School Choice Isn’t Controversial but Opponents Want You to Think It Is

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By Andrew Pillow

It’s school choice week. Many advocates and supporters of school choice have teamed up to raise awareness of the positive impact that options can bring to education.

Naturally, this brings out the opponents of school choice too. We have already covered the anti-school choice arguments in depth on this blog. They are all bad. That doesn’t stop people from regurgitating them every time school choice comes up in a debate.

This constant debate around school choice may lead you to believe school choice is “controversial” or “polarizing” but it’s not. In fact, most Americans support school choice policies. This isn’t just opinion or anecdotal evidence either. It’s supported by several different studies and polls.

The American Federation for Children recently released it’s annual school choice poll results. Around 63 percent of respondents support school choice. 33 percent said they opposed it. The majority of all three major political groups, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats supported school choice.

School choice is often framed as being “bad” for minorities by opponents. According to this survey, those attacks are not working because minorities support choice at an even higher rate than whites. About 60 percent of whites support school choice policies compared to 66 percent of Blacks and a whopping 72 percent of Latinos.

The American Federation for Children is, of course, a pro school-choice organization and that is relevant, but these numbers have been corroborated by other studies too. For example, a fairly recent poll conducted by Education Next found that less than 20% of African Americans oppose charters and vouchers. 

These polls and numbers paint a different picture than the one portrayed by school choice opponents. School choice is not a polarizing issue but school choice opponents want you to believe it is.

If the president had a positive approval rating from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Baby Boomers and Millennials we would not seriously be debating whether or not he was the most popular president of all time. So, unless we have changed the definition of “controversial” to mean majority support of all major political, age and ethnic groups across the United States then you have to concede school choice isn’t controversial.

This does not mean that school choice is without its detractors. Even if 70% of all groups supported something that is still 30% who don’t. With that being said, it’s important to distinguish the national conversation from the blogosphere. Talking heads and bloggers might be arguing about school choice… but regular people are not. And that is who matters most.   

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Principals That Are Teach For America Alumni Are Less Satisfied with Corps Members in Comparison to Other Principals

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By Andrew Pillow

If you are in education, you have likely heard of Teach For America. The nation’s most popular transition to teaching program. The Teach For America program specializes in taking recent college grads and placing them in high need areas for teachers.

Sounds like a good idea, but it is not without its critics.

Being a proud Teach For America alumni, I try and stay tuned to the national conversation. I and other TFA alumnus are always quick to defend the program from criticism. We often perceive this criticism as coming from outside detractors. But a new report shows that when it comes to TFA alumni, we are literally our own biggest critics.

A survey funded by Teach For America and conducted by Rand Education has found that Teach For America Alumni actually tend to be harder on corps members when it comes to rating abilities.

This particular survey was a survey of principals that employ Teach For America corps members. The key findings from the survey were:

1.     Overall, principals were satisfied with the performance and ability of their corps members.

“The majority of responding principals (86 percent) indicated that they were satisfied with the corps members at their schools.”   

2.     Charter school principals, and principals who were TFA alumni themselves tended to be harder on corps members than the rest of the survey respondents.

“There were significant differences in some of these perceptions by school sector and prior principal experience. Principals who were TFA alumni and those who led charter schools were significantly less likely to report positive feedback about corps members' abilities to create classroom environments that supported student growth and achievement when compared with non-TFA alumni and non–charter school participants' responses.”

3.     The main issues that principals had with corps members were the length of the teaching commitment and behavior management abilities.

“Principals had two potential concerns about hiring TFA corps members: corps members' classroom management skills and the fact that TFA corps members only make a two-year commitment to the teaching profession.”

Some of this information was already common knowledge. The “two and done” commitment was a well known gripe of most TFA critics. However it is very interesting that TFA alumni rate their own corps members lower than the general population of principals. 

Just to reiterate, most of the principals said they would hire TFA corps members and recommend them to others. However, the discrepancy in responses between the different types principals is a phenomena that is certainly worth investigating. 

Read the full study here. (Rand Corporation)

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Teaching the Way Martin Luther King Would

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By Andrew Pillow

Today is the day that we as a country honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is easy to relegate our efforts to honor MLK to quotes and lip service, which is precisely what most of us do. We tweet parts of the “I have a dream” speech. We post an iconic picture of MLK and some other civil rights leader. There is nothing wrong with that. All of that is well and good, but Martin Luther King is bigger than your social media posts. In fact, his legacy is even bigger than him.

I can’t tell you how to honor his legacy in your own life. However, I can tell you how I, as a black male history teacher, attempt to keep his dream alive: 

I always imagine how Dr. King himself would be as a teacher, and I try and emulate those traits.

1.       Never give up on a student.

Teaching in the inner city, I have the opportunity to teach a lot of students who have been written off. Some of them have been written off at every level of their education. Many of those students according to both the research and my own experience happen to be black males. This, of course, isn’t incidental. 

As a black male, I have a duty to make sure other black males have an opportunity to do their best every day. I can’t write them off. Society does that enough already.  

2.       Remember that black history didn’t start at the civil rights movement.

If you are a grade school student in the US you may get the impression that black history is the story of slavery, the civil rights movement, and Obama. Students have this impression because that’s the way we teach it. Some teachers don’t know any better, but as a history teacher, I have to do better.

Black American history in America predates the 1960s and extends beyond slavery. Our students, from all backgrounds, need to be taught that.

3.       Keep students informed of current events.

The black experience didn’t stop with the passage of the civil rights act. Black Americans continue to have success and struggles. Your students need to know about it.

That may look like reading relevant news articles in class. It may be having students reflect on their own experience. Either way, students need to realize they aren’t just learning black history… they are living it.

Most people feel like they will never have the chance to make the same level of impact as Dr. King did. Most people would be right, but I did the math and I will teach over 7,000 students in my career. That is a huge number of lives I will touch. I have to do right by them. Aftereall, you never know if that student you are ready to write off will become the next Dr. King.

Check of these other pieces in Indy/Ed MLK Day 2018 Reflection series:

"Separate and Not Equal Cannot Continue in IPS" by Cheryl Kirk

"Our Work is More Important Than Ever Before" by Barato Britt

"We Need More Dreamers" by Shawnta S. Barnes

"Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Era of 45" by David McGuire

 

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

STUDY: Students Perform Better When Teachers Receive Performance Based Bonuses

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By Andrew Pillow

Almost every teacher I know claims that they “don’t do it for the money.” However, this hasn’t stopped people from asking the question: Can you pay teachers to teach better?

According to a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research and the US Department of Education, the answer is yes.

The study was an evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund. The Teacher Incentive Fund was established by Congress in 2006. It was a grant that was meant to create a performance-based compensation system for educators in “high need” schools. This study examined 10 of the 130 school districts that received the grant.

So what did they find?

1.       The districts that were evaluated did have higher student achievement in reading and math due to the pay-for-performance mechanisms.

"Student reading achievement was higher by 2 percentile points at the end of the first year in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. The total difference remained at 1 to 2 percentile points across the subsequent three years and was statistically significant in most years. From the second year onward, the total difference in math achievement was similar in magnitude, but was statistically significant in only one year. In both subjects, these differences were equivalent to about three to four weeks of learning."

2.       The districts had trouble sustaining the program after the grant was gone.

"In each year, about half or more of the districts reported that sustainability of the TIF program was a major challenge (63 percent in the second year, 48 percent in the third year, and 58 percent in the fourth year). Consistent with these concerns, slightly fewer than half (47 percent) of the districts planned to offer bonuses to teachers based on their performance in the 2015–2016 school year, the year after their grant ended."

None of this is exactly groundbreaking information. Other studies have come to the same conclusion. Many wealthier districts have been using performance bonuses for years, and it’s certainly not because “they don’t work.”

However, this study is valuable because of how comprehensive it is and the fact it was a study of a government program using government money. These types of studies and programs tend to go further in terms of creating policy recommendations.

If nothing else, it’s further proof that well-compensated teachers, teach better, in spite of what they may say on a survey.

Read the full study here. (IES.ED)

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

This Teacher’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

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By Andrew Pillow

It’s that time of the year again. The time when people make pledges to themselves to do things they wish they did.

I’ll save you the “new year, new me” cliché and just come right out and tell you: I’m not making any promises. This list, is a list of things that I will attempt to do. No more, no less. I’m going to be ambitious about what I want to achieve, but I won’t be naïve about my ability to follow through 100% of the time. Life happens, and I won’t beat myself up about not achieving an arbitrary goal I set for myself on 12/31/2017, and neither should you.

