Friday, October 21, 2011

parent/teacher conferences

An algebra teacher has four hundred and twenty students. There are three hours for parent/teacher conferences. If each parent talks to the teacher for one minute, how many new gray hairs does the teacher have by the end of it?

a. 5
b. 100
c. 500
d. all of them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

teacher pay for performance

I'm an engineer and computer programmer. One of the things that bothers me is that my employers, and i'm talking about managers here, almost never have a clue about how good or otherwise my performance is. I'd have thought that one would get an idea based on productivity or problem solving, or problem anticipation, or something. It simply doesn't happen. Most managers have little or no technical competence of their own. They don't seem to have any way to judge the performance of any of their direct reports with respect to others. They mostly either like you personally, or they don't.

As a contractor, i've changed positions frequently, so i've gotten to participate in numerous interviews. These too, have been nearly without exception, awful. More than a few have subjected me to a "quiz". For no apparent reason, i generally have performed quite poorly on these quizzes. One exception revolved around a research question that would be worthy of a Master's Thesis. I'd never seen the problem before. Though i was not able to come to a solution in 20 minutes, my direction was at least tenable. So, my performance has historically been good on impossible questions, but poor otherwise.

In a few cases, i've gotten a new manager at an old job where the new manager subjected me to a quiz. These have also been awful gages of performance. Why have tests been so bad?

I've talked about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program that G. W. Bush pushed into law. The idea here seems to have been that 1) teacher's own test scores do not correspond with student competence, so 2) we'll test students, and reward teachers with improvements in student's scores. A logical problem with this approach is that student's scores on testing also does not correspond well with student competence.

I've just read the editorial in the AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, Summer 2011 edition. It lists a number of further points. These include the fact that NCLB was rolled out to the nation, but never tested. There are numerous statistical issues with what students are tested for what teachers, and how the response to the program is to "play the program", without concern for the education of students. For example, let's say that you are a Special Education teacher. All of your students have been given to you because they are behind. But there's no policy that protects you as a teacher. Even if you improve your student's test scores dramatically (though they're still below average), you'll be penalized. This editorial talks about how some students have been encouraged to drop out of school and pursue a GED, instead of staying in school, and lowering the average test scores for the school. This doesn't help the students. And so on. The details are important. I highly encourage everyone to read the above referenced article.

As an engineer, i don't have pay for performance unless i go into business for myself. And, even then, i only have pay for performance if i get all the business stuff right, and perhaps, am lucky. But now it appears that even if i'm an above average engineer (whatever that means), this is a good thing - judging by the teaching profession.

If we want our kids to do better in school, we have to be smarter than this. We need to use systems that work, proven in pilot programs. Our current system, forged in the general incompetence of politics, doesn't work.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

User Interface Rant

In the early days of the web, all hyperlinks were blue & underlined. Even images were outlined in blue. So all clickable links were easy to recognize. This was quickly fixed. These days, most pages have clickable images. These days, there are images that are clickable from icons that look like buttons to images you might want to see at a larger size. Seldom is there the slightest indication that they can be clicked. I ignore the boiler plate of most pages, since that's where much of the advertising or non-changing content resides. But some sites hide valuable content there - like the dates and times for events.
By default, links look like links. So web developers have to go out of their way to make this happen. Pretty strange, eh? An entire planet seemingly dedicated to user interface obfuscation.