained a link to a April 2011 article by Sam Dillon in the New York Times Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools  that described how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be working with the textbook and testing firm Pearson:

“In his educational work, Bill Gates has explored ways that new technologies can transform teaching. Vicki Phillips, a director at the Gates Foundation, said the partnership with Pearson was part of a ‘suite of investments’ totaling more than $20 million that the foundation was undertaking, all of which involve new technology-based instructional approaches. The new digital materials, Ms. Phillips said, “have the potential to fundamentally change the way students and teachers interact in the classroom.”

This investment will be extremely profitable for Pearson, a large corporation that also houses the publishing companies Penguin and the Financial Times; $330 million in Department of Education financing. The partnership with the Gates Foundation could give Pearson a considerable advantage as textbook and learning technology companies position themselves in an education marketplace upended by the creation of the common standards. Finally, Susan Neuman, a former Education Department official with the Bush Administration commented in the story, “Pearson already dominates, and this could take it to the extreme. This could be problematic for many of our kids. We could get a one size fits all.”
In both these instances, the classroom teachers are clearly not involved solutions. There are Department of Education employees with fleeting experience in the classroom  determining educational policy.  Public-private partnerships are fundamentally changing how content is delivered in the classroom. Finally, education services companies are developing both the texts and the tests for use in the classroom.
So why are teachers, those with years of expertise in the classroom, not leading to challenge the solutions offered by others?   That is what Van Roekel was asking when he addressed the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly  at the 2012 convention:
“I’m so tired of OTHERS defining the solutions… without even asking those who do the work every day of their professional life.
I want to take advantage of this opportunity for US to lead – and I’m not waiting to be asked, nor am I asking anyone’s permission.
Because if we are not ready to lead, I know there are many others ready, willing, and waiting to do it for us. Or maybe I should say, do it ‘to’us.There are plenty of people outside our profession who have their own ideas about what we should be doing, how we should be evaluated, and how to improve public education…”
Teachers could define the solution if they had time and the ability to effectively dialogue with other teachers. Unfortunately, there is little teachers can do about the finite elements of time, however, teachers can communicate with teachers much more effectively today through numerous platforms. Research has proved that peer to peer professional development is successful, and one platform for such dialogue is  Twitter. No, not the “Katie Holmes vs Tom Cruise” Twitter or the #justsayin  Twitter trend. Twitter provides teachers a means to communicate (140 characters) quickly, to link content, to help research, or to celebrate success. Twitter can be an effective a part of a  PLN (personal learning network) for a teacher who has only a few minutes to spare each day, weekends included, during the school year and can be part of self-directed professional development mandated in some state teacher evaluations.
Twitter offers evening “chats” by subject, grade level, or on educational topics simply by using a hashtag (EX: #edchat, #engchat, #sschat). A complete schedule of educational chats is available on technology guru Jerry Blumengarten’s (alias Cybraryman)  Twitter page .
Using Twitter as my PLN, I found each of the articles I referenced above through Twitter. I will Tweet this blog. I may be re-Tweeted so that the information finds its way to other teachers.
Now consider that there are more than 7.2 million teachers (US Census in 2009)  , and then consider how Twitter could be used to connect teachers in dialogue (quickly), so that solutions in education can be proposed from the inside the classroom with the one-way window. Twitter PLNs can keep teachers informed (quickly) when “others define solutions” and help teachers generate their response in shared dialogues.  Twitter can be a tool for teachers in creating the powerful voice of those “who do the work every day of their professional life” and lead them to share their solutions to the problems in education. The decible level of collective teacher Tweets can be the noise to shatter the glass of that one-way window that “others” use to see into the classroom.