Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quiet teacher changed a school

Class Struggle
In-depth coverage: Education Page |  The Answer Sheet

Posted at 10:21 PM ET, 06/20/2012
The teachers we hear most about are larger than life — charismatic, aggressive, loud. Educators like Jaime Escalante, Rafe Esquith, Dave Levin, Mike Feinberg and Harriett Ball are impossible to ignore. But we overlook many teachers who use quiet persistence and soft words to change our schools for the better.
Take the case of Betsy Calhoon, who died of a heart attack June 11 at age 67 while vacationing in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A huge cohort of Fairfax County students, teachers and parents remember how much that slender, red-haired social-studies teacher accomplished with a combination of gentle manner and iron will.
Calhoon transformed a troubled school, Mount Vernon High, and became a model for persuading reluctant students to embrace academic challenges. She not only changed her school, but also showed one of the nation’s largest school systems how to involve the children of minority and low-income families in the most demanding courses available in U.S. high schools.
Yet in 1993, when she became the coordinator (nobody else wanted the job) of one of the first International Baccalaureate programs in Fairfax, her prospects were bleak. Advanced Placement was the ruling college-level program in the county. Few people embraced the change to IB, or the idea of opening it up to students who had previously not been asked to deal with difficult school assignments.
Mount Vernon’s only physics teacher — a bright young man who was wonderful with kids — did not like IB’s more experimental, hands-on approach to his subject. He left for another school. The foreign-language teachers were uncomfortable with the new curriculum. Calhoon’s own department, social studies, was in an uproar because for the teachers who had agreed to do IB, their jobs were protected, while others had to leave because enrollment was down and there were no slots for them.
The first IB exams brought more bad news. The average physics score was only 3.5, below the international average of 4.39 on the 7-point exam. The biology average was 3.69, also below standard. The student body president blamed his failure to get into an Ivy League college on IB. He said he would have gotten better grades in the old courses.
Calhoon loved Mount Vernon’s ethnic diversity. Forty percent of the students were minorities. Her husband, Chuck, was an officer in the Marine Corps, one of the most integrated institutions in the country. They were raising their two children, Mary Elizabeth and Thomas, to respect people of all backgrounds. But despite her efforts to involve all students in IB, barely 10 percent of the participants that first year were Hispanic or black.
She stuck with it. She recruited teachers who liked the IB approach. She amazed county school leaders by persuading Bernie Glaze, chairman of the social-studies department at the nationally known Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to take a pay cut and transfer to Mount Vernon.
Teaming up with many other talented teachers and administrators, Calhoon and Glaze eventually turned the school around. They were both the oldest children in their big families, with good marriages and a determination to raise the performance of kids from low-income families. Glaze later took charge of all IB and AP programs in Fairfax. Like Calhoon, she died too young, of cancer in 2008 at age 62.
In 2003, Calhoon and her husband retired and moved to Beaufort, S.C. She got involved with IB programs there. She left behind at Mount Vernon one of the strongest college-level programs in the country, with improved scores and 35 percent of the participants from black or Hispanic families.
Some of those students told me that they would have quit the annoyingly difficult IB program except for Mrs. Calhoon, who never tired of telling them, in that soft voice, that they had great potential, so why waste it?

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6/23/2012 4:49 AM GMT+0900
I am happy and proud to be an alum of the IB program from MVHS. The program was both challenging and rewarding. The lessons and skills I learned (particularly critical thinking and writing skills) helped me throughout college and beyond. This article, however, is really about remembering a dedicated educator who believed in the potential of her students and worked hard to help them achieve their goals. I remember Mrs. Calhoon fondly for her kindness, support and dedication.
6/23/2012 2:52 AM GMT+0900

I am keeping this teacher's name private for now, but I just received this e-mail this morning and will provide you with his e-mail address if you would like to do an objective article about the "transformation" that really occurs in schools which adopt IB.

