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). 

Excellent Teachers, Meet High-Needs Schools

We are constantly hearing about the struggles finding (and keeping) effective teachers. And the discussion gets louder and louder when it comes to placing (and keeping) such teachers in high-needs schools.

A decade ago, the Feds tried imposing “highly qualified teacher” provisions on such schools, but those provisions have had little lasting impact. Next came a collective push for merit pay for teachers, particularly those in hard-to-serve schools. But again, the data on whether such efforts improved student outcomes or improved placement efforts is still TBD.

So the (multi) million-dollar question is, what can we do to ensure that excellent teachers are being placed in our high-needs schools?

Over at Education Week, Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, offers some sage insights on what it takes to match great teacher with in-need schools.

Based on the Foundation’s experiences with Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow programs in Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, Levine offers 15 specific lessons from their on-the-ground efforts working with real teachers at real ed schools in real states before moving those educators to real schools.

These lessons provide a real, effective blueprint for successfully addressing the teacher quality debate. From selectivity to one-year masters programs, accountability to recruitment, partnerships to sustainability, these Woodrow Wilson exemplars can serve as tent poles for future efforts across the country.

And Levine knows of what he speaks. The former president of Teachers College was ahead of his time was ahead of his time in focusing on how to address teacher prep for the 21st century while at TC. And he is ahead of the pack with the Teaching Fellows initiative.

The lessons put forward by Woodrow Wilson Foundation are important for both the five states currently invested in such a path, as well as for the 45 states that should be pursuing similar ideas. If nothing else, they serve as an essential launch pad for where the we need to start focusing when it comes to identifying and preparing excellent teachers for a career in the classroom.

Rather than looks for the next fad or the newest silver bullet, isn’t it time we look to proven ideas for getting excellent educators in hard-to-staff schools? Levine’s list serves as the syllabus for such a discussion.

full disclosure, Eduflack serves as a director at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Your Senate GOP ESEA Reform Starting Lineup

All week, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) has been talking about his accelerated plans for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  We are hearing of deadline like Easter for when the Senate will either entertain a new draft of the reauth, pass the reauth, or acknowledge the reauth.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of details as to what may be in Chairman Harkin’s ESEA bill.  Eduflack suspects it will resemble the ESEA Blueprint put forward by the U.S. Department of Education nearly a year ago, with some emphasis on rural education and special education mixed in for good measure.  The naming, last month, of Senator Jeff Bingaman (NM) as Harkin’s ESEA wingman only strengthens the thinking on the Blueprint approach to reauth.
Well, it seems the Republican side of the HELP desk is not going to be left at the side of the road.  In a briefing with reporters this week, HELP Ranking Member Mike Enzi (WY) and his education wingman and former Ed Sec Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) highlighted their “nine areas” to address in reauth.
The Senate GOP starting lineup for ESEA reform includes:
* Fixing the 100-percent proficient by 2014 goal (now that we see we can’t reach it)
* Reforming that darned AYP designation, an acronym that ED won’t even utter these days
* Refocusing on results-based testing, as opposed to that worrisome high-stakes testing
* Showing the rural districts some love
* Fixing high quality teacher provisions, particularly for those rural districts
* Offering greater flexibility to states and school districts
* IDing duplicative or wasteful efforts in ED
* Providing greater flexibility in general
* Engaging parents and families in the process
So is this the sort of staring lineup that strikes fear in the opposing team?  At face value, these are all items we’ve heard before.  But sometimes, a team is far greater than its individual players, and this could very well be the case with Enzi and Alexander’s concerns.  The list is a major hat tip to EdSec Arne Duncan’s Blueprint, particularly the revised language he has been touting since the November 2010 midterm elections.  There is some major love here for House Republicans, particularly the calls for flexibility, local control, and rural schools.  Even a little something for the teachers unions, by acknowledging that the current approach to student testing just doesn’t work and current HQT provisions missed the mark.  
And it also embraces one of the strongest components of NCLB — parental engagement — and incredibly powerful tool that was all but abandoned (other than on the school choice issue) soon after NCLB was passed in 2002.
What is the expected outcome?  Chairman Harkin is still writing the law, let there be no doubt.  But by placing their markers down like this, Enzi and Alexander have set the ESEA agenda.  Most, if not all, of these issues were likely to be on Harkin’s wish list in the first place.  Now, his draft will either need to signal an alignment with GOP concerns, or he will need to defend why these issues don’t warrant his attention.  And that’s a game no HELP chairman should want to play.
It is time for that Harkin trial balloon. 

