Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

In education news: Daily Kos’s TeacherKen wrote a phenomenal review of our Katy’s book, Why Great Teachers Quit And How We Might Stop the Exodus.

In entertainment news: I must agree with Huffington Post writer Ken Levine’s take on this season’s American Idol. First of all, I cracked up when he referred to new judge Steven Tyler as “Carly Simon.” Also, he is right that it has become a competition of 16-year-olds — after all, these kids grew up on Idol and prepped for it their entire lives. And did you notice that they sounded exactly the same?

Oprah Winfrey is expected to reveal a family secret today on her show, according to the Seattle Post Intelligence. Will you be watching?

In political news: Please join us tomorrow night for our State of the Union Open Thread. The speech is slated to air 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Review: Why Great Teachers Quit

Over the break, I had the pleasure of reading a book by our very own Katy Farber. I always get a thrill reading books by people who I know and admire.

Katy, who not only parents two girls and writes for MotherTalkers and Non-Toxic Kids, but she is also an elementary school science teacher. (Where do you find the time, girl?)

In her first book, Why Great Teachers Quit And How We Might Stop the Exodus, Katy examines just that: why are so many young, smart and idealistic people exiting the field in droves within the first five years? While she did examine the obvious reasons of low pay and crazy hours, which left me convinced that teaching is not a family-friendly profession, her answer was much more nuanced.

For example, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, the No. 1 reason teachers left high poverty, urban public schools was because of poor administrative support (50 percent) and not poor salary (26.9 percent). A lack of faculty influence (42.5 percent) was the second biggest reason teachers left poor urban public schools. As for teachers in low poverty, suburban public schools, they left due to poor salary (51 percent) followed by poor administrative support (30 percent). Notice that their reasons for leaving had nothing to do with the students.

Which leads me to one of the biggest factors driving out teachers: politics. Legislation like No Child Left Behind and standardized testing is decreasing student morale and forcing out teachers, who must take even more time from their busy schedules to supervise students during the test rather than teach or grade papers. Also, they have not been trained to supervise such tests in a way that would please legislators, often non-educators, mandating such testing.

What surprised me was that, while well-intentioned, these tests have not increased student achievement.

In some cases, when it looks as though test scores are going up, one must read the back story to understand whether all students were assessed, how the dropout rate plays into it, and how much quality teaching is happening. Houston, Texas, was touted nationally as a success story for raising the test scores of all of its students. The district claimed a low 1.5 percent dropout rate, but at Sharpston High School, 463 of 1,700 students left during the school year; none were reported as dropping out. Instead, they were assigned a code that meant they had changed schools, gone back to a native country, or gone for their GED, when many of them never reported these reasons to the school (Meier et al., 2004). The real story is that a new correlation has arisen from frequent standardized testing: falling graduation rates as standardized testing increases (Meier et al., 2004).

Interesting, eh? Another aspect of Katy’s book that I liked was that it wasn’t simply a whiny tome on the state of education today, rather it offered educators solutions to implement best practices. She visited schools all across the country and interviewed dozens of teachers both online and offline. She gave examples of schools that were actually implementing these practices, like, the Sherman Oaks Community Charter School in California, which allows teachers and staff 90 minutes daily of uninterrupted time to collaborate.

Here is a great example of how parents can partner with teachers to give children the best possible education:

In an era of dwindling budgets and jam-packed agendas, this may seem impossible. Not so, says Principal Peggy Bryan (Curtis, 2000). At Sherman Oaks, “Teachers meet while students have lunch, study hall, and a recreation period. Paraprofessionals — usually parents — come in during that time and oversee the children. ‘It’s simple, inexpensive, and it makes all the difference'” (para. 8), she said.

While the format is always under revision, teachers use this time for planning, grade-level meetings, cross-grade meetings, and problem solving. This lends itself to a feeling of professionalism, colleagueship, and support…By providing built-in opportunities like this, Sherman Oaks fosters a collaborative community that works together to support every child, and every teacher as they constantly hone and learn their craft.

Katy’s book is a quick and delightful read, a mere 156 pages. But one area I would have loved to see her dedicate a chapter to is that of “education reform.” So-called education reformers like Teach for America, charter school proponents, and DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, have rankled some in the teaching profession because they are non-union. But I am interested to see what success, if any, they have had.

There are a few ideas that I am especially curious as to whether they would work. One is year-round schooling as practiced by charter schools like KIPP in Texas. It makes sense that three-month summer vacations are not compatible with a working parent’s schedule, especially one who cannot afford day camps. Of course, I would rather parents receive vacation, too, but it doesn’t seem realistic in an era of fewer full-time jobs and people working multiple part-time jobs.  

The other, as proposed by Rhee, is more money in lieu of tenure. I wonder how many teachers would go for it?

Finally, I am wondering how the three-year teaching cycles as dictated by Teach for America is working for them. On the one hand, I am sad that children in high risk areas are experiencing such high staff turnover. But a part of me also wonders if some schools are so tough that it is better for a teacher to remain there only three years to avoid burnout — like the military, another tough job. I don’t know, which is why I’d like more research on this. What do you all think?


