It has been a very long time since I've been able to write one of these blog posts.
The past months have been consumed with teaching, traveling, grading papers, and updating grades. Not to mention the 40 plus graduations I traveled to last weekend.
So here goes the first professional development both of the summer:
Our Kids are Drowning in Homework and Still not Learning
An interesting read from educationpost.org
According to the author, who is a mother of two young boys, there is simply too much homework . . . and they're in elementary school. I recall having very little homework in elementary school. High school? Yes. But elementary school?
Right now Cash and Kenzie both have 'homework,' but it is pretty much optional. It's designed to just reinforce the skills they are learning in school. And reading. A lot of suggested reading homework.
So far, I have no problem with this.
But I think if they were to get 2-3 hours of homework (in elementary school), that would be ridiculous.
The author makes another good claim - with all this homework, when do the kids get time to cook and eat supper, have baths, read stories before bed . . . not to mention have time to be kids?
That's a major concern for me.
But the biggest problem - as the author states in the last half of the title of her article - is that the homework doesn't seem to be helping as her kids aren't really learning anything from the homework as the high stakes test scores are still plummeting.
I see a few options here:
One, turn our public education systems over to the testing companies. They designed the tests, so why not let them design and implement the instruction too? And then . . . THEN if the test scores don't improve, who do we have to blame?
Two, chuck the high stakes tests all together. Do they really measure skills? Do they just measure test taking skills? How many adults are defined by their ACT scores (thank God I am not)? Do I need a score from NWEA or Common Core or some other organization to tell me what skills Kenzie and Cash have? Why can't I just rely on their teachers to tell me that?
Three, refine the tests. As John Merrow pointed out several years ago, for all the money we spend on testing . . . it still isn't very much in the scope of things. According to Merrow's research (linked here), Hartz spends ten times more testing their products (namely cat litter) than we do testing our kids. Which tells you just how cheap (and poor) our tests really are. It seems to me that if we teach kids anything, why not teach them how to learn and how to grow and how to lead? Let's spend money on designing tests that measure that!
And speaking of refining the tests, how about having high stakes tests that give real, legit feedback that students can actually use? So Kenzie gets an NWEA score of a 189 in reading. What does that mean? I already can tell - as an English teacher - where she will struggle (in analyzing and interpreting . . . because we ALL struggle in that area) without having a score tell me that. But what about giving her some feedback on the things she got wrong and examine why here answers were wrong and why the correct answers were right? Imagine if we did anything in the 'real' world this way. My friend, Alex, is a very successful farmer. Imagine if he planted a crop of soybeans and got a letter in the mail stating that he scored a 189 on the section he planted last month but then he got a 158 on the section he planted two weeks ago? What?
I think we have lost the true nature of education, which is to turn kids on to being life long learners. In the quest to teach "skills" we have turned tens of thousands of kids off to learning. I don't need a test to tell that. Just as a student and you'll hear it first hand.
The future belongs to the innovators. It always has. Look at the innovative efforts of our earlier pioneers, the first settlers, the early city dwellers, and on and on and on.
It wasn't until we - or so I believe - started compulsory public education to prepare masses of students for a factor/production world of work, that we saw a decline in innovators.
If that wasn't bad enough, thanks to NCLB (the last time the democrats and republicans really agree on anything), some of the last bastions for innovation (wood working, shop, and fine arts classes) were slashed in the name of boosting scores in 'core' classes: language, math, and science. Math and science, today, are very key to innovation. However, you can't force massive amounts of students to care about them. In fact, the kids who now drop out or tune out, maybe well would put up with math and science because they had shop or carpentry or small engines to look forward to. Now those classes are gone and so are our innovators.
Den Kamen is on to something here, though. No doubt about it.
Things to improve next year - a simple Google Doc to help you reflect on what worked and (most importantly) what didn't work at the end of the school year.
Usually, it's such a crazy rush at the end the year, we often don't get a chance to reflect on what we did that year. And when you wait to do it at the end of summer, we tend to forget too much.
The thing about the end of the year for teachers is that it's a mad rush. The idiotic thing that our district does is that we graduate on a Friday. Then we have three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) of graduation parties. On Monday we have half a day (mostly with free time to work in our classrooms or finish up grades). Then grades are due that very day.
If we are supposed to attend graduation parties (and I try to make as many as I can), then when on earth do we have time to grade or evaluate any final projects, many of which come in on the final day, that come in on that last week?
Are we supposed to make those final projects due a week early so we can do nothing that final week while I grade the projects? That's a waste of five school days (well, four and a half anyway).
I'd like to see a school-wide finals week. We have to give one final per class, in addition to final projects (just like college). So last semester I had College Comp 2, College Comp 1, and Lit and Lang 12.
Here's what that could look like - On Monday I have my College Comp 2 final from 11-1. Then they are done for that week. I can use that time to grade the final and evaluate any other projects that come in. On Wednesday, my CC 1 class would turn in their final papers and take a final test. I'd then have the remaining time to grade the 19 research papers by the time grades are due on Monday. To end the week, I'd have my Lit and Lang 12 final on Thursday. That would still leave me all day Friday to finish up the research papers and grade any other remaining tests.
If I taught geography, I'd use this show at least once a week. It's an interesting look at various cultures - even some American cultures - via their food and customs. My wife introduced me to it, and now I could binge watch this all summer.
If you listen to one thing this summer, give this episode of Entreleadership, feating Zoro the Drummer (that's what I thought too), a listen.
It is THAT good.