Teacher hiring: Look for improvers

It’s hard to hire “proficient” teachers, write David Krulwich and Kenneth Baum, principal and former principal of Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science in the South Bronx. Successful teachers tend to be happy where they are, they write in Chalkbeat.

David Krulwich and Kenneth Baum developed the "artisan" method of teaching at Image result for David Krulwich teacher Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science in the South Bronx.

David Krulwich is principal of Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science in the South Bronx.

Instead, their school looks for teachers who are eager to improve.

The two are co-authors of The Artisan Teaching Model for Instructional Leadership.

At the initial interview, “successful candidates are able to describe in good detail one of their favorite academic classes that they have ever been a part of (as teacher or as a learner) and, without prompting, link their enjoyment to the way the teacher made the students think in new ways,” they write.

Then candidates teach a “demo lesson” and participate in a four-hour debrief of that lesson.

This is where we test for the key quality of reflectiveness and the ability to receive feedback in a team-based format and immediately translate that feedback into improvement. This, we have found, is the single biggest indicator of potential for growth.

. . . We’ve found that in almost all demo lessons (especially with new teachers), there is a definite lack of student interest and higher-order thinking, something that, as we mentioned earlier, we expect. The question is, how quickly does the candidate acknowledge this, and to what extent does the candidate, with our help, make her lesson substantially better?

After about 20 minutes, high-potential teachers “are starting to think about what they could have done differently,” write Krulwich and Baum. “By the end of the four-hour total experience, the candidate has been frustrated, challenged, helped, challenged more, and improved.”

Creating top charter schools

The Founders, Richard Whitmire’s new book on how the nation’s best charter schools were created, is being published online by The 74.

“This is the history of high-performing public charter schools — the best of the best, the top 20 percent, the game-changers,” he writes. Charters started 25 years ago in Minnesota, but “this story begins years later in California, spreads east through the unlikely collaboration of top school leaders, and stands apart for its success in guiding poor and minority children from kindergarten all the way through college graduation.”

The book is “a welcome antidote to the pernicious notion that high-performing schools for disadvantaged students are isolated flukes, dependent on a charismatic educator or the cherry-picking of bright students, writes Arne Duncan in The Atlantic. He’s never met a charter leader who claimed to be running a “miracle school,” adds Duncan.

Whitmire analyzes what’s holding back growth of the best charter schools in Education Next.

“The first wave of charter pioneers is nearly all white with excellent college credentials,” writes Whitmire. Yet their schools, often staffed largely by white teachers, target low-income “black and brown students.”

This is a race reality that’s rapidly shifting as charters diversify, but will it shift fast enough to avoid the pushback that’s already bubbling up around the race issue?

High-performing schools need to “attract talented teachers, and in a lot of cities, that just isn’t going to happen,” Whitmire adds. “Plus, the powerful anti-charter movement led by unions and superintendents is fully capable of blocking charters in some cities.”

Finally, it’s critical to shut down low-performing charters, he writes.  Nobody predicted how difficult it would be to close bad charters. “As it turns out, charter parents cling to their failing schools just as closely as parents of traditional failing schools.”

The magic of experience

Veteran teachers get no respect from education reformers, writes Paul Karrer in the Californian. The reform movement has rejected teachers’ “vast wealth of experience” for “chants, mantras, beliefs and a bowing before the goddess of data and technology.”

Karrer has survived a long list of elementary educational fixes, writes.

MATH: Math Their Way, Math Land, Mathematics Unlimited, California Math, Excel Math, Math Expressions, Dot Math, Math Manipulatives, New Math, Common Core Math … and more.

READING: Campanitas de Oro (Spanish whole language), Impressions (English whole language), MacCracken Whole Language, SRA-Reading Lions, Open Court, Phonics, Dibels, Fluency testing, Daily 5, Accelerated Reader, Scholastic News, Listening Centers, Pearson Language Arts (Common Core), Whole Language, Phonetic learning, High Point, Read Naturally, School Thematic Approach (September is Yellow Month, October is … ) HLT and more.

