Sunday, February 27, 2011

Getting it Wrong Again and Again: Our Uncritical Love Affair with Teach for America

Recently, George Will wrote an article entitled, "Teach for America: Letting the cream rise". In the article, Will- quite rightly, identifies Wendy Kopp as the dynamic founder for Teach for America (TFA) and traces some of her accomplishments in making TFA the national brand name it is today in education reform. For instance, there are currently 8,000 TFA teachers in America's classrooms. Moreover, there are more than 20,000 TFA alumni, 2/3 of whom are working full time in the field of education (although not necessarily in teaching). Will continues that TFA should benefit from increased federal funding for "getting it right" when it comes to education.

But, is TFA "getting it right?"-- the data indicates a much more complicated and not as flattering perspective on Teach for America. For instance, Do TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools? On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.

Experience has a positive effect for both TFA and non-TFA teachers. Most studies find that the relatively few TFA teachers who stay long enough to become fully credentialed (typically after two years) appear to do about as well as other similarly experienced credentialed teachers in teaching reading; they do as well as, and sometimes better than, that comparison group in teaching mathematics. However, since more than 50% of TFA teachers leave after two years, and more than 80% of TFA teachers leave after three years, it is impossible to know whether these more pos-itive findings for experienced recruits result from additional training and experience or from attrition of TFA teachers who may be less effective.

From a school-wide perspective, the high turnover of TFA teachers is costly. Recruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave involves financial costs,and the higher achievement gains associated with experienced teachers and lower turnover may be lost as well.

Thus, a simple answer to the question of TFA teachers’ relative effectiveness cannot be conclusively drawn from the research; many factors are involved in any comparison. The lack of a consistent impact, however, should indicate to policy- makers that TFA is likely not the panacea that will reduce disparities in educational outcomes.

Teach for America is full of well intentioned people wanting to accomplish good things for our society. That is not in dispute at any level. But, we must be aware of the peer reviewed research on the effectiveness of the program before praising this or any program intended to assist the students most in need to quality teachers throughout our country.

I would encourage readers to look at one of the best and most objective assessments of the Teach for America program conducted by a colleague of mine, Dr. Julian Heilig, from the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Jex from California State University entitled, "Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence".

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Auditing Schools Test Scores- A possible upcoming trend?

As conversations increasingly center on the relationship between student test scores and school rankings, NCLB status, merit pay, graduation requirements as well as state and federal is somewhat natural to assume these "high stakes" measurements will become more and more prone to fabrication and/or artificial means of gains in scores.

As an indication of this issue, New York City school officials said recently that they would introduce a new, rigorous system of auditing the test scores, grading practices and graduation rates of the public high schools, appearing to acknowledge rising concerns that some schools might be manipulating the statistics they are judged by.

The move comes as the city and the state have sought to raise standards to better prepare students for college and careers, and as mounting evidence has cast doubt on whether even the current standards are being met.

For the best discussion that I know of the subject, I would suggest reading a book by Dr. Sharon Nicholas and Dr. David Berliner entitled "Collateral Damage How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools". The book points out that for more than a decade, the debate over high-stakes testing has dominated the field of education. This passionate and provocative book provides a fresh perspective on the issue and powerful ammunition for opponents of high-stakes tests.

Picture: Hoboken High School Cheerleaders....circa early 1980's (archive photograph)

The NFL's Humbling Lesson in Hiring Turnaround Leaders

The following article by Richard Hess points out the difficulty in 1) finding leaders and 2) having successful replication of the leaders success. Hess uses the NFL and the New England Patriot's future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and an analysis of his coaches and the "success" (or lack thereof) in the NFL and implications for education reform. -Dr. Petrosino

Well, the football season is over. I have nothing to add regarding the Packers' victory, the mediocre slate of commercials, or on theimplications of the impending lockout. Before we turn the page, though, there's one lesson worth drawing with an eye to turnarounds.

Last week, New England coach Bill Belichick won his third NFL coach of the year award. Owners desperately seeking to turn around their teams are wondering how they get their own version of Belichick or another successful coach. The most popular answer is to get a chip off the old block; NFL teams love to hire the assistants of winning coaches. This is thought to provide access to the secrets, strategies, and steely purpose that fuel their success.

Turns out that it's hard to replicate successful strategies--even when new coaches have trained at the knee of a successful icon and have an unlimited ability to build staffs, teams, and cultures in their own image. Over the past few years, Belichick is 126-50 in the regular season, 14-5 in the playoffs, and has coached his team to three Super Bowl wins. If success was as simple as figuring out what works and then doing it, one would expect Belichick's former assistants, having observed his methods first-hand, would be poised to replicate them. And if turnarounds are mostly about importing better staff and "proven" strategies into failing organizations, their records should seemingly reflect Belichick's.

But six former Belichick assistants have had NFL head coaching gigs, and they've produced a uniformly mediocre record. Romeo Crennel was 24-40 with the Cleveland Browns. Jim Schwartz is in the middle of an 8-24 run with the Detroit Lions. And when Josh McDaniels was mercilessly fired in the middle of last season, he was on a 5-17 run with the Denver Broncos. All told, former Belichick assistants are a humble 100-152 as NFL head coaches. Whoops. Oh, and that doesn't even count former offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss's dismal tenure as coach at Notre Dame.

Belichick's success seems to rest on attention to detail, excellent personnel management, and a "whatever works" philosophy that makes use of a number of role players. Belichick's record has also been intertwined with the success of the enormously talented Tom Brady and a committed, stable ownership. Trying to parse out the universal secrets that can be readily exported to new organizations has thus far proven an uncertain task. In fact, Belichick had been a losing coach in Cleveland before he came to New England.

In school reform, there is a similar fascination with finding out "what works" and imagining that "successful" leaders can make this work, or that a seemingly effective model will work anywhere. In just the past couple weeks, we've seen breathless coverage of the new effort to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in New Jersey. Everyone's supposed to be reassured that it'll work because iconic HCZ founder Geoffrey Canada is going to play some kind of vague advisory role. Count me as unconvinced. Just this fall, new DCPS chancellor Kaya Henderson ousted the Friends of Bedford from D.C.'s Dunbar High School because their turnaround effort, premised on a model they'd used successfully in New York, had fallen flat.

Even in the NFL, where coaches are largely free to hire, fire, and operate, we see how poorly a fancy pedigree can predict success. If educators can take one insight away from the NFL as the calendar turns, let it be that an excited search for "best practices" or successful turnaround models is more likely to fuel faddishness and churn than consistent excellence.

Monday, February 21, 2011

President's Day Quiz

A Presidents' Day quiz
By Valerie Strauss
Here are a dozen questions to test your presidential knowledge on this Presidents' Day, with answers and explanations below.

1. How many presidents have served the United States?
a) 42
b) 44
c) 45
d) 49

2. Who was the oldest President?
a) George Herbert Walker Bush
b) John Adams
c) Harry Truman
d) Ronald Reagan

3) Who was the youngest President?
a) Theodore Roosevelt
b) George W. Bush
c) John F. Kennedy
d) Bill Clinton

4) What is the president’s annual salary?
a) $200,000
b) $250,000
c) $400,000
d) $500,000

5) What was the salary of the first president, George Washington?
a) $10,000
b) $18,000
c) $22,000
d) $25,000

6) What is the birth state of the most presidents?
a) Virginia
b) Massachusetts
c) New York
d) Illinois

7) How many presidents died in office (by assassination or natural causes)?
a) 4
b) 6
c) 8
d) 9

8) How many former presidents are still living?
a) 2
b) 3
c) 4
d) 5

9) Who was the first President to live in the current White House?
a) George Washington
b) John Adams
c) Thomas Jefferson
d) James Madison

10) Which president had a pet cow named Pauline Wayne who lived on the White House lawn?
a) Thomas Jefferson
b) Abraham Lincoln
c) William Taft
d) Theodore Roosevelt

11) Who was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms?
a) John Quincy Adams
b) Theodore Roosevelt
c) Grover Cleveland
d) Abraham Lincoln

12) Who was the first president born in a hospital?
a) George Washington
b) Jimmy Carter
d) John Quincy Adams
c) Theodore Roosevelt

1) a. 44, but 43 men have served. Grover Cleveland is counted twice because he was the 22nd president, 1885-1889, and the 24th president, 1893-1897.
2) d. Ronald Reagan, who nearly 70 when he took office.
3) a. Theodore Roosevelt, was only 42 when he assumed office after his predecessor died. Kennedy was 43, the youngest to be elected president. Clinton was elected at 46.
4) c. $400,000. In 2001 the president’s salary was doubled from $200,000 to $400,000. It was the fifth time the salary had been raised.
5) d. $25,000. George Washington, already a wealthy man, declined his salary.
6) a. Virginia
7) c. 8. Four were assassinated: Lincoln, Kennedy, Garfield, and McKinley. Four died of natural causes: Harrison of pneumonia, Taylor of acute indigestion, Harding of a heart attack, and Roosevelt from a cerebral hemorrhage.
8) c. 4. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter.
9) b. John Adams. He and his wife, Abigail, moved into the White House in 1800.
10) c. Taft kept pet Holstein cows.
11) c. Cleveland was the country’s 22nd and 24th president.
12) b. Carter, the 39th president, was born in a hospital in Plains, Ga. on October 1, 1924, the first president born in a hospital.

