Releasing Teacher Value-Added Scores in LA

This idea is upsetting a lot of people. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and California State Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss want to release teacher scores on value-added assessments that evaluate their effectiveness as teachers. Duncan asks, "What's there to hide?"

Personally, I think it is a great idea to publish teacher scores, with a few restrictions:
  1. If the public knows who the best teachers are, every kid that doesn't need the best teacher will have a parent on the phone trying to get that teacher. The kids who are behind grade level probably will not be that involved with the scheduling process, and will get dumped in the classes that will be awful for them. Let's not force it on the parents. Put it on a web site, but don't post it at the school.
  2. Make it known to parents that students will be placed in effective teacher's classes based on need. If a student really needs to catch up, they will get the best teachers. If a student is above grade level, or will learn the material regardless, they will get the teachers that need improvement.
  3. Teachers will improve or leave. They should be given time to improve and perfect their craft. If they are awful, and refuse to improve, we wouldn't want them in the schools anyway. They probably don't enjoy it much, either.
  4. "In the 6,000 teachers you studied, you have a minimum of 1,000 amazing teachers that are beating the odds every single day." So says Duncan. If you have 83% of your teachers that are at risk, you have a major problem on your hands. That is a lot of teachers that you will need to find to replace all the bad ones. That is a monumental task! So, instead, focus on the lowest 17%. They are as far away from helping students as the 1,000 amazing teachers are going above and beyond to help students.
  5. Create a way for the teachers who are in the middle 60% to improve themselves. Be it scheduling observation time, paying effective teachers more to train the others, whatever. Do something to provide support to make the top 17% grow into the top 80%.
  6. With great power comes great responsibility, and stress. Those effective teachers are going to feel immense amounts of stress and anxiety trying to live up to their potential. They will need support in maintaining their current level as well.
This is certainly a complicated problem. There is no easy solution. From the article:
Researchers have consistently found that within a school, teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in a child's ability to learn.
If that is the case, that means that we need to focus more on teacher effectiveness. We need to know WAY before the state test whether or not the students are learning.


Have a Good Life.

How to Merge PDFs on a Mac

Twitter Version: Create an automator workflow that gets files from Finder and combines them to a single PDF.

I got this hint from the comments on while trying to merge PDFs for a class I am teaching. I scanned in a few pages from a book, and the scanner created separate PDF files. For my students, I knew it would be easier if they were one PDF, so I wanted to merge them. According to this article, you can do that in Preview, which is fine, except that there is no way to save them as one file. So, I read this in one of the comments:

The simplest (and least expensive) way is to create a 2-step Automator application that containds the following automator steps:

1: Ask for Finder Items (allow multiple selection) - to select the images/pdf files
2. New PDF From Images or
2: Combine PDF Pages

This will save a single file with all your desired scanned images into one file.

D. Brownstone

So, I did that, and it worked perfectly. Here is my revised workflow:

You'll see that I added a couple steps:
  • Name Single Item in Finder Item Names
  • Add Date or Time to Finder Item Names
  • Move Finder Items
These three actions will rename the new combined file to a name I chose ("Combined PDF" in this case), append a date and time to the beginning of the filename, and move it to my desktop: "2010-o4-29 Combined PDF.pdf"

Alternatively, if you don't want it to always be named "Combined PDF" you can check the box "Show this action when the workflow runs" (in Options on the "Name Single Item in Finder Item Names" action) and it will prompt you for a new name every time you run this workflow.

If you have Snow Leopard and you want to make this even cooler, you can create a new Service in Automator instead of a workflow, and then at the top of the service workflow, choose service receives selected "PDF files" in "any application" and the rest will be the same. (Although, don't tell the services workflow to show the action when the workflow runs because it won't.) Now, you can just create a shortcut that combines selected PDFs.

Have a Good Life.

The Higher Cost of the iPad

There are a lot of posts and articles about the iPad, which is understandable. However, I feel that all of the stories have overlooked one important trend: total cost of ownership.

Let me set this up.

When the Apple Remote was introduced, it was Apple's first app available through the App Store. It set a precedent in the minds of everyone who would visit the Store from that point on: If Apple is giving an app away, why should I pay for other apps? Obviously, things changed, and many people have purchased apps, but the trend for almost all apps has been a downward spiral, getting very close to, if not hitting "Free".

Apple tried to counteract this downward trend by introducing other apps that cost money, though they could have just as easily been free. For example, they released the Keynote Remote at $0.99 to show developers that they could stand firm on pricing. While they didn't market it that way, that was the distinct impression that I had.

Many others have written about this, so I'll leave the setup and talk about the iPad. Apple has again set the standard and the developers will follow suit. They have priced the iWork apps at $9.99. I expect that most apps that are designed for the iPad are going to cost at least $9.99. There will of course be free apps, and there will be cheaper apps, but Apple is telling developers and consumers that developing a quality app is expensive, and they are setting the bar.

I am predicting that based on Apple's iWork suite selling for $9.99 each, the average cost of apps on the iPad store will be higher than the current ~$2.50. I predict it will close to double that amount.

By the way, there is an app that says that I have spent around $255 on apps. That is pretty reasonable. I have found some great deals on apps using this web site.

Have a Good Life.

School Librarians

I saw this weekend that the American Association of School Librarians voted to make the official title of "The people who work in the part of the school that checks out books, equipment; who strive to be instructional leaders; who do things that aren't in their job description but do them because they are asked; who are information specialists; who are teachers; and who are program administrators" to "School Librarians". Here's the link to the ALA press release.

In the Library Media Listserv provided by the Utah Education Network, there were many differing viewpoints on what this really meant.

"'Disappointed' doesn't begin to express how I feel about the AASL leadership...AASL hasn't done any favor for the profession by taking a step backwards," said one prominent professional.

Another replied, "I would like to say I feel most proud when I tell someone I am a librarian."

Someone else said, "I detest the term media specialist."

Another shared a story of calling a school and asking for the Media Specialist, then, after a moment of silence on the other end of the line, said the magic word, "Librarian," after which the call was immediately transferred.

Obviously, this is a point about which "School Librarians" feel very strongly. Thankfully, the idea that a title is not the fight anyone should be fighting was brought up. One person suggested the title doesn't matter if there isn't money to fund the program. Another person emphasized that the title doesn't matter if people still don't know what they do.

Since I have taken this position in our new school district, I have learned A LOT about what librarians do and don't do. How did I learn that? I went to the libraries and saw what they were doing. And therein lies the problem.

Let me put it this way: It makes sense for me to know what a director does by seeing the film he created. It makes sense for me to know what a coach does by seeing his team play on the field. However, I don't want to have to go to the Oval Office every day to see what the president is doing. I want him to tell me what he is doing. In the same way, I want the librarian to tell me what she is doing. There are too many people that have incorrect perceptions of what the librarian does.

It doesn't matter what the title is, it only matters what people think the title means. Librarians, get your message out there.

Have a Good Life.