For the Next Gen of Teacher Candidates, Content Should be King

With many public school systems now entering week 10 of their new coronavirus normal, as community school buildings remain shuttered and millions of students try to learn through digital platforms, talk of “the return” to the good ol’ days is growing louder and louder.

Sure, some continue to declare their success in mastering virtual education, but far more are trying to prepare for what traditional school will look like in a traditional environment for the 2020-21 school year. Images of students wearing facemasks and distancing contraptions have already started to fill social media, as educators come to grips with months of lost instruction due to Covid-19, a virtual learning environment offered largely to tread instructional water instead of teaching new content. In response, some are calling for summer school for all to avoid the expected slide from the current to the next school year while others suggest the need to repeat the current grade.

Last week, Chiefs for Change – a group of reform-minded public school superintendents and school administrators – offered a thoughtful report on what school leaders should consider as they look toward the return of a school-building-based instructional year this fall. In The Return: How Should School Leaders Prepare for Reentry and Beyond?, the Chiefs explore a number of important – and controversial – topics, ranging from abandoning the agrarian school calendar (one that currently gives educators and learners summers off) to more “intently focusing on the social and emotional wellbeing and skills of students.”

More interestingly, Chiefs for Change called for school systems across the country to adopt staffing models that focused on educators with deep subject matter and instructional expertise. Yes, this spring’s virtual schooling experiment has demonstrated that the pedagogy and classroom management skills largely taught in colleges of education across the nation do not necessarily translate to teachers successfully managing a virtual classroom on an online platform. For every media story one sees of an elementary school classroom taught via Zoom, with a shared screen that looks like the Brady Bunch on steroids, there are dozens of untold stories of online platforms being used simply as electronic bulletin boards, where teachers simply post assignments for students to collect and complete, providing a thumbs up when any effort is demonstrated by the learner to complete them.

In its recommendations, Chiefs for Change also pulls back a closely-held secret in teacher education. Many teachers are not expert in the content areas they teach. Those who teach U.S. history, for instance, often major in history education, not in American history. The same can be said about those who teach chemistry or biology, the majority of whom leave their teacher education programs with degrees in science education, not in the specific content area. One can even consider the typical elementary school educator, tasked with teaching reading and math and beginning science while equipped with a degree in elementary education that likely provided only some survey courses on a range of content areas, with an emphasis on needed physical classroom management skills.

For years now, reformers have preached about the need to dramatically transform pre-service teacher education. In the early days, the focus was on alternative certification programs and having teacher candidates avoid the “status quo” teachers colleges altogether. More recently, advocates have looked to alternative approaches to traditional teacher education models, with institutions like the Relay/Graduate School of Education becoming the aspirational model.

Decades of research into the most effective approaches to teacher education demonstrate the importance of both strong content knowledge and effective pedagogy. When groups like Chiefs for Change talk about content knowledge, they are essentially noting that novice teachers should be coming to the classroom with a broad and substantial liberal education, one that translates into strong content knowledge of classroom teachers, regardless of the academic subject they are licensed to teach.

A first glance, we may be looking for too much from undergraduate teacher education, expecting all aspiring educators to start as teachers of record with strong, research-based backgrounds in both the subject areas they teach and the most effective ways to teach and lead a classroom. Our new educational normal, though, has clearly demonstrated that the current emphasis on pedagogy and classroom management is woefully insufficient for the uncertain years ahead.

The coming generations of k-12 educators may be digital natives, but they are largely still being prepared in teachers colleges constructed for an analog world. Until their clinical experiences include virtual instruction, and until their preparation focuses on the importance of subject matter content and how to make it interesting, relevant, and understood by all in their classroom, our instructional struggles will continue.

We can do better. We should do better. Ed schools should be committed to preparing world-class educators. School districts should be focused on hiring teachers well prepared in both content and pedagogy, with the assessments to demonstrate their mastery of both. And we all should embrace efforts to ensure our kids’ teachers are truly the best in the world, with the preservice education, in-service supports, and high-quality instructional materials needed for learners to succeed today … and tomorrow.

 

(This piece also appears on Medium.)

A Proposal for Heroes

Many of us are fond of throwing around the phrase, “those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it.” Dear ol’ Eduflack is fortunate enough to be the son of an historian, a presidential historian at that, meaning that from my earliest days, I was taught American history and its importance to both today and tomorrow.

I can vividly recall my father teaching my about presidential politics as we watched the results of the 1980 elections reported on television. I remember sitting in the back of the lecture hall as a middle schooler as he taught college students in New York City. I still smile when I think of dinner table conversations and debates regarding everything from what I was learning in school to what title my dad should put on his two-volume history of the U.S. presidency (Ferocious Engine of Democracy was the big winner).

Trained as a social scientist and historian, my father spent much of his professional career as a college president, leading three institutions of higher education (one private and two public). Dr. Michael P. Riccards then went on to serve as the public policy scholar in residence at the College Board for many years, only to “start” retirement by creating and leading a successful public policy institute headquartered in New Jersey.

Those who know Dr. (or President) Riccards would not be at all surprised that he has is now applying his lifetime of both scholarship and successful, results-based leadership to now help policymakers navigate our coronavirus world. He put pen to paper to create a “Proposal to Heroes,” designed to be a policy response to Covid-19 akin to the G.I. Bill and its initial response to World War II. The idea has already sparked a great deal of conversation, with Dr. Riccards working with several state governments to explore the feasibility of such an approach.

