The DeHavilland Blog

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The school budget crunch

Blogging has taken a back burner for a while due to the Effective Education Partnerships Conference. EEPC takes place on July 10-11 - less than two weeks away! - and, while it's shaping up to be a fantastic event, and worth every minute I've put into it, the fact remains that I've had to put a LOT of minutes into it, which has eaten into my other activities. I hope to be back in full form once EEPC is over.

In the meantime, I wanted to point to an article on the current state of education budgets - just one of many that have appeared recently on the subject. This one appeared in the Christian Science Monitor - take a look.

Monday, June 16, 2008

He's baaaaack....

If you're old enough to remember Ross Perot's 1992 presidential run, then you certainly remember his signature tool: the charts. Perot would buy large blocks of air time and walk voters through important economic issues using clear charts, common sense, and straight talk. Despite some very odd behavior on his part during the campaign, his clear talk about the economic health of this country was enough to get him close to 20% of the vote.

After an extended absence from the public scene, Perot is back - and he's online, with a new set of charts that anyone can work through to see where things stand today and where they'll stand in the future if current trends continue.

It's a real jolt in general, and it has real implications for public education spending in particular. Take a look.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

For you, or for them?

I've been working a lot with value-added assessment in Tennessee over the past couple of years. One of the things I've learned is that there are some schools that really understand the link between assessment and performance: continual assessment is part of the culture, driving instructional decisions and focusing the entire staff on a goal of 100% mastery. Everything they do is focused on the kids, giving them the skills and knowledge they'll need to succeed in life. (See here for more on the common practices of effective schools.)

But I've always wondered - why is this not the standard? Why doesn't everyone focus so heavily on measuring and advancing student outcomes?

With that question in mind, I came across something that stopped me dead in my tracks. In a post on his summer reading list, the author of The Tempered Radical blog writes the following:

What I Haven't (Regretfully) Been Able to Finish Yet:

Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Rick Stiggins and Friends: I gotta tell ya, no single task drives me crazier than trying to assess my students. Embarrassing, huh? How can an award winning teacher openly admit to not having a clue whether or not the work that he is doing is making a difference. That's why I picked up this title---and it's amazing. Almost every page includes ideas about what high quality assessment looks like in the classroom, and my practices are slowly changing for the better.

The only problem: This sucker's almost 500 pages long! I think I've made it to chapter 4 so far. I figure by the time I retire, I'll hit the back cover.

Does he realize what he's saying?

His blog focuses on incorporating new technology (wikis, Twitter, etc.) into instruction, and he argues forcefully for the use of these tools. But you have to ask the question - to what end? Why would you advocate so strongly for the use of technology - or the use of any other instructional tool - when you admit up front that you have no idea whatsoever whether it helps students learn?

And of course, it's one thing to admit that you don't know how to assess student learning; it's another to make clear that it's not a priority. "I'll finish the book by the time I retire" - which will do all your students a load of good in the meantime.

And this from the 2005-06 Teacher of the Year in his (rather large) district!

So clearly, at least for this teacher, the answer to my question is clear: he doesn't assess student learning because it's not about the students, it's about him. He's incorporating technology because he likes it; there's no other explanation. If he cared whether students were learning, he'd make an effort to learn how to assess that learning, and tailor his instruction based on their progress. Clearly that's not going to happen - not, at least, until he retires.

And the kicker? Unlike most teachers in the country, he has access to some of the most powerful data available on student performance. North Carolina has its own value-added assessment system - EVAAS - built by Dr. Bill Sanders, architect of Tennessee's groundbreaking system. The Tempered Radical teaches 6th grade, which means he has access to tons of current value-added data on his students. But I think he's made it pretty clear that he's not going to avail himself.

I'm not going to attempt to draw universal lessons from this; I can't say whether most teachers are like this, or whether most teachers would be as appalled as I am right now. But I do think this provides at least one possible answer as to why some teachers don't focus on student outcomes: because it might limit the time they spend on the "fun stuff" like instant messaging and virtual worlds.

But the rest of us know: it's not about us. It's not about what we enjoy, what we're interested in, or what we think will be fun in the classroom. It's about the kids - making sure they actually learn, so they'll be prepared to survive in the world into which they'll graduate.