Monthly Archives: November 2014

New rules require Georgia to rate teacher-prep programs

Georgia and states across the nation will be required to develop a system to measure teacher-training programs in the latest attempt by the Obama administration to address teacher quality.

The U.S. Department of Education announced regulations Tuesday that will require states to rate teacher-preparation programs by 2016, both those at colleges and universities and non-traditional kinds such as Teach for America.

“Nothing in school matters as much as the quality of teaching the students receive,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan on a conference call. “We owe it to teachers to give them the best preparation possible.”

States will be allowed to develop their own system but it will have to include a these key components:

– Employment: How many new teachers landed jobs and how many worked in schools and high-need schools after three years?

– Feedback: Surveys on how well new teachers are performing in schools.

– Student performance: How well are the students of these new teachers performing as measured by academic growth, a teacher’s evaluation or both?

– Accreditation: Is the program accredited or is there evidence it is producing high-quality candidates?

Georgia this year passed its own series of new rules making it more difficult for teachers to enter the classroom. Would-be teachers will have to do more upon leaving a prep program, such as score higher on tests measuring how well they know the subject they’re teaching. They’ll also have to pass a new assessment — one only a few states use — to determine whether they can teach.

The significant changes come as Georgia students’ standardized test scores continue to lag other states, consistently ranking in the bottom quarter. Students’ poor academic performance can be tied to teacher quality, according to education experts and advocates, who say Georgia has not kept pace with states that have introduced more rigorous certification requirements and teacher-preparation programs.

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The Perils of Edutourism

Edutourism is not new.  For American education professors in the 1920s, nothing certified one’s progressive credentials like a trip to the Soviet Union.  Diane Ravitch presents a vivid account in Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms.  She describes how John Dewey, the most famous progressive educator of the era, visited Soviet schools in 1928 and returned full of admiration.  He appreciated the emphasis on collectivism over individualism and the ease with which schools integrated curricula with the goals of society.  One activity that he singled out for praise was sending students into the community to educate and help “ignorant adults to understand the policies of local soviets.”  William Heard Kilpatrick, father of the project method, toured Russian schools in 1929.  He applauded the ubiquitous use of project-based learning in Soviet classrooms, noting that “down to the smallest detail in the school curriculum, every item is planned to further the Soviet plan of society.”  Educator and political activist George Counts shipped a Ford sedan to Leningrad and set out on a three-month tour, extolling the role Soviet schools played in “the greatest social experiment in history.”[i]

In hindsight these scholars seem incredibly naïve.  Soviet schools were indeed an extension of the state, but as such, they served as indoctrination centers for one of history’s most monstrous regimes.  Stalin’s plan for society was enforced by a huge secret police force and included the mass execution of political opponents, the forced starvation of millions of peasants, and a vast network of prison camps (gulags) erected to house slave labor.

To their credit, Dewey and Kilpatrick turned on Stalinism.  Counts held on longer, even praising Stalin’s Five Year Plan as a “brilliant and heroic success.”  In 1932-1933, as the first Five Year Plan transitioned into the second, an estimated 25,000 Ukrainians died daily of starvation from the forced famine that Stalin imposed on the region.  Later, Counts would recognize Stalin’s schools as tools of totalitarianism, and he became, in one biographer’s words, “a determined opponent of Soviet ideology.”[ii]

Today we have a new outbreak of edutourism.  American adventurers have fanned out across the globe to bring back to the United States the lessons of other school systems.  Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times visited Shanghai schools on a junket organized by Teach for All, an offshoot of Teach for America, and declared “I think I found The Secret”—The Secret being how Shanghai scored at the top on the 2009 PISA tests.  After declaring, “there is no secret,” Friedman fell back on some stock explanations for high achievement, focusing in particular on changing how teachers are trained and re-organizing their work day to allow for less instruction, more professional development, and ample time for peer interaction.   Elizabeth Green, author and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, toured schools in Japan, and she, too, embraced the idea that the key to better teaching could be informed by observing classrooms abroad.  For Green, lesson study and resurrecting controversial pedagogical reforms from the 1980s and 1990s would surely boost mathematics learning.  Finland has been swamped with edutourists, spurred primarily by that nation’s illustrious PISA scores.  The Education Ministry of Finland hosted at least 100 delegations from 40 to 45 countries per year from 2005 to 2011.

International tests identify the highest scoring nations of the world.  What’s wrong with visitors going to top preforming nations and seeing with their own eyes what schools are doing?  Contemporary edutourists aren’t blinded by political ideology in the same way as Dewey and his colleagues were.   So what’s the problem?  The short answer: Edutourism might produce good journalism, but it also tends to produce very bad social science.

The people named in the paragraphs above are incredibly smart.  But they succumbed to the worst folly of edutourism.  Three perils, explained below, mislead edutourists into believing that what they observe in a particular nation’s classrooms is causally related to that country’s impressive academic achievement.

Peril #1: Selecting on the dependent variable

Singling out a top achieving country—or state or district or school or teacher or some other “subject”—and then generalizing from what this top performer does is known as selecting on the dependent variable.  The dependent variable, in this case, is achievement.  To look for patterns of behavior that may explain achievement, a careful analyst examines subjects across the distribution—middling and poor performers as well as those at the top.  That way, if a particular activity—let’s call one “Teaching Strategy X”—is found a lot at the top, not as much in the middle, and rarely or not at all at the bottom, the analyst can say that Teaching Strategy X is positively correlated with performance.  That doesn’t mean it causes high achievement—even high school statistics students are taught “correlation is not causation”—only that the two variables go up and down together.

Edutourists routinely select on the dependent variable.  They go to countries at the top of international assessments, such as Finland and Japan.  They never go to countries in the middle or at the bottom of the distribution.  If they did and found Teaching Strategy X used frequently among low performers, the positive correlation would evaporate—and they would have to seriously question whether Teaching Strategy X has any relationship with achievement.

