31 May 2008

Do You See What I See

Two data points does not a trend make, I realize; but, I still find the information interesting. (Click on the image for a larger view.) Light blue circles represent gender performance at the school, red diamonds show district information, and the dark blue triangles show statewide data.

With two years worth of data to look at, the third grade girls at my school have achievement that mirrors what is happening elsewhere. But the boys? It's not looking good, is it? It's downright eye-catching...and not in a good way. Fourth and fifth grade pictures are not a whole lot rosier when you put up the gender info side by side.

Do you want even more food for thought? While 75% of the school's third grade males met the standard in math in 2006, this same cohort only had 40.9% pass when they were fourth graders in 2007. Fifth grade data will be available in the fall. Wanna bet their scores are not improved? In the areas of fourth grade Reading and fifth grade Science, not a single boy in the whole school exceeded the standards (Level 4). This is especially interesting because not a single fourth grade girl in the school was at a Level 1 in Reading.

With only two years of data to consider, it's already starting to feel like something isn't quite right. There is no grade or subject area in the school where boys increased their achievement. Ouch.

I haven't shown this information to the staff yet. They are working on plans for next year and have done a bit of data work. The school tends to focus things at a classroom level, but I'm thinking it's time to pull back and look at things more holistically. My hunch is that discipline data will reveal that boys spend a lot more time in the office than girls. Are our expectations that unfriendly to males, I wonder? Should we be concerned? What will we do to make things more gender equitable?

30 May 2008

When GoogleDocs Are Outlawed

...only outlaws will have GoogleDocs.

I did manage a way for kids to try GoogleDocs over the last couple of days (until The Tree-Killer shut us down). I have to say that it has been two of the most fun and rewarding days I've had in the classroom in a long time---maybe all year. It was one of those times where the end definitely justified the means, even if the example of rule-breaking is not one that I typically believe is right.

But to watch 30 kids...all working...all engaged...all collaborating on four documents for a real audience was a powerful and awesome thing. I gave minimal instructions. I really think that most kids have an intuitive sense of programs these days. They don't need me to hold their hands and explain every little button on the menu bar. We did a short (as in one sentence) assignment at first so that they could see how to create a document, embed a link, and invite someone to see or collaborate with them. After that, I shared a bare bones lesson plan with them for the kindergartners and told them to have at it.

And, oh, did they.

Students had a blast. It was not only collaborative---it was competitive. Who could find the best picture of a sand dollar? Who could make the format easier to read? Some did get a bit silly in terms of deleting one another's edits, but it really was in fun. When was the last time you saw your kids laughing while they were writing? There was a lot of exploration and joy. It's well worth any hassle or grief The Tree-Killer attempts to cause. Kids were already talking about all of the ways they want to use the tool...how happy they'd be not to have to carry a thumb drive...the ability to work with anyone, anywhere on projects.

In Here Comes Everybody, Shirky speaks to the kind of "bargain" that comes with collaborations like this (and like Wikipedia). It's true that someone can add bad information to a document just as easily as good information. It would have been simple enough for any of my students to trash the whole project. But it is also true that just one click is all it takes to restore things...that the number of people willing to buy in for the good of the project easily overwhelms the one or two vandalizing apples. As a result, the overall result is one of continuous improvement through small changes.

The number of edits (so far) to the lesson plans range from 266 - 745. That's a lot of kids doing a lot of work to a skeleton document. The results are kid-like, as you might imagine. There is a rainbow of text colours, some stream of consciousness comments, interesting pictures (e.g. comparing a pile worm to a Swiffer duster) and this great sense of collective voice and enthusiasm. I'm really proud of them.

The kids are, of course, very unhappy about having the tool blocked. I explained to them that Mordac said blocking GoogleDocs is not due to fears of exposing them to predators---it's because the school district is afraid of any information that they can't control. Since the documents would not be housed on a district server, they have no ability to monitor what kids are doing. And while I appreciate the need for monitoring student behavior, I also think that they're trying to push back the tide with a broom. None of the information kids are accessing on-line is stored on our servers. It belongs to someone else. I've posted this comic strip here before, but it bears repeating:

Although I shared a document with my students, I did not give them the necessary permissions to invite other collaborators or viewers. What they create is another matter, of course. But within my province---especially because this was our first attempt to use these tools together---I made sure the information stayed within our small circle and kept a continual watch on the computers. I told them that if they're really upset about being shut out, then they should collaborate on a letter. They have the tools and know-how now. Can the power for change be far behind?

29 May 2008

Garden Party

I was pondering the idea of integrity where leadership is concerned. I suppose that at this point in my career, administrators shouldn't hold any surprises for me---and yet I still get an eye-opener now and then.

What I'm coming to realize is that integrity is a matter of perspective. The administrators I respect the most approach integrity as being true to their personal vision and convictions. Whether or not I might agree with those views is a different matter, but I respect that their actions match their words. And at the other end of the spectrum are those who are true to the job. That is to say that they are there to push the papers, play the political game, and pick-up a paycheck at the end of the month. They may talk the talk of school improvement or a focus on kids, but it is not their first love. Somewhere along the way, they've lost enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity. Whatever reasons originally drew them to admin have not been adapted as times have changed. They do the job as it is with no thoughts of what it could be.

Should we, as Ricky Nelson suggested, learn our lesson well? Since we can't please everyone, should we learn to please ourselves? At the garden party of education, does having integrity also mean having a bit of selfishness about one's ideals?

I understand how easy it is to become disillusioned with working in education. If you care, it's hard work to be in a classroom...and even harder to steer a school. What variety of integrity is the right one?

27 May 2008

The Voice of Reason

Please head on over to Mrs. Bluebird's place and check out this week's Carnival of Education. It is truly an oasis of thought and reason in an insane world.

Don't look for the voice of reason in this district. I'm trying to prep my tenth graders to work with my kindergartners next week. I wanted to use GoogleDocs to coordinate my different class periods---and allow them to communicate with the teachers in the other district. As feared, however, the district techs believe that GoogleDocs is a filthy site, not worthy of passing through our filters. We can't have children actually collaborating on a project, now can we? (Never mind that the kindergartners can access GoogleDocs in the other district if they wanted to.) Why, we would surely be leading kids into a lifetime of internet debauchery if we allowed them to create and share a lesson plan on tidepools or otherwise learn about these collaborative tools. Shame on me.

I am exaggerating, but only slightly. The interesting thing is that only "docs" are blocked by the filter---not the other social tools in Google. Now that my kids have accounts (a story unto itself), I could actually share this post with them using Reader, along with comments about why I was sending it. We could build a common calendar for the remainder of the school year. And more. But we can't use the word processing feature because one person in this school district doesn't want us to do so. Perfectly reasonable, right?

26 May 2008

The New Catch-22: Science and Literacy

It goes without saying, I'm sure, that I have a particular bias about including science as part of a well-rounded education. It is not enrichment. It should not be an add-on to the curriculum, or something taught as filler when the teacher finds some time. I also believe that science becomes even more important in high-poverty areas because it provides students with background experiences as the basis for literacy. It is the concrete which allows teachers to tie on abstract words and symbols. It forms the foundation for students to make personal connections and have something to write about.

An area school is more or less eliminating everything which is not reading or math from the school day. Student achievement is poor. A great number of kids are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade (after which time, they never ever catch up according to the research). It would seem to make sense that spending even more than the 120 minutes per day set aside now for reading might be necessary. We need a literate society. If students are going to be able to break the cycle of poverty their families are in, they need basic reading and numeracy skills in order to have more higher education and job options. I understand that children who can't read will struggle with everything else.

So, this is my 22 that I'm caught in at the moment. Experiences in science build literacy (vocabulary in traditional settings does not). But students have to have the basic skills in reading and writing in order to support other learning. Which is more important? Which should be first? Do we do nothing but basic literacy and numeracy skills through third grade...and then allow students the "reward" of science and social studies? Or do we engage kids in all sorts of learning experiences at the primary level and use those as opportunities for literacy? Would science specialists at the elementary level take some of the instructional pressure off of teachers? (There was a great article in the Washington Post about science coaches in area elementary schools.)

I've been asked to give some advice in this area, but I know it's a losing proposition for science. "More...more...more..." will be the literacy cry. "Make them practice reading all day, if necessary, because more instruction is the same as better instruction." I can't argue with the need for developing basic reading skills, but I might be able to toss out a few shots against the "More = Better" stance. If you have any thoughts or ammo about breaking out of this Catch-22 cycle, send them along.

25 May 2008

The Unofficial Start to Summer

There are still 19 more school days. So, while many of my edublogger cohorts are out on summer holiday, I have four more weeks of pencils, books, and teachers' dirty looks. I'm not worried. Come late July/early August when others are headed back to the classroom, I'll still be sleeping in and having days in the sun. Nanner-nanner.

The weather has been unusually cooperative this weekend. The forecast was not so rosy. We were to have the ubiquitous showers of western Washington, but Mother Nature has graciously exercised her prerogative and changed her mind. It's been absolutely perfect: sunny, low 70's for temps, light breeze.

I've been out in the yard a lot these past two days. This place has a lot of yard and managing it is an endeavor worthy of Sisyphus. I don't mind, though, because unlike the majority of tasks associated with much of my job, weeding, mulching, and trimming produces visible results. Teaching does not fulfill the eye as much as my freshly tended lavender bed. I have yet to decide what to do, if anything, about the 'possum path. There is a huge opossum which uses my driveway and a portion of my side yard as a thoroughfare. I can see the trail through the 2-foot tall grass growing in buffer between my yard and the neighbors. I don't mind the activity and he (?) doesn't seem to mind me when we've been in the same space at the same time. So, we'll see.

I have heirloom tomato plants to get into a vegetable bed. There are flowers to plant and blackberry bushes to beat back. I'm hoping that the weather holds for one more day so that I can get a few more tasks done. It's much nicer to pretend that its summer than to work on lesson plans. I can hardly wait until summer vacation is officially here.

24 May 2008

Radio Silence

Things have been quiet here at Ye Olde Blog the past few days. I've been swamped with work and other issues that are taking up a great deal of time and energy. Lots of blogging material, and very little headspace. Radio silence may continue a bit over the weekend.

I was notified this week that I was selected to present at our state's "Summer Institute." I proposed a session on standards-based grading and motivation and made the cut. Looking at the list of presenters and sessions, I feel honored to be included. I have a couple more conference proposals floating around---both for national level gigs. I don't expect to be invited to either, but I am definitely of a mind that "If you you don't ask, you don't get." As I think about starting up a small consultancy business, I know that I need to get out there and show a bit of what I can do.

I'm pretty darned good in the classroom. Seventeen years of opportunities have honed my skills. I feel like I know what I'm doing (and what I should be doing) and can put together a dynamic learning environment for kids. But what I've learned about myself in the last few years is that I'm really good at working with teachers. I feel like this is an art form in its own right, because we are not easy people to deal with in groups. I know how to read the crowd...I know when to push and when to let them range a bit with ideas. I can make adult learning meaningful, not insulting. I can get teachers energized and happy that they came to a professional development session. And what's more is simply that I really enjoy doing this kind of work. We'll see where it all leads.

I'm going to spend some of my Memorial Day holiday getting my plan together. I won't present until the end of July, but if I want my handouts copied for free and brought to the conference for me, I only have two weeks to put them together. I'm thinking about ways to include web 2.0 tools within my presentation. They won't be the focus, of course, but considering that we have internet access and many will have laptops, why not make this workshop something which can live on through a wiki or GoogleDocs? Part of my proposal is to have participants create or adapt grading tools to make them more standards-based. How cool would it be to be able to upload items at that time so that everyone could access them later?

I asked for a 3-hour block of time. I know from my experience presenting at WERA this spring that 75 minutes is barely enough time to have the background conversations. I couldn't imagine doing a workshop in 90 minutes (which was another option). We all need some time to think and more intensive opportunities. But it does mean a significant investment of planning time on my part. My first Boss Lady used to remind us that highly effective professional development requires an 8-to-1 ratio of planning-to-execution. So, at least 24 hours of preparation on my part will be involved.

Guess I'd better get to work.

21 May 2008

Strangely Enough, It's Carnival Time

Wednesday always seems to sneak up on me. I see it on the calendar. I know it arrives at the same time each week. And yet, racing along at the speed of light as the school year comes to a close means that Wednesday just seems like some sort of fantastic visitor. What do you mean, it's Wednesday? Already? But I haven't accomplished enough to be this far into the week. Waaah!

Nancy, however, is much more calm and put together than I am. In fact, she's managed to synthesize a delightful Carnival of Education this week. And she didn't have to break a sweat. Go have a look at Teacher in a Strange Land and see what's happened in the edusphere since last Wednesday. You won't be disappointed that it's Wednesday.

20 May 2008

Postpourri

The MST class at St. John Fisher College is up and at 'em again. Welcome to you the newest recruits to the edusphere. I hope that you'll find yourself at home in the cyberschoolhouse world.

Most of the education-related blogs you'll find are very focused on a given topic. Some are very exclusive about technology in education. Others are policy pundits. There are those which just detail classroom events and others which rail against the system. While I admire their strong blogging voice, I can't say that I model myself along those lines. This blog tends to be fairly eclectic---much like my career at the moment. I work in two different school districts, with two completely different age ranges (10 - 12, k -5), in two different capacities (teacher, instructional coach). I'm also finishing up my EdD in Teacher Leadership. I subscribe to way too many RSS feeds, which means that various articles end up as fodder here. This blog is rather messy as a result of the confluence of these pieces of my working life, but I have to tell ya', I really like it that way.

Please feel free to peruse my archive. Some specific posts which might interest you would be my welcome messages to two previous cohorts from your class (here and here). I look forward to any comments you have to toss my way. Best wishes on your journey!

19 May 2008

A Tale of Two Tests

So, in about a month, I'm sitting for two tests in order to add an elementary endorsement to my certificate. Because of the roundabout method of doing this, I actually have to add this endorsement to my Texas cert first...and then Washington. Each requires a different test. And they are very different tests.

Here is an example from the Washington test (note that this is considered a "rigorous" question):

Three-dimensional figures in geometry are called:

A. Solids
B. Cubes
C. Polygons
D. Blocks
You can see more mind-boggling questions here.

And here is a question from the Texas test:

The surface area of a cylindrical soup can is comprised of which of the following?

A. a rectangle and a circle
B. two little circles and a big circle
C. two circles and a rectangle
D. one rectangle
Other Texas questions are here; I'm taking test 101.

I have to say that the Texas test is far more challenging. I've put an "easy" question here, and while it is fairly straightforward, there is a bit more thinking involved. It's not just simple recall. Nearly all of the Texas questions are framed around a classroom scenario. It isn't enough to know the content, how would you teach it? What would you do about a child who was struggling with understanding surface area? Considering that the entire basis of certification is a test, I have to say that it seems like a much better approach.

Washington is going to ask me content area questions on literacy, math, science, and social studies. Texas has those, plus PE, music, art, and pedagogy in all of those areas.

I'm not worried about most of the content. The main area I need to beef up on is literacy. Yes, I use reading and writing strategies with students all the time---but they are teens. I have never had to actually teach someone how to read or how to write. So, I'll review on some of that, as well as some early childhood development info and be good to go. Also, I'm a good test-taker. I know how to work these questions, even if I don't know the specifics of what they're asking. So far, I've been getting ~85% on the practice tests just taking them cold. However, I'd like to be able to walk in for those exams with even more confidence.

At the end of the day, I still have to wonder if a test is really a worthwhile way to achieve certification. Yes, it's quick and simple (and pretty cheap as compared to actually taking classes and doing a practicum). Yes, good instruction is good instruction. Yes, a love of learning and children is vital. But there are just some things which come from experience---and I have precious little where working with small people is concerned. I feel like I will be in sheep's clothing, adding this endorsement to my resume to expand my marketability; however it is not awkward enough to make me stop my pursuit. I don't make the rules. I just want to help teachers and kids. If playing the game by telling the tale of two tests is the road I have to travel, so be it.

18 May 2008

Junkies

There is hardly a public school out there which doesn't have some variation of student attendance issue. We need students to come to school in order to move their learning forward---and yet there are a host of reasons why they don't. While I don't want to talk about issues surrounding compulsory attendance measures, I do want to talk about this question: Are we creating a generation of sticker junkies?

In other words, are schools too quick to pull out extrinsic rewards (stickers, ice cream, drawings for prizes...) as a way to promote attendance?

I was thinking about this last week after reading the follow-up article on the Georgia program which paid students to study. (I blogged about this in January...Motivation Matters has more.) Thirty-five students finished the 15-week program.

At the rate of $8 an hour or $32 a week, Jailyn and the other students had the chance to earn $480 by the end of the school year. The amount they actually earned was tied to their attendance and participation.

Taylor said Jailyn put a lot of his money in a savings account.

"We also used this opportunity to teach budgeting and how to spend money," she said. "And in the end, he didn't do it for the money. He did it for himself."

This sounds great, but I admit I'm still suspicious. What will happen in the fall when Jailyn and the others aren't given money to do what they should be doing? If behavioral research is any indicator, the levels of motivation will decrease---and potentially be lower than before the program was implemented.

I talked to an area principal who is wrestling with some significant student attendance issues. The immediate reaction is to go the rewards route. I'm not convinced this is the right path. Don't we first need to know why students aren't coming to school? Will a sticker or a promise of an ice cream bar change that for the long term? Or will it just reinforce a sense of entitlement?

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to think that one of the primary purposes of schooling is to foster a love of learning. If the school is a place where kids want to be, they will come. Are we creating extrinsic reward junkies in our elementary schools only to have them disengage and drop out at upper grades when the stickers stop?
Dealing with student engagement issues, lesson design, and high quality instruction is far more labor and time intensive than just buying a bunch of stickers, but isn't that what we should be doing?

17 May 2008

Six Degrees of Here Comes Everybody

I wrapped up my reading of Here Comes Everybody earlier in the week and am still thinking about several ideas contained within the text. The book is about how recent platforms like blogs, wikis, Twitter, Flickr, and other social networks have changed our abilities to organize and effect action. While there are no examples provided about education, I believe that there some lessons to be learned from all of this.

Here is an older idea we can consider in a new context:


With this graphic, Shirky is showing how the complexity of possible connections within an organization grows faster than its size. The group on the left has five members with 10 total connections; the middle has 10 members needing 45 connections; and the one on the right has a mere 15 members, but needs over 100 lines to connect everyone.

Stop for a moment and think about the web this would create within your classroom of 30 kids...let alone how a school or district has had to traditionally organize itself in order to make communications seemingly efficient.
As groups grow, it becomes impossible for everyone to interact directly with everyone else. If maintaining a connection between two people takes any effort at all, at some size, that effort becomes unstable...Running an organization is difficult in and of itself, no matter what its goals. Every transaction it undertakes---every contract, every agreement, every meeting---requires it to expend some limited resource: time, attention, or money. Because of these transaction coasts, some sources of value are too costly to take advantage of. As a result, no institution can put all its energies into pursuing its mission; it must expend considerable effort on maintaining discipline and structure, simply to keep itself viable. ---pp. 28 - 30
So, what do businesses and schools do in order to minimize these costs? We create an organizational hierarchy so that every person does not have to know every other person in order to make the group function. The problem with this is that as schools continue to get bigger, they need more managers to help organize things...and this costs more money.

Shirky proposes another option. As social networking tools continue to become mainstream, they will change the activities we engage in because costs will decrease. In other words, you don't have to find people to serve on a committee, pay them to meet, arrange meeting space/snacks/etc. How many times have you sat in a staff meeting wondering "How much is this costing taxpayers?" in light of teacher time, benefits, and so forth. It gets mighty expensive in a hurry. Instead, if there's an issue within the school, social networking tools would easily allow those who have an interest in the topic (including all stakeholders) to find one another and have a (digital) place to communicate and collaborate---all without spending a dime. A group who uses a shared on-line meeting space, such as Google Docs or a wiki, and can tweet or IM others who might be interested, is all that's needed to get the ball rolling. And no more sitting in a staff meeting listening to the same person drone on about the tardy policy.

I would think that this is going to be a very frightening proposition for most school districts. In a world where control of information is diminished, so is the prestige of central office. Makes me wonder a bit about the network filters we have. Are we protecting kids? Or are we really protecting administration by limiting the workforce's ability to self-organize?

Okay, so you're thinking that the graphic above doesn't adequately explain what happens in a school district. Fair enough. Unless you're a one room schoolhouse sort of a place, I can't think of any district where every staff member has a personal connection with every other staff member. We really look more like this, don't we?


Each of the smaller clusters might represent your department or school. Some people within your base of operations tend to stick within the group. Other members, however, have connections with other groups. In this way, you can also make connections with everyone, but not everyone has to be personally involved with everyone else. When I look at this, I see myself as someone who would be at one of the five points connected to form a star in the middle. I have always been someone who likes to float---and also someone who can facilitate connections between a lot of different groups. Tell me what you need and I can tell you who should ask. Within those connections, I can think of several people who do not do this. The circles they move in are very small and they're quite happy with that.

If you're looking at this and wondering what is so different about it from a traditional hierarchy (because people can get information either way), I think the primary difference is choice. In a typical organization, there are layers of control concerning what groups you can belong to and what information flows down. In Shirky's depiction, members make a choice to participate and be part of the group. You connect due to your common interests and needs. Social networking platforms provide cheap and efficient ways to make that happen.

So what does this mean for schools? First of all, it means that we can work toward solutions in very different---and likely more cost and time efficient ways. It also means that instead of people who have the information controlling what does and does not occur, this ever-flattening world means that those who use the tools will be part of the conversation. Those teachers, parents, and students who are technologically illiterate are going to be left behind. And because most districts block social networking tools, only those people who learn about them outside of the school day are going to have the greatest voice. We're talking about a small, but powerful, minority here. Central office had better be scared. Unions had better take note, too. Teachers are far less than six degrees away (more like three) from being able to organize and manage the schools they want and that kids need.

Yes, but are they learning?

Teacher Magazine recently declared that Technology-Rich Classrooms Render Textbooks Useless. The article describes two fourth-grade classrooms in Kansas where "lessons are delivered through different media that are more interactive and, teachers say, more engaging." Media, in this case, includes computers, Smartboards, and internet access.

"We rarely use books," said Mary Hamlin, who teaches fourth-grade science, math and social studies.

Instead, she relies on Web sites like eHarcourt, affiliated with the school's math book company. Students can get their homework straight from the site and do it right there on the screen, or print it out if they don't have Internet access at home.

The Internet is used, too, for research, like when members of Kristy Zeller's fourth-grade class each did a project on a famous explorer, or for fourth-graders' current topic of researching famous Kansans.

The technology also allows teachers to create what Hamlin called "tracks" — a series of Web sites all related to a certain topic of study, so students can move from one site to the next as they complete an assignment.

"We use the computers every day — sites that reinforce what we're learning in the classroom," Zeller said.

That's much more fun than exploring topics with books and taking notes with pencil and paper, according to several members of Zeller's and Hamlin's classes.

"It's exciting, because you sometimes go to new places on the Internet," Rafael Diaz said.

One of his favorite things to do in class is to go online, but technology use at Gertrude Walker, however, extends beyond Internet exploration.

Teachers said they also use the hardware to engage students in lessons, like having them edit grammar sentences on the SMART Board, and to have them present information to the class. Hamlin said her class is especially skilled at creating Power Point slide shows, like those they're currently making about their famous Kansans.

Okay, I applaud the efforts at increasing student engagement. I also think the skills students are developing in using hardware and basic software will be ones that will serve them well throughout their lifetimes. But are they learning any content? This particular factor is curiously absent from the article.

I mentioned recently that technology is not just stuff. Right now, I feel like this article is highlighting two examples of teachers who are teaching the same as in the past, only using a Smartboard instead of an LCD projector. How is using the computer to research a report on famous Kansans any different from getting books from the library with similar information? Where are the opportunities for students to be collaborators? Creators of content?

16 May 2008

Conversation of the Week

Scene: Sunny afternoon; bus duty at a local elementary school

Dad:
"This is my daughter---the one I was telling you about. Jane is interested in learning to play piano, aren't you honey?"

Me, looking at small, blonde, first grader: "Hi, Jane. It's nice to meet you."

Jane: "I have a rifle at home!"

Dad, looking sheepish: "It's just a little .22." He holds his hands about 2 feet apart to try to illustrate the size.

Me, not knowing what to say in this conversation gone Twilight Zone: "Um...Wow."

Jane: "It's pink!"

15 May 2008

Whatever

I share a classroom with other teachers. Today, one of these teachers accused one of my classes of stealing/damaging some of his lab equipment.

Whatever.

The class under scrutiny is my absolute best group of kids. That's not to say that each and every one is an angel, but the simple truth is that I don't start from that assumption that they're all devils. It seems fair to give them the benefit that they act with good intentions. Out of all of the supplies and lab equipment I have placed in their way this year, nary a single item has been abused or gone missing.

This other teacher, however, sees only sophomores, something slightly below slime mold on his version of the evolutionary scale. The senior AP students who use the room during a different class period (and hold court at two of the lab tables) couldn't possibly have anything to do with his issue.

Whatever.

He suggested I mention things to my students today---and I said I would. After he left, I thought about what I wanted to say to the kids. If, indeed, one of them was guilty, I am not a believer in the proverbial group butt-chew. Teenagers suffer enough with being painted with the same brush. I am not going to be a party to that. However, believing as I do that they are good people, I saw no harm in mentioning the issue of stolen property to them in case they saw/heard something and could help solve the mystery.

I have to tell you that my kids were genuinely horrified by the suggestion that they were thieves. I made it clear that I, personally, trusted them and had no reason to doubt their motivations. Most of them had no clue what the equipment in question actually looked like---so I had to dig around for some to show. They agreed the stuff was cool, but not that it was okay to take any of it.

This other teacher wanted to blame some of my boys. He referred to them as "bad" and "stupid." I'm not sure why he would say this. He has never taught any of them. His only communication has been to yell at a couple of them when they borrowed a ruler off of a table for an assignment. After ~155 school days, I know my kids. To this other teacher who is so fond of dismissing brown male teens as trash, I can only say one thing: Whatever.

