Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Louisiana Teachers Use Professional-Development Day to Protest - Teacher Beat - Education Week

Louisiana Teachers Use Professional-Development Day to Protest - Teacher Beat - Education Week

This article ends with a statement about how teachers see professional development as non-essential - something subordinate to other responsibilities.  Supposedly, this is unlike what occurs in top-performing countries.

Although I am a big believer in PD and a constant examination/honing of teaching methods, I often find the professional development that I'm asked to sit through VERY non-essential.  Most of it has been very passive - exactly the opposite of great teaching.  This passive, sit-and-listen type of professional development is probably also very time-effective and inexpensive in comparison to things like lesson studies, teacher observations and debriefings, and other active forms of PD.  Another reason PD in the US is so poor is that it seems to have become just another responsibility of already-too-busy administrators.  It is an afterthought.  And it is an area that, if bettered, could substantially improve teaching and learning in the US.  (Although it's NOT an area that seems to lend itself to data collection.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Odd Couple: Dennis and Wendy

The_Odd_Couple: Dennis and Wendy

In the above piece, Diane Ravitch wonders how Wendy Kopp can call for better teacher preparation, given that TFA places teachers in very difficult assignments after only 5 weeks of training.

I think Wendy Kopp can rightfully call for better teacher prep. Yeah, 5 weeks is too short to get someone really ready to teach. But so is any amount of time, really. And the 5 weeks is, at least, directly focused on how to deal with the most difficult teaching assignments and is infused with actual teaching. After training, TFA also supports its teachers instead of just sending them out to sink or swim. And they collect data on how well their teachers perform and then use that data to augment their training and professional development programs. Wendy Kopp definitely has the right to call for better teacher prep. programs!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

NM Charter Students Cost More

Until recently, I didn't think that district charters really took money away from public schools.  I thought that was just a myth that got thrown around in order to make charters look bad.  I figured that, if a student chose to attend a charter school, he would just take his funding with him. And since the district school had one less student to educate, it seemed fair, as long as the enrollment numbers didn't dip too low. 

It turns out that, in New Mexico, charter schools actually do receive a lot more funding, per pupil, than public schools.   Some of the details of how and why this happens can be found in today's article, posted below.  NM's Legislative Finance Committee arrived at a new funding formula that attempts to even things out for charters as well as for some other outdated funding issues.  And, under the new formula, charters tend to be allocated a lot less money than they are allocated under the current formula. 

What are my feelings?  It's really difficult to go from more to less funding.  I wish there were ways to lessen the blow, because schools get used to operating with a certain amount of money and there will have to be drastic changes made to accommodate a lower budget.  That said, I don't think it's fair for charter schools, on average, to receive more per pupil than district schools - even if they have special programs and higher overhead.  Overall, I'm for the adjustments made by the Legislative Finance Committee.  I think charters, with their greater abilities to be flexible than large districts, can make it work. 

By Ben Wieder
Stateline Staff Writer []
December 12, 2011                                       

Some lawmakers in New Mexico say publicly-funded, privately-run schools are taking advantage of the state's rules to get more than their fair share of education funding.
  • One of Albuquerque's charter schools, Academia de Lengua Y Cultura, offers a dual-language middle-school curriculum, with teachers in some classes giving lessons in English and Spanish on alternating days.
  • Across town, the Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, which takes students from sixth grade through high school, emphasizes seminar discussions and offers advanced international diplomas.
  • The Southwest Secondary Learning Center, meanwhile, reinforces math, science and engineering lessons by allowing students to maintain and fly real airplanes.
They represent three of New Mexico's more than 80 charter schools. While some of those schools look and act like private institutions - their leaders have freedom to run them as they see fit as long as students meet state standards - they are part of the public school system, charge no tuition and receive nearly all of their funding from state monies.

But unlike other states, where average per-student funding for charters is typically lower than it is for other public schools, a legislative report released last month found that charters in New Mexico receive an average of 26 percent more funding per student than traditional public schools. The report suggested that lawmakers change how schools are funded to address that.

New Mexico is unique in that the vast majority of school funding for all public schools comes from the state. These payments can be increased based on 24 various factors.
  • The report says that some of those criteria, such as per-pupil funding increases based on the percentage of enrollment growth and a school's small size, benefit charters disproportionately.
  • The state's funding formula has been adjusted more than 80 times since it was first created in 1973.
  • The report recommends a complete overhaul of the formula to remove or give different weight to some of those factors.
State Representative Rick Miera ((D-Bernalillo], chair of the legislative education study committee, says the goal isn't to reduce the level of funding for the schools, but rather make sure that adjustments are serving the purpose they're intended to serve. "We have all these little factors that have come in over the years," the Democratic representative says. "These schools qualify for small schools, but are they small schools?"

How New Mexico compares
Nationally, there are now more than 2 million students seeking alternative education programs who are enrolled in charter schools, thanks, in part, to recent legislation in several states that lifted caps on the number of charters and made it easier for successful charters to expand. Typically, charters are funded by states in one of three ways, according to Josh Cunningham, a research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures [NCSL].
  • The most common is for states to give charters the same money for each student as they give traditional public schools in the same district.
  • In other states, funding "follows" students, meaning that they are assigned the same funding as every other student in their home district, even if they choose to attend a charter in another district.
  • Finally, a handful of states give the same level of per-pupil funding to each charter school in the state.
Cunningham says typical per-student funding for charters is lower than at traditional public schools, because many regular public schools make up a big part of their budgets from local property taxes and federal dollars that are harder for charters to obtain.

Traditional public schools also generally have more options for raising money to build and maintain facilities. There are some federal funds set aside for charters, and some charters also seek private support, but Cunningham says that normally doesn't make up the differences in funding between charters and their traditional peers.
  • In Minnesota, where the first charter schools in the country appeared, the funding structure for charters has remained fairly constant since they were first allowed in 1991, says Tom Melcher, the state's school finance director. Charters are funded the same across the state, he says, with adjustments made to match local property taxes that other public schools receive.
  • Florida is among the states with the biggest jump in charter enrollment in the past year, after it passed a law allowing high-performing charter schools to more easily expand. The state now has more than 500 charter schools serving more than 150,000 students, but funding isn't quite as equitable as in Minnesota. State money for charters flows through the school district in which a charter is located. The district can take out a small percentage of that money for administrative costs and can choose how much of its local property tax revenue to share with charters.
"There's only a few districts that do share that revenue with charter schools," says Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.
  • In Colorado, which functions similarly to Florida, districts can take up to 5 percent in administrative fees and choose how much or little of local property tax funds to share with charter schools. But Amy Anderson of the state Department of Education, says that most districts don't take out the full 5 percent fee and that districts now give charters a more equal share of federal and local funds. "With time, more and more districts have become better at recognizing that the kids in the charter schools are kids in their district," she says.
Are funding differences fair?
Charter school advocates argue that funding discrepancies between traditional public schools and charters are unfair, but NCSL's Cunningham says that doing more with less is what charters are all about. "Part of the concept of charter schools is doing things more efficiently," he says.
  • That's the view taken by Steve Mancini, a spokesman for the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which operates a network of 109 charters in 20 states and Washington, D.C. "We're leaner," he says. "We don't have the director of right brain instruction and the director of left-brain instruction."
Still, funding differences in each of the 20 states mean that different KIPP schools have to operate differently. KIPP schools in Newark, New Jersey, he says, receive two-and-a-half times the level of funding per student as KIPP schools in San Francisco. That means the California schools need to raise more money through donations to provide a comparable education.

On average, KIPP's schools across the country receive 85 percent of their funding from public sources and make up the difference with donations and other sources of private income, he says. The goal, though, is to increase the share of public money.
  • In New Mexico, some of the charter schools with the highest costs say the greater share they receive is justified. Leaders at the dual language Academia de Lengua Y Cultura say their higher costs can be attributed to the school's high percentage of bilingual students and special education students, whose education costs are eligible for higher funding in the formula.
The Southwest Learning Centers are mentioned in the report as an example of potential misapplication of the small-school label. They have students from fourth grade through high school who share the same building and the same upper-level administration, but are considered three separate charters, each of which qualifies as a small school better positioned for higher state funding.

Robert Pasztor, the schools' director of academic support, says the schools would not be able to offer the same technology-rich curriculum - with every student given access to laptops - and support a brand new gym if not for the benefits from the small-school adjustment, particularly since charter schools are on the hook for more of their facility costs. He thinks other schools in the state should follow their model, which yielded better state test results across the board last year than state and city averages.

"We in a sense have created this sort of 21st-century school house," he says. "No single school could afford this facility."

But John Arthur Smith, chair of the state legislative finance committee, says that isn't the intention of the small school adjustment. It was originally designed for small, rural districts, the Democratic senator says. "The bottom line is they're still gaming the formula."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Do You Believe in Miracles?

I was recently mulling over my abilities as a parent to prepare my kids academically. I've noticed that, since my oldest went to preschool, I've begun to rely on his teachers to provide practice with letters and numbers. Then yesterday I sat down with my oldest to write a letter to Santa. And it appears that his letter writing skills haven't advanced much at all since he enrolled in pre-school. Things may have even deteriorated a bit since this summer, when we were doing more at home.

What does this mean and what does it have to do with the above post? First, while school is an important place where kids can learn a lot - particularly about socializing - there is NO REPLACEMENT for the specific attention and direction that a parent can provide a child. I write a lot about effective teaching, but do I really think even the most effective teaching can make up for a lack of parental attention to academic skills? No.... I don't really think so. A great deal of learning happens when a parent sits down with a child to read, write, review homework, etc. Even the best teachers have limited ability to instruct 20 kids at once and make sure they're forming good habits. It's my responsibility as a parent to turn off the TV and make sure my child knows the difference between a 3 and an E.

Does this mean it's hopeless to try and improve schools and teachers? No... far from it. What I truly believe is that schools and teachers could be a lot more efficient, effective, innovative, and successful than they currently are. But, it would be a mistake to rely entirely on schools getting better to improve the existing achievement gap. I guess, if we needed to choose between improving schools and improving parenting, improving schools might be easier. But why do we need to choose? We can certainly improve the status quo of public education from both sides of the issue and would probably be more successful for it. It's time to stop ignoring the 16 hours per day when kids aren't in school and find ways to better engage parents and communities.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Setting a Higher Standard for Teacher Entry in Iowa

Setting a Higher Standard for Teacher Entry in Iowa

I am all for raising the bar. I think this plan has the flaw that it relies on colleges of education to recruit more qualified teacher candidates without changing the incentives attached to choosing teaching as a profession.