Ed schools try to reform themselves

It’s time to remake teacher education, declares Deans for Impact, two dozen deans of education schools. The group released The Science of Learning, a report by Dan Willingham and Paul Bruno on how to apply cognitive science research to classroom practice.

The deans have “committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning,” writes Robert Pondisco.

Too often, teacher ed programs “fetishize theory, teachers’ dispositions toward learners, or soft pedagogical skills at the expense of subject matter depth,” he writes.

Schools of education have largely received a pass in our accountability-mad era. Attempts at even modest reform typically bring howls of protest. That reality prompted Robert Pianta, the head of UVA’s education school and one of the Deans for Impact, to write recently that he was “embarrassed that professionals responsible for the preparation of teachers seem to oppose so adamantly efforts to evaluate the competence of the workforce they produce.”

Of course, ed schools have pledged to reform before.

‘An Industry of Mediocrity’

Education schools are “an industry of mediocrity,” opines Bill Keller in the New York Times.

In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.”

Last month,  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised admission standards for state education colleges.

Deborah Kenny, who runs Harlem Village Academies charter schools, plans to train her own teachers, creating the equivalent of a residency program for new teachers.

“Where charter schools were 10 years ago, that’s where teacher preparation is right at this moment,” Kenny told me. With start-up money from the media executive Barry Diller (who says he hopes to see the venture amplified via the Internet) and a core of master teachers like (Bill) Jackson, Kenny has begun to build a graduate education school that will be integrated with her K-12 campuses in Harlem.

Ed schools are “cash cows” for universities, Keller writes. There’s “no incentive to change because they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel.”

Reformers want to make teacher colleges more selective, writes Keller. Only 23 percent of American teachers — and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools — come from the top third of college graduates, estimates a recent study.

Reformers also advocate “sustained, intense classroom experience while being coached” by master teachers.

Susan Fuhrman, who succeeded Levine as president of Teachers College, support raising admissions standards and holding ed schools accountable, Keller writes.  But Fuhrman is worried about alternative teacher schools that aren’t part of a research university.

“One reason for the widespread mediocrity is that universities have had a cozy, lucrative monopoly,” concludes Keller. “It’s about time the leaders of our education schools did feel threatened.”

Teacher, differentiate thyself

Barry Garelick thought this animation was satire. It’s not. It was made as an ed school project.

This one from TeachBad is satire.

Easy (but expensive) A’s in ed school

“Julia Harvey” spent two years and $80,000 to get a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) at a well-regarded education school. Expectations were low, she writes in Education Next.

She needed only one basic course in linguistics and one in English grammar for her TESOL master’s. Almost all her classmates struggled to pass, leading her to wonder about admission requirements.

A class in adolescent development was useful, but the program offered no course in child development, despite the fact that my certification would be for grades K–12. It seemed that they were skimming over the important topics while bogging me down with courses in “theory and practice,” which did little to make me feel prepared to begin teaching on my own.

In her first semester of student teaching, the supervising teacher provided useful feedback, but the university supervisor was “minimally helpful.”  She worked with a different supervising teacher in the second semester and received no feedback.

Her final project “earned me the last of a full transcript of easy As, with a friendly note on the cover and not a single comment or suggestion for how the unit could have been improved.”


Flipping teacher education

Let’s flip teacher education, proposes Justin Baeder.  Now education schools take in $20,000 per teacher candidate for providing classes, while school-based mentors are paid $50 to $500 per intern.

 What if teacher education were done by master teachers who currently work in schools (perhaps part-time, perhaps full-time with assistance), who could supervise all aspects of the teacher’s internship?

Say a master teacher obtains accreditation to take on three interns at a time, and charges them $10,000 or $20,000 each (or better yet, charges a third party such as a school district or foundation). Over the course of the year, this master teacher supervises their teaching, reviews and provides feedback on their academic work, and ensures that they emerge from the program ready to teach.

All of the content that’s currently taught on college campuses could be delivered online, Khan-Academy style, and the candidates’ work could be scored by the mentor teacher, who can make better connections to their daily teaching practice.

Teachers, what do you think?

What’s next for effective teachers?

Rated “highly effective” in the Los Angeles Timesanalysis of value-added scores, fifth-grade teacher Miguel Aguilar faced jealousy from other teachers. Now he’s sharing his teaching techniques with his colleagues — and facing a layoff in the fall, reports the Times.

Many of Aguilar’s students — mostly low-income and Latino — started in the bottom 30% but scored well above average at the end of the year. By contrast, the teacher in the next classroom, John Smith,  ranked among the district’s least effective teachers. Aguilar, who has eight years seniority, received a pink slip warning he may be laid off; Smith, with 15 years’ seniority, will keep his job, even if cuts are severe.

Aguilar said he “went through hell” when the article came out, he told the Times.

