The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Big Red 50!

USA Today describes, "The Great Education Debate." And it is a great debate -- should a zero be a zero? There is a growing trend to turn zeros into a 50. In some locales, that means the six weeks (or semester grade) can be no lower than a 50, in other places, it actually means that students cannot receive a grade lower than a 50 on any assignment.

While the debate rages (and I encourage you to resist the strong emotions you feel -- there are strong arguments on each side) check out this quote:
A top proponent of a minimum-50 policy, Thomas Guskey of Georgetown College in Kentucky, acknowledges that there are no studies he knows of that examine whether such approaches increase passing rates.
For all the research we do in education covering every topic under the sun, for all the passion on both sides of this issue, why have there been no studies? We should have studies not only looking at passing rates, but also at general student performance. Are kiddos enticed into trying hard knowing that passing is still possible (as 50-minimum proponents claim) or do underachievers have the same level of skills under both plans?

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Reading Scores Get 'Bump' From Student Incentives, Study Finds

The first two paragraphs of this article:

School-based reward programs that offer students such incentives as cash, free MP3 players, or other gifts appear to produce improved reading achievement across grade levels, preliminary findings from an ongoing research project suggest.

The analysis, which looked only at charter schools because of the prevalence of incentive programs in the independent public schools, found no impact on students’ performance in mathematics.
Interesting... read more if you like.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

DAVID HENDRICKS: Accountability hurts students, businesses

There are a couple of quotes in this column that really hit the nail on the head. The column is based on a speech given by San Antonio ISD Superintendent, Robert Durón.

Calling testing an “obsession,” Durón said no test can determine if students have learned what they need to be employable.

“You can't test for punctuality. You can't test for initiative. You can't test for problem solving. Those are things that you can't bubble in on a test,” Durón said.

The problem goes beyond the limitations of assessment tests.

Teachers have to “teach to the test.” When they do so, they have to concentrate on the 10 percent of students who will have the most difficulty passing the test. That exasperates the other students. The fun in education gives way to stress for teachers, students and administrators.

“This is why students are bored,” Durón said. “Students drop out, but what scares me are the students who drop out because they are bored.”

On a completely different note, the superintendent's contract is available on the SAISD website. It turned my stomach a little. I don't understand why no one is paying MY professional dues. (Among other things!)

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Texas Approves New Lang. Arts / Reading TEKS

The Texas State Board of Education has passed the much-talked-about new TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for English Language Arts/Reading. The Board did NOT approve a reading list (the idea of a state reading list was a large controversy in itself). The new curriculum is divided into three sections:

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No end soon to soaring enrollments

I stole this graph from a San Antonio-Express News article. Schools in that area are experiencing tremendous growth. One local district opens 3-5 new schools each and every year. These new schools barely keep up with growth as portable classrooms are frequently placed on campuses within the first three years of operation.

Don't get me wrong, I actually like portable classrooms -- normal shaped class, your own thermostat, windows, etc. And I cannot imagine the planning necessary to stay ahead of the population trends in some of the largest school districts in the state. You've got to buy up land in advance of the developers, and the school districts have done a good job of getting quality land (I've seen other districts where the schools flood when there's a healthy rain -- YIKES!).

We worry about stability when we address teacher retention, but this graph talks to the bigger stability issue. Students are reassigned to new schools as they open... the campus five blocks away is capped, busing kids to a different school... teachers leave to "open" new campuses (a truly unique challenge requiring quality individuals). It's tough for a campus to bond when you're losing students and staff all the time. And if you're not losing, then you're campus is so large it's tough to build effective learning communities.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Principal won't be charged

I think this is such an amusing story. Teachers are all too familiar with the pressure to improve scores on standardized tests. This principal allegedly told science teachers,
"I will kill all of you and then shoot myself...You don’t know how ruthless I can be.”
He finally admitted he may have said that. He knows he told them they would all be fired, but he's not sure about the shooting and the killing.

No charges will be filed.

