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.”

No choice

Photo: Back to Philly schools.  Yes, we need more money from Harrisburg but to turn the schools around there are other reforms needed as well.

Why teachers quit (and stay)

How can schools attract and retain good teachers? asks Liz Riggs in The AtlanticForty to 50 percent of teachers quit within the first five years, including nearly 10 percent who quit before the end of their first year says Richard Ingersoll, a high school teacher (for “nearly six years”) turned education professor.

“One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says.

Other teachers — and former teachers — tell Riggs about the exhaustion, the stress and the inadequate pay.

Working conditions are more important than pay, says Thomas Smith, a Vanderbilt education professor.

  He pointed to a study by the Benwood Foundation that offered teachers in Chattanooga large bonuses to go teach in lower-performing schools. The study found that few teachers were willing to move for this kind of offer. (In fact, according to Smith, the initiative had to be reengineered to offer bonuses to teachers already in those schools.)

To improve the quality of teaching, “improve the quality of the teaching job,” says Ingersoll.“If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”

Teacher ratings: Ineffective

Syracuse has no highly effective elementary or middle school teachers under the district’s new rating system, notes Aaron Pallas on the Hechinger Report.

Just two percent of Syracuse teachers were rated highly effective, and an additional 58 percent were deemed effective. Seven percent were classified as ineffective, and 33 percent as developing, categories that suggest low levels of teaching performance, the need for teacher improvement plans, and the threat of eventual dismissal.

On average, Syracuse teachers were rated effective on the state’s metric for student growth. They were rated effective or highly effective by the principals and peers who observed their teaching.  But  the school-wide measures of student achievement used by the district lowered scores significantly.

That’s because teachers had to raise test scores from 2012 to 2013 to be rated effective. But the 2013 tests, aligned with Common Core standards, was much harder. Scores went down in Syracuse — and everywhere else in the state. That was inevitable.

I wonder how State Commissioner John King, Jr. would like it if his performance evaluation were based on the same criteria applied to teachers in Syracuse. The percentage-point increase in students statewide scoring at level 3 and 4 in ELA from 2012 to 2013? Well, that actually fell from 55 percent to 31 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. The percentage-point increase in students scoring at level 3 and 4 in math? That fell from 65 percent to 31 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. The percentage-point decrease in students statewide scoring at level 1 in ELA from 2012 to 2013? That actually increased from 10 percent to 32 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. And the percentage-point decrease in students scoring at level 1 in math? That rose from eight percent to 33 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero.

Commissioner King is ineffective — by unfair criteria — concludes Pallas.

Duncan tells schools how to assign teachers

Uncle Sam shouldn’t try to manage school staffing, writes Rick Hess.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking “waivers” from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else. In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that “effective” teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

Arne Duncan, who’s not the school superintendent for the U.S., wants to staff high-poverty schools with more effective teachers, writes Hess. That’s a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t be dictated from Washington.

 Ill-conceived policies might move teachers from schools and classrooms where they are effective to situations when they are less effective. Heavy-handed efforts to reallocate teachers could drive good teachers from the profession. And we are far less able to identify “effective” teachers in any cookie-cutter fashion than federal officials might think.

Some teachers who are effective with easy-to-teach students aren’t effective with hard-to-teach students, Hess points out.

How black, Latino males succeed

Black and Latino males who are doing well in high school credit their parents’ high expectations, relationships with caring teachers, a respectful, college-going culture in their high schools and a desire to get out of poverty.

Succeeding in the City, a study by Penn Education Professor Shaun Harper, is based on interviews with New York City juniors and seniors with a B average or higher in college-prep classes. All were engaged in school activities and planning to enroll in college.

Two-thirds of the students’ mothers and three-quarters of their fathers lacked any college degree. However 45 percent lived with two parents, which is above average for low-income urban neighborhoods.

“Staying on track can mean staying indoors,” writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.

When asked how they avoided being drawn into gang activity in their neighborhoods, many of the students said their parents prohibited all outdoor activity after dark. Some students said that having a reputation as a serious scholar headed for college actually protected them from gang conscription. Many of the respondents also stayed on campus long after classes ended for the day in order to do their studying and hang out with friends, often as a means of avoiding the disruptive neighborhood environment.