Comments: I teach math in an MYP IB middle school in XXXXXXXX, MX. Overall, the IB program has had a damaging impact upon our math program as shown by our declining standardized test scores. My students and I have managed to overcome the constraints of the IB system, and we have still done a satisfactory job with algebra. One of the most annoying aspects of our implementation of IB has been the prohibitions against any and all dissent by either teachers or students. Teachers who express dissenting opinions are given disciplinary warnings and students who politely express dissenting opinions are threatened with the loss of privileges. IB seems to be at odds with the First Amendment rights that Americans value. In the interest of protecting our kids from the impact of IB, I would be happy to discuss my experiences with anyone interested.
6/22/2012 10:40 PM GMT+0900
What a gem this lady was... it's difficult to embrace change especially when you are fighting the battle almost alone. I salute her for her bravery, dedication, and most of all for putting children first.
6/22/2012 9:55 AM GMT+0900
There are so many teachers who are not only quite but are never talked about who scored at the top of the LA Teacher rankings when the data was released a few years ago, much further ahead of other infamous teachers.
6/22/2012 8:48 AM GMT+0900
There is something dramatically wrong with Lisa who flies off the handle at any positive mention of IB. Jay's recognition of a deceased educator is met with scorn, outrage and downright meaness of spirit. Oh, but that's okay because Lisa prefers to live in the 1950s when blacks by the millions couldn't vote in this exceptional country. Lisa fears that the evil coming out of Geneva will sap the pureness of our youth. If she had any sense at all, she would understand that many long-time IB teachers feel that the program is becoming TOO American.

I think it worth a moment or more to remember an educator like Betsy Calhoon. I'm sure her former students have.
6/22/2012 11:23 AM GMT+0900
Wow, clio6. Do you really want to display your ignorance and arrogance by accusing me of racism based on your ill-conceived notion that "blacks by the millions couldn't vote in this exceptional country" in the 1950's? Really? Did you learn that in IB?

Because I have a news flash for you. it's called the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and was signed in 1870. You might try reading it sometime.
6/22/2012 8:11 PM GMT+0900
Seriously? I don't know much about IB, but I'd have to think that anyone who thinks that blacks were free to vote in large numbers in the post-reconstruction era is probably wrong about other things as well. Since you like wikipedia...

I think you might want to reference some of the academic articles referenced in there for a more complete discussion.
6/22/2012 9:08 PM GMT+0900
I'm guessing your eyes selectively ignored the references to "poor white voters" in the article you linked. Just as Jay and the Gates Foundation ignore poor white students in 2012?

The Democrats were responsible for voter suppression back then and are responsible for Republican voter suppression now. I am sick and tired of Progressive's attempts to keep the myth of "white privilege" alive.
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6/22/2012 1:23 AM GMT+0900
The background of students should not matter, but one also should be certain if presenting them with true academic challenges that they are also provided support to ensure that they can really make the transition. Having taught AP Government to 10th graders for 7 years before I just retired, most were totally unprepared for the demands of the course. The first time they had their writing graded according to the kinds of rubrics used on the AP exam more than half would get a zero. The trick is to balance maintaining standards while also no crushing students by a sense of failure while they adjust to the greater demands required for more intensive academic work.

I would just offer a cautionary word - while all students SHOULD be challenged, sometimes AB or IB is not necessarily the best way to do so. For some very bright students AP in particular can be confining.

One reason teaching is often so demanding is because those of us who take it seriously are constantly looking for ways to challenge all of our students, which in a large class with a diverse range of abilities, can be exceedingly difficult to do.
6/23/2012 11:32 PM GMT+0900

I was interested in your comments. When I was a high school student, AP courses consisted of those who scored high on the standardized tests. However, this didn't mean thay students were exposed to ways in which information can be applied or how to critically examine the information being given.

When first entering an AP course, many struggled because of an expectation to know these things. Once they were taught, courses seemed confining because there were limits placed on how much could be learned or taught. The college supporting the course wanted to challenge students, but not cover everything, so that students would still take the course at the college.

In my courses, I was a recipient of what I call "teaching to the middle." This left the advanced students a bit bored, the "average" students feeling on target, and the students needing more attention feeling lost. When you mention the range of abilities, do you think it would be appropriate to separate students based on ability? Not that I am a fan of intellectual segregation in general, but it may be an opportunity to focus on the needs of everyone.
6/21/2012 9:13 PM GMT+0900
Well, I guess there are worse ways to go than of a heart attack in the Virgin islands. Condolences to her family.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's deal with Mr. Mathews' unrelenting obsession with IB and his misrepresentation of this program and its adherents as the "be all and end all" in education. I decided to hunt around the Mt. Vernon website for some current stats on IB. Perhaps my research skills are getting worse as I age, but I couldn't find any. Oh, I found some pictures of students holding IB Certificates, but there were no names and certainly no indication if they were full Diploma students or had merely taken a single IB exam. I was really looking for the May IB Exam Report for 2011 which would have told me everything I wanted to know, BUT, like MOST IB World Schools, administrators hide this public information from the public. I wanted to see what sort of incredible "improvements" had been achieved since Betsy Calhoon rid Mt. Vernon of the independent-minded teachers who didn't agree to become IB zombies.

