Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 1, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

Interview Of The Month: Ted Appel, An Exceptional Principal

As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

Ted Appel is the exceptional principal at the school where I teach, Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. It’s the largest inner-city high school in the city, and over half of our students are English Language Learners. Ted has also been interviewed by Learning First, and he and I have co-authored an article titled The Positive Impact Of English Language Learners At An Urban School.

What led you to teaching in the classroom, and what prompted your decision to become a principal?

I had been working in outdoor programs for youth at risk for a few years, which was very rewarding and fun, but I felt like school had a overpowering impact on a child’s feelings about being a successful person. I also became interested in the experiential education movement and wondered how it could be applied to classroom learning.

I went into administration because I believed I had received some good training in strong instructional practices and I thought I could have a broader impact by training other teachers in some of those strategies. I eventually became a principal because I realized it was important to have influence over the whole culture of the school in order to really impact the practices in the classroom.

What are the three best things you think you’ve done since you’ve become Burbank’s principal, and what might be three mistakes?

I think the best thing I’ve helped to do at Luther Burbank is create an environment where teachers who are committed to making a difference in students’ lives, have an opportunity to do that work. We’ve created structures, in which everyone has a part, that have resulted in an environment that is orderly, consistent, respectful and dynamic. As a result, we’ve also been able to attract the kind of idealistic, talented, innovative, committed people, an urban school needs in order to make a real difference in kids’ lives.

The other thing I try to do is talk to a lot of people, a lot. The decision making/improvement process is ongoing. I put a lot of ideas out into discussion, hear a lot of feedback and alternative ideas. I think this dynamic leads to a positive professional culture and results in good decisions and creative experiments.

The first big mistake I made when I started was to allow students to use cell phones in the halls during lunch and passing periods. There was an incredible outbreak of organized fights including people from off campus. The hall monitors came to speak with me after three weeks and said, “change the policy or we quit”. What I learned wasn’t just about cell phone rules. I learned that if I think it may be a good idea to make some kind of change, I needed to involve the people who have different perspectives and or would be affected by the decision.

I understand that I make a lot of decisions every day and so I make a lot of mistakes, or don’t do things as well as I could or should. I approach the job like a constant job interview. You try to anticipate issues or questions and prepare with the best approach you know. You often need to think on your feet for what you perhaps did not expect. And you constantly analyze what you said or did and realize how you could have approached it better.

For principals who want to spend some reflective time on their own practice, what might be some important questions you’d recommend they might want to ask themselves?

I think principals need to consider who they talk to. Are they sharing ideas and listening to teachers and staff or just other administrators at the site and central office?

Are the structures, rules, and customs of the school currently necessary and relevant or do they exist for reasons that have disappeared?

Do you believe in the programs and practices of your school, or are you just managing and complying with rules and regulations that have been handed to you?

In looking at the beliefs of those who often self-described as “school reformers,” what do you think might be helpful ideas and unhelpful ones, and why?

It seems that the basis of the current school reform movement, is the belief that teachers and schools are not sufficiently motivated to get better. Thus, competition, punishment and rewards geared to outcome goals are their “innovations” for change and improvement. I believe this creates perverse incentives to manipulate outcomes rather than encourage know how and motivate sound practice.

I also don’t think it is helpful to refuse to acknowledge that some students come to school with intellectual, social, and cultural advantages to be successful in school environments. Acknowledging this fact is not a surrender to poor results. It is merely recognizing what anyone working in a classroom sees every day. It also helps when trying to honestly analyze what is needed, in terms of different approaches and resources, to help students to be successful. We have no problem acknowledging this in art, music or athletics. Why is there such fear in acknowledging it in academics?

I think it can be valuable to give students nationally normed tests. But these tests should not be used to label schools as good or bad. They should be used as a means to evaluate practice and examine ways schools can get better at helping students improve in the skills being assessed.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

People want school improvement to come from a simple fix. With variables as complex as society itself, there will be no simple solutions for all schools and all kids. We need to approach improvement in education not as a fix but as an ongoing dynamic that is achieved through consistent commitment to a common ideal; all children, through education, are entitled to the widest possible array of intellectual, cultural, social, political and economic opportunity. This goal is certainly not easy, nor can we ever really know if it is fully realized. That understanding, that we will never have the absolute answer should not be a source of frustration, should be a source of energy and pride.

Thanks, Ted!

February 1, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Sacramento Bee Story On Teacher Shortage Features Our School’s Student Teacher Support Program

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Help wanted: California school districts scramble to hire teachers is a nice article by reporter Diana Lambert appearing in The Sacramento Bee today.

It features how our school supports student teachers (created by Jim Peterson and Ted Appel), and you can read more about it at the three-part series at my Education Week Teacher column on…how to support student teachers.

If you go to the article’s link, you’ll also see a two-minute video the Bee asked me to do offering tips to new teachers, as well as seeing two photos of me, one of which was ridiculously outsized above the fold in today’s front page. It must have been a very slow news day…

I’m adding the article to The Best Articles & Posts About The “Teacher Shortage.”

January 24, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

New Study Suggests That Teacher Observations Should Focus More On Teacher Inputs, Less On Student Outcomes

There has been substantial evidence that – among many problems with the use of Value-Added Measurement – teachers of students who face many challenges are penalized (see The fundamental flaws of ‘value added’ teacher evaluation and The Best Resources For Learning About The “Value-Added” Approach Towards Teacher Evaluation).

Now, a new study find that the same problem occurs in teacher observations (see Study finds flaws in teacher performance observations; Class Composition Can Bias English Teachers’ Observation Scores, Study Finds; and Classroom observations may hurt teachers more than they help, study says).

Since I’ve always had good experiences with being observed by my administrators (see The best kind of teacher evaluation), and have often heard from other educators with similar experiences, when I first heard about this study I figured it would be based on outside observers coming into classrooms who were unfamiliar with the students and the teacher. However, the data comes from the Gates MET project and it appears that they say “home” administrators and outside experts evaluated the teachers in the study and generally had similar assessments of teachers (see page 21 of the MET study).

Most teacher know that classes composed of students with high-needs are not going to look “as pretty” as classes with a different composition, and, based on this study, I guess I’ve just been naive to think that most administrators would know the same thing and would be able to account for that when doing their evaluations.

Another intriguing point in the study that doesn’t appear to be receiving the attention that I think it should is the authors’ recommendation about what to do about this problem. They seem to be suggesting that observers switch their focus to evaluating teacher inputs – the instructional actions that the teacher can control – instead of the student outputs and outcomes.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the articles about the report:

Garrett-and-Steinberg

Ben Spielberg, along with Ted Appel (my former principal) have written and spoken a lot about this idea of focusing on teacher inputs instead of student outcomes for teacher evaluation purposes. You can find links to my posts and radio shows about them here.

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources For Learning About Effective Student & Teacher Assessments.

December 4, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Study Finds Teachers Whose Students Achieve High Test Scores Often Don’t Do As Well With SEL Skills

Mathematica has just come out with an interesting study (thanks to Paul Bruno, a must-follow on Twitter, for the tip).

It’s titled Teacher and Teaching Effects on Students’ Academic Behaviors and Mindsets, and here’s the “money quote” from their summary:

teachers-who-are

In that regard, its conclusions are very similar to those of another study that came out three years ago (see More Evidence Showing The Dangers Of Using High-Stakes Testing For Teacher Evaluation).

Both studies seem to make the point that policy-makers might be missing the boat by evaluating teachers primarily on student test scores.

Ya’ think?

Mathematica seems to suggest that the answer is to add this element to teacher evaluation. Many other researcher say that measures for these kinds of non-cognitive skills are nowhere near ready for prime-time (see Measurement Matters….Maybe Not So Much), even though the new reauthorization bill for No Child Left Behind seems to encourage its use (see New ESEA May Use Noncognitive Traits in Accountability. Is That a Good Idea?).

Interestingly, though, Mathematica also seems to suggest that – for non-cognitive skills, at least – one option should be to measure teachers on if they are applying classroom practices that are likely to promote SEL skills — not on if students are evaluated as having actually gained them. This connects to articles and ideas I’ve shared, particularly from Ben Spielberg and our former principal, Ted Appel, about the idea of focusing on, and measuring, “inputs” and not outcomes.

You can read more about that idea in these previous posts:

This Is One Of The Best Pieces I’ve Read On Teacher Evaluation: “The Problem with Outcome-Oriented Evaluations”

My New BAM! Radio Show Features An Innovative Strategy For Teacher Evaluation

“Using Teacher Evaluations ‘To Promote Growth’”


Did The Obama Administration Signal A Major Shift In Teacher Evaluation Policies Today?

I’m adding this post to The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources.

