Edutopia – Programming the New Literacy for the 21st century

Great News !!!!
My letter to the editor of Edutopia magazine was published in the April 2008 issue.
I wrote a letter in response to an article called Programming the New Literacy by Marc Prensky
In summary he writes:
I believe the single skill that will, above all others, distinguish a literate person is programming literacy, the ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible one wants it to do — to bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images. Some call this skill human-machine interaction; some call it procedural literacy. Others just call it programming.
Marc Prensky is the founder of the Games2train an elearning company.

Why teaching students to program games and robots is so important

The best education teaches students to solve problems creatively and think critically. Programming is the best way to teach both. When I teach my students to program games in Logo with MicroWorlds, they are challenged to solve many problems along the way and inspired with new ideas.

Building and programming robots teaches the same skills and more. The classes where my students learn the most by far are programming and robotics. These classes should be mandatory for all students. Unfortunately, until the United States pays and trains teachers at a much higher level, these skills will continue to be taught only at a select few schools.

Sharon Thompson

This article originally published on 3/20/2008

Edutopia is an Education Reform and Technology magazine published by the George Lucas Education Foundation. Edutopia is an excellent source about education issues facing our nation today in a global economy for noneducators, concerned citizens, teachers and parents alike. Subscriptions are free. So, please subscribe.

July 10, 2008 at 5:06 pm Leave a comment

Merit Pay for Teachers

In every other industry but education, hard work and achievement are rewarded with increased compensation. Sure the economy and luck always come into the equation of determining salary, but luck is about preparing yourself for opportunities. Opportunities are found by people who search for them. The private tutoring industry is a clear example of how rewarding people for talent can create pool of highly skilled workers in any field. Advantage testing pays tutors six figure salaries. Education must reward great teachers to attract and keep the best talent and give our students the best education. Finally the tide is changing in education and teachers are beginning to come around to merit pay. In 24 states merit pay proposals are under consideration. Why do so many teachers fight merit pay? Are teachers afraid their students will not succeed? How much does a teacher’s preconceived notions impact student achievement?

September 22, 2007 at 5:16 am 1 comment

A Proposal on How To Implement Merit Pay for Teachers

Most people agree that teacher salaries need to be higher. But they do not agree on how much and who should receive raises. I taught at a school where the teachers rejected a pay raise that would have included merit pay. The school proposed designating five teachers each year to receive bonus pay for five years. The problem with the proposal was that the administrators never explained how teachers would be chosen for the master teacher bonus and too few teachers (25 of 160) would be eligible for the bonus.

Most teachers would agree to a merit pay system similar to what I have proposed because it would be a learning process and they would be involved through peer reviews. Merit pay would be as part of a 360-degree review process. The pay scale would be collapsed to a 5 or 6 level band system ranging from Apprentice level to Master teacher level. Teachers would advance through the levels based on competency, in addition to education and years of service. Advancing to the next level would require certain minimum scores on the reviews. An average of three review scores would determine merit pay. The principal, department chair, and a peer teacher would review each teacher based on the following criteria:

• 40% – Observations of teaching
• 20% – Student test results

25% – Advising students and extracurricular activities (evaluated based on parent & student surveys)
15% – committee work and school wide initiatives.

All teachers would be observed three times a year. Each observation would include three observers: a peer teacher, department chair or assistant principal and a principal. After each observation teachers receive written feedback.
A grid would describe excellence in teaching in each area of the observation and the appropriate score. The grid would set a range of reviews from Needs Improvement, Fair, Good, to Excellent. The grid would describe goals that are clearly observable and demonstrated for each review. The following are the six criteria on the teacher observation grid, which would determine review.

• 20% – Lesson Plan – clear objectives, reasonable outcomes, logical sequence

• 20% – Written presentation of material – document with clear directions, student example, practice problems, and challenge questions

• 20% – Oral presentation of material – clear directions and model activity

•15% – Feedback to students – response to different student abilities, makes contact with entire class

• 10% – Examples student work – graded against school wide examples

• 15% – Classroom management – evaluation of whether students are focused and disciplined

The pay scale should be a band system collapsed to 5 or 6 levels ranging from Apprentice to Master teacher. On each level the salaries range depending on reviews. Experience and education are additional factors. During the first two levels the range is narrow. During the top four or five levels the salary range is much wider and merit pay becomes a bonus system that would impact teachers’ salaries greatly.

Teachers advance through the levels based on competency in addition to education and years of service. A minimum of 2 years would be required on the first three levels for new teachers. Teachers can remain at level 3 career and level 4 advanced for many years. Level 4 advanced would be an effective competent teacher contributing in several ways to the school. In a merit pay system a great teacher with 8 years experience at level 4 advanced can earn close to the same as a great teacher at level 4 advanced with 15 years experience. Level 5 would be reserved for teachers with increased responsibility: coaching new teachers, organizing school-wide activities or chairing committees etc.

  • Apprentice – New teachers, Non-renewed at the end of their second year if Novice level is not attained.
  • Novice – Teachers must pass teacher licensing test, Non-renewed/terminated at the end of fifth year as a Novice if Career level is not attained.
  • Career – reviewed as good in all area of teaching observation
  • Advanced – designing new curriculum and excellent at some areas of teacher observation
  • Accomplished – Excellent at all areas of teacher observation and other review criteria
  • Master Teacher – Excellent in all review criteria and assuming leadership role in the school for example mentoring other teachers or leading school-wide committees


This is in response to James Forman Jr.’s questions on his blog Extra Credit

1) Should merit pay be based solely on student test scores?

No, student test scores should be included as one factor in a complete 360-degree review process. A teachers’ pay should never be based solely on student test scores. Test scores are not 100% reliable. Overemphasis on student test scores causes unhealthy competition and cheating is encouraged. Student attendance impacts test scores but teachers have no ability to guarantee student attendance.

2) Would you propose using value-added assessment, and what would you do if you were in one of the overwhelming majority of districts that don’t have the data systems to support that?
Merit pay should be part of a 360-degree review process. Merit pay should be determined by a formula that includes: observations of teaching, student test results, advising students, coaching extra curricular activities, committees work and school-wide initiatives.

3) How much weight, if any, would you give to the judgment of principals above and beyond standardized measures? Would there be any appeal process for teachers who felt they had been judged unfairly?
Principals should definitely have significant weight in evaluating teachers as well as a peer teacher. Each teacher should be observed and reviewed by two administrators and a peer teacher. Parent and student surveys should be included in the review.
If there is significant disagreement between the reviewers a teacher should be able to appeal and seek a second peer review.

4) What about the subject areas that aren’t routinely tested? Are those teachers eligible for merit pay, and if so, who decides and on what basis?

Teacher of Music, Art and other area not routinely tested should receive merit pay and be included in the 360 degree review process. Teachers would choose the test scores of the subject most closely related to their own courses for inclusion in their review. Teachers would be required to make connections to their chosen related subject when they are teaching. For example, Music can make many connections to math with time signatures, patterns, and rhythms.

5) Finally, if we accept as we must, that doing this right will cost more money (not the pay itself, but the investment in time and the assessment tools), how much should we be willing to pay?

We should be willing to spend a great deal on teacher evaluation in time and money because better teachers improve student learning. Assessment of teachers is essential to helping teachers improve and it should be part of a comprehensive professional development program. How can we improve teacher quality without effectively measuring it?

August 2, 2007 at 3:37 pm 1 comment

Hello World!

Welcome to EducationGuru Weblog!!! I am a passionate educator with more than ten years experience teaching students in K – 8th grade. I am committed to education reform and education equity. I created this blog to fuel the debate about education issues in the news. I want to be a catalyst for education reform that forces politicians and school leaders to address the education problems today. I hope you will join the debate, vote, write your politicians, and get involved at local public schools.

Education in the USA for all but the most privileged students is in a state of crisis. We cannot wait any longer for education reform.

50% of high school students in low income neighborhoods don’t graduate on time

27% of 12th grade students nationally lacked basic reading skills

39% of 12th grade students nationally lacked basic high school math skills

Data Source: The National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005 (An exam commonly known as the nation’s report card.)

The achievement gap between black and white students nationally continues to be persistent difference. In Massachusetts Only 61 percent of students in high-minority, high-poverty schools passed the 10th grade English MCAS test in 2002, compared to 96 percent in low-minority, low-poverty schools.

Data Source: The Civil Rights Project at UCLA

These disparities severely limit the life prospects of the 13 million children growing up in poverty today. And, because African-American and Latino/Hispanic children are three times as likely to grow up in a low-income area, these disparities also prevent many children of color from truly having equal opportunities in life.

Data Source: National Center for Children in Poverty, 2006

More about who I am? I have been involved in education reform in New York city public and independent schools. Most of my experience is as a technology educator and technology staff developer. I taught an integrated technology curriculum with Math, English, History, Science, and Foreign Languages. I founded an award winning robotics team at a middle school in New York city. I have taught in a wide range of schools from public schools in the South Bronx to elite independent schools on the Upper East side.

August 1, 2007 at 9:00 pm 1 comment

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