Jay P. Greene concisely describes the problem in a review of Marc Tucker’s book, Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.  Tucker uses a “best practices” approach in the book, an analytical strategy that marks his entire career.  Tucker describes what top performing nations do in education and builds an agenda based on the practices that he thinks made the nations successful.

Here’s Greene’s critique:

The fundamental flaw of a “best practices” approach, as any student in a half-decent research-design course would know, is that it suffers from what is called “selection on the dependent variable.” If you only look at successful organizations, then you have no variation in the dependent variable: they all have good outcomes. When you look at the things that successful organizations are doing, you have no idea whether each one of those things caused the good outcomes, had no effect on success, or was actually an impediment that held organizations back from being even more successful. An appropriate research design would have variation in the dependent variable; some have good outcomes and some have bad ones. To identify factors that contribute to good outcomes, you would, at a minimum, want to see those factors more likely to be present where there was success and less so where there was not.[iii]

Jay Greene is right.  “Best practices” is the worst practice.

Peril #2: Small, non-random samples

Typically, visitors to schools see what their hosts arrange for them to see.  If the host is a governmental agency responsible for school quality—and those range from national ministries to local school administrations—it has a considerable amount of time, effort, public funds, and political prestige wrapped up in a particular set of policies.  Policy makers are not indifferent to the impressions that visitors take away from school visits, no more so than the military is indifferent to the impressions reporters take away from visits to bases or the battlefield.  Outside observers should consider with skepticism the representativeness of the schools or classrooms they visit—or that a handful of schools can ever serve as a proxy for an entire nation.  Some might try to visit some randomly selected schools, but more than likely they will be steered to a pre-selected set.  The desire to present a rosy picture to outsiders need not be the only motive.  There is also the practical matter that schools must be prepared to receive a group of observers.  Schools have work to do and visitors can be a distraction.

One way to check for representativeness is to compare edutourists’ observations to data collected from larger samples that have been drawn scientifically so as to be representative.  In a previous chalkboard post, I critiqued Elizabeth Green’s reporting on math instruction in Japanese and American schools.  The kids she saw in Japanese classrooms were happily engaged in mathematics—boisterous, energetic, with arguments abounding about solutions to problems—whereas in the United States, she saw dull classrooms where children unhappily practiced procedures.  The stark contrast Green painted is refuted by decades of survey data from the two countries.  Instructional differences do exist, but they don’t appear to be related to achievement.  As for joy of learning, there is a mountain of evidence that American kids enjoy learning math more than Japanese kids, evidence collected from large, random samples of students of different ages and grades.  That evidence should be trusted over observations conducted in a small number of non-randomly selected settings.

Peril #3: Confirmation bias

Diane Ravitch explains how John Dewey was misled in the 1920s: “Like so many other travelers to the Soviet Union both then and later, Dewey saw what he wanted to see, particularly the things that confirmed his vision for his own society.”  This is called confirmation bias, the tendency to see what confirms an observer’s prior expectations.

Thomas Friedman is not an education expert, so he relied on experts to guide his thinking—and his visit—when he observed schools in Shanghai.  Experts such as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD and Wendy Kopp of Teach for America are quoted in his column as pointing him towards Shanghai’s teaching reforms to explain the municipality’s sky high PISA scores.  Those reforms have never been evaluated using rigorous methods of program evaluation.  It’s a shame that Friedman overlooked the role that China’s social policies have in boosting Shanghai’s PISA scores.  In particular, he overlooked the Chinese hukou, an internal passport system that culls migrant children from Shanghai’s student population as they approach the age for PISA sampling, fifteen years old.

Poor migrants from rural villages flock to China’s big cities for jobs.  The hukou system rations public services in China, including education.  Hukous were originally issued to families based on their place of residence in 1958.  Hukou privileges are inherited, creating a huge urban-rural divide.  It doesn’t matter if the child of migrants is born in Shanghai, or even if her parents were, she will still hold a rural hukou.  Recent reforms have allowed migrants greater access to primary and lower secondary schools, but high schools are still largely out of reach.  Kam Wing Chan, a Chinese demography expert at the University of Washington, has shown that as Shanghai children from migrant families approach high school age, their numbers in the school system drop precipitously.[iv] Migrants who do not hold a Shanghai hukou send their children back to ancestral regions, even if the kids have never stepped foot in a rural village.  There they join an estimated 61 million children, known as “left behinds,” who never made the journey to cities in the first place.[v]

The hukou creates an apartheid system of education.  Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the hukou system for its discriminatory treatment of migrant children.  It is shocking that OECD documents from its PISA experts hold up Shanghai as a model of equity that the rest of the world should emulate, praising policies for treating migrants as “our children.”  Reports from OECD economists have taken the opposite position, sharply criticizing Shanghai”

The Shanghai Education Committee justifies local high schools’ refusal to admit the children of migrant workers on the grounds that “if we open the door to them, it would be difficult to shut in the future; local education resources should not be freely allocated to immigrant children.”  As a result, few migrant children attend general high schools and those who do return to their registration locality find it hard to adapt and often fail to complete the course.[vi]

If Tom Friedman had talked to different experts, even different experts in the OECD, he would have left Shanghai with a very different impression of its school system.

Conclusion

The perils of edutourism discussed above—selecting on the dependent variable, relying on impressions taken from small non-random samples, and confirmation bias—corrupt key features of sound policy analysis.  Impressions from a few observations do not have the same evidentiary standing as carefully collected data from a scientifically selected sample.  And the statement, “I’ve been to high achieving countries and have seen with my own eyes what they are doing right” cannot substitute for research designs that rigorously test causal hypotheses.

Let me end on a personal note.  The critique above is not meant to discourage edutourism, but to identify its vulnerability to misuse.  I have had the good fortune to visit many schools abroad during my career.  One of the first opportunities was in 1985 when, as a classroom teacher, I chaperoned a group of California high school students on a tour of several Asian countries, including China, Korea, and Japan.  American tourism in China was a rare event in those days.  The classrooms I observed were profoundly impressive.  I visited schools in Helsinki, Finland in 2005, before the hype about Finland reached today’s ridiculous levels, and witnessed wonderful teaching and learning.

