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.)

Searching for Competency-Based Teacher Education

Over on the Education World website, I have a new blog post reflecting on the National Center for Teaching Quality’s latest study on grade inflation in our education schools and how it — along with other developments — further points to a real need to move teacher education from a seat-time focused endeavor to one that is competency based and emphasizes mastery.

As I write:

Despite all we know about education and personalized learning and teaching styles and modes of delivery, we are still providing degrees based on how many hours one can log in a desk in a lecture hall. At too many institutions, teaching degrees are awarded based on “time served,” not on whether one understands and can apply what is taught in the classroom in their own classrooms.

And I continue:

In more concrete terms, we need to move from a system based on seat time and credit hours toward one based on competencies and mastery. Instead of just focusing on the academic preparation found in a higher education classroom, we need to equally emphasize the clinical experience and whether prospective educators can successfully apply the concerns learned in the classes they take while leading classrooms of their own. And it means providing the mentoring and support to make the transition from student to student teacher to teacher of record, gaining ongoing practical, professional learning from those who have come previously.

If I do say, the post is worth giving a quick read. The full post can be found here —  Happy reading!

How About Those Edu-Elections?

If anything, yesterday’s midterm elections were entertaining. We saw incumbents defeated. We saw incumbents previously left for dead winning big. We saw darkhorses win in the end. We races long written off come in within recount range. For those without a vested interest in a specific candidate, it was a heckuva night.

While yesterday’s results will be deconstructed ad naseum in the coming days and weeks, let’s take a look at some of the edu-implications.

The Power of Teachers’ Unions

It was the best of times and worst of times for the teachers’ unions. Teachers were able to start the night by crowing loudly about Tom Wolf’s win for the Pennsylvania governorship, knocking off an incumbent Republican governor who had slashed state education spending and sought to cancel out teacher contracts in Philadelphia. The unions also got to wrap up Election Day wit a big win, as Tom Torlakson was re-elected as state superintendent for public instruction in California, turning back reformer-backed Marshall Tuck. (And we will set aside the fact that the job has very little actual power in California education, with the real strength lying with the state board of education).

But what happened in between will have many people questioning the political power of the teachers’ unions. AFT and NEA put major dollars and major GOTV muscle into taking the governorships in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado. All went Republican. Strong union support couldn’t even help true-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland elect Democratic (presumably pro-union, pro-teacher) governors.

Those Dems that did win the big chairs have some “history” with the teachers’ unions. In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy barely won re-election, and likely owes his win to teachers after just two years seeking to eliminate teacher tenure. In Rhode Island, Dem Gina Raimondo won the race, largely because she took on unions as part of a pension reform push she led.

Put all together, and the unions had limited impact in statewide elections, particularly in those states they targeted.

The Role of Ed Reformers

Yes, the AFT and NEA had a rough night. But it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for education reformers either. They lost their biggest prize of the evening when Torlakson beat Tuck in Cali. Reformers only won half the prize they sought with a big spend in the Minneapolis school board race.

Ed reform Dem governors like CT’s Malloy and NY’s Andrew Cuomo only won by seeking to reframe or rewrite their past support for reforms, as Cuomo practically came out as anti-CCSS.

In fact, reformers seemed most proud by Raimondo’s win, believing pension reform is a sure path to more education reform.

While much of the edreform community tends to focus on Democratic reformers, it was a good night for GOP edreformers. NM Gov. Susana Martinez., MA Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, and GA Gov. Nathan Deal to name but a few.

Common Core Impact

When it comes to the political impact of Common Core, support of opposition seemed to be neither help nor hindrance. The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli says that half the Republican governors are pro-Common Core. For those like Ohio’s John Kasich, such support didn’t hurt him at all. School Reform News reported that nine of the 10 GOP govs up for re-elect yesterday were against Common Core. For those like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott, opposition to the Core helped. (Though I have to question School Reform News’ math, as with OH’s Kasich and NM’s Martinez, I already have two of the 10 GOP govs pro-CCSS, without adding voices like NV’s Sandoval and GA’s Deal.)

Those Pesky Statehouses

Over the weekend, John Oliver ranted about how few were paying attention to state legislature elections. And he is absolutely right. For education, that’s where the action will be, from CCSS to testing, from teacher evaluations to school funding. We still need to wait for the dust to settle, but the initial returns seem to show that GOP governors will have more supportive legislatures behind them, while Dem governors will have a few less supporters on their benches. Issue coalitions may very well win the day in state capitals, particularly on issues such as education.

