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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
19 April 2012
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ANNOUNCEMENTS

PREPARING FOR SUMMER

Yes, the USF Chapter of the UFF will be meeting this summer, on May 18; June 1, 15 & 29; and July 13 & 27 at locations to be determined at tomorrow's Chapter Meeting, tomorrow Friday at 12 noon in EDU150. We will also be making plans for fall. Everyone, members and non-members, are invited to come join the discussion. There will be sandwiches, chips, and soda pop.

CONTRIBUTE TO UFF PAC!

UFF needs your help to fight for you in Tallahassee. We need to help reasonable candidates get elected this fall, and we need to build relationships with legislators we will be dealing with next spring. Thanks to the U. S. Supreme Court, that means campaign contributions. But DUES MONEY DOES NOT GO TOWARDS CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS. So the UFF Political Action Committee needs donations! Download, fill in, and mail the PAC paycheck deduction form to contribute a few dollars out of each paycheck towards the PAC fund. We need all the pull in the legislature that we can get.

JOIN UFF TODAY!

Download, fill in, and mail the membership form. Benefits of membership include the right to run and vote in UFF chapter and statewide elections; representation in grievances (UFF cannot represent a non-member in a grievance or future litigation); greater opportunities for influencing the bargaining agenda; special deals in insurance, travel, legal advice, and other packages provided by our affiliates; free insurance coverage for job-related liability; and the knowledge you are supporting education in Florida. And if you join now, you will get a $ 100 rebate dues rebate after a term. Come and join the movement.

IN THIS ISSUE

ABOUT TEACHING.

This is the last UFF Biweekly of this semester. The first Biweekly of the summer will be broadcast on May 17. As of now, we have 592 members, and we will be developing membership goals for the next academic year over the summer.

  • But First, a Status Report. Right now, there are a bunch of Tallahassee pots on slow or hot burners. Below is a very brief report on where we are.
  • About Teaching. One of the perks of union membership is a bunch of print subscriptions to educational journals. The spring issue of the AFT American Educator is out, and it features reviews of the literature on classroom technique and the Finnish success story. For more on these subjects, see below.

ARTICLES

BUT FIRST, A STATUS REPORT

There are two kinds of pots: bills sitting on Governor Scott's desk, waiting to be accepted or rejected, and lawsuits against bills Scott has signed.

  • Governor Scott is seeking further input on Senate Bill 1994 abolishing USF Polytechnic and creating Florida Polytechnic University. He has announced his decision to announce his decision tomorrow, but he has already approved the money for FPU.
  • House Bill 5005, which would cut the government contribution to the pension funds of university employees on the Optional Retirement Plan from 7.43 % to 5.15 %, is also on Scott's desk.
  • Scott signed the Drug-Free Workplaces act (House Bill 1205), but has suspended implementation pending the outcome of a lawsuit by the ACLU.
  • The FEA's lawsuit to stop the implementation of last year's Senate Bill 2100, which requires that we "contribute" 3 % towards our pension, has been fast-tracked by the Florida Supreme Court and should be heard this summer.
  • The FEA's lawsuit to stop implementation of last year's Senate Bill 736, which eliminated due process rights for K-12 teachers, is still before circuit court.
And with the end of the legislature's session, the thoughts of a legislator turns to re-election. But next year's legislative leadership already chosen, as if the election was irrelevant is already making plans. We will be watching.

ABOUT TEACHING

One of the many benefits of union membership is a package of subscriptions to educational journals. One of these is the American Educator, published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The articles in this magazine do not reflect official AFT policy; the American Educator chooses from submissions which ones would be of greatest interest to its 900,000+ subscribers. The spring 2012 issue has two major themes: two articles surveying the literature on outcomes of various classroom techniques, both advocating a hands-on approach, and two articles on education as a public good.

Hands on teaching. Two professors of educational psychology and one professor emeritus of education argue that "partial guidance" instruction which includes "discovery learning" and "inquiry learning" is less effective than "full guidance" learning, at least when teaching novices. The most extreme version of partial guidance would consist of something like presenting a problem to students, with no hints or prompts, and who would be told to brainstorm in groups. The intention is that students would replicate the discovery process that originally solved the problems, and so discover the solutions for themselves.

