Learning by Listening: Why It’s the Best Way to Do the CCSS in the Early Grades

by Alice Wiggins
January 29th, 2013

In my last post I drew attention to John Merrow’s visit to a school in Queens, N.Y., using the new Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program. Today I’d like to start with a chunk of the transcript from Merrow’s video:

JOHN MERROW: In balanced literacy, comprehension is a skill, something to be practiced, like a jump-shot or dance steps…. Not so here. In this reading program at a school in Queens, N.Y., the emphasis is on content, the knowledge kids acquire.

TEACHER: Pick your favorite planet. And you’re going to look back into your reading notebook and you’re going to have to write two facts about that planet.

JOHN MERROW: PS-96 uses a curriculum called Core Knowledge developed by a nonprofit organization led by education reformer E. D. Hirsch, Jr….

STUDENT: Saturn is the second biggest planet. Saturn has thousands of rings.

JOHN MERROW: Core Knowledge is an outlier used by just over 1 percent of elementary schools. That’s only 800 schools. Because it’s such a small program now, the final cost has not been determined. Organizers say it will be less than basal readers….

JOYCE BARRETT-WALKER, Principal, Public School 96: When I initially came to PS-96, we were not a Core Knowledge school. We basically used basal readers and some sort of— and balanced literacy. Through the basal readers, it was a lot of fictional, fictional studies, fictional texts.

JOHN MERROW: But principal Barrett-Walker wasn’t a fan of basal readers and their emphasis on fiction. She felt her students needed to know the same things that children in affluent neighborhoods were learning.

JOYCE BARRETT-WALKER: I felt that some of the students who were here didn’t have enough prior knowledge.

JOHN MERROW: Prior knowledge means?

JOYCE BARRETT-WALKER: Knowledge that they need to have to, I feel, function in society, to have conversation, just to help them exist and understanding who they are as far as their relationship to the rest of the world.

Core Knowledge can be challenging. So you do have to do a lot of training, because informational text is very complex. Now, how do you tear it down so that young children in kindergarten and first grade can understand about Egyptian civilizations?

JOHN MERROW: Content is king in the Core Knowledge approach. Books are organized by subjects like mythology, Mozart and the Westward Expansion, topics that some say are over the heads of the young readers…. Apparently, nobody told these first-graders.

STUDENT: My favorite book is solar system—actually, a nature book, “The Skeleton.”

JOHN MERROW: Oh, “The Skeleton.”

And how about you?

STUDENT: An archaeologist book because it’s teaching me more than archaeology.

JOHN MERROW: The arrival of the Common Core doesn’t faze principal Barrett-Walker.

JOYCE BARRETT-WALKER: When I look at what the expectations are coming in with the Common Core learning standards, it seems that we’re where we need to be right now.

P.S. 96 is where it needs to be, and its young students are on the path to college. Schools using the Core Knowledge Sequence: Content and Skill Guidelines for PreK–8, and especially those that adopt the new CKLA program, will address all of the CCSS. Core Knowledge is very closely aligned to the CCSS in mathematics and English language arts & literacy. In English language arts & literacy especially, the CCSS and Core Knowledge call for many of the same practices. Other programs could be written to align just as well, but they would have to start from the same shared foundation that supports both Core Knowledge and the CCSS: cognitive science research on reading comprehension.

In my last post I briefly described some of that research, focusing the importance of knowledge for reading comprehension. Now I’d like to mention one more research finding that is critical for the early grades: Until the end of middle school (on average), students’ have better listening comprehension than reading comprehension. In the very early grades this is obvious—children are just learning to read. But the fact that reading comprehension takes so many years to outstrip listening comprehension is not obvious at all. Typical 5th, 6th, and 7th graders read well: Why would they still learn more from listening than reading? Because they still do not have enough prior knowledge to draw the full meaning from the text. In class, when teachers are reading aloud, they support comprehension. They pause to define new vocabulary, to explain an idea or event, to ask questions that gauge students’ understanding, or to answer questions as needed. They also read with good fluency and proper intonation, which also aid comprehension.

