What your zip code says about you and the breadth of your experiences with education

Thank you to M. W. and D. P. , both somewhere in Illinois. I appreciate you weighing in on the subject of relationships between business and education. Your comments helped me to better appreciate how our zip codes affect our thinking AND help me understand why much of what is going on in today’s political miasma truly reflects the haves and have nots.  When you decided you did not like an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation, you immediately decided it was about you, out of guilt, since too many things seemed to describe you and your behavior. You gave yourself away.

I am a tutor with Wyzant and after having done substantial research, kept noticing inconsistencies regarding how tutors have been differentially handled. My questions have arisen from the fact of having read every nook, cranny and bit I could find on the website and there is NO small print, often there is nothing in print.  There are no explanations for many things which happen and often it is days before I actually notice a ‘change’ manifest itself and the effects it will take on students and myself as a tutor.  Since I have a background in education and have a keen interest in knowing why the change in A affects B in manner X, I look, watch, collect data and ask more than an average amount of questions.

The most obvious question to date is how I became a ‘Top 100’ out of 75,000 tutors. By any reasoning ability this is a strange, almost random occurrence. I asked Wyzant how this was achieved  as I would like to know what I did which caused this synchronicity. No answer from Wyzant. There were some folks who did not even know there was a top 100 or top 250…..I am going to go with marketing ploy. Pick some tutors, give them a high rating and see if this brings in more business as you have created ‘selective’ groups of tutors.  I don’t need to be in the Top 100 to know I am good.  My self esteem is not so diminutive where a ‘note’ from Wyzant changes me into a different type of tutor.   http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/how-participation-trophies-are-making-our-kids-soft-20150725

It would help  if my % of dollars paid was increased since it is clear Wyzant needs to spend very little money on marketing me.   Giving a tutor this ranking is the equivalent of giving out stock options, which only work if X happens. Giving someone the money they are worth actually demonstrates their value.

What I found out was there are other tutors who share my concerns and these are tutors who typically make $50/hr or less and live where the average middle and upper middle class folks live.  These tutors are curious as to the inner workings of things as they wish to improve their rankings and probably raise their rates. Of course there is no specific answer to achieving the top since I don’t even know what I did in 2014 which was remarkable and have nothing what-so-ever to share in regards to improving one’s ranking. In this instance people want information which is actionable.

The tutors who charge more per hour and live in wealthy enclaves  share a similar interest although there is a particular characteristic to it.   The tutors at the higher end of the socio- economic range want the ranking, much as one gets for their position in their graduating class and money is not so much of an issue.  They charge enough per hour where the ranking itself will push them onward to more students who can afford them.  The trophy is what is being sought, so the how and the why is not as relevant as the fact it was achieved. There is limited interest into how the ranking was achieved.

These two groups do not  share my concerns equally as they do not have many of the same experiences with  public education. The following is an article which demonstrates  one of many differences between different zip codes. I won’t even fully get into the differences in funding by zip codes.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-american-schools_55b67572e4b0074ba5a576c1

The issues surrounding these two groups of tutors is so diverse, one can not even have the discussions necessary to start a bridge. The group who ‘does not know’ really does not wish to know and so the discussion is upsetting and unsettling. In a world where there is little equity in the education system, the people who we wish would pay attention to the situation usually can not stomach the discussion so they block it out at every turn. This is what I found with M and D above. They could not stomach the discussion so instead they turned it inward as a criticism about themselves instead of a thinking point.  Instead of being able to argue their points, they decided they did not like the discussion and had it closed in a tutor forum.  This supported Wyzant in not having to divulge any information about their practices and saved the profit margin for yet another day.

The problems faced by these two different sets of tutors are similar in some instances and in others, amazingly different.  To start with, test prep tutors who are great at what they do usually charge accordingly and this denies access to many students who have capacity and not the pocket to benefit from these tutors.  This puts students with a smaller budget into the possibility of not getting into the college of their choice due to test scores not demonstrating their ability in comparison to peers from a more wealthy area where test prep is de rigor.  Yes, I know, test scores are only one aspect of college acceptance and apparently an important one as wealthy families make it happen. The issue I am addressing is called equity.

