Degrees of Urgency: Some Thoughts

by Beth Knittle on November 10, 2014

The state recently released “a report to the people of Massachusetts from the Massachusetts department of higher education Oct  2014

It is a pretty lengthy read on why we need more graduates particularly in the stem fields of nursing and computer science.  The background content is colleges are underfunded.  There was much discussion on how to get graduation rates up and in less then 6 years.  The report was also looking at ways to keep students in state schools and not private schools.  I suggest you read it and come to your own conclusions but here are some of my personal thoughts on the matter.

When I entered  a public college 3 decades or so ago it was expected that students graduated in 4 years and the statistics  colleges reported were the 4 year graduation rate now they report the 6 year graduation rate.

Financial aid is only for 4 years, and often the reason given for the longer time to graduate is students can’t afford the cost.  They need to take time off of to work or slow down the process so they can afford the education.  What happened?  Why such a change?

My daughter now a college junior ended up at a private school for 2 main reasons. (1) the state schools she was accepted to offered zero financial aid – not even federal loans – but the private schools offered considerable aid which made the private school much cheaper then the public alternative. (2) At the state school open houses when a parent asked why it takes 6 years the college representative said they can not guarantee the students can take all the classes they need to graduate in the 4 year period.  In this situation the students have no choice but to go to school longer.  Remember any financial aid if given is only for 4 years. Neither of these reasons are mentioned in the report. Both are reasons my daughter attends a private college.

There is a push for more students to attend college – that is the whole premiss of the report we need more graduates.  Are we building my colleges, are we hiring more staff, building more dorms? Yes, some are but that does not seem to be the main priority. The report mentioned how more money was given to schools – but in several of the state schools we visited the money was used to renovate old buildings to become “green” buildings it did not increase capacity for the increased number of students. It upgraded facilities, not increase capacity nor financial aid.

It is complicated process that seems to have gone off the rails the last several decades.  It is not going to be easy to get things back on track.  I recommend you read the report, each of our personal experiences will let us take something different from it.  Remember there is also a growing trend  to say college is  not as necessary  as it once was.

For Further Reading

Why a college degree may not be worth it.

College Ready vs out of the Basement Ready 

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The Power in Connections

by Beth Knittle on September 29, 2014

After Hurricane Sandy effected the northeast I headed down to NJ to lend my folks a hand.  The main highway I would normally take was closed in many spots so I had to drive north, across Massachusetts and then south.  On my way I passed convoy after convoy of tree service, fuel tankers and power line crews from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.  Some had banners hanging off the sides of the trucks. “NJ here we come.” “NY you are not alone.”  At a rest stop people were buying the crews coffee and snacks for the road.  When I entered NJ I was a lone car a mists the convoys.

This Saturday I passed a convoy of military vehicles and it brought me right back to that memory. I thought of all these people joining together to complete a mission; be it post storm restoration or the defense of our nation.  If you have ever been part of such a team then you know the feeling of “being able.”  Being able to get the job done, surpass obstacles, persevere, and pull together.  It is an empowering feeling being part of a mission driven group.

I am an educator and I am a member of such a team.  We have a mission and for the most part we are driven.  Though on occasion we loose our energy and the feeling of “being able.” It is at these times I need to dip into the well and reconnect with other educators for inspiration, motivation and restoration.  I am very grateful for the network of educators to which I belong.  In many ways it is like being a member of a convoy. We are on a mission and we can get the job done.

October is Connected Educator month. I learn, grow and am challenged by colleagues.  Being connected has made me a better educator and I hope I have helped others do the same. If you have not connected with a variety of educators from around the globe then you may be missing out. Please check out Connected Educators and get connected.

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Value Added Models: Where are we headed?

by Beth Knittle on July 28, 2014

Many public school educators have begun transitioning and adjusting to new educator evaluation procedures.  These evaluation tools are to included test results for students and a statistically generate Value Added Measure.  In my state we have not yet fully moved to this as many districts need to determine what District Determined Measures (DDMs) they will we use to measure teacher performance in each subject area. There are also a variety of statistical models to determine the Value Added by a particular teacher.

I really am not sure what to make all this.  I am beginning some research into this area focusing on what it means in general for educators and what it means for me particularly.  In my current role I am a teacher, evaluated as specialized instructional support personal (ie. librarian, reading specialist, caseload educators and those that consult).  I fall into the later category as I am not linked to any students and work across the district.

The first part of my research is to look at how Value Added Measures are calculated.  I would suggest taking a look at the American Statistical Association’s executive summary on Using Value Added Models for Educational Assessment. It give a good basic understanding the validity of these models. As we all know there is more to teaching, learning and education then standardized testing. How do these non tangibles effect teacher effectiveness?

Though this may be jumping the gun as I am still trying to understand the statics, I am also interested in what will become of the data when generated. Florida was one the first states to implement VAMs and to publish the results.  Granted they are only publishing the top 30% of educators in the subject areas they currently are assessing, but if you are not on the list it shows you to be in the bottom two thirds. Please take a look at this article on the release of Florida’s data and the related website where parents can look up their teacher’s effectiveness.

There is a lot for me to wrap my head around.  How about you?

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Education vs Regurgitation

July 16, 2014

As a brand new teacher I believed I could go thorough my scripted lesson plan, and point like a conductor to select students who I could guide through to the desired out comes.  I believe that if they played along, paid attention and did the work I provided they would all learn and be successful […]

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Supporting Complex Change

July 5, 2014

Integrating technology, project based learning, personalized instruction, etc all require a change in a teacher’s pedagogical practice.  That is a pretty complex change as there is nothing simple about people, teaching and learning.  The teachers I support are my ‘students’. I need to know what is not working or missing to help them achieve success […]

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Thinking about Professional Development

June 24, 2014

Summer is a time for relaxation and renewal for educators.  It is the season where we recharge the batteries, reflect on our success and failure and rethink what we will do next year.  During this “down time” many educators participated in curriculum writing and professional development.  Tim Holt recently shared his thoughts on professional development […]

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Promise, Potential, Achievement

May 22, 2014

First let’s set the context Take a moment…. Watch Hank Green – The Myth of Greatness and John Green – Deserving If you have time read John Green: Teenager, Aged 36 to give some perspective to what you just watched.  It’s a bit long, it begins as a book review but then goes back to […]

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