Teacher Shortages Become More Acute

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

Valarie Strauss at The Washington Post writes about the teacher shortages every state is facing this school year, a problem that has become acute in recent years.

An excerpt:

Teacher shortages are nothing new — most states have reported some since data started being kept more than 25 years ago — but the problem has grown more acute in recent years as the profession has been hit with low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.

According to a 2016 report by the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, teacher education enrollment dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35 percent reduction, between 2009 and 2014, the latest year for which there is data. And there are high levels of attrition, with nearly 8 percent of the teaching workforce leaving every year, the majority before retirement age.

She lists the five key factors that the Learning Policy Institute cited in their report:

The Learning Policy Institute report found five key factors that influence whether a teacher decides to enter, remain in or leave the profession: salaries and other compensation; preparation and costs to entry; hiring and personnel management; induction and support for new teachers; and working conditions, including school leadership, professional collaboration and shared decision-making, accountability systems, and resources for teaching and learning.

Read her whole article here.

Like Strauss said this has been a problem for years, but it has become worse over the years. I can’t help notice the spike between 2009 through 2014. What was introduced? What changed?

While there isn’t empirical evidence to point to this as the cause I believe Common Core along with the accompanying assessments has been a factor. The Learning Policy Institute cites working conditions – I have heard from numerous teachers they no longer feel like they are in control of their classrooms. Also linking teacher evaluations to assessments impacts morale among teachers.

We’ve seen the 2014 teacher of the year call it quits over Common Core. Elementary school teachers have struggled with Common Core math. Another teacher in Colorado is just another example of teachers who have left the profession over Common Core.

We have no idea how many have decided they do not want to enter the profession because of top-down education reforms. I’m sure it isn’t an insignificant issue.

Big Data Laid Bare

student-photo-privacyValarie Strauss at the Washington Post last Thursday shared a guest article by Leonie Haimson and Cheri Kiesecker with the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

It’s pretty eye-opening for those who are not familiar about privacy issues in the public school system.

An excerpt:

Most student data is gathered at school via multiple routes; either through children’s online usage or information provided by parents, teachers or other school staff. A student’s education record generally includes demographic information, including race, ethnicity, and income level; discipline records, grades and test scores, disabilities and Individual Education Plans (IEPs), mental health and medical history, counseling records and much more.

Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), medical and counseling records that are included in your child’s education records are unprotected by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress in 1996). Thus, very sensitive mental and physical health information can be shared outside of the school without parent consent.

Many parents first became aware of how widely their children’s personal data is being shared with third parties of all sorts when the controversy erupted over inBloom in 2012, the $100 million corporation funded by the Gates Foundation. Because of intense parent opposition, inBloom closed its doors in 2014, but in the process, parents discovered that inBloom was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the federal government and the Gates Foundation have been assisting the goal of amassing and disclosing personal student data in many other ways.

Ten organizations joined together, funded by the Gates Foundation, to create the Data Quality Campaign in 2005, with the following objectives:

  • Fully develop high-quality longitudinal data systems in every state by 2009;
  • Increase understanding and promote the valuable uses of longitudinal and financial data to improve student achievement; and
  • Promote, develop, and use common data standards and efficient data transfer and exchange.

Since that time, the federal government has mandated that every state collect personal student information in the form of longitudinal databases, called Student Longitudinal Data Systems or SLDS, in which the personal information for each child is compiled and tracked from birth or preschool onwards, including medical information, survey data, and data from many state agencies such as the criminal justice system, child services, and health departments.

A state’s SLDS, or sometimes called a P20 database (pre-K to 20 years of age), P12, or B-20 (data tracking from birth), have been paid for partly through federal grants awarded in five rounds of funding from 2005-2012. Forty-seven of 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, have received at least one SLDS grant.

Although Alabama, Wyoming and New Mexico are not included on the site linked to above, Alabama’s governor recently declared by executive order that “Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System is hereby created to match information about students from early learning through postsecondary education and into employment.” Wyoming uses a data dictionary, Fusion, that includes information from birth. New Mexico’s technology plan shows that they moved their P-20 SLDS to production status in 2014 and will expand in 2015. This site run by the Data Quality Campaign tracks each state’s SLDS.

Valarie’s headline is appropriate as the amount of data being collected on our kids is astonishing… Actually disturbing is probably a better word.  Be sure to read the whole piece as they give parents advice on how to address this.

One College Refuses to Accept College Entrance Exams

Hampshire College - Amherst, MAPhoto credit: Kevin Rutherford (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Hampshire College – Amherst, MA
Photo credit: Kevin Rutherford (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Hampshire College in Amherst, MA decided last year to not accept ACT or SAT scores from students seeking admissions. As a result U.S. News and World Report has dropped the school from their rankings.

Valarie Strauss published a guest piece from the school’s president, Jonathan Lash, that explains why they made that decision.

We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the “test-optional” policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation.

We weighed other factors in our decision:

• Standardized test scores do not predict a student’s success at our college.

• SATs/ACTs are strongly biased against low-income students and students of color, at a time when diversity is critical to our mission.

