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Published in Print: March 8, 2000, as Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

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Boston To Revamp Staff Development

The Boston school system is in the midst of overhauling the way it organizes and finances professional development, following a report that shows most teacher-training efforts aren’t coordinated with the district’s goals.

Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant used the report’s recommendations to draft a new plan that will direct more money to the schools.

Thomas W. Payzant

The school board signed off last month on the plan, which gives overall responsibility for professional development to the district’s deputy superintendent for teaching and learning and shifts more than $3 million to schools from the central office.

"It’s amazing what impact you can have by marshaling the facts," said Ellen Guiney, the executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence, a nonprofit school improvement organization that conducted the study with officials from the district.

The report documents that the district spent $23.5 million—or nearly $5,000 for every teacher and principal—on professional development during the 1998-99 school year. But that generous amount wasn’t aligned with the system’s goals for student achievement, the study found.

Included in the calculations were the district’s spending on teachers’ time and money from all sources used for training, including the Boston Annenberg Challenge. Part of the study’s goal was to figure out how the public schools could continue to pay for professional-development programs as external funding dries up.

More than 75 percent of the money spent on professional development wasn’t integrated into the district’s own strategy for implementing a standards-based agenda, the report points out. Instead, much of the money was split among various departments and was spent on a broad range of topics, even though the district is trying to improve students’ skills in reading, writing, and mathematics.

More than one-third of the expenditures on professional development went for student-free time for teachers over and above the 180-day school year. But the study found that the arrangement left a great deal to chance, with some schools using their time to arrange for learning experiences closely connected with their goals for students, and others leaving the matter up to individual teachers.

The district’s new approach calls for schools to write professional-development plans, which district officials would review. It also calls for refocusing the lead-teacher program—now supporting 551 teachers who perform a range of duties—more closely on providing support for improved instruction in reading and math.


Framing Math

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts board of education conditionally endorsed changes to the state’s mathematics frameworks last month, but will not give final approval until several concerns expressed by math educators are addressed.

The board had hoped to make the 5-year-old frameworks clearer and more rigorous. But teachers, math scholars, and state education organizations protested some of the recommendations, saying they did not provide enough instructional guidance and would undermine efforts during the past several years to align curricula, textbooks, and professional development to the original frameworks. ("Conflict Over How To Teach Math Flares in Bay State," Feb. 16, 2000.)

Before it votes on the new frameworks this spring, the board wants to make sure that it is mathematically sound and accurate, and that it will not require modifications in the state tests. The board is also waiting to review expected revisions to the voluntary national standards written by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, due out later this year, and to give education groups in the state another opportunity to critique the document.


African ‘Blackboard’

Teachers seeking ways to incorporate more African and African-American history and culture into the curriculum now have a new Internet tool. Africana.com launched the new curriculum resource last month. "Blackboard" features a catalog of detailed lesson plans for history, English/language arts, music, art, and science.

In one U.S. history lesson, for grades 7-12, students explore the central themes of the spirituals sung by slaves in the antebellum South and discuss what they reveal about the slaves’ religious faith and hopes for freedom. The lesson provides lyrics, discussion topics, activities, and links to historical sites. A world-history lesson for middle school students recommends a scavenger hunt to discover the scientific and geographical treasures of the ancient Kongo kingdom in West Africa.

Teachers are contributing their own lesson plans, using information from Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, co-edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah, Harvard professors who also founded Africana.com.


Award-Winning Lessons

Teachers can discover how to use laptop computers to measure the speed of solar-powered cars and help students identify leaves, thanks to a Web site displaying the winners of a national competition on writing lesson plans.

The National Science Teachers Association posted 20 winning entries to its competition rewarding lesson plans that explain how a teacher can use a portable computer to enhance science instruction. The contest was sponsored by the Toshiba America Foundation, a grant-making arm of the Japanese electronics manufacturer.

In one entry, Elizabeth F. O’Keefe of Whitfield Middle School in St. Louis explains how to guide students through building model cars that are powered by the sun. The students then use a laptop to calculate the cars’ speed between specified points.

Read the winning entries. The 20 lesson plans also are available on CD-ROM for $8 by calling (800) 722-6782.


Sounding Off for Music

Music education organizations are attempting to gauge the quantity and quality of school music programs nationwide by conducting a survey on the Internet.

The survey asks about music education requirements, time devoted to music instruction, the types of curricular and extracurricular performance opportunities for students, and the types of facilities and equipment available to music students.

Responses will be collected through March 12.

—Ann Bradley, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, & David J. Hoff inclass@epe.com

Vol. 19, Issue 26, Page 17

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