Scores? We should find out soon. Last year, 62% met panel recommendation (which is this year's passing standard).


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Report Finds Racial Gap in Student Suspensions

This article examines the racial disparity in student suspensions. It's a thoughtful article... if for no other reason than the surprise that some school districts actually suspend children for persistent disruption. (Instead of having to reserve that tool for more serious issues.) I find this quote especially salient:
But any effort to study why black children are suspended more than whites should include looking at how well a mostly white teaching corps connects with an increasing number of black students, school officials say.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Texas School Finance

Dr. John Folks, superintendent of the fourth-largest school district in Texas, recently testified before the State legislature on the topic of school finance. He recently published a transcript of his testimony. Here are a few highlights:

"Northside is fortunate to have enjoyed relatively stable finances over the past several years. This is because of several very difficult decisions District leaders made to keep our finances sound when we could not afford to wait for the Legislature to take action on school finance following the West Orange-Cove ruling. In 2003-04, salaries were frozen and the budget was cut to save $22.7 million. Then, in 2004-05, block scheduling was ended at secondary schools to save $15 million. Today, those cuts add up to $180 million in savings, or costs that we have avoided. Making those cuts was not in the best interests of our staff or students – it was a financial decision.
"There is no logic applied to how a district’s target revenue is set, and one school district’s target revenue could differ from another’s by more than $2,000 per student. The formula that is used to figure out a district’s target revenue is very complex and confusing. In looking at large districts across the state, Northside fared better than some, but there are still many districts that have a target revenue figure higher than ours. If, for example, NISD had the target revenue of neighboring North East ISD, we would collect $21.2 million in additional funding annually. Or, if we had Austin’s target revenue, we’d be getting more than $67 million in additional funding. Why are some school districts expected to make do with less?
"As revenue from local property taxes increases, the less state funding school districts receive. In other words, it’s a wash, and Northside doesn’t benefit at all from the healthy economy it helps to generate.
"Northside ISD has spent approximately $1 million on mandates the 80th Legislature voted into law but failed to fund. These include: the bi-annual bus evacuation trainings, the physical fitness evaluations, and automatic external defibrillators for each campus, to mention a few. There also are new academic requirements such as the “4 x 4,” that will require us to shoulder the cost of hiring additional science teachers, improving science labs, and providing staff development."

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Girl's fear of school costs district thousands

A Pennsylvania girl suffers from "School Phobia." As a result, her local school district has spent state compensatory education funds on her to help her get an education despite her disability. There are a few interesting tidbits in the article... It seems she is able to attend a boarding school... Her mother opts not to homeschool her because mom thinks she can't help her with math & science. (To which I say, "and how is that worse than what she gets now?!"

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Friday, May 16, 2008

A Trip to Paradise

So the kiddos get a little more relaxed as school winds down, and we each have to pick our battles. I have surrendered one of my white boards and a stash of dried-out markers. Someone began my drawing "Mr. J's Summer Paradise" and sketching a stick figure in a hammock on an island with palm trees. Well, many have added to it.

There actually seems to be a competition between the pro-J and anti-J forces. First the drawing showed a coconut falling on my head. Then some kind soul added a hat to protect me. Rain was followed by umbrellas. Sharks arrived and even an orange missile labeled "NUKE." This morning the pro-J sketchers added a force field (and even a generator to circulate air inside.

Somewhere along the way the "Mr. J's Paradise" was amended to become "Mrs. J's Paradise." I'm not sure if it's her paradise because I'm off on a desert island where I can't bother her or because of the nuke.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Games in Math Education

A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University shows that using board games can develop number sense among children. The study used a game similar to "Chutes and Ladders" and measured improvements in students math skills.

I certainly played a lot of board games as a kid, and to this day, my mental model of integer addition is competing RISK armies. We also had a game called PAYDAY where you moved along a one-month calendar. There was a wide range of math skills that one developed.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dallas Middle School Substitute Come to Class Drunk

According to a Dallas Morning News article, a middle school teacher in Dallas failed a field sobriety test and was arrested... in class. Another staff member in the room suspected something and tipped of campus cops. The guy admits to having some wine with his lunch.

The police report says the officer actually had to halt the sobriety test for the guy's safety - he was that inebriated. What!? They don't halt school for the safety of all the teachers they send to face 8th graders without the aid of alcohol?! (Just kidding... this is horrible... you almost wonder how often this would happen if we had more than 25 minutes for lunch!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Credit Crunch and Kiddos

The Brookings Institute released a well researched report called The Impact of the Mortgage Crisis on Children and Their Education. The report tries to calculate the number of school children who will be displaced from their homes due to foreclosures as the mortgage crisis marches on.

The estimate is 144,400 schoolchildren in Texas will be forced out of their homes, and 1.8 million children nation-wide.

This is a good time to provide a link to the Texas Homeless Education Office. Read about the resources and policies there.

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Turnover in Math and Sciences

The Business-Higher Education Forum, a Washington-based coalition of corporate, collegiate, and philanthropic leaders, has estimated that 280,000 new math and science teachers would be needed between the time the group issued its report in 2005 and the 2014-15 academic year. That figure was based on projected increases in student enrollment, as well as requirements for decreasing student-to-teacher ratios. It did not take into account the burden of new state math and course requirements.
From Education Week: Math Group Tries to Help Young Teachers Stay the


What did you call me?

A Washington Post Article by Daniel de Vise opens with this gripping lead: "Middle schools, forever castigated as the weak link in public education..." Wha? This is how you begin a news article? I want a citation for that claim. Unless he means "Forever castigated as the repository for addled hormones..."


Monday, May 12, 2008

Blue & Orange & Red All Over

A fairly new strategy for increasing test scores is the student challenge (you know, the Double Dare physical challenge). Teachers agree to shave their heads, wear dresses, kiss pigs, etc. if students manage to pass the test.

One of my colleagues agreed to dye his hair in school colors -- orange and blue -- if his kiddos did well. And they did! He showed up last week in BRIGHT University of Florida colors.

He says kids in the hall asked, "Did you dye your hair that color?"

Uhh... what do you think!?

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2007-08 District Service Awards

My school district recognized the service of its teachers this past week. According to our superintendent, "This year we have 196 retirees, 475 receiving their 10-year pin, 152 receiving their 20-year pin, 51 receiving their 30-year pin, 16 receiving their 35-year pin, and one receiving their 40-year service pin."


Inflation imperils school districts

The state cut property tax rates, then the real estate market crashed. It means tax appraisals went up even though property values dropped.

What could go wrong?

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Schedule Changes

According to an article in today's San Antonio Express -News, San Antonio ISD (SAISD to locals) is changing high school class schedules next year. Texas' new "4x4" requirement means students must take 4 years of high school science, math, english, and social studies. This requires more credits than before, so some SAISD high schools are making the classes shorter so students can take more courses.

I've taught 45-minute classes, 50-minute, 55-minute, 46-minute (!?), and 90-minute classes. They each have pros and cons, but I was pleased to see this in the article: " The teachers will attend training this summer to help them transition to the shorter or longer class periods..." I think this kind of training is essential. For example, when you teach a 90-minute block, you cannot just jam two 45-minute lessons together! Unfortunately, schools rarely update this training when there is staff turnover.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

State Pledges & Salutes

As a followup to this morning's post, here's a list (made by me!!) of states (and territories like Guam) that have pledges or salutes to their flags. Very interesting.


And Stand Up, Too

Three Minnesota students were assigned to in-school suspension (ISS) because they would not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, according to this online article.

In Texas, the school day must begin (according to the State Legislature) with
  • the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag,
  • the Texas Pledge, and
  • a "minute" of silence.
We're all familiar with the Pledge of Allegiance. The Texas Pledge goes:
Honor the Texas Flag
I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas
One state, under God,
One and indivisible.
The line in italics was added this year.

And the minute of silence. The legislature actually says "a minute." One of our administrators actually makes sure this is a minute long. The others are kinder and instead lead us in a long "moment" of silence. It's tough for these middle schoolers to shush for one minute.

Okay, so what about protesters? Well our district policy states that a student who chooses not to participate in the pledges must have a parent-signed form on file. That makes sense to me. I have no real problem with a kiddo choosing to not participate, but mom & dad need to be aware. And this can't be a whim or "I don't feel like getting out of my chair today," but instead, "I took the time to register my feelings on paper."

A lot of the kiddos have a problem with reciting the Texas Pledge, and I would say many of the teachers do as well. I don't know anyone who has made an issue of it, but there are plenty of kids violating district policy (and state law) on this one.

The State has NO provision for students to skip the minute of silence. No parent signature will get you out of that one.

Someday I would like to research how many other states have a pledge and what each state's expectations are for beginning the school day patriotically.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Don't Give Us The Silent Treatment

According to an Express-News article, a local high school student earned a short suspension for participating in the Day of Silence to protest bullying of gay students. Turns out her silence was not the issue, but she wore a small sign that she refused to surrender.

This is one of those tough ones. No article (or office referral) can really describe all the events that led up to the suspension. The exact words, tone, attitudes on both sides that set events in motion. I know teachers who recount (with amusement) how they have sent students to the office for "stealing tape." Of course, the back story is much more exciting, but it's tough to capture that on paper.

I have no idea the details of this student's suspension. Teachers and administrators always have to judge what to ignore and what to confront.

By the way, other area schools say the protests were a "non-event." Kinda sad, all that effort goes unnoticed.

Last Year's "Best" Education Blogs

2007 Blog award finalists for best education blog.


Friday, May 9, 2008

So our administration wasn't sure how to deal with TAKS scores this year. The math results came in just before the science and social studies tests. The bosses decided that giving the kiddos their scores would stress them out before the next tests (but most of them passed!!). So we didn't let them know how they did. Sort of.

The kiddos who failed got schedule changes. So we didn't stress them out with their scores, but many of the kids got a visit from the coordinator saying, "you failed and here's the time and location of your new math class."

On top of all that, Marvel broke ranks and told all his students their results. Thanks a lot, buddy. Now my guys are bugging me: "Mr. Marvel told everyone their scores, why won't you tell us?"

Umm... because no one has even passed the scores to me yet. They should make it out here to the portables sometime before summer school.

TAKS Results Improve

So the smoke has almost cleared from the year's first administration of the TAKS math test. The second administration is only a few days away, and schools are working intensely with the kiddos who didn't make the grade the first time around.

Statewide, scores have improved:
Year% Pass% Commended
Locally, our scores made a big jump since last year. One theory (that I initially scoffed at) is that the kiddos know they have to pass this year in order to promote, so they're serious now. Well, I spent the morning working with kiddos getting ready for their second shot at the test, and they were very intent. You would think these guys would be ready to rebel at all the math they've been getting, but most of them were still working hard.

Re-Supply Sargeant

One of the greatest things about testing days -- everyone has pencils. So the kids are ingrained -- you should have 2 sharpened pencils with huge erasers and colorful grippy thingies. You should be comfortable (this used to mean, "bring a jacket in case your room is cold," but like a decade-long game of telephone, this now means kiddos try to bring blankets, pillows, slippers.

But back to the pencils. I've found half a dozen nice, new pencils lying in the hall each day since the test. Most of them still have the colorful grippy thingie too!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Closed for Maintenance

So "Crystal" wanders into class late and asks to go to the restroom. She says she forgot her pen there. I tell her, "fine," and send her on her way.

She arrives (several minutes) later.

"Did you find your pen?"

"No, they were cleaning the restroom, and the custodian told me to go to the other hall. Well, I went. And I looked, but my pen wasn't there."