13 May 2008

Wikipedantics

My school district blocks wikis of all creeds and colours---including wikipedia---because it considers them to be equivalent to blogs. And we can't have kids engaged in meaningful reading/writing through social networking, now can we? The horror of it all.

I admit that I have often looked askance at wikipedia. What I've come to realize over the years, however, is that the quality of information is really not all that different from previous incarnations of the encyclopedia (Who wrote "World Book," fer cryin' out loud?). This means that students just need to remember to treat what's written there as they would any secondary source. After finishing Here Comes Everybody, I have acquired another layer of understanding about wikipedia. It's a kind of social contract (or "bargain" as Clay Shirky calls it) in that while anyone can edit pages in wikipedia, you are more likely to find reliable information than not. This is because it may take a lot of effort to come up with poor entries, but only a moment to delete them and replace with higher quality items.

I had been thinking about how nice it would be to use this in the classroom. What a great tool to be able to use with students---give them an article from wikipedia, have them verify what they can, and perhaps even improve the writing and information. Alas, my district will never see it that way...but other campuses do. From Deborah Jones' recent article for AFP:

Wikipedia the upstart Internet encyclopedia that most universities forbid students to use, has suddenly become a teaching tool for professors. Recently, university teachers have swapped student term papers for assignments to write entries for the free online encyclopedia.

Writing for Wikipedia "seems like a much larger stage, more of a challenge," than a term paper, said professor Jon Beasley-Murray, who teaches Latin American literature at the University of British Columbia.

"The vast majority of Wikipedia entries aren't very good," said Beasley-Murray, but said the site aims to be academically sound.

To reach its goal of academic standards, said Wikipedia's web site, it set up an assessment scale on its English-language site. The best encyclopedia entries are ranked as "Featured Articles," and run each day on the home page at www.wikipedia.com.

To be ranked as a "Featured Article," Wikipedia said an entry must "provide thorough, well-written coverage of their topic, supported by many references to peer-reviewed publications."

Of more than 10 million articles in 253 languages, only about 2,000 have reached "Featured Article" status, it said.

As an experiment, last January Beasley-Murray promised his students a rare A+ grade if they got their projects for his literature course, called "Murder, Madness and Mayhem," accepted as a Wikipedia "Featured Article."

In May, three entries created by nine students in the course became the first student works to reach Wikipedia's top rank.

Beasley-Murray said the projects took the students four months, and one entry was revised 1,000 times.

Typically, thousands or millions of people visit a Wikipedia entry, and each visitor is able to edit entries, or even flag an article considered unworthy to have it removed.

Working online with anyone watching or editing "was really hard to get into," said Eva Shiu, a third-year student who worked on the Marquez entry. "But it was really exciting, and I feel like I've accomplished something," she told AFP.

"I got addicted to it ... I was up nights until three or four a.m. in the morning working on it."

Monica Freudenreich, who worked on the Asturias entry, said she liked the fact her contribution will survive online. Usually term papers "end up in a binder than eventually sits under my bed," she wrote on Wikipedia.

The University of British Columbia entries are among some 70 academic projects now registered at Wikipedia, by institutions from Yale University to the University of Tartu, Estonia.

Wikipedia itself invites professors "to use Wikipedia in your class to demonstrate how an open content website works (or doesn't)."

But the experiment has had controversies, including student work that was instantly deleted as not "notable."

"Sometimes it's a disaster," said Beasley-Murray. "But in some ways it's good news ... this was a great learning experience for students."

Too bad it can't be the same for the kids in my classroom.

12 May 2008

The Sighs Have It

I was working with one of my classes a few weeks ago when a student from another class came to see me. He had withdrawal papers with him. This is a student who had been frequently absent (or disengaged), but who I genuinely enjoyed. He was a senior---two months from graduation.

"What's the deal?" I asked.

"I'm quitting. I'm getting my GED and have already enlisted in the army. I show up for basic training mid-May and will be off to Iraq soon after."

"Kevin," I said, "You make me sad."

"I know," he replied. "I make me sad, too."

Don't come home in a box, kid. Sigh.

11 May 2008

Future Map


You can click on the image above to enlarge it, or better yet, head on over to the Institute for the Future and download a copy for yourself. This is the Future of Making map.

Two future forces, one mostly social, one mostly technological, are intersecting to transform how goods, services, and experiences—the “stuff” of our world—will be designed, manufactured, and distributed over the next decade. An emerging do-it-yourself culture of “makers” is boldly voiding warranties to tweak, hack, and customize the products they buy. And what they can’t purchase, they build from scratch. Meanwhile, flexible manufacturing technologies on the horizon will change fabrication from massive and centralized to lightweight and ad hoc. These trends sit atop a platform of grassroots economics—new market structures developing online that embody a shift from stores and sales to communities and connections.

In other words, social networking isn't just for the digital environment. It's going to change our physical world, too. There have always been creative and intelligent forces at work in the world, but platforms like blogs, twitter, flickr, and others makes it simpler (and cheaper) for people with similar interests and ideas to find one another---and then share with the rest of us.

Speaking of the future, the Globe and Mail recently published an overview of web 3.0 apps, referring to this as Creating a Global Brain. Like the Future of Making, the idea here is that new technology will enable people to move from simply connecting to share information to new forms of collaboration and the ability to "mash-up" various kinds of data. Some of those will likely be introduced via The Idea Shower, a launchpad for new ideas on the web. I'm diggin' it.

It all makes me wonder what learning will look like in 3 - 5 years. Will my classroom be different in terms of how students use and create information?

10 May 2008

Grading Round-Up

Grading is still a topic near and dear to my heart. I haven't written much about it recently---being swamped with end of year school travails and trying to get data collected for my doctoral study. However, I have been keeping an eye out for news in this area. If interested, you might enjoy having a look, too.

  • Some parents in Fairfax County, Virginia, want the grading scale changed so that their children have a leg up on college entrance. They're not interested in what the grade represents or changing anything happening in the classroom---they just want to manipulate the scale itself to make students appear more attractive to higher ed. Colleges won't catch on, right? The title of the article in the WaPo is "Schools to Study Grading Practices," but the bottom line is that this is not what is really going to happen.
  • Meanwhile, over at The Faculty Room, there has been a series of posts addressing the question of How do we get beyond the unthinking habits of grading? The responses range from looking to electronic gradebooks as culprits to a lack of consideration about what a grade should mean. Read the whole series, if you can.
  • Speaking of electronic gradebooks, some parents are using the web access feature of some of these to watch their child's progress like the stock market. Is having this level of "transparency" about grades really a good idea? Check out I Know What You Did Last Math Class for more details.