I have worked with hundreds of teachers on reading aloud in class, especially in the very early grades when listening, looking, and talking are students’ main tools for learning. Very often teachers have an initial concern that the read-aloud will make students passive (and will quickly lead to behavior problems). But a read-aloud should be quite the opposite. Fiction or nonfiction, a high-quality text offers many words and ideas that students are curious about.  And wonderful conversations, and even short research projects, ensue. (Even so, I have to admit that I also value the listening skills children develop over time when their teachers do lots of read-alouds from engaging texts. Really listening to another person, attending to another’s point of view and feelings—isn’t that terrifically valuable in and of itself?)

Don’t take it from me. Here’s an excerpt of a communication that arrived in my inbox last week from some educators in New York who are now using the CKLA Listening and Learning program. A network support team member in the Jefferson-Lewis-Hamilton-Herkimer-Oneida BOCES (those not familiar with New York can think of BOCES as consortia of school districts) emailed me the following reflections on their early experiences using CKLA:

Teachers expressed amazement at the content knowledge their students have been developing. One teacher shared an anecdote in which one of her second graders wondered aloud if Marian Anderson had ever met Rosa Parks, since Rosa would probably have stood up for Marian when she was denied hotel accommodations after a performance.

Teachers expressed great satisfaction with the degree to which students have begun answering in complete sentences and offering support for their thinking. Because this is explicitly requested by the teachers as part of the read alouds, students have come to understand and prepare to meet this expectation on their own….Several teachers shared anecdotes of very young children using very sophisticated vocabulary correctly. There were smiles around the room.

Every educator who finds the time to study both the CCSS and the underlying research; who comes to understand the importance of content knowledge in history, civics, science, and the arts; and who experiments in class with reading aloud interesting fiction and nonfiction texts so as to spark conversations and investigations can experience that same satisfaction.

We’re celebrating each CCSS victory and are happy to have created materials that generate responses such as this and provide a means of leveraging developmentally-appropriate best practices to implement Common Core in the early grades.

Through decades of hard work, cognitive scientists have assembled a new understanding of how listening and reading comprehension work: they depend on prior knowledge. It’s time for all of us in education to embrace that research, and adopt new educational programs that build students’ knowledge.

Stay tuned: Later this week, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., will take a deeper look at the research on learning by listening.

John Merrow’s Crystal Ball

by Alice Wiggins
January 24th, 2013

Last year, John Merrow showed us what early grades classrooms will look like once teachers become experts in the new Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts. He’s long been known as an insightful journalist, so maybe it should not be a surprise that he so quickly grasped the most essential difference between business as usual and the Common Core.

Unlike ELA practices typically used in the early grades today (which our nation’s hard-working teachers have been taught in their preparation programs and required by their school districts to use), the practices that will become typical in the Common Core era are actually based on cognitive science. The first hint is in the standards’ long title: Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. It’s ridiculously long for a title—but it’s incredibly short as a summary of all the most critical points.

Common: shared, as in shared by enough educators for them to be able to collaborate in developing and refining lesson plans—and shared across schools so those unlucky students who must change schools often are not always lost in class.

Core: essential yet also expandable; states can add a bit (if they must) and teachers will have time to go deeper in response to students’ needs and interests.

State: not federal.

Standards: not curriculum (though for the sake of teacher training, materials development, assessment, and mobile students, states should consider developing curricula too).

English Language Arts: artful use of the English language will become far easier to find once the new writing, speaking, listening, and language standards are honored in spirit and practice.

Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects: broad literacy, true literacy; a literate adult has wide-ranging knowledge of these subjects and is therefore able to read any text intended for the public.

This lengthy title will take on even more meaning with a quick review of two amazing findings from cognitive science. Both relate to literacy, and they really explain why the new standards emphasize literacy in specific subjects. The first finding is that, once students are fluent decoders, reading comprehension strategies do help—but students don’t need to spend much time learning or practicing them. Some research shows that just 6 lessons in comprehension strategies (like answering questions and summarizing) are as effective as 50 such lessons. This is great news: we have something effective to build on and it does not need to take much  instructional time. That means we have plenty of time to devote to something that helps more, which brings me to the second finding: knowledge matters. A lot.

One way to study this that has been replicated several times is to take a topic, say baseball, and then get a group of kids, say 12-year-olds, and assess them to find out (1) who is and is not a strong reader, and (2) who does and does not know much about baseball. Then make four groups: strong reader, high knowledge of baseball; strong reader, low knowledge of baseball; weak reader, high knowledge of baseball; weak reader, low knowledge of baseball. Now we’re ready to find out how much knowledge matters: give the kids a text about a baseball game and give them a miniature replica of the diamond, players, etc. Then see who really understands the text by having them show you what happened in the game. Which group does best? The strong readers with a high knowledge of baseball, of course. But the real question is between the strong readers with low knowledge of baseball and the weak readers with high knowledge of baseball. Okay, I gave away the answer at the beginning: it’s the knowledge that really matters. Weak readers with high knowledge of baseball comprehend the baseball text better than the strong readers with low knowledge of baseball. This is spectacular because it gives us a clear path to high achievement: to increase reading comprehension, we need to increase knowledge—and that can be done orally and visually, as well as through text.

Back to the future. Fortunately, when Merrow looked into his crystal ball he had his camera crew standing by to capture the astounding scene: 6-year-olds talking about their favorite books on the solar system and archeology. Take a look (or read the transcript). The first part of the video captures the reading classroom of today. But then, about 6 minutes in, the future is there for all to see in an elementary school in Queens, NY. This is one of 10 NYC schools that piloted the new Core Knowledge Language Arts program. Grades K–3 of that program will be available—for free—this summer, and samples will be available in February. We’ll be sure to let you know when the future arrives.

Poles Apart

by Robert Pondiscio
August 29th, 2012

“Are we hopelessly polarized, or are we suffering from fatigue?” legendary PBS education correspondent John Merrow asks in a thoughtful blog post. “I think many of us are just tired, worn out from listening to the rants and negativity.”

What he said.

To his credit, Merrow is saying out loud what a lots of folks in the education blogosphere have been saying privately for a while now.  “Debate” has become trench warfare, with the usual suspects saying the usual things, over and over, louder and louder.  They’re merely getting more shrill and strident.  It’s getting tedious out there.  Hearts and minds are not being won.

Merrow’s no fool or squishy appeaser pleading, can’t we just get along?  “Sometimes one position is correct, or largely correct. Sometimes people’s strongly held convictions are just plain wrong,” he writes.

Merrow lists several ways in which education debate is polarized: accountability, the achievement gap, school management and structures, assessment, technology, and our expectations for what we should expect of schools and teachers. Are we also polarized about the purposes of public education? Here Merrow hits his stride:  “The goal of school is to help grow American citizens. Four key words: help, grow, American, citizen.  Think about those words,” he writes

“Help: Schools are junior partners in education. They are to help families, the principal educators.

“Grow: It’s a process, sometimes two steps forward, one back. Education is akin to a family business, not a publicly traded stock company that lives and dies by quarterly reports.

“American: E Pluribus Unum. We are Americans, first and foremost.

“Citizen: Let’s put some flesh on that term. What do we want our children to be as adults? Good parents and neighbors, thoughtful voters, reliable workers? What else?”

“We need to get beyond polarization and figure out what we agree on,” Merrow writes.  Wise and heartfelt words from one of education’s elder statesmen.

“We’re Where We Need to Be Right Now”

by Robert Pondiscio
May 15th, 2012

John Merrow of Learning Matters filed an important ten-minute piece for the PBS Newshour last night, looking at elementary reading programs.  Merrow and his producer Cat McGrath visited three different schools in and around New York City: one that teaches with basal readers, another with “balanced literacy,” and one of the New York City schools that is piloting the Core  Knowledge Language Arts curriculum.

The piece is well worth the ten-minutes it takes to watch it (a transcript is available here) and it nicely underscores a the differences between the Core Knowledge approach and the others, particularly in the over-reliance on reading strategies in balanced literacy and basals.  That could pose a problem as reading instruction shifts to comply with Common Core State Standards:

AMANDA BLATTER, principal, Public School 109: We now have level libraries that are nonfiction in all of our classrooms. So the curriculum in reading and writing is now aligning to the Common Core standards.

JOHN MERROW: Just like the students using basal textbooks, these first-graders are learning reading strategies.

AMANDA BLATTER: We’re teaching comprehension strategies such as main idea, author’s purpose, inferencing, cause and effect.

JOHN MERROW: In balanced literacy, comprehension is a skill, something to be practiced, like a jump-shot or dance steps.

