The teacher quiz, and the ‘other one percent’

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If you live in or around NYC, John will be appearing in conversation with Randi Weingarten — the topic is “Unions and the Future Of Our Schools” — on Wednesday, December 14. Click here for tickets and info.

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Friends,

We posted a new video at Learning Matters this week; it’s an attempt to review what we know about the American teacher force — and done in quiz format. Watch it now, embedded here. After the video, check out my thoughts on “the other one percent;” I had similar ideas published in The New York Daily News this week. If interested in some of these themes, I encourage you to purchase a copy of my book, The Influence of Teachers. All proceeds go to Learning Matters.

Let’s watch the video to test your knowledge:

And now, thoughts on “the other one percent.”


I’d like to begin by thanking my teachers in 5th, 6th and 7th grades, Mrs. Pulaski, Mr. Burke and Miss Elmer. They taught us percentages and showed us how to ‘round down,’ which I am doing now, because the US population is 312,624,000, and we have 3,198,000 public school teachers, which computes to 1.02%.

That’s right. More than one out of every 100 Americans teaches in our public schools.

What, you thought I was talking about Wall Street fat cats, professional athletes, entertainers and other rich people? (If interested in some thoughts on the intersection of business and education, you should listen to a new podcast we posted with Doug Lynch of UPenn.) That’s a different one percent, and I guarantee there’s no overlap between the two groups. The average teacher today earns about $55,000. At least 75 CEOs earn that much in one day, every day, 365 days a year. According to the AFL-CIO’s “Executive Paywatch,” the CEO who ranked #75, David M. Cote of Honeywell, was paid $20,154,012, for a daily rate of $55,216.47.

Dauman
Philippe P. Dauman is not worried about his next meal.

The CEO at the top of the heap, Philippe P. Dauman of Viacom, was paid $84,515,308. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Krepela, taught me how to compute averages, so I can tell you Mr. Dauman earns a daily average of $231,549, which is more than four times what the average teacher earns in a year.

Unlike wages for teachers, CEO salaries have been soaring in recent years. Forty years ago, the average public school teacher earned $49,000, adjusted for inflation. That’s a raise of a whopping $150 a year for forty years, or about one quarter of one percent annually.

Here’s another way that the other one percent is different: teachers spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms. That came to $1.33 billion in school year 2009-2010, or $356 per teacher, according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association.

I will wager several packs of colored pencils that Mr. Dauman, Mr. Cote and the other high earners do not drop by Staples to pick up office supplies for their secretaries.

The teaching profession is often criticized because salaries are not based on performance, meaning that the best teachers earn what their less-than-stellar colleagues take home. While that’s generally true, it’s also changing fast. Twenty-four states now base teacher evaluation in part on student performance, and Denver, Washington, DC and other localities have created ‘pay for performance’ systems that reward individuals or entire schools when students do well. Connecting teacher effectiveness with student outcomes is the wave of the future, and it’s becoming easier to remove ineffective teachers than it was just a few years ago.

That doesn’t seem to be true on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, where the pay of the CEO is often at odd with his company’s performance. Take Cisco and John Chambers. The website 24/7 Wall Street ranks Chambers the most overpaid CEO, based on his total compensation of $18,871,875 even though the price of Cisco common stock fell 31.4 percent.

In fairness, some teachers are actually overpaid, because they have ‘retired on the job’ and are just going through the motions until they can retire for real. Of course, there’s a big difference between being overpaid at $55,000 and being overpaid at $20,500,000, which is what Carl Crawford of the Boston Red Sox earned for hitting .255 with just 11 home runs last season. Like the CEO of Honeywell, Crawford is earning about $55,000 a day, every day, 365 days a year. He ranks only 28th on the list of athletes, according to Sports Illustrated’s “Fortunate Fifty.”

As may have occurred to you, public school teachers — the group I am calling the other one percent — are actually part of the 99 percent. However, they probably were not occupying Zuccotti Park. At least not during the day, because that’s when they are otherwise occupied — teaching our children and grandchildren.

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Some thoughts on Education Nation

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As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon; you can also check out a Sacramento Bee editorial he co-authored with Esther Wojcicki, the Learning Matters Board Chair.