State of the Education Union?

As is typical for this time of year, most of Washington is eagerly awaiting tomorrow evening’s State of the Union address, delivered by President Barack Obama.  (Of course, Eduflack will be in a school board meeting, discussing local school budgets, but I’ll be listening to the SOTU in spirit).  And just about every year, the education community eagerly awaits to see how big a role education policy will play in the SOTU.

Last year, we expected big things, but just about all of the ed discussion was focused on higher ed and student loans, not on P-12 issues.  In the lead-up to Tuesday, the White House has made clear that this year’s speech will focus on the five pillars to turn around our nation’s economy (not to be confused with EdSec Arne Duncan’s four pillars for turning around K-12 public education).  And go figure, education is expected to be one of those five pillars.
But in the Washington Post, in a graphic that accompanies today’s story on the SOTU, expects that the education focus will be on protecting funding for existing programs.  So if WaPo is right (and it hasn’t necessarily been lately), part of the great road to economic improvement is maintaining the status quo in K-12 education.
Yes, I realize that means continuing funding for new programs such as Race to the Top, with Duncan just last week calling for a third RttT round focused on school districts.  I’ll say it here and I’ll say it loudly.  If tomorrow’s education focus is simply about staying the course, the education sector will have missed a major opportunity.
Across the nation, we are asking states, districts, schools, and teachers to do more and more with less and less.  As those budgets have shrunk, some have even said it is a golden opportunity for schools and school improvement, as we can no longer the maintain that which we’ve had, and instead need to focus on that with the greatest impact or the highest return on investment.  We’re calling for virtually all schools to “reform” or “improve,” making clear that the way we used to do things isn’t going to cut it in the future.
So if President Obama comes out tomorrow and says we need to keep on keeping on, it will be a major step backward.  If we merely try to save the U.S. Department of Education from budget cuts, while protecting recent gains for Title I, RttT, teacher quality efforts, and student loans, we will have squandered a real chance at real improvement.  And if the goal is a true economic renaissance for the United States, status quo at a time when our international standing is slipping, our achievement gap is offensive, and our resources and lacking just isn’t going to cut it.
I recognize that tomorrow evening’s speech is likely already loaded into the teleprompter, but there are a few key items I’d like to see make the cut:
* Early childhood education — We need to honor the promises made with regard to ECE and begin to fund what the research tells us is needed.  Achievement gaps start before kids ever hit kindergarten.  We address that by confronting the problem from the start.  And that means real, academic-focused ECE efforts.  Babysitters and social adaptation programs need not apply.
* Teacher quality — First, we need to agree on the qualitative and quantitative measures of what makes an effective teacher.  Then we need to see what goes into the pre-service and in-service education of a teacher to get there.  Only then can we effective use teacher incentive programs to improve the schools.  We need real research that gets at the heart of the teacher quality issue.
* STEM — And I use this as a collective discussion.  We need to increase on investment in effective math and science education.  We need to put real resources behind the goals of America Competes.  It is the only way we start to move the needle when it comes to international competitiveness.
* Ed tech — We need to convert our 19th century classrooms into 21st century learning environments.  That means focusing on both how we teach and what we teach with.  Ed tech needs to be both at the heart of our ESEA discussions and of our school funding realities.
* Achievement gap — Let’s stop dancing around the issue.  If we are talking about righting our economy, we need to address the achievement gap.  Until black, Hispanic, and low-income students start gaining ground against white, wealthy students, our schools will always struggle.  With the gaps as astounding as they currently are now, it isn’t enough to applaud all groups for incremental gains.
* College prep — We need more opportunities to prepare students for postsecondary education.  More dual enrollment.  More opps to study at local community colleges.  More career-focused, relevant courses.  More exposure to the academic world beyond the high school.  A high school diploma isn’t going to cut it as we head deeper into the 21st century.  
* Parental engagement — We need a concerted, supported effort to better engage parents and families in the learning process.  The responsibility for student success does not rest solely with the classroom teacher.  Parents need to know what their role is, how to play it, and how to ask the questions to ensure their kids are getting the education they both need and deserve.  
* R&D — As we keep asking folks to do more with less, we need to ensure that what we are doing is proven effective and has a strong evidence base behind it.  For too long, educators have done what they thought worked or what they believed worked or what they hoped worked.  It is now time to invest in what we can prove works.  That starts with a robust R&D effort focused on the classroom.  And the “&D” is very important, particularly as we look translating good research into real practice.  
What I want to see if fairly simple.  I want the circle of educational life.  What are the conditions we need to start effective learning (teacher quality, parental engagement, ECE)?  What should all children know and be able to do (STEM, ed tech, college prep)?  What obstacles must be overcome (achievement gap, ed tech)?  And what is our intended destination (increased grad rates, increased college-going rates, and the economic success that we’ll hear about for more than an hour tomorrow)?
And I would NOT talk about ESEA.  How we get to these above points isn’t nearly as important as actually doing it.  ESEA is merely a process.  But it isn’t a required path for 2011.  And I’d stay away from issues like common core, charters, and AYP.  All those buzz words do is stoke the fires of the loyal opposition (whichever side on which they may be).
What am I missing?  What is necessary to tell the true state of our education union?

