Monday, August 18, 2014

Again, what is a school to do?

I was prompted to write earlier following news reports of a three year-old's repeated preschool suspensions. I was reminded of a situation where I was forced to expel a young student for his behaviors. He was only five.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What is a school to do?

There have been a number of shock / horror stories and reactions to a recent story about a three year-old who has been suspended from preschool five times. All have focused on his age and his color. None that I have seen have considered the position in which the teacher(s) and school have found themselves.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Vahey report

The report of the UK investigation into the Vahey affair has been released and points the finger at the school's recruitment processes. Conducted by a non-educator and someone who has never been a school principal, the report reportedly states that a major failing was in not taking references prior to interview. The effect? More procedures which will require checking of boxes and shift attention away to what really went wrong at all the schools involved.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A governance mis-step

To succeed, a school must have and fill a niche, aka its "mission". At the same time, as I write elsewhere, the Board must know its role and not become inappropriately involved. The following tale shows how true this is.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inaccurate resumes

I read today about the economics of fake degrees which reminded me of a former colleague with a fake resume. He is the head of a prestigious independent school and by all accounts is doing well. However, when I looked him up on LinkedIn, I noticed two inaccuracies. One was a gross exaggeration. The other was simply untrue.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Officially present

A common complaint from examination teachers, especially those teaching IB: students miss many of their classes due to college visits, community service, fieldwork for other subjects, music or sports trips and so on. However, these students are "present" because these are official school activities. One colleague who keeps his own attendance records tells me he has students who missed more than 60% of his classes because of such activities. Their report cards show perfect attendance.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Don't fix what ain't broke

This story comes from another independent school, in this case large, well-established and highly regarded. In fact, two years before the incident below its director was named "Superintendent of the Year". All was going well until a new parent representative was elected to the Board.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Assessment for the Common Core

First and foremost, Common Core is neither a curriculum nor an assessment. Teachers and schools decide what they teach, and how, and when (curriculum), and the decide how to measure the effectiveness of these decisions (assessment).

(The sad reality is that both are too often delegated to publishers, and so teachers and schools become merely delivery vectors, but that is another subject.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Teacher Selection

As a principal, I was successful at hiring good teachers who were also good fits. Of the staff I hired, more than 90% were great or fantastic. Of the rest, one continued to be pleasant and urbane but also a non-producer, one allowed her fundamental religious beliefs to take over in her third year and two or three others were just average. Only one was truly bad and I still believe it was spousal pressure which led to his dramatic performance failures.

My hiring successes were the result of the hiring process I followed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Not the Board's business #3

Same thing, different story. A Board member forgets his role, involves himself in operational matters, and all ends up badly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Value in teaching creative writing?

I know many colleagues disagree with me when I say I believe there is no value in "teaching" creative writing and lessons devoted to creative writing are not a good use of limited instructional time. Before you leave me and go to the next blog, please allow me to explain. I take this position because I do not believe creativity can be taught.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Teacher Pay Scales

I wrote earlier about a school's pay structure and was asked to explain it. The independent school's structure had three elements: a base salary, annual service increments, and responsibility stipends. The base salary was the same for all teachers and was high enough to be locally attractive. No extra was paid for qualifications and experience, an idea now gaining some currency. All hires had to have degrees and certification, even the preschool teachers, and four to ten years' experience. A teacher was hired to do a job, and his/her background, including qualifications and experience, suited him/her for that post.

Friday, July 11, 2014

One teacher's dislike of Common Core

I read today of teacher concerns over Common Core and was reminded of a teacher we hired a few years ago. Our independent school was rated 'A' in the state, and 'A' in math. "Jo" was a math specialist in a public school rated C/D for Math and wanted the opportunity to work in a high-performing department

Can a bad teacher be good?

I wrote elsewhere that bad teaching is more likely a leadership fault rather than a teacher's. I do believe in individual responsibility, and bad teaching may indeed be the result of a bad teacher. Equally, it may be the result of other factors, and a good leader will also consider these when making his/her evaluation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Donations - cash or in kind?

Non-profit schools often receive donations of stuff. Sometimes they are things the donor no longer wants but sees value therein and does not want to throw away. Sometimes the donor sees a need and goes and buys something. Either way, the donor thinks s/he is doing good, but is it good for the school?

Not the Board's business #2

Board members too often cross the boundary from oversight and strategy into operational matters. The Board's concern must be limited only to whether an appropriate policy exists, and whether the policy is followed. What might happen when a Board member forgets this?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Are lesson observations worthwhile?

