Boston: No excuses, high performance

Boston has the highest-performing charter schools in the country, writes MATCH founder Michael Goldstein on Flypaper. Why? Boston has lots of elite colleges, talented people — and the highest proportion of “authentic” adherents to the “No Excuses” model.

CREDO studies have identified top charter cities, measured in “days of learning.”

Two-thirds of Boston charters are “No Excuses” schools, writes Goldstein. Sharing a common philosophy, the schools share ideas and talent.

The Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education (SGSE), embedded at Match Charter Schools, provides teachers to all the No Excuses charters in Boston. SGSE is able to train rookie teachers whose students go on to get unusually high value-added numbers. . . . The message: “Here is what will be expected of you in a No Excuses school. That job is not right for everyone, but if it’s the one you want, we’ll help you practice, practice, practice to become good in that context.”

. . . Will Austin from Uncommon teaches a rookie teacher about effective math instruction; that teacher, in turn, takes a job at KIPP; now Uncommon’s ideas have moved to KIPP; and so forth. When Kimberly Steadman of Brooke teaches literacy to a rookie teacher, even fellow instructors (from other charter schools) perk up and jot down notes.

New York City, New Orleans, D.C., and Los Angeles charter students show large gains on CREDO studies because of No Excuses charters, writes Goldstein. “Boston outperforms these cities is because it has even more.”

In students’ words: Challenge us

When students who transfer from low-performing to high-performing high schools, they realize what they’ve been missing, writes Brooke Haycock in The View From the Lighthouse. It’s not enough for teachers to care about their students. They have to care about students’ learning.

At Elmont Memorial High School, teachers “get to know you so they can help you — so they can teach you,” says Keisha. “They’re, like, first your teacher — but your friend too. My other school, it was more like, they’re your friends but they kinda missed the teacher part.”

At Granger High School in rural Yakima Valley, Wash., George, a junior, reflected on his relationship with a math teacher at his old school: “He was really nice but he never made us do anything. And, like, if we were late for another class, even if it was our fault, we could just go by his classroom and he’d write us a pass. At the time, I liked it. And he was my favorite teacher. But now, I’m kinda mad, because I realize we weren’t learning anything. I don’t think he meant to do that — I think he was just more worried about us liking him.

“When educators can connect rigorous learning to student goals and opportunities beyond school and make students feel worthy and capable of real rigor, students don’t complain about the work or question its relevance,” writes Brooke Haycock, who’s writing Education Trust’s Echoes from the Gap series. It takes getting used to, students say. “In many cases, this is the first time they’re being asked to do anything that is genuinely hard.”

Some high school classes are easy and unfulfilling, say low-income achievers who talked to Ed Trust researchers for the Falling Out of the Lead report.

Actor David Duchovny’s high school basketball coach “respected me by demanding that I respect myself and a game,” he writes. “I never knew if he liked me. That wasn’t so important. He saw potential in me, and I began to respect myself.”

Pension debt will ‘eat everything in its path’

California’s teacher “pension debt will eat everything in its path,” writes Chad Aldeman on Education Next.

California discovered a $2.4 billion budget surplus from what it projected in January, but that money won’t be going to any new, exciting program. It won’t support the state’s transition to new academic standards. It won’t be going to expand kindergarten or offer pre-k to 4-year-olds. Governor Jerry Brown has other plans. He wants the money to go toward paying down the state’s debt, especially the $74 billion unfunded liability from the state’s teacher pension plan (CalSTRS).

In order to pay off the full debt over 30 years, Brown’s plan calls for teachers to pay more, school districts to pay much more and the state to pay more. “By 2021, nearly 40 percent of California teachers’ total compensation will go toward paying down the pension plan’s liabilities.”

Yet, due to high mobility, only one in five young teachers will receive a full pension, according to a Bellwether analysis. Half won’t qualify for a minimal pension benefit.

Illinois’ early retirement incentives didn’t lower student achievement, even though experienced retirees were replaced by less-experienced or brand-new teachers, concludes another study in Education Next. The state’s two-year program seems to have raised test scores in reading with the strongest positive effects in “schools that serve a more disadvantaged student population.”

It’s possible less-effective, less-energetic teachers were the most likely to take advantage of the early retirement offer, researchers speculated.

The state’s two-year program saved school districts $550.5 million in salaries, but the state paid all of that and more in pensions. However, a well-designed program could save money for taxpayers too, researchers concluded.

Two union bosses tell the truth

“We are at war with the reformers,” New York City teacher union leader Michael Mulgrew told union activists last week. Charter schools are trying to “destroy education in our country,” he added.

His candor is refreshing, writes Larry Sand in A Tale of Two Union Bosses. Sand, a former teacher who now runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, also admires the honesty of George Parker, a former president of the Washington Teachers Union who joined Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

Needless to say, he was roundly excoriated by all the usual suspects – branded a “whore” and worse – for hooking up with the dreaded “corporate reformer” Rhee.

In a speech at a policy summit last year, Parker said his change of heart was triggered by a third grader who asked him about his job. He said one of his responsibilities was getting her the best teachers. The girl hugged him om gratitude. “You care about us,” she said. “And you said that you make sure we get the best teachers.”

Driving back home, Parker . . .  he realized that he had lied to the little girl. He had just spent $10,000 of the union’s money on an arbitration case that put a bad teacher back in the classroom. . . . he wouldn’t let his own 4 year-old grandchild sit in a classroom with that teacher. The inevitable next thought was, so why is it okay for other people’s kids to be taught by an incompetent?

Parker goes on to say he told African-American parents that charter schools empower whites and take advantage of blacks. The real reason he was knocking charters, Parker says in the speech, is that  their existence hurts the union’s bottom line.

Not everyone hates tests

Test-bashing may be fashionable but two new polls show considerable support for testing by teachers, students and the public, writes Jill Barshay in Hechinger’s Education By The Numbers.
Source: NWEA

Graduation exams are backed by 77 percent of teachers and 86 percent of the public, according to Teachers versus the Public. “Accountability is one of the issues where the public and teachers agree,” said author Paul Peterson, a Harvard education professor. (Here’s more on the book.)

Ninety-four percent of students agree that tests are important for understanding what they are learning, according to a survey by Northwest Evaluation Association, a non-profit test designer.

In 2011, 60 percent of teachers said too much time was spent on test prep and test taking. In 2013, only 53 percent of teachers thought too much student time was devoted to testing.

“Formative assessment is shown to have the most positive impact on teaching and learning, yet it’s least understood and not widely practiced,” concludes the report. Only 29 percent of teachers correctly identified a definition of formative assessment. (Checking for understanding in order to modify teaching.) Most could not identify summative or diagnostic assessment either.

Too many white teachers?

By fall, a majority of public school students will be non-white, while more than four in five teachers are white.


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Of 3.3 million public school teachers in 2012,  82 percent were white, 8 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were black and about 2 percent were Asian, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This year, 48 percent of the students in public schools are nonwhite — 23 percent Hispanic, 16 percent black and 5 percent Asian — and that percentage is increasing.

It’s not clear that minority students learn more from same-race or same-ethnicity teachers.

Schools with low-income, non-white, high-need students have trouble recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers, writes James Marshall Crotty in Forbes. “It is dispiriting to try to teach young people who do not want to be there.”

He recommends paying “the best teachers a dramatically increased salary to take the most difficult assignments, including teaching in schools with a high percentage of special needs students or where the learning culture is weak.”

Elevating the status of the teaching profession by raising quality and admissions standards would attract better teachers, Crotty argues.

Finally, volunteer mentors — ideally retired teachers — could observe novice teachers for their first year in the classroom in an apprentice-master model.

Poll: Teaching is ‘average’ profession

College students with A or B+ grades see teaching as a low-prestige job for “average” people, according to the National Online Survey of College Students. Education majors are nice, socially conscious people who aren’t very ambitious, said the respondents. Education is one of the easiest majors, they believed.

Despite efforts to recruit top students to teaching, nearly half of American teachers still graduate in the bottom third of their college classes writes Conor Williams on EdCentral. A quarter of teacher preparation programs accept nearly every applicant, and two-thirds of programs have acceptance rates over 50 percent.

Only 17 percent of students surveyed reported that they were “very interested” in teaching, while fully 40 percent weren’t interested at all, writes Williams.

What would make the B+ or better students consider a teaching career? Higher pay for all teachers, higher pay for highly effective teachers and better student loan repayment for teachers.

The report suggests that the Department of Education use NCLB waivers to ensure that all districts “create and implement stratified career ladders and differentiated pay structures that offer the best teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom while taking on additional responsibility and earning increased autonomy,” writes Williams.

(Successful) students are uninterested in a career with low base compensation and no connection between quality work and salary increases. They’re not attracted to “step and lane” contracts. Maybe there’s room in today’s Overton Window to pay teachers more on the condition that they were also held more responsible for the effects of their work.

Nearly three in four teachers became teachers because they wanted to make a difference in children’s lives and enjoy working with children, according to a University of Phoenix College of Education survey.

Teachers learn science so they can teach it

Many elementary and middle-school teachers who teach science didn’t study science much — or at all — in college, reports NPR. Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry offers  monthly science labs for teachers who want ideas, lessons and materials they can use in the classroom.

Teacher Jonathan Fisher, a philosophy major who avoided life science in college but now teaches it to fourth-graders, taught genetics to his class with an activity he learned here.

“The students used Styrofoam blocks and different body parts — so limbs and dowel rods and different-sized eyes — [and flipped] coins to figure out which genes would be passed on to their kids,” he explains. “The classroom couldn’t have been more excited.”

. . . Today, the teachers here at the museum will be given diagrams of cells, petri dishes, bottles of Glo Germ (a lotion that exposes bacteria on hands), and even instructions for a simple incubator that enables students to grow bacteria from their own dirty hands.

There’s little high-quality science teaching in the middle grades, says Andrea Ingram, who oversees education at the Museum of Science and Industry. “We either capture kids’ enthusiasm there, get them committed to science, or we don’t.”

At Sawyer Elementary on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Graciela Olmos is trying out a mechanical engineering lesson that she first saw at the museum.

Students at Sawyer Elementary in Chicago try out a mechanical energy lesson that their teacher learned at the museum's training program.Her eighth-graders roll marbles down incline planes and measure how far the marbles push a little Styrofoam cup.

At the museum, “They model for us, ‘This is how it’s going to look.’ And that’s something that we lack,” says Olmos. 

The school also lacks “science labs with gas lines and sinks.”

Olmos can’t focus strictly on science. “If my specialty is science, well, let it be science,” she says. “Don’t give me so many other things to do aside of that.”

Elementary schools should have science specialists who know their subject, says Joanne Olson, a professor of science education at Iowa State and president of the Association for Science Teacher Education.

A ‘teacher hater’ confesses

Conor Williams has a (sarcastic) “confession” to make on Talking Points Memo.

I am a “teacher hater.” I’m also bent on “undermining public education” in service of my “corporate overlords.”

Not really. But “that’s what my inbox tells me every time I write something about charter schools, Teach For America, or education politics in general.”

Williams writes about American public education for the New America Foundation. He “cares profoundly” about inequality and social mobility, he writes.

When people tell me that the “education reform” movement is a corporate enterprise run by wealthy adults who scorn teachers, I’m genuinely confused. I consider myself part of the education reform movement because I know the dire state of American public school instruction. I know the difference that great teaching can make—because it was so rare in my schooling. Those outstanding few were my heroes.

Inspired by “great educators,” he became a first-grade  teacher in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Of course, I often hear that I am not REALLY a former teacher, since I entered the classroom through Teach For America. During a school visit recently, an administrator snapped that my “teaching as internship experience” gave me no right to call myself a former teacher.

Williams left after two years because he was mugged outside the school, leaving physical and psychological scars.

He and his wife are sending their son to their neighborhood D.C. public school in the fall.

“While I’m open to the possibility that some of the education reforms that make sense to me may not actually work as well I hope, I’m tired of being told that I have no standing in these debates, or that I hate teachers, Williams writes. “You want to have a debate on the merits? Fine. But don’t accuse me of being disingenuous.”

Moving on up

Doctors, cops, programmers and nurses tend to earn more than their parents, according to NPR’s Planet Money. Police officers and firefighters improve the most on their childhood circumstances.

Some blue-collar workers — truck drivers, heavy-equipment operators, farmers, fishermen and mechanics — also move up the economic ladder.

Designers, musicians and artist have the greatest downward economic mobility. Raised in above-average comfort, they have below-average incomes as adults.

The reporter is named Quoctrung Bui. I’d guess he or she has experienced upward mobility.

TheBigPicture-NPR

Teachers come from families near the 60th percentile, on average, and move up a bit, notes Alexander Russo. Media/communications workers show a similar pattern.