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Archive for November, 2010

The Best Way to Make Teachers Accountable by Kelli Hollenkamp

November 30, 2010 1 comment

As a future teacher, I am saddened to hear students complain about their high school experience and how awful it was. Several common complaints I hear are that the curriculum was too easy, too boring, or that they had a terrible teacher. I will admit that my high school experience was not perfect. I was prepared for college in some subjects, but not all. I cared more about the social aspect of high school than the academic one. I was not always pushed, and I could earn an A without having to work very hard. When I become a teacher I want to try and change my student’s mindset about school. I want to make sure that my students learn all that they need to know in my class so that they are prepared for the real world.  In my opinion, the major problem with our school system is teacher accountability. Teachers are not held to a high enough standard and the evaluations of them are not sufficient enough. Too many teachers in the profession have lost their love of their job and it is reflected in their classroom. Teachers need to be evaluated and if their evaluations show that their teaching is unsatisfactory then they need to be fired.

There are several ways that teachers are evaluated. The first method, value-added, shows a teacher’s effectiveness by tracking student achievement on tests over a period of time. The problem with this method is that there are several reasons that a great teacher could get a horrible value-added model even if they are a good teacher. The value-added results could be skewed because of students who have bad test anxiety, a disability, an unwillingness to learn, or outside factors such as the student’s home environment. Also, teacher’s value-added scores are often made public allowing parents to access the score of their child’s teacher which often leads to complaints about the teacher. Not only is this very embarrassing for the teacher, but teachers might resort to altering their curriculum to focus on the material that is on the test in order to make sure that their students perform well. In some school districts, teachers will get raises based on their student’s performances on tests.

Another method of assessing a teacher is having student’s fill out an evaluation about the effectiveness of the teacher. This method is commonly used in college classes and, as a current college student, I am usually given a form to fill out at the end of every semester to reflect on my professors. I think that college students are mature enough to give honest evaluations based solely upon the professor’s effectiveness. Middle and high school students, however, often reason with their emotions rather than their intellect. Unfortunately, middle and high school students would probably give good evaluations to teachers who gave them a good grade or whose class was easy. Similarly, if a student was really challenged in a class or earned a bad grade, they would rate the teacher badly regardless if the teacher was a good teacher. Middle and high school students are also not aware of all of the qualities of a superb teacher. Another ineffective methods is having teachers evaluate other teachers. The problem with this is that teachers might give biased evaluations based on the relationship with the teacher being evaluated.

During my school experience, teachers were evaluated by officials that sat in and observed a lesson. I found this method of evaluation very flawed. Since teachers were aware that the official was coming, they would bribe me and my classmates so that they made a good impression. I can remember one of my middle school teachers promising my class candy to answer the questions that she asked during the observation. Planned observations can never give an accurate representation of a teacher because a teacher can falsely portray a higher quality classroom experience than is present on an everyday basis.

It is very hard to evaluate a teacher’s proficiency. In my opinion, the best way to evaluate a teacher would be surprise observations. An official should be sent to a classroom without the teacher being aware that they are coming. This method of evaluation would prevent teachers from deceiving the officials. The observer would be able to get an accurate portrayal of how the classroom is run on a daily basis. Teachers would give the observer their lesson plan so that the official could see how well the teacher follows it. Teachers who fail their surprise evaluations should be referred to the school principle. The principle would then decide  the teacher’s punishment. I think that teacher’s who fail their evaluations should have further surprise evaluations by the principal, district officials, or fellow teachers. As a future teacher, I would not be offended if someone came to observe me without notice. A teacher should approach every lesson as if someone was observing them. If they put as much effort into their everyday lessons as they do when they know they are being observed, their students would definitely learn more. Surprise observations would keep teachers prepared, and teachers would view every teaching day more importantly because their job could be on the line.

It is very important to evaluate teachers to make sure that they are educating their student’s correctly. Getting feedback from an evaluation can improve a teacher’s efficiency. Self evaluating is an essential part in teaching but it also helps to have an outsider give their opinion. The outsider might be able to point out strategies the teacher could use to reach more of the students or strategies that the teacher is using that do not seem effective. I think that students would have a more positive outlook on their school experience if they had better teachers who enjoyed their job. Teaching is not a profession for everyone and unfortunately, some people do not realize that teaching is not for them until they enter the classroom. Instead of paying a lot of money to go back to college and switch their profession, a lot of people would rather keep a job even if they hate it. As a result, schools need better methods of evaluating teachers to ensure that they have the most qualified teachers in their classrooms.

Size Really Does Matter

November 29, 2010 5 comments

Why should classes be reduced to fewer than 20 students per room? I believe that when you have fewer students per room then the student has more of a chance to succeed in the class itself. I think that the students are more capable of getting to know their fellow class mates well enough to work together to get homework done or even to form friendships.

With fewer than 20 students, the students get a chance to get to know their teacher and have a good relationship with them to where they won’t be afraid to ask them questions. In an experiment by Smith and Glass, it proves that class size and achievement are linked. The less students to a class room the more likely the students were to achieving their goal. When the classes had fewer than 20 students per class (with all grades) the students did a lot better in that section of education. Classes with fewer students in it, gave the students easier contact with the teacher, and with a smaller class size the closer they get to the teacher.

