Monday, December 22, 2008

ABCTE Science Teacher in the News

It has to be about the students. When ABCTE was formed, it was because so many students were going without a great teacher because the certification rules were so complex that too many people were ignoring the teaching profession.

When we read about our teachers making a difference, it shows that the founding members of ABCTE were right. Blake Hedden is teaching science in Oconee County in South Carolina. This is an areas where it is difficult to recruit math and science teachers and now Blake is helping fill that need. They have combined their 'grow your own' teacher program with ABCTE to make sure that their students have great teachers.

Please take a moment and read the article – if we had a couple thousand more Blakes in the world, our teacher shortage would be over.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on alternative certification

Matt Ladner does it again on the Jay Greene's Blog with a great post looking at the Brooking's data on teacher certification and the Paul Peterson paper. Similar to what I did back in November with this post - but with a lot more gusto.

Take a look - it is worth the read.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Union Perceptions

I am a big fan of Mike Antonnuci’s Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) blog as he does an amazing job of keeping an eye on all things union. Since the teacher’s unions have come out so firmly against alternative certification, I rely on EIA to keep track of union positions and facts.

This time he steers us to a Rasmussen Report on the public perception of teacher unions. From their article: “two-thirds of U.S. voters (66%) say the teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are more interested in protecting their members’ jobs than in the quality of education.”

Wow – this on top of the WSJ Article that called out the unions for opposing alternative teacher certification since “Like all unions, teachers unions have a vested interest in restricting the labor supply to reduce job competition. Traditional state certification rules help to limit the supply of "certified" teachers”

Is this a trend? Do people – and maybe even politicians – finally understand that a union’s focus is more pay and benefits for members and not education improvements? It gives one hope.

And a shout out to Jay Greene and Matt Ladner for pushing the “all fronts” strategy on the blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

WSJ Nails it!!

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent summary of the recent research on teacher certification. It is great to see the Journal take on teacher quality and advocate for more alternative teacher certification programs like ABCTE.

Wall Street Journal

We responded with the following letter to the editor:

Letter to the Editor – Wall Street Journal:

As the president of a non-profit alternative teaching certification program, it is great to see the Journal weighing in on teacher quality and helping to debunk the myth of certification in “The ‘Certified’ Teacher Myth” (Dec. 13).

In all eight states where our program is now accepted I am asked why the teacher’s unions oppose us when, in theory, we create more union members. The Journal’s premise that the issue comes down to basic economics is correct and, unfortunately, while union opposition to alternative certification programs may be in the best interest of members because it limits the supply of teachers, it is not in the best interest of students; the Peterson study referenced by the Journal is shedding much-needed light on this issue.

There are other studies that demonstrate the benefits of alternative certification programs. For example, the Brookings Institution gathered performance data on over 195,000 students and found no difference between those taught by alternatively certified teachers versus those taught by teachers certified through standard routes.

State leaders need to look at the facts on alternative teacher certification, which can increase the quality and the racial diversity of their teaching workforce. They must understand the economic motivation of teacher’s unions on this issue and make the choice that is best for students.

Washington, D.C.

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded via a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and committed to recruiting, certifying and

Friday, December 12, 2008

TIMMS - mediocrity reigns supreme

I was going to blog on TIMSS and talk about the mediocre performance of our schools in math and science and how we can never be competitive as a nation unless we lead in the area of technological expertise – but most other bloggers already have. So then I thought I could do a great summary of what other bloggers said about the TIMSS results and provide that to our loyal readers – but then I found that Core Knowledge already did that as well.

Based on these results, wouldn’t it be great to test all the teachers in these countries on the math and science content. I would be willing to bet a substantial sum, that the results would pretty much mirror the students. We have now highlighted the problem – now we need to come up with viable solutions and they come down to two core actions as evidenced by the McKinsey study we so often cite.

  • Develop a rigorous standards based curriculum
  • Be highly selective (like ABCTE) on who gets in front of our students

‘Nuff said – now have a great weekend

Teacher Bonuses on the chopping block

The numbers are getting worse on state budgets which means teacher bonuses are going to be in trouble. I have already heard this in Minnesota and now find the same thing in Utah. Plus Florida has cut way back eliminating the reimbursement for the cost teachers must endure to go through the program in the last round of budget cuts and this year they will have even more.

