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Thread: Valuing Teachers

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    While I agree that there is plenty of room for improvement in American public education, it's worth noting that there *are* success stories on the international competition front. One of those stories is right here in Massachusetts. Numerous studies (here's just one example) show that MA ranks at the top of the US, and on par with top foreign countries.
    Every broadly-deployed process involving humans produces a Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes. The existence of better outcomes on the right side of a distribution says nothing about the absolute quality of the process that produced it.

    Consider a well-nourished 3-year old from a stable, supportive family who receives 15 years of personalized education from a large, dedicated set of instructors chosen for their mastery of domain knowledge/skill (art, biochemistry, Chinese, ...) understanding of developmental neuroscience, patience, and love of teaching -- all coordinated and optimized by a team leader who continuously assesses the student's progress and budding interests. Now consider twenty such students, each with their dedicated array of instructors and team leader, but with the addition of collaboration, social skills, physical skills and game play to the curriculum. The outcome achieved by this kind of educational process would be a reasonable standard against which to assess our current education system and drive its improvement.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Very interesting article. I completely agree with Hanushek about the importance of good teaching. I recently had the opportunity to hear Diane Ravitch speak at Clark University. Regarding Hanushek's statement that "An alternative might be to change a poor teacher into an average teacher. This approach is in fact today’s dominant strategy," she related that improving poor teaches is very much at the core of (top-scoring) Finland's philosophy.
    In my experience (with engineers, not teachers), there are practical limits to this. An intelligent, motivated adult can easily be encouraged to learn new skills, but it is extraordinarily difficult and distracting from the "main mission" to help a lazy adult become industrious, or a dishonest adult become trustworthy. Improving the hiring process to minimize mistakes is a far better investment of time and energy than attempting to correct those mistakes. Keeping those mistakes around while trying to rehabilitate them can demotivate the rest of the team; even worse is the damage they do to your "product" before you either cure them or terminate them.

    Today's K-12 educational system already has two conflicting objectives: education and day care. Adding "reform poor teachers" as a third objective would be heading in the wrong direction.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    John, you err when you mistake process deficiencies with educational outcomes. As much as it would seem that you want the education that Wayland's delivers to be flawed so that your white knights can come in and fix it, there simply isn't evidence that supports this assertion. Our test scores remain strong. The colleges that our students attend continue to be high quality. And our anecdotal accomplishments occur with the same frequency that they have for decades.

    Wayland ranks among the best districts in the state. Massachusetts ranks among the best state in the nation, and in so doing, among the best in the world. Is there room for improvement? Most certainly. I can't speak to the Wayland Public Schools before Bill Zimmerman took over as Superintendent in the early 1970s, but since that time, he and Gary Burton have done well for our students. I have no doubt that Dr. Stein will continue this tradition of success.
    Getting from "where we are" to "where we need to be" is an incredible challenge. The last thing we need are defenses of the status quo.

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    John, school districts compete. They compete for students and they compete for teachers. Everything that I've seen in observing many school districts for the last decade-plus supports the assertion that most educators are working hard to improve their students' learning. And yes, John, my opinion is irrelevant when evidence supports a contrary conclusion.

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    Dave, I've repeatedly said that there is lots of room for improvement, whether that's in Wayland specifically or in American public education in general. I don't see how countering someone's unfounded charges against our schools is "defending the status quo" in any negative way--I call it "setting the record straight."

    I'll even put my money where my mouth is--here are some specific areas where I'd like to see Wayland improve (which is not to necessarily say that we're doing a bad job, just that there's room for improvement).

    • Evaluating, improving, and mentoring teachers
    • Teaching early literacy (too many of our students aren't proficient in reading by the end of third grade)
    • Integrating educational technology
    • Implementing better accounting procedures (the Abrahams Group reports)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    While I'm a big fan of continuous individual assessment, I'm not sure that it's necessary in this case. The evidence is overwhelming that children can learn not just a first language, but also at least a second, well before they enter Kindergarten.
    Without continuous personal assessment, you are forced to rely on generalizations based on chronological age that have proven to be inaccurate for a significant fraction of students; how would you identify and support the student capable of learning 4 languages at age 3, or the student whose language acquisition capabilities don't appear until age 9?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, I've repeatedly said that there is lots of room for improvement, whether that's in Wayland specifically or in American public education in general. I don't see how countering someone's unfounded charges against our schools is "defending the status quo" in any negative way--I call it "setting the record straight."