“There’s a lot of jealousy and hate out there…. People said things like, ‘There’s this guy who thinks he’s all good just because he’s Latino and he’s friends with the kids. How do you know he’s not cheating?'”

However, teachers — including Smith — began coming to Aguilar for help. The principal and teachers say there’s “a new openness to talking about what works, an urgent desire to improve.”

Top teachers will be head-hunted for jobs as teaching coaches, predicts Michael Goldstein on Starting an Ed School. Teachers like Aguilar with high value-added scores should be recruited as coaches, leaders, higher-paid teachers or teachers who get “curriculum freedom, assistance with certain tasks, flexible funds for student projects or trips’ or whatever else they want, he writes.

High-scoring schools now get hundreds of visitors. The same should apply to unusually effective teachers, writes Goldstein, who founded Boston’s MATCH school.

A is for average

“A” stands for “average” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s education school, concludes a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute report by Marc Eisen. Ninety-six percent of education students receive A grades; the average GPA is a near-perfect 3.92.

Grade inflation is common at ed schools, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin.  Nationwide, the average GPA in 2006-2007 was 3.11, up from 2.93 15 years earlier.

At UW-Madison, education, art and women’s studies majors earn the highest grades. Math majors have the lowest average, 2.78, with only chemistry and economics majors also averaging less than a B.

TFA vs. UNC teachers

Teach for America teachers with six weeks of training outperformed teachers with two years of University of North Carolina education classes, writes Jay Schalin in Ed Schools, Leave Those Teachers Alone! in the Pope Center’s Clarion Call.

UNC studied  The Impact of Teacher Preparation on Student Learning in North Carolina Public Schools (pdf) to figure out “what kind of teachers get the most out of their pupils,” as Professor Gary Henry, the lead researcher, put it.

. . .  middle school math students with Teach for America teachers tested as if they had an additional 90 days of instruction — when the entire school year is only 180 days of instruction.

The study looked at how much students improved in a year controlled for  students’ prior achievement levels, family incomes, teachers’ pre-college preparation, and so on.

. . .  in five of nine measureable categories—overall high school, high school math, high school English, high school science, and middle school math, students with Teach for America teachers significantly outperformed students with UNC-trained teachers. In high school social studies, middle school science, elementary school reading and elementary math, their performance was roughly equal to their UNC-trained peers.

TFA teachers do best teaching specific subjects in secondary schools. Schalin suggests they make up for less teacher preparation with deeper knowledge of the subject matter.

Lateral-entry teachers — people with non-education degrees given three years to earn certification — did not outperform UNC-trained teachers. Hopes for NASA engineers eager to become math and science teachers never materialized, Henry says. Most lateral-entry teachers were business or psychology majors.

UNC needs to take another look at its elementary education major, Schalin suggests. Future teachers spend less than half their time learning how to teach reading, math and science.

UNC requires elementary education majors to take nine credit hours of education theory classes, but only one four-credit course on teaching reading plus two one-credit courses on “emergent literacy” and “literacy across the curriculum,” Schalin writes. One four-credit course is devoted to teaching math and one three-credit course to teaching science.

Six credits are devoted to classes on teaching English Learners and students with disabilities. Students must earn another six credits for “Working with Socially Diverse Families” and “Culture, Society, and Teaching.”

Update: Henry, a UNC-Chapel Hill public policy professor,  called TFA a “boutique operation,” saying, “We need an industrial model.”

TFA teachers make up only 0.3 percent of North Carolina’s K-12 public school teachers, but middle school math students taught by TFA members gained the equivalent of 91 days of learning over their peers, Henry said.

The study found first-year teachers are much less effective than teachers with five or more years of experience.

Stanford charter school falters

One of the worst-performing elementary schools in California is run by Stanford University’s School of Education, reports the Palo Alto Weekly.

East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, started three years ago, was reorganized with a new principal last fall. It ranks in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, according to the California Department of Education’s preliminary list. The school serves a low-income community that’s primarily Hispanic, black and Pacific Islander.

Stanford New Schools, a non-profit, runs the elementary and a high school, which is somewhat more successful but still posts below-average scores compared to schools with similar demographics. The high school does send 90 percent of graduates to college.

The elementary school hasn’t met expectations, Stanford Education Dean Deborah Stipek told the Weekly in December.

“In a lot of ways we’ve been very successful in the kind of emotional and family support, but our kids’ skills are not up to what they need to be. It just takes time to get things right.”

In petitioning for renewal of the elementary and high school charter, Stanford New Schools conceded, “We were not satisfied with our students’ achievement gains,” and pledged to redesign “all levels of our system, from governance and management structures to instructional practice and the use of data to drive decision-making.”

Stanford’s Education School has focused on secondary education, so perhaps they have  a lot to learn about running an elementary. I visited the high school when it was new:  Turning theory into practice was proving a challenge. I give Stanford credit for putting its reputation on the line.

Some East Palo Alto charter schools are thriving, including the very successful EPAC, where I once tutored.