This will be a ridiculously tough year for performance pay and an even tougher year for National Board.

Here at ABCTE we have put our Distinguished Teacher program on hold due to budget constraints in our own organization and in the states.

The first step in a successful performance pay system is to lock down the funding. It is so detrimental to morale to have a program, get the excitement about the program and then have it vanish two years later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell is throwing the certification baby out with the bath water

In many areas of education, it is interesting to observe how easily wrong conclusions can be drawn from data. In a recent piece in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell implies that because there is no difference in student performance between certified and non-certified teachers that we should eliminate the certification process altogether. You may label this the "Let them all in and sort them out later" strategy.

It is true that if the bar is set so low that it does not improve quality, you should eliminate it altogether. The bar is useless. But you should only do that if you are getting the quality necessary for great schools. This is obviously not the case.

We need to raise the bar, not eliminate it. The McKinsey study says that selectivity is the key to great schools. Our current teacher certification processes are anything BUT selective. Our Ed schools are not all that rigorous to get through and most state teacher tests have pass rates over 95%.

This is not highly selective. Therefore you would not expect to see much difference between a certified and uncertified teacher.

Choose the right inputs to measure in potential teachers - the ones that lead to greater student achievement (we do). Set the bar high enough to ensure people have the skills and knowledge to perform and you will see better results. Don’t end certification. Make it relevant and make it rigorous.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bennett's Chop and Rail House

We have a new favorite restaurant in St. Paul - Bennett's is a little dive with outstanding food and good local beer. Walleye strips were amazing and lightly breaded followed by the Little Charlies - tenderloin medallion little steak sandwiches. And easy on the wallet. If you are here, definitely worth the trip. Urban Spoon is so far 6 for 6 on restaurants since I started searching there for good local food.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why we do this job!

This is why the people of ABCTE get up excited to come to work in the morning:

Oconee County School District's First ABCTE-Certified Teacher Making 'Positive Impact' at Alma Mater

This time last year, Blake Hedden was working as an instructional aide in the Oconee County school district. Now, he’s teaching General Science at his old high school, getting rave reviews and inspiring others to pursue a teaching career.

Hedden began pursuing his teaching certification last spring through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) via the Oconee County school district’s new “Grow Our Own” program. Hedden passed ABCTE’s rigorous program—which takes most candidates 8 to 10 months and includes both a subject area exam and a professional teaching knowledge exam—in just four months, becoming Oconee County’s first ABCTE-certified teacher.

“The ABCTE program has afforded Blake an opportunity to enter the teaching profession. Blake worked diligently throughout the certification process and is now making a positive impact as a physical science teacher at Walhalla High School, his alma mater,” said Rob Rhodes, Coordinator of Teacher Quality for the School District of Oconee County.

At Walhalla, Hedden is finding the adjustment to his new career to be a smooth one. “Most first time teachers have to deal with getting used to the area in which they end up finding a job and taking the time to establish themselves in the community,” explains Hedden. “In my case, I was born and raised right here, walked the halls of this school, sat in the very classroom I now teach in, and have the opportunity to work as contemporaries with some of my own teachers.”

Hedden cites ABCTE’s certification program as one of the things that has helped set him up for success in the classroom. “Even though I have some previous experience in the classroom as an instructional aide, during these last few months I have found myself using different strategies to maintain and control the atmosphere in my classes, often times drawing from the theory and instruction from ABCTE,” said Hedden.

The classroom is not the only place Hedden is putting his skills to work, according to Rhodes. “We are very proud of Blake. He was an ideal candidate for our district's new 'Grow Our Own' program and is already assisting other candidates as they navigate this pathway to certification. Blake recently spoke at one of our District School Board meetings, communicating the merits of this program. He discussed how ABCTE afforded him the chance to give back to his students, school and community and realize his dream of becoming a teacher.”

More than anything else, Hedden is in his new job because he seeks to make a positive impact on the lives of students. “I try to make a point every day to go a little further than simply teaching the material of the day,” he explains. “I try to speak positive words into the lives of my students and give out good advice that will most likely serve them better than knowing the definition of an isotope or ion. These are the things I remember from my favorite teachers coming through and my hope is that I will be able to impact my students in the same way.”

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded via a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. ABCTE is dedicated to recruiting, preparing, certifying and supporting dedicated professionals to improve student achievement through quality teaching. For more information on ABCTE, please visit or call 877-669-2228.

