Professional derangement

Professional development is snake oil, writes Mary Morrison, a Los Angeles teacher, in American Renaissance. Useless in-school training cuts students’ instruction time, but the out-of-school training is even worse, she writes.

They always start with an hour or two of silly “getting-to-know-you” games. One began with a tug-of-war, and then proceeded to a “blind walk,” where one teacher led a blindfolded teacher around, supposedly to build trust. Next, we were matched with someone according to our favorite day of the week and according to the results of a personality test we had taken. We were supposed to cozy up to a “camp fire”—blankets thrown over half a dozen flashlights—and confide our innermost thoughts and feelings to each another. Often a school administrator lurks nearby, noting if anyone lacks enthusiasm for this silliness.

Workshops, training sessions, and professional development are mainly about how to teach the majority of LAUSD students, who are “of color:” non-English speakers who enter school two grade levels below whites and Asians of the same age. Asians are not white but are not exactly “of color” either, since they do well in school.

In these sessions we invariably learn that in order to teach students effectively we must foster “trust.” To do so we must have “compassion, sensitivity and understanding,” and acknowledge our students’ “cultural authenticity.” This is because they will not learn from teachers they see as “hostile to their reality.” Most of the people who run these sessions have never taught a class in their lives but believe me, the LAUSD is deadly serious about this stuff.

Teachers can’t discuss intelligence or racial differences in “behavior, focus or drive,” Morrison writes. If black or Hispanic students score below average, it must be due to “racism, oppression, cultural differences and textbooks.”  White or Asian students who don’t learn must be victims of “poor teaching methods, run-down school buildings, or lazy and uncaring teachers.” Above all, “students are never to blame if they misbehave, fail to study, or can’t understand the curriculum.”

The fads come and go and then come again with a new name.

Professional developments I have been subjected to include: Left-brain/Right-Brain Strategies, Self-Esteem, Relevance, Alternative or Authentic Assessments, Values Clarification, Critical Thinking Skills, Inventive Spelling and Writing, SLCS (small schools within schools), Rubrics, Metacognition, Tapping into Prior Knowledge, Differentiated Instruction, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Learning Centers, and Multi-Sensory Education. And there are many more.

A huge PD bureaucracy makes lots of money selling snake oil, Morrison writes.

Are teachers ready for new standards?

Teachers aren’t prepared to teach Common Core Standards, advocates fear. “I predict the common-core standards will fail, unless we can do massive professional development for teachers,” Hung-Hsi Wu, a professor emeritus of mathematics at Berkeley, tells Ed Week.
In Springdale, Arkansas, kindergartners still read fairy tales, but now they also learn about those stories’ countries of origin.

Their teachers have scrambled to find nonfiction texts that introduce students to the scientific method. They’ve discarded some of their old teaching practices, like focusing on the calendar to build initial numeracy skills.

The Durand, Mich., district is another early adopter. Gretchen Highfield, a 3rd grade teacher, has knit together core aspects of the standards—less rote learning, more vocabulary-building—to create an experience that continually builds pupils’ knowledge. A story on pigs becomes an opportunity, later in the day, to introduce the vocabulary word “corral,” which becomes an opportunity, still later in the day, for students to work on a math problem involving four corrals of five pigs.

Ed Week has more on the challenges of implementing the new standards.

In a USA Today story, American Federation of Teachers’ chief Randi Weingarten worries that teachers won’t get the training they need to teach the new standards well.

Where the jobs are — and the training

Where the jobs are — and the training.

Also: Cut tuition tax credits to save Pell Grants.

Only the best can teach in Finland

Teaching is an elite profession in Finland, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

At the University of Helsinki, a mere 6.7% of those who applied to be primary school teachers were admitted this year to the education school.

That’s a lower acceptance rate than the 10% of applicants admitted to the University of Helsinki’s schools of law and medicine.

By comparison, the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee accepted 96% of undergraduate students who applied for the 2011 year, and 88% of post-baccalaureate applicants.

Marquette’s College of Education, which accepts only students who rank in the top third of their high school class, takes 63% of applicants.

Teachers in Finland make less in gross salary and pay more in taxes than the average American teacher. But it’s considered a prestigious profession that requires rigorous training.

Secondary teachers need a master’s degree in their subject. Elementary teachers must earn a master’s in a general education field.

Once in the profession, teachers have a lot of autonomy over their classroom. A national curriculum set by the local government – with input from the national teachers union – explains what should be learned but not how to teach it.

. . . “In Finland it’s very common for us to write our own textbooks or choose the methods and curriculum or textbooks we want to buy,” said Sepoo Nyyssönen, a philosophy teacher at Sibelius High School, an arts-based school in Helsinki.

All students are in the same classes from till age 16, when they decide between a college-prep school or three years of vocational training.

Via PDQ Blog.

Why some college grads aren’t employable

Some college graduates aren’t prepared for work, recruiters tell Jeff Selingo. The top students at nearly any college and most students at top colleges are worth interviewing. But a surprising number of applicants “clearly were not ready to go to college in the first place, yet possess a degree.”

