22 August 2006

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

I saw this post in another online teaching community and thought to myself, "wow!" This is from 1935, you know, back in the good old days when teaching was supposed to be "easy."

As most of us return to the classroom, it's important to remember why we do what we do and to also remember, teaching has never (nor will it ever) been easy!

This is from The First Year of Teaching: Real World Stories From America's Teachers, paragraphs written by Albert S. Thompson in 1935:

"I guess I don't need to say that teaching is a unique profession. It has its periods of elation and depression. Some days you will wonder how you stand it. Other days you will feel there is nothing so satisfying. Monday, you will be full of enthusiasm and plans for the future. Friday, you will look back and wonder just what you have accomplished. One period you will consider yourself a born teacher. Next period you will bewail the fate that gave you such a job. Wednesday, you will discover that John Jones has finally learned how to divide fractions. Thursday, he will seem to have forgotten everything. One week you will feel that the superintendent thinks you are the best teacher on the faculty. The next week you will be sure he is looking for an excuse to fire you. One month you will decide that at last you have arrived at a satisfactory philosophy of education. The next month you will look at the pupils coming into the room and wonder, What is it all for? Some days will be a month in passing. Some months will be a day in passing.

But, when the end of the year has arrived, the innumerable reports made out, good-byes said to your pupils and fellow teachers, and you are looking forward to an enjoyable summer vacation, you will smile at your mistakes, be amused at your doubts, be content with your appointed task, and once again be full of plans and enthusiasms for the next year."

16 August 2006

Week 80 Carnival of Education

It's that time again! While I'm still a bit dizzy from last week's turn on the Tilt-o-Whirl that is hosting a Carnival, the Carnival has returned home to its native stomping grounds, the EdWonks.

Head on over and check it out!

Next Week's Carnival midway will be again hosted by The Education Wonks, who apparently like riding the e-ticket rides. Please send contributions to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net, or use this handy submission form. Please send them no later than 8:00 PM (Eastern) 5:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, August 22nd, and please include the title of your post, as well as its URL, if possible.

15 August 2006

My view of "The Ron Clark Story"

I think I may be in the minority, but teacher movies rarely inspire me. "The Ron Clark Story" was no exception. Do people really expect us to be superhuman? Come on over and tell me what you think!

13 August 2006

Where the SAT doesn't matter (as much)

I could go on and on about how I feel about the SAT and ACT, but I won't. I like to think that I speak from experience, not only doing a lot of college counseling at my school, but also as a paid SAT essay grader for Pearson, the company that scores the SATs. You know, the company that accidentally gave 4400 students an incorrect, lower score last year.

However, I have relatives coming to visit tomorrow, my house is a mess, and I'm really not ready for the impending start of school (14 days and counting... the clock is ticking, and because of the stress level around here, my eyelid is also ticing, albeit in a different way than the clock.) So a rational discussion of the merits of the SAT will have to wait until a later date, when I have more energy to devote to writing and (hopefully) less to class and houseguest preparation.

Anyway, while I'd never advise a student to *not* take the SAT/ACT seriously, it's still reassuring to see lists like this.

I find this especially useful because, in the district in which I teach, many students applying to universities do not speak English as their first language, and our AP Calculus students routinely score 450-550 on the math section of the SAT.

(Note--I'm not at all trying to denigrate the teachers by mentioning this--I believe low test scores are endemic in low-income districts, due more to socio-economic reasons than any lack of intelligence on the part of the students. For example, I, who never got higher than a C in math and only completed math through Algebra 2, scored 120 points higher on the math SAT than my husband, who went through AP Calculus and majored in mechanical engineering in one of the top public engineering undergraduate programs in the nation. The difference is that I was fortunate to attend a high school whose API is currently a 795, vs. my husband's alma mater's API, which is a 626.)