For the past decade, Eduflack has resisted having “guest posts” on these electronic pages. But today, I make an important exception. Today, I provide the context for the “Proposal to Heroes” offered by Dr. Michael P. Riccards.

 

In  1944 Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Servicemen’s  Readjustment Act or the G. I. Bill. Originated by the American Legion, the act provided a series of benefits for returning veterans.  Only about 6% of the armed forces were to see combat, but all were eligible.  Among those who took advantage of the act was George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Al Gore Jr., Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Judge John Paul Stevens, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Clint  Eastwood, Paul Newman and coach Tom Landry.

After only Social Security, it remains one of the most popular  federal programs initiated by the government.  Benefits have been enlarged over the years.  They included at first low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, one year of unemployment compensation, and dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college or vocational school.  Benefits were available for veterans who had served at least 90 days and were honorably discharged.

This proposal for heroes is meant to deal with heroic sacrifices made in the pandemic of 2020 and who served their nation in its time of peril.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE

Those who served during this period of national emergency certified by executive order, the governors or other government agencies.  This group includes medical responders, hospital workers including in tribal clinics, and related medical servers and custodians.  Also included will be those who were called essential workers and were so defined by the President’s executive orders, first line workers including police, firefighters, and clerical people.  Doctors, nurses, and medical providers may use these funds to help pay off educational debts. In the event of the death of a responder, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shall create a schedule of transferable benefits.

WHY

It is obvious that these sacrifices were above and beyond the call of duty. When the pandemic subsides, these individuals should reap some benefits  that extraordinary expressions of valor warrants.  These provisions in the GI Bill had incredible unintended consequences: they created a new middle class which produced a wave of prosperity and general uplift of the population.  This new bill will create a new middle class, one that will focus on newer immigrant and first generation Americans who will be able to use especially their educational opportunity and financial security to buttress the very underpinnings of modern American democracy.  The questions of income inequality will be muted, and the entire nation will benefit from many more health care workers which may be needed as we continue to fight other pandemics.

ADMINISTRATION

Since these provisions are so similar to the GI Bills of Rights, they will be administrated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by a special committee of six members, appointed by the President and each house of the U.S. Congress.

INVESTMENTS

The Income Tax Code provides all sorts of investment benefits, recognizing that such allocations create economic and social opportunities.  Public policy studies, including done in the past by the Hall Institute, show that the GI Bill brought a 6-1 multiplier effect in the long run to the federal treasury,  it proves that the best investment in America is in Americans.

Without question, it is an intriguing idea offered through the lens of how the United States has responded to crises and to those who have unselfishly served their nation and their community. It is definitely worth a meaningful debate.

It’s Time for Reading Rights

“Producing a strong research study that collects dust on the shelf can hardly win the day. For generations now, we have fought ideological skirmishes over literacy instruction, watching the pendulum swing as classroom educators simply waited it out until the latest “hot” thing lost favor and classrooms returned to what they were previously doing. If we truly want to declare a reading victory and tout our collective instructional successes, we need to commit to some basic truths.”

From Eduflack’s latest for The 74 Million

No, We Don’t Have Equity. But This Could Start the Discussion.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the institution of virtual education in response to the coronavirus epidemic means we now have equitable k12 education. But if we are fortunate, it just might force a very real discussion of how we start working toward equity in teaching, learning, and access.

How? We explore the topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM Radio Network. Give it a listen here.

Equity, Access and Online Learning, Oh My!

Communicating During Covid

It’s safe to say that the coronavirus is dominating virtually all corners of public debate and consideration these days. It is definitely true of education, as our collective shift to virtual education is driven by talk of flattening the curve and a timeline for returning to “traditional” school.

Back in the day, dear ol’ Eduflack spent a great deal of time working on crisis and risk communications, particularly in the healthcare space. In 2004, for instance, I collaborated with the Hong Kong Department of Health to examine its communications response to SARS, what it could learn, and how the government could better engage with citizens to address the healthcare crisis.

Over at Medium, I reflect on those lessons and how they can be applied to our current pandemic and the communications response to it. Some of these ideas may seem common sense, but they are essential reading – and essential action – as we all try to deal with Covid19 response.

Please give it a read. And a share.

What About Special Education in the Age of Corona?

As so many rightfully praise classroom teachers for quickly adapting their instruction for a new, virtual environment, advocates need to be sure that such desperate times do not provide school districts the opportunity to shirk their duties when it comes to IDEA and students with learning disabilities.

Big kudos to Emily Richards and USA Today for placing a spotlight on this important issue, and for speaking with dear illl’ Eduflack about his district’s decision to suspend IEP and 504 meetings for an undetermined period (read until next fall).

For students who already receive accommodations and special services to catch up because of the years their families fought to get them the adequate educations they are guaranteed under the law, lack of leadership by the US Department of Education and adversarial relationships with school districts that have denied special needs learners is a potential recipe for disaster.

“I get that this is the first week. But everything we have fought for in my son’s (individualized education plan) now gets put on hold,” Riccards said.

Read the full article here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2020/03/19/coronavirus-online-school-closing-special-education-teacher-distance-learning/2863503001/

When It Comes To Reading Test Score Failures, Blame the Adults

We should be furious with the state of student literacy performance, as evidenced by the most recent NAEP scores. But we our anger should be directed at those adults who still aren’t prioritizing evidence-based reading instruction.

We explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen.