Doctoral program: 18 month update

Nearly 18 months ago, I started a third graduate program and about six months ago, I shared an update on this latest academic pursuit.   So far, I’ve completed five semesters of coursework, a combination of research methodology, core doctoral classes and now dissertation research hours.

semester countdown


The past two semesters have involved completing two courses in a three course dissertation mentoring sequence.  If I understand the “typical” doctoral program correctly, the mentoring courses are fairly unique to our University of West Georgia Ed.D. program.  The dissertation brainstorming and writing is scaffolded across several semesters rather than waiting until all core coursework has been completed.  In Dissertation Mentoring I, the focus was understanding the dissertation process and beginning to develop ideas for our problem statements.  Dissertation Mentoring II built upon the problem statements and the ended with writing a draft of chapter two, the literature review (more about that in the next paragraph).  Throughout these two semesters, we’ve started to communicate with our dissertation committees including one-on-one virtual methodologist consultations.  I spent the first three semesters of the program preparing myself for a study along the lines of rural central office leadership, but due to the qualitative nature of the likely research questions and my background teaching high school statistics (very quantitative), I realized (through some very wise counsel from my chair) it made more sense to pursue a topic with more quantitative questions.  I’ve “settled” on a topic that will look at high school math and/or ELA grades based on standards and any correlations they might have with college readiness measures.  More to come about this topic after my committee has a chance to weigh in on it.

The days starting with Thanksgiving “break” through finals week (last week) were incredibly stressful.  As a person who generally needs seven hours of sleep each night, burning the candle at both ends with five hours or less of rest did not have a positive impact on my body.  Thankfully, all assignments were completed on time and I was pleased overall to look back on the 26 page literature review draft.  In speaking with others who have completed doctoral coursework while working full-time, I am guessing this type of schedule will rear its head in the future, too!

Cohort Camaraderie

Here’s where I give a big shout out to Bipul and Steve for the support they’ve provided during the past several semesters.  Beginning in qualitative research methods, the three of us have completed a number of group projects together.  I think we have a three-way text messaging thread with hundreds, perhaps thousands of messages, celebrations, fears, questions about assignments and S.O.S. pleas.  I honestly don’t know how I could have survived the program so far without these two “critical friends.”  Each of them has provided meaningful feedback on drafts of problem statements and literature reviews.  Despite our timezone differences, it has not been uncommon for the three of us to begin texting after one person’s supper and sign off well past another person’s midnight.  Through desperation phone calls and celebratory emails, Bipul and Steve have been there to experience the ups and downs of balancing graduate coursework deadlines with full-time jobs and family illnesses.

Looking ahead to the final four semesters

With a bit of perseverance, I am aiming to defend a dissertation in the spring of 2017.  Working backwards, I’ve established the following timeline:

  • January/February 2016: Submit draft literature review (chapter 2) for review.
  • April/May 2016: Revise literature review.  Complete draft of methodology (chapter 3).
  • June/July 2016: Defend dissertation proposal (draft of chapters 1-3).
  • Fall 2016: Collect and analyze data.
  • Winter 2016: Write results and discussion (chapters 4-5) and receive feedback from committee.
  • Spring 2017: Continue revising chapters based on committee input.  Defend dissertation
  • Late April 2017: Graduate!

This is admittedly an ambitious goal!  I will have fewer volunteer commitments during the upcoming year and the course load each semester appears to be favorable in order to spend a considerable amount of time working on the dissertation chapters.  The program director has assured our cohort an extra semester or two to complete the program is very feasible, depending on the time it takes to collect and analyze our data.  Outside the scope of this doctoral program, I have been working on several studies with faculty in higher education and am realizing it takes a significant amount of time to write-up a quality study.

This coming semester, I will be taking Dissertation Mentoring III along with research hours.  In conversations with my family, I am planning to treat the dissertation like a part-time job, scheduling hours each week to “work” at the local library through writing and reading.  The final three semesters will include one course and research hours.  With some careful planning, I would like to continue scheduling weekly time to work on the dissertation in order to meet the aforementioned timeline.