The only document I could locate with any meaningful stats in it was the following:

2011 SAT Math: 491
2011 SAT Reading: 493

And some very interesting observations:

"In working with students in all levels of classes (IB, general education, special education, and ESOL) teachers notice that students don’t make reading a priority and appear to put little effort into reading the required materials."

"Weaknesses: Teachers notice that students struggle with orally using the correct vocabulary in the different subject areas. Low prior knowledge of vocabulary words and reading skills contribute to the limited vocabulary abilities of our students. There is [SIC] a great number of vocabulary words for students to learn and little time for reinforcement."

(Maybe if the teachers knew when to use 'ARE' for plural subjects instead of 'IS', the students might learn, as well, eh?)

Data Sources:
Failure rates, retention rates, and SOL pass rates show the need for a mandatory intervention period at MVHS. Discipline and attendance records also show the need for teaching practical life skills. Teacher narratives and student self assessments also show this need. Student attendance after school for help and remediation is low. The number of students receiving a D or F in a subject is high.

Wow, I sure would want my kid to go to this wonderful IB World School, wouldn't you folks? And this woman had the audacity to try and spread this horrific program to Beaufort, SC? Funny, I just had a nice long chat with some terrific members of the Beaufort Tea Party who are working hard to rid their schools of IB.

But please tell any Mt. Vernon seniors that there are (is? ... LOL) still 10 days left to enter my TAIB Scholarship Essay:
6/22/2012 3:19 AM GMT+0900
While I respect all degrees of skepticism, please stick to your real argument. Fallacies are so distracting. Why take an inane (and incorrect) detour to deride a grammatical error that is not. "Is" agrees with "number," which is singular, in the phrase "number of vocabulary words." But what do I know?

On another note, I don't teach IB but it may be coming to my school, so I must thank you for links. I look forward to reading them.
6/22/2012 4:06 AM GMT+0900
"Great number" and "vocabulary words" are both plural. A great number are more than one. If I were to say, "A great number of fish is jumping in the creek today!" ........ would that be correct? Of course not. A great number of fish ARE jumping in the creek.

Therefore, you are incorrect in your critique of my critique of the grammar contained within the Mt. Vernon's School Improvement Plan. Are you an English teacher?

Btw, my condolences if IB is coming to your school. If you would like assistance in preventing that from happening, please feel free to contact me.
6/22/2012 4:57 AM GMT+0900
Dear citizenspeed,

Perhaps you are correct that by highlighting MtV's grammatical error I distracted readers from my "real" argument, however it was neither a fallacy, nor inane. Allow me to elaborate.

When it comes right down to it, I'm pretty sure that no matter what color we are, what country our ancestors hailed from or how much money we make, we all want our children to receive the BEST education possible. Would you say that's a fair statement?

The quality of education a child receives is based on the quality of knowledge possessed by a teacher and their ability to convey that information and knowledge. Whether it is by directing a child how to discover the correct information themselves, providing students with the proper materials and texts or through informative explanations and lectures, a good teacher is passionate about sharing knowledge, not beholden to creating global citizens for a foreign organization.

My HS English and Latin teachers were GREAT teachers. No, they weren't IB. IB was still in diapers back in the early 70's. I think in retrospect, they should be considered scholars. Mr. Van Santvoord was schooled at Oxford. I'm not sure where Mr. Hartigan attended university but I conjugated verbs in Latin in my sleep. Perhaps that is why a picayune misapplication of a verb in an educational report annoys me so. It's a pet peeve. Yet you defended the incorrect application and two readers liked your comment! C'est incroyable!

