Tag: university schools of education


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Rewind: The Dropout Nation Podcast: Get Rid of Poor-Performing Teachers (and the System that Protects Them)


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As you wind down from the Thanksgiving weekend, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast, on the need to get poor-performing teachers out of classrooms. The damage wrecked by ineffective teaching…

Photo courtesy of GothamGazette.org

As you wind down from the Thanksgiving weekend, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast, on the need to get poor-performing teachers out of classrooms. The damage wrecked by ineffective teaching — and the culture of mediocrity they foster — is promoted and sustained by schools of education, collective bargaining agreements, state laws and cultures within districts.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network,  Zune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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Rewind: The Dropout Nation Podcast: Building a Culture of Genius in Education


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As a further elaboration on Tuesday’s Dropout Nation commentary on the anti-intellectualism within traditional public education circles, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast on the importance of fostering a culture…

As a further elaboration on Tuesday’s Dropout Nation commentary on the anti-intellectualism within traditional public education circles, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast on the importance of fostering a culture of genius in education. Playing off John Taylor Gatto’s famed declaration, I discuss how schools and teachers should educate kids from the perspective that almost all children are geniuses. The emergence of high-quality alternatives to traditional public education, along with research on child development and teacher quality shows that all children can succeed if we foster a culture of genius in American public education.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network,  Zune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, access it on Viigo if you have a BlackBerry.

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This Is Dropout Nation: This Week’s Quotes


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“One of the big problem in this industry is the whole human capital chain… can be improved… A great teacher in a dysfunctional school or a great school in a…

“One of the big problem in this industry is the whole human capital chain… can be improved… A great teacher in a dysfunctional school or a great school in a dysfunctional district isn’t going to affect the change we need. We need to change the whole system.” — Arne Duncan’s Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, on improving how education recruits, develops and deploys talent.

“Made in America still means something… [But] we need to educate every child so that we can maintain the quality of life we have.” — U.S. Trade Representative (and former Dallas Mayor) Ron Kirk at the National Urban League Conference’s business dinner.

“What does [high-quality education] mean at the end of the day? We need to do a real better job of explaining what a high-quality education should look like.” — Byron Garrett, CEO of National PTA, on empowering parents, during a panel discussion about innovation in charter schools.

“We have not just written off kids in special education, but by association, teachers in special education. It’s a travesty.” — Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, discussing the low quality of teacher training at ed schools.

“States have been setting the bar artificially low, everywhere, for the past decade. This isn’t news… Standards aren’t the problem. Low standards are the problem.” — Derrell Bradford of New Jersey’s  E3 on the chatter about low cut scores in New York State.

“Parents can’t wait. They see pockets of educational excellence and ask why it can’t be everywhere—when their children have only one chance for an education.” U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan before the National Urban League’s conference, on why old-school civil rights activists can’t keep offering their old paradigm for improving education.

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Does Teacher Turnover Matter?


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Based on the talk about (and derision from defenders of traditional public education over) the level of attrition of Teach For America graduates after entering classrooms, one would think that…

We need talented people like Dwayne Thomas of Mandarin Middle School in the teaching and principal ranks -- even for just a short time.

Based on the talk about (and derision from defenders of traditional public education over) the level of attrition of Teach For America graduates after entering classrooms, one would think that university schools of education were stellar in this regard. But as the eminent teaching guru Martin Haberman points out, half of all aspiring teachers coming out of ed schools never make it into the classroom in the first place. As Richard Ingersoll also notes, half of those teachers who enter the classroom leave within five years (and one third of them leave by their third year). All in all, no matter how you slice it, you have high levels of turnover in the teaching profession and this is a problem.

Or is it? As it may turn out, little of this attrition may be troubling at least in the main. If one looks at the research on teacher effectiveness and the talent arc of the average teacher, it may not make sense for many teachers to be in the classroom for longer than two decades at most. As Dan Goldhaber and Michael Hanson have pointed out in their 2009 study, a teacher with 25 years in the classroom is no more successful in improving student achievement than an instructor working for only four years. Just as importantly, the research is suggesting that in some cases, the best teacher may not be a tenured veteran of three decades, but a rookie teacher who will only get better still over time.

This isn’t to say that young teachers are naturally better than their more-senior counterparts. After all, there is just as much chance that the rookie is going to be a laggard instructor and will not improve over time, while the more-senior teacher is one who has always been really good at improving student performance and is a master at this craft. What it means is that the concern should not be so much about attrition, but about luring high-quality teachers into the classroom and getting as much out of their talent for the benefit of their students (our children) as possible while they are in the job.

Think about it: At its best, teaching is difficult work. Those who undertake it should be thrilled by the challenges and opportunities to improve the lives of every child with whom they work. They should be happy to be in classrooms and anticipate success every day, not be depressed about working with children who may need a lot of help. They must be competent in the subjects they teach and care for every child before them. Those who aren’t interested in such challenges or don’t care for children shouldn’t be teachers. It’s best that they move on to other pursuits.

As for the highly-talented good-to-great teachers? Just because someone is stellar at teaching, cares for children and enjoys the profession today doesn’t mean they just want to be a teacher for life. The kind of talented and gifted people who are best at teaching are also the very folks who are interested in other challenges. Some of them may involve some form of economic or social entrepreneurship. It may include the desire to be the next Steven Evangelista, Marva Collins, Michael Feinberg or Dave Levin. It could even mean rising in the education ranks to lead or shape charters, private schools or traditional districts (like Jason Kamras), become the next John Taylor Gattos or even lead path-breaking teacher training programs like Haberman. Or, they may just want to stay in the classroom and be what the Jaime Escalantes (or for me, Everett Brawner and Dave Gilbert) are for so many children: The men and women who go above and beyond to teach every child what he or she needs to achieve their economic and social destinies.

The real problem isn’t so much the turnover, but a system in which too few high-quality aspiring teachers are recruited; which trains aspiring teachers abysmally for teaching in the classroom (and whose training usually involves pedagogy over subject-matter competence and how to work with kids from backgrounds different than that of those who teach them); which instills teachers with a rather dispiriting vision of classroom teaching (especially in urban classrooms); and then compensates them in ways that are contrary to stirring high performance. As seen in the careers of Escalante and Gatto, great work is barely tolerated while mediocrity is the norm.

The union work rules that limit the amount of work teachers can do, along with the lack of performance management and rigorous evaluation, means that top performers get little feedback, support or recognition. Meanwhile mid-career professionals — who may have the stuff to work in the toughest urban classrooms — struggle to even get into the profession because of the emphasis on licensing instead of on quality of work and talent.

This isn’t just a problem within teaching. The school reform movement has shown the importance of fostering and coalescing entrepreneurship, system leadership and practical problem-solving. But it has only begun to crack traditional education circles. Far too many within traditional public education lack curiosity about how matters are solved in areas outside of education; if anything, they are hostile to anything that seems to smell of “hedge funds” or “Corporate America” or even Main Street, even though all three are the main generators of economic and social activity. There is no iPad or iPhone without Apple and Steve Jobs; no Windows without Bill Gates and Microsoft; and no Facebook, Warner Brothers or Hewlett-Packards without entrepreneurial activity. This anti-intellectualism results in an unwillingness to think outside of the traditional concept of unions, districts, and school boards.

The solution to these problems lies in recruiting and training high-quality teachers who can serve in the classroom and, if they so choose, foster new programs, nonprofits and ideas within education, Right now, however, it is afterthought, not the norm. Thanks to TFA, similar alternative training programs, and reformers within and outside of traditional public education, this is changing. But it is changing too slowly. We must reform smarter and faster.

Attracting great teachers must begin long before they enter the classrooms. As Arthur Levine has pointed out ad-nauseam, most ed schools do a terrible job of screening out teachers. Almost none use the Haberman method — put an aspiring teacher before a kid and watch how he or she interacts with them — or use PRAXIS I or the SAT to screen out the high-quality candidates from those who aren’t (although one state, Indiana, is making that a requirement for its ed schools this year). Nor do ed schools recruit in the same manner as Teach For America, seeking out black and Latino collegians for classroom careers. It is one reason — besides the dropout crisis — that we have so few minorities in the classroom.

Once the teachers get into the classroom, they must be rewarded early and often for great work. This means the traditional teacher compensation system — with its emphasis on near-lifetime employment and seniority- and degree-based pay and privileges — must go out the door. Performance pay is one way to reward teachers. Another is to provide them start-up money to start their own social entrepreneur programs — including schools, teaching fellowship programs or even the next Black Star Project. Spreading out the Chad Sansings of education into the wider world will help boost teacher quality — and the quality of education for every child.

At least these are my thoughts. What are yours? Feel free to respond.

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What Race to the Top III Should Look Like


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As I have opined numerous times here and elsewhere, one of Race to the Top’s biggest flaws is that it isn’t ambitious enough. There aren’t enough players in education competing…

As I have opined numerous times here and elsewhere, one of Race to the Top’s biggest flaws is that it isn’t ambitious enough. There aren’t enough players in education competing for the $3.4 billion in remaining funding; it is only a nudge toward reform not a truly bold step; and it doesn’t take advantage of the clever competition approach that has succeeded so far in getting states to take on the reforms they should have been pursuing in the first place.

What are the five steps President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should undertake in future rounds? Here are some thoughts:

  • Allow school districts, charter school networks and grassroots organizations to compete in future rounds: Obama and Duncan have already said they want to allow districts to apply for Race to the Top funding. They should. Expanding the pool of Race to the Top applicants to include school districts—including reform-minded systems such as New York City and Los Angeles Unified—would force school districts to seriously change their own practices and restructure their relationships with teachers unions. Allowing districts, along with charter school organizations such as KIPP, grassroots activists and even PTAs, would also place pressure on states participating in the competition to embrace bolder reforms.
  • Increase the rewards for embracing reform: Temporary funding isn’t enough. School districts must also gain additional rewards from participating and winning funding. One possible reward: Allowing winning districts to become enterprise zones of sorts, freeing them from state laws governing collective bargaining agreements and teacher dismissals.
  • Parental engagement must factor into the equation: The fact that California’s Parent Trigger law, along with the expansion of charter schools, is the only tool for parental engagement emerging from Race to the Top is shameful. For the next round, the Department of Education should require applicants to enact policies and laws that place parents in their proper place as consumers and kings in education decision-making.
  • Use Race funding to scale up alternative teacher training programs: Teach For America and other alternative training programs have proven they can do as good job — and particularly, with TFA, even better — than university schools of education. But there aren’t enough of them to improve the quality of school district teacher corps. Encouraging districts and charter schools to work more-closely with alternative programs (and also focus on boosting the number of men and minorities in the teaching ranks)
  • Forget consensus: Contrary to proclamations from Jon Schnur and others, consensus among stakeholders is critical element of winning Race to the Top funding. It shouldn’t be. True leadership often involves breaking with those groups that refuse to move away from a crippling status quo. More importantly, school districts and state education leaders must take a more-assertive stance in their relationships with teachers unions, revamping an oft-servile relationship that yields little for students, schools and even individual teachers. Rewarding states such as Florida for taking aggressive reform measures — even if the state needs work on other elements of its application — is crucial to making Race to the Top a truly bold reform measure.

At this moment, Race to the Top is more of a nudge toward school reform that a bold leap. Considering the dropout crisis — and that 1.2 million children drop out every year into poverty and prison — nudges aren’t enough.

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