Although I left before the final event — an appearance by former President Bill Clinton — I was on hand for almost everything else, and I am comfortable declaring Education Nation 2011 a success, a 180-degree turn from last year’s disappointment.

Last year, education wonks will remember that Education Nation was badly tilted in favor of charter schools and against unions and the ‘bad teachers’ they protect. It was as if everyone running the show drank the Kool-Aid poured by “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim’s well-made but fundamentally-flawed movie.

Not this year. Balance was the order of the day. Both union presidents and lots of regular public school teachers got ample stage time. Because NBC’s talent pool is deep, lots of good questions were asked.

For me, the absolute hit of the two days was the 65 minutes on Monday morning devoted to “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters.” We were treated to four snappy, insightful and short presentations by professors from the University of Washington, UC Berkeley and Harvard, after which NBC’s chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, presided over a lively discussion about the educational implications of what we had just seen and experienced.

This hit home with many audience members because much of it was new and because the pedagogy modeled what all of us are arguing for in today’s schools.

But there was other good stuff: Brian Williams herding a panel of ten (10!) governors, Tom Brokaw talking with Sal Khan and Arne Duncan, Williams again with an examination of inequality (“What’s in a Zip Code?”), and David Gregory refereeing a debate between Diane Ravitch and Geoffrey Canada.

Secretary Duncan was everywhere, taking questions gracefully and speaking earnestly about education as ‘the civil rights issue of our time.’

At least 271 people labored to make Education Nation run seamlessly, which they did with a smile. Hats off to them.

And Education Nation is also a great opportunity to see and be seen. I had a dozen or more stimulating conversations and left with four or five really good story ideas for PBS NewsHour.

And so, I think it’s fair to say that Education Nation is close to achieving that lofty ‘must attend’ status, no small feat for an enterprise that stumbled so badly out of the gate and is only two years old.

Is Education Nation all talk, or mostly talk, or will good things happen because of these conversations? I don’t know, but in defense of education and Education Nation, I don’t believe that comparable events are being held around health care, energy and transportation, to name just three other issues of great importance.

Now to the tough part — and here I have a choice between being nice and being not-so-nice. For once, I choose the former. And so I am couching my critique in the form of a proposal for next year’s Education Nation, instead of complaining about missed opportunities.

Next year, NBC’s journalists must tackle two of the elephants in the room. One is the obstacles to innovation. The second is the problem inherent in overemphasizing ‘innovation.’

Start with obstacles: In an early morning session on Monday, Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation spoke eloquently about the possibilities of blended learning. Kids, she said, could now explore and advance at their own pace in many subjects. And she’s right. We know that students using the Khan Academy math program (which I watched in action in a school in Mountain View, CA, last week) can move through three, four or five ‘grade levels’ in math without ever being aware of how rapidly they are moving — because there are no “Stop, you have reached the end of 5th grade!” signs.

So far so good, but, unfortunately for those fast-moving kids, current ‘seat time’ and course credit rules mean that a student earns just one year of credit no matter how many levels he or she actually moves up. In fact, that kid’s teacher is probably going to have to tell him to slow down, which is a terrible message to send.

Education Nation
In its second year, Education Nation is close to 'must-attend' status.

But that issue wasn’t addressed, and, until it is, lots of wonderful innovations are going to rust on the sidelines. I mentioned this to Tom Brokaw, and he got it right away, connecting it to the one-room school that his mother had attended. There, he said, the teacher had to let kids move at their own pace because she was responsible for six or seven grades. Perhaps that proves that there is no new thing under the sun. The point is learning can be ‘customized’ in theory, but it won’t happen in practice until the system loosens its rules on ‘seat time.’

A few educators told me that some schools and districts are experimenting with approaches that judge students based on competency, instead of weeks of seat time, and that’s good news. Next year NBC ought to make this a centerpiece and show us how and where it’s being done — and what problems this new approach creates.

My second issue is deeper, and that’s all the enthusiasm for ‘innovation.’ I say, “Enough already.” Please give equal time to ‘imitation.’ We have lots of good schools and good programs and good teachers, stuff that can and should be copied.

