Monday, April 21, 2014

Corporate Takeover of US Education

And so the corporate takeover of American education continues. This time it is not at all subtle. Company names and logos are now embedded in standardized tests in just the same way they are placed in movies. Interestingly, this is happening in NY State which some months ago launched its EngageNY website which is a vast collection of resources that must have cost a fortune to construct. One now has to wonder if there as money donated to the construction of this "educational resource" in return for product placement in the tests being used to measure student achievement.  This is the same resource where teachers are required to teach using a stopwatch to time lessons so that all the material can be covered regardless of whether students understand what they are learning. I've mentioned Ken Sider's eloquent response to this before.

Another example of the corporate takeover of Education, this time in the pre-service teacher arena, is the ETS company's plan to market their pre-service teacher portfolio assessment product. ETS already controls entry into the student teaching experience through its Praxis tests. Now it will control the exit process and subsequent recommendation for licensure. The next step, of course, will be the marketing of extensive course-work materials to Departments of  Education at colleges and universities designed specifically to help students navigate the ETS Praxis and Portfolio processes.

Corporations are not the only human endeavor getting involved  in public schools and Education. There is, currently, a major investigation taking place in the UK into a "Trojan Horse" takeover of public schools in the city  of Birmingham. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Math Major Makes the Difference

This semester I have had the unusual but distinct pleasure of supervising two math majors in their elementary school student teaching placements. Using the Bridges in Mathematics program with their first/second multi-grade classrooms they have had a profound impact not only on their students' math skills but also on the way the students feel about math. They have brought math alive for their students through their deep and comprehensive knowledge of mathematics as they have implemented lessons on a variety of math topics. They have been able to go beyond "transmitting" knowledge about math to helping children construct meaning and make sense of the concepts and ideas presented in the program. This making sense is difficult to achieve if you don't have a deep understanding of what you are teaching.

But their achievements go beyond helping children make sense. Their self confidence with math has rubbed off on the students, especially the girls they have been working with. The student teachers are comfortable with math, they are relaxed and smile a lot, they show no anxiety, and they use relevant examples to illustrate concepts that associate math with real life and pleasant things. I read about this phenomenon, or at least the inverse, in an interesting piece of research at the University of Chicago several years ago. Young children can pick up on the most subtle clues as to how a teacher feels about what she is teaching. Here's another more recent study reported in the Journal of Curriculum and Instruction that goes further to show the relationship between teacher anxiety and student performance in mathematics in the elementary school.

It's interesting to note that one of my two math major student teachers has already secured a teaching position while the other has an interview.