My other pet grammatical peeves include the regular misuse of the following words:

your - you're
there- their - they're
here- hear

I do confess to having difficulty identifying a dangling participle. *grin*

But my POINT... is that great teachers aren't great because of IB and we don't need IB to have great teachers. We need to stop dumbing down our schools and claiming they are "better" simply because they've paid a foreign organization millions of dollars for a fancy label.
6/22/2012 1:42 PM GMT+0900
You know I have all the data Lisa. I have been collecting it from all Washington area schools since 1997. You should have asked me, or just checked the data on the Washington Post High School Challenge list. Or better yet, how about reading that book that you were in, Supertest? As you recall, it was full of information about Mt Vernon and how it improved while Betsy was there.
6/22/2012 8:51 PM GMT+0900

Did you look at the data I posted?
6/22/2012 9:49 PM GMT+0900
Let's look at your "local" DC Challenge Index. From what I can see, the first time Mt. Vernon made the list was in 2007 and it came in at #'s 96 & 97 (no idea why you would rank the same school twice). In 2008, Mt. Vernon dropped to 114. In 2010, it dropped further to 131 and in 2011, it plummeted to 162.

Mt. Vernon didn't even make your State list.

Ms. Callhoon may have been a wonderful teacher and a lovely person. She may have inspired a handful of students while she was at Mt. Vernon. But IB has not in any way, shape or form "transformed" Mt. Vernon for the better.
6/22/2012 9:57 PM GMT+0900

Prior to IB, in 2002, Mt. Vernon ranked # 33 on your local list: with a ratio of 1.62. With the introduction of IB and elimination of AP, the index dropped to 1.511 under Ms. Calhoon

By your OWN rankings, how can you claim IB improved Mt. Vernon?
6/22/2012 10:22 PM GMT+0900
Please ignore my previous two posts - I wish WAPO had a delete function!

More coffee needed this morning. Okay, I see my timeline is off.

So in 1997, MtV's Index was 1.160
1998 - 1.430
1999 - 1.540
2000 - 1.2
2001 - 1.4
2002 - 1.62
Ms. Calhoon retires in 2003
2011 - .0985

Not only that, Mt. Vernon bought into the IB MYP in 2003, undoubtedly a move pushed by Ms. Calhoon prior to her retirement based on her belief that IB is great.

Clearly the IB MYP is not encouraging more students to strive for the IB Diploma or improving the overall education at Mt. Vernon.

Clearly, Ms. Calhoon must have been quite the dynamo to stimulate the students to participate in the IBDP during her tenure.

Clearly, without a Ms. Calhoon leading the charge, IB is a dismal failure and waste of taxpayer dollars.

The success of a program in a school cannot rely on the drive and passion of one teacher.
6/22/2012 10:42 PM GMT+0900
According to the link you provided, Mount Vernon's index was 1.305 in 2011.
Unfortunately, the success of a program in a school often relies on the drive and passion of one teacher, even in AP. Look up what happened to Jaime Escalante's school when he left.
6/22/2012 11:39 PM GMT+0900
Hello William,

Do you need more coffee too? Here is the 2011 link again:


If the success of an AP/IB program relies on the drive and passion of a single teacher, then Jay's ranking of schools is completely disingenuous. Instead, he should be ranking individual teachers.
6/23/2012 12:26 AM GMT+0900

You do make an interesting point though, as it pertains to Jay's career in promoting open-enrollment and mass participation in our public schools in AP/IB based on the results of Escalante and Calhoon, while ignoring the aftermath of the programs in the schools once two outstanding teachers left.
6/23/2012 2:44 AM GMT+0900
Perhaps coffee would be good as I was looking at the wrong year. However, you, hopefully inadvertently, twice wrote Mt. Vernon's index number as .0985 when it is .985. What you have, hopefully inadvertently, written is off by a factor of 10. To a math person, this is as bad as switching 'is' and 'are'.

Now, putting the AP/IB topic aside, I agree with Jay as to open enrollment. These teachers, and others, have shown this works. The problem arises when these teachers leave and people who do not believe in open enrollment are put in charge.

If you wish, I wouldn't mind debating this further with you, either here or elsewhere.
6/23/2012 3:11 AM GMT+0900
Regarding open enrollment, I am for that in theory...if the student wants to enroll and is motivated to keep up with the work involved.

Without motivation, open enrollment simply means the teacher is stuck with some students who want to be there, and others who have no interest but were talked into certain courses by counselors or their parents. Many of these kids are far behind in the skill levels necessary...that coupled with a lack of motivation causes problems for all involved.

A kid with limited skills who is problem, enroll in the course.

...even kids with advanced skills or at a minimum on grade level, if they don't have the motivation to do the work, they too shouldn't enroll.

