Evals and Eyeballs

Nothing you don’t know, but interesting nonetheless.

Now Bill Gates, who in recent years has turned his attention and considerable fortune to improving American education, is investing $335 million through his foundation to overhaul the personnel departments of several big school systems. A big chunk of that money is financing research by dozens of social scientists and thousands of teachers to develop a better system for evaluating classroom instruction.

The effort will have enormous consequences for the movement to hold schools and educators more accountable for student achievement.

Twenty states are overhauling their teacher-evaluation systems, partly to fulfill plans set in motion by a $4 billion federal grant competition, and they are eagerly awaiting the research results.

For teachers, the findings could mean more scrutiny. But they may also provide more specific guidance about what is expected of the teachers in the classroom if new experiments with other measures are adopted — including tests that gauge teachers’ mastery of their subjects, surveys that ask students about the learning environments in their classes and digital videos of teachers’ lessons, scored by experts.

Check out the rest HERE.

Clickers Uber Alles

I can certainly see the appeal

Every student in Mr. White’s class has been assigned a palm-size, wireless device that looks like a TV remote but has a far less entertaining purpose. With their clickers in hand, the students in Mr. White’s class automatically clock in as “present” as they walk into class.

They then use the numbered buttons on the devices to answer multiple-choice quizzes that count for nearly 20 percent of their grade, and that always begin precisely one minute into class. Later, with a click, they can signal to their teacher without raising a hand that they are confused by the day’s lesson.

Lots of costs though, too, and only some are financial. I vote no to clickers. What do you think of them?

Think, Know, Prove–Blackboard as a Transparency Tool

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

Yesterday’s post about Blackboard was intended as more of an informational post than a discussion post, but it raises some interesting issues related to the intersections of privacy and accountability. Lisa Delpit, who is one of my favorite education authors, writes that in most schools teachers operate much like two-year-olds engaged in parallel play (I think it was her anyway). Sitting right next to each other, a couple of two-year-olds will both play with a car or a block or whatever without engaging with each other, seemingly oblivious to the other (until they need something).

Similarly, we walk into our classrooms and shut the doors and “play with our block” in blissful isolation, with rare exceptions and have little idea what the others all around us are doing. This is good in some cases (rather not know) and bad in others (might be able to help), but ultimately it means lots of missed opportunities to collaborate, share, compare, and learn.

So, I kind of like the idea of being able to peek into each other’s classes. I am not naive about it, though, and have misgivings about the managerial surveillance implied and rendered much more convenient by the move to make our classes “open” to guest visitation and possible, subsequent pressures on academic freedom that such a surveillance may engender. I think it’s worth it, though, and good despite the risk.

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Big Brother Takes Attendance

Unjustified and deleterious paternalism or sound academic policy undertaken in support of the institutional mission and objectives? Read and decide:

The university is installing an electronic system that measures student attendance.

The university is using $75,000 in federal stimulus money to install the system, which will detect the ID cards students are carrying as they enter large classrooms, The Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday. (The cards can be read by an electronic sensor.) Faculty members can choose to receive electronic attendance reports.

And the really interesting question is this: would you request and read the attendance reports?

Beware of Educators Bearing Laptops?

Here’s a rather bizzare story from Pennsylvania about an FBI investigation of a high school administration. Apparently, the school loaned laptops to students, and then, when they didn’t get some of them back, turned on the camera installed in the lap top to “see where it was.”

Lots of interesting issues here related to privacy, responsibility (of both authority and citizens), unforeseen consequences, and the public good, but more than anything, it reminded me of Virgil’s Aeneid and gave me an excuse to poke around in it again:

Then Laocoön rushes down eagerly from the heights
of the citadel, to confront them all, a large crowd with him,
and shouts from far off: ‘O unhappy citizens, what madness?
Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think
any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation?
Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood,
or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls,
or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above,
or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse.
Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’

Virgil (translated by Kline, A.S.). The Aeneid: Book II.