Saturday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

A study of more than 12,000 couples in Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948, has found that couples are 75 percent more likely to divorce if their closest friends break up, according to the Daily Mail in the UK.

Congrats to our Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids, whose new book Why Great Teachers Quit was officially released this week.

Here are two more articles I’d like to highlight from Parents magazine. The first one, “The New American Dad,” was about fathers who are the primary caregivers in their families. Currently, 25 percent of preschool-aged children have their dad as their primary caregiver. And 28 percent of U.S. wives between the ages of 30 and 44 have more education than their husbands. The remaining 53 percent of couples have the same levels of education.

Another article, “Battling Tattling,” touched a nerve. (I could not find the article online.) It is a miracle I have not run out of my house screaming from all the tattling that goes on here. “Ari hit me!” a three-year-old Eli complains. “No! She hit me first!” a 6-year-old Ari retorts. And then a battle ensues, and usually, one or both kids cry. It is getting on my last nerve.

Fortunately, in the car, we have three rows of seats. Ari likes sitting in the last row, while Eli’s carseat is in the second row. At least there’s peace and quiet there. Whew!

But at home is another story. I tried one of the pieces of advice doled out by the magazine, which is to ask the child why they are telling on the other kid. “Are you trying to get your sister into trouble?” I asked Ari.

“Yeah, she knocked down my legos!” There goes that idea.

What do you do to combat tattling in your home? What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The New York Times ran a sad story about how there are more Russian orphans today — 700,000 — than at the end of World War II. In the last three years, 30,000 of these children were returned by their foster or guardian families in Russia to the orphanage. That number does not include failed placements abroad. From the article, it sounds like it is in Russia’s interest to keep these children in orphanages for job creation purposes. Disgusting.

A 90-year-old woman in Independence, Missouri, will attend her first prom with her great grandson, according to an ABC News affiliate.

Wal-Mart will pay a $27.6 million fine for improperly disposing of hazardous waste in California, according to the Associated Press.

I recently commented in an Expecting Words blog entry about avoiding germs or illnesses in young kids. I was glad to see I was not the only one of the opinion that avoiding all germs is a losing battle. I used to bust out the hand sanitizer with my first kid, but now, as long as no one has a high fever or is puking, I allow contact with sick kids all the time. It is inevitable. In spite of all the precautions I took during Ari’s first year of preschool, we were sick all the time. Now I just make sure everyone washes their hands and has the flu shot and hope for the best. So far, knock on wood, we have not had the flu since Ari first began school four years ago. Colds, yes, but nothing major. Are you the type of parent to avoid all illnesses, take some precautions or whatever? Don’t forget to take my poll!

In somewhat related news, a very sick mom at the Mamasource newsletter asked for advice on how to entertain a 13-month-old while she recovered. Oh, I feel for her. Remember the days when sick days were actually sick days? Anyways, I want to echo the other moms in the newsletter — you have to subscribe to receive it — that when I am sick and the kids are healthy, I plop them in front of the TV, or ask family and friends for a hand. Most of the time, my husband and our friends have to work, so I just plop them in front of the TV, and then rely on play dates during off hours.

President Barack Obama will deliver a commencement speech at Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which won a White House-sponsored competition entitled the “Top High School Commencement Challenge.” The other five finalists, also listed in the press release, will receive cabinet secretary or senior administration officials to deliver commencement speeches at their graduations. What a great idea.

Congratulations to Katy Farber, who has been a contributing writer here at MotherTalkers. She now has a book on pre-order at Amazon called Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus. It sounds like a topic we’d discuss around these parts, and of course, she is a fabulous writer.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Do You Know Any Teachers or Former Teachers?

Teachers, and former teachers, the world needs to hear from you.  After watching one of my friends, a talented young teacher, quit teaching suddenly and for good, and having a tough year where I thought about quitting myself, I started reading about teacher attrition.  

As you probably know, one in three teachers is likely to quit in their first 3 years and that number jumps to almost fifty percent by 5 years of teaching in some locations.  This costs millions of dollars for schools, disjointed education for students, and lost opportunity for educational leaders.  

I don’t think many people outside of education know what it is really like to teach day in and day out in America’s schools.  The list of challenges is ever increasing; the amount of support, respect and leadership in many cases is dwindling.  
That is why I am writing a book called Why Great Teachers Quit.  I’ve secured a publisher and need to hear from teachers about what they feel are the most pressing and challenging issues facing educators.  I not only need to hear from teachers who quit the profession, but from teachers at every level who are still teaching.  This way I can share problems from those who quit teaching, and the strategies teachers currently use to sustain themselves in this important career.

So please, if you could spare a few minutes and visit
Why Do You Teach  (if you are currently a teacher) and Why Great Teachers Quit (if you have quit teaching and moved on to another career) it would be most helpful.  

And if you could pass this on to every teacher (and former teacher) you know I would greatly appreciate it.  The more people I hear from, the more educational leaders, policy makers and academics will understand the challenges that educators face, and then more solutions and strategies can be found to support great teachers (and students!) in the classroom.

Thank you,