In their somewhat polemical review of the literature, the authors argue that Putting Students on the Path to Learning requires a hands on approach. The problems with partial guidance include:

  • A small group of students make most of the discoveries while most students become frustrated, thus magnifying the achievement gap between these groups of students.
  • Misinformation can be generated and propagated without timely correction, thus becoming entrenched.
On the other hand, the authors claim that students in advanced courses may benefit more from partial guidance learning, as they have already developed sufficient context to solve the problems effectively and to learn new material while doing so.

Another article by educational psychology Professor Barak Rosenshine enumerates ten Principles of Instruction - which he expands into seventeen "principles of effective instruction", based on several studies of elementary classroom teaching. These include:

  • Beginning a lesson with a short review. For a 40-minute elementary school class, the author recommended eight minutes. This includes going over homework and having students practice skills that they had already been taught.
  • Asking many questions. "The most successful teachers in these studies spent more than half of the class lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions."
  • Provide models. This connects with the previous article: the authors of both articles advocate guided instruction in the form of having teachers give worked examples, and then having students do similar examples.
Several principles of instruction pushed for closely monitoring the students in order to correct misconceptions, fill in gaps that students didn't learn, and find what the students learned and what they didn't. This means a lot of practice. One point that this article did not address: this is a rather labor-intensive way to teach. It may be more effective, and we should not be surprised that effective teaching requires more resources. But many of these techniques are not practical in lower division mass lecture courses where effective teaching techniques are most needed.

Education as a public good. This brings us to the resources provided for education. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in Helsinki, Finland, has just written a book on the Finnish Lessons in education, and for the American Educator he wrote an article on how Finland Shows Us What Equal Opportunity Looks Like.

Finland is being held up as a model for American education reform, so this is a timely article. It begins with a brief account of Finland in the Twentieth century. Unlike America, the city on the hill prone to regard itself as the best of all possible worlds, Finland's geography denied it the luxury of exceptionalism. The instinct for self-preservation motivated a certain pragmatism. And the Finns decided that universal education was integral to the Finnish aspiration to be a successful and independent nation.

Educational equity was the primary goal: in 1950, 27 % of all Finnish 11-year-olds were in grammar schools, so they had a long way to go. The political establishment saw universal education as an investment in Finland's productivity. By 1979 there was a national "comprehensive school system". After completing nine years of "municipal school", students had the options of continuing in a "general" school, or to go to a "vocational" school", or to go to work. Nearly 90 % of all Finnish students complete general or vocational school. Compare that to the USA, where about three fourths of high school students get a high school diploma, and nearly 90 % get a diploma or a GED by age 26.

Finland has put more effort into making education accessible (investing in counseling, health services, support for disabled students, etc.) and less into assessment. The chart on page 25 shows Finland's success in equity and imparting skills. Finnish test scores show "below-average impact of socioeconomic status" (Finland, like Estonia and Iceland, succeeds in educating disadvantaged youth) as well as "above average reading scores" (only South Korea did better). The article describes some of the initiatives that Finland employed during the last two decades, when it became one of the world's leaders in education.

The Finnish emphasis on equity brings up the question in the Ask the Cognitive Scientist column, Why Does Family Wealth Affect Learning?, by Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive science at the University of Virginia. He describes two types of theories:

  • Family Investment Theories. A wealthy family has more financial and social capital to invest. This includes investments in supplementary education, housing in good school districts (presumably including districts whose residents are willing and able to pay higher property taxes for the schools), and a good environment, e.g., one with minimal exposure to lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, and other chemicals that undercut academic performance.
  • Stress Theories. A wealthy family is less subject to social stresses that can have psychological and physical consequences. (These consequences can be quite real: notice the recent New York Times article on how Changes in Social Status Seen in Monkey's Genes.) Stress can reduce the amount of time and attention that parents pay to their children, and can affect children more directly.
The American Educator comes out four times a year, is supported by union dues, and is sent to all union members while being posted on the web as a service to the educational community. If you would like to support the American Educator, and receive your own copies, join UFF today: download, fill in, and mail the membership form. Come and join the movement.

LOGISTICS

Next Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, 12 noon, in EDU150 on USF Tampa.

Sandwiches & sodas for lunch are provided by the union, and all UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. Come and join the movement.

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