Nature in the Front Yard: Evolution in the City

 

The voyage on H.M.S. Beagle that led to the theory of evolution took Charles Darwin to many remote places, most famously, the Galápagos Islands, 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.

But whether on a Pacific island or in the middle of New York city, the forces of evolution are in operation because science assumes that the universe is a vast single system in which basic laws are consistent no matter where you look. (Quinn et al., 2013)

Actually urban areas are different in one important respect which is that the rapidity of evolutionary forces depends on the “strength of natural selection — the relative benefit that a particular characteristic bestows on its bearer — is strong.” Even a small difference can matter greatly, especially in an urban environment because it is about as extreme and stressful as it is possible to find with its temperatures (warmer than surrounding countryside); its noise (a constant and invasive din that drowns out the usual warning sounds); further the urban landscape is encased in concrete and other substances hostile to the gripping of claws or traction for paws.  Then there are lots of humans, with their tempting trash along with their deadly cats and dogs, their waste that pollutes water, air, and soil.  (Schilthuizen, 2016)

This means that as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, more and more organisms are either being engulfed by urban areas or are gravitating to opportunities found in them.

Biologists therefore are “beginning to realize that the expanding urban sprawl is perhaps not something to be depressed about but something very exciting, as entirely new forms of life are evolving” in them. (Schilthuizen, 2016)

Jason Munshi-South, the director of the Munshi-South “Evolution in the Anthropocene” lab at Fordham University sees New York city as not only one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments but also as the home to native wildlife that are “subject to a grand evolutionary experiment.” (Munshi-South, Ted Ed talk)

Four hundred years ago the territory that makes up modern New York was covered by forest and meadow and was the home to a huge population of white-footed mice.

Four hundred years later the forests and meadows have largely been replaced by city streets, office buildings, multi-storied apartment buildings, and lots and lots of people, with their dangerously fast moving automobiles, noise, food waste, and trash while the white-footed mice are now crowded into the small patches of forest and meadows of the city’s parks. For Munshi-South the mice provide a model of what happens when wild organisms are engulfed by an urban ecosystem.

Advances in genetics have made it possible to identify changes that have occurred in a species because an organism’s genome is a record of its genetic history as well as that of its ancestors.

Genes are short segments of DNA which carry the recipes for creating the amino acids which are the building blocks for the proteins that actually do the cell’s work: its metabolism, its immune response, its reproduction, and so on.

If it happens that a single base pair on a gene changes and the change leads to an advantage for the mouse, for example, more babies, then this change will spread through a population because it will provide the individuals possessing the trait with increased fitness in the competition for survival. (Munshi-South, 2012)

After the examination of several thousand snippets of DNA from the genomes of 191 individual mice taken from 23 sites representing samples of both urban and “wild” environments, and then comparing the results with computer models the investigators were able to trace the history of the population of white-footed mice living in the area around New York.

About 12,000 years ago (coincident with the end of the last North American ice age) when rising sea levels separated Manhattan from the mainland, the genomes of the mice on Manhattan began to diverge from those on the mainland. Then about 400 years ago when Europeans began the settlement that soon became New York, more genetic divergence began to appear as the green space gave way to urban development. As Stephan Harris, a postdoctoral evolutionary biology researcher at Columbia University said, “The exciting thing is that the times of the divergence that we inferred lined up with the arrival of Europeans in New York.” (Netburn, 2016)

In the relatively brief time that New York has been populated by humans, the once genetically similar population of white-footed mice have evolved into genetically distinct populations each inhabiting a different park. The mice in one park are distinctive enough that the home park of a randomly selected New York white-footed mouse can be identified by examining just 18 snippets from its genome.

More significantly, the mice in different parks have developed park-specific traits related to their response to infection, their metabolism, and even their tolerance for environmentally occurring heavy metals like chromium and lead. (Munshi-South, 2012)

You don’t need a berth on the H.M.S. Beagle that will take you around the world to find evolution in action.

There are lots of great opportunities for “citizen science” projects where you can study nature in your home and neighborhood by tracking your local cats or the microscopic mites (Demodox) that are at home in the pores of your skin (yes, yours and mine).

You can find more about these projects at the Your Wild Life website.

 

Resources:

 

Menninger, Holly & Rob Dunn. Your Wild Life: Exploring biodiversity in our daily lives.

Munshi-South, Jason (2017). Evolution in Anthropocene. Retrieved from http://nycevolution.org

 

Munshi-South, Jason (2012). TED Ed.  Evolution in the Big City, retrieved from http://ed.ted.com/lessons/evolution-in-a-big-city

 

Netburn, D. (2016c). Why the City Mouse and the Country Mouse Have Different Genes. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-city-mouse-20160415-story.html

 

Schilthuizen, Menno (2016). Evolution is Happening Faster Than We Thought.  New York Times, Sunday Review, July 23, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/opinion/sunday/evolution-is-happening-faster-than-we-thought.html?_r=0#st

 

Quinn, Helen R., Schweingruber, Heidi, Keller, Thomas, & others, A. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: National Research Council of the National Academies. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu

 

tags:

evolution, urban ecosystem, fitness, gene, genome, genetics, white-footed mouse, New York, natural selection, citizen science, project-based curriculum

 

 

