Thursday, December 22, 2011

Everything's amazing and nobody's happy

Over at Education Week, my buddy Patrick Ledesma posts an insightful article about the use of technology, a sense of immediacy, and the implications for [public] education.  The idea is that public access to privatized messages from teachers can increase an individual teachers' wealth.

The video, Everything's amazing and nobody's happy, is pretty funny, and Patrick infers that creative teachers can wrangle technology for personal gain.  Perhaps.

I appreciate Patrick's insightful perspective -- and I never really liked all those zeros (watch the video). But why is it that we sometimes align the maximization of individual liberty ('...a level of voice...") with economic prowess ("... financial security...")?

I like money, but I want democracy AND sustainable wealth. If we privatize, what mechanisms are left in place to sustain the public democracy AND sustain wealth?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Teacher Professionalism and Leadership

In a recent USA Today article, Wendy Kopp (CEO of Teach for America) and Dennis Van Roekel (President of the National Education Association), recommend “3 steps improve the USA’s teachers.”
Specifically, Kopp and Van Roekel suggest that we:
  • Use data to improve teacher preparation.
  • Bring new talent to the teaching profession.
  • Give teachers opportunities for continuous professional development.

Everyone wants to improve, but it would be helpful to determine what the specific problems are before we create policy guidelines.  Once the problems are identified, teachers should be directly involved in creating, implementing and evaluating the solutions.

Of course teachers are life-long learners and we are, therefore, interested in continuous improvement. However, when it comes to student learning, the focus on teachers is incomplete. We should also consider the students' readiness to learn when they arrive at school.  

In order to learn, students need to be well-rested, well-fed, safe, and curious when they arrive at school. If that's not the case, then we need to look to the social and economic context in which the children live outside of school. And yes, teachers do have some perspective on that context.

An over-emphasis on teacher quality is a distraction from what truly ails us: students' and teachers' diminished ability to make informed and strategic decisions about their learning.   

Over-emphasis on teacher quality as the "...single biggest factor in student success..." implies that if students are not succeeding, or learning, then teachers should be held accountable. Yet research from the Center for Teaching Quality has shown that teachers are less effective when they have poor working conditions.

The onus is on teachers to advocate for effective working conditions, among other things. Teachers should be involved in the design and implementation of curriculum, instruction, assessment AND policy -- all aspects of our working conditions. This emphasis on teacher leadership ties in very well with the US Department of Education's Blueprint for Reform that emphasizes teacher professionalism.

Within the article, it is not clear if Kopp and Roekel are referring to worthwhile assessments of "student learning" -- or simple measurements of "student success." Poorly designed standardized tests CANNOT be used to correlate the quality of teacher training programs.  

Why use bad data to create wishy-washy (or worse) policy?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Big Money In Education Reform

I know a lot of extraordinary teachers, so please consider applying for this award below :). 
A Major New Award for Extraordinary Teaching
Amazing teachers deserve more attention. That’s the idea behind the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, a new award that honors extraordinary teachers with $25,000 and the opportunity to share their expertise with educators nationwide.  Offered by TNTP, a nonprofit organization [led by Michelle Rhee for its first 10 years] led working to ensure that more students learn from excellent teachers, the prize will be given to up to five teachers each year.  Any full-time teacher working in a high-poverty public school, including charter schools, may apply. The deadline for applications is Friday, February 3, 2012. Learn more and apply online at
[COMMENTARY]  There is some big money behind some types of education reform.  Not all of that money is designed to sustain democratic public education.  
When Michelle Rhee, or others, say that "...the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher...," more questions are raised than answered.  On the surface, one might think that teacher quality would imply that teachers should somehow be involved in creating the schools (and policies) that influence their effectiveness.  Yet many reformers -- conservative, neo-liberal or heavy-handed Marxist -- often overlook teachers as the experts in the room.  Quite undemocratic.  
Some messy questions to consider:
  • If students are not doing well (on standardized tests), does this imply that teachers are merely "ordinary" or just plain lousy at their jobs?
  • If teachers are not as effective as they could be, are there other in-school variables that influence student learning?  What does it mean when we isolate the teachers as a single variable and ignore the other variables that could affect student learning?  What if smart teachers are saddled with stultifying working conditions, dangerous hallways or classrooms, or children arrive at school hungry, tired and/or stressed?
  • If you take an effective teacher and move her/him from 5th grade to 3rd, and then to 4th, will her/his effectiveness be compromised year to year?
  • Why is it that under-performing schools often have higher teacher turn-over and higher rates of newer teachers?