The prevailing orthodoxy is that the best way of assessing a teacher's performance, whether for appraisal or evaluation, is through observing him/her teaching. The idea is that the teacher provides a lesson plan according to state or district requirements for a pre-announced visit, often to a class and at a time chosen by that teacher. An impartial observer watches the lesson, and compares it both to the lesson plan and to some behavior-checklist which defines effective teaching. Post-lesson counseling then guides the teacher to some higher plane of practice. I disagree.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Board relationships

Another in my accidental series of Board misjudgments. A small independent school's elementary principal was having problems with a young, male and somewhat charismatic male teacher. "Joe" arrived late, did not plan, called vulnerable students names, failed to attend meetings. So the principal began to apply pressure.

Another Board misstep

Following my earlier post about Board members not knowing their roles comes this story. By virtue of their position, and to help them make informed decisions, Board members are privy to information which should remain confidential. Problems arise when it does not.

Master Teacher Update

Since I wrote my earlier comment on the Master Teacher idea, President Obama has come out with his own. His idea is to re-assign "good" teachers to high-needs schools; his thinking is that if a teacher succeeds here, s/he will succeed there. I have with two, related, reasons this is the wrong approach.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Is tenure a good thing?

I have written elsewhere on evaluation and on "bad" teachers (and also here). So what do I think of tenure? Like everything in discussions of education, I think the answer is complicated. However I do think that having tenure and arguing about tenure allows for a shift in the argument away from what matters.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A bad teacher?

Several colleagues who have read my comments on Teacher Supervision, Evaluation, Merit Pay, have asked me if I think there is such a thing as a "bad teacher". Yes, I do. I have worked with bad teachers, too many frankly, and yet I hesitate to label someone as "bad". My concerns are over definitions, and thus measurement, and blame. I believe that a "bad teacher" may be less common than we think, and is invariably the result of bad leadership.

Master Teacher

So the latest proposal out of England on improving teacher quality is to create a "Master Teacher". Although lacking detail, the idea is that superior teachers would be encouraged and rewarded to stay in the classroom. What could go wrong?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The problem with English

Full disclosure - I started out as a High School English teacher. I also had certification in Middle School English, MS / HS Math and MS/HS Physical Education, and I later gained ESL / Sheltered English / ESP qualifications. However, it was only when I became a principal that I realized the problem with English.


I saw this graphic today and it reminded of a number of conversations I had a few years ago with prospective parents when I was leading a school. More recently, I did some consulting for a group of parents who wanted to set up a specific type of school. All were women, many characterized themselves as hard-core feminists and some were in same-sex female relationships. The link? All were seeking a "boy-friendly" program, and all shared the view that teaching and learning today is weighted against boys.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Merit Pay

Every few days, another proposal for performance-rated pay for teachers pops up, sometimes in concert with claims that schools should be run more like a business. (Actually, I agree with that although almost certainly not in the way intended by the speaker.) That good workers should earn more than poor workers does seem appealing. However, when re-phrased as "more pay for better performance", alarm bells should ring. Good teachers should be paid more, significantly more, and at the same time, dismissing weaker teachers should be much simpler. I do not believe that merit pay for teachers can ever succeed.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hiring a Pedophile

The international education press, in particular the British, has been agog with news of the recent suicide of an international school teacher. This American teacher worked since 1972 in nine countries, despite a 1969 arrest for child-related sex offenses. He was outed accidentally after he fired his cleaner who took a flash-drive in retaliation, on which she discovered disturbing images. This led to his suicide. Apparently, for many years, in many schools and involving many students he had been drugging and molesting students in his care and recording it. No-one had known, or nothing had been done.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teacher Appraisal or Evaluation

A California court has struck down their teacher tenure rules as being "unconstitutional". Apparently, bad teachers are protected by tenure and so it follows that students of these teachers do not receive the education guaranteed under the state's constitution. Considerable public discussion has included assertions of "bad" teachers and "bad" teaching, presupposing a mechanism for determining "bad".

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Local schools

Pundits often claim that the strength of US public education lies in "local control", meaning locally-elected school boards, with members reflecting their communities, which are locally-funded through locally-set levies and taxes. This is a myth. The only truly local schools are independent schools.