Notice that I am not saying ‘replicate’ or ‘go to scale.’ Those fancy terms are part of the problem, frankly, because they scare away folks — or they become an excuse for not doing anything. Educators can rationalize that they don’t have support for ‘innovation’ and don’t have the apparatus for ‘going to scale’ and ‘replication,’ and that’s why they aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary.

Sorry, those excuses don’t cut it any longer. Just imitate. It’s easy to do, and it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, headline-grabbing stuff. Here’s an example: KIPP kindergarten teachers explain to their kids why they are going to walk in a line and why they are expected to be quiet in the halls. Lots of regular teachers just tell the kids to line up and be quiet. The first way is respectful and creates shared responsibility, while the second seems likely to create behavior problems down the road.

Teachers who copy that are not ‘endorsing’ KIPP or sleeping with the enemy. They are just doing something that works.

I strongly believe that education needs a new narrative to replace the current one (‘honor teachers’), which replaced last year’s narrative (‘charter schools are good, unions are bad’).

I suggest a narrative that is tougher on schools but also closer to reality. It’s this: “For as long as anyone can remember, there has been close to a 1:1 correlation between parental income and educational outcomes, whether the parents were rich, poor or somewhere in between. On one level, that seems to mean that schools basically do not matter. Only money talks.

“However, we know that’s not true because we have in front of our eyes hundreds of examples of schools and teachers that do change lives.

“So do not be mad about schooling’s failure to dramatically improve the lives of all 15 million children living in poverty. Instead, imitate the successful places, people and practices. Find out what’s keeping educators from imitating success. Eliminate the obstacles and — here’s where you should get mad — get rid of the educators who refuse to be copy-cats.”

Congratulations, NBC, for sparking a national conversation that will be ongoing. I hope you will invite me back next year.

A Paradox? Or a Genuine Contradiction?

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As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

Can something really be good and bad at the same time? How about that delicious but fattening dinner you had last week? It was great, until you added up the calories, right?   Now what about a school? Can it be both good and bad at the same time?  Is educational quality — like beauty — in the eye of the beholder or do test scores say it all?
Good/ Bad blog

More precisely, can a school with only 18% of its 4th graders at grade level in reading be considered a good school? Before you say, “Of course not,” please read on.  Because we discovered that the FIRST graders at that school were reading confidently and competently. That’s right: the first graders were readers, but the fourth graders weren’t according to the results of the state test.

Is this a paradox, or a full-blown contradiction?

I’m asking these questions of you because we are asking them of ourselves, in our reporting for the NewsHour. It actually began with a different question: “Are the Reading Wars (phonics versus whole language) over, or do they rage on, but under the radar?”

As a starting point, producer Cat McGrath and I decided to see if we could get into some schools with terrible reading scores.  While a couple of principals turned us down, the principal of PS 1 in the South Bronx in New York City, said, “Come on up. We are a great school.”

“Yeah, right,” we thought. After all,  we had the scores in front of us: not even 18% of the school’s 4th graders were competent readers.

We went up to that high poverty neighborhood, where crime scene tapes proliferate and unemployed men linger on street corners. PS 1 fits right in. It is grim looking from the outside, a fortress-like building with few windows.  Inside is different, however. The classrooms and corridors of PS 1 are bright and full of energy, with student work displayed everywhere.   Jorge Perdomo, who’s led the school for  five years, took us to his first grade classes.  “Our first graders are reading,” he claimed, “and writing too,” pointing to their papers on classroom walls.

Our skepticism did not seem to bother him or diminish his enthusiasm.  “Come on back anytime — with your cameras — and see for yourself.”

We did.  We saw veteran and rookie teachers giving their first graders a strong (and essential) foundation in phonics.  First graders were learning that letters make sounds, that combinations of letters make different sounds, and that, when letters are strung together, they can make words.  They were decoding.

That’s only part of the battle, of course.  Comprehension, actually understanding what the words mean, is a tougher challenge.  To test that skill, I asked the first graders to close their eyes while I wrote a nonsense story on the board: “The blue pancake went swimming in the lake and ate a frog.”

