Schmidt: Poor kids get poorly trained teachers

The U.S. has some of the best — and worst — university-based math teacher training in the world, says William Schmidt, co-director of Michigan State’s Education Policy Center. Sixty percent of math teachers in high-poverty schools come from the worst programs, his research concludes.

Schmidt used data from the 2012 Teacher Education and Development Study-Mathematics, which surveyed, interviewed and tested elementary and middle school math teachers from 900 teacher prep programs in 17 countries, reports HechingerEd. He also analyzed courses taken by top-scoring U.S. math teachers.

He concluded there are nine important courses for math teachers-to-be to take (such as observation, analysis and reflection on mathematical teaching and multivariate calculus, for instance), but only a third of U.S. middle school teachers who participated in the study had enrolled in at least eight of them.

“Our very worst programs produce over half of middle school teachers,” Schmidt said at NBC’s Education Nation. “Where they’re going is where the good teachers are mostly needed.”

‘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.”

Untrained to teach reading

The Training Gap

In The Training Gap, education school graduates tell PBS NewsHour they’re not well-prepared to teach reading. The segment visits “an innovative public school in Hartford, CT that may serve as a model.”

If reading instruction isn’t taught in ed school, what do they teach?

Unprepared to teach

Olivia Blanchard quit Teach for America because the five-week training program hadn’t prepared her to teach “difficult” fifth-graders.

I had few insights or resources to draw on when preteen boys decided recess would be the perfect opportunity to beat each other bloody, or when parents all but accused me of being racist during meetings. Or when a student told me that his habit of doing nothing during class stemmed from his (admittedly sound) logic that “I did the same thing last year and I passed.” The Institute’s training curriculum was far too broad to help me navigate these situations. Because many corps members do not receive their specific teaching assignments until after training has ended, the same training is given to future kindergarten teachers in Atlanta, charter-school teachers in New Orleans, and high-school physics teachers in Memphis.

Katrina Ballard explains why she didn’t quit, despite feeling unprepared and overwhelmed.

She’d spent her five-week summer training working with second graders, but was hired to teach middle-school students in Denver.

 I struggled with behavior management, making connections with kids who grew up in realities far from my own, and the bureaucracy of working in a public school . . . I was failing at too many things for my ego and my body to handle.

But it wasn’t because she lacked traditional training, Ballard writes.

. . . about half of the incoming staff that year were fresh out of teaching school. They struggled with the same things I did. They found small successes and built relationships with their students, like I did. But TFA or not TFA — it didn’t make a difference.We all felt as though we were drowning.

. . . Teaching in many of our public schools is unsustainable, and many of the teachers don’t last, except for a few golden gems. When I left after my second year in May to come back to New York, about half of the rest of my school staff was quitting, too. Teaching is HARD. REALLY HARD. CAREER TEACHERS ARE SAINTS!

Ballard now directs teacher training at Democracy Prep, a network of New York City charter schools.

More states and teacher prep programs are requiring prospective teachers to pass an assessment of their classroom skills, reports Stateline.

Ravitch’s alternative to reform

An “architect of school reform,” Diane Ravitch turned against it, writes Sara Mosle in The Atlantic.  Instead of leading a “mid-course correction,” she “further polarized an already strident debate” and became a leader of the anti-reformers.

Ravitch presents her new book, Reign of Error, as “an overture to dialogue with opponents, but her subtitle suggests otherwise: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” writes Mosle.

Her tour of the research is littered with bumper-sticker slogans—she indicts, for example, the “Walmartization of American education”—likely to put off the unconverted. The book reads like a campaign manual against “corporate reformers.” The first half challenges the claims of their movement; the second offers Ravitch’s alternative agenda. Her prescriptions include universal pre-K, smaller class sizes, better teacher training, and more measures to reduce poverty and school segregation.

These are worthy goals—and not one of them is necessarily incompatible with many reformers’ own aims. Yet Ravitch doesn’t address competing priorities or painful trade-offs. Further reducing class size in better-off suburban districts, for example, may leave less money for more urgently needed early-childhood programs in poorer communities.

In 2010, Ravitch understood that parents choose charters as a “haven.” Now she has dropped the eliminationist rhetoric for non profit charters but not for the forprofit operators.

Teacher training programs need a reboot

Teacher training programs should be designed on the medical model, writes Jane Dimyan-Ehrenfeld in the Washington Post.

I went to a highly ranked liberal arts college and graduated with a special major in sociology, anthropology and education as well as an elementary teaching certificate. I immediately found a job teaching breathtakingly underprivileged students in a persistently failing elementary school in Prince George’s County. I wasn’t prepared to teach my students how to tie their shoes, much less to make up for years of institutional neglect, hunger, poverty, family transience, isolation and other ills. My first year was a nightmarish blur; my second was only slightly less awful. My third had its highlights but was still a daily struggle.

She enrolled in a one-year master’s program at Teachers College, Columbia to learn how to teach special-needs students. She learned a lot about Lev Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development, but nothing of practical use.

We can’t decide whether teaching is a “craft or a profession,” Arthur Levine said in the Post‘s story on National Council on Teacher Quality‘s report criticizing teacher education. “Do you need a lot of education as you would in a profession, or do you need a little bit and then learn on the job, like a craft?” asked Levine.

It’s a false dichotomy, writes Dimyan-Ehrenfeld. Medical students combine highly specialized education with clinical rotations, “learning the craft of patient care through observation and guided practice.” They also take “rigorous licensing exams that test their theoretical and practical knowledge.” Then comes on-the-job learning under master practitioners and more tests.

Why not adopt this model for education? Educators could be required to complete a period of schooling in which they learn the theories and ideas that will be most valuable to them as teachers and hone their skills at thinking and talking about education from an intellectual standpoint. Then, perhaps, one to two years of guided practice under the supervision of master teachers could be required, with lots of coaching and meaningful feedback. We could even throw in some rigorous exams.