For posterity, here are California's listed schools:
# Academy of Art College, San Francisco, CA
# Alliant International University, San Diego, CA
# American Intercontinental University, Los Angeles, CA
# Armstrong University, Berkeley, CA
# Art Institute of California, Orange County7
# Art Institute of California, San Diego7
# Art Institute of California, San Francisco7
# Art Institute of Southern California, Laguna Beach, CA7
# Bethany College of the Assemblies of God, Scotts Valley, CA1,9
# Bethesda Christian University, Anaheim, CA9
# Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, CA
# Calif. College for Health Sciences, Nat'l City, CA4
# Calif. College of Arts, San Francisco, CA, Email: enroll@cca.edu
# Calif. Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA
# Calif. Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
# Cal. National Univ. for Advanced Studies, Northridge, CA8
# Charles R. Drew Univ.: College of Allied Health, LA, CA
# Coleman College, La Mesa, CA
# Columbia College: Hollywood, Tarzana, CA
# CSU Bakersfield, Bakersfield, CA3
# CSU Chico, Chico, CA3,11
# CSU Dominguez Hills, Dominguez Hills, CA3
# CSU, Fresno, CA3
# CSU Fullerton, Fullerton, CA3
# CSU Hayward, Hayward, CA3
# CSU Long Beach, Long Beach, CA3
# CSU Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA3,11
# CSU Northridge, Northridge, CA3
# CSU Sacramento, Sacramento, CA3
# CSU San Bernardino, San Bernardino, CA3
# CSU San Marcos, San Marcos, CA3
# CSU Stanislaus, Stanislaus, CA3,11
# Design Institute of San Diego, CA
# DeVry Pomona College, CA3,7
# DeVry University, Freemont, CA3,7
# DeVry University, Long Beach, CA3,7
# DeVry University, Pomona CA3,7
# DeVry University, West Hills, CA3,7
# Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA
# Humboldt State University (CSU), Arcata, CA3
# Humphreys College, Stockton, CA
# Institute of Computer Technology, Los Angeles, CA
# Interior Designers Institute, Newport Beach, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Anaheim, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, San Bernardino, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Rancho Cordova, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Lathrop, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Los Angeles, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Oxnard, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Sylmar, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, Torrance, CA
# ITT Technical Institute, West Covina, CA
# The Kings College, Van Nuys, CA9
# La Sierra University, Riverside, CA3
# Life Pacific College, San Dimas, CA5,9
# Lincoln University, Oakland, CA
# Masters College, Santa Clarita, CA1,9
# Mt. Sierra College, Monrovia, CA
# National Hispanic University, San Jose, CA
# National University, La Jolla, CA
# New College of California, San Francisco, CA
# New School of Architecture, San Diego, CA
# Northrop-Rice Aviation Institute of Tech., Inglewood, CA
# Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA
# Patten College, Oakland, CA
# Pitzer College, Claremont, CA
# Remington College, San Diego CA (Education America University)
# San Francisco State Univ. (CSU), San Francisco, CA3,11
# San Jose State University (CSU), San Jose, CA3
# Silicon Valley College, Multiple Campuses, CA
# Sonoma State University (CSU), Rohnert Park, CA3,11
# Southern Calif. International College, Santa Ana, CA1
# Southern California Institute of Technology, Anaheim, CA
# University of West LA, CA
# Vanguard Univ. of Southern CA, Costa Mesa, CA1,3
# Westwood College of Technology, Anaheim, CA
# Westwood College of Technology, Upland, CA
# Westwood College of Technology, Los Angeles, CA
# Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad/West Coast Talmudical Seminary, LA, CA9

Explanation of the numbers:
Key: 1 = SAT I/ACT used only for placement and/or academic advising
2 = SAT I/ACT required only from out-of-state applicants
3 = SAT I/ACT used only when minimum GPA and/or class rank is not met
4 = SAT I/ACT required for some programs
5 = SAT I/ACT not required if submit SAT II series
6 = University of Maryland University College is a separate institution from University of Maryland at College Park
7 = Must submit COMPASS, CPAT, TABE, WAIS, Stanford Achievement Test, ASSET and/or college entrance exam if not submitting SAT I/ACT scores
8= Distance Education School
9= Religious Affiliation
11= Admission/Eligibility Index calculated with 3.5 GPA or lower and SAT I total score of 400.

08 August 2006

The Carnival Of Education -- Week 79: Special "Readin', 'Ritin', 'Rithmetic" Edition

Welcome to the 79th edition of the Carnival of Education—my, how time does fly!