Our Ever-Stranger Universe

For most of human history, we believed that what we saw, heard, and felt was all that made up the real world. This changed around the beginning of the 20th century when modern science began to make uncomfortable discoveries such as that by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen whose discovery of X-Rays revealed that even more of a reality that was invisible and undetectable by our ordinary senses, or by our “common sense.”
Roentgen won the first Nobel Prize for physics in 1901. Subsequent Nobel Prizes have continued to show how our normal world is really composed of many strange new worlds as revealed by microscopes, telescopes, X-rays, and gravity waves.
What we once imagined as being strange (“goblins, ghosts, and things that go ‘bump’ in the night”) are nothing when compared to the strangeness that science has revealed. As the British evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane noted the universe is not only queer, “but even queerer than we can suppose.”
And now it turns out that “everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter,” represents only about 5 percent of reality. The remaining 95 percent is composed of something called Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which are undetectable except by their effects.
The road to this discovery began with a series of investations made in the 1970s by Vera Rubin, a researcher at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC.
Rubin’s work focused on the dynamics of stars within galaxies, how the gravity within galaxies affects the stars in the galaxy. She was measuring the speed of the stars in various parts in a spiral galaxy by examining the spectra of light emitted by the stars. A star that is moving away from the observer will show that its spectrum will shift toward the red end of the spectrum while one moving toward the observer will shift to the blue end. The shift will be proportional to the star’s speed. (The Doppler Effect: the change in frequency or wavelength of a wave (or other periodic event) for an observer moving relative to its source.)
According to our understanding of the effect of gravity on the motion of stars, those at the center of a spiral galaxy (where there is more mass) should rotate faster than those farther from the galaxy’s center. (The phenomenon is known as the “galactic rotational curve.”) Strangely Rubin’s measurements showed that stars farther from the center of the galaxy were rotating as fast as those nearer the center.
Rubin and a colleague checked their data by examing the motion of stars in 60 other spriral galaxies and found the same outcomes. The outcomes revealed that there was a “galaxy rotational problem.”
Rubin’s solved it by using the rotational speed of the stars she studied in order to calculate how much mass was needed to account for the gravity needed for the stars to attain their observed rotational speed.
Her calculations revealed that the galaxies must contain about 10 times more mass than could be accounted for by the visible stars, and concluded that 90 percent of the mass in the galaxies she tested was invisible. “What you see in a spiral galaxy is not what you get,” Rubin observed. (AMNH, 2000)
Rubin’s results were treated with skepticism until, when in the 1990s, astronomers began to calculate what they anticipated would be the deceleration of the Universe’s expansion. The surprise was that, the Universe appeared to be accelerating instead. Calculations of the total visible mass in the universe against the gravity that was holding galaxies and solar systems together revealed a “missing matter problem.”
Every mass in the universe attracts every other mass proportionally to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Calculations of the gravity needed to account for how objects are held in galaxies and galaxy clusters, reveals that the visible universe (“everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter”) accounts for only about 5 percent of the mass needed. (You can see the calculations required to support these conclusions here.)
The remaining “roughly 68%” of the universe is dark energy while 27% is dark matter. (NASA, Universe)
So the normal matter, what has been studied deeply is not actually normal. What is normal, the “dark” matter and “dark” energy interacts gravitationally just like ordinary matter does—clumping into galaxies and galaxy clusters. It is “dark” because it doesn’t interact in any way that we can so far detect with light. “It is not made up of atoms and doesn’t carry an electron charge.” (Randall, 2017)
This is science, so investigations continue.
Brian Koberlein, an astronomer at Oberlin College, explains the facts that support the Dark Matter/Dark Energy theory.
Since the 1920s discrepencies have been found that are explained by either that our understanding of gravity is wrong or that there is more mass in the universe than we can see.
But our current gravitational model does seem to work and alternatives that have been proposed have been disproved by observation, leading to the conclusion that the second clause in the previous sentence is true.
Next the proposition that there are examples of mass that only interacts weakly with light is true. Neutrinos have mass and weakly interact with light but there must be additional types of dark matter.
Koblein concludes with the statement that we “know…how much Dark Matter and Dark Energy. there is in the universe, as well as its distribution among the galaxies. “Dark Matter is not just a name we use to hide our ignorance.”

Resources:
Kobelein, Brian (2017). Dark Matter Works. Retrieved from https://briankoberlein.com/page/2/?s=dark+matter

NASA Universe. Dark Energy, Dark Matter. Retrieved from https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy

Randall, Lisa (2017). “Why Vera Rubin Deserved a Nobel Prize
NASA (2017). Dark Energy, Dark Matter. Retrieved from https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy

Vera Rubin (2000). Retrieved from http://www.amnh.org/education/resources/rfl/web/essaybooks/cosmic/p_rubin.htm

Tags:
dark matter, dark energy, Vera Rubin, gravity, strange universe, Nobel Prize, astronomy, cosmology

Changing the Relationship Between Knowledge and the Child

Robotics combines engineering, engineering design, and technology in ways that, in the words of Marina Bers of the Tufts DevTech group, “connects the T and the E of STEM” and certainly merits a prominent position in STEM education.
Robotics appears to fit into the STEM sequence as a subject for older students. At the Tufts DevTech research group however, robotics has been introduced successfully to pre-Kindergarten children reasoning that because interventions that begin early are, in the long run, less costly and also have greater impacts than those that begin later, robotics should be begun early
Watch this DevTech produced video clip that documents the robotics work of young children.
The spirited dancing of the children is accompanied by dance movements enacted by two-wheeled robots, which while less enthusiastic are more rhythmic and more disciplined than the children’s.
It is notable that although the robots are better at following the music’s rhythms, the robots’ movements were programmed by the same somewhat syncopated children. The video supports the case that young children are quite capable of engaging in robotics in non-trivial ways.
In their work with young children the DevTech research group uses a computer language called CHERP (Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming). The CHERP language substitutes a set of interlocking wooden blocks for typed in text. Each block is labeled with a graphic representing a command such as FORWARD, BACKWARD, BEGIN, or END. The program is “written” by assembling the commands by arranging the blocks. “The shape of the interlocking blocks and icons creates a physical syntax that prevents the creation of invalid programs and also eliminates the possibility of typographical errors,” notes Marina Bers. Once the blocks have been arranged to create a program for the robot to follow, a scanner on the robot is used to read the program into the robot’s memory.
The behavior of the robot will mimic the program developed by the child-programmer. Because the program is represented by the arrangement of blocks, children are able to make changes to the program by a rearrangement of the blocks. In addition, they can observe one another’s work and to see how other children have solved a particular problem (“how did you make the robot spin five times?”)
In a number of published studies Bers and her colleagues have collected evidence that
Robotics offers young children and teachers a new and exciting way to tangibly interact with traditional early childhood curricular themes. This study demonstrates that it is possible to teach Pre-Kindergarten children to program a robot with developmentally appropriate tools, and, in the process, children may not only learn about technology and engineering, but also practice foundational math, literacy, and arts concepts. While there are many challenges to overcome when implementing robotics in a busy Pre-Kindergarten classroom, our work provides preliminary evidence that teaching young children about and through computer programming and robotics using developmentally appropriate tools may be a powerful tool for educating children across multiple domains.
What is the reason that in addition to robotics and computer programming the “children may not only learn about technology and engineering, but also practice foundational math, literacy, and arts concepts?”
Seymour Papert who was a developer of the computer language LOGO in the 1970s asserted that a programming language like LOGO (or CHERP) changes the relationship between the child and knowledge.
He argued that most school instruction was based on “transmission” or the passing of “knowledge” from its possessor (the teacher) to the receiver (the student). When computers are used in schools, Papert’s argument continued, they are used to “program the child” in the same way that teachers program the child with the “required” knowledge.
The LOGO computer language was designed to enable the child to communicate with the computer. LOGO included a graphical Turtle that the computer’s user could move around on the screen. RIGHT would cause the Turtle to turn 90° to the right. FORWARD 10 would command the Turtle to move 10 paces ahead and so forth.
In the LOGO environment, the traditional relationship between the child and the knowledge was changed.
[t]he child, even at preschool ages, is in control: The child programs the computer. And in teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think. The experience can be heady: Thinking about thinking turns the child into an epistemologist, an experience not even shared by most adults. (Papert)
In addition, in the usual “teacher as source of knowledge,” model the child is placed in the “got it right/wrong” mode, and worse may not know either what was wrong or how to fix the error.
As Papert notes, when you learn to program, you seldom get it right the first time. “Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting “bugs,”….
This is also the case with products of the intellect; they are usually neither “right” or “wrong” but are “buggy” works in progress.
If Papert is correct, changing the relationship between the child and knowing is fundamental to learning. Robotics with young children is perhaps a place to begin the change.
Resources:
Epistemologist: one who studies epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.
Marina Umaschi Bers, Safoura Seddighin, and Amanda Sullivan
Ready for Robotics: Bringing Together the T and E of STEM in Early Childhood Teacher Education Jl. of Technology and Teacher Education (2013) 21(3), 355-377