It’s unfair to harp on a single soundbite in a TV interview, but the idea that you can be “aligned to Common Core standards” simply by adding nonfiction to a strategies-driven, read-what-you-like approach to literacy is a broad misinterpretation of what CCSS is all about.   The Standards are largely silent on the works of literature and knowledge domains children are expected to learn, but quite clear that there “must be a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document.”

“Building knowledge systematically in English language arts is like giving children various pieces of a puzzle in each grade that, over time, will form one big picture. At a curricular or instructional level, texts—within and across grade levels—need to be selected around topics or themes that systematically develop the knowledge base of students. Within a grade level, there should be an adequate number of titles on a single topic that would allow children to study that topic for a sustained period. The knowledge children have learned about particular topics in early grade levels should then be expanded and developed in subsequent grade levels to ensure an increasingly deeper understanding of these topics. Children in the upper elementary grades will generally be expected to read these texts independently and reflect on them in writing. However, children in the early grades (particularly K–2) should participate in rich, structured conversations with an adult in response to the written texts that are read aloud, orally comparing and contrasting as well as analyzing and synthesizing, in the manner called for by the Standards.”  (p. 23 CCSS ELA Standards)

“When I look at what the expectations are coming in with the Common Core learning standards,” says Joyce Barrett-Walker, the principal of PS 96, the Core Knowledge school featured in the piece. “It seems that we’re where we need to be right now.”

Basals and balanced literacy?  Not so much “What is clear is that basal readers used in three-quarters of our elementary schools will have to make significant adjustments to comply with the emerging Core standards,” Merrow concludes.

Turning Decoders Into Readers

by Robert Pondiscio
June 9th, 2011

I’m a fan of PBS’s John Merrow.  He is the rare television journalist—perhaps the only one—who has the interest, background and sufficient airtime to give thorny education topics the nuanced treatment they deserve.  The other night he devoted nearly ten minutes of PBS’s Newshour to an intriguing question:  Can a good school have bad test scores?  To answer it, he and his producer Cat McGrath visited P.S. 1, a South Bronx school that appears to be filled with bright, eager learners and devoted teachers, yet is “failing” as judged by its terrible reading scores.  What’s going on?

“We discovered that the FIRST graders at that school were reading confidently and competently, Merrow writes on his blog, “but the fourth graders weren’t according to the results of the state test. Is this a paradox, or a full-blown contradiction?”  Merrow attempted to figure out where things leave the rails between first and fourth grades–an earnest, but ultimately frustrating piece that correctly diagnoses the problem, but fails to uncover or sufficiently examine its root causes.

Merrow starts by correctly pointing out that there is a big difference between “reading” in the first grade and “reading” in fourth grade.  Indeed, they’re hardly the same activity. Observing a phonics lesson in a first grade classroom, he points out that “Ms. Hunt’s students seem to be getting it. What they are doing is called decoding, but decoding is only half the battle. Understanding what the words mean is a much harder skill called comprehension. It’s where many children fall flat.”

For starters comprehension is not a “skill” at all.  Your ability to read with comprehension depends on many things.  You must be able to decode.  You must know all (or nearly all) of the words.  And you must know at least a little about the subject matter of the text to construct a mental model that allows you to make meaning correctly.   “My dog is sleeping on the couch” is easy to understand; “ My Havanese is snoozing on the divan” means more or less the same thing as long as you know about dogs and furniture, and understand that “snooze” is a synonym for sleep. 

Only 18% of P.S 1′s 4th graders are reading at or above grade level.  The good decoders have failed to become strong readers. What happened?  One 4th grade teacher says the children’s home lives start to take a toll.

“They’re not as innocent anymore. They’re realizing the things that are affecting their schoolwork. You know, I mean, I have homeless students in my room. I have students with fathers in jail. There’s drugs. So, that obviously comes into play at a certain point as well.”

Another 4th grade teacher suggests the grind of test prep and test anxiety is the issue.  “The system takes the fun out of reading,” observes Brenda Cartagena.  “I want them to read for enjoyment. I want them to grab that book because it’s fun. I tell them, reading, you travel, you meet new friends, you learn how to do new things. But it’s very difficult, you know? They take the joy out. And it’s hard to infuse it back.”