Some Resolutions for 2011

Another year about to go down in the history books.  Are we any closer to truly improving our public schools?  For every likely step forward we may have taken in 2010, it seems to be met with a similar step back.  For every rhetorical push ahead, we had a very real headwind blocking progress. 

So as we head into 2011, your friendly neighborhood Eduflack offers up a few “resolutions” for all on the education reform boat to consider as we start a new year.  We need to come to accept the following:
1.  True reform does not happen at the federal level.  The federal government is an important lever in the school improvement process, offering some necessary financial resources and some bully pulpit language to inspire reform.  But true improvement happens at the state and local levels.  It is about what our SEAs and LEAs do with those resources and whether they embrace the call from the bully pulpit.  Just as all politics is local, so too is all education reform.  Why do you think groups like DFER are so keen on launching new statewide efforts, like the new one in California?
2.  ESEA reauthorization really doesn’t matter.  As much as we want to fret about when ESEA is going to be reauthorized and what will and won’t be included, it doesn’t have much impact on the game at hand.  At the end of the day, EdSec Duncan could work from the current NCLB, make a few tweaks, and be just fine for the next few years.  Those thinking a major sea change is coming with reauth will be sadly mistaken.  If we see reauth this year (put at about 60 percent), expect it to simply be a kinder, gentler NCLB.  Nothing more.
3. Education technology matters.  For years now, we’ve placed ed tech in the perifery when it comes to school improvement, trying to define it as simply the adoption of a particular piece of hardware.  Ed tech needs to be at the center of 21st century school improvement.  It is important to instruction and student achievement, teacher quality, and all-around turnaround efforts.  If we are to realize its impact, we need to ensure it is a non-negotiable in the process.
4. We cannot forget about reading instruction.  Nine years ago, Reading First was born, emphasizing the importance of literacy instruction in the elementary grades.  We cannot boost student test scores and we cannot ensure that all kids are college and career ready if everyone isn’t reading at grade level.  RF taught us a great deal on how to teach reading (and how not to advocate it politically).  Building on those lessons, we need to redouble our efforts to get each and every child reading proficient.  And that now includes focusing on middle and high schools, where too many students have fallen between the cracks.
5. Superintendents matter.  Many of our largest and most influential school districts will experience change at the top this coming year.  These new leaders can’t forget that the role of instructional leader is essential to their success.  Shaking things up is good.  Sweeping out the old is fine.  Doing things differently is great.  But at the end of the day, being a superintendent is all about teaching and learning and measurement.  Magazine covers are nice, but rising test scores are far more rewarding.
6. We still need to figure out what teacher quality is.  Is it just student test scores?  Does it include preservice education requirements beyond HQT provisions?  Are their qualitative factors?  Can we accept a “we’ll know it when we see it” definition?  With increased focus continuing to be placed on the topic of teacher quality, we need a true defition and a true measurement to really launch a meaningful discussion.  We’ve spent too much time talking about what it isn’t or what it shouldn’t be.  It is time to determine what it is.
7. Research remains king.  In 2010, we spent a great deal of money on school reforms and improvement ideas.  Most of these dollars were an investment in hope.  Now it is time to verify.  We need to determine what is working and what is not.  We need to know not just that the money is being spent (as ED typically sees evaluation) but instead need to know what it is being spent on and what is showing promise of success.  We need to redouble our investments in evaluation.  Other sectors have made real advances because of investments in R&D.  It is about time for education to do the same.
8. We need to learn how to use social media in education.  It is quite disheartening to see that states like Virginia are exploring banning teachers from using tools like Facebook with their students.  It is also a little frustrating to see that media like Twitter are still being used for one-way communications.  We need to see more engagement and dialogue through our social media.  An example?  How about more Twitter debates like those between @DianeRavitch and @MichaelPetrilli ?
And as we look forward to the new year, some predictions on what is hot and what is not for 2011.
HOT — Accountability (and its flexibility).  Assessments.  International benchmarking.  Rural education.  Alternative certification.  Special education.  Competitive grants.  Local control.  School improvement.  Local elected school boards.  Online education.
NOT —  Charter schools.  Early childhood education.  21st century skills.  STEM.  ELL.  Education schools.  RttT/i3.  Education reform (yeah, you heard me).  Teachers unions.  Mayoral control.  AYP.  Early colleges.  Edujobs.
Happy new year!  