Join My High School Newspaper ...a note to students from Michael Moore

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Dear High School Students:

How inspired are you by the thousands of students from Wisconsin high
schools who began walking out of class four days ago and have now occupied
the State Capitol building and its grounds in Madison, demanding that the
governor stop his assault on teachers and other government workers? I have
to say it's one of the most exciting things I've seen in years.

We are, right now, living in an amazing moment of history. And this moment
has happened because the youth around the world have decided they've had
enough. Young people are in revolt -- and it's about time.

You, the students and young adults, from Cairo, Egypt to Madison,
Wisconsin, are now rising up, taking to the streets, organizing, protesting
and refusing to move until your voices are heard. Effing amazing!! It has
scared the pants off those in power, the adults who were so convinced they
had done a heckuva job trying to dumb you down and distract you with
useless nonsense so that you'd end up feeling powerless, just another cog
in the wheel, another brick in the wall. You've been fed a lot of
propaganda about "how the system works" and so many lies about what took
place in history that I'm amazed you've been able to sort through all the
bs and see the truth for what it is. This was all done in the hopes you
would just keep your mouths shut, get in line and follow orders. And don't
rock the boat. Because if you do, you could end up without a good job! You
could end up looking like a freak! You've been told politics isn't cool and
that one person really can't make a difference.

And for some beautiful, unknown reason, you've refused to listen. Maybe
it's because you've figured out that we adults are about to hand you a very
empty and increasingly miserable world, with its melting polar ice caps,
its low-paying jobs, its incessant war machine, and its plan to put you in
permanent debt at age 18 with the racket known as college loans.

On top of that, you've had to listen to adults tell you that you may not be
able to legally marry the person you love, that your uterus isn't really
yours to control, and that if a black guy somehow makes it into the White
House, he must've entered illegally from Kenya.

Yet, from what I've seen, the vast majority of you have rejected all of
this crap. Never forget that it was you, the young people, who made Barack
Obama president. First you formed his army of election volunteers to get
him the nomination. Then you came out in record numbers in November of
2008. Did you know that the only age group where Obama won the white vote
was with 18-29-year-olds? The majority of every white age group over 29
years old voted for McCain -- and yet Obama still won! How'd that happen?
Because there were so many youth voters of all races -- a record turnout
that overcame the vast numbers of fearful white adults who simply couldn't
see someone whose middle name was Hussein in the Oval Office. Thank you
young voters for making that happen!

Young people elsewhere in the world, most notably in the Middle East, have
taken to the streets and overthrown dictatorial governments without firing
a shot. Their courage has inspired others to take a stand. There's a huge
momentum right now, a youth-backed mojo that can't and won't be stopped.

Although I've long since left your age group, I've been so inspired by
recent events that I'd like to do my bit and lend a hand. I've decided to
turn over a part of my website to high school students so they -- you --
can have the opportunity to get the word out to millions more people. For a
long time I've wondered, how come we don't hear the true voices of
teenagers in our mainstream media? Why is your voice any less valid than an

In high schools all across America, students have great ideas to make
things better or to question what is going on -- and often these thoughts
and opinions are ignored or silenced. How often in school is the will of
the student body ignored? How many students today will try to speak out, to
stand up for something important, to simply try to right a wrong -- and
will be swiftly shut down by those in authority, or by other students

I've seen students over the years attempt to participate in the democratic
process only to be told that high schools aren't democracies and that they
have no rights (even though the Supreme Court has said that a student
doesn't give up his or her rights "when they enter the schoolhouse door").

It's always amazed me how adults preach to young people about what a great
"democracy" we have, but when students seek to be part of it, they are
reminded that they are not full citizens yet and must behave somehow as
indentured servants. Is it any wonder then why some students, when they
become adults, don't feel like participating in our political system --
because they've been taught by example for the past 12 years that they have
no say in the decisions that affect them?

We like to say that we have this great "free press," and yet how free are
high school newspapers? How free are you to write or blog about what you
want? I've been sent stories from teenagers that they couldn't get
published at school. Why not? Why must we silence or keep out of sight the
voice of our teenagers?

It's not that way in other countries. The voting age in places like
Austria, Brazil or Nicaragua is 16. In France, students can shut down the
country by simply walking out of school and taking to the streets.

But here in the U.S. you're told to obey and to basically butt out and let
the adults run the show.

