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Morning Shots

Direct Instruction, Direct Improvement (Claire Brefka)

I have been working at St. Anthony’s School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since the 1996-97 school year.  I began as a classroom teacher in the 7th and 8th grade teaching Science, Reading and Religion.  In 2004, I accepted the position of Reading Coordinator for the school.  Our school participates in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and has been educating children since 1872.  Over the last 4 years, our school has grown from 420 students and 27 teachers to 974 students and 50 teachers. 

In our school, you will hear administration and classroom teachers saying, “We are here to teach students what they need to know to help them further their education.”  A large majority of our students come from Spanish-speaking backgrounds and Spanish-speaking homes.  They enter an English-immersion school with low oral English, comprehension, writing and vocabulary skills.  Some students come right from Mexico with little to no speaking, reading, or writing abilities in English.  Needless to say, it was a challenge for classroom teachers to teach reading to a student who did not speak English before the fall of 2004.  In the 2004-05 school year, we had 3rd graders who had been in our school 2 years, and were not close to reading at grade level.  Today, we have 3rd graders who have been in our school for 2 years, and are reading at a 4th grade level.  

So what changed?  As the application process for the federal Reading First grant was underway, our K-3 staff and administration starting looking for a SBRR (scientifically based reading research) program to implement to make the difference for our students, targeting kindergarten, first, second, and third grade students.  After presentations from different publishers, it was SRA’s Direct Instruction program, Reading Mastery, that was chosen by our faculty to be the program to

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Conformity (Andrew McNamar)

I stood at the service counter of my local Starbucks waiting for my annoying to make White Mocha with a few modifications.  The barista was a friendly young woman who went about her task without any appearance of dislike for her job.  As I waited, I overheard a second barista, a little less friendly sounding, announce, in front of guests and the management, that my barista was out of dress code.

I looked.  Nothing stood out to me, the customer.  It turned out she had forgotten to take out her tongue ring that morning. 

I stared at the less friendly barista, confounded by her actions.  Why would she do that?  No one would have noticed, or really cared. 

Back at the school, I thought about education policies that try to make schools and teachers conform. No Child Left Behind comes to mind.  I thought of Thoreau’s drumbeat and Frost’s diverging path.  I mostly thought of how controlling the education bureaucracy has grown. I wanted to grab a notebook, a pen, and a good book so that I could march my students, to whatever drumbeat we heard, out into the woods of education and learn simply, suck the marrow out of education.  I wanted to leave the system to fail without me. 

I had recognized that the education system, the bureaucracy, needed direction. Good companies have rigid policies; great companies have a degree of flexibility.  Good schools make teachers march in line; great schools tap into the ingenuity and creativity of the individual.  Let me illustrate from my own classroom.  I teach a somewhat scripted reading program.  I was doing as the curriculum demanded.  My students didn’t understand.  It was my obligation, as the teacher, to ensure that these students understood the concept, so I punted.  Only when I

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Swap Obstacles for Teachers (Jennifer Buckingham)

The importance of high-quality teachers of maths, science and technology is self-evident and cannot be overstated. Yet there are insufficient numbers of teachers willing and able to teach these subjects, particularly at the senior school level, and their quality is highly variable.

A survey published yesterday by the Australian Council of Deans of Science found that one in five maths teachers did not study maths beyond the first year of university and one in 12 did no university maths at all. Statistics for the junior years of high school are even worse. The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies estimates that as many as 40 per cent of junior secondary maths teachers may not be suitably qualified to teach the subject.

It is just as bad for the physical sciences. Last year’s survey by the Council of Deans of Science found that one in four physics teachers and one in six chemistry teachers had neither a major nor a minor in their subject. But heads of school science departments believe that teachers need at least a minor in their subject to teach it effectively.

The many unqualified and underqualified teachers in maths and science classrooms across the country are the result of all states finding it difficult to get good teachers in these subjects. This is because there are too many obstacles and disincentives, especially pre-service teacher training and uncompetitive salaries.

A high-calibre maths or science graduate has many options and teaching is not one of the most attractive. To become a schoolteacher they face another year of university to gain a diploma of education, with the attendant loss of income. Young people know the salary prospects are initially good but there are no rewards for hard work and excellence.

For someone already working in a maths or science-based profession who

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