Dutch educators run their own schools

Dutch “educators decide what happens in their classrooms — not bureaucrats,” writes Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

An international school in the Netherlands.

An international school in the Netherlands.

“More than 60 percent of the 8,000 or so schools in the Netherlands are private with a religious affiliation” — and public funding, she writes. All schools can adopt their own teaching philosophy.  The “system functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.”

In the Netherlands, 94 percent of decisions for middle schools are made by individual school administrators and teachers, while 6 percent are made at the federal level, according to a 2008 OECD report. The country’s schools rank in the top quartile on international tests, well above the U.S., which falls in the middle.

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size or extracurricular programming, principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, for example. They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade.

The Dutch government sets standards for what a student should have learned by the end of primary and secondary school. But there are fewer targets than those set by Common Core standards, writes Butrymowicz. And each school can teach in its own way.

“The government inspects the schools once every four years by visiting the schools, meeting with students and parents, and looking at test scores and finances,” she writes. “The small number of schools—a couple hundred or so—that are deemed weak are watched more closely, but the rest are free to carry on.”

NYC’s would-be teachers flunk literacy test

Teacher trainees have to pass a new literacy exam to teach in New York: One third failed statewide and a majority of would-be teachers failed the literacy test at New York City colleges, reports the New York Post.  

The Academic Literacy Skills exam “measures whether a prospective teacher can understand and analyze reading material and also write competently,” reports the Post.

At a half-dozen City University of New York campuses, half or more failed to make the grade.

CUNY pass rates ranged from 0 at Boricua College in the Bronx to 82 percent passed at Hunter College.

Students who failed can pay a fee to retake the test.

State Education Commissioner John King said New York said many teacher-prep programs need to improve or close. “It’s better to have fewer programs that better prepare teachers than having many schools that have teachers who are unprepared for the classroom,” said King, who’s leaving to be a senior advisor to U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan.

Most states have not done enough to make sure new teachers will be ready for the higher standards students are expected to achieve, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook.

Duncan: Rate teacher ed programs

States will be required to rate teacher training programs on job placement, retention rates and their graduates’ success in raising student achievement, under a new Education Department proposal. Low-rated programs’ students wouldn’t be able to get federal TEACH Grants to pay for their training.

Although the rules do not require tests, 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have agreed with the Department of Education to develop teacher performance ratings that include test scores.

Critics, including teachers’ unions, say such measures are unreliable and difficult to link to the quality of training.

“New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often, they struggle at the beginning of their careers” because they’re not well-prepared for the classroom, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“After prolonged negotiations—with stakeholders including teachers’ unions and teacher colleges—failed to bear fruit, the Obama administration said it would move ahead on its own,” reports Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the regulations’ reliance on test scores. “Teacher preparation programs that send graduates to teach in high-need schools, where research shows the test scores are likely to be lower and the teacher turnover higher, will receive lower ratings and could lose funding,” Weingarten said.

Earlier this month the National Council on Teacher Quality lambasted teacher education programs a report titled Easy A’s. Would-be teachers can earn high grades for undemanding work, leaving them poorly prepared for classroom challenges, charges NCTQ.

The proposal is in line with the Obama administration’s “gainful employment” rule, which tries to regulates job training programs at for-profit career colleges (and community colleges), notes Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week. “It signals the agency’s intent to try to hold higher education more accountable for outcomes.”

Nashville teachers recruit students

In East Nashville, District school principals are asking teachers to go door to door to recruit students, reports Nashville Public Radio. It’s standard practice for charter school staffers.

“I think we’re just moving to the place where we do have to sell ourselves,” said LaTonya White, principal of Rosebank Elementary School.

Nashville has open enrollment. Per-pupil public funding of roughly $10,000 follows the student to the school of choice.

East Nashville has a number of “struggling, under-capacity schools.”

Half-a-dozen Rosebank teachers showed up  on a Saturday to canvass for students. Many teachers don’t think marketing is their job, said Carla Douglas, an art teacher who donated her time.

All teachers are not the same

All Teachers Are Not the Same, writes Erika Sanzi in Education Post.

Upset about Time‘s “rotten apple” cover, Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal in Virginia, described the dedication and hard work of teachers.

“The Rotten Apples come into work between 6:30-7:30 A.M.” and  “teach all day even during their planning periods,” writes Chewning. “After a full day they go home and grade papers, prepare lesson plans for the following day, maintain an online classroom and gradebook, and answer emails. Most don’t stop until at least 10:00 P.M.”

Valerie Strauss excerpted the letter in the Washington Post.

Sanzi, an educator, school board member and mother of three, recalls a former colleague who works from 6:30 am to 10 pm, “spends summers on professional development, coaches softball and does whatever it takes for children to learn.”

But not all 3 million U.S. teachers are the same, writes Sanzi.

She lives in Rhode Island. Twenty-three percent of Providence’s teachers are chronically absent. Her son’s kindergarten teacher missed 27 days, including the day before Thanksgiving and the two days before the start of February vacation.  He told the class he was going to “Disney.”

The next year, her son had a wonderful first-grade teacher.

All teachers are not the same.

All teachers do not come in at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. Some do.

All teachers do not stay after school and then work until 10 p.m. at home. Some do.

All teachers do not spend their summers taking classes and attending conferences. Some do.

All teachers do not maintain online gradebooks and respond to emails. Some do.