Full disclosure: I spent a significant amount of time talking to producer McGrath as she and Merrow prepared the piece.  I stressed the importance of vocabulary and background knowledge and how reading comprehension, unlike decoding, is not a transferable “skill” at all.  How the tests children take are de facto tests of general knowledge.  To what degree, I wondered, does the instruction these South Bronx kids receive reflect that?  Having taught at a nearby school in the same district a few blocks away, I suspected the answer is “not at all.”   To their credit Merrow and McGrath looked at the tests.  Merrow writes on his blog:

“We looked over past tests, and, sure enough, the passages were about subjects that poor kids in the south Bronx may not be familiar with (cicadas or dragonflies were two of the subjects, for example). Answering the questions did require inferential leaps, just as we had been told.

“So we asked to talk with a couple of fourth graders who were reading below grade level, and here’s where it got complicated.  As you will see in the NewsHour piece, both children, one age 9 and the other 11, handled the passages and answered all the questions. Maybe the personal attention helped, but they read easily and drew inferences correctly. We only ‘tested’ a couple of kids, but both were below grade-level, their teacher assured us.”

Again, did they “read easily?”  Or did they decode easily?  And I’m not as confident as Merrow that they “drew inferences correctly.”  Here’s what viewers saw Monday night on the Newshour:

JOHN MERROW: I wondered how the fourth-grade class might perform on the state test this year, and asked Ms. Cartagena to send me two of her students who were reading below great level.

Jeannette, who is 9, came first.

STUDENT: So far, I have hoped to find many new species.

JOHN MERROW: I asked her to read a passage about dragonflies from last year’s state test.

STUDENT: About 5,500 dragonfly species buzz around the world. Who doesn’t like — like looking at these amazing insects?

JOHN MERROW: What are species?

BRENDA CARTAGENA: Many kinds.

JOHN MERROW: Kinds. It’s kinds of species. Right. Exactly. Yes.

Exactly right?  It is impossible to know, based on this exchange, if the child understands “species” as well as Merrow assumes or if she has a sufficient grasp of what a dragonfly is to apply the concept.  As a teacher, I’d want to probe more for understanding, “if you’re looking at two dragonflies, how can you tell if they are different species?” you might ask.  If she said they might be different colors or have different shaped wings, I’d feel reasonably confident that she understands the basic idea.  If she says “one’s male and one’s female” or can’t explain the difference at all, then the concept is still shaky, or she might not know enough about dragonflies to apply it. Either way it would impact her ability to draw inferences and make meaning from the passage.

Given that the achievement gap long predates test-driven accountability, you could sensibly argue that that testing makes the problem worse, but it cannot be the root cause.  Similarly, the idea that “real life catches up with kids” by 4th grade is unsatisfying.  If reading comprehension is a skill like riding a bike or throwing a ball through a hoop (it’s not), it is not an ability you would suddenly lose if your father was sent to prison or you were evicted from your home.

What Merrow either didn’t probe or did not air is what – what exactly – the instruction given to these children in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade looks like.  Are they being steeped in a content-rich curriculum that would make it less likely that concepts like cicadas, dragonflies and species would be unfamiliar at test time?  Or is the school operating, as most do, on the incorrect  assumption that reading comprehension is a transferable skill?  That decoding + engagement + content-free reading strategies is enough to guarantee success? When this formula fails, as it inevitably must, it is normal to look to outside causes like poverty, fractured families and test anxiety as root causes.  These things certainly work against student engagement and achievement, but they are clearly not the cause of failure. 

Merrow is due a lot of credit for  taking a nuanced view of reading and and asking the right question: why doesn’t early decoding success automatically turn in to comprehension success?  But ultimately the piece doesn’t provide the answer.

Who Dat Say They Gonna Cancel School?

by Robert Pondiscio
February 2nd, 2010

Arne Duncan has backtracked on his claim that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” But schoolchildren in the Crescent City probably think the Saints making the Super Bowl is the best thing to happen, since the city’s schools are likely to call an emergency day and stay closed on Monday. 

“We feel that it is not in the best interest of our students to be required to attend school on a day when a significant number of absences or tardiness will be the reality, and when learning will not be optimal,” says one school official. 

Not one to let les bon temps rouler, PBS’ education correspondent John Merrow thinks closing for the day sets a bad example for the kids.  “Call me an old fogey, but I find closing schools to be irresponsible behavior on the part of the adults,” Merrow writes on his blog. “Are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders going to be worn out from partying? What are working parents supposed to do, or are they also exempt from going to work?”