No doubt there is more to come. The one thing we know with certainty? With Sen. Lamar Alexander taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, it is safe to say we have a Senate chairman who, as a former gov, former EdSec and former university president, knows a thing or two about the issue of education.

Teaching the U.S. Senate, Ted Kennedy Style

Anyone who knows Eduflack knows that, professionally, I was greatly shaped by my experiences as a U.S. Senate staffer. I was fortunate to work for some tremendous leaders and statesmen, the sort of public officials that we seem to be in short supply of these days. Not only did they teach me about the Senate, legislative procedure, and the appropriations process, but they also taught me about service and priorities and doing what was right (and not necessarily what was easy).

It helps that I am the son of a political scientist, my dad is a presidential historian by trade actually. As a young child, I remember my father being part of the development of the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Getting to see that library when it opened, I remember writing a very passionate letter to my Senator at the time, Ted Kennedy, telling him how much I enjoyed my time at the JFK Library. And I remember my joy when he wrote back. Not only did I get a lovely typed letter on U.S. Senate letterhead, but It included a handwritten note at the bottom, letting me know he had a son that shared a first name with me. The letter was framed soon after it arrived, and I still have that framed letter with me today.

So it’s clear how my interests in politics and the legislative process were both started and fed over the years. But how do we do the same for other students? Next week, many of our high school students will have the opportunity to vote for the first time. But as recent surveys have show, too many young people don’t see the value in the electoral process and certainly don’t hold any faith in government and the impact it can have on its lives.

Fortunately, there are some that don’t react to such positions with a shrug of the shoulder and a “what are ya gonna do?” response. Next spring, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate will officially open its doors (on March 31, actually). Building on the enormous legacy of Ted Kennedy, the Institute is committed to making the U.S. Senate relevant to learners of all ages, while using technology to better engage incoming generations of voters.

It’ll offer experiences that provide first-hand techniques of being a senator, everything from negotiation to bill drafting to debate to voting. It’ll even offer a tech platform so visitors can simulate being a “senator.”

With 2014 elections looming, and with attention already shifting to 2016 presidential elections, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute is offering a really cool opportunity for educators now. The good folks over at the Institute are offering access to its Senate Immersion Module now, where educators can test the three-hour experience of living the Senate life. They will even get to do it in the Institute’s replica of the U.S. Senate chamber, the cornerstone of the Institute. You can check out the Module here.

Those educators who might have interest in taking the Senate Immersion Module out for a spin or who may want to schedule a field trip can reach out to the Institute at SIMSCHEDULE@EMKINSTITUTE.ORG.

Classroom instruction. Ed tech. Experiential learning. U.S. Senate. Politics. Ted Kennedy. Something new and shiny. And even a chance to drop by the JFK Library after the fact. How can you go wrong?

And if you aren’t able to take advantage of the preview, plan to visit the Institute when it opens. As a huge fan of presidential libraries, as one who played a small part in helping make the Robert C. Byrd Library a reality, and as someone who still cherishes his Ted Kennedy letter, I’ll be there.


Making Tart Cider from an Apple Cover

Last week, I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the most recent Time magazine cover. You know, the one with the gavel smashing the apple. The one designed to draw readers in for a story on the story behind the Vegara decision, a telling of how moneyed interests got involved in an effort to strip away teacher tenure in California.

I wasn’t going to write because I’m not a fan of this “reform by litigation” strategy. I wasn’t going to write because I believe the real story should be about the kids and families who brought the suit, why they brought it, and what they hope to gain now that the court has ruled in their favor. I wasn’t going to write because too many people focus on the “tenure for life” side of the fight, and not enough on the needed due process rights of teachers. And I wasn’t going to write because Vergara becomes a slippery slope to vitriolic attacks on teacher evaluation, Common Core, student assessment, and just about every other issue one throws in there. No good comes of such a heated fight largely void of fact.

I wasn’t going to write after reading multiple emails from the AFT, including a fairly compelling one from Randi Weingarten. And I even wasn’t going to write after seeing some of the responses to the Time cover story, including one from Badass Teachers that again made this all about poverty, corporate takeovers, and declared the real issue was a teacher shortage (which for me seemed to read like BAT was making a case for Teach for America, but another story for another day).