The Hobo Teacher Blog

Stumbled across this entertaining teacher blog tonight... he's upbeat while finding the humor at his job.

Reading stuff like this reminds me I need to refine what audience I'm writing for here.


Go to school!

You may have seen that in Jacksonville, Florida, 15 parents were arrested this week because their children have been ditching school. Reports say that the children were ages 7-15 and each had more than 20 unexcused absences. Here's a short article (second story down). However, this isn't the first time Jacksonville has conducted one of these truancy sweeps and arrested parents.

Obviously, truancy is an important issue. Recently in San Antonio, reporters set up a camera filming high school students hanging out at nearby fast-food restaurants during school hours.

Fort Worth ISD began a program in 2000 that has become a model for reducing truancy. You can find a summary of their program at the Center for Public Education. The "Comprehensive Truancy Intervention Program" is indeed comprehensive. According to the State Comptroller, the program "is a collaborative effort between the FWISD, Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, FWPD, Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department, Lena Pope Home, mental heath and social service providers and community-based organizations." Did I mention it involves a prosecutor from the DA's office assigned full-time?

The idea was to prevent truancy in a positive manner. Parents and students are educated about the dangers associated with truancy. Conferences are held with student, parents, school officials, district attorney, and counselors to see how to remove barriers to school attendance and how to make up missing credit. If the problems persist, the case is referred to a municipal judge, but truancy cases were reduced by 1,000 when the program was implemented.


A tough math problem?

The kiddos had trouble with this question today. I quoted the question exactly and made up a graph for illustration purposes:
How much more was the difference in costs during year 1 than year 8?

So many students had to ask for clarification. Many of them asked whether the question asked about "Product A" or "Product B." Others listed the price change for each product over the eight years. These were honors 8th grade classes who had trouble parsing this question.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hurricane Katrina and student discipline

An article in USA Today looks at data from Mississippi that indicates students displaced by Hurricane Katrina have had increased discipline problems -- ostensibly due to the trauma of being displaced. "School discipline rates escalate after Katrina," reports that Mississippi students who were displaced by Katrina were suspended or expelled at a rate nearly TWICE that of other students. The only student I've had to restrain because of violence was displaced by Katrina.

This absolutely makes sense. There is plenty of focus on rebuilding New Orleans schools, even a state-created "Recovery School District" to take over many of the area schools, but the displaced students need attention too. The Children's Health Fund estimates that 40,000 - 50,000 students are still displaced from Louisiana and Mississippi even three years after the tragedy. I think many of us who work with displaced children assumed they were doing alright because that was so long ago. This research says those kiddos still need help and we still have work to do!

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

DON'T Think Ethnic

A new form of ethnic cleansing is going on in some California schools, according to a recent article in The Sacramento Bee: "Schools reclassify students, pass test under federal law."

Here's the deal (simplified): In order to be considered an "Awesome School," 75% of your students must pass the state's standardized test. But there's more! 75% percent of each "sub-population" on your campus must pass the test. 75% of the girls must pass, 75% of the guys, 75% of the whites, 75% of the Hispanics, 75% of the Pacific Islanders, and so on. BUT! There is an exception. If you don't have enough students in a certain sub-population, then you are not measured by that group's results. If you have less than 100 Native American students on campus, then that group's scores don't affect your campus rating (they still figure in your overall numbers, of course).

So here's the scam: school principals have met with parents, asking them to reclassify their sons and daughters as a different ethnicity so the campus will have less than 100 students in a certain sub-population.

Who do they think they're helping here?! This is disgusting on sooooo many levels.


Alternative Certification Programs

I recently came across a site trying to "debunk the propaganda" of Teach for America. Let me make my biases public: I am a HUGE fan of TFA. I have worked with many TFA teachers, and all but one were amazing (a much better success rate than any other group of teachers I've encountered). Further, since I earned my credentials through an "Alternative Certification Program," I am certainly a proponent of Alt-Cert Programs in general. But hey, don't just take my word for it, let's look at the facts!