Sullivan, A., Kazakoff, E. R., & Bers, M. U. (2013). The Wheels on the Bot go Round and Round: Robotics Curriculum in Pre-Kindergarten. Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice, 12, 203-219. Retrieved from http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol12/JITEv12IIPp203-219Sullivan1257.pdf

Seymour Papert (1980). Mindstorms, Basic Books.

Inquiry: Earning the Right to Believe

Crazy belief or not?
“Ground up unicorn horn will detect the presence of poison.”
In early modern Europe, belief in unicorns and the virtue of their horns was widely accepted. As would be expected, people acted on their beliefs. Thus, a supposed unicorn horn was of course valuable because of its ability to detect poison. So one that belonged to the king of France was priced at £20,000 pounds in 1553. Mary Stuart (1542-87), Queen of Scotland bought a piece of unicorn’s horn and used it regularly to test for poison. (Jackson, 2004)
Of course, it is now well-known that what were believed to be unicorn horns are in fact the tusks of narwhals and that they have no special poison detecting properties. (Maynard, 2014)
We know this because investigators have inquired into the belief; that is, searched systematically for evidence that would give us the right to believe or not in the existence of unicorns.
While there are a variety of different ways that scientists conduct their investigations, at the core of all science is inquiry with its assumption that beliefs about the natural world must be earned by patient investigation. To the scientific mind it is wrong to “believe on insufficient evidence or to nourish belief by suppressing doubts and avoiding investigation.”(Clifford, 1876, p. 292)
The practical value of inquiry is that it provides “strategies with which to examine evidence systematically, interpret, and control our surroundings. Knowledge of science can enable us to think critically and frame productive questions. Without evidence that supports or refutes an idea we are wholly dependent on others as “experts.” With evidence, we are empowered to become participants rather than merely observers.” (Michaels and others, 2007, p. 2)
A vivid illustration of the importance of inquiry can be found in the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British physician and researcher.
Along with twelve colleagues, Wakefield published a research paper in the British medical journal Lancet in 1998 that “reported on 12 developmentally challenged children” who were diagnosed with “regressive”“autism as well as with “non-specific colitis.” The paper identified a “new syndrome” that linked brain (autism) and bowel disease” and which was caused by vaccination with the MMR vaccine. (Deer, 2011)
The MMR vaccine has been used successfully since 1971 to immunize infants against measles, mumps, and rubella, so naturally the news that MMR vaccine was connected to autism spread rapidly. The consequence of the news was a world-wide scare about the MMR vaccine as well as a reduction in the number of children who were immunized against measles, mumps, and rubella. In Britain the vaccination rate fell from 92% to 78.9%, for example.
Wakefield’s article also caused the development of a movement against all childhood vaccinations including, for example, the DTaP that protects children from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or whooping cough.
Despite its publication in the Lancet, the experiment on which the conclusions were based seemed flawed. It was a study based on a sample of only 12 children; there was no control group; the data wasn’t analyzed as a whole but selectively; its conclusions were highly speculative (that MMR was related to autism) given the long history of the successful use of the MMR vaccine.
A more detailed inquiry by a journalist named Brian Deer by soon found significant problems in the research.
For example, some of the children’s problems were detected months before the child had received the MMR vaccine.
Even more revealing was Deer’s finding that Dr. Wakefield had been employed a lawyer and paid £400,000 by a lawyer working with a group of parents who were suing the pharmaceutical company that produced the MMR vaccine, and that his research was to create evidence to be used in the law suit.
Even the selection of the subjects for the study was facilitated by the lawyer for whom Wakefield worked. The lawyer solicited subjects for the study by specifying particular symptoms which meant that “the evidence that launched the vaccine scare — was bound to be found by the …clinicians because this was how the children were selected.” (Deer), 2011)
The sensational nature of the Wakefield conclusions spurred a flurry of investigations, none of which was able to confirm the Wakefield findings.
As the cascade of problems appeared, ten of the twelve co-authors of the article retracted their support for the MMR-autism connection because “no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.” (Rao, and others 2011)
Ultimately, the British General Medical Council (GMC) investigated Dr. Wakefield’s possible misconduct. In January of 2010, a tribunal of the GMC found three dozen charges against Wakefield proved, including dishonesty and the abuse of developmentally challenged children. The tribunal found that Wakefield “had failed in his duties as a responsible consultant, acted both against the interests of his patients, and “dishonestly and irresponsibly”“in his published research.
The editor of the Lancet fully retracted the article and stated that the paper was utterly false and that the journal had been deceived. (See the notes in resources for the sources)
Despite the fact that inquiry from a variety of sources revealed that both Wakefield and his research to be fraudulent and was retracted from the medical literature in 2010, still in 2016 self-declared experts including celebrities and even some politicians continue to disseminate the fraudulent claim that vaccinations are the cause of autism, with the consequence that parents are led to withhold vaccination and thus protection against serious disease from their children.
There were outbreaks of measles attributed to lack of immunization in the UK in 2008 and 2009 as well as in the U.S. as well as outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) with 48,000 cases with fatal outcomes for 20 children. (CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/outbreaks/trends.html)
These facts support Clifford’s warning that failure to work for the right to believe by rigorous inquiry has the result that we “all suffer severely from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to… . There is a danger to society that “is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them….” (Clifford, 1876, p. 294)
Resources:
Clifford, W.K. (1876). The Ethics of Belief, Contemporary Review (29) 1876.

