Tinkering with 50,000 Classrooms: Can the State and the City Implement Common Core-Based Instruction With Full Teacher Buy-In in a Toxic Climate? Will the Bloomberg Agenda Derail the Education Agenda? How Do We Change/Upgrade/Invigorate 50,000 Classrooms?

An experienced senior staffer at Tweed was invited to a high performing school in Queens. The principal proudly lead him around the building. Classroom after classroom of teachers writing on smartboards with mostly Asian kids copying off the board, an occasional question that required a one-word answer. Instruction that was mediocre at best. The data said the school was doing well.
 
An Advanced Placement class in a poor community of color and a stunning  lesson as the teacher facilitates a lesson discussing Nietzsche at an incredibly high level; however, in his first period class half the kids cut or come late and miss the class.
 
Who is the “great” teacher?
 
We know a great deal about kids – a few mouse clicks lays out skeins of data: by kid, by class, by school, by network.
 
If the teacher teaches English and/or Math in grades 4-8 we have a couple of years of Teacher Data Reports (TDR), the info may be contradictory, it may be at variance with the opinion of the principal, but we have data.
 
What we don’t have is a path to upgrading instruction.
 
How do we improve the quality of instruction of those teachers in Queens? How do we honor and encourage that Advanced Placement teacher in what on paper looks like a struggling school? 
 
ARIS, Teacher Data Reports, School Progress Reports and Quality Reviews inform us but doesn’t tell us how we update instruction across the 50,000 classrooms?
 
In their seminal work, “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” David Tack and Larry Cuban write,
 
Innovators outside the schools who wanted to reinvent education were often skilled in publicity and the politics of promising and claimed to use the latest models of rational planning. But they rarely factored into their plans a sophisticated understanding of the school as an institution or insight into the culture of teachers.
 
They tended to treat “schools as though they were made of silly putty,” easily molded …[they] rarely understood the every lives of teachers, their practices, beliefs and sources of satisfaction and frustration. 
 
Closing, redesigning, transforming or re-starting stumbling schools ignores the brick and mortar of schools, the teachers. Changing staff has done little to change practice and slowly but inexorably the new, replacement schools are beginning to mirror the schools they replaced.
 
The “new thing” is the Common Core. While Tweed has rolled out the “new thing” with fanfare, with few exceptions teachers are clueless.
 
The Common Core appears to be an attractive approach, especially when compared with range of “new things” that have  either been rejected by teachers or are already cast into the dustbin of “reform.”
 

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

The rollout of the Core is being done carefully, not the usual press release followed immediately by laudatory article in the Post, the News and the Wall Street Journal followed by support from the ed (de)reformers and the charter school claque.

Watch the webinar that attempts to explain the purposes of the Core in detail: “Bringing the Common Core to Life.”

The New York State CCSS initiative is part of a 26-state coalition called PARCC, and, will eat up most of the Race to the Top dollars both at the state and local level.

The words “College and Career Ready,” although weakly defined are at the heart of the Core (“Students will need to know how to think critically and apply their knowledge to solve non-routine problems).

For the first time in New York City there is an acknowledgement that teachers are the key deliverers of instruction, (“Teachers work in teams to review student work and align curriculum & teacher practice with the Common Core”).

However, the new teacher-principal evaluation plan is injected into the mix, “When teachers thrive, students thrive …school leaders will  …. Set clear, research-based expectations for pedagogy articulated in a rubric of practice (e.g., Danielson) … Engage in short, frequent cycles of classroom observations & collaborative examination of student work, followed by timely, specific, evidence-based feedback that teachers can act on to increase the effectiveness of their instruction.” (emphasis added).

A worthy task, can principals master it? Will they involve other teachers in peer review cycles? Engage in a dialogue with teachers around practice?

The guidance goes on to instruct schools to “Create an innovative school schedule that allows teacher teams to meet regularly during the school day …. Structure Circular 6 activities to provide teacher teams with additional time for professional development … Use the SBO process …”

The culmination of the Common core rollout is the 2014-15 school year when every kid in the state will take three exams a year culminating in a final exam – these exams will replace Regents and the current ELA/Math exams – and every student and teacher will be evaluated by these exams.

We fear that the Common Core will deteriorate into another kind of zip code-based test prep mill … only time will tell.

For the first the guys and gals in the eyrie on Chambers Street acknowledge that none of their plans will move without the full and enthusiastic participation of the folks on the ground – in those 50,000 classrooms.

Around the city there are some schools and some networks immersed in examining their practice, looking at the work of the “experts,” involved in book studies, meeting regularly with colleagues and grappling with: how do you move students to higher order thinking and the mastery of incrementally more complex tasks?

In too many other schools the motto, “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves,” is the mission statement.

In a climate of impending teacher layoffs, commonplace tenure denial and extensions, drastic cuts in funding, the public denigration of teachers around the country, the kickoff of yet another “new thing” is overshadowed.

The teacher foxhole and the Tweed foxhole may not be that far apart, the solders hunker down as the shrapnel flies, they do have common goals. Unfortunately in this climate only the brave may venture forth.