In honor of our first shot at hosting this Carnival, and because it's getting to be that time for many of us to go back to school, all of us at LiveWire bring you the special 3 R’s edition of the Carnival of Education: Readin’, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. For the occasion, I made a special trip on Tuesday 8/8 to Bodie State Historical Park in eastern California, an authentic gold-mining ghost town, to take pictures of their old schoolhouse to include in this Carnival.

OK, not really--I already happened to be going there, but you should all still feel special that I thought of you and this Carnival.

For a look back at past Carnivals, please visit the Carnival of Education archives.

READIN’: Books, programs, and lesson ideas.

Campus Watch discusses summer reading assignments for incoming college freshmen, everything from graphic novels to hiking memoirs to Brave New World.

Our own ms-teacher, fresh from an out-of-state conference to prepare her for the REACH program she will be teaching this year, discusses background and data on direct instruction, and provides links for further exploration.

The HUNBlogger completes a book meme started by Benjamin Meyers over at Faith and Theology, reflecting on the books that have had the most impact in his life. Wisely, he chooses the Norton Anthology of Poetry to keep him company on a desert island, a book that had a big impact on me in college, if for no other reason than it weighed a ton. (OK, bad joke, but between Norton and McMillian, my chiropractor could have gone to Hawaii for a month.)

Andrew Pass at The Current Events in Education suggests asking students to pretend that they are pieces of pollution and to keep a travel diary as they float down the Mighty Mississippi. Really! Conjures up visions of...well, something offal awful. The exercise is part of Pass’s effort to get students to think—and write—ecologically. He also is currently reading Tim Russert's book Big Russ and Me: Father and Son: Lessons of Life, and reminds us why it is important for us to always know the janitor's name.

Realizing that the days of copious amounts of technology funding are long gone, dave over at the eponymous FriendsOfDave.org has decided to start a new website devoted to reviewing educational technology. Bob Sipchen, take note. Oh, and as an added bonus, the educator with the greatest number of approved reviews on the site on September 7, 2006 at 12:01am Pacific time will get a $50 American Express gift card. Sounds good to me!

Joy in the Morning discusses developing children's interests; specifically, how as a homeschooling parent, she has been privileged to help her twins explore and learn more about the world around them in their fifteen years of life.

Trinity Prep School provides very good reasons as to why reading the classics is good for us.

The Scholar discusses House Bill 7087, recently passed in the state of Florida. This piece of legislation puts a new spin on how history should be taught.

Paul of PaulsTips.com gives suggestions on how to develop a more sophisticated taste, beginning with opera and classical music and finishing with philosophy.

Mark Montgomery over at TextbookEvaluator.com discusses New Jersey's online textbook evaulation tool, giving a link to the tool as well as discussing its relative merits.

’RITIN: Rants, letters, lists, and reflections.

With a new school year starting (or for some, has already started), elementaryhistoryteacher shares a wonderful geography lesson which discusses Natural vs. Man-made features.

David gives to us (and to his wife) a much needed link in making our
lives as educators a bit easier. Teachers, recycle your lesson plans! posted at The Good Human.

Coach Brown proposes that as teachers we should focus on teaching every student how to become good academic readers, but that too often, we only focus on English Language Learners. When he suggests something different, the terms racist and white-male comes into the picture.

ChemJerk debates a job offer for a position that would take him out of the classroom and put him in charge instead of supervising science instruction. He shares the thoughts that led to his ultimate decision, thoughts that he hopes will help other teachers facing a similar situation. To find out what he ultimately decides, check out his post.

Over at Right on the Left Coast, Darren’s attention has been caught by school dances, and specifically, why he always requests to babysit the drunks rather than have to watch students have sex on the dance floor. He discusses how the music itself is, in his opinion, part of the problem, as well as societal justification for why such music and dancing are acceptable. My students would call me a prude (if most of them knew what the word meant, anyway) but after spending two years as an activities director, I agree with him.

Carol over at The Median Sib reflects on NOT thinking about the start of school, her new classroom, or anything else that might remind her that she has to go back to work all too soon.

the rain over at ithoughtathink pulls a Colbert and tells you all you need to know about the July 26th issue of Education Week, summarizing the articles on state standards, what isn’t the matter with Kansas, how reading to children even under the age of two can help their reading comprehension later on, parenting, what was the matter with Georgia’s state superintendent, NEA contributions, and a number of other issues. the rain also ponders the results of the annual salary survey, specifically wondering why the average librarian has a higher salary than the average teacher. I’m not a statistician, but I would guess that for a number of reasons, the average librarian is likely older, has more years of experience, and a lower turnover rate than the average teacher, resulting in a higher average salary.