In an issue I addressed in a previous blog, students who are in a lower income bracket are often in a situation where their parents and/or they them self do not know how to do a better search for a best fit tutor as the possibilities are ‘limited’ to $/hr posted, ratings, and experience in hours.  When these fields are manipulated to improve profit margin ( presenting new tutors at a substantially lower percentage split instead of experienced tutors with a track record willing to make a rate adjustment), it repeats what we already know about experienced teachers fleeing certain classrooms in certain schools. This again is not equity; It is profit margin.

Bringing these discussions into the light of day causes tension and frustration. Most notably to those in zip codes where these discussions are often political and not based on actual experiences with the education system as the education system caters to them as great servants.  While the various and sundry discussions can be shut down by people unwilling to address the issues, the problems remain.

Wyzant benefits from the discussions remaining at the kum-by-ya level and not having to address the details. The tutors in particular zip codes are protected from having discussions which are too unsettling and the students, well, the students continue to be the ones to lose since money and education do not seem to mix well, if at all.


Testing Squared and Then Cubed in America and Kenya

Back in the day when I was a middle school student, I absolutely loved Mad Magazine. It helped that I had a classmate (all I remember is his first name was Howard) who looked just like the face of Mad Magazine and he was equally as devilish as what was implied in the cartoons.  Mad Magazine was great at doing things that were bad and then worse as comparative realities. It was hilarious and spot on.  I would like to carry on the Mad Magazine tradition by using testing, both in America and Kenya as my comparative realities of bad then worse. I will not tell you which is bad or worse, that if for you to sort out.

First off, if you pronounce CAHSEE  (sounds like Casey)or KCSE (literally K   C  S  E), they sound similar and it confused the hell out of me when I first moved to Kenya.

Both tests are at  the minimal level of knowledge a student/learner can have, i.e. they both come in at the bottom three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The KCSE is structured such that only about 15-20% of Kenyan learners who take these exams obtain scores which will allow them to go to university.  The CAHSEE exam does not help students in America get into college, rather, it is the high school exit exam to demonstrate you learned something in your K-12 experiences.

Even the good teachers in Kenya copy questions from the past KCSE exam books for learners in middle and end term exams.  In America, teachers use  computer tests with scantrons to measure if students are ready for annual spring testing.

Both American and Kenyan teachers teach to the test as that is the only thing which matters.

Both American and Kenyan teachers work to complete the overwhelming and unwieldly syllabi    ‘early’ to do test prep review.

In America, test scores can make or break a teacher. In Kenya, test scores can make or break a learner.

In America, the only test score(s) which matter are spring testing and where your school is on AYP.  In Kenya, the only test score which matters is the KCSE.

In Kenya and America, written out answers are not preferred as they take too long to mark when you have more than 30 students, which means that simplifying the grading process is simplifying the education process as this is not Ford Motor (oh, wait, even Ford Motor is not really Ford Motor of mass production right now).

Education is considered the most significant aspiration you can have in Kenya and America.

One country is a developing country…….

The Luxury Of Planning Time – Never Had Any

Stanford Professor Identifies Qualities Of Effective Teachers. The Des Moines Register (5/22) features an interview by Editorial-Page Editor Linda Lantor Fandel of Stanford University Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond. Fandel asks, “What are the qualities of a great teacher?” Darling-Hammond asserts that “teachers tend to be more effective when they have a strong background in the field they are teaching, and a strong background in how to teach that content, how to make it understandable to other people.” She also notes that in practice, “effective teachers set up active learning situations for students, so kids are applying and using their knowledge.” These teachers usually “have a wide repertoire of teaching strategies” and “are very attentive to the learning of each individual child.” To become more effective, Darling-Hammond noted that “in most high-achieving countries, teachers have 15 to 25 hours a week where they are planning collaboratively with their colleagues.”

