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Monday
Jan212008

Evaluating teachers

As reported by a number of horrified bloggers, the New York schools are experimenting with evaluating teachers based on their students' test scores. Bad, bad idea. Right? No control over the input; therefore not control over the output:

... teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals, how much student performance grows each year, and how that improvement compares with the performance of similar students with other teachers.

But put yer parent hat on for minute, and consider this scenario...

Your child's school district gives a "value-added" test like the NWEA MAPS test. These computerized tests are given in the fall and again in the spring and are designed to measure individual student growth on specific skills. RIT scores show just how many months/years of progress each individual makes between tests. Whether a student has a 1st grade reading level or a 10th grade reading level on entering the 5th grade classroom, the test will tell whether that student makes one year of skill growth - or not. At least that's the theory.

teacher6.jpgNow, my little boy Skunkie Jr is going into 4th grade and there are three possible 4th grade teachers that he might get. Might not I, as a parent, want to look at the track record of each teacher the Skunkster might get next year - as demonstrated by the percent of students that made or exceeded a year of growth in each of those teachers classes, over say, the past three years. The records indicate that an average of 75% of Mr. Chip's kids make a year of growth; 90% of Ms. Brodie's kids made a year's growth; but only 50% of Mr. Holland's get that year of progress. Might that not be a good thing to know - as a parent or an administrator or a staff development coordiantor or as a taxpayer?

It certainly wouldn't be the only factor I would consider in choosing a teacher (or school) for my child, but I'd rather like knowing it. I do want little Blue to be able to read and do his sums.

Norm-referenced standardized tests can't be used to measure the quality of teachers, of course. But that doesn't sound like what NYC schools are doing. I can't see how it would be a bad thing if my son making a year's worth of progress on a set of standards was seen as very, very important to his teacher.

I suspect there are plenty of really good teachers who would welcome some form of objective evaluation criteria for the work they do. Even without merit-based pay.

I'm not that horrified. Should I be? Why?

Monday
Jan212008

Next best thing to being there

elumsesession.jpg

The image above is a screen shot from a session I did for a Pennsylvania school district over my lunchtime today, using Elluminate, a popular web collaboration tool. With a microphone/headset, a video cam, and my PowerBook, I was able to present to a group of K-12 teachers, share a slide show, do some real-time Q&A, and monitor comments via chat. Sort of fun. Got a very nice round of applause at the end. A polite group, I expect.

I hope the means of delivery was as much a "lesson" for these educators as much as anything I had to say. Teaching and learning is possible from distances with few equipment requirements. I didn't have the hassle of travel and the school didn't have the expense of my travel. OK, I still think F2F is a more rewarding experience, but this wasn't so bad.

The online presentation format has been picking up for me over the past year or so. I've worked with college classrooms, educational service districts, private companies and now school districts using Elluminate, GoToMeeting and WebEx (if I remember the names correctly). And Second Life as I mentioned recently.

I still feel like a rookie as an online presenter. A person learns a few things after having given hundreds of F2F presentations and workshops. This feels new and not all my tricks can be ported to this new medium.

I guess it keeps the brain cell stimulated. 

Saturday
Jan192008

Tall tales

The Weather Bug says it is -17F here in southern Minnesota. That's -27C for those of you living in civilized places. Wind chill factor is predicted to be -35F (I don't think the Celsius scale goes this low.) I asked the LWW to remind me again just why we live here. She didn't have a convincing answer.

The temps did put me in mind of this old Paul Bunyan tall tale:

Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before. ... from Babe the Blue Ox retold by S. E. Schlosser

Actually that year Schlosser describes was fairly mild. When I was a little boy growing up on the prairie, we had a winter so cold that our words didn't thaw until springtime. It was so noisy that June, a person needed ear plugs.

I absolutely loved tall tales as a kid. How many of these do you remember?

  • Paul Bunyan the Lumberjack
  • Pecos Bill the Cowboy
  • Febold Feboldson the Farmer
  • Stormalong the Sailor
  • Casey Jones and John Henry the Railroad Men
  • Mike Fink the Riverboat Man
  • Joe Magarac a Steel Worker

And whose tales did I forget?

Who should our tall tales be written about today? What occupations characterize heroic deeds and challenges?

  • Chip Motherboard the IT Manager
  • Susie Subprime the Realtor
  • J.P. Speculator the Futures Trader
  • Jean Genome the Genetic Engineer
  • Twelve Squarefeet the Cubicle Worker

With the right imagination, I suspect pretty good deeds of derring-do could be constructed for most of today's workers. Stuff to amaze and inspire.

Do today's kids read tall tales or have Babe the Ox and Slue-Foot Sue been thrown over for super heroes and urban myth? I'm feeling old.

Talk to you again - in the spring?

 sko_paulbunyan.jpg

Not the Paul I remember, but...