Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Threats - real, perceived, and created

Threats are all around us.

Some are real. Some are perceived. Some are created.

Take, for example, birds.

Birds face real threats. Cats, high tension wires, cars. Each of these threats kill lots of birds.

But the biggest threat to birds are buildings and windows. Out of every 10,000 bird deaths, buildings and windows are responsible for close to 6,000. (See chart below.)

Yet, wind turbines and windmills used to generate electrical power are often blamed for bird deaths. True wind turbines and windmills do kill birds. But the numbers are incredibly small when compared to the other threats that face birds.

What does this have to do with education?

Our students face many threats to learning.

Some of the threats are real. Poverty, lack of opportunity, safe learning environments. Each of these present real threats to students learning.

Yet, there are some who would have us believe that teachers are the greatest threat to student's learning.

It is just not true. Teachers, by and large, have a tremendously positive impact on students and their learning. Teachers help connect students in meaningful ways to their lessons. Teachers create enthusiasm for their subject. Teachers help students learn.

Are there teachers who pose a threat?

Yes. But the number of teachers who pose a threat is so very small. I understand that when teachers do pose a threat to learning - through indifference, through neglect, through incompetence - the outcomes can be devastating. I am not trying to minimize that negative impact.

But there are some in our society who seem to promote this idea that it is the teachers who pose the greatest threat to students. These people then work hard to create policies and pass laws that unnecessarily focus on changing teachers.

There are other threats to student learning that are so much more powerful and devastating than teacher indifference or incompetence.

Instead of creating a threat let's focus on the real threats to student learning - poverty, societal indifference to learning, learning environments that are not safe, and on and on - and work hard to eliminate those threats.

That will make a real difference in our students' lives!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let's Read!

My wife and her book club recently celebrated their 15th anniversary. For 15 yeats this group of women has met monthly to discuss books and to support one another.

Why would a person be willing to commit to a group for such a long period of time?

First, books are powerful. They can move us to action; they can move us to tears; they can move us to reach beyond ourselves.

Second, groups are powerful. We develop strong bonds with one another that become difficult to break.

Combne the power of books and the power of a group and a wonderfully engaging and strong combination emerges.

In conjunction with the Novi Public Library we have started a Parent-to-Parent Book Club. Our first meeting will be on September 23 where we will discuss The Motivation Breaktrhough: 6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child by Richard Lavoie.

I would invite you to join us. Books are available at the Novi Public Library. Or you could buy a copy like I did.

Sign up with the Novi Public Library. (Click on the "Adults" tab and find the information on the Parent-to-Parent Book club.)

Please come join us!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm OK and evidently you are as well

The vast majority of Michigan teachers are rated as effective or highly effective. The latest numbers posted by the Michigan Department of Education are from the 2012-2013 school year. They show that 97% of teachers were rated as effective or highly effective. (Look here for details. For the percentage click on the "percentage" tab.)

Outrageous! Unacceptable!

But why?

How many doctors are rated effective or highly effective?

I don't know. I can't find on the state of Michigan's website a list anywhere that rates doctors.

My guess is that most doctors - probably over 90% - would be rated effective or highly effective.

Yet, there are a lot of people who are obese. There are a lot of people who don't exercise. There are a lot of people who have high blood pressure. There are a lot of people who do not engage in a healthy lifestyle.

Still - most doctors would be rated as effective or highly effective.

But we don't know. Because the state of Michigan does not publish a list that rates doctors.

How many Certified Public Accountants are rated effective or highly effective? Or financial planners? Or dieticians? Or legislators?

My guess is that in most professions the vast majority of professionals are rated effective or highly effective. After all most professionals have college degrees, have lots of experience, and participate in ongoing training.

Yet, there are a lot of people whose finances are in trouble or who can't plan a meal or who can't legislate. But do we blame the accountants or the financial planners or the dieticians or the politicians?

We also don't know because the state of Michigan does not provide a rating list of CPA's or financial planners or dieticians or legislators.

Are there bad teachers and administrators?


Should bad teachers and administrators be evaluated out of their profession?


Historically, education has done a bad job of evaluating educators.

But, I would argue, that most professions have done a bad job of evaluating themselves.

That does not excuse the historically poor job educators have done in rating teachers and administrators. Rating educators is important. Teachers and administrators work with children and have a tremendous influence on their lives.

We must get educator evaluation right. But just because most end up being rated as effective does not mean the system is broken.