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Posts tagged ‘school change’

Moneyball and quality history education

I’m thinking out loud this afternoon. So . . . good luck.

I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Lewis. Liar’s Poker, Trail Fever, The Blind Side . . . and one of my favorites, Moneyball.

I first read Moneyball just a year or so after it came out in 2003. It not only helped me better understand baseball but it also helped me see how change can be a good thing.

And so I had to go see the movie this last weekend. Of course, there were liberties taken with the story and characters but it did do a pretty good job of conveying the major theme of the book:

Collective and institutionalized wisdom is often wrong, causing people to make decisions based on flawed data.

The real question?

What does success look like and how can we measure it?

For those people unfamiliar with the specifics, Lewis writes about a guy named Billy Beane who was the general manager of the Oakland A’s. The problem that Beane had to solve was how to win baseball games with an overall team salary of about $41,000,000. Which sounds like a lot except when compared with just about every other team in the major leagues.

The New York Yankees, for example, had a team salary of around $125,000,000. So if the A’s and the Yankees both wanted the same quality player, the Yankees could always outbid the A’s and build a team of studs. The A’s would get stuck with the leftovers.

The solution? Sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics is a different way of finding good baseball players than what was being used at the time. Beane threw out the traditional methods of evaluating baseball players – the methods all other teams were using – and began finding players that no one else wanted and could afford but were still able to win games.

Simple stated – Beane figured out a way of defining success that was exactly opposite of what baseball purists were telling him. For example, he threw out the concept of high batting averages and base stealing. And instead he focused on walks and on-base percentage.

The result was that the Oakland A’s won more games over the last decade or so than any other team.

Yeah . . . so? Major league baseball is very traditional and hates change.

K-12 education is very traditional and hates change. We’re great at measuring stuff. We’re great at teaching the same thing, the same way it’s always been taught. Why? Just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

But I’m going out on a limb here. In the new world of 21st century, we need to start asking some of the same questions that Billy Beane was asking:

What does success look like and how can we measure it in a 2011 history classroom?

I’m in a conversation today with a group of teachers about how to do social studies standards and assessments differently so that kids learn what we want them to learn. And I’m thinking to myself:

What would Moneyball look like applied to social studies and history instruction?

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Sir Ken Robinson, creativity and using technology

I had the chance to hear Sir Ken Robinson speak last week. Obviously seen all of his videos but never heard him live before. I tried to keep up with what he said and have posted that below. There’s minimal editing so I hope you can get a sense of his message. Basically his talk was based on his latest edition of his book: Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

My summary at the end.


I’m a great advocate and believer in new information systems in the transformation of education.

All I do really is related to three themes: Read more

Great teachers make a difference. So do bad ones.

Manning, good. Leaf, bad.

Two great college quarterbacks. One makes it in the NFL, one doesn’t.

Yesterday’s post discussed a short essay by Malcolm Gladwell that highlights what some call the quarterback problem. A simple question with a difficult answer.

What college quarterbacks will succeed in the NFL?

Gladwell uses the problem faced by NFL general managers to extend the question into K-12 education.

What does a great teacher look like? And how do we find them?

Why worry about great teachers? Gladwell cites research documenting that great teachers transfer 1.5 years worth of content in a typical school year. Poor teachers? Barely 0.5 years worth.

About a year ago, NY Times journalist Elizabeth Green wrote Building a Better Teacher.

When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school’s control produced just a tiny impact, except for one: which teacher the student had been assigned to.

Green asks the same question Gladwell does.

There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try.

Gladwell has a solution.

Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers – that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible.

But Gladwell spent time with a variety of people, including Bob Pianta at the University of Virginia, and he began to realize that great teaching is incredibly complex. And now

this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar.


we shouldn’t be raising (teacher) standards. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree . . .

I’ve said before that we need higher standards for teachers. Ed programs should be more selective in who they let in – if they do, we’ll get better teachers on the other end. But Gladwell’s got me thinking about the quarterback problem. The best pre-service teachers may turn out to be the educational equivalent of Ryan Leaf.

