The elusive promise of ‘choice’

School-choice advocates are cheering the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head Trump’s Department of Education, while public school proponents are worried about what her leadership would mean for the future of public education. What is it about charter schools and voucher systems, which DeVos unabashedly supports, that makes them so divisive? Why do many conservatives…

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‘I don’t get it’ doesn’t get us very far

“I don’t get it” Students often say this, but it’s not very helpful information for us. It could mean: I don’t understand the vocabulary in the reading I don’t understand the concept being explained I don’t have the background knowledge to make sense of this information My answer was wrong, but it still seems right…

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Please say class isn’t about tests

Parent: “What’s the main thing you want students to get from this class?” Teacher: “Test-taking strategies and study skills.” My reaction: That sounds boring — and not relevant to anything outside of school. Can you guess what class this is? No, not a Kaplan ACT Prep class. It is AP World History. This exchange was…

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Motivation, without the guilt

At the end of last year, when I was stepping down as newspaper adviser, my student editors put together a surprise “tribute” page where they shared nice comments about me. One that really stuck with me was this: “She always pushed me to work harder and never made me feel guilty for not finishing something.”…

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Let’s use – not abuse – standardized tests

Watching Frontline’s documentary of Michelle Rhee during the same week AP scores were released has me trying to wrap my head around this issue of standardized testing and how we should use test scores. I know many teachers hate standardized tests of any kind — and for good reason. They cause anxiety. They are biased…

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Fail fast… or not at all?

It’s been a few years since I have failed a student. Usually, the extensive scaffolding, phone calls home, opportunities for retakes and frequent attention/harassment I provide are enough to keep everyone on track, at least enough to earn an honest D. In the few cases where they are not — the student who rarely comes…

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Ideals or reality: What should civics teach?

I learned last week — from this funny but scathing commentary in our local City Pages — that Minnesota may soon require high school students to pass a “citizenship test” in order to get a diploma. According to the article, students would take a test similar to the naturalization test, which 97 percent of immigrants…

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New strategies can be tough

The authors of Make it Stick (Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel) warned me that students wouldn’t necessarily appreciate better learning strategies. They were right. Using their research-based methodology, I have been giving my AP Macroeconomics students challenging quizzes at the start of class every day, to force them to practice retrieving their new knowledge…

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Grading time brings a burst of ‘motivation’

At the end of the semester, “motivation” soars. High school teachers get heartfelt pleas from two groups of students: those who are failing and really want to pass, and those who are earning A-s and really want As instead. “What can I do?” both groups ask. “I’ll do anything!” The first group – the kids…

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How badly do you want the answers?

You have just taken a five-question quiz. Now you have a choice: I will either tell you the right answers, or I will give you a candy bar and not tell you the right answers. Which would you choose? According to Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, what you think you would do and what you…

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