The How of Teaching: Self-contained classes, blended (switching classes), Team teaching, combination classes, combination bilingual classes, after school programs, learning centers, projects, leveled ELA, Immersion cooperative groups, pair-share, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Common Core, Goals and Standards numbered and written on the board, behavior modification plan this, behavior modification plan that and more.

Each new administration replaces the old “magic systems” with a “new magic system,” writes Karrer. “The new systems are lobbied and echo-chambered by shills for publishing and these days testing companies (often one and the same).”

Teachers have been complaining about fad-crazy administrators and impossible mandates for as long as I can remember. And I remember when “new math” was new.

“American education has been riddled with failed fads and foolish ideas for the past century,” wrote Diane Ravitch, back in 2001, in Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform.

Via Barry Garelick on Kitchen Table Math.

U.S. teachers: middling skills, low pay

We’re mediocre! We’re mediocre!

Compared to teachers in other countries, U.S. teachers are “perfectly mediocre” in cognitive skills, writes Dick Startz, a University of California at Santa Barbara economics professor, on Brookings’ Chalkboard. “American teachers seem to be a touch above average in literacy skills and noticeably below average in numeracy,” he writes, citing a paper based on data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

U.S. teachers do as well as other American college graduates in literacy, but are weaker in math than college-educated Americans or teachers overseas, researchers found.

However, the U.S. gets “much better teachers than we pay for,” writes Startz. Compared to other college graduates with similar skills, teachers are underpaid, the analysis concluded.

Position of teacher cognitive skills in the skill distribution of college graduates

Researchers said raising pay could attract higher-skilled people to teaching, reports Education Week.

“The estimates here indicate that teachers are paid some 20 percent less than a comparable college graduate elsewhere in the U.S. economy after adjusting for observable characteristics,” wrote Eric Hanushek of Stanford’s Hoover Institution and his German coauthors.

Teachers’ cognitive skills have a “robust impact” on student performance, the study concluded.

Countries with top-performing schools “recruit their teachers from the top third” of graduates, a 2007 McKinsey study found.

What teachers think about Core math

Most elementary and middle-school teachers like Common Core math, according to a new  Fordham survey. However, teachers “also say that pupils are ‘frustrated’ by having to learn multiple methods of solving a problem, and they worry that some have ‘math anxiety’ (especially in grades 6–8).”

In addition, 85 percent of teachers say that “reinforcement of math learning at home is declining because parents don’t understand the way that math is being taught.”

Middle-school teachers, who are specialists in math, are more negative about the new standards’ impact than elementary teachers.

. . . 61 percent of K–2 teachers say they have fewer or about the same number of “students who have math anxiety” than before the CCSS-M, and 68 percent agree that “students are developing a stronger capacity to persevere in math and come up with solutions on their own.” It’s the middle school teachers who report more distress.

“Once upon a time, teachers shut their doors and did their own thing,” Fordham concludes. “Now we have many instructors teaching to the same high standards nationwide. This is something to celebrate.”

U.S. teachers feel undervalued

From National Center on Education and the Economy:

How Society Values Teachers

Teachers: We have no say in policy

Teachers’ voices are ignored at the district, state and national level, say public school teachers interviewed for Center on Education Policy survey. At the school level,  53 percent of teachers said their opinions are considered most of the time.

A majority of teachers believe they spend too much time preparing students for state and district tests and 81 percent said students spend too much time taking required tests.  Most math and English teachers said they’re using data from tests to improve their teaching.

While most teachers received a performance evaluation in 2014-15, only about half found the feedback they received helpful.

It’s the same old teacher shortage

Despite what you hear or read, there is no national teacher shortage, asserts Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality. A few districts are having real problems, but the real shortage is nothing new: “All schools, as they have for decades, continue to struggle mightily to find certain kinds of teachers (STEM, ELL, special education).”

Why? Schools refuse to pay more “to attract people who have skills which are marketable elsewhere, to live in an undesirable location or to work in tougher environments,” writes Walsh.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Some districts have begun to panic, Walsh writes.

They’re used to having to sort through a pile of resumes to find a single good hire. They are not nimble or flexible enough to adapt their recruiting and hiring practices to a tighter job market.”