I have conducted several studies and written extensively about international education but have not mentioned my personal visits to schools abroad until the sentences that you just read.   It’s not that they weren’t important to me.  I treasure the memories, and as a former classroom teacher, hope to add to them with future visits.

But policy analysis must be built on a sturdier foundation than personal impressions.  Education policies affect the lives of hundreds, thousands, sometimes even millions of students.  Those of us in the business of informing the policy process—whether it’s talking to policy makers or the public about its schools—must gather strong evidence that can be generalized to large numbers of students. First person accounts of visiting schools abroad are entertaining to read, but a careful reader will exercise skepticism when edutourists start giving advice on how to improve education.


[i] Diane Ravitch, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (Simon & Schuster, 2000): pp. 202-218. Also see The Later Works of John Dewey, Volume 3, 1925 – 1953: 1927-1928 / Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, and Impressions of Soviet Russia (Southern Illinois University Press, November 1988).

[ii] Gerald Lee Gutek, George S. Counts and American Civilization: The Educator as Social Theorist (Mercer University Press, June 1984).

[iii] Jay P. Greene, “Best Practices Are the Worst,” Education Next, vol. 12, no. 3 (Summer 2012). http://educationnext.org/best-practices-are-the-worst/

[iv] Kam Wing Chan, Ming Pao Daily News, January 3, 2014, http://faculty.washington.edu/kwchan/ShanghaiPISA.jpg.

[v] Li Tao, et al. They are also parents: A Study on Migrant Workers with Left-behind Children in China (Beijing: Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, August 2013).

[vi] OECD Economic Surveys: China 2013 (OECD Publishing, March 2013): pp. 91-92.

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Poverty rates climbing in Georgia schools

The changes have been subtle, but the cumulative effect of rising poverty has been unmistakable to Sabrina Oakley, a parent who sent two children to public schools in Gwinnett County.

When her oldest, now 20, attended Norton Elementary School, Oakley said the atmosphere was relaxed and easy. But the rules became inflexible for her younger girl, now in middle school. Lunch was more regimented — children had to sit quietly with classmates — and tardy slips were handed out more liberally.

“When you see the poverty level rising at school, you know it’s going to be a whole different set of rules,” Oakley said. “It’s just going to be more strict” as school officials defend a line between calm and chaos.

Student poverty in Gwinnett and across the state, has soared over the past decade, freighting classrooms with hungry, tired and sometimes ill-disciplined students.

In 2002, when Oakley moved to Gwinnett, 21 percent of the district’s students qualified for free or reduced-price school meals, a common index of poverty. By last year, 55 percent qualified.

The suburbs are seeing more of what one local superintendent calls the “pathologies of poverty,” such as homeless students or those with blurred vision for want of eyeglasses. Students who fall behind can become disruptive, and the wild, unfocused energy can infect a crowded classroom and hinder student achievement.

While the overall graduation rate ticked up in Georgia last year, it slipped nearly a percentage point for students the Georgia Department of Education calls “economically disadvantaged.” Nearly four in 10 of them didn’t earn a diploma last year. That compares to a state graduation rate, where about three in 10 don’t earn a diploma.

In 2007, disadvantaged students became the majority in Georgia’s public schools and now comprise 62 percent of the enrollment.

Stephen Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said a declining graduation rate for one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the state is a “real concern,” given the implications for the economy and the students’ futures.

English teacher Alyssa Montooth said many are from single-parent households, with no one to push them to study. Some have jobs. They don’t eat well. They don’t get enough sleep. And they’re not doing homework like they used to.

Montooth teaches seniors at Druid Hills High School in DeKalb County, where the poverty rate climbed 11 percentage points in her nine years, to 55 percent.

“These kids are so worried about so many other things that they’re getting harder and harder to reach,” she said. “It’s like school is an afterthought.” Six years ago, she wrote three dozen college recommendation letters. Last year, it was 17. So far this year, she’s written three.

Yet it was worse at Cedar Grove High, where she taught in the early 2000s, in economically-depressed south DeKalb. Montooth remembers neighborhoods battered by foreclosures. Many of the students were transient.

“The place was absolutely off the hook all the time,” Montooth said. “Kids at Cedar Grove would be outwardly rude to me. Like kids in the hall, I’d say, ‘Hey, take off your hat.’ And they’d say, ‘Hey, **** you.’”

Nearly three-fourths of DeKalb students come from low-income homes, up from half in the late 1990s. Superintendent Michael Thurmond said the “pathologies of poverty” — homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, medical or mental health problems, disengaged parents — are difficult to address in suburban schools because social services are concentrated in the inner city. Thurmond is a former director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.

Schools need a closer collaboration with state caseworkers, he said. “We expect teachers to be social workers, but they’re not. All of these problems come to the schoolhouse, but they originate outside the schoolhouse.”

DeKalb has lost some engaged parents, such as Barbara Bowman, who moved away last year. She enrolled her first child in DeKalb schools in 1995, when the district had a reputation for excellence. The next year, the poverty rate climbed above 50 percent. By the time her fourth child was at Lakeside High School, she felt the quality had slipped.

One teacher showed Disney videos all day, Bowman said, and another sold cosmetics. The toilets were in disrepair. Her complaints to administrators yielded defensiveness rather than solutions, Bowman said.

“It was just kind of a free-for-all,” she said.

The family moved to Cherokee County, where Bowman’s oldest is a senior. Bowman commutes to a job in Norcross, in Gwinnett, but she said the family didn’t consider moving there. They wanted to get farther away.

The rise in student poverty paralleled a general decline in prosperity for Georgians.

In fiscal year 2008, the state ranked 15th in the proportion of food stamp recipients. Within four years, it had climbed to sixth. Nearly one in five of Georgia’s 10 million residents have been receiving federal help buying food.

Georgia has had the highest unemployment rate in the country for the past three months. It was 7.7 percent in October..

Median household income plunged 16 percent between 2006 and last year. And even after several years of modest job growth, about 179,000 fewer people are working in Georgia now than before the recession — despite population growth during those years.

Just as the school poverty rate started its ascent in the early 2000s, Georgia began “austerity” cuts to education.

Claire Suggs, an analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, has written annual reports with titles like “The Schoolhouse Squeeze” and “Cutting Class to Make Ends Meet.” She said per-pupil spending is 12 percent below where it was in 2002 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Meanwhile, policymakers have demanded better performance, raising the bar on test results and other standards, while cutting more than $8 billion, she said.

But some question whether spending more is the way to address the growing poverty.

Ben Scafidi, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University, said cumulative spending from all sources — local, state and federal — soared over 25 years, with little obvious impact.

Georgia spent $4,843 per student in the 1979-80 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which used inflation-adjusted dollars. The comparable amount four years ago, the most recent available figure, was $10,022.

“There’ve been massive increases in spending but not increases in student achievement,” Scafidi said. “So my read of the data is there are a lot more things going on than spending. I think we need to focus on improving the productivity of our education dollars.”

Mark McCann knows there is still plenty of unmet need.

His kids attend Peachtree Elementary in Gwinnett County, where his company has been doing charity work.

McCann is a human resources manager for Alcon, a global eye care corporation that has helped to coordinate optometrists and other volunteers to screen and, when necessary, prescribe eyeglasses at the school. Peachtree had about 1,800 students at last count, with about 80 percent from low-income homes.

Children who can’t see the teacher’s writing at the front of the classroom get lost, fall behind and stop paying attention, said McCann, who led the volunteer effort. They can be disruptive, but worse things can happen, he added.

He described a girl who was diagnosed by his group with an easy-to-correct but severe condition: She had a weak eye and her brain was gradually severing communication with it. The ailment can be treated with a temporary patch over the strong eye, he said, but if left untreated it can result in blindness in the weak eye.

This girl, a fourth-grader, had never visited an eye doctor, McCann said.

“We happened too catch her too late.”

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia Teacher Certification Standards

The bar to become a Georgia teacher is getting higher as the state puts in place a sweeping set of new rules designed to improve the quality of educators and boost student performance.

The beefed up standards for new teachers are part of a broader state and national effort to improve teacher quality by making would-be educators pass tougher tests and do more to show they are ready before entering classrooms.

The signficant changes come as Georgia student’s standardized test scorescontinue to lag other states, consistently ranking in the bottom quarter. Students’ poor academic performance can be tied to teacher quality, according to education experts and advocates, who say Georgia has not kept pace with states that have introduced more rigorous certification requirements and teacher-preparation programs.

“These are pretty far-reaching … substantive changes,” said Kelly Henson, executive secretary of theProfessional Standards Commission, which certifies educators and enacted the changes. “We have developed rules we think will move education forward. We fully understood we needed to make real changes to certification and to make sure certification played a significant and compelling role related to quality.”

Georgia has already tried to address quality of existing teachers by revamping the teacher evaluation system, which now includes student test scores as part of an educators’s performance review. Stricter certification requirements are seen as the next step.

To earn certification, teaching candidates will have to score higher on tests measuring how well they know the subject they’re teaching. They’ll also have to pass a new assessment — one only a few states use — to determine whether they can teach. And they’ll have to prove they know the state’s code of ethics by passing a new exam, believed to be one of the first of its kind in the nation.

But pressing candidates to hit a higher mark before entering the classroom could cause a shortage of teachers. State leaders roughly estimated only 30 to 40 percent of early education teachers would pass new requirements, which are expected to be phased in over the next few years. State leaders say they are trying to find a balance, beefing up teacher certification standards without building a barricade.

The changes were carefully calibrated to not exclude too many teachers.

The state grants about 8,500 new certifications annually, according to the commission. Rules for teaching candidates with a college degree in education are slightly different than for those trying to enter the classroom through the non-traditional route. Generally, they look like this:

• Candidates already have to pass the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE), which measures knowledge in a content area like math or science. The exam is now harder and under the new rules, candidates eventually will be expected to earn a higher score to pass.

• In addition to the GACE, educators will now have to pass a new assessment that evaluates teaching technique. The “edTPA” uses portfolios and videotapes to determine whether a candidate is ready to teach children.

• Teachers will have to pass a new test on the Georgia Educator Code of Ethics. Georgia is believed to be the first state to enact such a requirement, following the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, which ensnared more than 100 educators. The Professional Standards Commission, which oversees educator ethics, gets about 100 new ethics complaints each month, Henson said. They hope to reduce the number by half.

Students’ academic lag in Georgia is connected to teacher quality, according to education experts and advocates. Georgia graduated about 6,500 students from teacher-preparation programs in 2011-12, the most current year available. But the state’s prep programs earned less than stellar marks on a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, which evaluated 1,612 programs across the U.S. In Georgia, only Clayton State University earned national ‘top ranked’ status — a distinction awarded to 107 programs.

Georgia joins a growing group of states trying to boost student performance by improving the quality of teaching candidates — making it more demanding to get into education programs and gain certification — said Sandi Jacobs, a vice president with the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“The bar for both getting into a teacher-preparation program and then getting into the classroom has been fairly low” in Georgia and other states, Jacobs said.

In Georgia, most schools require a minimum 2.5 GPA to enter a traditional teacher-prep program, though at most schools the median GPA of those accepted is a 3.0 or higher.

“The more classroom-ready we prepare our teachers to be, the more they know their subject matter, the more they have practiced the skills they’re going to need in the classroom, that certainly sets them on a better pathway to success,” Jacobs said.

She said the quality of teacher-preparation programs at colleges and universities is part of the problem, and she believes the state needs to hold programs accountable for whether they produce effective teachers.

Frankie Kirk, a senior at Clayton State University, is student-teaching in Henry County and expects to graduate this spring, making her likely to earn her certificate before many of the new rules take effect. But she said Clayton State is already ramping up preparations to ensure graduates are ready to meet the new requirements.