09 May 2008

That's What I Want

Two disconnected articles recently caught my eye as I paged through my RSS feeds. The first one, Male Call: Recruiting More Men to Teach Elementary School, was of interest not just because I am spending my days in an elementary which has only one male teacher...but also because I wondered if anything had changed since I blogged about this very same topic three years ago. The short answer is "no." The interesting part of the more recent article was found in the comments. Many of the commenters blamed low pay as the reason few men are attracted to the profession. It makes me wonder if that is because of some sort of societal expectation that is different from what I posted about in days of yore. Is the pressure on men to perform financially so great that teaching isn't an appealing career option?

Education Week had a different take on things, not confining the pay issue to a particular gender, although they recognize The Teaching Penalty.

Back in 1960, women teachers were paid 14.7 percent more than other women with similar educations. But that trend reversed, and by 2000, women teachers were being paid 13.2 percent less than their educational peers in other fields. Indeed, over the past 10 years the latter trend has accelerated; the pay gap that was a 4.3 percent shortfall in 1996 became a 15.1 percent chasm for all teachers by 2006—a growth of 10.8 percentage points. Teachers were bypassed by the strong wage growth of the late 1990s and, more recently, continued to lose ground while college-graduate wages stagnated.

The rising pay gap will make it difficult to recruit teachers—and present an even more daunting challenge in retaining them. For teachers starting their careers—those between the ages of 25 and 34—the 12 percent pay penalty today is only 0.5 percentage points larger than that of their peers in 1996. But for women who are experienced teachers—those ages 45 to 54—the pay deficit has grown by 18 percentage points over the same period.

Sure, some say that teaching is such a unique profession that it is impossible to compare it with other occupations. But our study took pains to account for the special circumstances surrounding teachers’ pay and benefits. Because teachers’ annual work schedules are different from those of other professions, we compared wages earned for a week of work, rather than the entire year.

Since teachers may receive relatively generous health insurance and retirement benefits, we took total compensation into account—and found that it narrowed the pay gap by just 3 percentage points in 2006. In other words, the 15 percent weekly pay disadvantage based on wages alone translates to a 12 percent disadvantage when you factor in benefits. That’s not enough to transform the big picture, or the big point: Teaching just doesn’t pay nearly as well as the alternatives.

I haven't seen an article which takes a look at the pay issue this way, but I like the approach. It makes sense to include benefits as a factor. Either way, the results aren't pretty.

Maybe it isn't a matter of gender specific issues in terms of what both attracts teachers to the profession and what makes them stay. It is the concrete rewards in terms of money (and what it can provide) and recognition.

07 May 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and Posters


Can I just say right now how much I hate this poster?

This hangs in one of the classrooms of my morning school. It's at the very front of the room, so students have to look at it every period of every day. While the teacher does her thing, this is the message that's in front of them. It makes me feel unwell---I'm not sure what it does to kids.

This poster takes away hope and that's just wrong. It implies that there are no do-overs, second chances, or mulligans in life. That's such a lie. Whether it's retaking your driver's test, fussing with a new recipe to make things "just right," or building relationships with others, life is full of mistakes and opportunities to try, try again.

As I finish up my doctoral work, I know that I am hyper-aware of classroom factors which increase or decrease motivation. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the teacher put the poster up a few years ago and never gives it a second thought...but maybe she should. I wonder what would happen if her classroom reflected the value of learning over a lifetime as opposed to punishment for failure?

Pop Quiz Carnival

Get out your handy-dandy Dixon Ticonderoga #2's and head over to Bellringer's for this week's Carnival of Education. It's in "selected response" (a/k/a "multiple choice," "multiple guess") format, but here's a hint---click on the links for the right answer. Enjoy this unique presentation and wonderful collection of posts.

06 May 2008

Changes to Title I and NCLB

I've been paying more attention to Title I as of late. In my morning district, there are triple the number of schools which now qualify (as opposed to just 3 years ago) with more teetering on the edge. My afternoon district is already all Title I. This is a poor area...which is getting poorer. The Department of Education recently "announced proposed regulations [for Title I] to strengthen and clarify No Child Left Behind. The proposed regulations focus on improved accountability and transparency, uniform and disaggregated graduation rates, and improved parental notification for supplemental educational services and public school choice." There will be a forum in Seattle later this month (more info here, if interested) to provide feedback on the proposal. I'm kind of interested in going---I'm curious how the presentation and discussion will range.

The DoE has some fact sheets, press releases, other documentation on its website, but here are a few highlights:
  • Clarification that accountability measures can include one or more assessments constructed from multiple kinds of items. In other words, schools do not have to measure progress based on a single test. While I think that this is very much a step in the right direction, it is also a bit of a can of worms in terms of what a school might define as an assessment, as well as the weight it gives to different measures. Hey, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it...so to speak.
  • Build on criteria that are part of the current "growth model" pilot program. " There is general consensus among teachers, administrators, researchers, and advocates that states should be permitted to include measures of individual student growth (i.e., growth models) when determining AYP. By allowing states to include measures of individual student progress in AYP calculations, schools will continue to be held accountable for the achievement of all students. At the same time, states will have the flexibility to use more sophisticated methods of determining AYP." I also like this idea. Isn't the point to help each child improve their level of knowledge each year---even if the kid is unable to meet the standard? The predominant issue I see now is that the tier which is right below standard---the "strategic" group---has a huge range. In one of my schools, we see huge leaps in learning, but may still fall within the strategic category. For example, let's say that a student has an overall score of 15 on DIBELS in the fall...and 48 in the winter (when the grade level benchmark is 50). The child has tripled their score and there may be many other indicators of change---but the school gets no credit for this because the child is short of benchmark. Compare that to a kid who starts at 48 in the fall and is at 51 in the winter. That child would be considered a success for the school. Growth modeling could really help with this issue.
  • States will be able to participate in a differentiated accountability program. "Differentiated accountability means creating a more nuanced system of distinguishing between schools in need of dramatic intervention, and those that are closer to meeting goals...In return, states must commit to: build their capacity for school reform; take the most significant actions for the lowest-performing schools, including addressing the issue of teacher effectiveness; and use data to determine the method of differentiation and categories of intervention." Like the growth model, this allows for some flexibility in terms of which schools are in need of the greatest support...and which are "almost there." Just as there is an enormous range of students in the strategic category, we can see the same in the AYP group for schools. If the "failure" of one subgroup in one subject area is enough to qualify you as a failing school...and so is the failure of four subgroups in two subject areas, states need to be able to focus resources where they're needed most.
  • There are also several changes and clarification to the notion of school choice. Parents have the right to move their children to better performing schools once the neighbourhood school has been labeled as "failing." Personally, I don't think that transparency about this is the real issue (as the DoE believes). Parents---especially low-income ones---are not going to move their children to a "better" school because they can. They like the security of knowing what happens at the neighbourhood school as it's part of the world they move in. How will you pick up your sick child from school when you now have to take 3 different city buses to get there---let alone participate in evening/after school activities? Parents are more concerned that their child is happy and learning, rather than looking at the overall quality of the school.
I'll let you know if I get to sit in on the discussions about all of this in Seattle. Perhaps it's because I haven't been paying much attention to these sorts of things before, but NCLB has always seemed so far away. It would be nice to be part of the process, if only to listen in on what will be happening to us.

