In Search of STEM Teachers


If one spends his or her time in education, it is impossible to avoid the topic of STEM. For a decade now, ever since “21st century skills” jumped the shark, we have been focused on a STEM-literate society. Sometimes, we look to add the arts to STEM, making it STEAM. (Though in one ingenious school district I visited in Wisconsin, they had STEAM, but the A was for agriculture, not the arts.) But we can’t get away from that STEM focus.

Last month, ACT released a survey of its test takers on a range of topics, one of which was STEM. ACT found that nearly half of those looking to take the ACT test demonstrated an interest in STEM subjects. That’s almost a million aspiring college students giving at least a look to the STEM areas.

But that interest in the content isn’t translating into an interest in teaching the content. Surveying those same students, of the nearly 1 million interested in STEM, only 5,500 are thinking about a future where they are teaching a STEM subject.

Over at Education World, I delve a little deeper into this disturbing revelation, looking at both why we need to do a better job or recruiting STEM teachers and how we can do it.

The teacher is the single-most impactful influence on the learning of the child. If we want today’s students to have an interest in STEM and to want to pursue careers in STEM teaching, we need to provide them with well-prepared teachers who make STEM real in their classrooms. We need excellent educators who inspire the next generation of STEM teachers. We need classroom teachers who can inspire an interest in the STEM subjects, encourage high-ability students to consider teaching careers, and show them how best to prepare the next generation of learners.

It’s an important read. Give it a look.

Parents, School Choice, and More Data Points

Parents and school choice. School choice and parents. As the public discussions on charter schools specifically and school choice in general continue to plow forward, there is more and more focus on the role of parents in the process.

This week, the Center on Reinventing Public Education released a new report, How Parents Experience School Choice, that surveyed parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Families in these strong charter cities were queried on their experiences in exercising parental choice when it came to their kids’ schools.

So what, exactly, did CRPE find? Among the toplines from 4,000 parent interviews:

  • In seven of the eight communities, half or more parents chose a non-neighborhood-based schools. In New Orleans, that number rose to 87 percent. In Indy, it dropped to 35 percent.
  • Parental views on the public schools differed greatly, with 60 percent of Denver parents saying they had good public school options available to them, while only 40 percent of Philly parents had the same perspective.
  • In Denver, NoLa, and DC, where choice is growing, more than half of parents said their cities’ schools were getting better. The high-water mark was in DC, where 65 percent of parents reported improvement.
  • While we often hear parents choose charters first and foremost because they are safer, 80 percent of DC parents and 79 percent of New Orleans parents said they chose a school because of academics, choosing over safety or location.
  • Choice isn’t easy. The survey found parents with less education, minority parents, and parents of children with special needs are more likely to have difficulty navigating choice. In DC, African-American and Latino parents were less optimistic about options than their white counterparts. In Baltimore, special ed families were far more likely to report problems finding the proper school than those without special needs.
  • And what does all this tell us? Out of the shoot, we can see this is a far more complicated issue than we may think it is. Even in cities with a history of strong choice and a number of school options, there is no clear path. For every parent choosing academics, there is likely one choosing safety and convenience. For every city saying choice is needed, there may also be a view that traditional public schools are improving.

And for all of the marketing that has gone into selling choice as the magic elixir that heals all in urban public education, parent perception hasn’t caught up to the sales pitch. There may be long wait lists for charters, but the reasons for such lists aren’t as crystal clear as some would like us to believe.

In battles over school choice and charters, proponents often try to make this a fight of statistics, believing they have the facts and figures to demonstrate that school choice is the only choice. But in reading between the lines of this data, we can also see that there is a whole lot of heart in this issue. Parents make choices for very emotional reasons. And those reasons may not be quantified on an Excel sheet or in a sales brochure.

Regardless, we need more data like this from CRPE. Data that forces us to look longer, examine deeper, and question more often.

From Better Ed Data Comes Better Teacher Ed

Can we improve teacher education without improving education data and data systems?

Earlier this week, Eduflack wrote on the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to improve teacher preparation. Now that those draft regs are out, folks are looking for the good, bad, and ugly in what the Feds are looking for from our ed schools.

Over at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation’s blog, Eduflack has a guest post on how the teacher ed regs really speak to a need to better address the education data we collect and how we collect it.

Specifically, I write:

In these draft regulations, we see a true embrace of data in the teacher preparation process. Data such as employment metrics that look at how long a teacher remains in the classroom, recognizing that our most effective teacher education programs are those that ensure good teachers remain in the classroom for more than five years. Data such surveys that look at educators new to the classroom see their preparation once they become the teacher of record. Data such as employer surveys that can help local teachers colleges better understand if their graduates are prepared for the rigors of the classrooms they are now leading.

And yes, data such as student performance data. These new regulations recognize that student learning outcomes are an important part of determining whether a teacher is prepared for the classroom. Yes, there are many factors that go into student performance beyond what the educator is bringing to the classroom. But there is also no denying that learning is a key component of effective teaching. And there is no ignoring that excellent teachers, those prepared for the rigors of today’s classroom, are the ones who get the most out of their students.

Thanks much to the Dell Foundation for giving me the platform on which to write. The whole piece is definitely worth a read, as is recognizing programs such as Relay School of Education, Urban Teacher Center, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for already doing many of the things the proposed regs are dreaming about.

The Path to Improving Teacher Education

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released its long-anticipated draft regulations regarding teacher education. The regs focus on several key areas, including a state-based approach to improvement, the need for employment metrics (including how long teachers stay in the profession and how their employers rate them), student learning outcomes, and accreditation.

For those looking to better understand exactly what is in the regs, EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk has the best primer on the regs, their meanings, and the initial reactions from the education community. You can find the full article here.

Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post has an excellent write-up of the announcement. So, too, does the New York Times’ Motoko Rich. And if you can get beyond the firewall, Caroline Porter of the Wall Street Journal offers some great analysis as well.

Of course, dear ol’ Eduflack is particularly partial to the analysis Arthur Levine offered to these teacher ed regs. The president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, Levine called the new proposed regs “an important step forward” in a Huffington Post commentary. Levine continued:

All of us involved in teacher education should look for ways to strengthen these regulations and improve the teacher prep process. But let us be clear: we need real action now. Our colleges and universities have waited far too long to transform these programs to meet the needs of both today and tomorrow. We cannot afford to wait as another generation of teachers passes through programs that are lacking. In the states where Woodrow Wilson has worked, we have seen a real hunger — from state leaders, from school districts, and from colleges themselves — to enact the sort of changes needed. We must act together — and swiftly — to change the very fabric of teacher education nationwide. These regulations are the first step toward achieving that.

The regs now move into their “public comment” period. Groups like AACTE, AFT, and NEA have already weighed in with their concerns (or opposition). Other groups like Education Trust, DFER, and Urban Teacher Center have come out strongly in support of the new direction.

Regardless, it is heartening to see a focus on teacher education and the need to improve how we prepare teachers for the classroom. While all might not agree on the specific action steps needed to get us to the intended destination, none can argue that the current model, a model we have been using to prepare teachers for generations, is the most effective and valuable way to prepare 21st century educators for the challenges of the 21st century classroom.

(Full disclosure, Eduflack works with Levine and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and has worked with AACTE, AFT, NEA, EdTrust, and UTC.)