Deer, Brian (2011). How the case against the MMR virus was fixed. BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5347 (Published 06 January 2011)

Jackson, William (2004). The use of unicorn horn in medicine. The Phamaceutical Journal, 18 December 2004.

Maynard, James (2014) Narwhal tusk – Scientists finally solve its real purpose. TechTimes retrieved http://www.techtimes.com/articles/4589/20140320/narwhal-tusk-scientists-finally-solve-real-purpose.htm

Michaels, and others (2007). Ready, Set, Science! (National Research Council, Washington, DC)

Rao, Saythyanarayana and Chittaranjan Andrade (2011). The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 2011 Apr-Jun; 53(2): 96-96. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.82529

Notes on the Wakefield Case:
“MMR-row doctor failed in his duties”. Yorkshire Evening Post. 28 January 2010. Archived from the original on 30 January 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2010.

Triggle, Nick (28 January 2010). “MMR scare doctor ‘acted unethically’, panel finds”. BBC News. Archived from the original on 28 January 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2010.

Boseley, Sarah (28 January 2010). “Andrew Wakefield found ‘irresponsible’ by GMC over MMR vaccine scare”. The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 14 February 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2011.

Tags:
Inquiry, W.K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief, the right to believe, Andrew Wakefield, The Lancet, measles, mumps, rubella, MMR vaccine

“I really hope it works:” Digital Technology for Instruction

 

There are many classrooms like English teacher Amy Furman’s featured in a 2011 article Classroom of the Future: Stagnant Scores.

Amy’s thirty-one students are studying Shakespeare’s As You Like It, taking advantage of 21st century digital technology.

Amy is not “giving the students notes” but is circulating among her students observing, offering comments and suggestions as her laptop-equipped students engage themselves with the play in very nontraditional ways.

In the place of an essay on the play’s plot, the students are blogging, or creating Facebook pages for the characters, while others are writing about why the love-smitten Silvius would like a particular rap by Kanye West.

Amy expressed her pleasure with what is going on in her “very dynamic classroom” adding “I really hope it works.”(Richtel, 2011)

This technology-rich classroom is one outcome of a 2005 referendum in which the voters passed a bond referendum that gave the Kyrene School District in Arizona $45 million to “transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide for students who will learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.”

The high cost of the technology needed for the transformation makes the question whether it works a matter of concern.

In 2011, as now, the evidence that such investment in digital technology has been at best ambiguous. Overall, the data that supports the use of technology is “pretty weak” according to Tom Vander Ark, former executive director for education and an investor in educational technology companies.(Richtel, 2011)

In the eleven years after it passed its technology referendum and five years since Amy Furman expressed both the pleasure of teaching in a technology-rich classroom as well as her “hope” that it works, Kyrene School District remains a technology-rich school system. The students in its nineteen elementary and middle schools perform above average, earning an “A” ranking in the Arizona school accountability system.

Its 2016 Website cites the district’s “technology enhanced curriculum” and the fact that

Throughout the entire district, every classroom is enhanced with a variety of technology tools: wireless laptop computers; many with multi-touch display, a projector, a document camera, and iPads, so that students have hands-on access to technology as part of their everyday instruction and learning. Elementary classrooms also have interactive whiteboards. Students use industry-standard word processor and spread sheet programs, specialized graphics and education software, and web-based applications and information sources. Teachers participate in regular staff development and mentoring programs to help them to better use these incredible tools. (Kyrene School District)

Is Kyrene’s success the result of its rich technology or because in it also has both technology along with a well-developed system of instructional support for its teachers: academic coaches and educational technology specials for all subjects?

In education there are no “silver bullets” whether educational technology, textbooks or curriculum.   “One-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring—for better or worse—in classrooms, schools, and districts. (Goodman, 2011)

If Kyrene is a positive example of the implementation of educational technology, what happened with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) is a negative one.

The debacle began in 2013 with a district investment of $1.3 billion that was to put an Apple iPad loaded with instructional software from educational giant Pearson in the hands of every child in every school. But by 2015 the district wanted out of the deal claiming that the software didn’t work and that the iPads had fatal security holes.

An observer noted that if one of the largest school districts in the nation, one of the largest educational publisher and the largest technology company couldn’t successfully integrate instructional technology into classrooms, who could? (Lapowski, 2015)

The answer lies up the coast from Los Angeles,  where the Milpitas Unified School District also has made a significant investment in personal technology and has successfully used blended learning to create personalized instruction for its students.

The contrast between the two school districts in how their instructional technology programs came about is instructive.

In Los Angeles, the Instructional Technology Initiative began at the top as did the Milpitas project. However, in Milpitas, Cary Matsuoka, the superintendent began by asking his principals the question: “If you could design the school of the future, what would it look like?”

His goal was to “give principals and teachers the autonomy to determine what would work best for their schools.” Mandating from the top, he reflected, and you “get compliance, where people go through the motions.”

The answers also got him and his district to the understanding that one-to-one wasn’t needed because the principals proposed a “rotation model” in which students would  use the devices in shifts.

The district chose Chromebooks; they are less expensive than iPads because they are cloud based, central management and updating are less of a hassle.

As a departing Board of Education recalled about his eight years on the Board”We went through both academic and sport renewal and modernization, implemented blended learning and common core, build a high-tech infrastructure and new athletic facilities.… For the past eight years, we saw student achievement improved significantly, we are also financially solid.” (Mohammed, 2016)

The contrasting examples provided by Kyrene and Milpitas versus the LAUSD debacle support the contention that educational technology if it is implemented based on a shared vision that include the identification of the actual problem to be solved, if the school and district leadership supports all aspects of the implementation. Implementation requires the development of a technology infrastructure and a culture of professional learning that includes the community, parents and guardians, all school personnel, and the development of a coaching/mentoring model. This last is important because the technology will be a catalyst for changing the connections between learning and instruction.

