Thursday, August 02, 2007

LIteracy, Progress and the American Way

Another installment from my time at the Hechinger Institute seminar for New Education Reporters in July. Figured I'd wrap this up since we'll likely be blogging about the seminars we attend at NABJ next week.

The notes below -- some are story ideas, others are sites to check out, still more are concepts. Enjoy and ask questions if you have them. I'll be happy to clear up any confusion.
  1. Get comfortable with the good folks at the National Center for Early Development and Learning (
  2. Same with the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (
  3. When you observe a class, describe the emotional, organizational and instructional support to kids – that’s how you accurately assess a class. Check the tone of voice, physical distance that is maintained and eye contact.
  4. Tips for judging preschool classrooms ( check the degree of engagement between kids and teachers – increased interaction shows comfort, security; look at other kids, not just hose close to the teacher – how are they engaged? Everything should be intentional – kids should be interacting, engaged and learning
  5. Tips for assessing high schools: what hits your eye when you walk through the door: that’s the image the school wants to project ( pictures of top 5 percent of graduates or athletic trophies)
  6. Test scores are akin to box scores in sports: you can’t describe a team accurately by scores (tests) alone; you have to look at the entire game (classrooms)
  7. Good principals can’t be found in the office; if they’re in their office, they don’t know what’s in their schools. Principal job is to get everything out of the say so the teachers can teach and students can learn
  8. How to Increase Access in Public School
    - distrust is earned. By nature, news is things that are out of the ordinary.
    - Don’t say schools have a “drug problem.” Society has a drug problem. That’s just reflected in the schools.
    - Educators are legitimately protective of students (pedophiles, privacy issues, etc)
    - Educational writers should write with context (ex: “It’s not easy to educate when parents are unemployed…instead of focusing only on ailing test scores, what factors outside of school building impact learning?)
    - You won’t get in where there’s no personal access (get to know people)
    - Let them know that the better look we get at the school, the better it is for kids – we can’t see how the school looks unless we get in.
  9. Interviewing questions an educator always asks: How do you view teaching? Is it a calling or a job? Have you played competitive sports? If so, you’ve learned teamwork.
  10. who gets left out in this age of boutique schools -- are boutique schools tracking for the new millennium?
  11. The American High School system is obsolete – it needs reinvention and redesign, not reform (that is one take on it)
    - Theory of Change: schools have no idea what the problem is or how to fix it because they don’t know what good teaching is supposed to look like.
  12. Who actually gets fired because of the evaluation system? A pro forma system doesn’t foster improvement.
  13. Relevance and Relationships = how you motivate students. What is the value added? Extent you expect more from a student in the 10th grade than a student in the 4th grade?
    Ask teachers what you want students to know and be able to do as a result of their lesson assessment? There are higher standards, yes, but are they performance or content based? Are those standards clear? What does excellence look like for a student?
  14. Have political leaders take the NECAP (your local assessment) and then have them evaluate it.
  15. What do you mean by rigor and how will you assess it. IS content all you want to teach or do you want to teach competencies? Being able to memorize facts vs. being able to logically defend an argument.
  16. What does it mean to be a competent high school grad? What do they know? What don’t they know? What is the standard for excellence?
  17. Talk to people 2-5 years out of high school. What ways has high school prepared or not helped you for the career you’re doing now? What could they have done differently or better? What could they have done to help you? What could they have done to help you stay in school?
  18. There is no such thing as a grade level. What a 3rd grader in Atlanta learns is different than what a 3rd grader in Detroit learns: states set the grade levels of what students should know – it’s not regulated.
  19. Check out the Trial Urban NAEP -- -- did a major city assessment and found that environment was one of the things that impacts a student’s learning.
  20. Walk to school with a kid. What do they see? Libraries, businesses and clean parks? Or abandoned houses, graffiti and blight? What they see makes a difference?
  21. Look at old proficiency tests and see if the after school programs are effective and if it matters if they are cut or not. Compare NECAP (or other state tests) to former assessments.
  22. What safety nets are there for kids who can’t read in high school? How many kids can’t read? Define their plan of action for fixing things. What teacher training is there to help older learners? What are students reading? What is the class size? How do these learning classes impact their graduation credits?

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