Why we do this job!

This is why the people of ABCTE get up excited to come to work in the morning:

Oconee County School District's First ABCTE-Certified Teacher Making 'Positive Impact' at Alma Mater

Oconee County, South Carolina (December 8, 2008 ) — This time last year, Blake Hedden was working as an instructional aide in the Oconee County school district. Now, he’s teaching General Science at his old high school, getting rave reviews and inspiring others to pursue a teaching career.

Hedden began pursuing his teaching certification last spring through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) via the Oconee County school district’s new “Grow Our Own” program. Hedden passed ABCTE’s rigorous program—which takes most candidates 8 to 10 months and includes both a subject area exam and a professional teaching knowledge exam—in just four months, becoming Oconee County’s first ABCTE-certified teacher.

“The ABCTE program has afforded Blake an opportunity to enter the teaching profession. Blake worked diligently throughout the certification process and is now making a positive impact as a physical science teacher at Walhalla High School, his alma mater,” said Rob Rhodes, Coordinator of Teacher Quality for the School District of Oconee County.

At Walhalla, Hedden is finding the adjustment to his new career to be a smooth one. “Most first time teachers have to deal with getting used to the area in which they end up finding a job and taking the time to establish themselves in the community,” explains Hedden. “In my case, I was born and raised right here, walked the halls of this school, sat in the very classroom I now teach in, and have the opportunity to work as contemporaries with some of my own teachers.”

Hedden cites ABCTE’s certification program as one of the things that has helped set him up for success in the classroom. “Even though I have some previous experience in the classroom as an instructional aide, during these last few months I have found myself using different strategies to maintain and control the atmosphere in my classes, often times drawing from the theory and instruction from ABCTE,” said Hedden.

The classroom is not the only place Hedden is putting his skills to work, according to Rhodes. “We are very proud of Blake. He was an ideal candidate for our district's new 'Grow Our Own' program and is already assisting other candidates as they navigate this pathway to certification. Blake recently spoke at one of our District School Board meetings, communicating the merits of this program. He discussed how ABCTE afforded him the chance to give back to his students, school and community and realize his dream of becoming a teacher.”

More than anything else, Hedden is in his new job because he seeks to make a positive impact on the lives of students. “I try to make a point every day to go a little further than simply teaching the material of the day,” he explains. “I try to speak positive words into the lives of my students and give out good advice that will most likely serve them better than knowing the definition of an isotope or ion. These are the things I remember from my favorite teachers coming through and my hope is that I will be able to impact my students in the same way.”

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded via a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. ABCTE is dedicated to recruiting, preparing, certifying and supporting dedicated professionals to improve student achievement through quality teaching. For more information on ABCTE, please visit or call 877-669-2228.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Big Tent getting some love

Dan Lips turns in an excellent piece about the comprehensive focus of education reform today. ABCTE has been advocating for this and many in education see the "big tent" as the best way for all education improvements to move forward. It is great to see so many groups starting to come together for true systemic change in education.

Read the article here!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Student Success Strategy

It has been incredibly difficult to gain momentum for the systemic change necessary for success in all of America’s schools. True change requires a comprehensive strategy that focuses on the many variables that affect student performance. While many individual programs are working toward this goal, those organizations working alone will not produce the education our students deserve and require in order to be competitive in the world market.

The politics of education overshadows the merits of education change in America. The two camps have become so entrenched that many politicians determine which side they need to be on by who supports or fights against any given program. While conservatives usually focus on working toward education reform, that reform is perceived as principally revolving around school choice. As Andy Rotherham opined in a recent blog, conservatives are seen as “reflexively hostile to public schools.”

On the other side, there are powerful groups that want to maintain the status quo. They have been very effective in positioning themselves as the student advocate through a comprehensive strategy to push for smaller class sizes, universal pre-k, more spending on education in general, higher salaries for teachers and reduced testing for students. These have the appearance of advocating for students when they really benefit the adults. A state group will work at the state level toward these goals, often with the advice and additional resources of a national group.

Meanwhile, education reform groups operate in a single silo with national leadership and maybe a state group that is advocating for a single item in the reform agenda. Each state represents a win or lose scenario for each group. But each silo really only impacts a small number of students so it is too easy to marginalize that group when compared to the entire system. Reaching a small number of students has not, and will not, induce systemic change to provide better opportunities for all students. The position from the defenders of the status quo is that each education reform does not address the larger need of all students so we should continue to stay with the current and implement their strategy.