Blue Ribbons and Teacher Prep

With all of the talk about student achievement and turning around schools, there is a larger issue lurking in the shadows.  Teachers.  For much of this year, we’ve focused discussions of teacher quality on how we measure effective instruction in the classroom.  And while Eduflack is all about the outcomes, the research shows that the inputs of teacher quality are just as important, particularly when we look at the education and clinical preparation that goes into growing a better teacher.

Today, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education releases its (much) anticipated report from its Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improving Student Learning.  The Panel itself is a relative who’s who of the education blob, particularly those organizations and individuals involved teacher quality issues, including AACTE, AFT, IEL, KA, NBPTS, NCTAF, NEA, and a host of IHEs and LEAs (how’s that for using your edu-alphabet?).

What did the Blue Ribbon winners offer up on their key reccs for improving teacher quality and the clinical preparation of educators?  The group offered up a Top 5 list:

1) More rigorous accountability, including calling for teacher ed programs to do a better job of monitoring their programs, ensuring they are up to par, and guaranteeing they are meeting the needs of the school districts filling teaching jobs.

2) Strengthening Candidate Selection and Placement, with a careful eye to making teacher ed programs more selective and more diverse. 

3) Revamping Curricula, Incentives, and Staffing, with a commitment to couple practice, content, theory, and pedagogy in the teacher ed process.

4) Supporting partnerships, particularly those relationships that produce college graduates “who do want to teach and are being prepared in fields where there is market demand.”

5) Expanding the knowledge base to identify what works and support continuous improvement, giving a hat tip to the unfortunate fact that “there is not a large research base on what makes clinical preparation effective.”

To help move these concepts into practice, NCATE announced that eight states — California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee — are now part of the new NCATE Alliance for Clinical Teacher Preparation (though it is interesting to note that six of those eight states now have new governors, thanks to this month’s elections).

So how does NCATE keep this report from suffering the fate of so many reports before it, being applauded at its release and then relegated to a shelf never to be read again?  Put simply, the NCATE reccs need to be moved into practice NOW.  The Alliance is a good first step.  But how are the reccs being implemented into the US Department of Education’s teacher candidate recruitment effort?  How are these priorities being funded through the Higher Education Act and Title II programs?  How are we rewarding colleges for doing right, while dealing with those leading us down the wrong paths?  And how do we ensure that federal, state, and local teaching dollars are going to employ those educators who live up to expectations and enter the classroom with the clinical preparation necessary to succeed from day one?

I realize I often throw cold water on these sorts of reports, always asking what comes next.  But informing is only the start of the battle, and all a report does is inform.  If we are to change the hearts, minds, and actions, we need to go further and dig deeper.  Changing the way we address teacher preparation is a big thing requiring a lot of work.  One report does not solve the problem, but it can get the discussion going.

Doubting ESEA Reauthorization

My name is Eduflack, and I am a natural-born cynic.  All day, I have been reading the unbridled optimism that folks seem to have for a quick and easy reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  In this morning’s Washington Post, House Education and Labor Committee members boldly declare their intentions to begin work on reauth next week.  For Chairman George Miller (CA) and company, it is now full steam ahead.  But I still have my doubts.