“As far as the work is concerned, there is going to be more for teacher candidates,” Kirk said. “But in my mind, it can lead to weeding out people who are choosing the profession as last resort. … For those who really want to teach and know their content, it may make it more stressful for them. But if they can push through, the end result will be a more quality teachers for the students in the classroom.”

Ruth Caillouet, chairwoman of the department of teacher education atClayton State University, was also on a committee that developed some of the state’s new rules. She says Georgia is moving in the right direction, but she and other deans are concerned about how the new standards will affect recruitment.

Several large states have seen steep enrollment drops at teaching colleges, and while data show Georgia isn’t seeing a decline yet, higher education leaders expect it in the next couple of years.

Caillouet attributes the drop to negative attitudes about educators, the economy and the lack of raises for teachers over the past several years.

“We need this. It needed to happen,” she said of the rule changes. “We need to always be working to build a better product … but I do think there is more to the story — that the state and nation need to look at education reform and put more funds back into the classroom.”

While she supports changes to better prepare teachers, Caillouet disputed the idea that poorly trained educators are to blame for the state’s lackluster classroom performance.

“We can always do better. I think that’s why changes are taking place,” she said. “But I don’t believe the problems in education have been because of poorly prepared teachers. I believe problems in education stem from many social and economic issues causing this to be a really difficult environment.”

Melanie Heineman, a PTA leader with children attending Lassiter High School and Mabry Middle in Cobb County, said she believes beefed-up teacher certification requirements certainly can’t hurt students, especially when it comes to subjects like math and science.

But she adds that just because teaching candidates look good on paper, they aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be effective in the classroom.

“You know if you’ve got a teacher you like. If your kid has done well, you don’t necessarily know what kind of certification they (teachers) have,” Heineman said. “It’s hard to really say I’ve noticed teachers with this kind of certification are more qualified than not.

“You’re not going to necessarily see what kind of teacher they are just by test scores.”

Henson, who heads the state’s certification commission, said education leaders have worked for years toward changing teacher certification requirements. State legislative leaders and the governor have pushed for the changes, but the commission has also listened to others as well, who contend teacher quality in Georgia needed improvement.

“If you talk to higher education folks, obviously teacher preparation from the national level on down, for the past three to five years, has had a big huge target on its back,” Henson said. “Our higher education folks have been very interested in making some changes to improve teacher and leader preparation … But at the end of the day, even though we may not agree with everything the critics have said, I think there’s a very clear understanding that we need to do better – both in Georgia and nationally.”

Henson notes state leaders couldn’t increase certification requirements too substantially because they risked strangling the flow of teachers into the classroom.

“Obviously, it would have an incredibly negative impact on the candidate pool,” Henson told a group of state education leaders last month. “We do want to raise standards, but we can’t live with passing rates going from 60, 70 and 80 percent to 20, 30 and 40 percent immediately.”

State leaders came up with a temporary solution: Set two passing scores. New teachers, until 2017, can pass the test by meeting a lower score. In the future, candidates will have to retake the test or receive good performance reviews under the new evaluation system.

“At end of day, really good performance will trump testing and that’s good for all of us,” he said.

Kevin Kiger, executive director of employment for Cobb County, the second-largest school system in the state with nearly 109,000 students, said the district isn’t facing a teacher shortage. He doesn’t foresee the school system suffering significantly from the beefed up certification requirements, though he does acknowledge state education leaders must walk a fine line in not making the new rules so stringent the state ends up with a dearth of teachers.

“When we’re going to give a more rigorous type test to try and better our teacher pool, it’s hard to argue that’s not a good thing,” Kiger said. “If what they’re (education leaders) trying to do is make it a little bit more rigorous for people to become teachers … And as long as our colleges are geared toward educating those people and they’re able to pass the test and we’re getting good candidates, then I don’t see a problem with it.”


If you graduate with a teaching degree in Georgia, here’s what it will take to be certified under new rules that will take effect over the next few years.

1. Get a job offer. Local school boards request teaching certificates for employees, so to get an “induction certificate” — the clearance needed for teachers with fewer than three years’ experience — a candidate has to be employed.

2. Pass the test. The Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) exam measures how much a candidate knows about the subjects he or she will be teaching. The test has been revamped and is more difficult. Teachers taking it in 2017 and beyond will have to earn a higher score to pass, or demonstrate strong performance in the classroom.

3. Prove you can teach. Candidates now have to pass an assessment called the edTPA, intended to measure how well an educator can teach. State education leaders say this is one of the most significant changes.

4. Know your ethics. Candidates must pass another new hurdle: an exam on Georgia’s Code of Educator Ethics. State education leaders believe Georgia is one of the only states to offer such an assessment, which comes after more than 100 educators were ensnared in the Atlanta school cheating scandal. Student teachers – college students who are practice-teaching before graduating – are also required to pass this exam.

5. Spot exceptional children. Candidates will be required to take a course on how to identify and educate children with extraordinary needs.

Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) was created by the Georgia General Assembly on July 1, 1991, to assume responsibility for the preparation, certification and professional conduct of certified personnel employed in Georgia public schools.

Commission members are appointed by the governor for three-year terms and are eligible to be reappointed one time. The commission’s responsibilities include:

• To attract the highest possible number of qualified personnel to become educators in Georgia.

• To adopt standards of professional performance and a code of professional ethics for educators, both of which shall represent standards of performance and conduct, generally accepted by educators of this state.

• To investigate reports of criminal conduct, violations of professional or ethical codes of conduct and violations of certain rules, regulations and policies by school system educators.

• To impose disciplinary action or a denial of a certificate against an educator.

Source: http://www.gapsc.com/Commission/About.aspx

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Study: Kids Don’t Eat Much of Healthy School Lunches

Healthier lunches have become available in schools across the nation.

But students aren’t eating them.

According to a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study, “Nearly 6 in 10 [students] put a vegetable on their tray, but only a quarter actually eat even a single bite.”

The researchers observed the eating habits of 274 children in 10 New York City public schools. The students were in kindergarten through second grade.