When the teacher and student relationship grows it improves the learning capability in the student itself. The student doesn’t feel so afraid to go talk to the teacher because you can talk to the teacher in class and have a group discussion on it, where in a large class the students are more afraid to raise their hand to get the answer they are looking for because of how the other students will view them. The students feel more comfortable with fewer students because they all get to know one another and trust that one won’t make fun of the other for asking questions. In 1986 Robinson and Wittebols conducted a study on the class size achievement. Their results showed that with the class size smaller it helps with the disadvantaged and minority students because they don’t feel separated and pointed out. They feel like they belong and that they have a place in the class that no one can take away. They also proved that the teachers themselves need to change their plans for teaching. If they get a smaller class size, but they keep their curriculum the way it was for the larger class then it will be pointless.

The teachers need to fix their curriculum in order for the smaller classes to work. Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn says “As a teacher, I think my students would benefit from my continued professional learning as well as a smaller class.” She also says, “More time to tailor learning to the needs of individuals or small groups, less time spent marking, more time to plan creative and stimulating learning experiences.” They need to make the plans more personal, so that in the classroom they will be able to have a discussion and the whole class can be involved. I know in my classes that are smaller my fellow students and I enjoy when our class has discussions and everyone gets to share their input on the matter at hand. I know it helps me learn more and in an easier way. I think that when I talk about the subject and get all my questions out and answered I then know all the information and not just bits and pieces of it. I like knowing that I won’t be questioning myself later and I can go back to my room and know what to study and feel confident in myself to know it for the test and even if it isn’t on the test itself.

I think that when teachers encourage a class room discussion that it helps the students be more open and to be able to enjoy the class more. According to David Harris “Encouraging pupils to think, solve problems, be creative and express themselves confidently is crucial, and it is self-evident that this is best achieved with smaller groups.”  According to research it was also found that if in the earlier years of school, like kindergarten to like fourth grade, it is especially important to have smaller classes because it improves the students learning ability and boosts their achievement later in life. So I think schools should take this, especially in elementary schools, and use it. If we start having smaller groups in younger classrooms then maybe it will start a new trend and show everyone how it has affected the students and helped them.

So in conclusion, smaller classes sizes are the way to go. If students benefit more from it and are able to understand the material they are learning better then why not try to help them. I say we should be wanting our future generations smarter and more outgoing, so we should start now with smaller classes to help get the students less afraid and more willing when it comes to school and learning the information.

Categories: Class Size

Standardized Testing in High Schools

November 29, 2010 3 comments

“Information is not knowledge.”

–Albert Einstein

Do standardized tests truly better the experience and productivity in public schools?  From grade schools to middle schools and right into high schools, standardized testing is pulling down the students in American schools.  There are many Americans on both sides of this issue and many more that are unsure on what is best for them or for their children.  Students are caught in the middle forced to either take and do well on these “standardized” tests, or fall by the way side and become a second class citizen.

According to FairTest.org, over a million high school students take the ACT every year with many of these same students, and others, also taking the SAT just for a chance to get into college.  These tests are now widely used by colleges and universities as a standard that must be met in order for students to be accepted into the school and attend classes.  According to Achieve.org, some states, such as Ohio, Florida, and Texas, even have a test that students are required to pass before they are able to receive their high school diploma.  Tests such as these are a poor representation of what the common student is capable of accomplishing because every student learns at a different level and rate.

By definition, a standard is something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model or a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment.  A big part of what makes these tests “standardized,” is the implication of a time limit in which students must finish the test or suffer point deductions.  But as I witnessed in my high school,   it is possible for students to get around the time limits set on the tests and in some cases even get the tests read to them by an instructor.  This was possible by obtaining an IEP (Individualized Education Program) which can give a student special privileges not just on standardized tests, but any test that they have to take while in school.  So my question is, how can this method be considered “standardized,” if not everyone is required to meet the same requirements at test time?

The high schools in America could produce better students and increase the quality and quantity of material covered in the classroom.  This could happen if those in charge could simply let go of their precious “standardized” tests.  If you listen in the high schools, all you seem to hear is how bad our teachers are instructing in the classrooms.  It’s no wonder students don’t want to be in school anymore, they’re not learning anything. Children these days are just being fed facts and tricks on how to pass the “necessary” tests that are basically required for a student to make it into college and graduate so that they can start into a successful life and career.

So much of the classroom time these days focuses on teaching students how to pass tests rather than educating them for their future.  Having gone through the public school system and also having a mother who is a school teacher I have seen how much time is taken away from the teaching and learning process so that the students can be prepared to take the tests at the end of the year.  Much of this wasted time could be managed and used to instruct the students properly so that they are actually learning and understanding rather than spitting out information of which they have no real mastery or knowledge.  FairTest.org says that many teachers have now begun to teach to the tests other then testing their students over the material that has been covered during lecture times.  This is in part due to all of the pressure that is put on teachers and school systems to get their students to have the highest passing rate possible on these tests.  Many times the results of the tests are used to evaluate the productiveness of the schools and of the individual teachers.  The more students that they can get to pass, the more money and support they can gain for their school.  So basically, if the students fail, then they are bringing their teachers down with them.

