18% of teachers are minorities

Eighteen percent of public school teachers — and 42 percent of students —  are racial or ethnic minorities, reports Harper‘s Index.

Top teachers trump standards

Standards and tests won’t improve American public education, argues Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita at the University of Arkansas and an author of Massachusetts’ standards. Policymakers should focus on improving teacher quality and training and the K-12 curriculum, she writes.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) and its narrow circle of Gates Foundation-funded or Gates Foundation-employed advisers . . . have spent their initial energies on first getting states to adopt the kind of standards they think low-achieving students can meet to be declared “college-ready” (i.e., generic, content-light skills in the English language arts); and then, on arguing with teacher unions about the percentage of students’ test scores for which teachers and administrators should be held accountable.

Only one characteristic of an effective teacher — subject-matter knowledge — is related to student achievement, according to the 2008 final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, writes Stotsky.  “The more academically competent the teacher is, the more students learn.”

In high-achieving school systems, only the very best students can gain admittance to teacher training programs, she writes. Training is far more rigorous than in the U.S.

In Finland, prospective elementary teachers complete a three-year bachelor’s and a two-year master’s in education. Prospective secondary teachers usually complete a three-year degree and a two-year master’s in their subject, followed by a two-year master’s program in education. In both cases, the master’s focuses on educational research.

An academically stronger corps of educators is more likely to establish and teach an academically stronger curriculum, do better designed research, and make more soundly based educational policy.

Stotsky lists seven things states could do to improve teacher quality. It starts with restricting admission to teacher training to the top 10 to 15 percent of students.

Would the brightest students compete for a chance to teach? The career would be more prestigious if it was reserved for top students. But . . . I have my doubts.

Moats: Core fail

Common Core standards are appropriate for the “most academically able” students, says Louisa Moats in a Psychology Today interview. At least half of students will not be able to meet the standards. A nationally known expert on teaching reading, Moats helped write the standards.

Students doomed to “fail” core-aligned tests need a “range of educational choices and pathways to high school graduation, employment, and citizenship,” says Moats. Notice she doesn’t mention college.

The standards call for the use of “more challenging and complex texts,” which will benefit older students, she says. But that may hurt younger students.

Novice readers (typically through grade 3) need a stronger emphasis on the foundational skills of reading, language, and writing than on the “higher level” academic activities that depend on those foundations, until they are fluent readers.

Teachers aren’t prepared to teach the new standards, says Moats.

Classroom teachers are confused, lacking in training and skills to implement the standards, overstressed, and the victims of misinformed directives from administrators who are not well grounded in reading research.

. . . The standards treat the foundational language, reading, and writing skills as if they should take minimal time to teach and as if they are relatively easy to teach and to learn. They are not. The standards call for raising the difficulty of text, but many students cannot read at or above grade level, and therefore may not receive enough practice at levels that will build their fluency gradually over time.

Teachers have received no sensible guidance on how to teach students with learning disabilities, she adds.

  What little time there is for professional development is being taken up by poorly designed workshops on teaching comprehension of difficult text or getting kids to compose arguments and essays. This will not be good for the kids who need a systematic, explicit form of instruction to reach basic levels of academic competence.

I’ve been around a long time, and this feels like 1987 all over again, with different words attached to the same problems. When will we ever learn?

This is a devastating critique.

Via DCGEducator.

Study: Post-NCLB, teacher morale is up

The testing-and-accountability era hasn’t turned teachers into “Debbie Downers,” as Education Gadfly puts it.

Teacher job satisfaction has improved since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, according to a new study. Researchers looked at surveys of 140,000 teachers taken before and after 2001.

. . . post-NCLB, teachers are more likely to perceive support from their colleagues, administrators, and parents than prior to the law. The study also found that teachers report a greater sense of “classroom control” (e.g., autonomy over curricula, textbooks, discipline, etc.), greater job satisfaction, and a stronger commitment to the profession.

Researchers compared teachers’ responses in states with accountability regimes prior to NCLB to teachers in states that implemented systems as a result of NCLB.  “The onset of accountability positively impacted teachers’ feelings of classroom control and administrator support,” but had no effect on job satisfaction or commitment.

If I just had tenure . . .

The teacher tenure song:

How to make teaching an elite profession

Seven percent of teacher training programs receive a top ranking in National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review. “With only 1 in 15 programs providing first-year teachers with solid preparation, it is clear we, as a nation, have a long way to go if we are going to do right by teachers as well as their students,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ’s president.

Among the top teacher training programs in the country — according to NCTQ — is Utah’s Western Governors University , which is online and competency based.

NCTQ recommends setting higher standards for teacher candidates, making it tougher to be recommended for licensure and holding teacher training programs accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates.

American schools need better teachers, so let’s make it harder to become one, argues Amanda Ripley in Slate. The “world’s smartest countries” treat teacher selection and preparation “the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots,” she writes. Some U.S. states are raising standards for teacher education programs.

Rhode Island, which once had one of the nation’s lowest entry-bars for teachers, is leading the way. The state has already agreed to require its education colleges to admit classes of students with a mean SAT, ACT, or GRE score in the top one-half of the national distribution by 2016. By 2020, the average score must be in the top one-third of the national range, which would put Rhode Island in line with education superpowers like Finland and Singapore.

Sonja Stenfors, 23, is a teacher-in-training from Finland, worked as a classroom aide for a year to raise her odds of getting into a teacher-training program, writes Ripley. Only 10 percent of applicants are accepted.

After three years at a Finnish university, Stenfors is studying at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.  “Here it’s not cool to study to be a teacher,” she wrote in Finnish on her blog. “They perceive a person who is studying to be a teacher as a little dumber.”

The University of Missouri–Kansas City admits two-thirds of those who apply, writes Ripley. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score. Students have to have a B average, sit for an interview, and pass an online test of basic academic skills.

They do two semesters of student teaching, compared to Senfors’ four semesters in Finland, and receive “less rigorous, hands-on classroom coaching from experienced teachers.”

After Vergara, will tenure survive?

While he supports the Vergara verdict, Rick Hess doubts the courts can order higher quality of schools.

California’s employment laws have made it ridiculously tough on school systems to do anything about lousy teachers. There are 275,000 teachers in California. Even if just one to three percent of teachers are lousy, as defense expert David Berliner estimated, one would expect 3,000 to 8,000 teachers to be dismissed each year for unsatisfactory performance. Instead, the average is just 2.2. Meanwhile, Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy testified that it costs his school system between $250,000 and $450,000 to remove just one tenured teacher for poor performance.

The unions have  “used the courts to protect generous benefits, challenge layoffs, attack school choice, and force states to spend more on K-12,” writes Hess. Now they’ve discovered the virtues of judicial restraint.

However, “courts have a long history of failing to weigh costs and benefits and imposing requirements that prove bureaucratic and unworkable,” writes Hess.

 Indeed, if courts can order legislatures to abolish tenure, what else might they require? If plaintiffs pick the right judge and present the right experts, can they get judges to require that pre-K teachers need to have an education school teaching credential? Can judges order schools to adopt the Common Core, if they think that will help ensure that all students are held to an equal standard? Can judges order legislators to double teacher pay, if that’s what they think it’ll take to ensure that all students have a chance to learn?

If the decision holds up on appeal, California legislators will write new education laws they hope will satisfy the judge. They’re likely to lessen, but not eliminate, barriers to dismissing ineffective teachers, predicts Eric Hanushek.

Students Matter, which brought the lawsuit, hopes to challenge tenure laws in other states, such as New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon, reports Time.

“This is gay marriage,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2010-2011. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states.”

Union leaders had to know that California’s tenure and LIFO (last in first out) laws were “indefensible,” writes John Merrow. Young teachers — and more of the teaching force is young —  pay the price when layoffs are strictly by seniority, he adds.

Cincinnati’s Catholic teachers are ‘ministers’

“Thou shalt not” do — or publicly support — premarital sex, extramarital sex, unmarried cohabitation, in-vitro fertilization, a gay “lifestyle” or a host of other issues, if you want to teach in Cincinnati Catholic schools. All teachers must sign a new “morality” contract that focuses on “pelvic issues,” reports CNN.  All teachers are now “ministers” to make it easier to fire them.

It stems from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, in which the justices cite a “ministerial exemption” that gives religious institutions greater latitude when hiring and firing employees.

Molly Shumate, a first-grade teacher, plans to quit her job rather than pledge not to publicly support her gay son, she told CNN. “If in five or 10 years he finds a partner and he wants to be with that person, I’m going to be in the front row with the biggest bouquet.”

The Cincinnati Archdiocese has lost several lawsuits for firing teachers who didn’t abide by Catholic doctrine.

Computer teacher Christa Dias, who was single, used in-vitro fertilization to become pregnant and was then fired. She sued the archdiocese for discrimination and a jury awarded her more than $170,000.

. . . Also last year, a dean of students at a Cincinnati Catholic high school was let go after supporting same-sex marriage on his private blog.

And a female gym teacher at a high school in the Columbus, Ohio, diocese was fired after publishing the name of her partner in an obituary column announcing her mother’s death. She sued and the diocese settled.

I think the archdiocese will find it significantly harder to hire teachers.

Kansas OKs hiring non-degreed teachers

Kansas will let schools hire uncertified teachers with experience in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields but no education credentials.

Teachers can qualify with a bachelor’s degree — or “an industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession” — and at least five years of work experience in a STEM field. Schools are expected to use the policy primarily to hire career-tech teachers.

Tennessee is turning welders into career-tech teachers.

16% of urban teachers are ‘chronically absent’

teacher absences share

Teachers in the nation’s 40 largest school districts came to school 94 percent of the time in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the report by the National Council on Teacher Quality. On average, the urban teachers missed about 11 school days out of 186 for all reasons, including professional development.

However, 16 percent of urban teachers were “chronically absent,” meaning they missed 18 or more days per school year. Another 28 percent missed 11 to 17 days.

The study excluded long-term absences of 11 or more days “to ensure that any teacher who had to take extended leave for illness or family problem were not part of the sample.”

Teachers were not more likely to be absent in high-poverty schools.

Indianapolis teachers missed the fewest days — six — while Cleveland teachers missed the most — 15.

Policies to suppress absenteeism, such as requiring a doctor’s note, appeared to have no effect, said Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “We have learned that it is not so much district policy but expectations which lead to high attendance. Teachers who work in buildings that are led by principals with high standards are much less likely to be absent.”