If it took years of education, training and testing to become a full-fledged teacher, would we have enough teachers?

Dimyan-Ehrenfeld taught for eight years in Maryland and Boston public schools. She now practices education and civil rights law in Washington.

Outside experts, exhausted educators

Schools are deluged with consultants promising to explain Common Core standards, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal, in Ed Week.

Greg, who now teaches in Australia, suggests schools should just say no to outside experts and professional development.

“I’d like to challenge any school to go “consultant free” and “PD free” for 4 years. Imagine that? Just focus on being consistent and positive, providing quality teaching and communication with the community. I’d bet that school would do better than all the rest.”

Educators are trying to learn too much and do too much, writes DeWitt.

In addition to implementing the changes that are being forced upon us . . . some of us are flipping our parent communication and faculty meetings, researching ways to improve our leadership practices, or diving into old data to see what we need to change about our instruction.

At the same time we are doing our own learning . . . we have to engage in trainings and professional development to learn about the changes that are being forced upon us.

It’s exhausting. Greg’s advice — a holiday from consultants and professional development — might enable schools to get more done with less stress, DeWitt concludes.

Lemov: Train teachers to perform, not just reflect

“Teaching is a lot like acting, but teachers aren’t trained to be performers, writes Katrina Schwartz on KQED’s Mind/Shift.

Actors, musicians or acrobats spend hours perfecting their craft because that’s how they improve. Teachers on the other hand, are often asked to identify teaching tools and tactics they’d like to try and to reflect on how those new elements could be integrated into the classroom.

“Knowing what you want to do is a long way from being able to do it,” says Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools and author of Teach Like a Champion. New teachers need more than lessons on “best practices,” Lemov believes. They need a chance to practice the practices.

. . .  in one of his first groups, teachers pretended to be unruly students in a class taught by another teacher present. The teacher tried to give her lesson as her “students” misbehaved. She was unable to do so; they were throwing too many challenges at her at once. “What just happened there is she practiced failure,” Lemov said. “She just got better at losing control of the classroom.”

. . .  he realized that, like learning a new piece of music or the lines to a play, the challenges of the classroom had to be broken down into component parts. In order for the teacher to practice succeeding, to feel the satisfaction of a well-given lesson to a controlled classroom, she needed to first practice controlling simple behaviors. Then gradually, the pretend students added in new types of challenging behaviors, adding layers of complexity so she could improve at a manageable pace.

Teachers and students need to “embrace the normalcy of falling down and picking yourself back up,” says Lemov. “But it needs to happen in a manageable way.”

Lemov’s latest book is Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.

Learning to teach — with avatars

No children were harmed in this teacher training exercise. Prospective teachers can practice their teaching skills on avatars in the Teach LivE lab, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Report.

“We’re really hoping to make a first-year teacher look like a second-year teacher before they get started,” says University of Central Florida Professor Lisa Dieker. Ten minutes in the simulator is equivalent to one hour in the classroom, UCF estimates.

Teachers-in-training submit their lessons, so the lab staff can program the avatars to make mistakes.

“When we get a request for a lesson on multiplying fractions … then we need to make sure that our students make the errors that are typical,” said Michael Hynes, director of the School of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at UCF’s College of Education. “So [the teacher candidates] know they can react to them.”

The software collects data during each training session, tabulating how much time the teacher spent talking to each student. It also records how the teachers responded to certain behaviors so that teachers can review their reactions afterwards.

If teacher candidates are not using good classroom management techniques, students might start to snicker or take out cell phones. Even though the class is small, it’s possible to lose control of students quickly

Each avatar student has a distinct personality from the overachiever to the slacker.  UCF has only five middle-school avatars more, but plans to expand to different grade levels and go into principal training.

“Five years from now, I hope we’ll have 200 kids and you’ll call in and say ‘I would like a bilingual classroom with French and Spanish,’ ” Dieker said. “We would plop in third-grade kids [or] eighth-grade kids and ninth-grade kids, and people can customize the system.”

The story is part of the Hechinger Report’s teacheredpalooza, which includes stories on recruiting the best people to teaching, evaluating the quality of teacher education in Florida and in California, Do new exams produce better teachers? and alternative routes to teaching.

Ed schools don’t ‘train’ teachers

Ed schools don’t train teachers, writes Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, in Education Next. “Training” is taboo. Instead, teacher educators believe it’s their job to “prepare” or “form” professionals who will decide how to teach.

 The function of teacher education is to launch the candidate on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid to be achievable. In the course of a teacher’s preparation, prejudices and errant assumptions must be confronted and expunged, with particular emphasis on those related to race, class, language, and culture. . . . candidates reveal their feelings and attitudes through abundant in-class dialogue and by keeping a journal. From these activities is born each teacher’s unique philosophy of teaching and learning.

Many teacher educators think it’s more important for teachers to be “activists committed to diminishing the inequities of American society” than to be effective instructors, writes Walsh.

Methods courses no longer teach the best methods of instruction, write Renee T. Clift and Patricia Brady in Studying Teacher Education. Instead, “instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”

This puts a huge burden on new teachers, notes Walsh.  At the age of 21 or 22, they’re sent into classrooms to figure it all out for themselves.

In a 2012 Fordham survey, only 37 percent of teacher educators said it’s “absolutely essential” to develop “teachers who maintain discipline and order in the classroom.”

Worse, future elementary teachers aren’t trained to teach reading effectively, Walsh writes. In most ed schools,  a prospective teacher  is told to “develop her own approach to teaching reading, based on exposure to various philosophies and approaches, none more valid than any other.”

Walsh has ideas for improving teacher education.

The Obama administration’s $5 billion teacher initiative is here.