‘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.”

Master teachers take the lead

A master teacher, an assistant and blended learning produced “great results” at a new charter school with very disadvantaged children, concludes Public Impact‘s Opportunity Culture project. Touchstone Education opened Merit Preparatory Charter School in Newark in 2012 with a class of sixth graders. Most were several years below grade level; 90 percent came from low-income families.

By March 2013, seven months into the school year, students demonstrated two years of growth in reading and 1.25 years of growth in science. In math, where Touchstone leaders were unable to hire a master teacher, students made three-fourths of a year of growth by March.

The model allows master teachers, who lead teams of novice and developing teachers, to earn up to $100,000 a year, within per-pupil funding. Tiffany McAfee, the master teacher in literacy, worked with first-year Teach For America teacher Jonathan Wigfall in the school’s first year.

Laptop-equipped students were grouped by skill level. McAfee lead whole-group instruction and helped students work through their playlists of individualized lessons, while Wigall rotated among students to help them with questions and keep them on track.

For example, one day students worked in groups to study slides on figurative language,then watched a music video while listening on headphones,taking notes on examples of figurative language in the lyrics. Meanwhile, both teachers moved through the room, overseeing their work. Students then came together for a whole class discussion with McAfee, who asked higher-level questions about the purpose of figurative language and the author’s intent.

Helping less-experienced teachers improve their skills is part of the master teacher’s job. McAfee and Wigfall reviewed the week’s data every Friday and planned the following week’s lessons. The master teacher also worked with the school’s reading specialist and the special education teacher to plan the daily, three-hour reading block. (Students are pulled out for an hour of P.E.)

Next year, Merit Prep will hire a master teach in math in hopes of achieving gap-closing progress.

Charlotte, North Carolina is redesigning teachers’ jobs to improve low-performing schools, write Public Impact’s Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel in Education Next.  Again, the idea is to give more students access to excellent teachers, while using novices in support roles.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools explains the plan. In One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader, a veteran teacher talks about becoming a multi-classroom leader.

In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors

In high-scoring Shanghai, all teachers have mentors — not just novices — and teachers collaborate in lesson and research groups, writes Marc Tucker in an interview with Ben Jensen, of Australia’s Grattan Institute, in Ed Week‘s Top Performers blog. (A longer version is here.)

Every teacher has a mentor and new teachers have two, one for subject matter and one for teaching, says Jensen. The mentors observe and provide feedback.

Only .2 percent of teachers reach the “master teacher” level and then they don’t have mentors, but they will still work together and have their work evaluated and appraised.

In Shanghai, you will struggle to get promoted if you receive poor feedback from the people you mentored. That means the people who get promoted are collaborative and committed to helping teachers, and they have a proven track record in this area.

In most schools in Shanghai, teachers form lesson groups that discuss students’ progress and research groups that explore new strategies, says Jensen.

In Shanghai, you don’t get promoted as a teacher unless you are also a researcher. You have to have published articles, not in academic journals but in professional journals or even school journals. In fact, one of the first stages in a promotion evaluation is to have one of your articles peer reviewed. Every teacher will work in a research group with about half a dozen other teachers, often of the same subject area but not always. If there is a young teacher, that teacher’s mentor will often be in that group as well. They will meet for about 2 hours every 2 weeks.

At the start of the year, the group choses a topic—a new curriculum or pedagogical technique or determining how to help out a particular student—and the principal will approve that topic. The first third of the year is spent on a literature review. The second third of the year is spent trying out strategies in the classroom that the group identified as promising during the literature review. As they try these strategies in the classroom, other members of the research group will observe.

Senior teachers with strong research experience serve as leaders.

About 30 percent of Shanghai teachers’ salary is performance pay, reports the New York Times. “Teacher salaries are modest, about $750 a month before bonuses and allowances — far less than what accountants, lawyers or other professionals earn.”

Irreplaceable — and underappreciated

Principals don’t try to retain excellent teachers, concludes The Irreplaceables. TNTP analyzed teacher retention in four urban school districts: The top 20 percent of teachers, based on value-added scores, were nearly as likely to leave as the bottom 20 percent.

. . . their principals and district officials treated them basically the same. Two-thirds of the districts’ best teachers weren’t even encouraged to return another year.

Three-quarters of low-performing teachers told TNTP that they plan to stay at the current school; half said they intend to teach for another decade.  The average brand-new teacher would be more effective than these low performers, the report concludes.

Even without merit pay, districts could do much more to retain the best teachers, the report adds.

If principals simply gave their best teachers regular feedback, identified leadership opportunities for them, publicly recognized their accomplishments, and employed other, basic HR tactics, they could significantly reduce the attrition rate.

“The nation’s 50 largest districts lose approximately 10,000 Irreplaceables each year, according to TNTP. Yet the culture of teaching insists that all teachers are the same.

New York City’s master teacher program paid Lori Wheal more “in exchange for spending extra time mentoring my peers, writing curricula and running professional development.” She felt her work was respected. When her middle school lost the funding, she quit teaching, she writes in the New York Post.

. . .  the city needs to hold principals accountable for fixing school cultures that drive top teachers away. This means improving working conditions and creating environments of mutual respect and trust. (And give principals credit on their own performance reviews for retaining great teachers.)