Resources:

Greaves, T., Hayes, J., Wilson, L., Gielniak, M., & Peterson, R. Project Red: Revolutionizing Education: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectivenss. Retrieved from https://www.k12blueprint.com/sites/default/files/Project-RED-Technolgy-Factor.pdf

Goodman, B. (2011). Research Says…/One-to-One Laptop Programs Are No Silver Bullet. EdLeadership, 68), 78-79. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb11/vol68/num05/One-to-One_Laptop_Programs_Are_No_Silver_Bullet.aspx

Lapowski, I. (2015). What Schools Must Learn From LA’s IPad Debacle. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2015/05/los-angeles-edtech/

Mohammed, Aliyah (2016). Milpitas: School boar names permanent MUSD superintendent. The Mercury News, November 17, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/11/17/milpitas-school-board-names-permanent-musd-superintendent/

Richtel, M. (2011c). In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html

ESSA, Measuring the Benefits of School Improvement: And How To Do It

Even by the crudest measures, education benefits the individual in terms of earnings and the economy as a whole in more productive workers. The longer an educational system holds on to students, the better for both the individual and economy. The years of education is a measure is called “educational attainment.”

Dissatisfaction with the number of years of schooling as a measure of economic impact led Eric A. Hanushek and two international colleagues to develop a measure that better captures what students have actually learned during their years in school. As Hanushek, et. al. describe educational attainment: “…it hardly matters how long one sits at a school desk if one learns little while occupying the seat.” (Hanushek, Ruhose, & Woessmann, 2016)

The model developed by Hanushek, et. al. uses a measure which they call “knowledge capital” which is a state’s NAEP mathematics scores over time. This measure,  added to traditional measures provides a way to document the long-term impact of student-achievement levels on economic growth, as well as the value of the monetary return for school improvement efforts, state by state[1].

By measuring the growth of each of the fifty U.S. states for the period 1970-2010, the authors show that a state’s knowledge capital is related to the state growth in per-capita GDP.

States like Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, and Utah suffered from both low math achievement and low economic growth, while states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Virginia had both high levels of math achievement along with higher levels of economic growth.

While there are exceptions to the general findings, the authors conclude that “achievement levels that are 1 standard deviation higher — for example having the average worker in a state achieve at the 69th  percentile rather than the 31st   percentile of the overall distribution of cognitive skills — yield an average annual growth that is 1.4 percentage points higher.” (Hanushek, Ruhose, & Woessmann, 2016)

The article includes a an interactive map that can be used to project future gains in GDP growth under four different reform scenarios.

For example, first scenario describes what would happen if all the states were able to take actions that would increase the knowledge capital to the level of Minnesota (the best in the U.S.). Under that scenario “the overall gains would equal, in 2015 dollars, $76 trillion, or more than four times the current GDP of the United States.”

South Carolina ranks 40th  in terms of growth 1970-2010. Its per-capita DGP is $31,819 and has grown 1.99% over the period.  Under the “all states to the U.S. best” scenario, the value of South Carolina reform efforts would be $992 billion which equals 485% of the state’s current per-capita GDP and would increase the state’s GDP by 41% by 2095.

Hanushek and his colleagues are careful to point out that school reform is a long-term project. They assume that it takes a decade of effort before a reform is fully implemented, with student skills steadily improving over that time.

The message from Hanushek, et. al, is that the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives state and local educators a great deal of flexibility to take decisive action that will improve their state’s knowledge capital.  Given the potential of large gains for taking the right actions, the question becomes what kinds of action would help the state build its knowledge capital?

Massachusetts underwent a serious reform effort that began in the late 1980s. Its example suggests the necessary conditions for sustained and successful reform.

The success of reform in Massachusetts is supported by the fact that if it were an independent nation it would rank among the top ten nations in student learning. Its eighth graders rank number two in science and sixth in mathematics. Low-income children of color do much better than their peers in other U.S. states.

It wasn’t always that way.

In a 1991 report authored by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education it was reported that the state faced a crisis because “the public education system is failing to provide its students with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to be productive, informed citizens in coming decades…The inability of many public school students/graduates to qualify for entry-level jobs or to compete successfully with their counterparts from other industrialized countries is a clear signal that the education system needs to undergo dramatic improvements soon.”(MBAE, 1991, pp.  ES-1)

Noting that Massachusetts over the past two decades has been consistently near the top of any list of states with the most successful school reforms (it ranks 2nd  in the Hanushek, et. al. analysis), Achieve.org looked at the decisions Massachusetts made beginning more than 20 years ago and which resulted in sustained improvement in the state’s knowledge capital.

In the Achieve analysis, there are six “key strategies” identified. It seems to me that two of these stand out because they are the most difficult to do but seem to the ones that set the Massachusetts reform apart from those in other states.

What stands out in Massachusetts was what was termed the “grand bargain” are two factors: equitable funding and the political will to stick to the plan.

First, a change in how the schools were funded began in 1993 with the promise that within seven years, all of the town and city school departments would have the resources to carry out the goal of student mastery of the state standards. “In our poorest communities in particular, [state] aid is the lifeline that brings a high quality education within reach of children and frequently supports more than 80 percent of the total expenditures of in the neediest districts.”(Chester, 2014, p.  6)

The second remarkable aspect has been the consistent support from state’s leadership,  governors, business leaders, and legislature. The support helped maintain the reform even “during the highest levels of political opposition to the reforms. Governor Jane Swift never blinked on the MCAS high school graduation requirement. Governor Romney also kept the momentum going by sustaining the foundation budget for the K-12 public education.”(Achieve.org, 2009, p.  9)

Note: Schools in New England states are generally departments of the town or city they serve. Instead of a school district, the schools are a department of the town. So it is the school department rather than the school district.

