Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Think Again, Ms. Tucker

Cynthia Tucker's latest column (online here) which I first read in the Albany Times Union (7/29/14) is titled "Ineffective educators need to go". Brilliant.

Consider: Ineffective______________ need to go. I dare say you can pretty much fill in the blank with almost any profession and obtain a fairly accurate statement. For that matter, do not limit it to professions: fill it in with "toasters", "golf balls", "politicians", "garden hoses", "parents"...

The title of Ms. Tucker's column is probably meant to ignite the reader's passionate opinions, either for or against teachers. So be it. I agree with her title, but little else in her column.

One of her statements is:
It pains me to say this since I hail from a long line of educators, but schoolteachers have become a huge stumbling block to classroom reform.
She forgets to add the statement "Schoolteachers are some of the biggest proponents of classroom reform."

She also adds:
Good teachers deserve our whole-hearted support — higher salaries, better working conditions, more respect. But they ought to stop defending their weaker colleagues. Bad teachers need to be forced into another line of work.
A few items Ms. Tucker ought to recognize:

  1. Teachers are not the ones who hire and fire other teachers. Neither do teacher unions. That responsibility falls in the hands of administrators and school boards. 
  2. By state law (at least in NY) teacher salaries are the negotiated by unions with the districts.
  3. Nobody trusts anybody to be the judge of good teacher vs bad teacher.  Yet, someone would have to judge, if Ms. Tuckers utopia is to become a reality.
  4. No teacher gets tenure when hired. It is granted by school boards, generally upon recommendation by administrators.
Greensboro, NC newspaper "News & Record" had an article in its May 31, 2014 issue that included the statement 
Critics say teachers too often get tenure simply by continuing to show up for work and that bad teachers can be too expensive to fire.
Whose fault is that? Who gets the blame? That article, from the Associated Press, also talks about an ongoing North Carolina push to get teachers to waive their tenure rights in return for a pay raise. Imagine the general idea of giving up a right in exchange for cash!  

If the truth be told, spending all this time and energy addressing teachers, tenure, accountability and reform, is time spent addressing a symptom. If we want our schools to be more successful, we need a culture and society in which education is respected. A small start in that direction might be news media in this country taking a portion of their sports budget and instead reporting on successful students in the local schools. Imagine media slowly spreading the word about what academic success looks like and what it entails.

I am not saying that the world of teachers does not have room for improvement. What I am saying is that the end result will not be better if all we do is appease the gripes of those who blame it all on teachers, and it could, indeed, be much worse.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The News That is Missing

The clip here is from today's Albany Times Union, but I would expect, being an Associated Press story, that it also appeared elsewhere.  It strikes me for a few key reasons:
  1. With redeployment of 313 officers due to 48 more incidents, does it imply that, had there been a reduction of 48 shootings, the NYPD would have taken 313 officers out of those areas?
  2. Did the increase occur in the "high crime streets"?  I would have thought that the AP would have asked that, and included the answer in the story.
  3. Would the story have the same impact if the story had said that there was 1 shooting for every 14893 residents, up from 1 for every 16284 residents. Would the impact be stronger or weaker? (This is based on estimated 2012 population of 8.37 million.)
  4. The 313 officers redeployed. Where did they come from? Did crime rate in those areas go down?
  5. The officers have been redeployed for 90 days. Does that mean that mean NYPD expects the perceived need to decrease on October 6? To what would they attribute this?
  6. If 3 guns shoot 8 bullets in 1 "event", is that 1 shooting, 3 shootings, or 8 shootings?
  7. Is this increase attributable to more guns, more people with guns, or some other factor?
  8. If this increase is a random statistical bump, and due to the general process known as "regression to the mean" is followed by a comparable decrease, will this redeployment be called a success? (Just as I followed up my hole-in-one with a couple double bogies.)
The scary thing here is that in this age of tweets and texts, a lot of people are getting a lot of their "news" in digital strings shorter than this story. This is in direct competition with the push in the world of education to greater thinking and learning skills.  

If nothing else, people should be working to lengthen their attention spans and strengthen their skills. In aid to this cause, the news media should produce stories that promote both of those goals. What seems to be happening is that media has regressed in both those areas over time. Just look at the evolution of Time magazine.

The Chicago Tribune, on May 18 of this year, had this story on their web site:
Are words going out of style? At a time when the public's hunger for news reaches new heights, it is startling to hear the new word-count limits that Reuters and The Associated Press have imposed on their reporters.
Top editors at Reuters sent out a memo in early May that asks its writers in the Americas to trim their copy to 300 to 500 words for all but the most "distinctive" stories — meaning stories that offer something that nobody else does. A top editor at AP set similar limits for his staff.
The Washington Post on May 12 contributed (see here):
This is a short news article about how news articles are becoming shorter. 
The world’s largest independent news organization, the Associated Press, for one, has told its journalists to cut the fat — and keep their stories between 300 and 500 words, a length in which this story (301 words) would easily fit. 
That’s 500 words, max, on just about every one of the 2,000 or so stories AP journalists report each day, from ballgames to bomb blasts to the latest political skulduggery. 
Exceptions: AP has told its reporters that the top one or two stories in each state may run between 500 and 700 words, and the top global stories of the day may be a practically Faulknerian 700-plus words. Reporters in AP’s newly expanded investigative unit will be permitted to bust the limits. 
Why? The news service says many of its members — 15,000 or so newspapers, Web sites, and radio and TV stations around the world — lack the staff to trim stories to fit their shrinking news holes. What’s more, AP says, readers can get turned off by longer stories, especially on mobile devices, an increasingly popular way for people to get the day’s news. 
“We need to be more disciplined about what needs to be said,” Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor, said in a (short) interview. “We don’t do enough distilling and honing, and we end up making our readers do more work.”
If anyone is concerned as to how to improve education, and wishes to get a clear sense of the Common Core, do not trust what you know, as the media has cut your information in a desire to keep it simple.

Come on America, we can do better.