Frustrated by the ‘insider’ use of endless acronyms created in the wake of education reform, I spent some time this summer brushing up on my vocabulary. There are so many of these new titles floating about, and we need to be able to recognize them in order to follow a simple conversation these days! It often feels like a cult, perhaps, or the secret handshake of the Freemasons. Is this how kids feel in Math class when they have no idea what the teacher is talking about?
Here are a few of my favorites:
- MOOC’s: Massive open online courses. This is the much vaunted future of education – instead of attending school or colleges, students will be able to access online courses in whatever they want or need to study. TEDtalks would be one free example, Khan Academy another. Also see Coursera, edX and Udacity. But immediately the questions arise – how to reward the successful practitioner? Or monetize the resource? (When did we start to use phrases like this?) And if there are "Superstar" teachers, what happens to the rest of us? Or to alternative opinions and methods? The jury is still out on effectiveness and there is significant pushback from the academic world. The quality of online offerings is extremely uneven, and the completion rate for students undertaking online-only versus classroom-based coursework shows far higher success when students are part of a live community. Surprise!
A fuller discussion by David L. Kirp is available from The Nation magazine: http://www.thenation.com/article/176037/tech-mania-goes-college#
Many of the most baffling acronyms come from the testing and evaluation sphere; here is one of the most widely used:
2. MOSL - From the DOE website:
Measures of Student Learning: Basics
40 percent of a teacher’s overall rating will be based on measures of student learning (MOSL). All teachers will receive:
Two different measures of student learning (40%)
o State measures (20%)
o Local measures (20%)
State Measures: State measures include state assessments or, in some instances, a list of allowable assessments and growth measures from which a principal must choose.
Local Measures: Local measures are selected by the School Local Measures Committee from a list of approved options and submitted to the principal, who may accept the recommendation or opt for the default measure, which is a school-wide measure of student learning.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This simple description belies a minefield of controversy around the misuse of test results never designed for this purpose, among many other problems. And if those two (40%) measures are negative, the other 60%, including extensive observations and individualized evaluations of effectiveness by school administrators are canceled out, becoming an over all Ineffective. Hence the cry "40% = 100%!"
Now how safe do you feel in your chosen profession, given that you may have never taught the students upon whose scores you are to be judged/fired?
2. ATR: The Absent Teacher Reserve. This is tricky stuff. ATR’s, as they have become known, are sometimes confused with teachers assigned to the 'rubber rooms', where, justifiably or not, teachers awaiting administrative hearings were placed out of schools entirely. An ATR is absolutely not the same thing. In its attempts to ‘improve’ the range of choices for today’s parents, the DOE has closed schools, and often co-located new small schools into buildings already being used. The new schools are able to hire new teachers with lower salaries, saving large chunks of their budgets by getting rid of older, more experienced teachers, and juggling titles in order to ‘excess’ teachers for a variety of reasons. So while statistically a few ATR’s may be less than stellar, they are in this situation through no fault of their own. For example, compare the lengthy DOE document for a new JHS in Dist. 27, Queens:
“If this proposal is approved, 27Q314 will be co-located with J.H.S. 226, J.H.S. 297, and P233@Q226 starting in the 2014-2015 school year.” P. 21:
‘As student enrollment at J.H.S. 226 declines, the school’s staffing needs may be reduced. All excessing will be conducted in accordance with existing labor contracts. For example, the current UFT contract will require excessing to take place in reverse seniority order within each given teaching license area. Barring system-wide layoffs, excessed teachers will be eligible to apply for other City positions, and any teachers who did not find a permanent position will be placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve (“ATR”) pool, meaning that they will continue to earn their salary while serving in the capacity of a substitute teacher in other City schools. Should there be a vacancy in the school in a teacher’s license area within one year of the teacher being excessed; the teacher will have a right of return to the school, consistent with applicable contractual provisions regarding teachers’ seniority.’
This is a list that continues to grow and to baffle the casual reader – did you know, for example, these designations - Integrated Co-Teaching (“ICT”) classes and Self-Contained (“SC”) special education classes, as well as Special Education Teacher Support Services (“SETSS”) or Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT)? Or that FSE refers to Full-Size-Equivalent rooms in assessing the availability of space in school buildings targeted for closure or co-location? Or that KPI means “Key Performance Indicators” in a school’s report card? This is just a goldmine for enlightenment, I assure you! I'll add more examples in future articles. The suggested articles below also provide much more information on the topics, so do read on. Comments with your own favorites are welcome!