They read it eagerly and confidently.  When I asked what they thought of the story, they said without much enthusiasm, “It’s OK,” but that was because they were just being polite to the white-haired stranger.  When I asked, “Is there anything wrong with that story?” (a question that gave them permission to be critical), they were impossible to contain.  Pancakes aren’t blue, pancakes can’t swim, pancakes don’t have a mouth, and pancakes can’t eat a frog.  The words tumbled out of their mouths.

The principal was right about his first graders, but what about the fourth graders and their 18% competency?

Adults offered several possible explanations.  By the time they’re fourth graders, one teacher said, they are no longer naive. They know that their Dad is in prison, or their Mom has a drinking problem, or maybe they now have to be responsible for their younger siblings. Life has caught up with them, and reading no longer matters.

The test is much harder, several offered.  Now they have to reach conclusions and draw inferences, and that’s much tougher.

We looked over past tests, and, sure enough, the passages were about subjects that poor kids in the south Bronx may not be familiar with (cicadas or dragonflies were two of the subjects, for example). Answering the questions did require inferential leaps, just as we had been told.

So we asked to talk with a couple of fourth graders who were reading below grade level, and here’s where it got complicated.  As you will see in the NewsHour piece (embedded below), both children, one age 9 and the other 11, handled the passages and answered all the questions. Maybe the personal attention helped, but they read easily and drew inferences correctly. We only ‘tested’ a couple of kids, but both were below grade-level, their teacher assured us.

Where does that leave us? Maybe the kids are terrible test takers? Maybe there’s too much stress (there’s a couple of weeks of test-prep build into the schedule)?  Perhaps there’s a fundamental contradiction between testing reading and reading itself?

I have a theory, but I would love to know what others make of this.

You can view the completed piece from PBS NewsHour (it aired on June 6, 2011) here:

http://learningmatters.tv/wp-content/plugins/wordtube/player.swf

ADD trash to the curriculum?

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As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

Looking out my living room window, I see five large trash receptacles on the four corners of the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 79th Street that our east side Manhattan apartment overlooks. And, probably as a consequence, there’s very little garbage on the street and sidewalk.

In fact, most intersections in my neighborhood seem to have a trashcan on each corner, something I have been aware of — and grateful for — when I walk our yellow Lab in the morning and at night.

But when I was visiting a school in the South Bronx last week, I couldn’t help but notice that sidewalks and streets were littered and there weren’t very many public trash receptacles. Just one per intersection, not the four (or five) in my neighborhood.

Now, a couple of casual sightings and an anecdote do not constitute data, but this is a great opportunity for social studies teachers to use technology to enliven their classes, energize their students, and perhaps provide real life lessons in how cities distribute resources.

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In education, a lack of response to basic demand

I started writing this blog entry on a flight to California from New York; I’m headed there for another book party and a meeting of the Learning Matters board.

For the last 30 minutes or so, I have been listening to a father talk about his two young children, ages 7 and 10.  He’s an older Dad with at least one adult child, and he radiates child-like enthusiasm about what amounts to a second go-round of childrearing. He’s been telling me about their endless curiosity; they always are asking “why?” and “how does this work?” and so on.

As I listened, a dark cloud flickered across my eyes and I wondered: what would their schools do to their spark?

Nurture it, tolerate it, or extinguish it?

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Joel Klein’s Legacy

Much has been made of Joel Klein’s influence on New York City’s public schools over his 8 years as Chancellor. Most of the words have been kind, and deservedly so. After all, he took on a huge and hidebound system and began whacking away on day one, pausing only occasionally to catch a breath.

Klein in his office, December 2010

Combative by nature, Mr. Klein could bristle at the drop of an inference. Always well prepared, Mr. Klein dazzled with numbers, and, when the numbers didn’t support his case, he found other ways to attack.

His critics—and there are many—discount the academic achievements Mr. Klein boasted about, particularly after the flabby nature of the tests was exposed, leading to a re-grading of many public schools here. They say he was obsessed with test scores and didn’t pay enough attention to genuine learning. He maintains that he was the first to raise doubts about the tests.

