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| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Lawmaker Wants Parent Involvement Included in Teachers' Evaluations

For a long time, teachers' unions and other advocates have complained that new evaluation systems being crafted ignore all the other factors that can affect students' learning. For instance, what about the parents who aren't involved in activities such as reading to them, making sure they have a place to do homework, or teaching them about comportment?

Value-added measures based on students' standardized-test scores have been a solution favored by some, since in theory, those measures screen out things like family income that might skew estimates of teachers' effectiveness. But unions say the complicated statistical formulas are opaque and inaccurate.

Entering stage left to offer an alternative is New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli. Last month, the Democrat introduced a bill in the state legislature that would charge the state's commissioner with developing ways of quantifying "the degree and impact of parental involvement on student achievement." Those factors would be included in the teacher-evaluation framework.

The proposal says those factors could potentially include how responsive the parent is to the teachers' communications, including documents that require signatures; parents' participation in parent-teacher conferences; and students' homework-completion rates.

It isn't clear how (or whether) this information would affect the student-achievement component of students' scores. But presumably, a teacher who had to deal with very uninvolved parents might get some kind of protection from a bad evaluation score.

– Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Elementary Math Teachers Rethink Pedagogy Under the Common Core

I've been mulling a story on how K-5 math instruction will change under the Common Core State Standards, which emphasize conceptual understanding over formulas and tricks—and how elementary teachers will need to change their pedagogy to keep up with the new requirements.

Most math teachers are now being asked to instruct students in a way they were neither taught during preservice training nor learned themselves in the early grades. And while teachers may understand these concepts well, teaching them, as you know, is a different story.

In a recent EdSource piece, reporter Lillian Mongeau writes that in most classrooms previously, "to find the area of a rectangle, for example, students would be given the appropriate formula—multiply the width of the figure by the height—and then expected to practice similar problems on worksheets or homework." However, with the new standards, she writes, "Rather than providing a formula to calculate the area of a shape, students might be given a set of problems or activities that help them discover how to arrive at the formula on their own."

A 6th grade teacher-friend gave me another example. She said that when teaching algebraic equations with fractions, for instance 1/2x = 8, she no longer uses the flip-and-multiply approach. Instead, she emphasizes the concept that 1/2x is the same as x divided by 2, and lets students figure out the trick on their own. The process can be slow going, she said, but ultimately it pays off because students can start transferring the concept to more difficult problems on their own.

She also mentioned, however, that it's tough designing problems that allow students to figure out the tricks—something she's never really had to do before. I imagine it's also quite challenging not to succumb to the temptation of teaching the shorthand.

– Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Teaching Now

When Teachers Read Mean Tweets Written by Their Students

A quick public-service reminder, courtesy of some teenagers in California: The Internet is publicly accessible. And even teachers have feelings.

In an empathy-building project, students at Los Alamitos High School rounded up some of their teachers this month and had them read mean tweets about themselves as part of a TV-production project for the school's "Griffin News" program.

The students' video is a take on the popular recurring segment from "Jimmy Kimmel Live," in which celebrities read genuinely awful tweets. That segment is part of an apparently genuine crusade by Jimmy Kimmel to get people to be nicer on the Internet.

Several of the tweets at Los Alamitos aren't actually mean, per se. For example, I don't think it's particularly cruel to point out that if someone lost his hair, he would look like X-Men's Charles Xavier.

But many of the tweets also manage to cut in a way that only adolescents can, even if a number of the teachers seemed to take them in stride.

– Ross Brenneman

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Teachers' Unions, State Chiefs Square Off At Heated Discussion on Common Core

Anxiety over the Common Core State Standards was on full display during the Council of Chief State School Officers' annual legislative conference last week, as leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the nation's two largest teachers' unions, squabbled with state K-12 chiefs over how teachers and the general public perceive the standards, and how well they are being implemented.

The CCSSO, along with the National Governors Association, oversaw the creation of the common core. But over the last several months, the AFT and the NEA, as well as state union leaders, have expressed increasing concern— or even,in a few cases, outright opposition—to the manner of common-core implementation.

During a discussion, AFT President Randi Weingarten said she had seen many instances of good common-core implementation, in which teachers were given time to prepare and adequate resources. But she said that in cases like New York state, the poor rollout of the common core had led to "immobilization" among teachers and a distrust that those in positions of authority knew how to do the job right. "The field doesn't trust the people in this room to have their backs," she said.

During the same discussion, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, while he said the union remained squarely behind the standards, also expressed concern that teachers were not getting enough time to learn the standards themselves, to find common-core-aligned curricular materials, and to talk to parents as well as each other.

Those remarks triggered an irritated response from Massachusetts K-12 chief Mitchell D. Chester, who said that the two national unions seemed to be "condoning" strident and vocal common-core foes "at the peril of those [teachers] who are moving things ahead," an accusation Ms. Weingarten denied.

And Mr. Chester's counterpart for South Dakota, state Secretary of Education Melody Schopp, expressed concern that enough wasn't being done to push more positive common-core stories to the public: "The media's not hearing that."

– Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Latest Innovation-Grant Competition Dangles $134.8 Million Before Hopefuls

The U.S. Department of Education has kicked off the latest round of its Investing in Innovation competition, which has so far awarded about $1 billion to schools and their nonprofit partners as they work to scale up education improvement ideas.

For this $134.8 million round, the Education Department is asking for preapplications for its smallest "development" grants, which are worth up to $3 million. This screening process is a way for the department to whittle down the list of interested applicants to those who have the best shot of winning. The highest-rated preapplications will then be invited to compete for the actual money. Preapplications will be due April 14. The department is expecting to award up to 20 development awards this time around.

Details about the larger "validation" and "scale-up" awards, worth up to $12 million and $20 million, respectively, will be released later by the department. These applicants do not have a prescreening process.

– Michele McNeil

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Florida Decides to Ditch PARCC Tests; Picks AIR to Craft New Assessments

It's official. Florida is not going to use the common-core exam developed by the PARCC testing consortium. Instead, Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart has selected an assessment developed by the American Institutes for Research as its new state test, Kathleen McGrory at the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The new assessment from the Washington-based nonprofit research group will replace the state's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, which the state has used for accountability purposes for several years. Up until last September, Florida planned to use assessments from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two major state consortia developing tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

But Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who had felt pressure from state lawmakers to back away from the PARCC exam, then announced that the state was drastically curtailing its role in the testing consortium and would widen its search for a new state exam for English/language arts and mathematics.

– Andrew Ujifusa

Vol. 33, Issue 26, Pages 14, 27

Published in Print: March 26, 2014, as Blogs
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