Weekend To-Do List
Stuff to ponder, read, hear, and watch
1. Achievement Obsession —> Depression?
READ: Derek Thompson wrote a provocative piece in the Atlantic that argues that our "culture of obsessive student achievement and long schoolwork hours can make kids depressed." One data point stuck out to me:
Forty years ago, the most anxious kids in America were those in low-income households. Beginning in the late 1990s, that flipped, according to the researcher Suniya Luthar. In a series of studies, she found that rich teens in high-achieving schools were the most anxious and depressed.
I rank Thompson's piece number one this week because I, like many of you, have been a champion of this culture of achievement. (Rikki and I also discuss this article on the latest episode of Lost Debate) He also makes a point about the recent move away from the ACT/SAT that I fully agree with:
My concern is that this elite-college policy—carried out in the name of equity—might billow the embers of a teen-anxiety firestorm. After all, when a college makes one test the core of your application, you'll cram for that test. When the same school says your assessment is based on an infinitude of talents, it's a tacit suggestion that ambitious students spend 100 hours a week cultivating as many résumé-stuffers as possible.
2. The Decline of TFA
TWEET/LISTEN: Professor Arpit Gupta (no relation) from NYU Stern tweeted about the decline of interest in TFA, showing that internet searches for the organization have declined for the past 10 years.
Chris Stewart and I have discussed TFA's struggles twice on the Citizen Stewart Show. Listen to those episodes here and here.
3. ChatGPT Used By Teachers More Than Students
READ: The Walton Family Foundation released some fascinating data about how ChatGPT is used in schools. Among their findings (in their words):
A 51% majority of teachers report using ChatGPT, with higher usage among Black (69%) and Latino (69%) teachers. This includes 40% of teachers who use it weekly and 10% who use it almost every day.
Three in ten teachers have used it for lesson planning (30%), coming up with creative ideas for classes (30%), and building background knowledge for lessons and classes (27%).
Middle school and high school teachers are more likely to have used ChatGPT for lesson planning (38% and 35%, respectively), brainstorm for ideas (38% and 34%), and build background knowledge (31% and34%) than pre-K and elementary school teachers.
Teachers are nearly four times more likely to have allowed students to use ChatGPT (38%) than caught them using it without their permission (10%). Only 15% of students admit to using the program without their teachers' permission.
By a 35-point margin, more teachers say "ChatGPT will likely have legitimate educational uses that we cannot ignore" (59%) than say "ChatGPT will likely only be useful for students to cheat" (24%).
Two-thirds of students (65%) and three-quarters of teachers (76%) agree that integrating ChatGPT for schools will be important for the future.
The biggest surprise is that: teachers are more likely to use the tool than students (51% v. 33%).
4. Denver Charter Teacher Pushes Unionization
READ: Melanie Asmar over at Chalkbeat chronicles the efforts of Cody Taffet, a teacher at a KIPP charter school in Denver, to unionize his school after administrators allegedly changed the school's schedule without input from teachers. His unionization effort was rejected by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and will now go on to the Washington-based NLRB, which has previously upheld the right of charter school workers to unionize in other cases. This is a high-stakes case, as no Colorado charter school is currently unionized. Taffet clearly wants to start a movement; he's dubbed his organization-of-one the "Colorado Charter Schools Association."
5. Special Ed Shouldn't Be Separate
READ: Julie Kim wrote a powerful piece for the Atlantic about leaving California and moving across the country to find her child a special education classroom. She argues that we shouldn't separate special education students from their peers. She had this to say about the new schools her kids attend:
The issue of whether students with disabilities should be treated as "different" or "the same" underlies many of the mechanics of special education. In both of my kids' schools, specialists also build relationships with students without disabilities and include them in activities as a way to normalize disability and the basic human need for help. Thoughtful inclusion reinforces a paradox of the human condition: We are all different and the same.
In support of this point, she cites a 2019 analysis of 40 years of research on the benefits of inclusive education. She later points to a newer meta-analysis that found more mixed results (and attempts to critique that study). I don't know what to make of the competing claims in these analyses, but Kim's story resonates with me. We should be pushing to make special education as inclusive as possible, which may require a full-scale revision of how we design the entire system of student support. (Side note: if you know Julie, let her know I'd like to interview her.)
6. Teachers as Gig Workers?
READ: Ruben Abrahams Brosbe wrote a lengthy piece in Current Affairs about the growing trend of districts "outsourcing in-person teaching positions to ed-tech companies that offer remote teachers." Here's a particularly illuminating excerpt:
The model varies somewhat from company to company, but generally, it relies on an educational support staff person to monitor a classroom of students while a certified teacher provides virtual instruction on a contract basis. Unlike with a full-time teacher, districts do not have to pay the cost of a full-time salary or benefits. Some of the companies which hire virtual teachers as full-time employees offer benefits, but many of them like Elevate and iTutor hire teachers as contract employees. Meanwhile, the districts only have to pay for the hours that the teacher is online with students. So if a school only needs one period of Spanish a day, they can hire one through a company like iTutor, rather than a full-time teacher.
According to Brosbe, these companies predate the pandemic, but demand for their services has "exploded" in the past few years. Brobe clearly thinks this is a bad thing, but I imagine some of you may disagree. Drop a comment and let us know.
7. The Invisible Education Consensus
READ: Bruno Manno argues in Smerconish.com that the media narrative over education divisions is overblown and that a majority of Americans agree on a host of major K-12 issues, such as:
expanding career and technical education
increasing school funding
boosting childcare and early learning
raising teacher pay
increasing education options
If he's right, this list could provide a road map for centrist candidates in 2024.
8. The Death of Education Reform
READ: Matthew Yglesias is out with part one of a series of essays about the "Strange Death of Education Reform." I will write more about his arguments soon, so I won't say more.
9. LAUSD Strike?
READ: Will Callan over at The 74 writes about some simmering tension between SEIU Local 99 (LAUSD service workers) and the district. Local 99 recently announced that they won't extend their current contract, which includes a no-strike provision. The union represents 30,000 custodians, bus drivers, and other service workers. Local 99 has the support of the United Teachers of Los Angeles as well as prominent school board members. This could get ugly, and kids could miss school just as they are starting to get used to some post-pandemic routine.
10. What Tradeoffs?
READ: Chester Finn over at Education Next writes about how proponents of increased teacher pay may have erred in prioritizing class size reductions:
Back when I was growing up, the crude ratio of teachers to K–12 students across the U.S. was 1 to 27. Today, it's 1 to 16. Think about it: If the ratio had stayed at 1:27, then at current budget levels, today's teacher salaries would be roughly 69 percent higher than they actually are. Yes, that's without any mega-spending increases à la Senator Sanders. We'd be looking at average pay in the $112,000 range—still for a nine-month year and still not counting benefits.
He hits progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for failing to acknowledge the need for tradeoffs:
This isn't something that Senator Sanders wants to hear, much less teachers-union heads Randi Weingarten and Becky Pringle. They don't want to make tradeoffs because they want more of everything. They take it as an article of faith that teachers are underpaid and that raising those salaries is teachers' top priority. Smaller classes, too, of course, so more teachers, please, never mind that enrollments are declining. Plus innumerable additional support personnel. Plus ever-more-generous fringe benefits—and extra pay for any sort of after-hour, lunch-time, or summer work. (What sort of profession is that?)