• We surveyed our students and learned not one of them had considered rankings when choosing to apply to colleges; instead they most cared about a college’s mission.

• Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry. Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student.

• We’ve developed much better, fairer ways to assess students who will thrive at our college.

This is a different approach from test-optional schools that some have accused these schools as using this as a way to become more exclusive under the guise of being more diverse.  The Hechinger Report published this accusation last August:

After all, research has shown that standardized tests such as the SAT often put low-income and minority students at a disadvantage. Low-income students, unlike their more affluent peers, don’t have the money to spend on expensive test-prep classes that teach tricks students can use to increase their scores. Therefore, it would appear that low-income and minority students would have a better chance of being admitted at test-optional schools.

In practice, however, colleges have used these policies to become even more exclusive than they previously were. Here’s how schools do it: by freeing prospective students from having to provide SAT and ACT scores, they tend to attract more applicants, many of whom may have scored poorly on the tests. (The University of Georgia study found that these schools “receive approximately 220 more applications, on average, after adopting a test-optional policy.”) For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.

In addition, by going test-optional, schools can artificially inflate the average SAT and ACT scores that they report to magazines that rank colleges, such as U.S. News & World Report.

They may be the case for some, but it doesn’t appear one can accuse Hampshire College of this since they are not taking them all together and they’re being dropped from the rankings.

White House Thankful for Bush’s Common Core Efforts

A former White House official, Dan Pfeiffer, tweeted last week during the Fox News GOP debate:

I’m sure that is a tweet former Florida Governor Jeb Bush would love to scrub that tweet from the internet. Pfeiffer, currently a CNN contributor, was a senior advisor to President Barack Obama for strategy and communications.

Bush has been trying to back away from previous statements about Common Core.  Valarie Strauss at The Washington Post summarized the progression:

A few years ago Bush had no problem speaking harshly about Common Core critics. For example, in October 2013, he told an audience at his Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual conference:

“What I want to hear from them is more than just opposition. I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools…. Criticisms and conspiracy theories are easy attention grabbers. Solutions are hard work.”

After he became a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, he began to offer far more nuanced support for the Core and was much kinder to its critics. In May 2015, he told Fox News host Megyn Kelly:

“Common Core means a lot of things to different people, so they could be right based on what’s in front of them. I respect people having a view, but the simple fact is we need higher standards. They need to be state driven. The federal government should play no role in this, either in the creation of standards, content or curriculum. That’s what I believe. And if we don’t have high standards and assess to them faithfully, we get what we have today which is about a third of our kids being college and/or career ready. And by the way, we spend more per student than any other country in the world other than two or three countries.”

During the Aug. 6 debate, Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked Bush to defend his support of the Common Core State Standards. Some in the audience at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland booed when he said “Common Core,” and Bush gave a careful answer:

“I’m for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion. And I know how to do this because as governor of the state of Florida I created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second statewide voucher program in the country and the third statewide voucher program in the country.”

I’ve already addressed Bush’s current rhetoric.  If you’d like to see an analysis of that you can go here.

Teaching Literature as Teaching Particular Concepts and Skills

Will Common Core kill students' love of reading?Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Will Common Core kill students’ love of reading?
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Valarie Strauss highlighted a disturbing quote from this New York Times article entitled, “English Class in the Common Core Era: ‘Tom Sawyer’ and Court Opinions.”

“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”

Teaching particular concepts and skills is not teaching literature as Strauss points out:

Concepts are general notions, abstract ideas; a skill is a particular ability. Isn’t there more? How about teaching literature so students can learn to examine (not conform to) societal values, expand world views, understand their own and different cultures, appreciate the beauty of strong, eloquent language, develop emotional intelligence?

Literature is a mirror that reflects a society’s values, behaviors, history and culture. Teachers with any hope of capturing students’ attention and getting them engaged in reading Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Faulkner have to think beyond skills and concepts.

Yes you do.  This approach to literature isn’t much better than kids just reading Cliff Notes or Spark Notes on a book and calling it a day.

Race to the Top Loses All Funding in ‘Cromnibus’

Photo credit: UpstateNYer (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: UpstateNYer (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Personally I’m not a fan of huge spending bills of any type.  That said, Valarie Strauss pointed out the silver lining for me, when she reported that Race to the Top lost all its funding in 2015.

In fiscal year 2014, Race to the Top was given $250 million, according to this legislation summary, for competitive awards to states to develop or grow early childhood programs for children from low- and moderate-income families.  Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal included $300 million for a proposed “Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.” While Race to the Top gets no funding in the 2015 omnibus bill, the administration’s Preschool Development Grants program gets $250 million for 2015.

The House and Senate congressional summaries of education-related funding in the 2015 omnibus bill highlight different things. The Republican-led House notes that Race to the Top is being eliminated, while the Senate version doesn’t mention it. And while the Senate version notes the $250 million for Preschool Development Funds, the House version says that “the bill does not include the creation of a new account to fund preschool grants.”

Granted the damage from Race to the Top has already been done, and who knows how the Preschool Development funds will be distributed and decided, I am happy to see the funding gone.