All teachers do not provide their students with breakfast, medicine and clothes. Special ones do.

To imply that all teachers are alike “devalues the extraordinary teaching and generosity of spirit of our best and most dedicated teachers,” writes Sanzi.

“My belief that current tenure laws protect bad teachers doesn’t mean that I think all teachers are bad,” she concludes. “On the contrary, it means that I can easily recognize the ones who aren’t pulling their weight because they are so unlike all the great ones I’ve had the privilege of knowing.”

Teachers who like the Core

Some teachers like Core standards.

How Core literacy could fail

Common Core’s literacy standards could fail because teachers aren’t being given enough time to make them work, says a lead standards writer, Sue Pimentel.

Teachers need time to develop materials and teaching techniques and “to observe and critique each other’s teaching,” she tells Marc Tucker. “The time needed to transform the way students are taught stands in stark contrast to the rush to evaluate teachers based on old assessments that are not aligned to the Common Core.”

“I think it is clear to anyone with a grain of common sense that there should have been a five-year amnesty on consequences for testing when implementing the Common Core,” says Catherine Snow, a Harvard education professor who served on the validation committee.

This would have allowed for developing the aligned materials.  It would have been fairer and smarter to help teachers focus on teaching and learning instead of assessment and accountability.

Teachers have been given a simplified, distorted version of the standards, says Snow.  They’re told: “Give students complex texts and make them close read and then everything will be fine.”

. . . you can’t give 9th grade students, who have been exposed to a completely different educational regime, the texts associated with much more rigorous standards, and expect them to do close reading immediately.  Introduce these tasks in the first grade and build them up instead of imposing a full-blown version on teachers and students who are totally unprepared for it.

Much of the teacher training has come from the top down, says Pimentel.

Too often teachers are corralled into school gymnasia and told either a) they have to do things entirely differently or b) they are doing the Common Core already and no change in practice is necessary.  Neither is true, and neither will work.

“Without some big changes in the way the Common Core is being implemented, this really elegant vision could crash and burn through poor implementation or premature assessment,” concludes Snow. “And then it will be 20 years before anyone gets the courage to try again.”

Teachers in charge

Teacher-led schools are challenging the need for a strong principal, reports Matt Collette on Slate.

A growing number of schools –70 now and more in the works — operate “more like worker cooperatives than traditional top-down schools,” he writes.

At Brooklyn’s Professional Prep charter school, Rafiq Kalam Id-Din is one of three “managing partners.”

Id-Din spends most of his time teaching fourth graders, rather than handling the “day-to-day administrative issues — hiring, discipline, staff and parent meetings — a typical principal might handle.”

Professional Prep is  modeled on corporate law firms. Other teacher-led schools hire a “principal,” but let teachers decide on policy and hiring. That’s how it works at Renaissance Charter in Queens.

Teacher-led schools “often find themselves trading convenience and clarity for flexibility and inclusion,” writes Collette. And sharing the principal’s job is more work for teachers.

‘No excuses’ schools try to cut teacher stress

“No excuses” charter schools hire young idealists, work them very hard and expect many to burn out and leave after a few years.  That’s the old model, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Some charters are providing more support and shorter work hours to keep young teachers on the job.

James Cavanagh is 22 years old, fresh out of the University of Delaware. With his degree in elementary education, he could have gotten a job anywhere—and he chose to teach at one of the most demanding public schools in America.

His college buddies were hired at schools with mid-afternoon dismissals and two and a half months of summer vacation. For not much more pay, Cavanagh worked nearly all of August and this fall is putting in 12-hour days, plus attending graduate school.

In exchange, he gets to be a part of one of the nation’s top charter schools, North Star Academy in Newark, where poor, minority students routinely outperform their peers in wealthier ZIP codes on standardized tests. And he’s getting extensive support designed to make him both effective and eager to stick around.

He gets to school by 6:15 am and usually goes home at 6:30 pm when the building shuts down. On Monday nights and Saturdays, he takes graduate education classes.

However, when another fifth-grade math teacher returns from maternity leave this month, Cavanagh “will go from teaching three 1.5-hour classes a day to one class and spend the other periods working with students individually and in small groups,” writes Neufeld. North Star tries to give new teachers a lighter schedule. 

YES Prep, a network of 13 high-performing charters in Houston, doesn’t have a long school year, she writes. Instead, students get a chance to attend “the types of summer camps, wilderness expeditions and international travel opportunities enjoyed by their middle class peers.”

Ascend charters in Brooklyn have cut the academic day by 45 minutes, to eight hours, while giving teachers a raise. “Middle school students stay for homework help from local college students, followed by enrichment activities such as karate, dance and African drumming that are typically led by community members and partner organizations so teachers can go home,” writes Neufeld.

A little tenure, but not too much

Tenure is “a problem” but also “a necessity,” writes Esther Wojcicki, a long-time teacher, in the Huffington Post.

Teachers need some protection from arbitrary firing, but on the other hand, the school district and the community needs a way to get rid of poorly performing teachers. One solution would be be to keep tenure but make it much easier to eliminate a tenured teacher.

. . . Too many states grant tenure after two years including California. How about tenure after three years? Perhaps there could be steps … limited tenure after three years, tenure after five years.

Or teachers could reapply for tenure every 10 years or so, suggests Wojcicki, teaches journalism at Palo Alto High School. She’s built an incredible program there: My daughter was one of her students.