I highly respect Linda Darling-Hammond’s research.  She is not afraid to say what needs to be HEARD – even if it generally falls on the deaf ears of well intentioned educators/administrators.

As I caught this particular piece, I wondered how many people the comment would fly by, over and around.   Having never had the luxury of  planning time, although I have had the luxury of ridiculous staff meetings and mini-seminars which are supposed to be for my edification/professional development, I decided to elucidate what passes for planning time at most public/charter schools.

(1) How to  use Grade-Pro and making sure every teacher is using the same conditions for marking/grading so we don’t confuse parents.

 (2) How to use the new – new test prep computer program that will simplify our life by allowing us to use the already submited and matched to state standards questions (none of which existed for science as it was not tested by the state two years ago, but, could  I generate some appropriate questions and align them to the standards, being sure the focus was science ‘literacy’ as we are really focusing on language arts – oh, and be sure to share those questions with the ‘charter school enterprise’).   Note – no time for planning, even less time to make questions after sometimes reviewing what other teacher colleagues put in and realized the questions did not align to standards, none of the possible answers could individually be correct – they were all partially correct and could be construed as such by a reasonabl person.  Further note – IT was working as hard as it could to make the system stop crashing (we were less than 50 miles from Silicon Valley and had extremely dysfunctional IT on a good day), could you just grade or something for an hour and check again (I was employed/married to  a non-union charter school)?  Oh, by the way (from principal), I need the data from your test prep reviews so I know what the students are prepared for….sorry about the IT problems, it is system wide, not just our school.

(3)How to write up a copy order for a parent volunteer (who does not speak English so we made illustrations on the order form) or for the main distrct copy center (it is too expensive to repair copiers at the school site and paper is outrageous.   If it is really a pickle, just have the students copy something from the board or maybe we can set up autodialer with a message.

(4) Discussing feeling ‘burned out’ and what to do about it by sharing with staff  and  college professor who clarified for the mostly white, middle class teachers that now we understand how underserved parents feel and we have college degrees.  Note – don’t be too sincere, principal in room and will hold it all against you, no matter what you say – ‘professionals’ don’t have these problems so we, as a staff need to get a handle on our work load.

(5) How to use my pre-packaged, pre-canned science kit (being as I have strong background in subject matter, teaching and even have an opinion about text books and can support opinion with research) as each drawer is specially labeled and organized for maximum efficiency.

I want to continue, however I believe readers of this piece get the jist.

During the time I was teaching,  I craved planning time.  I met with teacher colleagues outside of work on my ‘free’ time so I could improve my craft. I attended tons of workshops on my own dollar (school disticts do not ‘pay’ for continuing ed to renew credential) and time. I gave up righteously beautiful summer days to work on getting units in order. 

My question is this:  What is it teachers in other countries forego to have the luxury of planning time?  Is it modified grading?

*Smaller number of students (typically  had 110-150 a year, split over five periods a day, five days a week and generally two to three ‘preps’ – translation: variety of classes  I taught and needed lessons for. Ex: One Grade 7 Science, One Grade 7 Algebra, One 6,7,8 remedial math or One art class;  another year it was Grade 6 Science and math and Grade 8 Science…..)

* Less breadth to subject areas and more depth, whereby students passing to next grade really know/understand and can apply material?

*Less parental interactions – ex: student behavior is such that teachers need not spend hours contacting parents?

*Administration is responsible for more…..parent contact, student behavior issues, materials?

*Teachers work all year round but have shorter days?

My guess, having traveled and visited/taught in foreign schools, behavior is astoundingly different of students – in fact, education is REVERED in most other countries.  Teachers are respected and not considered the enemy by parents, students or school administration – teachers are treated as professionals.

Many of my teacher friends continue to laugh with me about this commodity called planning time – we don’t have the slightest idea where one may purvey or purchase this item. Suggestions?