A recent report by the Center for American Progress discusses the role of Alternative Certification programs. The report says that Alt-Cert programs are responsible for about one-fifth of all new teachers nationwide.

In Texas, Alt-Cert programs generate closer to 47% of new teachers (according to this State Comptroller report). This graph shows the number of NEW teachers certified through Alt-Cert programs in Texas. That number had soared above 16,000 for 2006 alone. So Alt-Cert programs are certainly filling a need by providing teachers for the classroom. What's more, many of the Alt-Cert programs (including Teach for America) are targeted to high need areas and REQUIRE their "interns" (teacher-in-training) to work in a certain field or geographical region. TFA, for example, places their interns in urban or low-performing areas.

But are they effective? The report from the Center for American progress cites studies, including one from LSU, that show that teachers certified through Alt-Cert programs are at least as effective as other teachers. The targeted nature of the Alt-Cert programs seems to be helping to close the performance gap between different socio-economic groups.

Here's the kicker in my mind: "Alternative routes to certification also increase diversity in the teaching pool."

I taught in a small town that was the 16th-poorest school district in the state. Many of the staff was born, grew up, attended school, and returned to teach all in the same town. Then a TFA intern would come in from Oregon, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and bring in a great new perspective. I considered the TFA teachers a breath of fresh air.

Some criticize that TFA exacerbates the problem of teacher-retention because interns are recruited to work for a short minimum commitment (two years, as I recall). Well, TFA asserts that 60% of their interns remain in education after their two-year commitment (though maybe not all in the inner city where they began). Some of the TFA guys I worked with are still teaching 10 years later. Some left for more affluent schools, some left for lower income schools!

The teacher-retention complaint is ridiculous. If I'm hitchhiking to California, and you can only take me as far as New Mexico, that's fine with me. I'm not going to berate you because your travel plans are different than mine. If a TFA teacher has other things to accomplish with their life, that's cool. Now they have a perspective from inside the classroom they will carry with them when they go.

So to summarize... Alternative Certification programs: addressing the teaching shortage (with tens of thousands of new teachers each year!); placing teachers who are EFFECTIVE in the classroom; increasing diversity in the classroom. Rock on!

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Monday, May 5, 2008

T.C.U. prepares students for teaching in urban areas

The Center for Urban Education at TCU focuses on a specific area of educational need -- the urban school. It has a set of needs all its own. It battles teacher shortages and high turnover.

The TCU Daily Skiff printed a special report on urban education.

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My books!

I've put together a small site in preparation for a new marketing blitz for my two education books. It even has a pretty catchy domain:

Visit the Math... First Hand Press site now. You can download sample activities or pages from each book.

Hooray, self promotion!


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Education in the News: I Know What You Did Last Math Class

The online article Education in the News: I Know What You Did Last Math Class touts the benefits of ParentConnection, allowing parents to keep track of their students' academic performance online.

Our district uses the same program, and continually enhances its abilities. Currently, parents can see e-mail or text alerts when a child's average drops below a specified grade. Parents see scores, attendance, and conduct immediately. They are expanding the program to show lunchroom purchases and more.

When the program was initially launched, as teachers we were concerned about the possible results. How quickly would parents expect grades to be posted, for example. While we do get calls and e-mails about missing assignment grades on work that is not yet due, the pros definitely outweigh the cons (in my opinion). Parent contact is so beneficial, it is hard to have too much.

Another blog....

Just found another blog from a middle school math teacher. K. Berg out in Georgia. It's always encouraging to see the similarities in campus experiences -- even four states away (dang... I had to look it up... I thought Georgia was only three states away).

The Life of a Middle School Math Teacher...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Just a link...

The US Department of Education has a new section of their website devoted to Encouraging Girls in Math and Science. I haven't explored the information there yet, but did find one interesting tidbit. They suggest increasing student performance among girls by relating math lessons to real life. I haven't done the research, but I would expect that would raise everyone's performance, not close the gap between the genders.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

The long haul

Texas replaces 45,000 retiring teachers every year. Unfortunately, many of these retirees are relatively new to the profession. Filling teaching positions seems to be only half of the battle, the State must discover ways to retain those teachers as well.

Hiring and training teachers is an expensive proposition. But what's more, studies indicate that experienced teachers are more effective in the classroom than newer teachers. A 2006 report from the State Comptroller, The Cost of Underpaying Texas Teachers, shows the relationship between teacher experience and student TAKS scores:

Average Years Exp. per Campus% of Students Meeting Panel Rec.
0 - 5 Years62
6 - 10 Years64
11 - 15 Years64
16 - 20 Years65
More Than 20 Years70

(Of course, I wonder how much of these results are due to teachers getting better with experience and how much is due to less effective teachers leaving the classroom. I also am curious how many campuses across the state have AVERAGE teacher experience greater than 20 years!!!)

Teacher groups want salaries increased for experienced teachers. They claim that salaries for beginning teachers have increased to attract people into the field. However, those salaries do not grow significantly with experience. A recent survey of several Texas school district shows that the difference between a starting teacher salary and a 10-year veteran teacher salary is about $450 per year. This chart shows the 2007-08 State Minimum Salary. You can see that the pay for a five-year teacher is 11% greater than a starting teacher, and the pay for a 10-year teacher is 32% greater than a starting teacher.

However, when local districts add to the state base salary, this increase in pay is actually diminished. In Northside ISD in San Antonio (on of the largest districts in the state), the current pay scale pays a five-year teacher less than 1% more than a starting teacher, and a 10-year teacher earns 6% more than a starting teacher.

These numbers are misleading, however. When the 10-year veteran started teaching, his or her salary was less than current starting salaries. The veteran has received annual raises as the entire scale was upgraded annually.

As this chart shows, 10 years ago, starting salaries were much lower. If a teacher only earned state minimum, he or she would have received a 28% pay increase by his or her fifth year, and a 70% increase by his or her tenth year. Again, these increases are lower in real life as districts augment the state minimums, but these graphs illustrate that is is deceiving to use one year's salary schedule to draw conclusions about teacher raises.

Salaries are only one component of teacher satisfaction. Teachers want to feel they are in a safe, positive work environment. They want meaningful input into decisions that affect them -- from curriculum to administration. They want to feel that they have adequate time, training, and ability to be effective at their jobs.


  • Texas Classroom Teacher Association's testimony to the state legislature on retention


  • Thursday, May 1, 2008

    It's something in the water

    "This year's 5th-grade class is one of the best in years."

    "Wait til you get these 8th-graders, they are something else."

    Teachers trade these comments, and there are plenty of opinions over whether we should engage in this kind of talk. Having preconceived notions can be bad, or just part of good preparation. But is there any truth to these trends? Can terrific or terrible students really be clustered by age? Are students like wine -- there are years to savor and years to put on the bargain rack?

    Certainly each group of students is different. My third year of teaching was filled with some of the most caring students I've ever encountered. They weren't geniuses, but the fact that they cared and tried their best meant they earned some of the highest scores I've ever seen. My eighth year teaching was filled with apathetic students who felt entitled to everything -- even the stuff on my desk.

    Maybe they got a bad teacher in 3rd grade, maybe our impression is shaded by one or two students, maybe these are just the natural deviations from the norm.

    Data! Average PSAT scores over the last 6 years are fairly consistent. Changes are usually less than a percentage point. Well, let's look more locally. Maybe my batch of geniuses are balanced by a batch of troublemakers in Denver.

    I looked up TAKS data from my alma mater for the last five years. There certainly are big swings from one year to the next. As much as 18 percentage points. You can even track one class as they move from one grade to the next, consistently performing above (or below) the average.

    So while I have no idea what causes these spikes in the data, at least when we get a group of headaches we can comfort ourselves that next year is different.