Category Archives: Education

New Yorker Reviews Albemarle’s Teacher Coaches

In the latest New Yorker, surgeon Atul Gawande has a story about personal coaches that focuses on innovation in teaching within the Albemarle County Public Schools. (If you’re familiar with Gawande’s writing, it would be for his important 2009 article, “The Cost Conundrum,” which demonstrated that communities that rethink radically how they handle public health can substantially decrease health care costs.) In his new piece, “Personal Best,” Gawande explores the notion that coaches don’t just have to be for athletes and singers, but that perhaps all of could benefit from coaches. He visits Walton Middle School and spends time in the classroom of math teacher Jennie Critzer, who is one of the county teachers who benefits from the services of two dozen coaches. These coaches pair up with teachers, observe them in the classroom, and help them understand how they can be more effective.

A representative sample of the article opens with Critzer providing some observations on her classes to a pair of coaches:

“My second class has thirty kids but was more forthcoming. It was actually easier to teach than the first class. This group is less verbal.” Her answer gave the coaches the opening they wanted. They mentioned the trouble students had with their math conversations, and the girl-boy pair who didn’t talk at all. “How could you help them be more verbal?”

Critzer was stumped. Everyone was. The table fell silent. Then Harding had an idea. “How about putting key math words on the board for them to use—like ‘factoring,’ ‘perfect square,’ ‘radical’?” she said. “They could even record the math words they used in their discussion.” Critzer liked the suggestion. It was something to try.

For half an hour, they worked through the fine points of the observation and formulated plans for what she could practice next. Critzer sat at a short end of the table chatting, the coaches at the long end beside her, Harding leaning toward her on an elbow, Hobson fingering his beard. They looked like three colleagues on a lunch break—which, Knight later explained, was part of what made the two coaches effective.

Not all teachers are thrilled with coaching, no doubt because it’s exposing. Few teachers have peers sitting in their classes for hours at a time, noting every detail of their work style, and then critiquing them extensively. It’s stressful and potentially embarrassing. All teachers are required to be coached through their first two years in county school systems, but any teacher can choose to be coached, as Critzer did. She reports that she’s very happy with the coaching, saying that she used to feel isolated and burnt out, but that now she feels less stressed, more satisfied with her work, and that she’s just a better teacher.

School Bus Accident Shuts Down Road, Sends Kids to Hospital

A school bus bound for Burley Middle School was involved in an accident yesterday morning, the Progress reports. Driver Rebecca Merchant was turning onto Preston from Ridge-McIntire when she rear-ended a Ford Focus. Ten kids reported injuries, and were taken to the hospital, though all were released within a few hours. In the meantime, the road was shut down for hours, full of ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. Merchant has been charged with reckless driving, and has been placed on leave by the Albemarle school system.

City School Board OKs Laptops for Students

The Charlottesville School Board has OK’d a $2.4M expenditure to buy two thousand tablet computers for students, Graham Moomaw writes in the Progress. These Fujitsu Stylistics aren’t tablets in the iPad sense, assuming the Progress’ photo is representative, but really just laptops with the screen permanently affixed to the back of the computers, with a tethered pen-like stylus in lieu of a mouse, and a wireless keyboard. The operating system is simply a modified version of Windows 7, and not a real tablet operating system. Reviews of what I think are the right model aren’t glowing [1, 2], but presumably the school system’s requirements are rather different than most reviewers’. The laptops will cost $768 apiece, and will show up in a few weeks. CHS students will get them in mid-October, with kids at Buford and Walker getting them in November.

Note that this was originally pitched as a $500,000–$1,000,000 project back in February, a number that the school system was presenting as “below $1 million” in May.

Nation Notices Study in Scarlet

It was last week that the Albemarle School Board voted to remove Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet from the sixth grade reading list, in response to a parent’s complaint that the book’s portrayal of Mormons is insulting to them. Now it’s making national headlines with outlets like The Atlantic and Time writing of the book’s “ban.” (It wasn’t banned—it was stricken from the sixth grade reading list.) The brief novel was the first Sherlock Holmes story, one of four novels featuring the famed detective, although it was the short stories that made the character famous. A committee was appointed to read the book, and in the committee’s report (2.9MB PDF) they explain that they “could not fathom how anyone who read the book with a critical eye could not see the overwhelming religious bias presented,” and that the book’s general lack of critical claim made it a less than ideal choice for introducing middle school students to the genre, anyhow. I recommend starting with Part 2, Chapter 3 to get a sense of the book’s depiction of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Since there’s really nothing more to this story, presumably the national attention will die off pretty quickly.

Libertarian Running for School Board

Charlottesville Libertarian Steven Latimer is running for school board, Graham Moomaw reports. The 24-year-old and newly minted library employee is running on a platform of limiting spending on education and establishing more charter schools. The 2009 VCU graduate moved to “the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Charlottesville” a year and a half ago. He’s an occasional blogger and regular twitterer. (Note that school board elections are non-partisan, so parties don’t nominate candidates, nor is party affiliation listed on the ballot.) Latimer is the fifth candidate to declare for the four seats up for election this year.