I think the problem is open enrollment used to mean motivated kids with low test scores or grades were finally able to enroll and prove their it just means all sign up for AP/IB to increase the school's challenge index at the high school level, or if it is a middle school with myp the open honors enrollment numbers are used to justify having myp (that myp "encourages" strong academics). 
6/23/2012 4:11 AM GMT+0900

Oops! LOL ...... you are correct, the index read 0.985 and I put that pesky decimal point on the wrong side of zero. I'm glad we can both admit when we've made a mistake. But did I detect a slight affirmation of my critique of Mt. Vernon's improper grammer? *grin*

Jay loves it when I drive up the number of comments on his blogs (he probably gets a bonus based on the number of comments) so I would be more than happy to continue a discussion on open enrollment here. Ever since the old forums went belly-up, (and it was a far better format than this hot mess) I think our choices are limited.

I am adamantly opposed to open-enrollment in AP courses. AP courses are college-level. Not every 10th or 11th Grader is capable of handling college-level material. That's a fact. Once you eliminate all standards or pre-requisites for admission to a course, there is no choice but to dumb-down the course over-all which actually hurts the most advanced students.

Just as I am opposed to Zero Tolerance policies because they do not allow for common sense exceptions, I am opposed to Open Enrollment policies because they are enacted specifically FOR exceptions to the detriment of the qualified. That should be reversed! Keep standards to be admitted to an AP course such as an 85 average and teacher recommendation. Then, if a student has a 78 average but really, really wants to challenge his/herself with an AP course, consider admission on a case by case basis.

Demboyz accurately points out:

now it just means all sign up for AP/IB to increase the school's challenge index at the high school level, or if it is a middle school with myp the open honors enrollment numbers are used to justify having myp (that myp "encourages" strong academics.

Well said, Demboyz.
6/25/2012 10:29 AM GMT+0900

Sorry not to get back earlier (busy weekend). I, again, agree with you that the old forum was much easier. I, respectfully (honestly), disagree with you about open enrollment. While I don't agree with putting everyone in AP/IB classes, I do agree with having them open to any student who wishes to attempt them (my definition of open enrollment). The main argument against this (as I see it) is that open enrollment waters down the course. If this is the case, then it is the teacher's fault. Using my own experience (anecdotal, but it is what I know), I have gone from teaching an average of 35 students a year in IB Math Studies (roughly equivalent to a College Algebra course) to teaching 140 students next year. These numbers are for the school, there are now two Math Studies teachers. I think you would be hard pressed to find any of my students who think the class is easier. With 35 students, almost all (97%) passed the IB test for several years. With increasing enrollment, more passed (around 75% for the last couple of years - this years results - for 120 students - I will find out in July). I think the open enrollment shows that students mature scholastically from year to year similarly to how some mature athletically. Limiting only students who perform well in previous years, and worse perform well for certain teachers, from advanced classes limits students future performances.

Again, as you said, this is not a great forum to debate this topic, but it is what is available. I would be glad to further debate this topic with you; it is fun to truly debate a topic like this. While I don't agree with your position, I do understand it.
6/26/2012 3:33 AM GMT+0900

Hope you had a nice weekend!

Math is not my forte, but I have to refer you to what students say about IB Math Studies:

>>"IB Math Studies is a joke."

>>"IB Mathematical Studies SL is designed for students who are more humanities-oriented and who will probably not take much math in college."

Therefore, I must dispute your claim that SL IB Math Studies is anywhere near the equivalent of a college-level course.
6/26/2012 7:08 AM GMT+0900
As a math person, I think College Algebra is easy, but it is still a college course (usually 1 of 2 required math classes for non math/science majors). Again, from personal experience, almost all of my students who come to see me (usually dozens each year) tell me their current math class (College Algebra or Business Calculus) is easier than my class was the previous year. Many start out in their college class with 25 to 30 other students and end up with 15 others.

As to the students who think Math Studies is a joke, it is partly their fault, they ought to be in SL or HL classes (perhaps they aren't because of closed enrollment). I have not opened your link yet (I can't do that on my NOOK), but after I read it, I will try to comment further.

By the way, back to your original post, one of my pet peeves is the misuse of the words 'less' and 'fewer'. I see and hear them misused often by people who should know better. Although I did not always agree with him, we need more writers like George Will.

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