Let’s Spend Our Edu-Virus Dollars Wisely

For most students, school will soon be back in session. Many big city districts have chosen to remain virtual for the start of the year. Some, like New York City, are insisting on going hybrid. But all can agree it is going to be an expensive school year.

Recently, Congress has debated the need for $175B or so in new federal education dollars to make whatever happens happen. But we aren’t debating how to make sure we use those dollars well.

Yes, $175B is a lot of dollars. But when we look at the long-term needs of students, is it best spent on hand sanitizer and disinfectants and plexiglass and nearly empty yellow buses, or is it better spent on teacher professional development and technology and high-speed internet?

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

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.)

Evaluating Teachers? During Lockdown?

With most schools closed for coronavirus, so many of us are longing for a return to normal. While none of us know what the post-covid new normal may be, we expect it will include many of our tried-and-true activities and behaviors.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that some school districts are still looking at how to conduct traditional teacher evaluations, even when there is nothing traditional about school today. No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we should be appalled.

Over on the BAM! Radio Network, we discuss what a bad idea teacher evaluations a la lockdown are, and how we really need to direct our attentions elsewhere. Give it a listen!

What Should Come Next?

Across the nation, schools and educators are doing everything they can to react to the new normal that is our covid society. For most, that has meant shifting to virtual education and trying to deliver existing lesson plans online.

It’s only natural that this past month – and likely the next two or three – will largely be reactive to the current circumstances. It what if were to spend the summer being proactive, using the warmest of months to focus on educator professional development and how best to empower teachers to take full advantage of the new instructional world likely before ya?

https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/managing-the-evolving-new-normal-reactive-versus-proactive/Dear ol’ Eduflack explores this topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

A Diverse Group at #EPNL2016

Over the weekend, Eduflack wrote on the personal value I found in engaging and learning from a group diverse in its thinking and its experiences. In the coming weeks and months, I’m sure to reflect here on some of the specific lessons I learned at the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders (EPNL). But I wanted to share some of the demographics on the program and its range of views.

In terms of participant citizenship,  we had 31 from the United States; nine from Australia; two each from Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, and Singapore; and representatives from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Peru.

Industries represented included 16 from social services, eight from education, six from both art & culture and healthcare, three from energy/environment and investing/philanthropy, two from food/agriculture, and representatives from economic development, government, media, and technology. Also a huge number (7) who simply claimed they represented “other.”

Five represented organizations with annual budgets less than $500k, 13 from orgs with a $500k-$1M budget, 14 in the $1M to $5M range, 20 in the $5M to $50M range, and three with annual budgets of more than $50 million.

Age was also interesting distributed. Eight were under the age of 35, with 12 between 35 and 39. Twelve of us were between the ages of 40 and 44, with another 8 between 45 and 49. And 15 were over the age of 50. Women comprised a (slim) majority of the group.

For those curious, here is the 2016 EPNL2016 class. I’d suggest we play Where’s Waldo, but it seems pretty easy to find dear ol’ Eduflack in this pic.


Cultivating #STEM Teachers in Michigan

It is only because of the commitment of states like Michigan that there is now a critical mass of educators experienced enough to mentor others. Collectively, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows demonstrate the potential and power of the opportunity for teachers to learn from peers, one example of the way in which teachers at various points in their career path can and should enjoy incentives to collaborate and lead. When teachers collaborate with each other, they leverage the investment of time and preparation each teacher has made into a return for thousands of students beyond their own classrooms.

Woodrow Wilson Foundation EVP and COO Stephanie J. Hull in the Detroit News

Broadening One’s View of True Community

For the past week (and for much of the next week), Eduflack is out at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (yes, it truly is a hard-knock life). I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of the GSB’s 2016 Executive Program for NonProfit Leaders. For someone who spends most of his days focused on the topic of adult learning, it is a fascinating experience, being part of a cohort of 55 Type A individuals who are all trying to solve the problems facing their organizations and their sectors.

