Online courses helped kick off a movement promising that your zipcode no longer had to determine the quality of education you received. People in rural Bhutan could take a computer science class from Harvard. Students at a community college could supplement their math class with lectures from MIT. A single mom in middle America could learn to code from Google instructor.
However, as more online learning companies raise their Series D funding rounds, and players from Duolingo to Coursera try to figure out sustainable business models, we’ve reached a juncture where we need to think about the issues of equity that come with chasing paying customers. Unless we carefully examine where we put the paywalls and how we cultivate diverse student bodies in our online learning experiences, we risk transposing the same patterns of inequity that have plagued in-person education into our digital classrooms.
Teachers tend to be white, female, and have nearly a decade and a half of experience in the classroom, according to new data released Monday by the federal government.
But there are signs that the nation’s teaching force is gradually growing more diverse. It is also more heterogeneous: The nation’s charter school teachers look significantly different from teachers in traditional public schools.
As the dissatisfaction among parents with the U.S. education system grows, so too does the number of homeschoolers in America. Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75%. Although currently the percentage of homeschooled children is only 4% of all school children nationwide, the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in K-12 every year.
Despite the growth of homeschooling of late, concerns about the quality of education offered to the kids by their parents persist. But the consistently high placement of homeschooled kids on standardized assessment exams, one of the most celebrated benefits of homeschooling, should be able to put those fears to rest. Homeschooling statistics show that those who are independently educated typically score between the 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren’t present in the homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity.
If you have any desire to be a math or science teacher in California, there is no shortage of programs to help you achieve that goal.
In an effort to lure more people to the profession, the California Department of Education, California State University, the University of California and nonprofits such as 100Kin10 have all created programs to entice college students and mid-career professionals – especially those in the math and science fields – to become teachers.
100kin10 has a web site, “Blow Minds: Teach STEM,” that connects undergraduates with teacher preparation programs in the so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. And college campuses are plastered with “Teach Math!” and “Teach Science!” posters aimed not just at those majoring in math and science, but students interested in social justice as well.
For more than a decade, a glitchy and unaccountable algorithm has been making life difficult for America’s teachers. The good news is that its reign of terror might finally be drawing to a close.
I first became acquainted with the Value-Added Model in 2011, when a friend of mine, a high school principal in Brooklyn, told me that a complex mathematical system was being used to assess her teachers — and to help decide such important matters as tenure. I offered to explain the formula to her if she could get it. She said she had tried, but had been told “it’s math, you wouldn’t understand it.”
This was the first sign that something very weird was going on, and that somebody was avoiding scrutiny by invoking the authority and trustworthiness of mathematics. Not cool. The results have actually been terrible, and may be partly to blame for a national teacher shortage.
As a middle school teacher, I’m always looking for ways to get students out of their seats and moving around—to make learning physical. They want this, too. This is why I’m always excited to teach Shakespeare. The language begs to be performed.
Macbeth is one of my favorites, and it doesn’t take much to spark the interest of my seventh graders. I just turn out the lights and introduce the idea that this play is cursed: “You cannot say the title of this play in a theater, or else something bad will happen to you.” They look at me like I’m crazy when I start to share a few details of the legend. By the end, however, they are all smiling nervously at each other. And once we start reading and performing scenes, they are hooked. There’s blood, deception, and witchcraft. I mean, come on.
But here’s the thing: I want my students to move beyond a surface-level understanding of the play. I begin this process by asking them to pay attention to repeated imagery. There’s a ton, so it’s not difficult for them to do. The challenge arrives when I ask them to explain why these patterns exist. They usually have interesting ideas, but it’s my job to help them build their ideas into unique yet supportable arguments.
Even though we are halfway through the school year, the start of 2017 is the perfect opportunity for a fresh perspective on my classroom. Just like I did with my home over break, I plan to reorganize my room and purge any resources that I no longer need. If I haven’t used it yet at this point in the year, chances are I don’t actually need it and it should go. Of course, I don’t want to throw out anything that could be useful to someone else, so I will give them away to a teacher, tutor, or student that will put them to good use. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A freshly cleaned classroom is a terrific landscape for exciting new projects.
By January, the routines and activities that we have in place can become dull and redundant to students, so this is a prime time to shake things up and try something different. I have always been interested in the idea of passion projects, and while I worry that third graders might be too young for it, I also remind myself to never underestimate the power of my students. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way I envision, I’ll never know what can be improved if I don’t try it, and there will be many lessons for all of us to learn as we go through the initiatory process. I will start by helping the kids identify problems they are affected by and brainstorming ways to solve them. No limits either, because I want them to aim high and see where it takes us. I plan to integrate technology, encourage kids to blog about their challenges and successes, and incorporate other pieces of our curriculum to model a project-based learning environment, which has been a goal of mine for a long time.
One essential part of educating students successfully is assessing their progress in learning to high standards. Done well and thoughtfully, assessments are tools for learning and promoting equity. They provide necessary information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves to measure progress and improve outcomes for all learners. Done poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose, they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms. In the vital effort to ensure that all students in America are achieving at high levels, it is essential to ensure that tests are fair, are of high quality, take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that students will be prepared for success in college and careers.
In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students. The Administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution.