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Saturday, November 17, 2012

David Hedges Writes To McGraw-Hill CEO About Absent Teacher Assignments


David Hedges
David Hedges, Dedicated To All ATRS In NYC
I would like to get the publishers of the textbooks we use in New York City Schools to produce an opus of uniform absent-teacher assignments.  I sent the idea to Lloyd (Buzz) Waterhouse, CEO of the education division at McGraw Hill.  Here is the email.  I did get an answer from the senior vice president, for it would seem that the DOE been sitting on a huge reserve of absent-teacher support products.  Did anyone of us ATRs or administrators in the schools know about this? 

Now, how can we bring these tools into the classroom and use them to help students and make our classes more focused and productive while the regular teacher is out.  I am suggesting a series of workshops, say at their corporate offices in Manhattan.  I hear they serve lunch!    Any ideas, anyone?

Dear Mr. Waterhouse,

When teachers are absent, the classes go crazy, which can cause the tone of the whole school day to be off key.  It often takes an additional day to get the students back on track.  The emotional symbolism of an absent teacher can affect students very deeply when the substitute lesson is irrelevant or does not count.  This phenomenon, that some write off as tradition, is a waste of taxpayers’ money and everyone’s time.  The question is how can we prevent the disruption of the school day before the damage has been done.  I have an idea for a simple enough solution to this problem that is both cost effective and does not require that we reinvent the wheel. 

The solution I propose is to create uniformly formatted assignments that mimic the look and feel of a standardized test.  These assignments would have the same design in every school, while the content can be a flexible as the school requires.

When students see that work is assigned as a formal assessment test or practice test, they are more likely to take it seriously.  Simultaneously we begin to reclaim those lost (but paid for) days while providing students with much needed academic support.  Students will begin to expect such work when the teacher is out and will be less likely to end up in the Dean's office, for when time is unstructured and productive outlets are not in place, students react very destructively, as I am sure you know.

The materials used in these standardized-test-mimic booklets can be drawn from the vast library of reading comprehension exercises already copyrighted by McGraw Hill.  They can be selected from every subject as ways that aim to enhance students’ cultural literacy, review topics from the McGraw Hill textbooks that students are using in class, provide them with grammar problems, (such as those students will encounter on their SATs), and math problems, each with a multiple-choice formatted questions.   

The advantage of the multiple-choice format gives students practice in test taking and is easily scored by the regular teacher when he or she returns to school.  The look-and-feel of a multiple-choice format helps students to realize that they will be held accountable, for the can be scored almost instantly when the teacher returns.  Of course the materials for each booklet should not aim to overwhelm or discourage students.  We want them engaged and concentrating, so they can learning, practicing and developing good habits.  What goes on now, in the absence of such an approach to the absent-teacher situation is an educational nightmare, for more often than not, even the better students regress under the pressure of counter-productive peer influences.  They become exposed to bad habits and lose some of the learning gains they had worked so hard to makee.

I think McGraw Hill could easily take the leadership role toward developing such a product as the one I have in mind, at a minimal cost, but with some enormous benefits to schools.  The product has the potential to bring new business to McGraw Hill, for schools that are not currently using McGraw Hill educational products would see how McGraw Hill provides comprehensive support for its current line, by continuing to provide them with classroom literacy strategies that will save them money and aims to further them toward their goals toward achieving higher scores on the tests that students are mandated to take.

Developing this product would be both efficient and cost effective, for it would simply reuse much of the same resources that you have already developed and which are available as copyrighted computer files.  Not to over simplify the process, but it would just be a matter of selecting, cutting and pasting unit review questions and reading comprehension exercises, or math problems that are already in place,  and then reformatting them into a booklet that could be printed and distributed to the schools.  A short presentation by your sales force to the assistant principals of each department would help them understand how to implement the product. 

I would be remiss if I did not also mention that I have seen, directly, just how effective this idea of a uniformly formatted assignment can be.   When I was absent the assistant principal at Medgar Evers College Prep decided to administer the McGraw Hill Acuity test to my students.  Not only did the test elicit cooperative behavior from the students, but the reading selection was so well chosen that they insisted on discussing it with me and writing about it when I returned.  (I think it was an O. Henry short story).  It was a very powerful indication that schools do not have to write-off valuable days of classroom literacy just because the teacher is out of a day or so. 
I think that using a uniform-format with flexible content for all schools and classes would elicit better behavior from students and help them to reinforce the good habits they work hard to develop.  There is a lot this model has to offer and I would love to talk more about it with you.


David Hedges
Teacher of English

Here is the reply:


Thanks so much for your passion in driving learning.  We've had similar
thoughts for a long time, it is one of the reasons why we acquired the
Grow Network in 2004 and launched personalized study guides shortly
thereafter.  Our Acuity formative assessment solution, as you've noted,
also has growing sets of instructional resources - the combination is
available for classroom use in the type of scenario you've described.
We've also endeavored to step further out and test mass customization, as
all students aren't the same, and have extended Acuity into the PowerofU.
I'd encourage you to join the Acuity user community and share your
experiences, as you've done here, and help others learn from what you've
done.  Together we can have a significant impact on how and what students
learn.  Thank you for thinking of, and working with, McGraw-Hill Education.


Vineet Madan
Senior Vice President
Strategy & Corporate Development
McGraw-Hill Education
2 Penn Plaza, 12th Flr
New York, NY 10121
(W) 212-904-3941
(C) 917-287-5878

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