But even his critics ought to give him credit for longevity, tenacity and some genuine improvements. Graduation rates are up, and thousands of adolescents are now attending high schools where they are more than just a number. On his watch, the New York schools opened about 125 small high schools, in the process shutting down dozens of ‘dropout factories,’ scary huge places where most students were poorly served. Because he encouraged charter schools, thousands of kids, mostly poor and minority children, are now better served.

Mr. Klein also refused to let anyone say ‘I taught it, but they didn’t learn it,’ and he wouldn’t let teachers or administrators blame families or communities for academic failure.

It would be interesting to add up the number of times Mr. Klein trotted out his familiar accusation: that unions and their three-legged stool of tenure, seniority and lock-step pay are the chief obstacle to improvement. I heard it dozens of times, and I wasn’t even covering him (although we did produce two profiles of the Chancellor for the NewsHour during his tenure).

Might his combativeness have gotten in the way from time to time? No question, and many hope that his successor adopts a new approach.

But—and I have buried the lede—the lasting legacy of Joel Klein might not be in New York City but elsewhere, in New Jersey; Baltimore; Washington, DC; New Haven, CT; Rochester, NY; and Christina, Delaware. In each of these places, someone closely connected with the Chancellor became the top educator. In fact, all but Michelle Rhee in Washington actually reported to Mr. Klein, and they worked closely when she led the New Teacher Project. As is well known, it was Mr. Klein who advised incoming DC Mayor Adrian Fenty to hire her.

The others: Deputy Superintendent Christopher Cerf is now the State Superintendent in New Jersey. Andres Alonso is Superintendent in Baltimore. Garth Harries leads the schools in New Haven; J.C. Brizzard is superintendent in Rochester, and Marcia Lyles heads the Christina, Delaware, schools.

By my rough calculations, well over 1.5 million students are now in schools led by the five former deputies of Mr. Klein. Add to that Chancellor Rhee’s 44,000 students in Washington, DC, and Mr. Klein’s 1 million-plus students for a total of 2.6 million students, give or take a few thousand.

Since our public schools currently enroll about 50 million students, that means that more than 5 percent of all US public school students were either directly or indirectly under his influence. I conclude that, in terms of his impact on schools and school systems, Joel Klein is the most important educator that most of America has never heard of.

Thanksgiving Tricks & Treats: Klein, Tenure, NAEP and more

Somehow this Thanksgiving seems more like Halloween, full of tricks and treats.

#1. The big treat was, of course, Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times, telling the world that, if he were starting out in journalism today, he would be an education reporter. He’s right. It’s a happening beat.

Joel Klein, Bill Gates, Randi Weingarten, Cathie Black#2. This next one is either a trick or a treat, depending on where you are sitting: Bill Gates continues to speak out, leading some to label him ‘the shadow Secretary of Education. This time he chose the annual meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Louisville to call for huge changes in how teachers are paid. He said that the ‘bonus’ for having a Master’s degree was a waste of money (lots of money too, an estimated $8.6 billion in extra pay), because there’s little evidence that extra degrees add to positive student outcomes.  There’s a mighty wind blowing on the issue of teacher pay. Continue reading

A Jaw Dropping Day

I had two jaw dropping moments in just one day, November 9, 2010. The first involved Black boys in and out of school; the second, Joel Klein.

Black Male Student Achievement, Jaw Dropping Data, Council of Great City Schools“Jaw-Dropping Data” and “National Catastrophe” were two of the attention-getting phrases in the press release from the Council of the Great City Schools, phrases I assumed were hyperbole designed to catch the reader’s eye.

Wrong! The data, from the report titled A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools (PDF), are jaw dropping, and we do have a national catastrophe.

Let’s start with educational attainment. Here are just a few of the numbers:

  • Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys.
  • Only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
  • In 2009, the average mathematics scale score of large city Black males who were not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch was eight points lower at grade 4 and 12 points lower at grade 8 than the score of White males nationwide who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
  • Young white male students in poverty do as well as young black male students who are not in poverty.
  • African-American boys drop out of high school at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower.

But the crisis doesn’t begin in school, the report notes.
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