Cautionary note on our New Years’ resolutions

…let’s embrace progress and always be on the lookout for what else we can do better, but not at the expense of building on what we already have.


It’s beautiful January in our fair land and that means a few things – resolutions are in full gear, and folks (educators included) are in search of the “latest” and “newest” to implement in the spirit of new beginnings. That’s all well and great, seriously – I love change & progress more than most, but take it from someone who maybe loves it a little too much: Sometimes, it’s better to just stick with what you’ve got.

Here’s what I mean: If you’ve given something (say, a new small group reading intervention) a try for a while now and it’s not working, let your New Years resolution mentality kick-in and change it up. However, education is hard, and sometimes the long-road is the right road. And, sometimes, that road is boring. When the road gets boring, we can convince ourselves that things like resolutions and overhauls are the way to go.

In fact, education is fraught with examples of jumping on the latest and greatest, only to discontinue what we were doing last year. Last year, maybe we dumped a ton of money and PD time into direct instruction. That didn’t fix everything, so now we aren’t really doing that much, and have jumped on single-gender education. After a year, that probably won’t fix everything, so maybe we’ll become enamored with year-round education, or charters, or maybe we’ll put balanced literacy back in the rotation.

All tongue-and-cheek commentary aside, let’s realize that what we do is hard. We aren’t going to teach everything, fix everything, or inspire everyone. And when we do, we might not even know it, or know it for a long time. So, let’s embrace progress and always be on the lookout for what else we can do better, but not at the expense of building on what we already have.

Should We Let 3rd Graders Decide Educational Policy?

I thoroughly believe in listening to students, even when it comes to things like state tests.

Note: This article has been cross-published on

First, let me state unequivocally that I care what students think about education. We should ask them frequently, and incorporate that feedback. Diane Ravitch, in a recent blog post, seemed to advocate though that we should allow students to actively make decisions about intricate elements of educational practice and policy independently.

More specifically, she praised a 3rd grader for, independently, opting out of state testing. She trusted his professional opinion about which elements of education to take part in. It’s not hard to see where I’m going with this.

Ravitch supporters have supported her historically by claiming that she using hyperbole to drive home messages. My critiques of her less-than-professional use of hyperbole aside, it’s hard to make a case that this falls into that category. She’s straight out suggesting that if a 3rd grader doesn’t like something, he shouldn’t have to do it.

So, start rolling your eyes – here’s where I state the obvious. Sammy is allowed to opt out of state tests, what about guided reading groups? Science lab? School discipline practices? Special education? Physical Education?

Clearly, again stating the obvious here, a 3rd grader doesn’t have the skills, experience, or cognitive maturity to understand the complexity of state tests. Say what you will, stand on whichever side of the line you prefer, but it isn’t simple enough for a 3rd grader to understand thoroughly.

Again, returning to my first point – I thoroughly believe in listening to students, even when it comes to things like state tests. But, under no circumstances should a a 3rd grader be given the power to make big-time educational decisions he can’t possibly understand.

The better question here is why Diane Ravitch could possibly think this is a good idea? Truthfully, I don’t think she probably does. She’s a smart woman – I’m sure she sees the logic in what I’m saying here. My best guess is that this makes for good press, and what is clear is that she’ll stop at nothing to get her message out and gain readers – after all, she recently blogged about her success with gaining 21 million page views.. This is fine, but not if you start publishing nonsense to get a reaction.

The problem, not just with this blog post, is that people will eventually catch on to your methods and stop taking you seriously. Most of her followers seems to die-hard pro-teacher-at-any-cost supporters who refuse to acknowledge a single valid point that is not their own. They refuse to acknowledge complexity or nuance of arguments, perspectives, or educational policy. Anything suggested by the Gates foundation must be wrong, anything ever accomplished by a non-non-profit or school must have a secret agenda.

I’ll end by saying what I’ve said plenty of times before – I’m probably more on Diane’s side of the argument more than I’m not. She has some good things to say, but doesn’t generally find a good way of saying them. I continue to hope she finds a more mature position from which to advocate for our shared positions, because I believe kids would benefit more if she did.

Until then….

Merit Pay

Diane Ravitch recently blogged again about an article advocating against merit pay for teachers. While I often find myself not agreeing with Diane on a lot of topics, I do side with her on this one.

There are two ways to attack this issue: from the neutral perspective of data (simply asking if the technique works), and from a theoretical one.

From a data-based perspective, I’ll leave that to other folks who have those data to confirm, but my understanding is that it’s been tried, and hasn’t worked. If that’s the case, sort of end of story on that point.

From a theoretical perspective, my initial response is actually that I do think there is a salary point above which merit pay would work. To use an extreme example to illustrate the concept, let’s say teachers were given a $300,000 bonus if their kids’ test scores were above a certain point. I don’t think all teachers would be able to accomplish this with all kids, but I do think we’d seen an increase in effort and time spent by teachers, and better results. My sense is that you’d see teachers exerting all kinds of crazy effort trying to improve their game and get results.

However, when we’re talking practically and considering what merit pay actually looks like – the actual amounts offered – it just doesn’t make sense. On the contrary, what we see is a reduction of effort because teachers – many of whom are driven by passion for students and learning – are insulted that their worth or results would be reduced to a few hundred extra dollars. They’re insulted that they’re being told through such an incentive program that they aren’t really trying as hard as they can, because if the powers that be did believe they were trying their hardest, they wouldn’t be offering this incentive program.

So, for now, I’ll enjoy this moment of consensus with Diane!

Professionalizing Education

Note: Cross-published on

There’s a catch 22 in education today that often seems to come up around scripted programs, or pre-packaged programs more broadly. Namely, great teachers hate to be boxed in to the constraints of being what to do and what to say with kids, whereas less experienced teachers need the structure (much as kids do sometimes) with more technical interventions.

So, what’s a good educational leader to do when it comes to protocol with roaming outside the realm of packaged curricula? The most obvious answer is, of course, building a level of professionalism that is of such quality that teachers are familiar with wondering out into the dark, scary woods of customization.

Phylis Hoffman (via EdWeek) recently wrote a good perspective specifically related to Balanced Literacy. I’m not generally a fan of including everything under the sun just because we value inclusion (inclusion of all kids is different from inclusion of all strategies), but Phylis’ thoughts here work: Don’t just do things to do things, but do things because you’ve thought about them and have given professional consideration to what is included and not included. Research is consulted, evidence collected, success monitored, adjustments made, etc.

Thoughts on scripted vs non-scripted curricula in light of this thought?

from Bobby Caples Commitment to Service

Coming to U.S. for Baby, and Womb to Carry It by TAMAR LEWIN


America, one of the few nations to allow paid surrogacy, is drawing foreigners but whose countries don’t allow the practice, highlighting a divide over fundamental questions on family.

Published: July 6, 2014 at 4:00AM

from NYT Education