Half of the cohort represents organizations here in the United States, half represent NGOs around the world. The class is about equally split between men and women. Age distributions range from superstars in their early 30s to seasoned experts likely closer to the ends of their careers instead of the starts.  It’s safe to say that no two people share the same story, or at least one that is wholly similar.

And that’s likely what makes this program so valuable. Don’t get me wrong, I love all (or at least most) of my friends and frenemies in the education policy sector. But we have to admit that our communities, and our engagement with said communities, are fairly homogeneous. I often feel like the same people have been having the same conversations for years now. It doesn’t matter if it is a harsh reformer versus status quoer debate, a fierce discussion between the P-12 and higher education sectors, or even a scrum among educators and advocates with no teaching experience. We are largely comfortable in our community, and remain comfortable even when we have significant disagreements.

In recent years, the only true time of uncomfortability was earlier this year, following the NSVF conference and the discussions on where Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues fit in the education reform movement. For the first time, new voices and perspectives were injected into the process. But even there, comfortability has largely returned. As the NAACP called for a freeze of public charter schools, the same battle lines and the same allied groups returned to their comfortable roles.

A few years ago, the Broad Center’s Becca Bracy Knight launched an effort called Just Have Coffee. Her idea was a simple yet important one. If we are truly committed to improving public education opportunities for all kids, we need to build bridges with those we may not always agree with. Just having coffee with a supposed enemy, and building a personal relationship with someone on the other side, can go a long way toward making meaningful progress and just getting things done. Knight was right then, and she is still right today.

In just a week, I have likely learned more about how to move ideas forward than I did in two years running an education advocacy organization. And that is largely because I am learning beyond the traditional education echo chamber in which we all operate.

During my stay here on The Farm, there are no other higher education voices here. In terms of K-12 education in the United States, I have one colleague (who runs a program in Los Angeles to get first-generation college students into the best institutions possible) and one who runs a small charter school network in Northern California. I have no one worried about what we meant for ESSA to say out when HEA is going to be reauthorized or whether the recent Connecticut school funding court decision is a blessing or curse for the school choice movement. 

Instead, I am learning from those who are running major social service organizations in countries like Austalia and New Zealand, heading youth development efforts in Colombia and Hong Kong, leading women’s health issues in India, Africa, and here in the States. I’m gleaning great insights from those developing justice reform media outlets and micro lending organizations. I’m even learning much from those selling toilets in Kenya and turning waste into fertilizer to strengthen farming efforts in central Africa.

We are able to have very uncomfortable conversations about race and gender and class with no boundaries. More importantly, we are able to discuss our own mistakes and failures in such a way that we can learn from one another. I’m able to push new friends on organizational change and disruption efforts. I’m able to learn, without worrying about sharing too much or of how what I share will be used later.

The challenge before me is taking the lessons learned here, and actually applying them to my own efforts moving forward. It is easy to listen and to talk, yet fart more difficult to use what was heard and said to change (and improve behaviors). It becomes a goal, a goal I hope to achieve.

But I would also challenge Becca Bracy Knight and those who embraced the #JustHaveCoffee concept to evolve the idea. How do begin to reach out to those beyond the education echo chamber? How do we engage and learn and build community with those in health, social services, and social justice communities? How do we build communities that allow for failure, even on high-stakes issues, as long as we learn from those failures? How do we have those uncomfortable conversations, where we discuss our own failures and our own misperceptions in a space of learning and not of judgment? How?    

Teachin’ the Teachers

For much of this year, the education community has gone back and forth on teacher quality and how we evaluate effective teaching.  Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times (with an assist from Hechinger Report) pushed the topic further than most, offering a comprehensive Grading the Teachers effort that tracked individual teachers to their students’ test scores.