According to the press release, researchers “watched to see whether each of the six-through-eight-year-olds chose a fruit, vegetable, whole grain, low-fat milk and/or a lean protein, taking before and after photos of the trays.” They discovered:

While 75 percent of the kids chose the lean protein (the entrée), only 58 percent chose a fruit and 59 percent chose a vegetable. And among those who put the various types of food on their trays, only 75 percent took even a single bite of the protein, while only 24 percent ate a bite of their vegetables.

Researchers also noted that there are several factors that influenced how much food the students ate, such as the presence or absence of their teacher, the noise level in the cafeteria, the length of the lunch period and even the size the pieces of food had been cut into.

“We have been thinking that if young children choose healthy food, they will eat it,” said Susan Gross, a research associate at Johns Hopkins. “But our research shows that is not necessarily so.”

According to Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation:

This study simply supports what school nutrition officials have been saying.  There’s major food waste.  It’s difficult to conclude that a law called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a success when the kids are hungry—you can’t be healthy if you are hungry all the time.  Getting the kids to eat should first and foremost be the primary concern.

However, the entire debate surrounding the new school nutrition standards often misses a fundamental question.  Do we need federal bureaucrats and Michelle Obama to dictate how kids should eat through this program, or should parents, possibly along with local governments, make decisions regarding nutrition?  Specifically, it is a question of whether we respect federal bureaucrats and their one-size-fits-all approach more than parents who know the best interests of their children.

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Darn Good Charter School

The school, which opened in 2000, set out to refute the myth that poor and minority students can’t learn. 

By Bill Torpy | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A visit to Fulton County court this week was a reminder of all that was sordid about Atlanta Public Schools: teachers correcting wrong answers on tests to make students appear good on paper; unrelenting pressure from higher-ups using a “No Excuses” mantra to instill a culture of cheating; administrators stonewalling, prevaricating and threatening when asked to investigate what was happening.

And, of course, there were the students, the kids left behind, the ones cheated out of a shot at a future because their academic weaknesses were papered over. Gov. Sonny Perdue, who testified Monday about all this, once described it as a conveyor belt to prison:

“That is like cancer; it does not get better in and of itself when that student goes from the third grade, to the fourth grade, to the fifth grade, to the sixth grade. Those are the students you see lining up at Crim (High School) in the ninth grade and then, the next time we see them is in the Department of Juvenile Justice and in our corrections system.”

Crim sits on Memorial Drive and is the collection point for low-achieving students who don’t fit in elsewhere. Alonzo A. Crim, the first black school superintendent of a major Southern city, has the unfortunate “honor” of having his name become shorthand for all that is wrong with an urban school district.

But a mile east on Memorial Drive is another school, one that has become synonymous with hope and renewal: the Charles R. Drew Charter School, Atlanta’s first charter school and a civic effort that is touted as a way to guide low-income minority kids to achievement. Charles Drew, a black man, was a surgeon whose pioneering work in blood storage helped save untold lives during World War II.

Thursday, the Washington-based Education Trust made Drew’s namesake one of three schools nationally to receive the 2014 “Dispelling the Myth Award,” which goes to schools helping to bring high achievement to minority or low-income students. The myth the award refers to is that those kinds of kids can’t perform as well as kids born with more advantages.

Drew Charter opened in 2000 after an urban revitalization project tore down East Lake Meadows and replaced the hellish housing projects with The Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income community nested next to the historic East Lake Golf Club. It was a then-radical idea shepherded by Atlanta development mogul Tom Cousins and seconded by not-yet-mayor Shirley Franklin.

When it opened, all but two of the school’s 240 kids were black and almost all came from poor families with sad back-stories.

The school overcame the inherent low expectations and, with community buy-in and the help of a lot of rich folks’ money, created what board chairwoman Cynthia Kuhlman calls “a cradle-to-college pipeline.” Its a place where students have access to many social-service bells and whistles not available in your typical public school.

Drew started out with elementary grades, grew to junior high and then, two years ago, despite some APS resistance (Superintendent Erroll Davis argued there was a glut of empty high school seats) went on to build a $55 million high school that resembles an ultra-modern airport terminal.

Currently, some 1,500 kids are enrolled, with the oldest in the 10th grade.

The school, which gives first chance at admission to kids from the adjoining Villages of East Lake and then to residents of the East Lake and Kirkwood communities, pushes STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — and slowly has coaxed, driven and inspired students to excel. The school has longer days, longer school years, uniforms, airy study spaces, computers, robots and classes where students break up into work groups to tackle projects.

“We’re past meeting standards; we’re starting to exceed standards,” Kuhlman said. Drew’s most recent scores on the infamous Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT, the venue for the APS’s cheating) show that science was the only subject in which fewer than half the kids got “exceeds.” And 49 percent got “exceeds” in science. For most subjects, the number of kids scoring “does not meet” is in the low single digits.

Students like Simone Obleton, a 10th-grader, and Anna West, 7th, have embraced the less regimented style of learning, one that often puts students into groups and has them resolve problems. The idea behind it is that that’s what you’re called upon to do in real life, so why not start here?

Often, they must report back to their class with what they have learned, which is harder than memorizing an answer, because when you’re explaining it to your classmates “you have to know what you’re talking about,” said Anna. Truly a life lesson many adults haven’t mastered.

In recent years, the school has grown more “diverse” in that it’s drawing white kids from families in the surrounding, and increasingly gentrifying, neighborhoods. More than a quarter of the newest kindergarten class is white. That’s a good sign, because it’s a long-standing tradition that white folks won’t put their kids in a mostly black school unless it’s on an upswing.

The success of the school has bolstered charter school fans who argue, “Hey, looky here, this works. Let’s break down the horrible monolithic school system.”

But not all charter schools do well. And when they do, it may be partly because the participants are self-selected. The kids going to charter schools, even those coming from low-income families, have parents with enough wherewithal to bother to sign them up to something they see as special. If the parents go through that trouble, there’s a good chance they’ll help Johnny or Shauna do their homework, too.