Resources:

Achieve.org. (2009). Taking Root: Massachusetts Lessons for Sustaining the College and Career-Ready Agenda. Achieve: American Diploma Project Network. Retrieved from http://achieve.org/files/Texas-SustainabilityCaseStudy_0.pdf

Chester, M. D. (2014). Building on 20 Years of Massachusetts Education Reform. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hanushek, E. A., Ruhose, J., & Woessmann, L. (2016). It Pays to Improve School Quality. Education Next, 16(3). Retrieved from http://educationnext.org/pays-improve-school-quality-student-achievement-economic-gain/

MBAE. (1991). Every Child A Winner. Retrieved from http://www.mbae.org/uploads/13102003114120EveryChildAWinner.pdf

Tags:

Every Student Succeeds Act, education, economy, knowledge capital, school reform, Massachusetts

[1] The analysis used data from the U.S. census to make adjustments for the migration of workers in and out of each state. While workers move from state to state, 87% of students receive their K-12 education in their birth state.

Dynamic Facts

 

Great fleas have lesser fleas to bite em; and so on, ad infinitum

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of September 21, 2016, there are a total of 3,358 cases of Zika in the U.S.. 43 of these were acquired by being infected by local mosquitoes; 3,314 infections were acquired outside of the U.S.; 28 cases were acquired by sexual contact; with 1 having been acquired in a laboratory. There are also 8 cases of Guillian-Barré syndrome;  “a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms.”These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency. (Mayo Clinic)

The case of Zika provides insight into our natural world. The questions of why Zika, a disease that originated in a distant forest in central Africa and why it has become of particular health concern in the U.S. can be understood by looking at how natural phenomena appear to work.

Natural phenomena can be thought of as facts but are perhaps better understood as facts that are in dynamic relationship with one another: insects, viruses, humans, environments. The facts you think you know now are busily changing into new facts that.

Insects have a variety of ways of getting their nourishment: they can sip (like butterflies); they can chew (locusts); they can pierce and suck (mosquitoes).  The mosquito way of dining is different for males and females. The males are sippers; their mouthparts are adapted to collecting plant nectars.

Females can both sip nectar but in order to successfully lay eggs that will hatch, they need vertebrate blood and its protein and iron. To get this mother mosquitoes use their mouthparts to pierce and suck reliable sources of blood like humans.

Valerie Choumet, a scientist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris captured the process used by a female mosquito to get her blood meal.

As the female mosquito pushes its bundle of six mouth parts (two maxillae, two mandibles, a double tube (hypopharynx and labrum) into the skin, the labium or sheath folds back. The two mandibles and a pair of maxillae are used to saw through the skin and then to anchor the insect so that she can push a double tube (hypopharynx and labrum) to search for a blood vessel. While the tube appears to be stiff, it is actually highly flexible and is fully controllable by the mosquito, even bending it at right angles.

She spits saliva down the hypopharynx, this prevents blood from coagulating and the labrun is used to pierce a blood vessel and to suck up the blood.

You can view the video here.

The mosquito’s blood dinner will pay off when she lays her eggs in or near water. The eggs nourished by the proteins and iron from the blood will hatch out and eventually become mosquitoes. If the female mosquito is herself infected with Zika, the eggs will develop into mosquitoes that are also infected with Zika.(University of Texas at Galveston, 2016)

But the blood dinner has another another organism with a different purpose. There is a whole group of viruses that have adapted themselves to using the mosquito as a way to get into vertebrates where they can breed. These are known as arboviruses (from arthropod borne viruses).

When she sucks up the blood of a human who has the virus in his blood, the mosquito becomes infected. The virus does not grow in the mosquito but will remain in the mosquito until she spits, along with the spit the virus particles will hitch a ride, putting the virus into the blood stream of a vertebrate where it can fulfill its destiny.

The  mosquito and its  passenger virus are apparently well-adapted to one another.  New research has shown that the saliva of the mosquito “causes an inflammation that helps the virus particles multiply and quickly spread to other parts of your body.” (Kupferschmidt, 2016)

The Zika virus is little more than RNA covered with a protein coat shaped as a 20-sided polygon called icosahedron, resembling “sinister Christmas ornaments.”

The virus attaches itself to the surface of the host’s cells, penetrates, turns its RNA into DNA and “hijacks the internal machinery of the host’s cells to copy its own DNA and make new cells. Like commandos invading a town and converting its car factory into a bomb factory, the virus makes thousands of copies of itself. Eventually the cell explodes, and the viruses are released to attack other cells, spreading the illness.” (McNeil, 2016, p. 23) You can see a more detailed animated account of this process the HHIBioInteractive Website .

The Zika virus was first identified in 1947 by researchers in the Zika forest on the northern shore of Lake Victoria in central Africa. The infected animal was an Asian monkey. The first human case didn’t occur until 1952.

In the early cases the Zika virus caused a fever along with body aches and discomfort but cleared up with no apparent ill-effects.

The twentieth century has seen changes like  “a combination of warmer weather moving mosquitoes north, of cheaper, more frequent jet travel helping people reach new continents with viruses still fresh in their blood” meaning that even obscure diseases from remote parts of the world can quickly become notable in highly populated places. (McNeil, 2016, p. )

Zika appeared in the western Pacific on the island of Yap, then in Tahiti, in French Polynesia.

It made its appearance in the Western Hemisphere in 2014 with  grim discoveries in the maternity wards of hospitals in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

Doctors and nurses noticed that there were suddenly new borns with “this thing we had never seen…” “Children with normal faces up to the eyebrows, and then you have no foreheads…The doctors were saying, ‘Well, I saw four today,’ and ‘Oh, that’s strange, because I saw two.’” (McNeil, 2016, pp.13-14)

Later it was realized that what they were seeing was microcephaly, a birth defect that was the result of the fetal brain failing to develop. Further investigation revealed that the mothers whose children had microcephaly had also been infected by the Zika virus. It was also the case that apparently it didn’t matter at what stage in their pregnancy infection occurred.

Our habit of teaching science as sets of facts makes it easy to forget that facts are dynamic; the natural world is constant motion.  The genomic revolution has made it possible to investigate change at the level of the mechanisms of change.

In an research paper that focuses on dengue, a relative of Zika, Ciota & Kramer (2010) observe that in order to survive the virus cycles back and forth between vertebrates and blood-eating arthropods. This means that there is a premium on the virus being “plastic” in order to be able to take advantage of new environments. RNA viruses like Zika are subject to rapid replication as well as large error rates. These two factors may explain why such viruses are able to undertake “quick exploration of fitness landscapes and production of variance which may have an advantage in different host environments.” (Ciota & Kramer, 2010).