Without doubt, we will continue to look at such outcomes to see whether teachers are up to the job or not.  Cities across the nation, led by municipalities like Denver, Houston, and DC, have strong teacher evaluation and incentive plans in place.  And the 12 states (yes, I’ll count DC in the state pool) that finished as Race to the Top winners all needed to focus on teacher quality issues (to varying degrees).

Such emphasis on outcomes is imperative.  At the end of the day, we know our schools are improving when test scores go up.  Other measures, particularly the qualifiable, are relatively meaningless to the average parent or the average policymaker if student performance does not improve.  Scores go up, we’re doing the job.  Scores remain stagnant, we’re advocating the status quo.  And let’s not even think about scores going down.  Data is king.  He with the highest test scores — be you student, teacher, or school — rules the kingdom.

But every once in a while, we need to think about the inputs that get us to those outcomes.  The logic goes that if we are measuring teachers based on the achievement scores posted by the kids in their class, we need to also look at the tools that educators have to effectively teach in those classrooms.  What supports are teachers getting, particularly new teachers?  What does an induction program look like?  What sort of ongoing PD is offered?  What intellectual weapons are we arming our classroom teachers with?

Today, the National Staff Development Council released a new report, Professional Development in the United States: Trends and Challenges, that provides a snapshot of the investment we are making into teaching the teachers how to be better teachers.  Conducted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University (a center that Eduflack has been fortunate to work with since its founding), the NSDC study offers a state-by-state report card of 11 indicators important to professional development access.  Such indicators include whether at least 80 percent of new teachers participate in induction, at least 80 percent of teachers report PD on content, at least 51 percent of teachers are getting 17 or more hours of content, and at least 67 percent of teachers reported PD on reading instruction.

How did the states do?  If a teacher wants to get the best professional development out there, they should be teaching in classrooms in either Arkansas or Utah.  If you aren’t in a classroom in either of those two states, you are doing pretty well if you manage a classroom in Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, or South Carolina.  South Carolina and Utah also offer the best environment for new teachers, posting the best scores in induction indicators.

And where does NSDC and SCOPE find teachers struggling to get the PD deemed necessary?  Indiana was the only state not to receive a single apple in the 11-apple indicator scale.    Single apples (out of 11) went to Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and WIsconsin.    

While many aren’t going to like to see such a report boiled down to a horserace (the folks at SCOPE actually list the states alphabetically, not in leaders to laggards order), such a comparison is important.  Teacher quality was a key component of RttT, and worth a fair number of points in the process.  Of the seven states recognized for their good work in PD access, only one, North Carolina, is a RttT winner.  Three others (Colorado, Kentucky, and South Carolina) came close.

But of those NSDC finds lacking, we see four RttT winners (Georgia, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) in the 11 laggards.  One would like to believe that some of these perceived deficiencies will be addressed as part of each state’s RttT-funded teacher quality efforts; only time will tell.

What also becomes interesting are the indicators themselves.  NSDC’s Professional Development Access Index says that at least 51 percent of new teachers need to report 4 out of 5 induction support.s  Only two states — South Carolina and Utah — actually do that.  It says at least 67 percent of teachers need to report PD on student discipline and classroom management, but only one state — Arkansas — is doing that.  Only three states — Arizona, California, and Oregon — are offering a majority of their teachers PD on ELL students.  It begs the question — how, exactly, do we know these indicators are non-negotiable when it comes to teacher PD if almost no states are doing it? 

Regardless, NSDC’s Professional Development in the United States report provides some interesting fodder for the ongoing teacher quality debate.  It forces us to go on record as to whether PD is important or not, opens the discussion on what good PD truly is, and allows states to see how their fellow states are doing (and what they can do to beat them).

No, we probably won’t see a rush to invest in huge PD programs, particularly in this economy.  But if states are serious about improving student achievement and measuring teachers by said achievement scores, we need to look at the inputs that go into instruction.  Teacher induction and ongoing professional development are inputs that just can’t be ignored.

Improving Teacher Training Efforts Inside or Outside the Norm?

A few weeks ago on Twitter (eduflack, for those looking to follow), I posed what I thought was an interesting question.  Does reform and improvement of our teacher preparation programs need to be led inside or outside the norm?  Or in simpler terms, can we look to our schools of education to make the necessary changes, or does it require new thinking from alternative certification programs and innovation-minded groups or individuals to lead the sort of sea change we need to boost the quality and outcomes of all teachers in the classroom?

The question led to my call for a Flexner-style Commission to study the current state of teacher education.  blog.eduflack.com/2009/03/09/the-future-of-teacher-ed.aspx  The premise is simple.  We need someone to go in and evaluate the good, the bad, and the downright ugly when it comes to teacher preparation.  What are best practices?  How is what’s proven effective making its way into the classroom?  Who is doing it right?  Who is doing it wrong?  What voices will lead the transformation moving forward, and what calls will try to defend a status quo that is clearly broken.
That latter point is one that bears repeating.  There are real problems in the across-the-board quality of teacher preparation in the United States.  Some alternative routes are mom-and-pop shops that do a quick dash and dump into the school districts with nary a concern for the coursework or clinical training necessary to prepare a student for the challenges of leading a classroom.  Some online programs seek to simply offer quick and cheap degrees to meet district staffing needs, with little concern for the quality of the instruction or the real-life preparedness of the students they only meet virtually and through their bank accounts.  Too many traditional teacher ed programs have watered down their programs to serve the lowest common denominator, seeking to simply provide warm bodies to hard-to-staff schools that have lost sight of much the pedagogical training and ongoing support aspiring and new teachers need to adjust to life in a classroom.  And programs on both sides of the fence simply are putting underprepared educators in the most challenging of classrooms, figuring any teacher, no matter how poorly prepared, is better than no teacher at all.
Clearly, the current model is broken, or at least in need of some serious triage.  At the same time, we have a growing body of evidence regarding the instruction, training, support, and ongoing professional development that teacher educators should impart on the next generation of the molders of student minds.
Recently, Mathematica completed an evaluation on alternative teacher pathways for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).  The study found that new teachers from alternative routes were essentially no worse that teachers from traditional routes, at least in those schools they studied (a finding that the alt cert community, and likely IES, was hoping for).  The study itself went over like a lead balloon, with few noticing it or reporting on it.  Rightfully so.  It should not be news that Eduflack has some major issues with the methodology Mathematica used to reach its conclusions and with the narrow eye with which they looked at the results.  
A recent research critique completed by NYU’s Sean Corcoran and Columbia’s Jennifer Jennings pulls back the curtain on all that was wrong with the Mathematica approach, methodology, and interpretation of the results.  Their full tome can be found at EPIC (University of Colorado, Boulder) and EPRU’s (Arizona State University) joint website at: epicpolicy.org/thinktank/review-evaluation-of-teachers.  
Corcoran and Jennings’ work echoes similar critiques that have already been posted by a range of folks, including the Center for Teacher Quality’s Barnett Berry on his blog — teachingquality.typepad.com.  
What did they find?
* None of the teacher studied had the teacher prep generally required of new teachers nationally (because Mathematica only looked at a handful of hard-to-staff schools that would gladly take any warm or lukewarm body willing to sit at the big desk.
* There is a clear difference in the impact of a teacher from a high-coursework prep program and a low-coursework prep program.  Even among alt cert providers themselves, the high courseworkers were most able to do the job.
* Teachers coming from low-coursework alternative programs actually decreased study achievement.  Yes, the data showed that kids in the classroom of ill-trained, ill-prepared teachers actually saw their student performance decline, while teachers from traditional routes either held the line or posted some very, very, very modest gains.
So what do we do with all of this information?  How do we use it to build a better teacher education mousetrap?  Some of the answers can be found with Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, who looked at both the Mathematica research and data on effective teacher prep in places like North Carolina and New York City to help identify the necessary qualities of effective teacher training programs.  Her research can be found here: edpolicy.stanford.edu/pages/pubs/pub_docs/mathematica_policy_brief.pdf.  