    I'll even put my money where my mouth is--here are some specific areas where I'd like to see Wayland improve (which is not to necessarily say that we're doing a bad job, just that there's room for improvement).
    Against the standard I suggested in a post earlier in this thread, our schools are not just doing a bad job, they're doing a terrible job. Like its predecessors in this thread, your post above is largely defensive.

  6. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Without continuous personal assessment, you are forced to rely on generalizations based on chronological age that have proven to be inaccurate for a significant fraction of students; how would you identify and support the student capable of learning 4 languages at age 3, or the student whose language acquisition capabilities don't appear until age 9?
    As things currently stand, the schools don't have a role in assessing the foreign language capabilities of 3-year olds. As for the 9-year old, as I said, I'm a fan of assessment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Against the standard I suggested in a post earlier in this thread, our schools are not just doing a bad job, they're doing a terrible job. Like its predecessors in this thread, your post above is largely defensive.
    I went back through the thread--it's not clear to me to what standard you're referring. And it's not clear to me when you write "our schools" whether you're referring to Wayland, Massachusetts, the United States, or some other grouping.

    Getting defensive when others get offensive is the American way.

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The last thing we need are defenses of the status quo.
    Dave has touched on what, IMHO, is THE biggest problem in Wayland.

    We need to acknowledge our mistakes - not just the cursory, "Oh, sure, we're not perfect, but just look at our reputation". But to actually own up to the fact that we've made some major blunders - the reconfiguration and the laissez faire attitude about the school budget come to mind. In the case of the former, the committee should come out and acknowledge and apologize for what is considered by most to have been a colossal mistake that was done for political reasons and which led to gross (and completely unnecessary) overcrowding, that we continue to live with because the committee is more concerned with saving face than it is with doing the right thing.

    And with the budget, they should be equally humble and acknowledge that the problems that the Abrahams Report uncovers (as well as those that it doesn't) are due to the fact that they were asleep at the wheel. They should be anxious to do anything they can to follow all of the recommendations of the report and to dig even deeper to uncover any and all problems and to immediately bring in additional help for Geoff MacDonald who is doing the best he can under nearly impossible circumstances.

    Will they do theses things?
    Past history would suggest that they will not and will instead go on defending the status quo.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  9. #24
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    Ah, John, I knew you could be counted on to once again prove Wayland's version of Godwin's Law to be true.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I went back through the thread--it's not clear to me to what standard you're referring.
    This:

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Consider a well-nourished 3-year old from a stable, supportive family who receives 15 years of personalized education from a large, dedicated set of instructors chosen for their mastery of domain knowledge/skill (art, biochemistry, Chinese, ...) understanding of developmental neuroscience, patience, and love of teaching -- all coordinated and optimized by a team leader who continuously assesses the student's progress and budding interests. Now consider twenty such students, each with their dedicated array of instructors and team leader, but with the addition of collaboration, social skills, physical skills and game play to the curriculum. The outcome achieved by this kind of educational process would be a reasonable standard against which to assess our current education system and drive its improvement.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    And it's not clear to me when you write "our schools" whether you're referring to Wayland, Massachusetts, the United States, or some other grouping.
    All of the above.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Getting defensive when others get offensive is the American way.
    Getting defensive is a sure sign of a weak position.

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Every broadly-deployed process involving humans produces a Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes. The existence of better outcomes on the right side of a distribution says nothing about the absolute quality of the process that produced it.

    Consider a well-nourished 3-year old from a stable, supportive family who receives 15 years of personalized education from a large, dedicated set of instructors chosen for their mastery of domain knowledge/skill (art, biochemistry, Chinese, ...) understanding of developmental neuroscience, patience, and love of teaching -- all coordinated and optimized by a team leader who continuously assesses the student's progress and budding interests. Now consider twenty such students, each with their dedicated array of instructors and team leader, but with the addition of collaboration, social skills, physical skills and game play to the curriculum. The outcome achieved by this kind of educational process would be a reasonable standard against which to assess our current education system and drive its improvement.
    Dave, thanks for clarifying the standard you were intending to raise. To be sure, the picture that you paint is an attractive one, and one to which all educators, students, families, and community members should aspire. I don't know how often this standard is reached in the best schools internationally (less often than more, I suspect). Regardless, I don't agree that failing to meet this standard makes one "terrible."

    To your point about the "Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes," aren't educators subject to the same effect? No different from any professional, educators are outputs of a pre-service and in-service training system. Are you suggesting that the median educator can meet this standard? What about the least effective educator?

    And let's not forget the students. Even in advantaged towns such as Wayland, every student doesn't have the benefit of the family environment you describe.