Look for another update in a semester or two!

Grading: A historical perspective

Starch (1913):

The adoption of a uniform scale of grades as well as a uniform standard in the frequency with which the different grades are assigned is a pressing need among colleges and secondary schools. (p. 636)

Several years later at John Marshall High School:

Our system requires (1) that the mark which is given for scholarship be based on achievement alone; (2) that a uniform distribution be arranged for the school; (3) that in each subject the pupils be grouped so as to approximate this distribution; (4) that marks assigned will approximate the distribution; (5) that ability tests will be given to all pupils to determine their probable learning rates
(Dustin, 1926, p. 29)

On page 30, the results from John Marshall are described:

We regarded failure of 2 percent of the class too low and one of 12 percent too high.

How have things changed, if at all, nearly 100 years later?  You can be the judge.

Works Cited

Dustin, C. R. (1926). A scheme of objective marking. Educational Research Bulletin, 5(2), 28-31+40-41.

Starch, D. (1913). Reliability and distribution of grades. Science, 38(983), 630-636.


Subbing in 2nd grade (thank you, elementary teachers)

I subbed for a while in 2nd grade for a while this afternoon. A few quick take-aways:

  1. It was different than subbing in Kindergarten and preschool (last year’s doses of classroom reality) and a lot different than teaching high school students (six years of trying to get better).
  2. Flat Stanley is a humorous book.
  3. The end-of-day routine ensuring students get on the right bus, picked up by parents, etc. may be the most stressful part of the day.

Thanks again and again to elementary teachers. Y’all have a challenging job.

Christmas gift exchange

Three siblings and their spouses annually draw names for a Christmas exchange.  How many different possibilities are there? (Perhaps it’s not obvious, but married couples would not ever be asked to but a gift for each other in the exchange).

Another way of thinking about this scenario: after how many years are we guaranteed to repeat a previous year’s drawing?

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 3.47.18 PM


Fact checking “Common Core Math” news stories

Here it is.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.51.06 AM
Yet another, “Oh my goodness…can you believe the Common Core is doing this to our kids and families?” news story.  After a friend shared this article with me in jest, I thought to myself, “I am a curriculum director, former math teacher and relatively informed educator, do the Common Core standards really prescribe this type of math writing?”

So, I decided to download the Common Core math standards.

I searched for the phrase “check” and did not see any references to the standards prescribing how to write checks.  Next, the news story referred to an elementary school, so I read every math standard for grades K-5 (that’s roughly 30 pages of the standards document).  I looked specifically for phrases suggesting how students should write, add or count.  Here are a few that stood out:

  • Count to 100 by ones and by tens. (K.CC.1)
  • Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects) (K.CC.3)
  • Count to 120, starting at any number less than 120. In this range, read and write numerals and represent a number of objects with a written numeral. (1.NBT.1)
  • Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies.2 By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers. (2.OA.2)

…and I eventually came across this one:

Read and write numbers to 1000 using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form (2.NBT.3)

As you can see, it is evident the Common Core standards do not dictate Xs and Os in place of numbers.  Perhaps a math textbook publisher suggested this strategy, however it is clear after reading the standards this type of writing is not a required instructional approach.

As I’ve blogged previously, there’s no such thing as the Common Core police.  Until educators begin to discern the differences between the intent of the standards and textbook publishers who freely and with absolutely no regulation stamp “Common Core aligned” on their materials, we’ll continue to see more of these types of uninformed news stories.

Please consider printing this post to hang in your local teachers’ lounge and/or sharing it with friends on social media.  Let’s help each other fact check Common Core news stories! 

There’s Still Time to Learn the Standards: A New Look at Grading

Agree or disagree with the following statement?

Students learn at different rates and different paces.

As an educational deeply entrenched in thinking through effective grading practices, I have asked the statement above to 1,000+ teachers and administrators. To date, not a single practitioner has argued with the premise students (and adults!) learn at different rates. Yet, in secondary schools across the country, students are penalized for learning slower than their peers:


Continue reading this original post I authored for the ASCD InService blog