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.

The bigotry of low (teacher) expectations

Common Core Standards didn’t invent effective teaching, writes Julie Greenberg in  The bigotry of low (teacher) expectations in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s blog. She objects to step 5 in Six Steps to Teacher Development, a joint production of the Gates Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers.

Districts are encouraged to “Align teacher development and evaluation to the Common Core Standards.”

..while most teachers are adept at classroom management skills, teachers have long been taught to fit a lot of material in a short period of time, not to ask high-level questions or to engage students in rigorous discussions.

Greenberg taught secondary math for 13 years without being advised to ask low-level questions and avoid rigorous discussion. Nobody helped her improve her questioning or discussion techniques. Perhaps the new standards will do so, she writes.

But I’m also worried that districts will fall into the same old professional development trap they’re in now, paying some pricey “Common Core” consultants to portray  the need for better questioning and discussion techniques to teachers as breaking news without any follow-through on real improved practice.

Greenberg provides a caricature of teachers attending the typical professional development session. It’s all too close to reality, she writes.
 

Professional development doesn’t pay off

Most professional development is a waste of time and money, writes Rick Hess. “Teachers are routinely subjected to fly-by consulting or enthusiastic workshops, without any sustained focus on particular problems or figuring how to use time, talent, and tools to solve them.”

The total cost — including salaries, substitutes, travel, etc. — could reach $8,000 to $12,000 annually per teacher, reports Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS).

“Yet hardly any of this actually appears to make teachers better,” writes Hess, citing a 2007 review of the research by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of PD is the fact that even teachers themselves regard it with contempt. Eric Hirsch, director of special projects with The New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, observes, “When you ask teachers what conditions matter most in terms of their future career plans and student learning, professional development has come in last on every survey we’ve done.”

Roxanna Elden, author of See Me After Class, wryly grouses that professional development is provided in sessions with names like, “Unlock the Sunshine! Shedding Light on the Opportunities Created by State Assessment 2.0.” She explains, “Usually, these sessions use PowerPoint presentations to [tell] teachers that rigor is important, suggest[ing] we’ve spent most of the year training our students to make different colored Play-Doh balls.”

Training programs for administrators “emphasize culture, coaching, and consensus above all else,” writes Hess in his new book, Cage-Busting Leadership. “After all, if one is disinclined to rethink staffing or spending, replace employees, reward excellence, or root out mediocrity, hoping you can train staff to be better at their jobs is really all you’ve got left.”

Chubb: Get serious about high-quality teachers

Today’s teachers “don’t come close to meeting the academic standards being set for students” writes John Chubb in The Best Teachers in the World.

A proficient score on NAEP reading or math translates into at least a 600 on the SAT, or about a 1200 overall. The most generous estimate of the aptitude of new U.S. teachers recently estimated SAT scores of 515 in critical reading (formerly verbal) and 506 in math, or 1021 overall.

Once on the job, teachers rarely are held accountable for their students’ performance, Chubb writes. And “by international standards teachers are not highly compensated in the United States—at least one factor that determines the quality of individuals attracted to a profession and willing to stick with it.” In short, “U.S. education policy is not serious about high-quality teachers.”

The U.S. needs to recruit high achievers to teaching and give them “work that is less menial and more expert, less prescribed and more responsible,” Chubb writes. Using technology to improve productivity would make it possible to raise pay to attract top talent.

 Teaching is not an art, to which some are born and others are not. It is an intellectually demanding endeavor that can and should be guided by research-based practice. Teachers should be trained, both before they take charge of a classroom and thereafter. They should not be trained, however, in the schools of education that predominate today.

Finally, high-quality teaching requires high-quality principals, who “create the working conditions that help determine whether great teachers remain.”

Chubb’s new book is The Best Teachers in the World: Why We Don’t Have Them and How We Could.

 

How to get the best teachers

In The Best Teachers in the World, John Chubb advocates reconfiguring schools to make good use of teachers and technology, eliminating teacher licensing requirements and giving school principals increased responsibility for hiring, developing and retaining strong teachers.

Lemov: How teachers get better

Doug Lemov’s new book, Practice Perfect,gives teachers (and others) “42 rules for getting better at getting better.” In an Amazon interview, Lemov and co-authors Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi, call for practicing strengths, instead of focusing on weaknesses. It’s a myth that practice should stop when you achieve competence, they say.

What marks champions is their excellence at something—they may have weaknesses, but their strengths are honed and polished to the level of brilliance. The value of practice begins at mastery!

Practice has a reputation for being dull, but its “fun, exciting, and ideal for adults,” they believe.

“Educrats have long warned of the perils of rote and repetition,” writes Kathleen Porter-Magee in an Education Gadfly review. ”But they’re wrong.”

Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, “based on thousands of hours spent observing outstanding teachers in action” argued that “great teaching requires the mastery of seemingly mundane but crucially important knowledge and skills,” Porter-Magee writes.

Practice Perfect‘s 42 rules “are simple, practical, and grounded in common sense, as well as respect for the practice and repetition that we need to help teachers (and students) achieve mastery.”

They also present a damning critique of the multi-billion dollar teacher professional-development industry. By shying away from skill repetition, most PD programs offer the equivalent of art-appreciation courses and then ask teachers to paint masterpieces.

Teachers need to hone their skills with one another — with coaching and feedback—before they try new skills in the classroom.

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.

Sally Ride, astronaut and teacher

Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. A physicist, Ride devoted her post-NASA career as an educator to making science “cool” for young people, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

With her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, which trained science teachers and organized summer science camps and festivals.

. . . as a board member of one ExxonMobil spinoff, the National Science and Math Initiative, … she made her greatest contribution. Through her role, NMSI has worked to give more young men and women, especially from poor and minority backgrounds, access to the strong, comprehensive college-preparatory education they need to get into the science and math fields that are the drivers of prosperity in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. This includes its Advanced Placement recruitment initiative, which now works with 228 high schools in seven states to improve the success of black and Latino teens in math and science.

She was a very cool person.

An empty pail lights no fires

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” the saying goes. Robert Pondiscio hates it. Without a bucket full of knowledge, kids can’t think critically (or uncritically) or solve problems, he writes on Core Knowledge Blog.

On the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog, educator Carol Corbett Burris cites the homily to attack the Relay Graduate School of Education, which trains teachers primarily for “no excuses” charter schools. In a Relay video on “Rigorous Classroom Discussion,” the teacher “barks commands and questions, often with the affect and speed of a drill sergeant,” Burris complains.  This “better prepares students for the dutiful obedience of the military than for the intellectual challenges they will encounter in college.” She writes:

I worry that the pail fillers are determining the fate of our schools. The ‘filling of the pail’ is the philosophy of those who see students as vessels into which facts and knowledge are poured. The better the teacher, the more stuff in the pail. How do we measure what is in the pail? With a standardized test, of course. Not enough in the pail? No excuses. We must identify the teachers who best fill the pail, and dismiss the rest.

The “high-energy, tightly structured teaching techniques” used in no-excuses charters can seem militaristic, Pondiscio concedes. But the would-be arsonists need tinder.

(Burris) badly and broadly misstates the critical role of knowledge (the stuff in the pail) to every meaningful cognitive process prized by fire-lighters: reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. Dichotomies don’t get more false than between knowledge and thinking.

The damage done by those who denigrate the importance of a knowledge-rich classroom—especially for our most disadvantaged learners—can scarcely be overstated.

“You can’t light a fire in an empty bucket,” he concludes.

Transforming teacher ed

Relay Graduate School of Education, based at New York City’s Hunter College,  aims to “transform teacher education to fit the needs of urban schools,” writes June Kronholz in  Education Next.

The school trains novice teachers, usually without an education degree, in New York and New Jersey. Most teach in charter schools or are Teach for America teachers working in low-performing district-run public schools. All must show their students are making progress to earn their degrees.

During their second year in Relay’s two-year masters-degree program, elementary-school teachers are asked to show that their own students averaged a full year’s reading growth during the school year. They must also set a reading goal for each child, perhaps two years’ growth for a child who is three years behind, for example. Students can earn credit toward an honors degree if 80 percent of the children they teach meet their individual reading goals.

Elementary teachers must show students averaged 70 percent mastery in another subject, usually math, and middle-school teachers must show 70 percent mastery in their subject.

About 40 percent of Relay’s instruction is online. Teachers attend twice-monthly night classes, once-monthly Saturday classes, and two summer terms taught by master teachers and “charter school heavyweights.”

I logged onto an online lesson for a module titled Engaging Everybody, taught by Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools. In the 3¾-hour lesson, Lemov lectured for three or four minutes on each of four techniques that he promotes to keep youngsters involved in class, techniques he labels “wait time,” “everybody writes,” “cold call,” and “call and response.” Each of Lemov’s minilectures was followed by a few pages of online reading from his book Teach Like a Champion, and an essay question or two that students answer online. Then came several short videos showing teachers using each technique in the classroom, with Lemov noting the teachers’ use of an apt pause or effective gesture.

. . . Next came practice scenarios—what do you do if only three children raise their hands to a question about angles?—online group exercises, and instructions to prepare a lesson plan that incorporates the techniques.

. . .  At the second Engaging Everybody evening class, Relay students are expected to present a 10-minute video of themselves using the techniques in their own classrooms.

Teachers pay about $4,500 for the two-year program with philanthropies covering about $13,000 and charter schools and federal grants funding the rest of the $35,000 cost.