Darling-Hammond’s work offers the clearest view on how the confluence of research on teacher preparation can be moved into policy that aligns with current federal priorities to more effectively train, support, demand, and reward good teaching in the schools.  It reminds us of the checklist that should go into evaluating teacher prep programs.  Among her toplines:
* Prospective teachers must learn specific practices and apply them in clinical experiences;
* Prospects need sufficient coursework in content areas (such as math and reading) and the methods of teaching them (so both the content and the pedagogy); and
* Teachers-in-training need to be well-aware of the local district curriculum and how their pre-service education prepares them to meet expectations and achieve expected outcomes;
We also know that those prospects most like to succeed in the classroom are certified in the specific areas they teach, have higher-than-average scores on the teacher licensing test, and graduate from a competitive college.
(Full disclosure, Eduflack works with the good folks at EPIC, including on the announcement of the Corcoran/Jennings piece and has counseled Darling-Hammond, off and on, for a decade now.  Yes, fans, you’ve heard that right, this champion of evidence base and the need for reform has worked with LDH since her days as head of NCTAF.  And despite the urban legend, she is far more of the reformer and innovator than most in the field and that virtually anyone gives her credit for, if you can stand my brief editorial.)
None of this is rocket science.  But delivering it seems to be the challenge, particularly in our urban centers where we are hungry for anyone, and I mean just about anyone, to lead a classroom in an underperforming, hard-to-staff classroom.
What do we do with all of this?  First, the Highly Qualified Teacher provisions in NCLB are correct.  Teachers should be trained in the content matter they are to teach and need to be certified in that subject matter.  There is no replacement for several years of rich, content-based coursework in the subject matter itself.  Those advocates for including Effective in the HQT provisions (including Eduflack) are right as well.  We need
to measure a teacher, in part, by how effective they are.  And the straightest path to measuring that effectiveness is student performance (even the Mathematica study tells us that).  And then there is that which we know instinctually — effective teachers require clinical training and time in the classroom before they are tossed in the deep end.  They need mentors and in-school supports that can help them work through the problems and apply their training to real classrooms.  And they need ongoing, content-based, embedded professional development for the rest of their careers, so they are continually improving an constantly adapting to the changing challenges and opportunities of the modern day classroom and student.
It is just pure common sense.  But as we know from far too many life experiences, some folks just don’t have (or use) the common sense they are born with.  Do our ed schools, in the collective sense, need improvement?  You betcha.  Are alternative pathways the solution for struggling schools?  No, there is no data to make that leap.  Do we know what it takes to train an effective teacher?  Of course we do.  Are we applying it universally in our teacher preparation programs, traditional or alternative?  Not even close.
At some point, the war between traditional and alt cert needs to come to an end.  There will always be a need and a demand for niche programs that can fill specific needs in certain schools or communities.  That’s where good alt cert programs can play their part.  But if we are going to truly reform and improve the quality and results of public education in the United States, change, at scale, can only begin with our schools of education.  We need to do this across the board, ensuring that the new teachers going into our urban centers and so-called dropout factories receive the same level of high-quality content and pedagogical learning and training as those entering our well-funded suburban K-12 schools.  Good teacher training is good teacher training.  Period.  We shouldn’t have different levels, particularly when it comes to those poor and minority students with whom we are trying to close the achievement gap.  
“Good enough for …” should never be a phrase uttered when identifying and hiring teachers in hard-to-staff schools.  Every student deserves the best prepared, the best trained, and the best equipped teachers.  The last thing they need is to settle for a teacher deemed “good enough” for their struggling school or declining community.  That sort of bigotry has gotten us into the achievement problems we still can’t pull out of.