Confidentiality Agreement

I received a Comment today about the following scenario. "Joe" is a school head who last year took a position leading a school, one of a group of schools. When he arrived at his new post, he found he had been largely misled, and in several respects lied to. The real situation in his new school, and in the group, as a whole ranged from mediocre to terrible, unethical and perhaps even unlawful.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How not to respond to a parent concern

A report from a parent at another school: A student was injured at football practice and his head hit the ground, hard. When he got up, he told the teacher he felt dizzy. The published policy says that in such a case, depending on severity either the student should be sent accompanied to the nurse or the student should not be moved and the nurse summoned. Instead, the teacher told him to "walk it off". That night, the student went by ambulance to the ER and a mild concussion was diagnosed.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Not the Board's business #1

Another story about a Board becoming involved in a school's operations with the inevitable and costly results. Heads and faculty run schools; Boards do not. Boards set the strategic direction and overall policies,  provide funding (ie, through fundraising) and employ the Head, their only employee. So what happened this time?

A sample lesson based on a Common Core standard

I strongly believe that teaching and learning is context-dependent, thus who, where and when matter. Accordingly, I do not agree with standard or one-size-fits-all or textbook-driven lessons which so plague our public schools, and demand for which is behind much Common Core criticism. Yes, Common Core forces teachers to plan lessons and to take into account who they teach, what their students know, what they are like and so on. Yes, Common Core forces a significant change for many teachers and in many schools.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Neighborhood schools

I recently read a highly indignant, even condemnatory, article about a child who applied to her neighborhood school and was not accepted. The cause of the indignation? She was a twin and while she was not accepted, her sister made the cut.

Are private schools unaccountable?

Non-public ("private") school detractors, who are typically public school boosters, often claim that such schools are inherently evil / amoral / wicked because they are not "accountable" in the same way as are public schools. While in a very narrow sense this may be true, it in nonetheless rubbish.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Choosing a school

We had a lively faculty lounge conversation today about the best way to choose a school for your child / family. The consensus was you should keep in mind you will never get everything you want. The best you can hope for is to get most of what you want most of the time. Shoot any higher and you are guaranteed to meet disappointment at best.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A ban on American texts?

Initial reports in the British press declared that the government banned US authors from national end-of-compulsory-education (Grade 10) examinations for students in England. Subsequent reports show that the changes were less sweeping and more nuanced. But why would such a thing have been considered?

Electronic Media

"The average young person from 8 to 19 now spends literally every waking moment outside of school on the Internet, watching TV, listening to music on MP3 players, texting, or using some other electronic device average of seven and a half hours daily ... Those who spent the most time consuming media had markedly poorer grades and more behavioral problems." (Kaiser Foundation reported in The Week Vol 10 Iss 449)

First time tutoring

Today a young (ish) colleague asked me if I had ever done any tutoring. I have, but that's another story. She wants to offer private lessons for extra cash and asked for some pointers. Her first challenge? She was totally unsure about what tutoring is. In other words, she has no idea.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Core is not a Curriculum

Let me start by saying that I think the Common Core is a "good thing". It establishes a set of standards against which students, schools, districts, states, and the nation can be measured. So why is it apparently controversial?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Are all Private Schools the same?

Something on the radio caught my attention. The speaker was raging against non-public education and throughout the interview, lumped all non-public schools together. I have worked in both public and non-public schools and know there are different types of public schools: traditional, K-3, K-6, magnet, charter, GATE etc. There are also different types of non-public schools.

Why is Community Service controversial?

I don't understand why student community service is so often challenged or why it is not seen as something positive. Even when renamed "service learning" so as to emphasize the educational benefits, it is still controversial.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Swearing or mobile devices?

When I started teaching, an argument raged over whether to allow students to use their "natural" language in class. This paralleled discussions on the use ebonics, local dialects, slang and profanity. The consensus was that students learn and use their "natural" language anyway and they do so outside the classroom. They needed us, teachers, schools and curriculum, to learn more formal styles, a wider vocabulary and a more complex grammar.

Islamic Trojan Horses

If you read the British press recently, you saw regular front-page stories about "Islamic Trojan Horse" schools. Apparently, some muslim radicals hatched a plan to put their people onto school boards and then to use those people and/or parent pressure to make life so difficult for principals that they resign.

Missing Posts

I have just noticed my posts for the last year and a half have disappeared, undoubtedly because of something I did while playing around with the formatting options offered to we amateurs by blogger. I do have some of the missing posts in draft form which I will re-post. The others are sadly gone, but if anyone notices something they liked or which they linked to has gone, please let me know.

Is certification needed?

So US charter schools and UK academies / free schools are able to hire anyone they see fit as teachers, or as responsible adults in charge of young people. Some make much of this, claiming that this allows these schools to make "better" appointments and which should be extended to all schools.