La Maestra offers up a delicious fifth round of her weekly Jargon
. She also writes about the role of a principal, focusing on how the job has evolved and why it has become so difficult to attract and retain qualified, competent people to the job.

Miss Dennis at Your Mama’s Mad Tedious has a few some "rather complicated and lengthy" words to say to the New York powers in charge of teacher licensing about bureaucratic red tape that is keeping highly qualified teachers out of the classroom. "No qualified teacher should have to put up with such nonsense," says the redoubtable Miss Dennis.

Anonymous Educator plans to “start a fantasy league based on student performance in each of 5 major subject areas: math, science, foreign language, English, and history.”

Thespis Journal gives a mouth-watering review of “The History Boys,” now playing on Broadway: “Any teacher who teaches his pupils with passion, fervor and boundless enthusiasm will find himself reflected, at times, in several of the characters on stage. Thespis Journal also gives a chilling commentary on what seems to be an increasing tendency in some school districts: “to force good teachers from their classrooms for baseless allegations that usually involve age, disability, and a smorgasbord of other tidbits of idle chitchat.”

Mr. Person over at Text Savvy loves analogies, and compares Pink Dot (an L.A.-based home-delivery service) to customizing content in education.

Bob Sipchen's weekly column over at LA Times's School Me! deals with community day schools and other alternative educational placements. After an interesting and insightful look at the operation and student population of community schools, Sipchen poses the question, "Should students be shipped to special schools at the first sign of trouble?"

3 Standard Deviations takes issue with One Big Year's Blog's post entitled The Last Great Tech Generation, which states that as students are using more and more technology, they are in fact understanding it less and less. 3SD points out that while "some technologies are useful to know, some...makes others obsolete." He points out that while he could write the HTML for his blog by hand, he prefers to use Blogger instead, to expedite the process. I don't know about him, but I'm writing this Carnival in Notepad, to copy and paste into Blogger later. Call me old-school.

TriviumPursuit posts a letter they received from CHASK and NATHHAN regarding a request for donations to help provide support mothers who have discovered they are carrying children with severe disabilities. The page gives details as well as an explanation of how to donate.

This Week In Education reviews the term "high stakes" as used in an EdWeek article by Bess Keller, and TWIE's belief that the test results lack enough consequence to qualify.

Matt Johnston discusses a commentary from Joanne Jacobs's sub, Michael Lopez, on technology in the classroom, concluding "White board versus chalk board? Who gives a damn--just teach my kids something."

TexasEd sympathizes with Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs becoming dumping grounds, but wonders when any student will have time to participate in such programs considering that Texas now requires students to have four years of math and four years of science in order to graduate.

Finally, kderosa explores the new phenomenon of Kid Writing, and how she feels that it is the "educational equivalent of teaching kids how to swim by throwing them into the deep end of the pool with a sack of lead strapped to their backs."

’RITHMETIC: Statistics, studies, and things that just don't add up.

Right Wing Nation takes issue with students becoming “information artisans”, pointing out the seemingly obvious fact that in order for students to be able to synthesize information, they have to first have information to synthesize.

“You want good test scores? You want a good school?” NYC Educator asks rhetorically (and sardonically). “Just keep the ESL students out.”

Mr. R> at Evolving Education is disgusted with a move in the UK to prevent teachers from calling students “clever.” “I agree,” he says, “that mocking cleverness does not help our society, but how does changing the word itself change what people do or how they feel?” And over at A Shrewness of Apes, Ms. Cornelius ponders the same issue, asking why being smart is negative, and wondering if praising students for being smart actually discourages them from pursuing knowledge.

What does the existing research tell us about the correlation between teacher math knowledge and student math achievement? “Not much,” says Dr. P. over at EduInsights.

Patrick Coffee at TreatmentOnline.com discusses information from two separate studies that examined media's effects on children.