In order to overcome the status quo and have more true reforms become law, state leaders and others advocating for change cannot focus on only one part of the spectrum of improvements that could have a significant positive impact on America’s students. The legislative and policy focus must be to champion all strategies that will enable student success.

This approach is similar to the legislative strategy attributed to Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. He believed that systemic change was like a crowded airport. In order to land at that airport your plane had to be circling in a holding pattern above. All the planes would eventually land, but you didn’t really know which one would be next. But if you weren’t in the pattern, you most certainly wouldn’t get to land. He made sure that there were numerous tax break bills introduced in every legislative session so that one or more would get approved each year. Applying this strategy to education policy will ensure that some changes are implemented each year in a larger number of states. As more reforms are implemented, more data will be available to demonstrate the success of these programs to new states.

ABCTE’s experience in seeking acceptance of an alternative teacher certification program in Oklahoma provides a good example of how Norquist’s airport theory can be applied to education. In 2006, during a time when no other meaningful education legislation had been introduced in Oklahoma, ABCTE had a bill introduced. Due to the timing of this initiative, those who supported the status quo had only one bill to fight and they applied all their resources against ABCTE’s efforts. Obviously the legislation failed. There was nothing to compromise on and the status quo defenders expended very little political capital in the defeat. For education change in Oklahoma that year, it was a 100% loss rate.

Fast forward to 2008 when Oklahoma had numerous education improvement bills moving through both houses. There were two bills that would have had significant adverse impact on the teachers union. The first was a bill to end collective bargaining and the second was a bill to turn troubled urban school districts into home rule charter districts. If there is a spectrum going from most reviled to somewhat acceptable, these two bills would be clearly at the reviled end.

Because there were multiple bills in the spectrum moving forward, a school choice bill passed the senate and ABCTE passed the senate and the house, but died in conference. This multi-faceted approach came much closer to succeeding as status quo defenders needed to split their resources and use political capital on other bills. For these defenders, opposition to all education reforms with the exception of spending more money is an untenable political position as it leaves them painted as blocking any change that could help students. With multiple reform bills before both houses again this year, conditions look very good for an ABCTE bill to pass.

Research by Matt Ladner and Dan Lips on the education agenda implemented by Governor Jeb Bush in Florida provides further evidence of how a Norquist-style approach could benefit education reform. The staggering improvements in closing the achievement gap in Florida during Bush’s time as governor were brought about by increasing the number of charter schools, increasing the number of alternative teacher certification routes, implementing school choice and using research based reading programs. Bush’s plan did not focus on one element but created an atmosphere of systemic change and the results demonstrate the potential success of this strategy.

Today that agenda in Florida is supported and defended by the Foundation for Florida’s Future with Patricia Levesque as the director. This foundation continues the legacy of Governor Bush by educating legislators on the gains that have been achieved by Florida’s students. The foundation works to ensure continued progress through high standards, accountability, rigor and relevance, school choice and teacher pay.

Another great example is Robyn Bagley who as Board Chairman of Parents for Choice in Education in Utah fought hard for the voucher referendum in her state. When it lost, she could have retrenched in her fight for school choice. But she felt that her group could do more for education as a whole now that they had a much wider base of support and relationships with many more legislators and education leaders. Robyn worked with the Association of American Educators to help push the growth of a professional teacher’s organization to serve as an alternative to the teacher’s union. She also worked with ABCTE and succeeded in expanding alternative teacher certification options and came close to winning merit pay for teachers. Her group’s efforts helped pass powerful open enrollment legislation for public schools and increased ongoing funding for the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship. Because of these victories for students, they have demonstrated that they are a force for education change and decision makers are depending on them for advice in all education matters – not just one specific option.

Here are the critical elements of a student success strategy that can increase student achievement on standardized tests and improve graduation rates:

1. Student Experience - teacher quality, time on task and curriculum
2. School Environment
3. Accountability and Administration

All of these elements are interconnected. Quality teachers without enough time on task for students will not succeed. A longer school year with lousy teachers will not deliver success. Keeping students in a school setting that is not right for them will lead to drop outs. Creating charter schools and opening up enrollment in private schools without enough quality teachers will lead to failure. Precise student achievement data with a weak curriculum or poor instructional quality will not raise test scores. And the list goes on.

Evidence of these concepts can be found in KIPP schools. It is debatable as to whether KIPP schools could scale to serve millions of students, but their success has been demonstrated repeatedly. They have stronger, more committed teachers with most coming from alternative certification routes and they are not constrained by collective bargaining agreements. Their students have significantly more time on task in every school day and a longer school year which is why they are able to get back on grade level in two to three years. They have a school setting that is a perfect match for these motivated students and parents and they use a research based curriculum.

Based on the elements that are known to improve student success at KIPP schools and in Florida, what specific areas of focus should the student success agenda target?

Teaching Strategies for Student Success

Recruitment Policies

• True Alternative Certification: ensure that programs like ABCTE are available to provide rigorous yet efficient methods for getting new teachers in the classroom
• Differentiated Pay: ensure that these opportunities are available for both high needs subject areas and for teaching in high needs school districts


• Accountability: using the Louisiana model, determine the student achievement realized by teachers from each preparation program in the state including alternative certification programs and hold those programs accountable for performance
• Core Subject Expertise: ensure your elementary teachers have proven knowledge in research based reading instruction and improved math expertise. Ensure secondary teachers know their subjects.

Support and Retention

• Performance Based Pay: provide performance incentives for teachers and schools that demonstrate increased student achievement
• Career Ladders: create a career ladder based on results – not based on inputs
• Professional Organizations: provide the ability for teachers to join a non-union professional organization such as the Association of American Educators as opposed to being forced to join a union
• End Seniority as basis for teaching assignments: allow principals to have control over who they hire for their schools to end the practice of passing bad teachers from school to school

Time on Task

• Longer school year: KIPP students are in class for 197 days a year. Create longer school year for all schools or at least for failing schools


• Real Math: ensure all students get basic math skills before high school / ensure high school math is not “dumbed down”
• Research based reading instruction: if you can’t read, you can’t compete in a world market
• End Social promotion: ensure all students have the basics before advancing to the next grade

Match School Setting to the Student

Parental Choice

• Special Needs
• Foster children
• Low income
• Military members
• Tax Credits
• Public school open enrollment

Charter Schools

• Lift the cap: use waiting lists and lotteries as a strong reason to increase the number of charters in the state
• Increase autonomy: allow charters full authority over hiring – eliminate requirements to use only state certified teachers
• Provide full funding: give public charter schools the same funding as traditional public schools

Virtual Schools

• Lift any student caps: don’t limit the number of students
• Increase use for online recovery programs: allow community based organizations to help provide access to allow students to finish high school through credit recovery programs online

• Each state should follow the Data Quality Campaign’s guidelines that include student identifier, teacher identifier and can link teacher to students to determine performance
• Highlight the difference between NAEP and State Test scores to look for indications of “racing to the bottom” by lowering standards to falsely show progress


• Allow school districts to become home rule school districts, giving them the freedom to operate as a charter school
• End collective bargaining in schools
• Alternative principal certification to create better talent in the administrative ranks

A paper without action is just paper. So what is the call to action from the data demonstrated by Ladner and Lips and the progress made in Utah, Florida and Oklahoma? The call to action is for leaders to:

Take charge of education as an issue and be the catalyst for true, comprehensive education change that results in lasting student success

In order to accomplish this goal at the state level, leaders should develop a comprehensive education legislative strategy. Using some of the changes listed above, and the expertise available from national groups to help facilitate that success, legislation should be pushed to accomplish a broad spectrum of education changes each year. State leaders can work with businesses to create an education advocacy group that takes on a comprehensive agenda like Parents for Choice in Education and Foundation for Florida’s Future. Since these organizations will not be viewed as “single issue groups”, they will be seen as education change experts. They can also aid in local and grassroots efforts.

Ross Douthat wrote in a recent blogpost in The Atlantic Monthly that “on too many issues, conservatives have simply avoided the most important emerging debates, changing the subject whenever possible and leaving liberals to argue against liberals” and that education is “where the most interesting arguments are between liberal reformers and liberal interest groups, with conservatives sitting on the sideline talking about vouchers and occasionally praising the Michelle Rhees and Corey Bookers of the world.”