Charter boosters talk about replicating the school’s model, but there is a limit. In fact, you’d need 33 more Drews to give all 50,300 APS students the same environment and resources. The problem is, there aren’t 33 Tom Cousinses or 33 historic golf clubs to go around.

Still, it’s a start.

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What’s the Point of Teaching Math in Preschool?

Drew H. Bailey | Brookings

Twenty years ago few preschools (or parents, for that matter), paid much attention to teaching mathematics to four-year-olds.  In 1998, for example, only four percent of a nationally representative sample of American children entering kindergarten could add or subtract.  Today, math is firmly entrenched in the pre-K curriculum.  And the Common Core State Standards, which are the new instructional guidelines for K-12 math instruction in 40+ states, and which require kindergartners to engage in algebraic thinking, are being extended downward into pre-K in many locales.  New York state, for example, has pre-K standards aligned to the Common Core that require four-year-olds to “demonstrate an understanding of addition and subtraction by using objects, fingers, and responding to practical situations (e.g., If we have three apples and add two more, how many apples do we have all together?).” Thus, in about 15 years we’ve moved from virtually no preschoolers being able to add and subtract to the goal of all four-year-olds being able to do so.

There is a scientific basis for the growth in the emphasis on math in pre-K, as researchers in early mathematics have followed previous work by early literacy researchers by investigating the longitudinal associations between early skills and later development. As a result of these efforts, we now know that early math skills are the strongest early predictors of children’s math achievement years later (Aunola, Leskinen, Lerkkanen, and Nurmi, 2004; Duncan et al., 2007; Geary, Hoard, Nugent, and Bailey, 2013; Jordan, Kaplan, Ramineni, and Locuniak, 2009; Siegler et al., 2012).  This finding, in turn, provides an empirical basis for devoting a considerable chunk of the pre-K curriculum to math instruction, since math skills and course taking during the high school years are related to important life outcomes such as college success (Lee, 2013). Unfortunately, the effects of early math interventions found in experimental studies clearly diminish over time. My recent work suggests that differences in children’s math achievement are influenced by a combination of differences in both earlier math achievement and the relatively stable factors affecting children’s math achievement across development— with the effects of stable factors being several times larger than the effects of children’s earlier math achievement. This suggests that pre-school level math instruction alone will not be sufficient to substantially boost long-term math achievement outcomes, and raises important questions about what kinds of interventions are likely to produce the longest lasting effects on children’s math achievement.

Examining the relation between early and late mathematics skills

The strong association between children’s measured math skills in preschool and later, during the school years, is only a warrant for an emphasis on math instruction in pre-K if the relationship between earlier and later skills is causal, e.g., teaching children to add and subtract as four-year-olds leads directly to increased math learning for those children in elementary school.  If the correlation between early and later math skills is fully driven by other variables that affect both early and later math skills, such as children’s intelligence or interest in learning, then teaching preschoolers to add and subtract would not have a direct impact on later math skills.

Researchers have tried to rule out other variables that might explain the correlation between earlier and later mathematics ability by controlling statistically for some of the factors that might affect children’s math learning both early and later in their development, including: family characteristics; children’s cognitive abilities such as intelligence and working memory; and reading achievement. These statistical controls are used to reduce bias in the estimates of the effect of early math achievement on later math achievement.

To the extent that we are able to make causal inferences from these studies, the implication is clear: improving children’s early math skills should produce sizable effects on their much later math achievement. This would be good news, as we know of some effective ways to increase children’s math achievement in preschool; for example, Doug Clements’s and Julie Sarama’s early math curriculum produces impressive effects on children’s early math achievement (Clements, Sarama, Spitler, Lange, and Wolfe, 2011; Clements and Sarama, 2008).

Further, there is a promising logic underlying the idea that effective early math interventions will have long-lasting effects. In math, earlier skills are often repurposed as subroutines of later skills. For example, children use counting when they learn single digit arithmetic, they use single digit arithmetic when they learn multi-digit arithmetic, and they use whole number arithmetic when they learn fraction arithmetic. Failing to learn earlier skills disadvantages children trying to learn later skills. Additionally, sometimes knowing one mathematical principal can help children learn another. This phenomenon is known as transfer of learning and has been demonstrated in many studies of children’s math learning. For example, having an accurate understanding of where numbers fall on a number line facilitates preschoolers’ learning of simple addition (Siegler and Ramani, 2009).

To summarize, there are strong empirical relations between children’s school-entry math achievement and their math achievement many years later, and there is a sensible theoretical framework for understanding how differences in early math skills might cause differences in later math skills. But what do experimental studies on the effects of early childhood interventions on children’s later math outcomes—those that compare children who received some early math intervention to those who did not—find? Unfortunately, these studies show a different pattern. Effects of early interventions on children’s math achievement reliably diminish over time, a finding known as the “fade-out” effect.

Explaining the discrepancy between correlational and experimental findings

What can account for the apparent discrepancy between results from correlational analyses of longitudinal datasets and results from experimental studies? The answer is likely to be that correlational studies do not adequately control for all of the relatively stable factors underlying children’s math learning throughout development. Because of this, correlational studies will over-estimate the effects of improving children’s early math achievement on their later math achievement. There are two reasons to favor this explanation:

1) Many child characteristics are statistically associated with and may plausibly cause children’s math outcomes. These characteristics include commonly used statistical control variables, such as socioeconomic status, working memory, and intelligence. Deary, Strand, Smith, and Fernandes (2007) found that children’s intelligence measured at age 11 accounted for 59 percent of the variance in their math achievement at age 16. Further, other characteristics, such as children’s motivation, attention, processing speed, and particular facets of working memory, may also influence children’s math learning. Longitudinal datasets often contain measures of some of these stable characteristics, but do not contain complete, high-quality measures of all of them for the same children and therefore cannot statistically control for all of them. Therefore, causal estimates generated from these datasets may yield upwardly biased estimates of the effect of early math achievement on later math achievement.