05 May 2008

Age vs. Credits

When I taught in New Mexico, we had all of the eighth and ninth graders in the city. It was the largest junior high in the state---1200 adolescents and a few dozen adults managing things as best we could. Why the kids never realized that they outnumbered us by far and took over the school is still a mystery to me.

The ninth graders were earning high school credits and, in theory, they were supposed to have a certain number of these before moving up to the high school. There was a flaw in this plan, however: some students were becoming perpetual ninth graders. More often than not, it was due to poor skills, but some kids preferred to flunk and hang around to deal drugs to the new crop of kids each fall. It was finally determined that if a student was 17, they had to go to the high school---credits or no credits. (And yes, there were 17 year old freshmen each year.)

I was reminded of this when reading an article in the Washington Post about a DC area school which is experiencing something very similar. Due to a confluence of factors, they are finding out that 17 year old boys don't belong in the same school with 12 year old girls...especially when some of those are students from the local juvenile detention facility. (We had the same deal in Carlsbad.) To its credit, however, the DC school has managed to make a lot of positive changes in its organization and delivery of instruction. It may be that the age vs. credit dilemma will always be part of the public school system. We just need to keep looking for solutions.

04 May 2008

They Must Have All Been on the Honor Roll

Brady Bunch by roadsidepictures CC-BY-NC


I hope not to burst anyone's bubble here, but the Brady kids might not be a representative sample of child behavior in blended families. In fact, Science Daily is reporting that "on average, adolescents living with half- or stepsiblings have lower grades and more school-related behavior problems, and these problems may not improve over time."

"We cannot assume that over time, children will naturally 'adjust' to the new roles and relationships that arise when families are blended," [Tillman] said. "This research indicates that the effects of new stepsiblings or half siblings may actually become more negative over time or, at the least, remain consistently negative."

Part of what makes stepfamily life difficult for young people is the complexity, ambiguity and stress that come with having nontraditional siblings living in the same home, she said. Stepsiblings who are living together may also engage in, or at least perceive, more competition for parental time, attention and resources than full siblings.

In addition to stressful life changes and ambiguous family roles, stepfamily formation leads to the introduction of a new parent-figure who may be less willing or able to invest in a child's development and academic success, Tillman said. Stepparent-child relationships tend to be more conflict ridden than relationships with biological parents, and stepparents tend to offer children less parental support, closeness and supervision. The presence of a stepparent also generally leads to a decline in the amount of attention and supervision children receive from the biological parent with whom they live. (You can read the whole article here.)

I've been trying to think about whether or not my own classroom experiences would provide anecdotal evidence about this study. I have had an abundance of students over the years who had step- or half-siblings. Maybe that is why it is so difficult to call to mind any specific instances...or be able to differentiate enough between students who have grade and/or behaviour issues. Or maybe (right or wrong) when I look at a kid, their family composition isn't among those things which first come to mind.

In the end, I suppose the idea of such a factor on classroom performance becomes one of those "So what?" sorts of things. It's something to be aware of, but I don't have any influence over it. It's not up to me which parents marry and bring kids under one roof. I suppose I just teach them the best I can...and hope they'll defy the odds.

It's Not Just "Stuff"

The more I read and reflect on the idea of "educational technology," the more I've come to realize that it's not just "stuff." It isn't comprised simply of hardware: LCD projectors, document cameras, laptops, smartboards, clickers, etc. You'd think that as an edublogger, I would have already understood that these things are just conduits to much broader tools such as blogs, social networking venues, digital storytelling, and more. It's not about the stuff. It's about what you do with it.

I get it now (finally). This leads me to the next point along the way: When will the "Department of Information Services" get it?

For as long as I've worked in this district, it's been about the stuff of technology. They tout the upgrades to the memory of computers that have been installed. They describe the new wireless access points (which are so secure, even the building admins have trouble logging on). They describe the sets of student response systems they've purchased for each building (and then sit gathering dust). They have a server just for internal filesharing through SharePoint software---and most of the sites created there have not been updated in months. They also block wikipedia from student access. And sites like MySpace and Facebook and Blogger. For everyone, there is no YouTube or anything which has streaming content. You can use Moodle, but no one is allowed to use a wiki which exists outside the network.

So much for the whole "information services" thing, eh?

I understand that there are some unsavory things happening on-line, but as Sandy at Techlearning points out in Social Networking: What Are We Afraid Of?, nearly all of cyberbullying, child predation, and pornographic spam are happening to students while they are away from school. However, "as educational leaders, our sole responsibility is to do the best we can to create learners. In order to do that we must learn what tools our students are using. They are learning without us, often without guidance, using tools we not only don't understand, but also often block. If we want them to learn in an environment where they can receive guidance, make mistakes safely, and be prepared to learn long after they leave us, we need to be exploring the tools they will use to communicate."

It is absurd that the divide which already exists between the technology we use in the classroom and the technology students use away from school to connect and educate themselves is turning into more and more of a chasm each day. I am sorely tempted to chuck the rest of my curriculum this year and spend time with students in the computer lab teaching them how to use "their" tools to learn in our environment. I want them to storm the DIS Bastille and demand better access to instruction. I want them to tell their parents "Don't you dare vote for a technology levy until the schools allow us to be creators of learning. We deserve more than just 'stuff.'"

03 May 2008

A-B-Cs for Me


I just bought this set of "Nerdy Baby Cards" on Etsy. (click on image to enlarge) I was driven to it by seeing the same set of letter/sound cards in every room of the school...including the office. I totally get why they're there, but I have to say that these cards are more my style.

Etsy is a dangerous site. I've been able to resist the Molecular Muse, but just barely. I don't know if I will be able to resist the charms of The Builder's Studio for much longer.

I'll content myself with these letter cards for now. I'm going to have to find a very special place in my workspace (a corner of a classroom/storeroom) for these. As a trained secondary science teacher moving into an elementary school world, these should help ease the transition.

Previews of Coming Attractions

I have a couple more posts in the queue to publish, but in the meantime, I'm thinking ahead a bit. The week has been full of thoughts and treats to share. A few of the ideas below are only half-formed at this point. I hope to put some flesh on them and share them later in the week. Feel free to suggest accessories in the meantime.