In her blog, Diane Weir discusses her frustration with students being removed from an advanced math program, despite meeting the appropriate requirements to remain in it. She challenges us to consider what we've done lately to effect change at the local level, using her own advocacy for students as an example.

Elias, this week's Down Under blogger, discusses the place and value of rote learning in education, and questions why many educators feel it is a bad thing.

At The Buck Stops Here, Stuart has another view about the recently published DOE report that has flooded the educational blogways.

Is it possible to boost test scores of bilingual students? Polski3
wants to know and provides interesting insight as to why some ELL students, despite our best efforts, may never improve.

The good folks (and our fair Carnival coordinators!) over at EdWonks discuss the frustrations that come from NCLB and The Spellings' decree that a teacher will be considered underperforming if "only" 34 out of their 35 students pass their standardized tests. Those "onlies" will get you every time, won't they?

And last but definitely not least, Robert Teegarden over at Edspresso responds to Andrew Coulson's editorial on why federal school vouchers are a Bad Idea [tm], commenting that while competition is good, "kids are not shackled at the moment by some outside, foreign force and need the intervention and protection of the government to free them from restraint; they are enslaved by the very same state governments and unions; they are enslaved to schooling, conditions, and environments that said governments and unions would not (and do not) tolerate for themselves, let alone their own children."


Thank you everyone for your submissions! As this was our first time hosting a Carnival, we may have made a couple of errors--please contact us at californialivewire@yahoo.com and we will correct them as soon as possible.

The Education Wonks will host the 80th edition of the Carnival of Education. Submissions are due no later than 8:00 PM (Eastern) 5:00 PM (Pacific) on Tuesday, August 15th, 2006. Contributors may use the submission form at this URL:


Submissions may also be sent to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net.

All images copyrighted 2006 by La Maestra.

The Role of a Principal

I admit that, as a teacher, I’m guilty of looking around the school and wondering what all the other people do all day. You know, those people who don’t spend all day in the classroom trying to cram knowledge into young minds as quickly as those same young minds are determined to go home and jettison it all. I often think, “must be nice to have that job” as I lug home yet another set of essays to grade. I think it when I end yet another frustrating conference with the parent of a child who can do no wrong, at least in that parent’s eyes. And I think it every time I fork over another few hundred dollars for classroom supplies, books, and other teaching materials.

In an attempt to understand these people and what it is they do all day, I’ve decided to begin a monthly series exploring the jobs of people who work within the school, but not within the classroom. For my first installment, I would like to focus on the principal--the oft-maligned, overworked figurehead of the school.


Almost every time I write the word “principal”, my mind flashes back to the grade-school mnemonic about how to remember the difference between “principal” and “principle”—the principal is someone who is supposed to be your pal.

I find this device cute, if somewhat trite, but occasionally I stop and think about it more closely. Is the principal truly someone who teachers can think of as a pal? Or is he or she instead an authoritarian figurehead, uncompromising and unwilling to try and understand issues from a teacher’s point of view, driven by some esoteric and ethereal bottom line that always seems to be out of reach? What drives people to take on a job that looks, at least on the surface, so thankless? And how can the oft-present animosity between teachers and administrators be reduced?

The origin of the word “principal” dates back to the 15th century, and initially denoted a ruler, leader, or foreman. In the mid-1800s, it came into common use to describe a person in charge of a public school. According to researcher Joseph Murphy, in the 19th century, “educational administration was not recognized as a distinct profession. In this "ideological era," school leaders were simply learned authorities whose insights into the truth provided guidance to teachers, students, and the public. Little training was required.” As the educational system in the United States developed, an increasing focus was placed on the training of school administrators, and at the dawn of the 20th century, schools for training school administrators were established. These early schools focused on educational administration using a technical and business model. As these schools evolved, the approach shifted to a theoretical one, and from there, to the current focus on problem-based learning.

In early grammar schools in the United States, teachers often took on many of the roles associated with principals today--student discipline, school-community interaction, management of the school environment, and ordering supplies. As the years passed and schools grew larger and catered to a broader student population, the role of a principal evolved as well. According to a September/October 2000 piece by Millie Pierce in Harvard's EdLetter titled "Portrait of the 'Super Principal'", a principal only 15 years ago worked an average of 40 hours a week with most of the summer off, belonged to a principal's union, and aspired to ascend the career ladder.

Principal's union? Granted, I'm only heading into my 5th year in the classroom, so I'm a young'un yet, but I can't even imagine such a thing existing, especially in a district with as strong a CTA as mine has.

According to the same article, a principal in the year 2000, when Pierce wrote her column, worked 10 hours a day and another 8 on weekends or evenings, and probably will retire by the age of 57, exhausted by the longer hours, greater responsibilities, and increased accountability. Aside from managing the staff and dealing with major discipline problems, principals are now expected to complete state-mandated paperwork, attend IEP meetings, develop and coordinate the master schedule, and attend district- and county-level meetings, school activities, and even community functions. In my district, the principal is even expected to join the local Rotary organization and attend Rotary meetings. Because of all of the other duties, managing the staff and promoting faculty development and support has become almost an auxiliary function of the principal, one to be done when time permits.

In order to handle this wide variety of jobs, California public school principals are required to have at least one bachelor’s degree, a teaching credential in any subject, and a minumum of three years of teaching experience (this can, however, be as a librarian or a school counselor--it doesn't necessarily have to be a classroom placement.) Then they must complete a state-approved educational services credential program, which gives them a five-year preliminary credential (same as any California teaching credential.) Within that five years, they must complete a state-approved program to receive their professional clear credential.

According to the California department of Education, in 2005-2006, approximately 76% of school administrators had a master's degree or greater. It should be noted that this statistic includes *all* people with an active administrative services credential, not just principals. In reality, the number of principals with at least a master's degree is likely much higher, due to the nature of the job.

For all the job entails, the average salary for California principals in 2003-2004 ranged from $78,686 for an elementary school principal in a small (ADA < 1000) school, to $109,001 for a high school principal in a large (ADA > 4000) school.

In the four years I have been with my district, we have gone through seven principals/assistant principals. This is, in my way of thinking, a ridiculously large turnover which benefits no one--staff, faculty, students, or community. Some never wanted the job in the first place--they were transferred in at the whim of district office. Some looked at the job as a stepping stone to a better job elsewhere in county or state educational administration. Some quit to go back into the classroom or to an administrative position at an elementary school, where the demands of the job were less. And some, thankfully, were released by the district for failure to perform. According to a 2003 article in Leadership by Katherine Cushing, Judith A. Kerrins, and Thomas Johnstone, titled "Disappearing Principals", most principals cite low pay, job stress, long hours, and lack of systemic resort as the overwhelming reasons why they leave the profession, or at the very least, transfer schools.

So what can be done to combat this high turnover rate and give all schools and teachers the stable, strong leadership they need? Both "Disappearing Principals" and "Portrait of the 'Super Principal'" cite systemic support as the most important factor in attracting and retaining qualified candidates. While both articles advocate a two-leader approach, in "Portrait", Pierce brings up the idea of having a principal teacher, a person with many years of classroom experience and whose main responsibility would be student and teacher performance, as well as a principal administrator, whose primary focus would be plant management, data collection, and parent relations. A main difference between Pierce's and Cushing's approaches is that with Pierce's model, the principal administrator would be subordinate to the principal teacher, whereas Cushing envisions a co-principal role, where leadership, responsibility, and accountability are equally shared among both partners.

I'm more inclined to lean toward Pierce's model, simply because I like the idea of having an experienced teacher as my primary evaluator. I'm going into my fifth year of teaching, which means, according to the state of California, that I already have one more year of teaching than the minimum required to become an administrator, which also is more classroom experience than three of the seven administrators I've had in the past four years.

I spent my first three years teaching just trying to get my head above water (although, to be fair, I had other duties within the school outside of my classroom that made that a much more difficult process), and it wasn't until last year that I felt like I wasn't struggling on a daily basis with basic planning and management. I can't imagine only spending three years in the classroom and then going into administration, and I don't blame teachers for resenting being evaluated by administrators with less classroom experience than their own. In my (admittedly narrow) view, this is one of the main causes of friction between teachers and administrators--the perceived lack of understanding by administrators regarding classroom management and individual instructional styles of teachers.

This is something that can be combatted in two ways. First, the state needs to increase the number of years a prospective administrator is required to have spent in the classroom, and second, administrators need to spend more time in the classroom--not just as teachers, but watching teachers and getting to know their styles. I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen an administrator in my classroom for something besides a formal evaluation, and even when I was being evaluated, it was always scheduled well in advance, started late, and ended early. I've invited many an administrator to drop by, but they rarely ever do. I can hardly blame them, because I know and respect how much work they have to do, but at the same time, I don't believe it benefits anyone to have so little oversight over teachers. Although I'm in my principal's office on a regular basis for feedback and meetings regarding the programs I run, I'd really like more feedback on my teaching methods. Since that's not a possiblity, I rely on peers, students, and parents, and while all of these are definitely beneficial, I would like input from the people responsible for designating my teaching assignment.

Despite not getting my wish to have more administrative input into my teaching methods, I've been fortunate in that I've always had a good rapport with my principals. While I wouldn't say that any of my principals have been my pals, I have felt supported in my teaching and my programs, and have really felt like I've had the ear of all of the principals with whom I've worked.

There are many more things I would like to discuss in this post, such as length and quality of educational administration programs, disparities in administration between wealthier and poorer districts, and novel ways of attracting and retaining administrators that some districts have tried, that would require far more time than I currently have--there's another school year brewing on the horizon, and I have to meet with my own principal regarding... well, everything but my teaching methods.


In next month's installment in the "what do they do" series, I'll take a look at the role of guidance counselors, and especially at the detrimental effect of the average guidance counselor ratio in California public high schools of 1:966.

Different Kinds of Teachers

In Southern California we have our Child-Molester Teacher , but in Merry Olde England, ah, well, there they have The Stripper Teacher !

07 August 2006

Jargon Jungle Week 5: Special Hyphenated Edition

Since we're hosting the Carnival of Education for this week, I've decided to post this a day early. So, without further ado, here is the Week 5 Special Hyphenated Edition of The Jargon Jungle.


At-risk: What your bank account balance is after you buy all of your school supplies for the new year. Synonyms: financially-challenged, broke. Antonyms: independently wealthy, solvent.

Culture-Specific Non-verbal Communication: the odd dialect used by students when instant-messaging that has an annoying habit of creeping into students’ classroom standard English writing. Synonym: net-speak. Antonyms: English.

On-level: what your blood pressure is in the last week before you have to go back to your classroom. Synonyms: summer break, relaxed. Antonyms: hypertension.

Project-based learning: Any classroom assignment or assessment that requires glue sticks, construction paper, glitter, at least one parent note pleading for more time, and is guaranteed to not come out of the carpet until the end of the year. Synonyms: havoc, mayhem. Antonyms: quiet, orderly.


PLUG: Don't forget, posts for this week's Carnival of Education are due to californialivewire@yahoo.com by tomorrow at 5:00 PM PDT!

02 August 2006

Project Follow Through and Direct Instruction

Finally, I'm writing about the Direct Instruction conference that I attended last week in beautiful Eugene, Oregon.

My first two morning sessions was on the myths and research on Direct Instruction. In this seminar, we were introduced to Project Follow Through, a study that was initiated by President Johnson in order to evaluate the effectiveness of educational programs for disadvantaged children. During the years of 1968 to 1976, Project Follow Through studied up to 10,000 children from 120 communities.

There were nine different programs studied and each program was placed in one of three categories: basic skills, cognitive-conceptual learning, and affective learning. The basic skills category focus is on teaching children fundamental skills in reading, arithmetic, language, and spelling. Cognitive-conceptual learning emphasizes "learning to learn" and problem-solving skills. Finally, affective-cognitive learning primarily focused on building up self-esteem, with a secondary emphasis on "learning to learn" skills.

I think the most important aspect of this study is that it was done independent of any of the proponents of these programs. Remember, the study was implemented by the federal government, data was gathered by the Stanford Research Institute and analyzed by Abt Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This data was "derived from a battery of five tests administered to "cohorts" (followed from either kindergarten through third grade or first through third grade) of more than 9,000 Follow Through students matched with a control group of 6,500 students from non-Follow Through school sites."(see Project Follow Through
…A Billion Dollar Government Study That Education Bureaucrats Keep Trying To Bury

The results of this study were that of all the instructional models, Direct Instruction out-performed them all. Perhaps more importantly, those models whose emphasis was on cognitive learning and affective learning and which one would think would out perform Direct Instruction in those areas, failed to do so. Following is a graph that shows the results from Project Follow Through. (Please note: the first three are considered basic skills models, the second three are considered cognitive learning models, and the final three are affective learning models.)