“The focus on access and completion has come at a real cost,” one recruiter told me (he didn’t want his company identified because he’s not allowed to speak on its behalf). “We’re encouraging students to go to college who should be considering other options, and then we’re pushing them through once there.”

In the past, college graduates have fared much better than less-educated workers. That may change for average graduates of average colleges with not-very-rigorous degrees. And that’s a large group.

Many graduates write poorly. “It’s clear they’re not learning basic grammar, usage, and style in K-12,” recruiters say.

While many graduates are hard workers, others skated by in college.

The recruiters complained about professors who clearly gave grades that were not deserved, allowed assignments to be skipped, and simply didn’t demand much from their students.

In addition, many young workers feel entitled to a job, recruiters say. They blame “parents obsessed with their kids’ happiness.”

Many employers have cut training and mentoring to save money, the recruiters admit. Employers want to hire well-educated people who are ready to work with minimal support.


Training principals who can lead

For decades, I’ve heard about the most critical shortage in education:  Principals who can lead, not just administer, and create the conditions that enable teachers to teach effectively.  The Wallace Foundation is helping six urban school districts hire, train and support effective principals for high-need schools.

In Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest district, aspiring principals get a year of “residency” training before taking over a school.  

Aspiring principals in the district spend 90 days training under successful school leaders, helping lead teacher meetings, working on projects to improve instruction and meeting frequently with mentors. They attend workshops and seminars, often with district Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, to learn leadership strategies, budgeting and other skills.

 . . . In New York City, research showed that graduates of their leadership academy went into the lowest-performing schools and within three years were outperforming similar schools in English language arts and mathematics.

The $75 million grant will include funds to research whether specially trained principals improve student achievement.

Training principals is cost effective, researchers say.

Jobless seek hurry-up training

Laid-off workers in St. Louis want short-term training programs that let them rejoin the workforce quickly. Few have the motivation or skills to earn a degree.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Students taking online community college classes are more likely to fail than students in traditional classes, concludes a Washington state study concludes.

Report: Raise teachers’ status, pay

Raise U.S. teachers’ status by recruiting only high-performing college graduates, training and mentoring them well and paying them more, advises a new report (pdf) by Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA international achievement test. In top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland, teaching is a high-status occupation, Schleicher says. From the New York Times:

“Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The report was released to kick off an Education Department conference on teaching that included education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Schleicher, an official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, wrote, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president and a former West Virginia schools superintendent.

The report lists “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, including raising the status of teachers, adopting common academic standards, developing better tests to diagnose students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

The average salary of a veteran elementary teacher in the U.S. is higher than the OECD average, but U.S. teachers earn 40 percent less than other college graduates here, while teachers elsewhere are closer to the median.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

Linda Darling-Hammond expresses a similar vision — top students, excellent training, higher pay — in a piece that calls for melding Teach for America’s recruitment expertise with training for career teachers.

Transforming teacher prep

Teacher education should be “turned upside down” to prioritize teaching internships over academic coursework concludes “Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice,” a report by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).  This is a seismic moment for teacher education,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, a co-chair of the blue ribbon panel that wrote the report.

Eight states – California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee – have agreed to implement the panel’s recommendations.

The earth did not move for Rick Hess. He likes the shift to practice teaching “interwoven with academic content and professional courses.” But he doesn’t see radical new thinking.

If the training is happening in K-12 schools, do we need colleges of education? Should every teacher be a jack of all trades? Do internships work for online teachers or tutors? What about emerging school models?

Instead, I see a call for a new “one best” approach to teacher preparation, one ill-suited for serving educators in new kinds of roles or for supporting more agile, cost-effective staffing models.

Past “seismic” edu-reforms proved to be little more than fads, Hess writes.

As someone who spent five years supervising student teachers, I’ve seen a whole lot of pretty awful practice-oriented teacher preparation. It’s not clear to me from this report how preparation programs can be counted on to guard against that or keep their “clinical” training from simply meaning that their students are wasting time in K-12 schools instead of on the college campus.

Teacher internships will cost more, but the report mentions no offsetting savings — or proof that clinically trained teachers will “enter the field ready to teach.” Hess follows up here.

Teacher Beat, who’s seen many reports and little change, has more on the recommendations.

Has special-ed inclusion backfired?

Has special-ed inclusion backfired? On Hechinger Ed, Sarah Butrymowicz questions whether students with special needs are best served by spending all or most of their day “with a teacher who likely knows little about how best to teach them.”

Federal mandates that students must be educated in “the least restrictive environment” possible.

Some classrooms are led by a general-education teacher helped out by a special-education teacher, in a team-teaching model. In other cases, however, students with special needs receive instruction from specialists only a few hours a day or week in pull-out sessions. That is, many special-education students spend the bulk of their days being taught primarily by general-education teachers.

Yet a typical general-education teacher-in-training only takes one or two courses about special education.

Some teacher-prep programs don’t require a single course focused on teaching students with disabilities; half of secondary programs don’t require field experience with special education students.

Is more training the answer? Or should we rethink inclusion? Teachers have only so much time, energy and ability to “differentiate instruction.” I suspect they could teach more effectively — and be less exhausted — if students were grouped by performance level.