    Alan, thank you for being able to disagree without being disagreeable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, thanks for clarifying the standard you were intending to raise. To be sure, the picture that you paint is an attractive one, and one to which all educators, students, families, and community members should aspire. I don't know how often this standard is reached in the best schools internationally (less often than more, I suspect).
    I'd be shocked if you could cite any school with at least 20 students that reaches 10% of the suggested standard.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Regardless, I don't agree that failing to meet this standard makes one "terrible."
    This is a critical point of disagreement. Particularly when seeking to effect change in a large system, it is essential to set highly aggressive goals, and broadly syndicate those goals among all stakeholders (teachers, parents, administrators, agencies, government bodies, students, etc.). Openly acknowledging just how far short of these goals the current system now stands is an essential part of the motivation. In such an endeavor, pulling punches and sugar-coating -- "we're not terrible", "our test scores are in the top 10% in our state ", etc. -- is highly counterproductive. Against the standard suggested above, I suspect that most schools -- including Wayland's -- would rank in the low single digits.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    To your point about the "Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes," aren't educators subject to the same effect? No different from any professional, educators are outputs of a pre-service and in-service training system. Are you suggesting that the median educator can meet this standard? What about the least effective educator?
    You missed the point. Defending Wayland's schools by citing the fact that its test scores are a few percentage points higher than other schools in the area is like defending a silicon transistor that can switch 1.1 billion times per second whose brethren are limited to switching 1 billion times per second -- ignoring the fact that the standard is set by devices that can switch trillions of times per second. When your goal is to improve by a factor of 100, citing a 10% superiority over the local competition is not only irrelevant, it provides a convenient excuse for deferring aggressive action and thereby helps preserve the status quo.

    Said another way, one can incrementally improve some instances of a system by 10%, but this is generally irrelevant when the goal is a 100x improvement. Borrowing from Sagan, "It's like trying to reach the stars by climbing a tree; you'll make progress for awhile, but you'll never get there".

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    And let's not forget the students. Even in advantaged towns such as Wayland, every student doesn't have the benefit of the family environment you describe.
    Correct. What I suggested is a standard against which all schools should be measured, independent of "initial conditions" like nutrition, supportive parental interaction, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Alan, thank you for being able to disagree without being disagreeable.
    Alan doesn't live here any more, but I'll convey the compliment.

  13. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Regardless, I don't agree that failing to meet this standard makes one "terrible."
    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    This is a critical point of disagreement. Particularly when seeking to effect change in a large system, it is essential to set highly aggressive goals, and broadly syndicate those goals among all stakeholders (teachers, parents, administrators, agencies, government bodies, students, etc.). Openly acknowledging just how far short of these goals the current system now stands is an essential part of the motivation.
    You'll note that I have in no way disagreed with you on this.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    In such an endeavor, pulling punches and sugar-coating -- "we're not terrible", "our test scores are in the top 10% in our state ", etc. -- is highly counterproductive.
    Your opinion. I disagree. If we don't measure where we are, the task of getting where we want to go is all the more difficult. Moreover, there's a human psychology component to making progress. If we paint too bleak a picture (especially when we do so unfairly), we may discourage those upon whom we depend to help effect change.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    You'll note that I have in no way disagreed with you on this.
    I'd say that your statement below about painting bleak pictures exemplifies our disagreement on this point.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Your opinion. I disagree. If we don't measure where we are, the task of getting where we want to go is all the more difficult.
    Yes we must measure, but against an aggressive objective like the standard I suggested.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Moreover, there's a human psychology component to making progress. If we paint too bleak a picture (especially when we do so unfairly), we may discourage those upon whom we depend to help effect change.
    No one is painting pictures, Jeff. I suggested a standard against which most schools rate in the low single digits. You haven't argued that this standard is unattainable, or provided evidence that my assessment of today's schools against that standard is low by a significant factor. Your choice of words -- "bleak", "unfairly" -- suggests that you are more concerned with optics than results. In my experience, people with the qualities required to effect broad-scale change in large systems are in fact motivated and energized by a complete understanding the scope and the stakes; those discouraged by reality are generally a drag on progress, and are best politely shunted to the sidelines.

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    Dave, when you call our schools terrible, you paint a picture. And when our schools are not in fact terrible (Wayland ranks among the best in Massachusetts, Massachusetts tops the US and ranks among the best in the world), your unwarranted slight runs the risk of harming the effort to make the very change for which you're advocating. In my opinion, you are too quick to discount the impact of human nature.

    A question about your standard--are you proposing to measure the outputs (what is learned), or just the inputs (who teaches, what is taught)? I didn't find your description to be clear on this point.

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