With that being said, even though teaching is hard we should still try to get better every year. What will I be doing to get better starting on January 1st?

1.       Grade in a timely manner

I rarely give assignments that need to be graded immediately. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. Feedback is a key lever in increasing student achievement. I typically wait until grades are due to grade. This means I don’t attract the attention of any of my admin as a “late grader”, but I can do better, and I know that.

As luck would have it, I don’t have to wait to do this one. I have grades piling up right now. They aren’t due until tomorrow, but maybe I should start my New Year’s resolutions a day earlier.

2.       Contact parents more

I don’t talk to a lot of parents. I genuinely don’t have much reason too. Almost every student passes my class. I also have very few behavior problems. However, this means I should make a ton of positive calls right? Well, I don’t do those. That won’t get me in trouble, but it’s still not okay. Especially because I have some students that do well in my class, but not others; this means the school is likely missing a positive interaction opportunity.

Because I have so many students doing well, I’m going to make 2018 the year of the positive phone call.

3.       Help other teachers

I’m not a big team player. I often glance over struggling teachers in favor of doing my own thing. Which there is really no excuse for because teachers helped me when I was new and needed help. I have fallen in love with my routine, and my free time. I need to make more of an effort to offer support where I can.

4.       Use my prep time more effectively

I am not one of those people that beleives that teachers HAVE to do tons of work on their prep. The nature of this job necessitates a cool down period after kids leave the room. With that being said, I can certainly do better than checking my fantasy football team for 50 minutes.

This actually coincides with a couple of my other resolutions. Contacting parents, and grading are both things that can and should be done during my prep time.

Again, these are simply, promises to make attempts to be better.

I can’t promise all my grades will be done two weeks in advance.

I can’t promise every single student that performs well in my class will get a positive call home.

I can’t promise you I won’t check my fantasy football team. (After all it’s the playoffs)

But I can do better, and I will try.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Yes, You Should Teach Your Students About Bitcoin

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By Andrew Pillow

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple months then you have probably heard the many tales of bitcoin success. Most of us have seen the stories online. If you are generation x or a millennial, then you probably have at least one friend on social media who can’t stop bragging about it.

So what exactly is bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a form of digital money or “cryptocurrency”. It is both created and stored electronically. It is not controlled by any single entity which makes it appealing to lots of different types of people and businesses.

And yes, you should be teaching your students about it. It’s not just about its popularity at the moment (although that does make it relevant) It’s also about the future of commerce and the changing ways of economics.

“Bitcoin is not in my standards. I don’t need to teach it.”

If you teach English, Music, PE, or Art then yes, you probably have a legitimate reason to not talk about bitcoin. But if you teach social studies, economics, or any class where current events matter, then you should probably at least talk about it.

A good teacher will teach students relevant content regardless of whether or not it’s “in the book.” And considering the current exchange rate for dollars to bitcoin is $17294 to 1, it’s relevant. Yes, your state standards and pacing guides aren’t updated to include the “cryptocurrency boom of 2017”. Textbooks in the 2000s were not updated to include the advent of social media, but good teachers who kept their ears to the ground taught their students about it anyway.

If you teach any form of economics in your classes, it is difficult to understand how you could justify not at least discussing it.

“But bitcoin is just a bubble.”

Even if that is true, that doesn’t preclude the need to teach it in school, nor does it mean it will not be an important factor in the global economy going forward. The “Tulip mania” bubble of the 17th century is taught in pretty much any class that touches on that time period. The roaring 20s and subsequent stock market crash of 1929 is a standard of pretty much every economics class.

The “dotcom” boom of the late 90s was also a bubble. Does that mean schools shouldn’t have taught students about the internet? When the dotcom bubble popped, did this whole internet thing cease to be important? Obviously not.

Too often teachers teach only the topics and skills they are required to teach and neglect new topics or skills and our students are worse off for it. Imagine the impact that could have been made if inner city teachers were exposing their students to programming in the 80s or HTML in the 90s? Often times teachers teach history and fail to recognize when they are living history. Bitcoin may not be “the next big thing’, but its big enough for you to devote a little time in class to right now. If it does become the next big thing, your students will be glad they were exposed to it at an early age.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.