Harper also tracked 90 young male black and Latino college students from the same high schools. “Students said they had difficulty with time management–in high school, teachers were careful not to overload students with competing assignments due on the same day, and a student who asked for an extension would likely get one.”

All the high school students could name a teacher who’d helped them succeed. None of the college students could name a supportive professor.

Teachers valued most in China

Teachers aren’t valued highly in 21 countries in the Varkey GEMS Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index. China ranks first in respect for teachers. The U.S. is about average. Israel is last. Except for China, high status for teachers doesn’t correlate with high academic performance. Greece and Turkey respect their teachers, but post low scores on international tests. The Japanese are low on teacher status, high in test scores.

Status isn’t linked to salaries. In Greece the status of teachers is high, but their compensation is low. In Germany and Switzerland, teacher earnings are relatively high, respect is low.

The Chinese compare teachers to doctors. Americans see teachers as similar to librarians. In most countries surveyed, teachers are equated with social workers. However, in France and Turkey, they’re seen as most like nurses.

teacher status findings

Pay-for-performance is supported strongly just about everywhere, notes John Merrow of Learning Matters TV. In the U.S., 80 percent said teachers should be “rewarded in pay according to their pupils’ results.”

While most people said teachers should be paid more, they didn’t know how much teachers earn. Americans think “teachers make about $36,000 a year but believe they should paid about $40,000,” writes Merrow. “However, the true average salary, the study says, is $46,000.”

Would you want your child to be a public school teacher? A third of Americans would “probably” or “definitely” encourage their child to become a teacher. That’s higher than in 14 other countries. Half of Chinese, but only 8 percent of Israelis, would urge their children to consider teaching. I always thought Finns were high on their teachers, but only 20 percent said they’d want their own kids to be one in this survey.

If there are any Finns — and Israelis — reading, does this ring true?

Ed major is easy, students tweet

Education schools aren’t trying to draw high achievers to teaching, complains the National Council on Teacher Quality’s PDQ blog. Admissions requirements are low and assignments are undemanding. (See page 162 to 164.)

Tweets on #edmajor show education majors bragging about how easy their classes are.

By contrast, students on #mathmajor#sciencemajor and #nursingmajor frequently tweet about how hard they work and how much they enjoy solving difficult problems.

Tough teachers are the best

book

Tough teachers teach more, writes Joanne Lipman in the Wall Street Journal. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations.

The book is a paean to Jerry Kupchynsky, a Ukrainian immigrant who taught orchestra at a New Jersey high school for 40 years.  He “called his students ‘idiots’ when they screwed up.” They loved him.

Today’s teachers “are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads,” writes Lipman. ”There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.”

Mr. K’s former students were successful in a variety of fields.

 ”He taught us discipline,” explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. “Self-motivation,” added a tech executive who once played the cello. “Resilience,” said a professional cellist. “He taught us how to fail—and how to pick ourselves up again.”

Lipman believes in eight principles of learning.

1. A little pain is good for you.
2. Drill, baby, drill.
3. Failure is an option.
4. Strict is better than nice.
5. Creativity can be learned.
6. Grit trumps talent.
7. Praise makes you weak . . .
8. While stress makes you strong.

Plenty of today’s teachers are strict, demanding character builders, responds Nancy Flanagan, a veteran music teacher. “Tough teachers get good results . . . when their students are emotionally prepared for intensive criticism,” she writes.

Lipman is a big fan of injecting failure into the classroom. Educators, she says, need “not be as concerned about the negative effects” of picking winners and losers, and cites a study where college musicians who placed low in auditions suffered no harm to their self-esteem.

Hey, I’ve no problem with voluntary competition–winning and losing on the volleyball court or the debate floor, vying for roles in the school play or college musical ensembles. I have witnessed first-hand, however, the corrosive effects of turning the classroom into a playing field, and every lesson and assignment into a contest. I abandoned the familiar practice of seating my band students in ability-based “chairs,” with these results: more kids in the program, more students accepting the challenge of individual solos and ensembles, higher levels of performance.

Students “who have coped with failure and adversity from the outset” are motivated by “a little honest success,” writes Flanagan. “Not more stress.”