So, where does this lead us as educators today and why is so little known about Project Follow Through?

To answer the first question, I still strongly feel that as educators it's important to use a variety of strategies to reach all students. However, I also know that in the school that I've worked in for the past five years, I continue to see students coming into 6th grade reading years below grade level. I haven't taught using the REACH program (a Direct Instruction curriculum) but at its core is the belief that using the strategies from this program, students can make incredible gains in a year and a half.

In the upcoming school year, the students in who will be in my REACH classes (a block of three hours) are reading at the 2nd/3rd grade level. The 6th grade Language Arts text that I have taught from in the past is written for those students whose reading level is no more than a year below grade level. As a teacher, I've always had students who were struggling readers manage to be successful because they never gave up. I worry, however, about those students who struggled, despite my best efforts to make the text accessible to them, who at some point in the school year, simply gave up. It is my hope that REACH will help these students by closing gaps in reading (i.e., decoding and comprehension) so that when they are ready to transition into a "regular" classroom, they can be successful.

One of the major criticisms of the Direct Instruction program is the scripts that teachers are required to read. The scripts have been devised to get the most bang for their buck. At this point, I'm holding off on making any comments about the scripts until I've actually taught the program.

So, why do we know so little about Project Follow Through? According to many of the facilitators at the Direct Instruction conference, those in the Department of Education (DOE) refused to to choose any one model over the other. Instead, the DOE sought to publish information about all the models and let districts decide for themselves what curriculum model to choose for their students. Many at the Direct Instruction conference (and also articles online) are very critical of teacher preparation programs offered at colleges and universities because so many of these programs embrace cognitive learning and affective learning models, while brushing aside basic skills models and more specifically Direct Instruction.

Okay, so now I'll leave you with some reading on Direct Instruction so that you can form your own opinion. As for me, school starts in a couple of weeks and I will be using REACH (a direct instruction/basic skills) program. Until I actually use the program, my own opinions will be held in check, but I will be writing on my own experience on this blog.

The 10 Most Annoying People on Staff

From California to Connecticut, from Alaska to Alabama, every teacher knows The Ten Most Annoying People on Staff. Check 'em out here !

A Special Ferris Wheel Edition for Carnival of Education #78

This week's Carnival of Education is over at, appropriately enough, This Week in Education. Alexander and Margaret have put together not only a wonderful Carnival, but also have included links to the history of the Ferris Wheel. This leads to another fun coincidence, because since I use a ferris wheel picture for Carnival posts, and we host next week's Carnival.

All entries for next week's Carnival are due to californialivewire@yahoo.com no later than 5:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. Thanks everyone, and I can't wait for next week! :-)

(Oh, and thanks to ms-cornelius for pointing out that last week's number was not, in fact, prime. I feel quite sheepish.) ;-)

01 August 2006

Jargon Jungle Week 4: Special Aloha Edition

(I wrote part of this while sitting near crashing waves and sipping a pina colada on a Hawaiian beach somewhere. Try not to hate me.)

Coming to you live from a real jungle (complete with mosquitos!) and proving, once again, that I have no life, here is this week’s edition of the Jargon Jungle.

Bloom's Taxonomy: [n] when a student (generally female) shows up with so many bouquets of flowers and balloons given to her by her parents and friends for her birthday that you want to charge her for the real estate they take up in your classroom. Synonyms: hay fever, balloon debt Antonym: attention span

Modeling: [n] When a lesson always looks better in the book than tried on in the classroom Synonym: mirage Antonym: ready-to-wear

Special-needs learners: [n] Children of other teachers, administrators, school board officials, or major donors to the school; need special sensitivity because of who their parents are. Synonyms: resume-builder, hornet's next Antonyms: low maintenence

Stakeholders: [n] people lurking in dark corners with sharp objects, waiting to poke holes in your teaching methodology . Synonyms: parents, administrators Antonym: support