Seeking Collaboration Between Reformers, Educators

For too long, we have heard of the battles between the education reform community and educators. From the way these debates have been framed, one would think the two sides couldn’t agree that the sky was blue or that water was wet.

Truth be told, reformers and educators agree on far more than they disagree. and both sides of the school improvement coin are necessary if we are to be successful in efforts to improve student learning and achievement.

Or so Eduflack writes in this week’s Education Week. In a commentary entitled, “It’s Time for Reformers, Educators to Work Together,” I note:

The time has come to turn away from the divisive, us-vs.-them approaches of past policy fights. Instead, we must work together with educators to improve our public schools. We must focus on options and opportunities that can have real impact on all our children, not just a select few. And we must do so in a way that improves teaching and learning for all.

Otherwise, we are merely tinkering around the edges, seeking to set the next boundaries for the next fight. Our kids, our communities, and our nation deserve far better than such rhetorical posturing.

As we start another school year, we can’t afford another year of sniping, motive questioning, and hyperbole. Hopefully, this piece gives all sides something to consider.

EWA’s Offers “Surprising Facts About Latino Students”

In politics, we hear how important the Latino vote is in elections. In education, we’ve been talking about minority-majority districts. So when the Education Writers Association hosts a Spanish-Language Media Convening in Texas, we know that is going to leave us with some terrific takeaways.

Over on its Latino Ed Beat blog, Natalie Gross offers some great content from Pew Research Center’s Mark Hugo Lopez on Latino student demographics.

Among the highlights:

  • There are now 13 million Latinos enrolled in public preK-12, up 58 percent from 2000
  • Latinos represent one-quarter of our public school enrollment
  • The number of Latinos, age 18 to 24, in college has increased 175 percent since 2000, up to 2.4 million
  • And, as we have been hearing, Hispanics are projected to be the largest school-age population by 2050

So why is all this important? First, it makes clear that change is occurring and will continue. Second, we need to recognize that Latino students are not homogeneous. It has different meaning in NYC compared to Miami compared to Phoenix compared to Los Angeles compared to Witchita. And third, if we continue to think that these shifting demographics means “offer more ELL,” our districts and our children are going to be losing out.

 

Boosting Excellent Men — and Women — in Teaching

Over the weekend, The New York Times’ Motoko Rich wrote about the dilemma of how to get more men into the teaching profession. As one would imagine, the news analysis discussed the need to raise salaries, increase respect for the profession as a whole, and other such ideas.

While those are important, the education community also needs to drill down a little further. If we are serious about getting excellent teachers, be they men or women, into high-need schools, we need to dramatically improve our teacher education programs. If we want higher outcomes, we need improved inputs. It is that simple.

In response to Rich’s call to action asking why more men don’t teach, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation reflected on what it has learned constructing rigorous STEM teacher prep programs in states like Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio. From the Foundation:

Motoko Rich is absolutely right. We need the best candidates to go into the teaching profession. Collectively, we need to do everything we can to ensure our schools, particularly those that are high need, have excellent teachers leading all classrooms.

 

To achieve this, we must recognize the importance of high-quality teacher preparation programs that ensure teachers to be have the pedagogy, clinical experiences, and mentoring and support necessary to achieve. We must redesign our approach to teacher education, requiring greater rigor and stronger relevance to where instruction is headed, both in the near and long term.

 

An example of this new path is the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows program. Our innovative program is helping develop the next generation of STEM teachers in states like Georgia, Indiana, and New Jersey. We are partnering with 28 universities in five states to improve teacher education and, in the process, prepare excellent teachers for the 21st century classroom.

 

This focus on rigor and impact directly addresses the concerns Rich and others raise. This year, 45 percent of our Teaching Fellows in Indiana are male. In Ohio, 49 percent are men. And in New Jersey, the majority of our Teaching Fellows, 52 percent, are male.

 

What does this tell us? A high-quality, rigorous teacher education program attracts our best future educators, both male and female.

 

This should not be an issue of men versus women. Instead, we should be focusing on how to improve our teacher education programs in general. The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship offers a proven solution, and the results speak for themselves. We know what a difference well-prepared teachers, male or female, make when it comes to both student learning and achievement outcomes. And we are working to get more of those teachers in our high-need schools.

An interesting observation. And an incredibly important point. First and foremost, we must be focused on excellent teachers. Doesn’t matter gender or race or socioeconomic background. We need to do a better job of getting great teachers in the classroom. And that starts with offering great teacher education.

 

(Disclosure: Eduflack calls the Woodrow Wilson Foundation home.)

Maybe Math is Hard

We often hear the parent horror stories about the homework their children are sent home with. The backpacks packed with books that force kids to tip over. The assignments that require advanced degrees to complete. The hours of work for the youngest of kids.

The stories have gotten worse with the introduction of Common Core State Standards. Now we have parents posting ridiculous student assignments (usually on the math side of the learning equation), blaming Common Core for forcing their kids to focus on everything from the ridiculous to sublime.

Eduflack usually writes off such rantings. Common Core, after all, is all about the standards. Good districts and good schools leave it to the teachers to determine the best ways to actually instruct our kids. And those who complain about the state of homework reflect nostalgically on their own childhoods, forgetting that we all had some pretty bad years and some pretty horrific assignments in the good ol’ days.