As one of my schools begins its improvement planning for next year, we're working on some vision statements and doing some other foundation work. It is obvious from this that "not everything that can be counted counts...and not everything that counts can be counted," as Einstein suggested. In other words, what is often most important to teachers are things like healthy kids who love learning---not necessarily kids who do better on the WASL (or other measures). And yet, I can't think of a single School Improvement Plan (SIP) I've ever seen which included values other than test, attendance, or referral data. SIPs rely solely on quantitative measures. But what if we included something qualitative? Hmmm...

Buy it here.
It's Teacher Appreciation Week at Barnes and Noble (and there was an awesome sale at Macy's where I got new dishes...Squee!), so I used my 25% off treat to pick up Here Comes Everybody, the book which is creating so much buzz at the moment. I am enjoying it, but am finding that it is a book that I can read only in small bites. There are some dense ideas to digest even though the writing is very accessible. I think it's a case of having the right book at the right time for me. The book is not education-related, but there are plenty of possible connections. I want to think more about the concept of self-organization for groups might be used to revolutionize the way we solve problems within schools. Will "mass amateurization" also change schools---making teaching less of a profession? I'm only 65 pages or so into this, so I expect a lot of post fodder. Go get your own copy. We'll have a "What It's Like on the Inside" book club for May!

And here are some treats you should have make time for:
I've also been working on Ye Olde Blogroll. I've added a few edtech blogs (e.g. Look What I Found!), a new early childhood blog (Elbows, Knees, Dreams), and Motivation Matters from ASCD. Happy browsing!

P.S. If anyone cares, here are the new dishes (dinner plate, salad plate, bowl). They're the Twist Alea pattern from Villeroy and Boch.


02 May 2008

The Evolution of Biology

My hunch is that for most adults, memories of a high school biology class conjure up memories of major groups of living things and some dissections. Times have changed---mostly increasing the amount of molecular biology (proteins, DNA, genetics) and decreasing the emphasis on a survey of living things.

As I finish up the year with my students, I am discovering that this may be the first year in which I do not actually talk about living things in a holistic way. I don't think we're going to talk about plants, animals, fungi, and protists---and only have a cursory look at bacteria. Imagine biology without snips, snails, and puppy dog tails.

Part of the reason for this is simply the standards themselves. Believe it or not, phylogeny is not part of the science standards here in Washington. As I've focused this year on getting kids to meet the standards that we do have, there isn't going to be time for "extras." I've been reflecting on this, wondering if it's still biology without whole living things. I've decided that I'm okay with this. We're spending nearly all of the last quarter of the school year on human biology---and perhaps an understanding of body systems is more important in the long run than being able to tell the difference between three phyla of worms.

I've also been thinking about something I heard at WERA. The keynote speaker was Dean Fink and he was sharing some of his ideas around Leadership for Mortals. The part which really resonated with me was how we (educators) have confused standards with standardization. They are not the same thing. Although we expect all students to reach the standards, they do not all have to follow the same path to get there. Perhaps that is a good reminder for me, too. There can be many pathways to "biology." As our understanding of the field evolves on a daily basis, maybe the classroom needs to as well.

Mathiness

Washington has (finally) finished its math standards revision---at least for k-8. This is the segment I'm most interested in, and I have to say that I like what I see. (You can learn more here about about the new standards, if you like.) The language has been cleaned up. It is very clear what a child should know and be able to do in terms of meeting the standards. Teachers no longer have to guess whether or not kids "understand" certain things. As an instructional coach working with elementary teachers in the realm of math, I feel much relieved about the new standards. (We'll see where the new curriculum choices lead us.)

In terms of math instruction, the New York Times recently reported a study suggesting that the fewer real-world examples of math used, the better. This might seem counter-intuitive to what we usually think about the relevance of learning, but it may be that students get caught up in remembering the "two trains leaving A and B..." parts and not so much in how speed and direction are important. A severe limitation of this study was that it was conducted with college age students. The authors want to generalize to younger students, but I'm not sure that this would bear out. It would be interesting to see, however, so I hope that more research is done.

01 May 2008

Looks Like Detroit May Be Next to Take Out the Trash

An editorial in the Detroit News caught my eye this week. There's definitely some hyperbole involved, but that just makes it all the more interesting. Here's the start:

Detroit Public Schools teachers are following a suicidal path if the union members continue to be the major obstacle to reforming the city's schools.

They have to accept their share of the responsibility for the district's failure and recognize their jobs depend on regaining the confidence of parents who are increasingly choosing other education options.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is among the country's most militant education unions. It has fought efforts to improve teacher quality, instructional rigor and more effective spending. The union's resistance to change, combined with the incompetence of Detroit administrators, has placed the school system at risk.

There are plenty of articles and reports out there about the decline in the public school system in the city. Nancy over at Teacher in a Strange Land has lived and worked in Michigan for many years and has her own unique insight on the issues. I can only look at things as an outsider as such, but the kinds of roadblocks described ring just as true here.

I'm not convinced that charter schools or other private initiatives will solve any of the problems. We still have the same students, families, and accountability measures. In many cases, we have the same teachers and administrators. I would agree that significant changes to the system may be necessary, but I think its shameful that the schools themselves don't make the push for it.

Those Detroit teachers who want a better working model and better results from their classrooms should not allow themselves to be held hostage by union factions.

The union is holding leadership elections this fall. Teachers who want change should use those elections to make an impact. Currently, militant members tend to control the union.

But in other cities, teachers tired of their union's knee-jerk resistance to change are making their voices heard. And in some case, they're actually leading the reform movement.

In Los Angeles, teachers have voted to turn over their public school to a charter operator that puts students' needs first.

The New York United Federation of Teachers is teaming up with the charter school operator Green Dot to open a high-performing school. The Chicago affiliate is exploring such a venture as well. Green Dot is unionized, but under a contract that rewards performance rather than seniority.

AFT-Michigan President David Hecker says his union would be interested in working with Green Dot to transform an existing troubled Michigan public school. It's a small step, but potentially an important one.

By now, Detroit teachers must realize the path they're on leads to destruction. Their tired cry for more state money has gone unanswered and, given the economy, will continue to be. Their only hope for maintaining their jobs, and what for many is their life's calling, is to embrace reform.

Teachers who wield union contracts to block changes that could benefit students will find themselves on the street, and that's where they belong.

Meanwhile, a school board member in an area district has resigned because union leadership there has harassed her family and her to the point where she can't continue because she is "unwilling to subject [her] innocent children to organized abuse by this teachers union." For more on area union woes, click on over to see what Dr. Pezz and Ryan have been dealing with. Teachers in right-to-work states should be envied.