Let's change that! I'm starting something on my site called, "HIGH SCHOOL
NEWSPAPER." Here you will be able to write what you want and I will publish
it. I will also post those articles that you've tried to get published at
your school but were turned down. On my site you will have freedom and an
open forum and a chance to have your voice heard by millions.

I've asked my 17-year-old niece, Molly, to kick things off by editing this
page for the first six months. She will ask you to send her your stories
and ideas and the best ones will be posted on I'll give
you the platform you deserve. It will be my honor to have you on my site
and I encourage you to take advantage of it.

You are often called "our future." That future is today, right here, right
now. You've already proven you can change the world. Keep doing it. And I'd
be honored to help you.

Michael Moore <>

P.S. When can you get started? Right now! Just go here and register. (You
can use a made-up name if you want and you don't have to name your
school.) Then once you're done, start submitting blogs, music, video and

P.P.S. If you're reading this and not in high school, please take a
second and forward it to all the students you know.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

An Arizona State University professor sees a bright future for video games in the learning process -- in and out of school.

The following video is an interview with a colleague of mine by the name of Professor James Gee. I met Jim while I was doing a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and he was a professor in curriculum and instruction. At the time, Dr. Gee was beginning to shift his research focus from linguists and science learning to games and gaming. In the subsequent years, Jim Gee has become one of the leading experts in the field of games and gaming and their influence and relationship to learning. I would encourage you to take about 10 minutes and watch this video of Jim discussing 21st century schooling, high stakes testing, innovation and creativity and the exciting role of gaming. After watching the video many people will realize the relative fruitlessness of "test preparation", fact based assessment and the perils of not emphasizing problem solving and critical thinking in the curriculum. Recall, it was exactly this emphasis that was used in my work with the Hoboken School District as I worked with teachers, district personal, and experts in developing the "Hoboken Curriculum". -Dr. Petrosino

James Paul Gee is a member of the National Academy of Education. His book Sociolinguistics and Literacies (1990, Third Edition 2007) was one of the founding documents in the formation of the "New Literacy Studies", an interdisciplinary field devoted to studying language, learning, and literacy in an integrated way in the full range of their cognitive, social, and cultural contexts. His book An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (1999, Second Edition 2005) brings together his work on a methodology for studying communication in its cultural settings, an approach that has been widely influential over the last two decades.

Professor Gee's most recent books deal with video games, language, and learning. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003, Second Edition 2007) argues that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences. Situated Language and Learning (2004) places video games within an overall theory of learning and literacy and shows how they can help us in thinking about the reform of schools. His most recent book is Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays (2007). Professor Gee has published widely in journals in linguistics, psychology, the social sciences, and education.

© The George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Anyway? - Letter in this Week's Hoboken Reporter

There has been a fair amount of discussion recently concerning the No Child Left Behind designation of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)- A number of readers have written me and ask that I comment. Before any discussion on the specific issues of the letter, I think it's important to understand AYP as it can be a confusing issue for some not completely familiar with the designation.

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is a measurement defined by the United States federal No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests.

It is important to realize that SCHOOLS receive the designation of "passing" or "failing" AYP and not: specific grades, specific subjects, or specific grade bands (i.e. "middle school"). This may seen unfair to some, but it has been this way since NCLB was passed into law almost a decade ago. Every principal, administrator or superintendent in the country has had to abide by the same rules even through many have felt their particular circumstance was unique or warranted special consideration.

As for what AYP actually IS in New Jersey--- here is a description from the New Jersey Department of Education website as presented by former Acting Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey:

“Like a ‘check engine’ light in a car, the AYP data indicates that something in a school district may not be working properly,” the NJ Acting Commissioner Hendricks said. “It could mean that only one small group of students in a school did not meet standards. Or it could be the first evidence of a systemic problem requiring sweeping change. Though these results are part of a broader picture, the Department takes this indicator very seriously and will work with the local leadership in these districts to examine the data, flag any underlying issues, and take action wherever it is appropriate to ensure our children are being properly served.”

“The report provides an early warning signal about student learning in New Jersey’s school districts and, whatever the reason, demands the attention of stakeholders at all levels to explore how our schools can do better,” added Commissioner Hendricks. “If your school is on the list of those that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, I would encourage you to contact your local school to find out more about the specific challenges and reasons for having fallen short of this marker. Just as the Department will continue to do, we encourage parents, taxpayers, students and administrators to work together to understand and assist in addressing the problems that are highlighted as a result of this report.”

Should a parent or citizen wish to follow Former Commissioner of Education Hendricks encouragement to contact their school district, here are some questions that might be worthwhile asking:

1) Which specific indicators did my child's school fail for the 2010-2011 school year?
- grade level?
- subject area?
- population subgroup? (white, black, hispanic, poverty, etc...)

2) How did this school do last year on these failed indictors?

3) Can you please provide me with a detailed remediation plan for how you plan to address these failed indicators?

4) Can you please explain your strategy that as you concentrate on these failed indicators, other indicators the school is already passing will be maintaing their passing rating?

5) How do you think this school will do in April, 2011 when it is again tested? Do you think the school will do better? worse? or about the same? Can you help me understand the reasons for your best guess?

It is important to be respectful. But, it is equally important to understand your rights and obligations. There is a responsibility school personal have for providing parents, students, taxpayers, and the general public with professional and thoughtful responses to well intentioned questions.

Please see the attached PDF outlining additional details concerning AYP.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Basics About Disabilities and Science and Engineering Education

The following is an introduction to disability issues, history, laws, and research for educators who have little or no experience with students or colleagues with disabilities. There is a short overview in the form of a presentation script. A section looks at the need for inclusion and recruitment of students with disabilities to science and engineering fields, and gives examples of resources for faculty to improve instruction. The Short Reader and Syllabus is a digest covering topics often included in full Disability Studies readers written by experts. An annotated bibliography is provided for those who want further depth. It draws from syllabi used for undergraduates.

Citation: Sevo, Ruta (2011). Basics about disabilities and science and engineering education. Atlanta, GA. Under the direction of Robert L. Todd, Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access, Georgia Institute of Technology,.

Basics About Disabilities Feb7 2011 Quarto

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Socially-Responsible Curriculum in Robotics Education (K-8)

The following is an acceptance letter for a presentation some colleagues (Christina White and Richard Crawford) and myself will be making at a National Science Foundation grant meeting in Washington D.C. in early March. The grant is known as "Beyond Blackboards". Our first attempt for funding was made during the 2006-07 academic year and we revised and resubmitted and finally received funding in the Fall of 2009. The primary purpose of the grant is to utilize robotics to further engineering skills in K-8 settings and hopefully lead to workforce skills. Some inspiration for the revision of this grant came while I was attempting to do some robotics with teachers in Hoboken as part of the curriculum writing project with a colleague from MIT (Dr. Susan Imholz). -Dr. Petrosino

Dear Tony and Christina,

We are pleased to inform you that we have accepted your ITEST Summit presentation proposal. Please note that we were not able to honor all requests for preferred length of session, and in some cases we have placed presenters together in one session because the underlying session themes were in tandem.

Below is a working description of your session—based on the information provided to us—and the scheduled day and time of your session. Please let me know by Monday 2/14 at 3pm EST if possible, if you are not available on that day/time, or if there are any egregious errors in the session description.

Thanks for your participation in this year’s summit!

Best Regards,

The ITEST Summit Planning Committee

Time: DAY 1: Thursday March 3 4:45pm – 5:15 pm

Session A: Socially-Responsible Curriculum (Salon 1) – Theme 4: Topics

Description: Social responsible curriculum is an ideology that an entity has an obligation to act to benefit society at large. This responsibility can be passive, by avoiding socially harmful acts, or active, by performing activities that advance social goals. We feel socially responsible curriculum is often overlooked rather than undervalued in STEM curriculum. Format: Presentation

Presenters/Projects: Christina White, Anthony Petrosino, Beyond Blackboards, Socially Responsible Curriculum, Work Force Readiness and Robotics

Socially Responsible Curriculum, Work Force Readiness and Robotics

We are very interested in socially responsible curriculum in STEM education and especially as it applies in our specific area of robotics. We believe there is significant interest in this area from our interactions and feedback with colleagues at conferences and presentations. Our session will include a 15 minute presentation on how Beyond Blackboards have addressed this issue, including our design principles and our action items will include ways to incorporate feedback and resources from other like minded and interested ITEST projects. We envision a session at next years' ITEST conference for findings as well as a session proposal for the 2012 Annual Conference of AERA.

Our model:

1) Involve students in research. Beyond Blackboards works with students around five hours a week with project members to develop new solutions to sustainability and conservation type problems.

2) Develop living case studies. Our Beyond Blackboard team has developed a number of real world case studies pointing out the need for and solutions surrounding current social challenges.

3) Think globally, act locally- We attempt to provide sustainable STEM related practices for working on various local concerns.

4) Define and refine. All students are asked to consider their definitions of social responsibility at the beginning and the end of our program.

5) Make time for reflection. We believe a key aspect of developing students with skills and social awareness is to build into the curriculum time and opportunities for them to reflect on and refine what they have learned.

Picture: Beyond Blackboards professional development workshop- February, 2011