Congressional leaders are to be commended for moving forward in a bipartisan fashion.  Last year, few thought we would see Miller and John Kline (MN) work together to move this important issue forward.  Today, House Democrats and Republicans signaled it is time to improve No Child Left Behind and better align the federal law with the priorities and issues that have been moving forward over the past year.  Issues like common core standards, the next iteration of AYP, teacher quality, and charter schools will likely take center stage right quick.
But how realistic are we being in saying that this will get done now, on the express timetable many are expecting?  All parties involved have made clear this needs to be done by summer, in advance of the House of Representatives having to head back home and stand for re-election in November.  This is particularly true of Democrats, many of whom may have to vote for a law that makes life a little tougher for the teachers’ unions that help get them elected every two years.
But let’s be frank about timing.  First off, today’s big announcements are only coming out of the House of Representatives.  We have yet to hear a similarly ambitious agenda from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee or from Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (WY).  If we learned anything from issues such as climate change and health care, it is you need both sides of the Hill working in tandem to actually move legislation forward.  The House can have the best of intentions, but unless the Senate is planning the same rapid reauthorization, this bill is going to get bogged down over on the senior circuit.
Second, let’s look at the calendar.  Back in 2001, President George W. Bush made ESEA reauthorization priority number one.  It was his first piece of legislation out of the box and he immediately enlisted the help of folks like Senator Ted Kennedy to move it.  Despite the bipartisanship and the quick movement of both the House and Senate, it still took a full year to get NCLB through.  Granted, 9-11 forced congressional priorities to change in the fall of 2001.  But that team couldn’t get NCLB through in those first eight months.  It is now the second half of February.  Eight months puts us into October, which is completely untenable, particularly since congressional campaigns will begin in earnest come Labor Day.  Can we really reauthorize ESEA in four or five months this time around?  And can we do it when Congress is grappling with healthcare reform, a jobs bill, banking reform, climate control, and the full complement of annual appropriations bills?
Eduflack doesn’t want to be the skunk at this particular garden party, but I do want to be realistic.  I would love to see Congress reauthorize ESEA by summer.  I hope they are able to.  But I also know that the Hill calendar is working against such an effort, particularly with other major issues still pending.  I know that some in Congress may not have the stomach to pass an ESEA that will likely come with increased spending.  I know there are the continuing debates between rural districts and the perceived urban thrust of the last year.  And I know that many of the major issues involving ESEA — standards, AYP, data systems, Title II, and other issues — are not simple ideas that will be fixed in a hearing or two.  So this takes real work.  
Can Miller and Kline get such a bill out of committee by the end of spring?  Yes, absolutely.  Can it be voted out of the House, possibly.  But will we see all of that, along with Senate action and conference committee, happen before our final trip to the beach in September?  I just can’t see it … yet.
So that leaves me with one big question.  Are we talking a wholesale reauthorization of ESEA and all of its Titles or are we talking targeted legislation that focuses on a couple of the big issues?  Are we talking full-blown open-heart surgery or triage?  Are we swinging for the fences or playing small ball?
If it is the former, we may be in for a tough stretch.  If we are working toward the latter, and targeted amendment to NCLB, we could be in business.

Teacher Quality Showdown in Houston’s Corral

Looking at the headlines coming out of Houston last night, it was a regular showdown at the school improvement corral.  Teachers versus parents.  Reformers versus status quo.  Process versus outcomes.  And in the words of far too many Simpsons episodes, we can’t possibly forget about the children!

For those late to the rodeo, last evening the Houston Independent School District School Board voted (unanimously, 7-0) to approve HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s teacher quality efforts.  The plan allows the school district to terminate (as a last resort) teachers whose students are unable to make the grade on standardized tests.  According to the numbers being circulated, about 3 percent of the HISD teacher force, or 400 teachers, could be affected by this new initiative.  For those who want more on this, the full story can be found here in the Houston Chronicle.

Most see Grier’s efforts as a direct response to the current calls for teacher quality and accountability coming from Arne Duncan and the folks at the US Department of Education.  Student performance remains the king.  Effective teachers are the path to student performance.  Ergo, students whose test scores don’t improve have ineffective teachers who may not be suited for the classroom.  Or so the SAT logic goes.  Grier is moving a real, tangible plan aligned with Duncan’s teacher quality pillar.

This vote has been brewing for weeks.  As part of his negotiations with the teachers union, Grier tried to use AFT President Randi Weingarten’s speech from nearly a month ago (Eduflack’s analysis here) as grounds for the union to support his efforts.  His argument was straightforward.  If Weingarten was serious about rhetoric to fix a broken system and focus on effective teachers and student achievement, she should side with him on his teacher quality efforts.  Why should 97 percent of HISD teachers be tarred by the student test scores of just 3 percent?  And don’t forget, Weingarten embraced the idea of using student test scores as part of teacher evaluation.

The AFT prez failed to see the connection between her speech and HISD’s plans.  As expected, Weingarten rose to the defense of her teachers and in opposition to any plan that would put the jobs of AFT teachers at risk.  As she told the Houston Chronicle, “Houston is a perfect example of what not to do.  The plan has all the wrong components, and it’s one of the reasons why teachers and parents are opposed to standardized testing.”

Typically, these sorts of battles are local.  We see the local union and the local school district spar.  Local parents and teachers lay their hearts on the rostrum at public hearing, and then a vote comes and all sides live to fight another day.  If most national voices get involved at all, it is after the fact to either praise or condemn the local decisions.  After all, who knows better about how to deal with student achievement and teacher quality in Houston than the folks in Houston.

Of course, this wasn’t the typical local issue.  Superintendent Grier’s plan was the proverbial canary in the teacher quality mine.  If he could get the board to approve his efforts, they could serve as a blueprint for similar efforts in other urban school districts across the country.  If he failed, then the teachers unions would be able to demonstrate their strength, even in a weak union state like Texas (where most still refer to the unions as “teachers organizations.”

So heading into last evening’s vote, two of the loudest voices in education reform/school improvement gladly took up arms on Grier’s behalf. 

Under the header “Nation’s Edu-Eyes Are On Houston Tonight,” Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform came out as Grier’s bad cop, going after Weingarten and the AFT:

We don’t question President Weingarten’s intent or sincerity, nor do we doubt her assertion that ineffective teachers are a minority of the teaching profession.


But far too often in the past, promises by union leaders for real reform over the airwaves have been squarely contradicted by the positions advanced by union officials in political backrooms. Both national unions have steadfastly treated teaching, despite the high stakes for children and communities, as a right rather than a privilege.


The first test of AFT’s commitment to the principles it outlined last month will begin tonight in Houston, and play out over the days and weeks ahead.

And the Education Equality Project, in the voice of its director, Ellen Winn, played good cop, offering a far more positive and forward-looking defense of Grier’s reform agenda:

Together, Superintendent Terry Grier (a signatory of the Education Equality Project) and the Houston Board of Education are embarking upon a comprehensive project to dramatically improve student achievement by placing a highly effective teacher in every classroom.  Rigorous research efforts have demonstrated that – in the words of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind – “teacher quality is the single most important school factor in student success.”

Last month, the Board unanimously approved a plan to improve teacher evaluations starting next year. Going forward, teacher evaluations will give teachers an honest assessment of how much they’re helping their students learn. The evaluation process will include standardized test scores as one indicator of teacher success. 

Tonight, Grier is asking the Board to approve a policy that would require principals to use all the information available to them—including value-added test scores—when making decisions about renewing a teacher’s contract.  Value-added analysis is a statistical method used to measure teachers’ and schools’ impact on students’ academic progress rates from year to year.  (The process only analyzes the change across one year relative to where a student begins, thereby leveling the playing field.)

The Education Equality Project emphatically encourages the Board to approve this critical proposal and commends Superintendent Grier for leading the charge to close the achievement gap.  If Houston approves this policy, hundreds of thousands of students will be impacted. Think of the doors that will open to these students with better teachers and better chances at a good education – the chances they will now have for meaningful work and a real opportunity at attaining the American dream.  How can we afford to keep those doors closed?

Together, DFER and EEP are defining a new paradigm with regard to urban education reform.  We are now recognizing that school districts are no longer islands unto themselves, where local decisions are made to stay within the city boundaries.  Instead, when one of the big 50 school districts acts, its repercussions can be felt across the nation.  A good idea pursued by one is replicated by others.  A plan that goes down in flames is avoided by any means possible.  Houston is looking to do what is best for student success in the district.  DFER and EEP are looking to defend and support those activities that can feed into the larger national objectives of school improvement and closing the achievement gap.  And now both sides are working together to put a squeeze play on the system of old.  One thing is for sure, this is the first in what will be many, many local skirmishes on new policies and plans aligned with the new federal education improvement agenda.

Many have been longing for the day when education decisionmaking would leave Washington DC and return back to the localities.  The advocacy dynamic down in Houston may show just how that works in practicality.  Let the locals act, and then have AFT, DFER, and EEP square off in the Lincoln-Douglas debates that will occur during and after the decisionmaking process. 

Act locally and opine nationally!

Race-ing to Teacher Quality

Last week, Eduflack opined over at Education Week on the need to differentiate between incentivizing good teachers and incentivizing good teaching.  Essentially, we need to make sure that any incentives are not just given as a thank you to teachers, but are used to identify, catalog, and share the best practices that have made their teaching so effective.  The full piece can be found here.

In response, there was an interesting comment from Stephanie Hirsh, the executive director of the National Staff Development Council.  Hirsh wrote: “I suggest distinguishing between, individual, team, and school incentives, with a focus on the strategies that have the greatest impact on student learning and whole school success.  Let’s incentivize teachers from contributing to collaborative initiatives that lead to improvement both within and outside their classrooms: participating in school improvement decision making and processes; mentoring their less experienced colleagues; acquiring knowledge and skills that prepare them to be learning team facilitators and then serving in this position; and acquiring knowledge and skills that prepare to serve as instructional coaches and then serving the school in that role.”
These are interesting concepts, particularly as the latest State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) education guidance continues to focus on the current federal definition of a highly qualified teacher, setting aside (for now) the opportunity to more accurately define what an effective teacher is and what high-quality teacher professional development may be (and more importantly what data points are needed to prove all of the above).  While we’d like to believe that plans are in the works to revisit HQT and the federal definition of effective teaching in the future, namely in ESEA reauthorization, it was clearly a missed opportunity to move the ball forward now.
But the ideas of how to best define effective teachers is not something everyone is waiting on.  Yesterday, Education Trust and the New Teacher Project released two new reports on how to increase teacher effectiveness efforts, particularly in state RttT applications.  EdTrust’s Fighting for Quality and Equity, Too and TNTP’s How Bold is “Bold”? provide some interesting food for thought on how to measure teacher effectiveness, as well as how to train, recruit, and retain those teachers that measure up against the rubric.
The EdTrust report, in particular, offers nine steps for states to consider as they pursue the Holy Grail of teacher effectiveness under expected RttT funds, including:
* Produce better information on teacher effectiveness
* Require clear teacher reports on teacher quality and equity
* Place information on teacher effectiveness in the hands of those who need it
* Require teacher evaluations to focus on effectiveness
* Write explicit policies that expect equitable access to effective teachers
* Eliminate state policies that sustain the status quo in local districts
* Produce incentives for effective teachers to work in high-needs schools
* Make certain that high-poverty districts and schools have what they need to attract and retain effective teachers
* Pump up the supply of talented teachers
Of course, the four-billion-dollar question is what, exactly, will states be asked to do with their Race applications?  Current chattering says that the final RttT RFP will be released by the U.S. Department of Education tomorrow.  When it comes out, there will be a robust discussion of what the final means for the ultimate awards.  If the RFP remains largely unchanged from the draft shared this summer, then we are back to the thinking that seven to 10 states are slated to win Race grants, putting more resources and higher expectations on those states.  If the RFP is significantly changed, as many believe it will be, then we are likely looking at a weaker RFP that will be targeted 30-35 grant winners, spreading the wealth around but limiting the federal resources going to a great number of priorities.
Assuming the latter for a second, will any state have the federal Race funds to actually adopt what EdTrust is calling for?  Let’s say 30 states win.  The average grant is $145 million.  Divide that by the expected four-year RttT period, and the average state gets $36.3 million a year.  Half of that goes to the LEAs for turnaround schools and teacher quality, meaning that approximately $9 million a year would be available to school districts in a Race state to invest in meaningful teacher quality efforts.  Is that anywhere close to enough to address the nine pillars that EdTrust offers up?  Is that enough to address just three?  And if it isn’t enough to deal with teacher quality in a meaningful, systemic, and long-term way, is it worth throwing the money at the issue in the first place?