By canceling school, says Merrow, the adults “are inadvertently revealing who’s really in charge: the kids. The unspoken message is clear: what we offer in schools isn’t enough to hold students’ attention.”

Observations on Observations

by Robert Pondiscio
August 27th, 2009

If you’re a teacher, would you rather be judged by a 200-page list of indicators of highly skilled teaching, or by a principal who shares your philosophy of teaching and learning, supports your approach and pretty much leaves you alone–but has the power to fire you at will? 

This question occurred to me after reading a long and excellent post by John Merrow over at Learning Matters on teacher observations. He concludes that the observation process is “changing for the better in some places, but that, unfortunately, it’s still mostly useless.”

In the old days, teachers closed their doors and did their thing, for better or for worse. As long as things were quiet, administrators [rarely] bothered to open the door to see what was going on, and teachers never watched each other at work. That’s changing, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. In some schools today, teachers are actually expected to watch their peers teach, after which they share their analysis. In other schools, however, principals armed with lists sit in the back of the class checking off ‘behaviors’ and later give the teacher a ‘scorecard’ with her ‘batting average.’

“Whether these observations are diagnostic in nature and therefore designed to help teachers improve or a ‘gotcha’ game is the essential question,” Merrow perceptively observes.  Teacher observations, like test scores, will undoubtedly loom ever larger as the issue of teacher quality bubbles to the top of the nation’s education agenda.  Like test scores, there’s a lot to learn from observations.  And like test scores, we’re equally likely to learn the wrong lessons.

Of all the “best practices” that have migrated to education from the business world, the one that didn’t make the trip is the idea that good managers hire excellent people, empower them with real decision-making authority, then get out of their way.  The closest thing to that in education is “close your door and do your thing,” as Merrow puts it.  That goes against the grain in the Age of Accountability, but it is undeniable that for many excellent and experienced teachers and their students, it works perfectly.   And while that approach is endangered, it has not disappeared.  Nor should it.  The point of any accountability system should be to help bad schools and teachers look and act like good schools and teachers, not the opposite.  Our schools still have plenty of brilliant iconoclasts who do things their own way to great effect. 

For such  teachers nothing could be worse than “observation by checklist,” where the adminstration wants to see what it wants to see: aim and standard on the board?  Check.  Students sitting in groups?  Check.  Updated work on the bulletin board?  Check. A “print rich” environment in “kid-friendly language?” Check.   Ask why these items are important and you’ll invariably hear that it’s what the principal’s supervisor expects to see.  What they are indicative of is lost.  The consummate irony is this kind of evaluation seems rigorous, but it is more likely — much more likely — to create a civil service mentality than to foster excellence.  It’s another variation of the Cargo Cult Education phenomenon.   Teachers and administrators spend all their energy manufacturing the visible markers of learning, often not knowing (and after a while no longer caring) what the “indicators” indicate. 

Indeed, this is the thing the every teacher knows, that every armchair expert does not: it is simple (but time-consuming) to create an environment that gives all the appearances of being a high-functioning classroom and still be a lousy teacher.  Among the very first survival skills a new teacher learns, either through the advice of a kindly colleague or through a series of administrative reprimands, is the art of the dog and pony show.   In some schools, it’s the quid pro quo that earns you the right to close your door and practice your craft.  In more punitive environments, it’s the tail that wags the dog.   But the aim of observation-by-checklist is not great teaching, it’s plausible deniability–and it’s the enemy of accountability, for both teachers and administrators.  Miss Jones’ classroom demonstrates a high degree of student engagement and all of the indicators of high quality teaching, but her students are still not making progress.  Why? Miss Jones’ energy is misdirected.  She’s learning to play the game, not become a great teacher.  After a few years, she gets tired of it and quits.  Mediocrity wins again. 

The bottom line is that great teaching is like Potter Stewart’s definition of hard-core pornography.  It’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.  Unfortunately, that’s never going to cut it in our data-mad, accountability-obsessed age. 

So which would you rather?  Find a school and work with a principal who shares your philosophy and approach, trusts you and supports you, but has the power to fire you at will?  Or a school where your duties are codified to the letter, where you know what’s on the checklist and spend all of your time ‘working to rule‘ and playing “gotcha.”  Where are you going to be happiest and most productive?

Am I the only one who thinks this is what the teacher quality debate is really all about?