Are standardized tests really the best thing for our schools?  Students are still “learning,” but are they understanding and mastering the information that is being presented to them?  Schools and education are supposedly improving, but it seems like the students are falling farther and farther behind as every new group that comes along.  All you seem to hear in most college courses is the professor complaining about how their students haven’t learned anything in high school.  Also many rant about what level of knowledge their students should be displaying on in and out of class assignments.  They have no right to get mad at the student or even the teachers when the standards in high schools leave no room for knowledge and understanding.  If education is truly important, than as a nation we need to begin the process of moving away from standardized test and back towards more traditional teaching methods and true knowledge.

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”

George Bernard Shaw

Categories: Standardized Testing

Smaller is Better

November 29, 2010 1 comment

Have you ever thought of how much your class size really affects your learning?  A lot of times no one even really pays attention to it; you know you just want to get in, get out and pass the class. But how big or small a class is really can affect how much you can learn. Smaller classes are usually better for people who want to actually learn what they are being taught, rather than just memorizing in order to pass the course. If you are like me, you would choose to go to a smaller school to get a better education, that is if you actually try!

When schools have smaller class sizes, there is a better chance of having one-on-one time with the teacher, which can improve the academic achievement.  Also with smaller classes, students are not as afraid to speak out, such as in group discussions, or even answering questions that the teacher is providing. When students interact with each other and get to know everyone, they feel more comfortable with talking about assignments or getting help from one another. According to the Boarding Schools Directory website, “Research suggests that small class size results in higher academic achievement. These academic gains generally occur when class size is reduced to less than 20 students. Tennessee’s Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio), a massive, controlled study conducted in the 1980s by the State Department of Education, catalogued the positive effects of small class size on student achievement in all subject areas. With results published in the American School Boards Journal and featured in many periodicals since, the authors noticed drastic improvements in a child’s education when class size decreased” (Boarding Schools). Also, after students being put into smaller classes, showed that there was a much higher, on-schedule, graduation rate of 76% versus the students in larger class sizes of 64%.

Teachers of smaller class sizes are able to interact with each student individually, and help them to understand each assignment easier. For example, if a student is struggling with a paper they have to write, the teacher could take more one-on-one time to explain what he or she needs to do in order to achieve the grade they are looking for. When students are in smaller class sizes, they tend to pay more attention, turn in homework assignments on time and work with other students (Boarding Schools Directory Website).

When small schools come together, it brings the community together also. I have experience with this, I went to a school where my graduating class was only fifty two students, that’s tiny! When my school would have football games or volleyball, whatever the sport or event, our WHOLE community would come together as one to support and cheer each other on to victory. I loved going to a small high school and would not change it for anything. I can prove that I am not the only one that thinks this, people of the New Rules Project say, “Small schools also build strong communities. Parents and neighbors are more likely to be actively involved in the school. The students benefit from community support and the school in turn fosters connections among neighbors and encourages civic participation” (New Rules Project).  Also, when it comes down to deciding between larger or smaller school, you need to look at your child and how he/she does with crowds of people. If they love the big crowds and are very outgoing, then a bigger school may not be an issue, but vice versa, it may become a HUGE deal for your child.

Now you are probably thinking about the prices for having smaller classes, and how much more expensive they are. Yes having smaller class sizes is more cost efficient, having to pay for the extra teachers, more classrooms that would be needed, etc. and the problem with needing more teachers is that the government would start hiring anyone off the streets and granted emergency credentials to teach. This would become a problem because they do not really have the experience to be teaching students, so the students would not be learning the right materials (Huffington Post).

When thinking of sending your children to school, remember to think about how you want their education to be. Even though sending your child to a smaller school may cost more, your child will have better communication with his/ her teacher and also with you. Teachers of small schools like to be able to have the parents involved in all aspects of the children’s life. Would you rather pay more money for your child’s future? Or be cheap and let your child go to a school that is inexpensive and not get as good of an education?

Categories: Class Size

Welcome to our Class Project

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This is the blog for our ENG 200 classes. It is a class in Advanced Writing at Morehead State University, and we have focused, in part, on the subject of Education Reform. One of the students’ final assignments was to write a short (750-1000 word) argument essay/blog post on the one education reform they think can best improve schools or education. The blogs you will find here are those essays.

Please remember when commenting (which we welcome) that these are students, young adults, most of whom have never posted or shared anything they have written. This is the first experience with online writing and publishing for many of them. The essays themselves have been vetted prior to publishing by their peers and by me, but I have not heavily “edited” them. The only changes I may have made are to fix formatting or linking errors.

I have attempted to make finding essays easier for readers by providing categories. Browse posts according to their general subject, or simply go through them all.

Each essay is the opinion of the individual student and that student alone. It is not the opinion of the Professor, Lee Skallerup Bessette, or the opinion of Morehead State University. If you have any questions about the course, please email me at l.skallerup@moreheadstate.edu.

Categories: Uncategorized