Friday, February 27, 2009

New location

I'm moving this blog to Hopefully this change will inspire me to start posting again!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michelle Rhee's Plan for Teacher Pay and Tenure

There was a great program on The Sound of Ideas a couple weeks ago that highlighted educational reform initiatives underway outside Ohio. Click here to listen to the complete podcast of the program.

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington DC Public Schools, spoke about her plan for reforming the teacher pay and tenure systems. According to her plan current teachers will have the choice to either a) continue under the current pay scale system and retain their tenured positions, or b) forfeit their tenure in exchange for significant pay increases and potential bonuses. Those who choose the second option would be reviewed annually based on several factors, including student performance. Based on this evaluation teachers could earn a bonus based on their performance, or, could lose their position.

This is a gutsy, exciting move and I can't wait to see how it works out. It's often said that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the greatest predictor of student achievement, yet districts often have little flexibility to fire ineffective teachers. The pay increases would also help attract teachers to the district, increase the prestige of the profession, and keep effective teachers in the district.

Of course, such a dramatic change is inevitably controversial... and rightly so. One concern is whether the funding for this program will be sustainable. The initial funding for the pay increases is coming from private donations; for long-term funding the district is planning to free up funding by reducing inefficiencies in district operations. If this does not free up enough funding it could jeopardize the whole intent of the program to keep excellent teachers in the district. For example, according to the new plan a high-performing teacher in the district can earn up to $130,000/year. Since that teacher does not have tenure even though she is an excellent teacher a cash-strapped district may be tempted to replace her with a less qualified and less expensive teacher. On the other hand, if the district is able to free up that much funding by increasing efficiency of district operations it could provide an excellent model for other districts to adapt.

Another major concern pertains to how the district will evaluate teachers. I've read that it will be according to a variety of factors, but haven't found much detail yet on what those factors would be. If we are evaluating teacher performance based on student performance on standardized tests, we need to be mindful of the quality of those assessments and the extent that they are measuring what we want to know.

Negotiations between the district and the Teachers' Union are still underway, but they hope to get an agreement in place before the school year begins.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blog Recommendation - What the Research Says

Interested in research findings for best practices in literacy instruction? This is one of my new favorite blogs that I highly recommend: What the Research Says. Billing itself as "early literacy research distilled for educators" the site provides succinct summaries of research papers.

I'd love to find similar sites for keeping up with research in other content areas - if you're aware of any, please share in the comments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Progress Towards National Standards

According to the June 11 edition of Education Week:
The National Association of Secondary School Principals calls on Congress to appoint an independent panel... to come up with a set of common guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.
Maintaining a separate set of standards for each state simply does not make sense, and I do hope that Congress moves toward national education standards whenever NCLB is finally discussed and revised. As this article points out, "we have 50 states, which have 50 different definitions of proficiency, and NCLB never even describes what is meant by proficiency." We already know from national assessments such as NAEP that standards for proficiency vary widely between states. In this age of accountability holding students and their schools to a common standard is just common sense.

One of the original criticisms of NCLB was that it was an unfunded mandate - that states were suddenly all responsible for implementing statewide assessments without funding to support this undertaking. Streamlining this process by creating a national assessment aligned to national standards would lead to significant savings in state education budgets.

National standards would also relieve some of the inefficiencies in creating state and district curriculum. For example, I've learned that here in Ohio district technology standards are based on county standards, which are based on state standards, which are based on ISTE guidelines. Imagine the interminable faculty meetings and piles of paperwork as this process is replicated in districts across the country, and how much time could be focused on improving instructional quality instead of recreating the wheel.

However, if and when we do move towards national standards, we must ensure that the resulting standards are sufficiently challenging, and that the process for revising the standards allows for continuous updates and improvements. National standards should also allow enough flexibility for states to pilot innovations in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

21st Century Learning

I just posted this here on the Ohio Education Technology Network:

What resources (books, blogs, whatever) do you all recommend that are related to 21st century learning? I mean, what have you been reading that furthers our understanding of what "21st century learning" actually means, and what implications it will have for our schools?

This weekend I've been reading Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century by David Warlick. It's been helping me flesh out my thoughts on how the meaning of literacy has changed.

Lately we've all been hearing about how our traditional definition of literacy doesn't sufficiently encompass the numeric, scientific, technological, informational, and various other "new literacies" that students need today. Instead of splitting our understanding of literacy into separate segments, I think that instead we should take a broader view of how the requirements of literacy have evolved.

The definition of literacy as the ability to read and write was sufficient when those were the essential tools to access information in the world. As more and ever-changing avenues for accessing information have developed, the meaning of literacy is expanding beyond the ability to read and write to include the ability to access and learn new information.

As Warlick puts it in this book: "In the twenty-first century, literacy involves... a wide range of skills associated with acquiring, decoding, evaluating, and organizing information within a global electronic library.... If all our children learn to do is read, they will not be literate." He also describes an interesting idea that the "two-dimensional" way of reading from left to right and from top to bottom has shifted into "three-dimensional" reading has information is digitally hyperlinked and layered.

Some pieces of the book are a little dated (published in 2004), but its ideas are still relevant. I also whole-heartedly recommend checking out the related Landmark Project, and some of Warlick's presentations that are available online, especially this one.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

PD Guides for Teacher Book Clubs

Stenhouse Publishers has created free discussion guides to accompany many of their titles. The guides can be used to support group discussions for teacher book clubs, or can be used to develop workshops and activities for professional development sessions based on their books. One of my all time favorite books on teaching reading is included: Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

25 Tools: A Free Toolset for Learning

This selection of 25 Tools from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies provides a step-by-step introduction to their contributors' favorite free resources for online learning.

Behind each of the tools lies an Activity that comprises a number of short tasks to help you find out more about the technology behind each tool, the tool itself and why it is so popular, how to use the tool and reflect on its application for teaching, learning and for productivity and performance support.

Some of my favorite new finds from this site include: Voicethread (collaborative presentation tool), and Jing (screencasting tool - free alternative to Camtasia).