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7 responses to “Tinkering with 50,000 Classrooms: Can the State and the City Implement Common Core-Based Instruction With Full Teacher Buy-In in a Toxic Climate? Will the Bloomberg Agenda Derail the Education Agenda? How Do We Change/Upgrade/Invigorate 50,000 Classrooms?

  1. Nice one Peter!
    Until school bosses, and their Mayor boss, figure out that learning requires student “perspiration”, not just a great school staff and system, and attempt to address the issue of student “sweat equity”, the issue of parents who absent their kids in excess of 15 days/term, the issue of individuality as related to the Sepember-June assembly line model of instruction, etcetera, schools will still leave unacceptably large numbers of students behind. Or the system will fail to educate anyone by dumbing down the curriculum and whatever testing is done to assess student learning. Let’s watch while the NYS finishes the destruction of the Statewide Regents Exams in the name of progress. It’s sad to see 10 years of NYC students deprived of an education by publicity seeking politicians and educrats. The solution lies mostly outside the schools. A malnourished, sleepy, often absent, unencouraged and unprepared child cannot be “repaired” by his teachers and the school.

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  2. Olivia Koppell

    Ditto to David S. You can’t come up with answers when you leave many factors out of the equation – be it math, sociology, economics, etc. And “they” are always leaving the students out of the discussion. Learning happens when a teacher makes a connection with a student – communicates a passion about a subject, or simply compassion for the students’ environment. This can’t be measured in a data driven system. It is as varied as are the students and teachers. Show teachers respect and support and you will be able to hire more wonderful ones. Show students passion about learning and treat them as individuals and they will learn, happily. That’s what kids do – learn. Unfortunately some are learning all the wrong lessons at home and in their neighborhoods. Schools that are well run can show them another way.

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  3. OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES WE HAVE GONE THROUGH ALL KINDS OF MANTRAS AND NEW LABELS. FOR A FEW: NEW MATH, HIGHER HORIZONS,COOPERATIVE LEARNING,ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN AND VARIOUS APPROACHES TO READING INSTRUCTION AND STANDARDS. SOME HAD SUCCESS. WHAT WE NEVER HAD AND STILL DON’T, IS THAT PRINCIPALS AND LOWER SCHOOL SUPERVISORS HAVE NO TRAINING IN MANAGEMENT SKILLS .IN INDUSTRY MANAGERS HAVE FORMAL TRAINING AND ONGOING TRAINING. OUR SCHOOLS HAVE HAD DRIVE BY STAFF DEVELOPMENT FROM ON HIGH WITHOUT REGARD TO SUPERVISOR’S OR TEACHER’S NEEDS. ONE BECAME AN ASST. PRINCIPAL AND AT BEST WITHOUT ANY TRAINING, THEY WOULD EMULATE ONE OF THEIR PREDECESSORS. WHAT ABOUT IF THEY FOLLOWED AN INCOMPETENT? A GOOD LEADER HAS SKILLS TO MOTIVATE A STAFF TO DO THEIR BEST. EACH PERSON NEEDS A DIFFERENT APPROACH. ALL LEADERS SHOULD MOTIVATE THEIR PERSONNEL TO HAVE AN ESPRIT DE CORPS. THIS REQUIRES LEARNING GOOD MANAGEMENT PRACTICES.AND WHEN A TEACHER DID NOT HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A SUCCESS, THE PRINCIPAL WOULD SAY I DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO RATE THAT TEACHER. WHY NOT? ONE SHOULD HAVE BEEN TRAINED TO BUDGET TIME. WHEN YOU ARE ABOUT TO TAKE AWAY SOMEONE’S LIVELIHOOD YOU BEST HAVE PROOF OF FAILURE. A WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL HAS THE RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL AND OFTEN GETS A SLAP ON THE WRIST OR A FINE,AT WORST.THE UFT HAS A LEGAL OBLIGATION, UNDER THE LAW, TO REPRESENT A TEACHER ON CHARGES .THE UFT ALWAYS TRAINED ITS STAFF TO COMPETENTLY REPRESENT ITS MEMBERS. PRINCIPALS USUALLY DID NOT HAVE SIMILAR TRAINING. WHY NOT? THAT’S A MANAGER’S NEED AND RESPONSIBILITY. JUST AS THE BEST DEFENSE IN A COURT OF LAW FOR PERJURY, IS TO TELL THE TRUTH;AN INCOMPETENT TEACHER WILL PERJURE HIMSELF PROFESSIONALLY, IF THE PRINCIPAL COMES IN WITH A TRUE CASE

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  4. Jackie Foil Retired

    Say hi to David & Irwin for me. Your blog & their comments require no further remarks by me. All very well stated. Now if only the “talking heads” would listen!

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  5. Pingback: Remainders: Meta-reflection about teacher and student blogging | GothamSchools

  6. Pingback: Online Education in America » Blog Archive » Remainders: Meta-reflection about teacher and student blogging

  7. Pingback: Tinkering with 50,000 Classrooms | Truth in American Education

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