Hold On, ESEA Reauth is Coming

Likely one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington, DC, the U.S. Department of Education is now hard at work on draft language for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  EdSec Arne Duncan started the ball bouncing last week, bringing together the education blob to talk about his reauth priorities, including increasing funding for key NCLB components, taking some of the nastiness out of the current law, and codifying some of the policies that have been moved forward under the stimulus package.

As Eduflack has heard from many folks this week, the plan is to introduce ESEA reauthorization in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House in January 2010.  The goal will be final passage of the federal ed law before the Memorial Day recess.  House Education Committee Chairman George Miller (CA) will likely serve as the lead dog moving the bill through Congress in Q1 of next year.
Why is this significant?  For months now, those opposed to NCLB have been wishing, hoping, and projecting that reauthorization wouldn’t move until 2011.  They offered up a host of reasons for this misguided belief, most of which aren’t worthy of dissection here.  The simple fact is that NCLB opponents need reauthorization to be put off until 2011 because they simply aren’t ready to fight the good fight on federal ed policy in a few months.  The “loyal opposition” is not gathered around a few key points.  They haven’t adopted a common language of change.  They don’t necessarily have reccs on how to improve the law to meet their needs.  They know they don’t like NCLB, and likely won’t like NCLB 2.0.  They know what they are opposed to, but don’t necessarily know what to stand for … at least not yet.
Most presume that the new ESEA will not be a major change from the current law.  The new bill will still emphasize accountability and student achievement, but will provide greater flexibility to SEAs and LEAs to achieve it.  The stick of AYP will be whittled down to a nub before all is said and done.  Highly Qualified Teachers (HQTs) will be redefined, focusing on the effective teachers emphasized in Race to the Top and de-emphasizing the checklist of what is needed simply to enter a classroom.  New Senate Education Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) will ensure that special education, RtI, and IDEA will get greater attention than in the previous iteration.  Charter schools will continue to remain strong.  Teacher incentives will see increased funding.  And we may even see Reading First transformed from an elementary grades program to a more comprehensive effort focused on middle and secondary students.  While the law will most likely be bucketed around the priorities of standards, assessments/data systems, teacher quality, and school turnaround, the details will be a reorganization of NCLB components, not a reinvention.
When the EdSec outlined these priorities (and emphasized the need for equity in public education) his remarks were well-received in most corners of the education community.  The strongest voice of opposition came from the Forum for Education and Democracy, who took Duncan to task for seeking to narrow the curriculum, lacking details on real teacher quality, and staying true to current accountability provisions.  The comments from Forum head Sam Chaltain were even distributed under the header, “you can’t just invoke MLK, Jr. – you have to really address fairness and equity.”  So it is clear where they shake out with regard to the future of ESEA.  And at the end of the day, the Forum speaks for more than itself (at least in terms of philosophy).
National Education Association’s strong response to the draft Race to the Top RFP guidance still serves as the best primer for those who want to make significant change to ESEA, particularly if they want to move the law back to where it stood in the 1990s.  In fact, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel upped the ante yesterday when he testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, where he called for a better distribution of exemplary teachers in struggling schools (with additional pay for such moves likely to be the second shoe to drop in his noble pursuits).
Barring the completely unforeseen, Chairman Miller is going to get this reauthorization through before this time next year.  And if I were taking bets, the current line is that the draft legislation dropped in January is going to be pretty darned close to the final that will be passed (with some additional dollars thrown into the mix for some to swallow the policy priorities).  If folks think they are truly going to influence ESEA and shape federal education policy for the next decade, now is the time to act.  Now is the time to have voices heard at ED and on the Hill about priorities and lines in the sand.  Now is the time to make clear what support or opposition will be based on.  Now is the time to form those alliances and determine what the truly make-or-break issues may be.
ESEA reauthorization is going to be a fast-tracked affair.  The first five months of 2010 are going to be spent winning folks over to the proposed law, not looking for alterations, changes, and overhauls to months of work at ED and in Chairman Miller’s office.  Those waiting to engage after the draft legislation is introduced will likely miss the show before the curtain is even raised.