November 25, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

The Best Articles, Videos & Posts On Education Policy In 2015 – Part Two

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It’s time for another of my annual end-of-year “Best” lists (you can see all 1,500 “The Best…” lists here).

I’m adding this one to All My 2015 “Best” Lists In One Place.

You might also be interested in:

The Best Articles & Posts On Education Policy In 2015 – So Far

The Best Articles, Posts & Videos On Education Policy In 2014 – Part Two

The Best Articles & Posts On Education Policy In 2014 – So Far

The Best Articles, Videos & Posts On Education Policy In 2013 — Part Two

All My 2013 “The Best…” Lists (So Far) On Education Policy In One Place

All My 2012 “The Best…” Lists On Education Policy In One Place

The Best Articles, Videos & Posts On Education Policy In 2012 — Part Two

The Best Articles, Videos & Posts On Education Policy In 2012 — Part One

The Best Articles & Posts On Education Policy In 2011 — Part Two

The Best Articles & Posts On Education Polcy In 2011 — Part One

The Best Articles & Posts On Education Policy — 2010

The “Best” Articles (And Blog Posts) About Education Policy — 2009

The “Best” Articles About Education — 2008

The “Best” Articles About Education — 2007

Here are my choices for The Best Articles & Posts On Education Policy In 2015 – Part Two (let me know what you think I’m missing) – these are not listed in any order of preference:

‘Forced busing’ didn’t fail. Desegregation is the best way to improve our schools. is the headline of a Washington Post column by Syracuse University professor George Theoharis seems to me to be a “must-read” for everyone.

The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven” is one of my more popular “Best” lists. Ted Appel, our former principal who is now in charge of professional and leadership development for our district, shared a NY Times article that is more fodder for that list. It’s headlined College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution and discusses the recently released College Scoreboard from the Obama administration.

Thanks to Kelly Gallagher, I learned about a brand-new report from America’s Promise Alliance on the reasons why students drop-out of high school. They surveyed 2,000 students who took at least one semester off from school. Tech Insider took the information and created a chart of the results (their chart is more accessible than the one in the report itself). You can see the entire chart here, and I’ve done a screenshot of the reasons that were at the top.

The Data Are Damning: How Race Influences School Funding is an Atlantic article that offers depressing, but not surprising, information.

The Problem We All Live With is the must-listen to (or must-read transcript) from This American Life. Here is how it’s described:

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there’s one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.

Politics K-12 over at Education Week published Accountability and the ESEA Reauthorization Deal: Your Cheat Sheet.

The New York Times  published a review of a new book on the school reform fiasco in Newark, New Jersey titled The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? I’ve previously posted about the excellent article the author, Dale Russakoff, wrote about Newark for The New Yorker, which she obviously then expanded and turned into this book.

In the always must-read EduShyster blog, guest Amy Berard writes about her humiliating teaching experience last year wearing an earpiece and being told what to do by three trainers in the back of her classroom with a walkie-talkie.

How One Law Banning Ethnic Studies Led to Its Rise is from The Atlantic. It demonstrates the old organizing adage that your opponent does your best organizing for you…

Frank Bruni wrote a New York Times column  that pretty much summarizes good policy changes that could be made to enhance the attractiveness of the teaching profession: higher salaries, a career ladder, a career ladder, a voice in policy decisions and more.

NPR published an impressive multi-state series on high school graduation rates. You can see all of their grad stories here.

John Merrow, who recently retired from being the PBS News Hour education correspondent, went out with a bang in his final segment titled Is kindergarten too young to suspend a student? (see the transcript at the link). It’s an amazing piece on the practices of the New York City-based Success Academy charter network. All I can say is just watch it:

I’ve added  it to The Best Posts & Articles Analyzing Charter Schools.

I’m going to throw in three of my posts here at the end of the list:

Growth Mindset – Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

Yes, Schools Should Develop Active Citizens &, No, We Don’t Need Another Test To Do It

Teachers: What we want everyone to know about working in our high-needs school is the headline of a guest column three of my colleagues – Katie Hull, Dana Dusbiber, Lara Hoekstra – and I wrote for The Washington Post. It describes what it’s like to work in our high school…

Also, here are education policy-related “Best” lists I’ve published since June:

The Most Useful Posts, Articles & Videos On South Carolina Officer’s Violent Arrest Of Student

The Best Posts & Articles On Obama Administration’s Call For Fewer Tests

The Best Posts, Articles & Videos On The Rafe Esquith Controversy

The Best Posts & Articles On The Textbook That Calls Slaves “Workers”