The solution I’m starting to buy into?

Accept everybody. Anybody with a pulse. But judge them after they’ve started their jobs, not before.

That means the profession needs an “educational boot camp” -

. . . an apprenticeship that allows teacher candidates to be rigorously evaluated.

Find the best one by having them teach – then hire the great ones, get rid of the bad ones and train the average ones to get better. And you find the great ones in part by using some of the work that Doug Lemov has done.

Founder of Uncommon Schools, Lemov is the author of Teach Like a Champion – a collection of deliberate and intentional instructional techniques that he observed over time in the classrooms of great teachers.

. . . he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise.

We need to observe the boot camp teachers and document who uses these techniques. Keep those. With those left, document who is willing to learn these techniques. Train those. If boot camp teachers don’t have these techniques and aren’t willing (or able) to use these techniques, they need to go.

As a profession, we need to stand behind the great teachers and be willing to push the poor ones out.

This may mean changing how we as teacher groups negotiate This may involve changing tenure. This may mean paying the great teachers more.

Both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly become a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward.

It may mean changing how we do a lot of things.

But great teachers make a difference. So do the bad ones.

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K-12 Education has a quarterback problem

It was not an easy decision.

Both players came to the 1998 draft with impressive college numbers, high expectations and tons of buzz among NFL scouts. Both were All-Americans and finalists for the Heisman Trophy. In fact, both were seen by many NFL experts to be equal in ability and potential. One NFL general manager said

you really can’t go wrong with either one of them.

A year later, after a full season as a starting quarterback in the NFL, one had thrown for 3,739 yards with 26 touchdowns, set five different NFL rookie records, including most touchdown passes in a season, and was named to the NFL All-Rookie First Team.

The other?

Skipped a series of mandatory meetings required of all drafted players, was benched after nine games, threw just two touchdown passes and fifteen interceptions, passed for 1,289 yards with a terrible quarterback rating of 39.

The first? Drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning continues to start, has been selected as an All-Pro ten times, was Super Bowl MVP in 2007 and named Player of the Decade in 2009.

The other?

Ryan Leaf appeared in just 25 games over four years at San Diego, Tampa Bay and Dallas. He completed 317 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

So . . . we get it. Manning good, Leaf bad. The point?

It’s incredibly hard figuring out which great college quarterbacks will develop into great NFL quarterbacks. Everything seemed to suggest that both Manning and Leaf would be successful. One was. One wasn’t.

It’s the quarterback problem. Who do you draft?

In his short essay Most Likely to Succeed, Malcolm Gladwell of Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point fame uses the quarterback problem to illustrate a similar problem in K-12 education.

How do we know which college kids will become great teachers?


should we care?

The research seems pretty clear, Gladwell claims. With enough data, it becomes easy to identify both poor and great teachers. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University says that students of great teachers learn the equivalent of 1.5 years of content every year. Students of poor teachers learn 0.5 years of content in the same amount of time.

For the mathematically challenged, that’s a difference of a year. A year.

Teacher effects impact learning much more than school effects. A great teacher in a bad school is better for kids than a bad teacher in an excellent school. Robert Marzano’s research makes this clear:

Eric Hanushek says that simply replacing the bottom 10% of poor teachers with average ones could close any achievement gap that exists between the US and other countries.

And after years of worrying about standards, funding levels, class size and curriculum design, many are beginning to say that nothing matters more than putting great teachers in US classrooms.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it?

What do potential great teachers look like?

Tomorrow? Great teachers, how to find them and how to get them into the classroom.

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Focus on the kid, not the assessment

With state assessment time rolling around, I thought I would re-post something I wrote a year or so ago that fits here.


It’s a story many of you already know. But perhaps on a Monday late in the school year with state assessments staring us in the face, it bears repeating. I was reminded of the story while browsing through an old teaching strategy article from the Organization of American Historians.

Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams, served as a Massachusetts state senator, a US Congressman and ambassador to Great Britain under Abraham Lincoln. He was also very conscientious about keeping a daily journal and encouraged his children to do the same.

Henry Brooks, fourth of seven children, followed his advice and began journaling at a young age. A particular entry written when Brooks was eight has continued to catch our attention. Following a day spent with his father, he wrote

Went fishing with my father today, the most glorious day of my life.

The day was so glorious, in fact, that Brooks continued to talk and write about that particular day for the next thirty years. It was then that Brooks thought to compare journal entries with his father.

For that day’s entry, Charles had written:

Went fishing with my son, a day wasted.

Now it’s possible that Charles was upset that they came home empty-handed, having caught no fish. But even so, he seems to have forgotten that the process is sometimes more important than the product. That the time spent with kids is usually more important than what we do with them.

It’s easy to forget the powerful impact we can have with our students just with the time we spend with them. So a gentle reminder during the assessment season . . . make it about the kids, not just their test scores.

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Are Ed classes really “guts?”

Okay . . . I hadn’t heard the term “guts” actually used before. We used the word “cake” as in “easy as cake” and “cakewalk.” We also used “mick” for . . . that’s right, “mickey mouse.”

And, yes, all three terms describe many of the education classes at my school of choice (aka Harvard of the Plains). I especially remember some sort of multimedia class where the most difficult task was mastering the mimeograph machine.

Several years ago I wrote a quick post (apparently while in a grumpy mood) describing my thoughts about how college kids who would make great teachers choose not to become teachers – in other words, kids who should not be in teaching become teachers because it seems easy.

We’ve all heard the stories about how college athletes who want to become coaches go into the education field and don’t worry too much about becoming great teachers as long as they have time to work on game plans. And unfortunately, many of us have seen those coaches in our schools.

Now . . . before I get tons of cards and letters from social studies teachers / coaches complaining about stereotypes, let me say that there are many very good teachers who also happen to coach. But I still believe that many enter the education field for lots of reasons other than wanting to become a great teacher.

A recent article by Jonathon Zimmerman from the Christian Science Monitor  supports what I was saying in 2008. Jon’s basic thesis? We don’t challenge our pre-service teachers enough.

No matter what we call these classes – or what teaching skills they transmit – they don’t challenge students’ intellects as much as other courses do.

Pre-service education students are not asked to do as much as others:

. . . just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading.

And so they don’t work as hard:

. . . students in education and social work reported studying less, too: 10.6 hours per week, as opposed to 12.4 hours in the social sciences and the humanities. The hardest workers are science and math majors, who study 14.7 hours a week.

The result?

. . . education students show significantly lower gains than these other groups during their undergraduate careers on the College Learning Assessment (CLA), an essay-only test measuring complex reasoning and written expression. As ed schools should be the first to acknowledge, the only way to cultivate these higher-order skills is to practice them. And our students appear to do that less than most other undergraduates.

The problem is that there seems to be multiple people to blame. Colleges allow ed classes to be easy. Ed profs don’t work very hard to make their classes rigorous. Weaker kids know this and take those classes.

. . . ed schools have made it boring, by stripping it of its intellectual edge – and by letting our students slide along.The students know it, too. That’s why weaker ones flock to the subject – and the more able ones stay away. In each of the past four decades, as my colleague Sean Corcoran has shown, a declining fraction of America’s top college students have chosen to become educators.

The solution? Not as easy as it sounds. More rigor. More willingness to push weak pre-service kids out of ed programs. More willingness to push out ed profs without some sort of actual knowledge of what it’s like in the K-12 world. More real mentoring of student teachers. More classroom experiences for pre-service teachers very early in their college years.

My pipe dream?

Make getting a teacher license more like getting a medical license. Make the ed program one where the smart kids fight to get in and we get to pick and choose who moves into K-12 classrooms.

But I’m still curious. What was your guts ed class?

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