But it also means refusing to turn a blind eye to poor teaching. Struggling teachers deserve support and a reasonable chance to improve. But if they can’t, they shouldn’t stay in the classroom.

Wheal will pursue a career in education policy.

Obama: $1 billion for master teacher corps

President Obama wants to create a “master teacher corps,” starting with 50 math and science teachers who’d earn an additional $20,000 a year to act as mentors, plan curriculum and lead school turnarounds. The administration proposes spending $100 million this year and $1 billion next year to increase the corps to 10,000 teachers, reports National Journal.

The idea embodies some of the Obama administration’s most cherished concepts — pay for performance, competitions among local jurisdictions, and asking Congress for money.

And complaining when Congress says “no.”

.Republicans are more interested in creating flexible block grant programs that consolidate the current federal teacher programs and allow states and school districts to use the money for their own teacher improvement programs.

Checker Finn likes “paying excellent teachers more” and “distinguishing between those who are really good and those who are aren’t.” And he admires the politics.

Learning from high-performing charters

High expectations for student behavior and intensive teacher coaching are the keys to success for high-performing charter networks, concludes a new report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica.

Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep  use “positive reinforcements and clear consequences, zero tolerance policies for potentially dangerous behaviors, and consistent schoolwide enforcement of the student behavior systems.”

  By conveying consistent and clear expectations to students, these CMOs try to create a safe, focused environment where effective learning can take place.

At high-performing CMOs, administrators and master teachers observe and coach teachers. “Teachers receive intensive preparation on classroom management.”

New standards require new ways to train teachers

Teachers aren’t prepared to teach the new Common Core Standards, writes Stephanie Hirsch of Leaning Forward in Ed Week.

Because the common core focuses on the application of knowledge in authentic situations, teachers will need to employ instructional strategies that integrate critical and creative thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, research and inquiry, and presentation and demonstration skills. They will need subject-area expertise well beyond basic content knowledge and pedagogy to create dynamic, engaging, high-level learning experiences for students. They will need greater data literacy as we shift from current accountability systems to more granular ways of assessing student learning. And, their leaders will need to champion professional learning in their buildings and back the teachers who coach and support each other.

The traditional “spray and pray” method of professional development doesn’t work, Hirsch writes. What would?

Why not let teachers teach teachers?, asks Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land. “Professional Development assumes that someone knows better than a teacher” what teachers need to know.

. . .  teachers aren’t considered true professionals–and policy is leading us further away from a professional work model. We’re still talking about “training” teachers, rather than drawing on their wisdom.

Finally–probably the most significant reason–professional development is an education market. What would happen if teacher development happened internally, entirely site-based and tailored to particular schools and populations? It would require demonstrated, deep teacher expertise in instruction and curricular issues. Which could shift the balance of power. And it would cost very little.

The GE Foundation is giving $18 million to Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit which is working with teachers to develop an online library of resources for teaching the new standards at achievethecore.org.

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?

How to create career ladders

On Performance, a new Ed Week blog, has been launched by Justin Baeder, a Seattle principal and a doctoral student studying principal performance and productivity at the University of Washington.

Baeder supports meaningful career ladders for teachers and principals.

In no other highly skilled profession is advancement based solely on seniority; my friends in the software industry are eligible to apply for promotions (e.g. to Lead Engineer I, Lead Engineer II, etc.) when they have developed a track record of excellence.

A limited number of skilled teachers should qualify for substantial raises, Baeder writes. Teachers working at high-need schools and perhaps teachers with hard-to-find skills should earn more. But, teachers may have to give up job security, pensions and other perks that are common in the teaching profession but increasingly rare in other sectors,”  he writes.  “Unless new funding materializes, career ladders will probably have to be funded at the expense of the existing seniority- and credits-based compensation system.”

The $100,000+ teacher

Pay six-figure salaries to top teachers, argues a Goldwater Institute report by Matthew Ladner. It’s easily affordable by increasing class size, which would give more students access to the best teachers.

. . . Students learning from three highly effective instructors in three successive grades learn 50 percent more than students who have three consecutive ineffective instructors. These results are consistent across subjects and occur after controlling for student factors. Teacher quality is 10 to 20 times more important than variation in average class sizes, within the observable range.

They propose using value-added assessment to identify “master teachers.”  These high-fliers would be asked to teach more students in exchange for two-thirds of the revenue for the added students. Class sizes in the low 30s could generation six-figure incomes for top teachers, even in Arizona, which has relatively low teacher pay.

It’s already happening, in a quiet way, writes Stephen Sawchuck on EdWeek. Principals ask their best teachers if they’ll accept more students in exchange for more pay. The school saves by not having to hire a new teacher.

In some places, average (or very bad) teachers earn more than $100,000.  Take Francisco Garabitos, the computer teacher who threatened to blow up his Bronx school after he was suspended for allegedly attacking a student. From the New York Times:

A spokesman for the school system said Mr. Garabitos’s service has included more than a dozen allegations of misconduct, mostly for corporal punishment of students. Two of the allegations have been substantiated and two remain under investigation, including Thursday’s incident.

Twice in the last three years, Mr. Garabitos spent time in a reassignment center for teachers and other school officials removed from the schools. He also received two unsatisfactory ratings from the principal of his school. Because of his long experience and advanced degrees, Mr. Garabitos earned $100,049 a year.

He’s still on the payroll, complains the New York Daily News.