Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Insidious Nature of Green's Sunday Times Article

UPDATED Mar. 8, 12 am with Aaron Pallas comment and you must read Jim Horn's piece at Schools Matter.

I learned the most about teaching from other teachers. Duh!




Forgot test scores, measure the love quotient when you talk about teachers who can teach others.

There's a lot more than teacher methodology underlying Green's article which I talked about yesterday. It seem to look like not standard ed deform stuff by de-emphasizing incentives and firing teachers. But when you dig a little it is ed deform. The Times wouldn't print anything less.

A parent commented on the NYCEdNews list:
I thought the piece was generally valuable in looking at actual classroom practices and considering their relationship to content, and challenging the effectiveness of carrot-and-stick approaches to improved learning. But I was startled that she cited the "value-added" model several times without skepticism, particularly stating that teachers' stats for raising student performance are consistent over time. I thought that statistical argument had been debunked. Diane Ravitch makes a strong case in her new book that studies show that teachers' stats for improving student test scores fluctuate dramatically over time and are not a predictor of future performance.

Of course Green had to ignore the research that shows value-added is unproven because the rest of the thesis laid out doesn't work without it. The article is all about measuring by test scores. My favorite quote "he [Lemov} decided to seek out the best teachers he could find – as defined PARTLY [my emph] by their students' test scores [which can so easily be manipulated]..

Exactly what were the other PARTS than test scores?

A lot of the last part of the article is good touchy, feely stuff - good ideas for teachers to use. And we all can benefit. Talk of the video taping set me to chuckling. I was involved in a program to improve teaching by video taping lessons and cataloguing the kinds of questions I was asking - in 1969.

I learned so much of what is talked about in this article (which offers a blueprint of the high and mighty descending to give actual working teachers "The Word") by seeing experienced WORKING teachers (are there any left) in the context of working in their class - in action. I adapted their stuff to my personality and made a lot of it work. Almost every teacher I ever knew had mastered classroom management - at least 85% of them - or they left, often to become people who end up training other teachers.

What if every so-called great teacher who left to become some guru actually stayed in the classroom and taught for an entire career? Maybe close the achievement gap (that's a joke folks.)

"What makes a good teacher" asks Elizabeth? She asked all the wrong people.

She could have talked teacher quality with teachers in the trenches...

People like
Pissed Off
Chaz's School Daze
Under Assault
NYC Educator
Accountable Talk
Have a Gneiss Day
The Jose Vilson: The Blog

And the newer generation of teachers: It's Not All Flowers and Sausages

Mrs Mimi said the other day:

Riddle me that one.

Perhaps it's because we want them to remain Candidate Numero Uno on the old chopping block when it comes time to passing around some blame. Or keep them in our line of sight so that they are at a arms reach for some extensive finger pointing?

Instead Green spoke to:

Doug Lemov: "after a successful career as a teacher, a principal and a charter school founder."
Successful? Based on what? I love this: Lemov "set out to become a teacher of teachers [because] he was shamefully aware of his own limitations." So he left teaching. Nice.

And Deborah Loewenberg Ball, "an assistant professor who also taught math part time at an East Lansing elementary school and whose classroom was a model for teachers in training."

[Note this comment from Columbia prof Aaron Pallas:
Aaron Pallas said...


You're a bit harsh on Deborah Ball, my former colleague at Michigan State. She was a full-time elementary classroom teacher from 1975 to 1988 before and during graduate school -- and continued teaching third and fourth grade mathematics for four years as an assistant professor. Not a dilettante by any stretch of the imagination.

- when people you respect speak, I listen so I take it back. 13 years is a serious amount of time in a classroom. I wonder though how views change in the midst of the ed deform movement. I'll try to say more about what I think it would take to upgrade teaching and also on the accountability question - I always felt my major accountability was to parents and students not bureaucrats.]

What about trying full time teaching, year after year, decade after decade? You gain a certain perspective and context when you talk to teachers. Then talk to us about training teachers.

In my 6 week summer of training to become a teacher in 1967, all my instructors were teachers, assistant principals and principals (in those years supervisors actually had to teach for a long time before rising up) and I learned more from them and my later colleagues than anyone.

What Green has done under the guise of what looks like a more genial approach than Joel Klein's "lets go on a witch hunt" using Lemov's "we can't replace them fast enough, so let's retrain those heathens" is to validate the ed deform model of blame the teachers.

Green's biggest sin: She used the words "reformers" and Michelle Rhee in the same sentence.

Related: South Bronx School blog does some research into Doug Lemov and why Whitney Tilson likes him and as he so often does, takes it over the top.
Whitney Tilson Is In Love With Doug Lemov

*Thanks to SBS for the bio:

.......Founder of School Performance, an Albany-based non-profit that provides diagnostic assessments, performance data analysis, and academic consulting to high performing charter schools. He is a founder and the former principal of the Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter School in Boston, regarded as one of the highest performing urban charter schools in the country. After leaving Academy of the Pacific Rim, Mr. Lemov served as the Vice President for Accountability at the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute, the leading authorizer of charters in New York, where he designed and implemented a rigorous school accountability system. He has since served as a consultant to such organizations as KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, and Building Excellent Schools. Mr. Lemov is a Trustee of the New York Charter Schools Association and of KIPP Tech Valley Charter School. He has a B.A. from Hamilton College, an M.A. from Indiana University, and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.

Let's see. When I was 42 years old, I had taught 17 years of self-contained grades 4-6 classes and one year as a special ed cluster, mostly in one school while getting MA's in Reading instruction and computer science.


Aaron Pallas said...


You're a bit harsh on Deborah Ball, my former colleague at Michigan State. She was a full-time elementary classroom teacher from 1975 to 1988 before and during graduate school -- and continued teaching third and fourth grade mathematics for four years as an assistant professor. Not a dilettante by any stretch of the imagination.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Green's article also struck me as quietly but powerfully biased.

Notice how all of the "expertise" derived from people outside of the public school systems. Apparently, she couldn't be bothered to even speak to someone with years of experience teaching in urban public schools: all of the so-called "expertise" was coming from either charter-related or ed school figures, probably ones who see career opportunities in those school's ideological transformation.

As you said, Norm, insidious is the word.

David Ballela said...

and just how many years did Elizabeth Green teach?

Anonymous said...

I've interacted with the folks at Uncommon Schools myself. The founder/principal of the New Jersey branch of Uncommon Schools (North Star), for example, has over 20 years of education experience as both a teacher and administrator. Most, if not all, of the teachers there have taught in traditional public schools as well (and none of them are 1st year teachers).

If you take the time to look closer, you'll see that these folks didn't just wake up and decide to start a school one day.

You don't have to like the concept of charter schools, but stop painting them with this broad brush that you're using.

I thought Ms. Green's article was thoughtful and detailed and the people she spoke with are credible sources.

ed notes online said...

I understand why people start their own schools - teaching in large urban systems is tough. They found a solution for themselves and the relatively few children they end up serving.

For those of us who remained in the system continuing the bigger fight for all the kids we can't help but be skeptical of all those people who left now offering advice.

I know the realities of the system. There are no magic bullets and that is what they are looking for - that is the theme of Green's article.

Uncommon schools concept has been debunked -that there are certain schools that outperform others with the same demographics.

We have solutions but no one wants to try them. With all the Gates and other money floating in why does not one person try a drastic class size reduction policy to see if it would work instead of looking under rocks.

Anonymous said...

Part of what allows schools like Uncommon to do well is their emphasis on structure and discipline (in addition to strong teaching). And they expect parents and students to sign a contract. (What a novel concept).

Unfortunately, the traditional urban schools I've worked in have either been unwilling or unable to deal with discipline in a meaningful school-wide way. What results is an every-teacher-for him/herself approach to discipline that bleeds over into the instruction. Teachers stop collaborating and the principal becomes increasingly isolated from the staff.

There is very little that is "revolutionary" about charter schools like KIPP and Uncommon. The difference is in the structure and in the staff buy-in. So much of it is in the school culture.

Unfortunately, that level of buy-in is difficult to achieve in a traditional school setting because principals often have their hands tied about school policies and about hiring/firing.

I have visited both KIPP and Uncommon schools and they have succeeded in created a safe, supportive atmosphere for students, while establishing high expectations for both academics and behavior.

Those schools may not be a silver bullet solution, but I can tell you first hand that these schools are putting urban students on a different life path.

Even if they only serve a few hundred kids, why deny those kids that chance? That's a few hundred kids who can now have a different outlook on life.

ed notes online said...

I understand the idea of "saving" a few hundred kids - even though those kids were the ones who were succeeding anyway for the most part - most schools branded as failing do actually succeed with a percentage of kids - often a third. It is this third that is going to charter schools. And you'll note that charter school operators aren't really interested in going beyond that third - see how Moskowitz doesn't want all the kids in Harlem and is now going to new territory in the Bronx to mine that third.

But don't go making claims that any of these programs will reach the other 2/3 effectively using the same structures.

John said...

If you read the article, you'll find little debate over the charter/public/private issue. Instead, you'll find a very reasonable concept that just as great artists can teach you how to hold a brush, and great guitarists can teach you to finger pick notes, great teachers can be emulated (if not duplicated) by following simple, easy, replicable techniques. These can be used by anyone - charter school teachers, public school teachers, university professors, or parents. Lemov's taxonomy is about providing teachers with an arsenal of techniques that have been proven to make teaching just a little bit easier. You can watch video clips of some of these techniques at their website:

ed notes online said...

You're looking at the little picture rather than the big one. Sure great teachers can be emulated. But the way they were judging great teachers was by test scores no matter how much the disclaimer. I saw too much manipulation to accept that.
SO much of what Lemov talked about is out there in every school.
Am I opposed to teachers learning techniques? no way. I can't tell you how many ideas I had and how many I learned from the guys down the hall. I used whatever I could figure out. We talked all the time at lunch about what we were doing.

That is what many teachers objected to the article. It was clearly done with charter schools in mind since Lemov is on that train.

The very concept of Uncommon Schools has been debunked. WE know certain basic truths. Less kids in difficult situations make a big difference. To constantly tell teachers they can "do it" with more training and 30 in the class is insulting. I saw some amazing teachers "do it" and many burned out and left the classroom. Just as Lemov did. Those of us who remained in the battle must look askance.

See NYC Educator take on the article. Much more gentle than I am but probably making a similar point in a better way.

GP said...

Don't they say "Be careful what you wish for. You may actually get it"?

"So here's the challenge to the NY Times education editor. Hire Elizabeth Green and turn her loose"


Anonymous said...

I wish I could have a class of 8 kids! It would have been much more informative to see the first few weeks of school, where these "miraculous" techniques start out. I watched about 4 of the videos, and found that I do the things in all of them - somehow, my inner city kids, who aren't in uniforms, don't respond to the "quiet hand signal", the "thank you" for getting the notebook out. My kids have no parent buy-in - I call home to exhausted, exasperated parents (or sometimes siblings).
Some of this stuff works when you have 1 kid acting out - let them come to my inclusion class with 7 kids acting out. I believe my kids would eat these guys alive.....which..... on a Thursday evening makes me pretty proud that I was able to actually teach them some genetics this week!

ed notes online said...

Keep up the struggle. You are not alone.