It is time to take charge, evolve beyond the old ways of thinking and create a strategy for true systemic change in America’s schools.

Links to success:

“Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation” by Matt Ladner and Dan Lips

ABCTE – American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence


AAE – Association of American Educators

The Friedman Foundation for Educational School Choice

The Alliance for School Choice

Center for Education Reform

The New Teacher Project on the effects of seniority based hiring practices

Data Quality Campaign

Ross Douthat article

Monday, December 1, 2008

The continued decline of high poverty schools

Out of field teaching ensures the continued decline of high poverty schools. It is shameful that we will put someone in front of a math class who does not know math, but states will not open up teacher certification to high quality routes like ABCTE - - hopefully, parents will become outraged that their students know more algebra than their teacher and demand solutions.


CORE PROBLEMS: Out-of-Field Teaching Persists in Key Academic Courses, Especially in America’s High-Poverty and High-Minority Schools

WASHINGTON (November 25, 2008) – In America’s secondary schools, low-income students and students of color are about twice as likely as other students to be enrolled in core academic classes taught by out-of-field teachers, according to a report released today by The Education Trust. Out-of-field teachers are those who possess neither certification in the subject they have been assigned to teach nor an academic major in that subject.In middle and high school mathematics, for example:

· Four in ten in high-poverty schools are taught by an out-of-field teacher, compared with 16.9 percent in schools serving the fewest low-income students.

· In schools with high percentages of African-American and Latino students, nearly one-third of classes are taught by out-of-field teachers, compared with 15.5 percent in schools with relatively few minority students.

While out-of-field teaching is particularly acute in mathematics and in high-poverty and high-minority schools, the problem is pervasive. Nationwide, more than 17 percent of all core academic courses (English, math, social studies, and science) in grades 7-12 are taught by an out-of-field teacher. In the middle grades alone, the rate jumps to 40 percent.

To read the full release and report, "Core Problems," click here.

LA Times Editorial - spot on

Great editorial in the LA Times - hopefully the Obama staff will take thoughtful action based on this type of input.

The true school scandal
Jonah Goldberg, LA Times columnist
November 25, 2008,0,2913644.col...

Hypocrisy is an overblown sin. Better to be a hypocrite who occasionally violates his principles than a villain who never does.

I bring this up because the usual, and entirely expected, round of conservative complaints about Barack Obama's public-schools hypocrisy have begun, and I'm finding it all a bit tedious.

The Obamas will send their two daughters to the expensive private school, Sidwell Friends. Yes, that makes him something of a hypocrite because he is a vocal opponent of giving poor kids anything like the same option.

But you know what? Who cares? Personally, I would think less of the Obamas if they sent their kids to bad schools out of some ideological principle. Parents' first obligation is to do right by their own kids.

In Washington, we have these arguments every time a rich Democrat sends his kids to private schools, which is very often. The real issue is why the public schools are unacceptable to pretty much anyone, liberal or conservative, who has other options. Maybe in the rich suburbs of New York or Los Angeles, wealthy opponents of school choice run less risk of being labeled hypocrites; they can skip the pricey private schools because their public campuses aren't hellholes.

But most Washington public schools are hellholes. So parents here -- including the first family -- find hypocrisy a small price to pay for fulfilling their parental obligations.

According to data compiled by the Washington Post in 2007, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, D.C. ranks third in spending for each student, around $13,000 a pupil, but last in spending on instruction. More than half of every dollar of education spending goes to the salaries of administrators. Test scores are abysmal; the campuses are often unsafe.

Michelle Rhee, D.C.'s heroic school chancellor, in her 17 months on the job has already made meaningful improvements. But that's grading on an enormous curve. The Post recently reported that on observing a bad teacher in a classroom, Rhee complained to the principal. "Would you put your grandchild in that class?" she asked.

"If that's the standard," replied the defensive principal, "we don't have any effective teachers in my school."

So if Obama and other politicians don't want to send their kids to schools where even the principals have such views, that's no scandal. The scandal is that these politicians tolerate such awful schools at all. For anyone.

The main reason politicians adopt a policy of malign neglect: teachers unions, arguably the single worst mainstream institution in our country today. No group has a stronger or better organized stranglehold on a political party than they do. No group is more committed to putting ideological blather and self-interest before the public good.