2) Critically, the association between early and later math achievement remains surprisingly stable as the time between the “early” and “late” measurements increases. If the correlation between early and later math achievement primarily reflects the causal effect of the former on the latter, then this correlation should diminish over time. As an analogy, if a dog is walking around a field, we should have a more accurate idea of where he is at any given time the more recently his previous location is known. As this time interval increases, we will become less and less sure of where in the field the dog is located. To the extent that the correlation between measures of math achievement is stable as the distance in time between the measurements increases, relatively stable factors that influence math achievement similarly over time are likely responsible for the correlation between early and later math achievement. Again using the analogy of the dog in the field, if the dog is leashed to a post somewhere in the field, then knowing his location at any previous time should be similarly helpful for predicting the dog’s subsequent location (the dog will be by the post).

Children’s math achievement is likely both influenced by previous knowledge and stable factors (the dog is leashed to a post, but the leash has some slack), but there is reason to think that stable factors might account for a substantial part of the correlation between early and much later math achievement: Though the correlation between early and later math achievement does not remain completely unchanged as the distance in time between the measurements increases, it remains surprisingly stable. For example, in a longitudinal dataset containing data from 1,124 children, the correlation between children’s first grade math achievement and their third grade math achievement was .72, and the correlation between children’s first grade math achievement and their math achievement at age 15 was .66. If these correlations primarily reflect the stability of factors underlying math learning throughout children’s development, and secondarily reflect smaller effects of early math achievement on later math achievement, then effects of early interventions that affect early math achievement but not the stable factors influencing learning across time will fade out.

My collaborators— Tyler Watts, Andrew Littlefield, Dave Geary— and I used a statistical model to partition the correlation between individual differences in children’s math achievement measured at different times into two parts: the part caused by direct effects of children’s earlier math achievement on their later math achievement, and the part caused by relatively stable factors that affect children’s math learning similarly across their development (Bailey, Watts, Littlefield, and Geary, 2014). Using data from two longitudinal studies of children’s math achievement, our model suggests that children’s math achievement is influenced by a combination of both earlier math achievement and the relatively stable factors affecting children’s math achievement across development. However, the effects of stable factors are several times larger than the effects of children’s earlier math achievement. Further, a set of common statistical controls, such as intelligence, working memory, socioeconomic status, and reading achievement accounted for a large amount of the variance in these stable factors (approximately 2/3). This means that estimates of the effects of early math achievement on later math achievement based on correlational data over-estimate the direct effect of early mathematical knowledge on the acquisition of later mathematical knowledge, and that this bias increases with the distance in time between these two measurements. Consistent with data from experimental studies on early interventions, our model predicts that the effects of increasing young children’s early math skills on their later math achievement will fade over time.

Conclusion

The primary implication of our study for mathematics is that increasing children’s school-entry math achievement alone will not be sufficient to substantially boost their math achievement outcomes many years later.  This does not mean that early interventions cannot affect other important aspects of children’s lives (particularly for children living in the poorest environments), some of which may even affect their later academic achievement, nor does it mean that preschoolers shouldn’t be taught math.  It does mean that the yield from preschool math instruction on children’s much later math achievement will be less than is often assumed.  Investing more in later math interventions may be a more effective approach. Though nearly all older children eventually learn how to count and add single-digit numbers, many U.S. children never develop the ability to efficiently compare the sizes of different fractions (Schneider and Siegler, 2010). Further, researchers have identified effective interventions for teaching children how to do this (Fuchs et al., 2013). It seems plausible that teaching older children information they are at risk for never learning may have more persistent effects on their math achievement than teaching younger children information they very probably otherwise would have learned in kindergarten or first grade.  Finally, to the extent that effective early math instruction is implemented, our model and common sense predict that children will need higher quality later math instruction to sustain their higher math achievement trajectories into the long-term.

In the broader context of preschool policy, our results suggest that we need much more knowledge than is presently available with respect to which children need what kinds of instruction when.

 

References

Aunola, K., Leskinen, E., Lerkkanen, M.-L., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2004). Developmental dynamics of math performance from pre-school to Grade 2. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 699-713.

Bailey, D. H., Watts, T. W., Littlefield, A. K., & Geary, D. C. (2014). State and trait effects on individual differences in children’s mathematical development. Psychological Science, 25, 2017-2026.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2008). Experimental Evaluation of the Effects of a Research-Based Preschool Mathematics Curriculum. American Educational Research Journal45, 443-494.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Spitler, M. E., Lange, A. A., & Wolfe, C. B. (2011). Mathematics learned by young children in an intervention based on learning trajectories: A large-scale cluster randomized trial. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 42, 127-166.

Deary, I. J., Strand, S., Smith, P., & Fernandes, C. (2007). Intelligence and educational achievement. Intelligence35, 13-21.

Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446.

Fuchs, L. S., Schumacher, R. F., Long, J., Namkung, J., Hamlett, C. L., Cirino, P. T., Jordan, N. C., Siegler, R. S., Gersten, R., & Changas, P. (2013). Improving at-risk learners’ understanding of fractions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 683-703.

Geary, D. C., Hoard, M. K., Nugent, L., & Bailey, D. H. (2013). Adolescents’ functional numeracy is predicted by their school entry number system knowledge. PLoS ONE, 8, e54651.

Jordan, N. C., Kaplan, D., Ramineni, C., & Locuniak, M. N. (2009). Early math matters: kindergarten number competence and later mathematics outcomes. Developmental Psychology45, 850-867.

Lee, J. (2013). College for all: Gaps between desirable and actual P–12 math achievement trajectories for college readiness. Educational Researcher, 42(2), 78–88.

Schneider, M., & Siegler, R. S. (2010). Representations of the magnitudes of fractions. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance36, 1227-1238.

Siegler, R. S., Duncan, G. J., Davis-Kean, P. E., Duckworth, K., Claessens, A., Engel, M., et al. (2012). Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement. Psychological Science, 23, 691-697.

Siegler, R. S., & Ramani, G. B. (2009). Playing linear number board games – but not circular ones – improves low-income preschoolers’ numerical understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 545-560.

Authors

  • Drew H. Bailey

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