And then I saw the homework assignment my second grader brought home this week. Less than a week into the new school year. In a district known as one of the best school districts in the high-achieving state of New Jersey. I get home from work to find my little princesa frustrated with the math assignment of the day.

How hard can second-grade math be, I foolishly think? I take off my suit and tie, change into the fatherly uniform of shorts and a t-shirt and sit down to help my emerging learner.

I find a photocopied sheet of paper that is practically blank. The math assignment has two sentences typed across the top of the page. The remainder of the 8 1/2 by 11″ harbinger of doom is blank. Plenty of room to show your work.

What were those two sentences? How hard could it possibly be to follow such short directions?

The bolded sentence read, “What is mathematics? Use words or pictures to provide your answer.”

Wahhhh?

When did my lovely second grader transform into Euclid or Archimedes?

When did second-grade arithmetic become a Greek philosophy course?

I know I’ve seen more than my share of Big Bang Theory. I remember the episode when Sheldon explains the meaning  and roots of physics. But I seemed to miss the episode explaining the universal meaning of mathematics.

And as someone who once actually studied calculus and took college statistics, I can honestly say this was the first time in my 41-plus years I’ve ever been asked for the meaning of math.

So I did what any caring father did. I faked it. I pulled out of my daughter an answer that I felt would suffice. To her, math was numbers. We through in a some plus, minus, and equal signs as well. She even went on to note how she needed numbers to enter the password on her iPod, to work the TV remote, and to tell time.

I considered the assignment done at that point. She read for 20 minutes, and then I let her go outside to ride her bike until it got dark. The edu-wife thought I should have pulled more meaning out of the edu-princesa for the assignment. But she isn’t even seven years old yet. How much meaning does math truly have for a six-year old?

I refuse to chalk this up to Common Core. Nowhere in the standards do I remember seeing the philosophical implications of math. But it does make me wonder about how we translate what kids are expected to learn into what is actually taught.

I wonder if maybe that mid-1990s Barbie doll is right. Maybe math is hard. 

And I wonder how Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein would answer the question. Or if there is even a right/wrong answer here. Or how many more times will I be stymied by elementary school homework.  

School Leadership and Business School Training

Last week, Eduflack was fortunate to visit America’s heartland in pursuit of a better way to prepare tomorrow’s school principals and district leaders today. We’ve all seen the research. After classroom teachers themselves, we know that school leaders have the second-greatest impact on learning. Some research even says a school principal accounts for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement. Yet the preparation of said leaders seems to get short shrift in today’s debates on school quality.

As a result, too many of our current education leadership programs are focused on quantity and how many graduates they can provide administrator’s credentials to in the shortest period of time. It isn’t necessarily about quality. It isn’t necessarily about ensuring tomorrow’s principals have the skill sets to lead tomorrow’s schools. And it rarely is about who those future leaders can lead by example in their quests to improve student achievement, serving as the instructional leaders they truly are.

So it was heartwarming to see efforts in two states that break the leader prep mold and focus on how best to prepare tomorrow’s school administrators. In both Indiana and Wisconsin, efforts are underway to create a more rigorous terminal degree to prepare school leaders. In each state, business schools are taking the lead, offering MBA courses given through an education lens, combined with clinical instruction and meaningful partnerships with local k-12 school districts.

The expected result? A new generation of education leaders who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tools to help close the achievement gaps in the schools they will soon lead. And we are talking about closing the dual achievement gaps we currently face, the gaps we see within and between states here in the United States and the gaps we unfortunately see with our nation’s highest performing schools and their peer institutions internationally.

Chalkbeat Indiana’s Hayleigh Colombo has the story on how a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment is expanding the Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellows program in Indiana. And Erin Richards at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has the story on how Wisconsin is blending school leadership and business acumen.

Both pieces are well worth the read. If we are serious about getting excellent administrators into our schools and districts, we need to examine new ways to prepare those leaders, providing them more than just traditional pedagogy. Programs like those in Indiana and Milwaukee are working to do just that.  

 

Rising to the Teacher Challenge in Georgia

When we talk about the teacher pipeline, we often hear folks voicing their frustrations about how the old teacher education pathways just aren’t sufficient when it comes to getting truly excellent teachers into high-need schools. This is particularly true when we talk about placing math and science teachers in historically disadvantaged schools.

Seven years ago, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (a place I like to call home) launched an effort redesign teacher preparation to meet the needs of 21st century schools. The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program now “recruits and prepares the nation’s best and brightest recent graduates and career changers with STEM backgrounds to teach in middle and high school science and math classrooms. It also works with university partners to change the way these top teacher candidates are prepared, focusing on an intensive full-year experience in local classrooms and rigorous academic work.”

The program is operating in five states — Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio. In places like Indiana, Woodrow Wilson is finding that its Teaching Fellows are exceeding expectations, with student achievement in measured math and science classes led by Teaching Fellows exceeding performance in peer classrooms.

Interesting what makes the program tick and how it does what it does?  You are in luck. Woodrow Wilson President Arthur Levine and EVP/CEO Stephanie Hull are hosting a Shindig discussion this week to talk about the Georgia program and ow the Woodrow Wilson model is getting the job done when it comes to preparing excellent STEM teachers for high-need schools.  

The discussion is open to all. Just register today for the Wednesday, September 10th online conversation. I promise you won’t be disappointed (and you’ll get to experience a terrific new online collaborative platform in Shindig).