Some of Us Are Chronically Absent

NC Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission meets this week and they’ll hear a report about chronically absent teachers. 

For the purpose of the research, teachers in North Carolina who used 10 or more non-consecutive sick days in an academic year as “chronically absent”.  that seems fair, since those of us who suddenly get sick for a week or so are not counted.
Guess what? 22.6% of all teachers met this definition in 2016-2017. That’s 22,121 teachers.
That’s kind of a lot.
It’s hard to see, but the greatest number of chronically absent teachers is in schools which earned poor grades overall. Schools where chronic absenteeism is rare are scoring better.
So are the schools failing because teachers are calling out? Or are teachers calling out because they work at a failing school?

Quote of the Day

“The problem is, if you look at 2015-16, this story is exactly the same. This is an insidious cycle that these districts are in,” said Tomberlin. “They’re constantly losing their experienced teachers, unable to replace them with experienced teachers from other districts, and having to replace them with brand new, ineffective teachers.” — Dr. Tom Tomberlin, the director of district human resources for the NC DPI, quoted here.


Are We Focusing Too Much on Teaching Everybody?

I teach academically, behaviorally and emotionally troubled kids. I prefer to teach the students who have two strikes against them. On the other hand, are we doing enough for children on the other end of the spectrum?

Conservative website The American Spectator laments…

The United States is in the midst of an educational crisis. Test scores are plummeting, education spending is unsustainable, and the vast majority of American students are ill-prepared to thrive in the high-tech workplace of the future.

Given this sorry state of affairs, the question arises: How did the American education system, once the envy of the world, fall into such a decrepit state? Like most things in life, the answer is actually quite simple: The United States education system no longer prizes and cultivates its most talented students, and the American education system has become a bloated, bureaucratic leviathan that misallocates resources at a colossal level.

The article focuses on the idea that education does not encourage the brightest children to excel, but promotes mediocrity.  In North Carolina there are AIG programs for the gifted. In some cases, I’m sure the gifted students get exactly the high-le4vel work they need.

My favorite year of teaching was when the principle accidentally added four advanced students to my 4th grade class. I say accidentally because since I also have an EC certification, I otherwise had a large number of kids with IEP’s in my class.  Another teacher with AIG certification had the advanced kids, and a third teacher with some Spanish language ability was assigned nearly  every single Hispanic kid. The other teacher actually called that class the barrio.

No, I didn’t approve.

After a few months of seeing the advanced kids politely wait while their peers struggled in the basic subjects, I made them a deal: They could research any topic they wanted so long as they wrote excellent papers about the research. They looked at the EOG Math sample questions and identified the areas where they needed help. They still had to complete the normal homework, but I’d let them answer fewer questions if they were involved in something else academically. [Does anyone really need to do 22 multiplication problems?] They could quietly “drop out” of math and writing lessons which didn’t meet their needs.

All four scored well on the EOG tests: One student scored that rare 5 on the Math EOG. Every one else from that group scored a four on both tests. They learned stuff, also. Their writing improved.

I had more time for the kids who needed it, and those who didn’t need much help were especially inspired. As it turned out, one of the group had never really shown great promise to other teachers.  Apparently I  helped him click a switch.

Enough of my bragging.

The Davidson Institute illustrates this quandary, observing, “In examining the effects of highstakes testing on classroom practices, the majority of the articles reported its negative influences with teachers focusing on underachievers and providing low-quality education for gifted and talented students.” While several developing nations, such as China and India are identifying and nurturing their most intellectually gifted students, the United States is doing the opposite. Unfortunately, this may backfire if China’s best-and-brightest eventually outshine America’s meager-and-mediocre.

I don’t agree with much of the article, but I am always concerned about meeting the needs of all students. When we try to teach everyone, do we risk under-teaching the brightest students?


Wait. What? Learning Styles are a Myth?

We’ve come so far in education, but most of the time little Johnny has to put a correct answer on a piece of paper. — Educational Theorist NC Teacher Dave

It turns out that students might not have learning styles at all, and if they did, teachers wouldn’t be able to tell what they are.

Frontiers in Education:

Learning styles (LS) have dominated educational practice since their popularization in the 1970s. Studies have shown that they are accepted by more than 90% of teachers worldwide. However, LS have also received extensive criticism from researchers and academics, due to the poor theoretical justification of the theory, their problematic measurement, and the lack of systematic studies supporting them.

It turns out there was no correlation between what teachers thought a child’s learning style was, and what the student thought.

No relationship was found between pupils’ self-assessment and teachers’ assessment, suggesting that teachers cannot assess the LS of their students accurately.

Yes. I just said that.

By the way, I believe in individualizing class experiences to match the interests of the child. I also individualize lessons based upon what they do not know.  

I’ve had a problem with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences since grad school, where it was pushed in every class. A quick definition from ASCD:

Gardner describes seven intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.2  The distinctions among these intelligences are supported by studies in child development, cognitive skills under conditions of brain damage, psychometrics, changes in cognition across history and within different cultures, and psychological transfer and generalization.

In practice, while Johnny might be quite intelligent in a bodily-kinesthetic or spacial way…I’m not sure knowing that will help him master Trigonometry, a form of math so foreign to me that it makes me glad for spell-check. In this way, the learning styles theory is similar.

Learning styles theory categorizes learners under the banners of visual, auditory or kinesthetic.  Simpler than Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.  The ASCD link above will take you to a longer discussion of the two theories.

Or to a cat video. I honestly don’t know what I linked. 

It turns out the teachers pretty much said they used the learning theories style, but most pretty much forgot what it was all about:

All teachers reported that they believed that teaching tailored to the students’ LS enhances the intake of new information. However, only four teachers referred to the VAK explicitly, that is by using the words visual, auditory, and/or kinaesthetic. For example, one female teacher reported, “Yes, of course I try to support the students whom I have found out to be visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic types with material that I design myself or that I find online.”

In other words, “When I print stuff off the internet, I try to find things which are auditory or kinesthetic, or something.”

The study authors pull no punches:

We suggest that if the identification of LS, as they are currently understood and used within primary education, is unreliable, as evident by the findings of the present study, this should constitute an additional reason why teachers should abandon the use of LS in instruction. Our study thus adds to the growing body of literature against the use of LS in education. Moreover, debunking the myth of LS as well as educating teachers in the use of evidence-based practices is recommended.

 Please, if I’ve angered those of you who absolutely love and live the learning styles or multiple intelligences theories…please feel free to comment.

Ninety Percent? Isn’t that almost double?

From an article on changes in the teaching profession:

The teaching profession is transforming, according to research released Tuesday: It is larger than ever, but more unstable; it’s attracting more educators of color than ever, but losing them at higher rates than white teachers.

Three commas, a semicolon and a colon. We are in the presence of greatness.

There have been steep increases in special education teachers, educators who instruct English language learners, and elementary-level enrichment teachers — those who teach a subject like foreign language or robotics. There’s been a 90 percent increase in math teachers, and a 94 percent increase in science teachers — due in part to changing graduation requirements in schools across the country.

Has there really been a 90% increase in the number of math teachers, and does that just represent previously open positions nationwide? In my school we still have the same ole numbers.

Which is to say, the minimum.