It is therefore not surprising that the Zika, in its travels around the world, would evolve new ways of spreading itself (crossing the placenta barrier; sexual transmission) and developing new targets for infection (nerve tissue).

Resources:

Ciota, Alexander T. & Laura D. Kramer (2010). Insights into Arbovirus Evolution and Adaptation from Experimental Studies. Viruses. 2010 Dec; 2(12): 2594-2617. doi:  10.3390/v2122594

You can watch a detailed account of how a flavivirus (Dengue) “hijacks” a cell at HHMI BioInteractive (2016. Dengue Transmission. http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/dengue-virus-life-cycle

Kupferschmidt, Kai (2016).  Mosquito spit helps viruses make us sick. Science, June 21, 2016.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/06/mosquito-spit-helps-viruses-make-us-sick

DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5794

McNeil, Donald G. Jr. (2016). ZIKA: THE EMERGING EPIDEMIC. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.

Yong, Ed (2013). NOT EXACTLY ROCKET SCIENCE: Here’s What Happens Inside You When a Mosquito Bites. (August 8, 2013).

Wang, Lulan, Stephanie G. Valderramos, and others. From Mosquitoes to Humans: Genetic Evolution of Zika Virus. Cell Host & Microbe. 19(5), pp. 561-565. May 2016.

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chom.2016.04.006

University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. (2016, August 30). Female mosquitoes can transmit Zika virus to their eggs, offspring: Killing only adult mosquitoes may not end Zika outbreaks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160830091524.htm

 

Tags:

Zika, arbovirus, mosquitoes, transmission, adaptation, organisms, environments

Truly Modern: More Room for Learning

In 1909, one of the years during the decades when the American K-12 school system was taking its modern form, Charles Eliot, Harvard’s newly retired president was consummating a deal to publish a “five-foot shelf” of books that would contain all of the important knowledge needed by an educated person.

As first printed in 1910 each set of “The Harvard Classics” consisted of 50 hefty volumes containing the works of 300 authors. Eliot claimed that these fifty books could serve as a “portable university” making available six distinct courses of study: “The History of Civilization,” “Religion and Philosophy,” “Education,” “Science,” “Politics,” and “Criticism of Literature and the Fine Arts.” Eliot further claimed that reading the complete set would provide the equivalent of a liberal college education.  (Kirsch, 2001)

Although we are more than a century beyond the five-foot shelf, the idea that there is a fixed body of facts and procedures to know remains embedded in the DNA of our educational culture.

The modern version of the five-foot shelf is also to be mastered largely by reading the essential texts under the supervision of teachers who will monitor student progress using a system of regularly scheduled tests.

Significantly, both Eliot’s five-foot shelf and our schools were developed well before we understood very much about our brains or how people learned. (Sawyer, 2006, pp. 1-2)

It is only in the recent three or four decades that the study of learning has been based on findings in psychology, computer science, philosophy, sociology, and other science disciplines.  The new understandings have shown that many of the assumptions underlying traditional educational practices programmed into our educational DNA are seriously flawed.

During the decades when the assumptions and practices of the modern school emerged it was believed that children were essentially just smaller, ignorant adults.

To become proper adults they needed teachers who would stuff them full of improving knowledge such as that found in Eliot’s five foot shelf of books.

To illustrate: During a nationwide tour of American schools in 1892, pediatrician Dr. Joseph Mayer Rice, recorded his impressions of a New York City elementary school and in particular of the pedagogical views of its principal: “She believes that when a child enters upon school life his vocabulary is so small that it is practically worthless, and his power to think so feeble that his thoughts are worthless. She is consequently of the opinion that what a child knows and is able to do on coming to school should be entirely disregarded, and he should not be allowed to waste time, either in thinking or in finding his own words to express his thoughts, but that he should be supplied with ready-made thoughts is given in a ready-made vocabulary…Each child is treated as if he possessed a memory and the faculty of speech, but no individuality, no sensibilities, no soul.” (Rice, 1893, pp. 30-31)

But in contrast to the beliefs of Rice’s principal, the research findings from the past four decades have shown that human babies possess a brain; and that this brain is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life, in particular, understanding and outmaneuvering objects, animals, plants and other people.” (Pinker, 1997, p. 21)

One of the contributions of computer science to our understanding of the brain has grown out of attempts to create intelligent machines or artificial intelligence (AI). Early explorations in AI involved the development of artificial neural networks to simulate the the brain’s neocortex with its billions of networked neurons.

Advances in technology (more powerful processors and larger storage in addition to more sophisticated mathematics) have created larger and more powerful artificial neural networks.

“Last June, a Google deep-learning system that had been “trained by viewing” 10 million images from YouTube videos proved almost twice as good as any previous image recognition effort at identifying objects such as cats. Google also use the technology to cut the error rate on speech recognition in its latest Android mobile software. In October, Microsoft chief research officer Rick Rashid wowed attendees at a lecture in China with a demonstration of speech software that transcribed his spoken words into English text with an error rate of 7%, translated them into Chinese language text, and then simulated his own voice uttering them in Mandarin.” (Hof, 2016)

The method used to train the neural network so that it is able to accomplish these impressive tasks, speak, understand language, and recognize objects, “with the eventual goal…to get the network to consistently recognize the patterns in speech or sets of images that we humans know as, say, the phoneme “d” or the image of a dog…is much the same as how a child learns what a dog is by noticing the details of head shape, behavior, and the like in furry, barking animals that other people call dogs.” (Hof, 2016)

The wonders of what virtual neurons are capable of learning may divert attention from the ensorcelling power of human brains with real neural networks to learn, imagine and create.

While the virtual neural network needs lots of smart and expensive engineers to learn to recognize (most of time!) the image of a cat in a YouTube video, give a baby brain a safe, well-lighted place with humans to interact with and she can learn several languages that she can use by the time she’s four to wrap the adults around her tiny fingers.

Like living organisms, human institutions such as schools are more likely to survive in a changing world when practices evolve in the direction of greater consistency with new empirically-based understandings; such as that the brain has been shaped by evolution to solve problems of existence rather than as a passive storehouse of facts and procedures.

Resources:

Bransford, John D., et.al. (2001)  How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded Edition. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 2001.

Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, Carol Rothenberg (2008). Content Area Conversations. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108035/chapters/Why-Talk-Is-Important-in-Classrooms.aspx

Kirsch, Adam (2001). The Harvard Magazine, November-December 2001

Hof, Robert D. (2016).  Deep Learning: With Massive amounts of computational power, machines can now recognize and translate speech in real time. Artificial intelligence is finally getting smart. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 10/7/2016 https://www.technologyreview.com/s/513696/deep-learning/

 

Sawyer, R. Keith ( ed.).  “The New Science Learning” in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. 2006.

 

Tags:

brain, neurons, virtual neurons, Artificial Intelligence, learning, DNA, Charles Eliot, The Harvard Classics

A Barrier Overcome: Residencies for Teachers

There is an awkwardly located pothole in the road that leads students from their professional education in college to a successful teaching career. The budding teacher has sailed through the content courses, the education specific classes like ed. psych, the instructional methods and clinical experience, but nothing has prepared the new teacher for the first year in a classroom.

As Goodman (2012) reports, the literature on first-year teachers has been very consistent about the problems they face.

First, teachers with three or fewer years of experience are challenged by the difficulties of managing student behavior.

The next challenge is curricular. The teacher knows her subject but she has little guidance about what parts of the subject should be taught to her students. Almost half (41%) of Teach for America teachers reported that neither the district nor their school provided useful instructional resources like lesson plans. Case studies of new teachers show them spending many hours trying to “come up with enough curriculum” and then struggling with how to teach it all the while juggling all the other duties, including paperwork, committees, after school clubs and so forth. (Goodman, 2012)

The “sink-or swim” challenges of classroom behavior and the mystery of curriculum are exacerbated by a professional of catch-22:  in order to become accepted the new teacher must demonstrate that she is good at precisely those things she has the most difficulty with—managing her classroom and successful instruction!

So new teachers report “difficult interactions with colleagues, from neglect by administrators to lack of cooperation or even hostility from veteran teachers.” (Goodman, 2012)

The new teacher’s struggles are often a disaster for his or her students who a likely to do more poorly than their peers being taught by more experienced teachers.

Teaching is a profession which means that solutions to the dilemma of inexperienced teachers must be professional solutions that give the neophyte professional experiences.

The accomplished physician, lawyer, or teacher has, in addition, to content knowledge about medicine, law, or pedagogy, what Lee Shulman called “the wisdom of practice.”

How do professionals acquire the wisdom of practice? New teachers often respond to the challenges posed by their inexperience develop survival rather than professional skills. A lecture appears to be a better approach to instruction than a project with its potential for losing control of the classroom.

A way to prepare the new teacher so that developing professional skills rather than survival skills has been found in the adaptation of one developed in medical education, the residency.

In the early 20th century, medical education was revivified when medical schools affiliated themselves with hospitals and added a multi-year residency in which the newly graduated physician treated patients under the guidance of accomplished physicians who were both medical school faculty as well as being on the staff of the hospital.

An historian of medical education observed that the educational power of the residency lay in  “… the quality of the house officers and faculty, the characteristics of the teaching, giving residents the opportunity to assume responsibility in patient management, the availability of time to reflect and wonder, the opportunity for residents to establish meaningful personal relationships with faculty, patients, and each other, the provision of manageable patient loads, freeing residents from too many extraneous chores, holding high expectations of residents, and conducting residency training in an atmosphere of professional excitement.” (Bank Street, 2016)

In fact, the year-long teacher residency is not something new. Programs already exist in which teacher training programs and school districts and schools are providing new teachers with year-long residencies.

The Louisiana’s Department of Education has devoted 2% of its budget to support the Believe and Prepare partnerships “to create stronger clinical preparation experiences.” According to the report, 60% of Louisiana school districts and 80% of preparation providers have voluntarily partnered in order for “aspiring teachers to work with skilled mentors before they can earn an initial teaching certificate.” (Bank Street, 2016)

U.S. Prep, a program developed at Texas Tech has impressive results with a 90% job retention rate of the teachers who have gone through the program.

According to Karen Demoss the programs like U.S. Prep are important because they help bridge the chasm for the young teacher. Working in a supportive environment with an accomplished teacher gives the neophyte educator the chance for a successful initial year, for both teachers and, even more importantly for their students.  “Students in classroom with residents have been documented to make larger learning gains than those in other classrooms, with strongest benefits going to those with the most need. Residency graduates are also more effective teachers. Rigorous studies have documented how their students outperform peers.” (Demoss, 2016)

The report “For the Public Good,” both describes exemplary teacher residencies and also provides ideas about how to fund such programs.

“For the Public Good” makes the case that if one examines the various funding streams available to states and their districts, it is possible to create a priority list with the year-long teacher residency high on the list given its importance for both beginning teachers and the students they will teach during a long career.

There are funds built-in to the current system to remedy problems that result from inadequate teacher preparation that could be reinvested to support residencies.  Teacher turnover costs school districts about $2.2 billion per year. There are also the costs that result from students who have experienced an ineffective teacher, such as costs for remedial summer school, tutoring, or students dropping out of school all together.

Districts can be thoughtful. For example,  a district might use a portion of the current budget for substitute teachers to hire a promising new graduate who would work four days a week co-teaching with an accomplished veteran leaving one day free when the resident teacher could serve as a substitute where needed.

At the state level the new Every Student Succeeds Act makes it possible to dedicate up to 5% of its Title II part A (professional development) funds to create competitive grants to colleges of education and public school districts to create model residency programs.

Teacher residency may appear to be an expensive luxury; failure to fully prepare teachers makes the luxury into a necessity.

 

Resources:

Demoss, Karen (2016).  Five reasons teacher residencies often outperform traditional training. The Hechinger Report retrieved 10/16/2016 http://hechingerreport.org/five-reasons-teacher-residencies-often-outperform-traditional-training/

Goodwin, Bryan (2012). Research Says/ New Teachers Face Three Common Challenges. Educational Leadership May 2012 (69:8) Supporting Beginning Teachers Pages 84-85. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may12/vol69/num08/New-Teachers-Face-Three-Common-Challenges.aspx

The Bank Street College of Education (2016). For the Public Good: Quality Preparation for Every Teacher. Retrieved 10/16/2016 https://www.bankstreet.edu/innovation-policy-and-research/sustainable-funding-project/publications/for-the-public-good/

 

Tags:

teacher preparation, teacher residency, medical education, sustainable funding, The Sustainable Funding Project