The Best Articles & Posts On Arne Duncan’s Resignation – Help Me Collect More

The Best Posts & Articles On Billionaire’s Charter Plan To Split LA’s School District

The Best Posts/Articles On This Year’s Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup Education Poll — 2015

The Best Resources For Learning About School Desegregation (& Segregation) – Help Me Find More

The Best Articles & Posts About The “Teacher Shortage”

The Best Resources On The Awful Friedrichs Case

October 31, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

This Week’s “Round-Up” Of Useful Posts & Articles On Ed Policy Issues

Here are some recent useful posts and articles on educational policy issues (You might also be interested in The Best Articles & Posts On Education Policy In 2015 – So Far):

Maybe Gates effort missed the real way to reform education: help the poor kids is from The Tampa Bay Times. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy.

Foundations fund L.A. Times’ education reporting. A conflict? is from The Washington Post. I’m adding it the same list.

Gates Foundation Places Big Bet on Teacher Agenda is from Ed Week and goes on the same list.

In This Classroom, Knowledge Is Overrated is from Wired. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Videos About Sugata Mitra & His Education Ideas.

Obama’s Change of Heart on Testing is from The New Yorker. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles On Obama Administration’s Call For Fewer Tests.

Obama’s Empty Testing TalkThe president’s pledge to reduce school tests is meaningless. is by Robert Pondiscio. I’m adding it to the same list.

California’s decade of gains on this test just ended is from The Los Angeles Times.

Forcing Schools To Hit The ‘Reset’ Button is an NPR piece that is a bit perplexing to my former principal, Ted Appel, and me. It highlights a supposedly successful school that was transformed by the federal government’s school improvement program to fire its principal. But, in fact, the school was transformed by completely changing the make-up of its student body. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The Four School Improvement Grant Models.

Superintendents in Florida Say Tests Failed State’s Schools, Not Vice Versa is from The New York Times.

NYC schools that skip standardized tests have higher graduation rates is from The Hechinger Report. I’m adding it to The Best Articles Describing Alternatives To High-Stakes Testing — Help Me Find More.

In a disadvantaged district, a parable of contemporary American schooling is from The Washington Post. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles On The Impact Of School Closures — Suggest More!

Fight over charter school signals philosophical differences in how schools are viewed is from WBEZ in Chicago.

At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’ is from The New York Times.

I’m adding those last two articles to The Best Posts & Articles Analyzing Charter Schools.

October 23, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Grammar, Morals & History

Many readers have probably followed the recent story out of Texas where a textbook referred not to slaves, but to “workers” (see The Best Posts & Articles On The Textbook That Calls Slaves “Workers”).

Yesterday, The New York Times published a column headlined How Texas Teaches History. I bookmarked it to read this weekend, and figured it was another article on that recent controversy.

Ted Appel, our former principal and now leader in our District, suggested I read it sooner rather than later, and I’m glad I did.

It provides a fascinating in-depth analysis of how grammar is used in textbooks to manipulate historical meaning.

Here’s an excerpt:

You can see all this at play in the following passage from a textbook, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, called Texas United States History:

“Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves. However, severe treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.”

Notice how in the first two sentences, the “slavery wasn’t that bad” sentences, the main subject of each clause is a person: slaves, masters, slaveholders. What those people, especially the slave owners, are doing is clear: They are treating their slaves kindly; they are providing adequate food and clothing. But after those two sentences there is a change, not just in the writers’ outlook on slavery but also in their sentence construction. There are no people in the last two sentences, only nouns. Yes, there is severe treatment, whippings, brandings and torture. And yes, those are all bad things. But where are the slave owners who were actually doing the whipping and branding and torturing? And where are the slaves who were whipped, branded and tortured? They are nowhere to be found in the sentence.

In addition to being an eye-opening read for me, it will be a great one for my IB Theory of Knowledge classes….

Here’s how the column ends:

Though-we-dont-always

October 3, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Quotes Of The Day On The Perils Of Being Data-Driven

The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven” is one of my more popular “Best” lists.

Today, Ted Appel, our former principal who is now in charge of professional and leadership development for our district, shared a NY Times article that is more fodder for that list. It’s headlined College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution and discusses the recently released College Scoreboard from the Obama administration.

Here are two excerpts:

Its-absurd-said-Jerry-Z

The-obsession-with