So of course, after some Twitter back and forth last evening and this morning, I feel compelled to write. Not to defend Time. Not to defend Vergara. Not even to point out the irony of me being accused of hyperbole and then being told that “the fate of pub ed hangs in the balance” of this discussion on a Time cover story.

No, I write just to insert some facts into this whole discussion.

First, let’s look to Time magazine. It is no secret that the newsweekly industry has been on a bad streak. Many of Time’s competitors have stopped printing hard copies all together. Time’s print circulation is now down to about a million. It claims a total readership of about 3 million. That includes all those who read a six-month old edition in a doctor or dentist’s office or who leaf through a year-old one at their local Jiffy Lube. Fact is, fewer and fewer people read Time. And those that do often read it online, never seeing the cover at all.

So all of the attacks on Time. all of the discussions of #TimeFail, do nothing more than boost interest in Time. It is a win-win for the magazine. What was an irrelevant magazine is now all that one segment of the population is talking about this week. The number of readers visiting the site is increasing. More eyeballs on content means higher ad rates. In the words of Charlie Sheen, Time is winning.

Don’t agree? Time’s parent company also publishes Sports Illustrated. Every February, tons of folks protest SI because of its swimsuit issue. Subscribers opt out of the issue. Letters of protest stream in by the bushel full. Subscriptions are famously cancelled. Yet they keep publishing. Why? People read it. Publicity draws interest. Interest means ad sales.

And speaking of protests, let’s take a look at the petition currently demanding an apology from Time for the “rotten” cover. As of yesterday, organizers were claiming 50,000 signatures. Sounds impressive at first, yes. But there are about 4.5 million current teachers in AFT and NEA. A little more than 1 percent of them have been moved to sign this petition to date. To put it in a different light, last year more than 35,000 people signed a petition asking the White House to build a Star Wars-style Death Star. Similar numbers got behind nationalizing the Twinkie industry, removing Jerry Jones as owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and replacing the U.S. justice system with one “Hall of Justice” a la the Justice League cartoons.

When there are a million signatures on this petition, folks will take notice. And it may surprise people to know that Eduflack has signed the AFT petition. Why? While I believe it is an interesting story, I don’t think the cover is a fair depiction of the content.

Of course, I also see the gavel on the cover as being a symbol of the litigation strategy behind Vegara, and not as the “hammer of corporate privatization” as I’m seeing far too often on social media these days.  But what do I know? Sometimes I do think a cigar is just a cigar.

A Contract Negotiation Too Far?

Since the Vergara case, we have heard a great deal in the media (and in social media) about teacher contracts and collective bargaining. This has been particularly true in places like Chicago, still reflecting on the 2012 teachers strike and what that means for upcoming context negotiations.

According to ye old dictionaries, collective bargaining is “a process of negotiations between employers and a group of employees aimed at reaching agreements to regulate working conditions.” That’s the meaning most of us expect.

That means discussion on salaries and benefits. Contributions to Healy insurance and to pensions. The number of days one works. And even how one is evaluated on the job in the years governed by that collective bargaining agreement.

On his This Week in Education blog, Alexander Russo this AM highlights an article from In These Times that looks at what Karen Lewis’ successor at Chicago Teachers Union is focusing on, particularly as the lead in for the latest round of contract negotiations.

The profile of CTU’s Jesse Sharkey focuses on many of the issues we should expect, such as proper staffing levels and financial supports for programs such as special education. But then it takes an interesting turn. It nots a third priority:

a real commitment by city government to help alleviate the strangling poverty facing wide swaths of the city—concentrated in the largely African-American South and West Sides—by instituting more progressive taxation of the wealthy to fund public education, a policy long championed by Karen Lewis.

While one can understand that cities like Chicago need to look at new ways to bring additional dollars to he public schools, how is “progressive taxation” for the city a topic of collective bargaining?

And if it is a negotiating point, does it mean it continues up the chain? Is it then a point for the state union to address with the governor and legislature? Should Randi Weingarten and the AFT be pushing for higher tax rates in DC to see federal income tax gains trickle down to the schools?

Once again, it seems Chicago may be the testing ground for his theory. If successful, it could open the door to everything but the kitchen sink being negotiated. In 2012, there was strong public support for CTU during the strike. But does negotiating a topic like his lose that good will, and be seen as little more than a power grab or a point of leverage.

Time will tell. Time will tell.