What is a reasonable response to a downturn in teacher production?  It’s not to open the floodgates and let anyone teach. We need to continue to encourage teacher prep programs to become more selective and do a better job preparing new teachers, so that districts don’t have to count on 20 resumes to find a single qualified teacher.

There’s a huge pool of credentialed teachers who left — or never got a chance to enter — the profession, she writes. “And we encourage districts to pay teachers in chronic shortage areas or who are willing to teach in really tough locales more than others.”

Who’s the best bad teacher?

Who’s the best bad teacher in literature? asks the National Association of Scholars, which is inaugurating a Books With Spines feature.

“The portrait of Thomas Gradgrind in Dicken’s Hard Times as the architect of a deadening just-the-facts school staffed by Mr. M’Choakumchild is deservedly the most famous in the gallery of literary mal-teachers,” writes NAS.

Dickens also gave us the abusive Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby and Mr. Creakle in David Copperfield.

Shakespeare created “the Latin-epithet-spouting tedious pedant Holofernes in Love’s Labor’s Lost.”

Fielding gets his revenge on the fraternity of classroom oppressors in his dual depictions in Tom Jones of the rival tutors, Mr. Square the philosopher and Mr. Thwackum the divine.

. . . Maybe Aristophanes should be credited with the first and most wicked portrait of a teacher in his send-up of Socrates in The Clouds. And Voltaire, of course, gave us a portrait of a tutor so misguided as Dr. Pangloss in Candide that his name has become a byword for foolish counsel and risible rationalization.

Muriel Spark’s Miss Jean Brodie promotes fascism to her select students, who are “the creme de la creme.”

What about bad teachers in American lit? NAS is looking for “the best of the bad, not just the bad-enough, ordinary hacks.” Nominate the best book depicting the worst teacher by April 10.

A reader nominates Dolores Umbridge, a Ministry of Magic bureaucrat turned teacher, who persecutes Harry Potter at Hogwarts.

Home visits build teacher-parent links


Stanton Elementary School teacher Sheryl Garner (right) on a home visit with the Colbert family in Washington D.C.

At both charter and district schools, home visits are helping teachers engage with parents, writes June Kronholz in Education Next.

Washington D.C.’s Flamboyan Foundation “trains — and pays — teachers to visit their students’ homes” in hopes of improving achievement, she writes.

“I had expectations of what the parents were supposed to do,” says Melissa Bryant, a math teacher and dean of students at D.C. Scholars Stanton Elementary, a novel partnership between the Washington, D.C., public schools and Scholar Academies, a charter operator. “I never heard what they wanted me to do.”

“No one ever asked me my goals,” adds Katrina Branch, who is raising six children in D.C., including the four children of her murdered sister.

Flamboyan is a partner of the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, which has 432 participating schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Sacramento boys welcome their teachers for a home visit.

Sacramento boys welcome teachers.

It started in the late 1990s in Sacramento when a church-based community action group that launched a pilot home-visit program, writes Kronholz.

Last year, Jessica Ghalambor, a 7th-grade teacher at Sacramento’s Fern Bacon Middle School, visited the home of a shy, silent girl with reading problems named Yoveli Rosas. “The very next day,” the teacher saw an “incredible” change, she recalled. “I could tell she knew I cared.”

Ghalambor visited Yoveli again this year, along with her 8th-grade teacher and a school counselor, who acted as translator with the girl’s Spanish-speaking mother.

Josefina Rosas, Yoveli’s mother, offered to bring tamales to the school’s Heritage Festival, and promised that her husband, a landscaper, would attend a meeting about the upcoming class trip to D.C.

Finally, Ghalambor asked about Rosas’s hopes and dreams for Yoveli. To go further in school than she and her husband had so Yoveli will “have more chances,” Rosas quickly answered. Yoveli, whose reading has improved but still lags, had a more immediate goal: to read a 300-page book. “You remember last year when you came, the bookshelf was half full?” she reminded Ghalambor gaily. “This year it’s overflowing.”

“There’s not much research” on home visits’ affect on learning, writes Kronholz. However, a study for the Flamboyan Foundation found better attendance, which is linked to better reading scores, for children who received home visits in 2012-13.