Summer Reading July 24th

It’s been almost two weeks, right? Here’s what I’ve been reading.

10 Things That Will Surprise You If You Put Kids in Charge
This top-10 list is by Jeff Sandefer of the Acton Academy in Austin, Texas. I somewhat hate-read this piece. I absolutely agree with a few of his points – kids should be able to fail early in a low-stakes environment, they care about belonging to a community, and learning cannot just be about memorizing facts. I have a lot of questions though. I wish this were a case study instead of an opinion piece pushing this school model and disdaining anything “traditional.” His “surprise #9” is that ADHD isn’t real. He says “My guess is that over half of our young heroes would have been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD in a traditional school, yet they are thriving in a learner-driven environment.” Why does he have to guess how many of the students have a diagnosis? Why didn’t their IEP’s travel? And why is the fact that they’re thriving evidence that they don’t really have ADHD? Why does he call the students “heroes” continually throughout the article?

He also says “we haven’t taught any math,” in “surprise #10” and sounds awfully smug about that. The kids are using Khan Academy instead of real live math teachers. You can read a lot of arguments about that on Dan Meyer’s blog, like here and here, basically anything with the tag “tech contrarianism.” The article cites some kid who has used just adaptive learning to master years’ worth of mathematics, but how was that measured? Shouldn’t he have someone around to provide him with something challenging and thought-provoking?

The Reason I Jump
This is just an excerpt – I read the whole book, which is quite short anyway. It’s by Naoki Higashida, an autistic person who was 13 when he wrote it. I’d suggest it to anyone who works with students on the autism spectrum. It provides insight into the experience of having autism, and it showcases that autistic students have just as much to add to any conversation, just far more barriers.

A War Worth Fighting
I just discovered Medium this week and it’s been an excellent source of interesting reading material. This piece by Courtney Bowie, an ACLU attorney, highlights the unintended consequences of school vouchers in Wisconsin. These vouchers are often being used by students already outside of the public school system, and are not helping students with disabilities.

How “Reformers” Lie About Graduation Rates
Diane Ravitch, a personal hero of mine, has a post by an anonymous New York Department of Education official. It exposes some methods used to create more flattering data. Mainly this is seen taking place at small schools created in the buildings that once housed larger public schools – Ravitch wrote about this in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. So while the data presented shows that small schools are inherently better, a closer look behind these numbers shows that they didn’t solve the problem.

Why Middle School Should be Abolished
Although the title is a little provocative, David Banks at the Daily Beast has some excellent points about middle school’s unique challenges. I’m all for it.

A Resignation Letter from a First-Year Public School Teacher in a “Bad Neighborhood”
It’s tempting to put Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s xoJane “it happened to me” piece in the category of a hate-read. It reads as though she came into the school with a savior complex (the problem this author from last time was describing) and apparently did not teach her students much content. Although it was her first year teaching, she rejected most of the curricular materials her colleagues were using in favor of emotionally-charged activities and readings. She didn’t seem to understand that putting aside students’ difficult past experiences wouldn’t be callously ignoring them, it would be situationally appropriate, and necessary for learning to occur.

But she does describe some truly troubling things about her school. For instance, a parent is shot right outside the building. Teachers and other school officials are mandatory reporters in cases of suspected neglect and abuse, yet her principal failed to act on her tips.

The principal’s apparent lack of concern for students in favor of appearances and documents would be extremely troubling for a first-year teacher who just needs to know someone is on her side. Unfortunately, especially in a large school district, a great teacher will have autonomy over her classroom, creative license in her lessons, but still have to go through the administrator-pleasing motions. Teachers do have an important role in the lives of their students of shaping them as human beings with common sense and decency, it just can’t take up “60 percent” of class time.


Summer Reading July 16th

Over the summer the amount of reading I do experiences exponential growth. I’m hoping to do a biweekly roundup of education-related reading that I found thought-provoking or helpful.

Here’s what I’ve been reading in the past 2 weeks!

To Close the Achievement Gap, We Need to Close the Teaching Gap
The Huffington Post has a great piece by Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor whose work focuses on educational equity and teacher quality. This piece highlights some of the unique challenges facing teachers in the United States. Not only do two-thirds of teachers teach at schools with over 30 percent of their students in poverty, teachers in the US have less time to collaborate and receive productive feedback. Darling-Hammond offers four concrete things schools can do to help teachers become more effective.

Rooting Out Blind Spots in the Language of Group Roles in Complex Instruction-Based Group Work
Cheesemonkey Wonders has an excellent set of roles for assigning group work. I’m excited to try these out in the fall.

When Teachers Romanticize Their Students’ Poverty
The Atlantic has a realistic yet positive reflection about teaching in the Mississippi Delta by April Bo Wang. She contrasts her romanticized expectations with the realities of her students’ situations. “There was nothing beautiful about their poverty,” she writes. “There was no way to glamorize the fact that Ty had no electricity or running water at home, that Jonathan wrestled hogs on the weekend for extra cash, or that Yaya’s relatives fought over custody of her baby to get the extra government check.” This should be required reading for all new teachers.

The War Over the Core, Ctd
Andrew Sullivan has a great summary of teachers’ unions AFT and NEA reacting to what they call the “test and punish” systems of the Common Core, Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind. Both are critical of Arne Duncan for continuing to support standardized testing, and the NEA has called for his resignation.

Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing
Also from the Atlantic, Meredith Broussard takes a look at the big data behind textbooks and standardized testing in the Philadelphia school district, one of the nation’s largest. She finds that the standardized tests are in the control of textbook publishers, whose books are not always accessible to students. These textbook companies write and score tests based on the content of their books, books that cost in some cases 3 or 4 times the schools’ budgets. I read this piece as a strong argument against standardized testing, at least in the hands of textbook publishers.

And Finally: “We’re Fine Here, How Are You?” Normal Moments in Art History Where No One is About to Get Murdered
This isn’t necessarily related to math education but it’s great and you should read it – from Mallory Ortberg at the Toast.