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Tag: virginia (Page 2 of 5)

Learning to Work Online

Last week our governor signed a bill requiring high school students in the state to take at least one online course to graduate, beginning with the class of 2017.

I’m still not sure why.

A spokesperson for the governor says new requirement will “better prepare students for the job market of the 21st century”*.

I don’t understand how.

I’ve been facilitating online course for adults off and on for more than ten years. I took my first virtual class back in the days of the dial-up modem when the content was little different from correspondence courses that were snail mailed to your home.

That certainly doesn’t make me an expert on the matter, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about online learning is that it’s not the right solution for everyone. Some people don’t work well detached from the human contact that comes with a face-to-face situation.

Supporters of this idea argue that kids need to learn to work online because jobs increasingly demand those skills (now that we’re more than 10% of the way into the 21st century).

I agree. But is a formal course, especially one that is likely to be a virtual replica of a face-to-face class, necessarily the best solution?

More important than learning to take an online course – a somewhat narrow skill set that really only benefits the growing post-secondary education business – we should be helping students understand how to present themselves online. Allowing them to practice crafting messages for different audiences using a variety of delivery tools as part of their “standard” curriculum.

If you look carefully at that “job market” of the 21st century (which is now), workers increasingly need to know how to market themselves and learn new skills (often on the fly) to adapt for an ever changing employment landscape.

Is taking a canned online course going to help with any of that? I doubt it.

*Has anyone else noticed that we are already more than 10% into the 21st century and still our “leaders” discuss it as if it’s still in the distant future?

Tenured Stupidity

Some of the teacher-bashing crap from Wisconsin and other places has arrived here in Virginia.

The Virginia House of Delegates voted 55-43 Monday to eliminate seniority-based job protections [aka “tenure”] for public school teachers, a measure pushed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) as part of his education reform package.

Under H.B. 576 and S.B. 438, probation would be extended to five years and continuing contracts would be replaced with three-year contracts.

At the end of every three years, a teacher could be let go for poor performance or any reason at all. [emphasis mine]

There are a couple of things in all of this that just don’t make sense.

First is the fact that many of these politicians just don’t understand the concept of tenure as applied to our jobs. It certainly doesn’t mean lifetime employment.

Academic tenure was created to prevent an educator from being dismissed for reasons other than performance – political or social views that differ from the administration, for example. Tenure is all about that “any reason at all” for being fired. Like blogging about clueless members of your state legislature.

In other states, the vilification of teachers has been driven by a political dislike of teacher’s unions. They say nice things about the concept of “teachers”, but really hate us when we get into groups to defend the profession.

Here in Virginia, that’s really not much of an issue since this is a “right to work” state that doesn’t allow collective bargaining for government workers. The local versions of the NEA and AFT have almost no actual power and thus are not much of a threat to the governor and his friends.

However, the worst part of all this is the pure unadulterated hypocrisy of the people pushing these measures. The ones who make statements like: “Here in Virginia, we are fortunate [to] have a world-class educational system with world-class teachers.”

And the former teacher serving in the House who supports the bill who wants to get rid of the few bad teachers who use “the same tired lesson plans year after year and couldn’t get control of their classrooms” by eliminating protections for the many “world-class” teachers.

It’s hard to understand all the teacher bashing going on in far off exotic places like Madison. It’s even more difficult when it pops up close to home, driven by “leaders” who smile and say nice things about our educational system, while doing what they can to handicap the teachers responsible for making it “world-class”.

Playing Calendar Games

Offered without comment:

Several prominent Virginia superintendents [including ours] are pushing the state to give standardized tests months earlier in the school year, a shift they say would reduce the impact of testing on classes and free teachers to offer more meaningful lessons. [emphasis mine]

Ok, maybe just one.

Why not just go straight to those “meaningful lessons”, the “key 21st century skills that are linked to college and career readiness”, and the “hands-on kind of learning they’re great at”, and cut way back on excessive and incredibly wasteful, one-size-fits-all testing programs? Do that instead of playing games with the damn calendar.

Incidentally, that last paragraph should be screamed, not read.

Change Doesn’t Mean Progress

Our state education department has decided that all students in Virginia will take their SOL tests* online, and, of course, they haven’t bothered to actually pay for the equipment needed to do that.

In a recent discussion thread about the expansion of those online tests in our elementary schools, the writer of one post compared the mindset change required by teachers in moving from paper and pencil tests to online tests, to that required when shifting from overhead projectors to Smartboards.

It’s a accurate comparison, although in both cases, change doesn’t mean progress.

When it comes to the SOLs, a test, is a test, is a test and it really doesn’t matter the media used to administer it. Students are still filling it the blanks and learning little or nothing in the process.

Except that when students take their exams online, it also means schools will be committing every computer they can find to weeks of functioning as a dumb terminal rather than as powerful tools for communications and creativity. Plus the time required for setup and practice sessions.

Overall the push to have students take their SOLs online only benefits the state since results can be obtained faster and it will be cheaper (for them, not the local schools) to administer in the long run.

For students, it’s a net loss.

The change from overhead to interactive whiteboards (IWB, most schools in our district buy the Smart brand) is a little more complicated but also represents a net loss.

Overhead projectors are designed for classroom lecture/demo presentations and, for the most part, were used exclusively by teachers. Sometimes students would be the presenters but that was not common.

IWBs, used with a data projector, are little more than a high tech, expensive, replacement for the overhead projector.

Except that these devices cost far more than the previous versions, money that could have been better spent to put technology in the hands of students, and like overhead projectors, reinforce a traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction.

So, there actually is a connection between students taking their standardized tests online and IWBs.

Both represent bad instructional practice and suck up resources that could be better applied to actually improving student learning.

And both represent change that does nothing to improve education.

*The common acronym for our Standards of Learning exams.

Not Much Incentive in This Plan

Speaking of merit pay, our governor is inviting 57 districts in the state (including ours) that “may have difficulty attracting, retaining and rewarding experienced, fully licensed teachers” to participate in something called the Virginia Performance-Pay Incentives initiative.

The invitation comes with a $3 million pot of money, which, if my calculator is working correctly, would work out to about $17,750 for each of the 169 schools listed in the announcement. For one year, with no assurances of any continuing funding.

Strings? Why, of course, the money comes with strings.

Whether such programs succeed hinges largely on the criteria used to evaluate teachers. McDonnell plans to require that districts accepting the merit-pay funding also adopt a newly overhauled teacher evaluation system, driven largely by student performance on the state’s standards of learning tests, often called SOLs.

Fortunately, our superintendent is quoted in the article as essentially telling the governor to keep his small change, recalling the far more expensive experiment in merit pay we tried twenty years ago.  He and some of his compatriots in the area also wonder how the schools were chosen since more than a few in our system have no trouble attracting good candidates for teaching positions. (Me too. It’s an odd collection.)

I wonder if McDonnell or anyone advising him has read any of the recent research showing that pay for performance plans don’t improve learning, even when measured by artificial standards like our SOL tests, and can be detrimental to schools.

Probably not. When it comes to education, Bob is far too busy to do more than repeat the talking points from his morning memo.

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