Monday, November 25, 2013

No one really wants to admit that Ivy Leaguers don’t want to teach.

Teach for America continues to get major kudos for getting “the best and brightest” to sign up to jump into the public education arena.  At Harvard, 18% of all graduates are looking to sign up for Teach for America!  Amazing!
The only problem is that they really don’t want to teach in America.
I read Joanne Jacobs a whole lot.  It’s one of the blogs that I turn to when my blogroll has gotten to big and I need to read those good articles before I go on a slash-and-burn campaign in Feedly.  The problem with Jacobs is that she is fairly anti-public schools.  Although she doesn’t like to admit it, her KIPP book shows generalizations towards public education teachers as lazy, and ripe to put off problems on parents.  Much of her solution revolves around Teach for America, where apparently really “high end” colleges are pumping out the next generation of Jamie Escalantes* for public education consumption.  Sounds like what colleges are supposed to do, right?
Except that TFA teachers aren’t teaching.  Studies show that nearly three-quarters of TFAers are not in the classroom after the five year mark.  For those keeping track at home that is nearly a 25% increase in the lack of retention from the standard college credential programs.  Ouch.  And only 14% actually stayed at the schools that needed them the most, the one’s that TFA was supposed to create the most positive change.  Double ouch.  But wait.  What if Ivy Leaguers really don’t see education as the priority?  What if Ivy Leaguers see education as some kind of Peace Corp venture?  You know, head off to a foreign land, teach the natives about civilized American culture, and then come home to the land of milk and honey.  Nah, those kids are wayyyyy to smart for that.
“The majority (56.59%) of those in the (student) sample indicated that, when they applied to TFA, they had planned to teach for two years or less.”   
Look Daddy, I can make my soul feel pure by actually trying to teach the masses!  Or as Walter Isaacson stated recently,
As Walter Isaacson put it at this year's Washington Ideas Forum, there's a perception that "it's beneath the dignity of an Ivy League school to train teachers."
When over half your teaching candidates have no intention of staying within the profession over the course of two years, you really are not trying to create professional educators.  Isaacson is wrong about perception because it’s reality.  And why is it reality?
“Only 3.8 percent of American families make more than $200,000 per year. But at Harvard University, 45.6 percent of incoming freshman come from families making $200,000 or more. A mere 4 percent of Harvard students come from a family in the bottom quintile of US incomes, and only 17.8 percent come from the bottom three quintiles.”
I love me some profit motive.  And show me two married public school K-12 teachers that make $200,000 a year between them and I’ll show you more Ivy Leaguers entering the profession with the intent to actually stay.  That’s a Newhart dream of course and so we are left with a bunch of Ivy League students that want to maintain their standard of living a whole lot more than they want to educate America’s youth, although there are plenty of people that really want to show you that Ivy Leaguers put out better teachers. 
No, I’m not advocating throwing Alex Rodriguez money at public education.  But don’t complain about the system if you really aren’t willing to take the problem seriously.  Teach for America has some interesting ideas…..that aren’t working.  College credential programs have great ideas…..that aren’t working.  New educator mentor programs…..aren’t working (BITSA?  Seriously?)  So invest in education like you mean it and stop with some holier-than-thou Ivy League panacea.
*Jamie Escalante got his degree and credential at Cal-State Los Angeles, which to my knowledge is not Ivy League.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Sometimes there is no other way to put it.  I’m behind. 

Not a little behind.  Nope.  I’m talking over a month behind on imputing grades.  Serious behind that will now take over the vast majority of Thanksgiving Break because I’m having major problems getting my act together.  The kind of behind that could lead to major problems when grades are due a week from Tuesday. 

I could make a dozen excuses except that it pretty much is basketball and simple lack of energy when I get home.  I’m tired right now.  I’m back-in-the-credential program tired.  I’ve come to realize that ten years ago I could take on three AP classes and coach both the Frosh and JV teams, and do ok.  These last few weeks have taught me that my forty years of age come with increased patience, increased knowledge, and less energy than my former years. 

Oh well. One assignment at a time.  One assignment at a time.  One assignment at a time.

Homework, Homework, gimme a break!

The article du jour lately has been this one from Karl Greenfield were he attempts to smoke weed while doing algebra, Earth Science, and reading Angela’s Ashes.  Or maybe it’s about Karl Greenfield’s concerns about his daughters homework…..while smoking weed.  I only add in the “smoking weed” part because:

A)  It’s amusing how haphazardly Greenfield throws in the ganja references.


B)   Someone on Twitter actually said some teachers wouldn’t take the article seriously because it involved marijuana.

Grass aside the article takes on the always debated subject of homework.  Greenfield is concerned that his 13 year old daughter is doing nothing but homework and might suffer among other things, burn-out and having no real high school social life.  It’s hours and hours of homework, and Greenfield actually attempts to do a weeks worth of the stuff while trying to stay awake and maintain sanity. 

There are plenty online that debate the costs and benefits of homework; from the insistence that out-of-school time is never the schools business, to the point that some subjects will require consistent practice to be learned well (foreign language, music).  The leader of the first argument seems to be the edu-reformist Alfie Kohn, who points to the fact that there seems to be little to no connection between homework and academic performance.  There really isn’t a “pro-homework” side of the debate except for teachers that remind people that homework has been in high abundance since the 1950’s and we’ve been doing pretty ok during the last sixty years. 

I’ll share two points about homework.  First is the image that comes up when homework is assigned.

The worksheet brand of homework is pretty much universally hated by all HW haters.  I can’t say I disagree that worksheets suck.  However I differ from those people that find homework as unnecessary.  It might be unnecessary for some and required by others.  I don’t assign much homework.  But I require that students have a strong grasp of the information and I quiz constantly.  My main “homework” is often reading text and then being quizzed literally or by applying the theorem to some problem.  The result means that my grades are lower than most Social Studies teachers and parents/students will often complain that there isn’t enough work to raise grades over the course of the semester; meaning they want inflated grades.  In the end, those that do the work, ask the questions, and are involved in class do fine.  Those that often don’t focus or engage in class will not work at all out of the classroom.  Thus, grades go down.  Sometimes I get complaints about work being relevant, and that leads me to the second point about homework.

I’ll tell you what is and is not relevant.  One of the biggest laughers in education is when local school boards micromanage subject matter and homework because of relevancy issues.  That’s interesting seeing as I’m supposed to be the professional here and I’m fairly sure that I know what I want kids to get out of Social Science curriculum.  Sure, I get that we have to follow state standards along with the new (and improved) Common Core rules.  But if I think analyzing political cartoons has merit, then it has merit.  If I think  memorizing certain aspects of the Constitution is valuable, then it is valuable.  That kind of comes with the job even if teachers are kind of being told that it doesn’t.

So, Mr. Greenfield, grab the Cheetos and put down the kid’s work.  Teachers, make sure that work that you assign is necessary and proper.  And community……..start actually caring about Education.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Going back to Freshmen basketball

I was once asked if I would ever take a step back from my current position as Junior Varsity coach to coach the Frosh.  At the time I said no.  I lied.  This year it looks like I’m heading back to my old stomping grounds of 9th grade. 

Except that I only partially lied.  I’m not leaving the JV.  I’m currently doing both. 

Yes, it’s one week until try-outs for the Ukiah Wildcats and we are without a Freshmen coach.  Until one comes out of the wood work, I’m going to do the double duty of coaching both teams.  Seeing as the requirements for coaching have officially become a pain in the ass, the chances of a coach showing up ready to go this week are slim.  So I stepped up.

Well see how it works.