On the Autonomy of Teachers

We cannot have an educational culture that respects the individuality of students and allows their classes to develop their own character without restoring much of the professional autonomy of teachers that has been lost to accountability-driven reform. As Stanford University’s Larry Cuban explained, top-down reformers have long made recurring efforts to curtail the professional autonomy of teachers in order to impose standardization of classroom instruction. Cuban described this micromanaging as “teacher bashing” or “blaming teachers for resisting changes.” School reformers have repeatedly attacked the professional autonomy of teachers, basically asking, “Why can’t teachers simply change their shoes, pull up their socks, and get on with the changes for God’s sake?”

Historically, teachers have pushed back and quietly reasserted a measure of control of their classrooms. The result is a system of “constrained autonomy” or a shifting balance of power between classroom teachers and those who seek to supervise us. And, I believe history will repeat itself. The childhood experiences of today’s teacher candidates may have been constrained by the culture of teach-to-the-test, but at some point they will fight back and refuse to impose this pedagogy on the next generation.

And let’s not forget that autonomy is one of the key ingredients in what motivates us (see Daniel Pink‘s Drive). Is it any wonder teachers are leaving the profession as their autonomy is continually eroded?

Read Dr. John Thompson‘s entire post here.

Teacher Shortage: Why Are We Surprised?

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers …

In California, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by more than 55 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Nationally, the drop was 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to federal data. Alternative programs like Teach for America, which will place about 4,000 teachers in schools across the country this fall, have also experienced recruitment problems …

“There are not enough people who will look at teacher education or being a teacher as a job that they want to pursue,” said Carlos Ayala, dean of the school of education at Sonoma State University.

Read the NYTimes article here.

The Need for Sleep

Fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at the recommended 8:30 AM start time or later during the 2011-2012 school year, according to data published today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Too-early start times can keep students from getting the sleep they need for health, safety, and academic success, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Read the CDC press release here.

Kids Need Time to be Kids

20 years ago, I was interviewed by a local news station. They wanted a Kindergarten teacher’s perspective on what kids should best do over the summer. Camp? Summer School? Activities? While I described an ideal childhood summer — reading, activities, outdoor time — I also cautioned against too much structure. Young children need time to simply BE … run, play, do nothing, be bored, figure out how not to be bored.

According to a recent NY Times article, it appears as if everything old is new again:

As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading, an outgrowth of the federal No Child Left Behind law and interpretations of the new Common Core standards, even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states like Vermont, Minnesota and Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten …

Using play to develop academic knowledge — as well as social skills — in young children is the backbone of alternative educational philosophies like those of Maria Montessori or Reggio Emilia. And many veteran kindergarten teachers, as well as most academic researchers, say they have long known that children learn best when they are allowed ample time to go shopping at a pretend grocery store or figure out how to build bridges with wooden blocks. Even the Common Core standards state that play is a “valuable activity.”

But it’s still controversial. Read the entire article here.

Technology Alone Can’t Fix Schools

In The Atlantic, Kentaro Toyama writes:

…technology’s “Law of Amplification”: Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there. Amplification seems like an obvious idea—all it says is that technology is a tool that augments human power. But, if it’s obvious, it nevertheless has profound consequences that are routinely overlooked …

If a private company is failing to make a profit, no one expects that state-of-the-art data centers, better productivity software, and new laptops for all of the employees will turn things around. Yet, that is exactly the logic of so many attempts to fix education with technology … At a talk Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave at the South by Southwest conference, he pressed the case for more technology in education (mentioning “technology” forty-three times, and “teachers” only twenty-five). He claimed, “Technology can level the playing field instead of tilting it against low-income, minority and rural students—who may not have laptops and iPhones at home.” But this is wishful thinking; it’s misleading and misguided. Technology amplifies preexisting differences in wealth and achievement …

…what the U.S. education system needs above all isn’t more technology, but a deliberate allocation of high-quality adult supervision focused on those who need it most. The specifics are daunting and complex, but inequity in educational opportunity isn’t a problem that technology can fix. Without addressing the underlying socio-economic chasm, technology by itself doesn’t bridge the gap, it only jacks it further apart.

Read the entire article here.