Rhee has been pushing a new contract that would provide merit pay to successful teachers. The system is voluntary: Individual teachers can stay in the current system that rewards mere seniority or opt to join a parallel system that pays for superior performance. Many talented teachers would love the opportunity.

Alas, the national teachers unions insist that linking pay to results is an outrageous attack on the integrity of public schools. They have insisted that D.C. teachers not even be allowed to vote on the contract.

The Democratic Party continues to tolerate this sort of thing because public school teachers continue to be reliably liberal voters. And their unions cut big checks.

Obama, however, bragged about being different during his campaign. He declared himself independent from teachers unions and boasted his support for Rhee. But his recent appointment of Stanford professor -- and teachers union apologist -- Linda Darling-Hammond to head his education transition team is seen by many as a sign that reformers like Rhee can expect little support from the new White House.

And where are the Republicans? Well, if you want a good example of why hypocrisy isn't the worst thing in the world, just look at the GOP. Because the party supports school-choice vouchers, it's simply out of the debate. School choice has much to recommend it. But it's no silver bullet, and vouchers will never gain full acceptance in rich suburbs.

School choice does immunize Republicans from the charge of hypocrisy, however. So rich Republicans can send their kids to ritzy private schools without fear of violating their principles. Good for them. Unfortunately, their principled insulation also makes them largely irrelevant to a debate in which people like Rhee could use all the help they can get.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

3 minute interview

Yay Examiner - gave us a nice interview - always helps when the interviewer is a TFA alum!

3 minute interview Dave Saba

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reforming Title II

Ed Sector and Andy Rotherham put for a pretty ambitious plan for the Obama Department of Education. In this chapter, he takes on Title II funding – the $3 Billion in spending each year where “tangible results form these efforts are scant and there is little evidence that these funds are driving the sort of changes that are aligned with broader human capital reform efforts in education.”

For the 2006-7 school year 47 percent of Title II funding went to class size reduction which has not produced great results and 32 percent went to professional development which has in large part become a joke – or in the think tank parlance “compared poorly to the other” professional development for other fields.

Rotherham then does the unthinkable in Washington – he proposes fully leveraging existing high performing programs like ABCTE, Teach for America and The New Teacher Project in order to help solve the human capital issues facing our schools.

This is nothing short of outstanding. In a city where “the new always” is a better solution than “what is working”, I applaud Rotherham’s thoughts and efforts and thank him for a thoughtful look at the problem. It appears that he is creating his dream job in the Obama Department of Education and right about now, I would really support that. And as a former Navy guy would love to see Powell for Sec Ed.

Please read more here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free markets include more than vouchers

Props to Ross Douthat for calling out conservatives for limiting their focus to very narrow parts of the overall debate. This may become my new favorite quote in education:

“the most interesting arguments are between liberal reformers and liberal interest groups, with conservatives sitting on the sideline talking about vouchers and occasionally praising the Michelle Rhees and Corey Bookers of the world.”

He rightly points out (pun intended because it is Friday after all), that instead of letting liberals completely monopolize the debates that it is time for all sides to offer solutions to the complex issues facing education.

There are many free-market reforms that can, and should be on the list of policies that should receive more support. ABCTE offers competition to the monopoly held by the college’s of education. That competition will help raise the quality of all teachers in the system. The Association of American Educators offers teachers an alternative to joining a union and pushes all teacher groups to become more of a professional support group. Charter Schools and virtual schools are providing an outstanding example of free-market reforms as their waiting lists continue to grow.

Douthat points out that we all need to be working to encourage excellence in our public school bureaucracy. That excellence can only come from an aggressive agenda that focuses on the entire system and not just vouchers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Edubusiness Update

Signal Hill had a great conference on education business today. They had 30 minute presentations from a lot of the for-profit entities out there looking for more money or to keep their investors happy. The for-profit side of education is actually not doing too bad when compared to other stocks in the market.

But there is concern. There is a lag time between the plummeting house price and the lower tax revenue. Districts are clamoring right now for cuts. Since the economy is getting much worse, states and districts are about to get hammered. Budget cuts are going to become slashing the budget.

On the for-profit college side, they are still humming along as well and may not get hammered as bad. The private colleges at $45K a year are going to be hurting. But people will still need the degree and these low cost, online alternatives are going to look pretty good.

All in all, education that is not tied to district funding is still looking pretty solid right now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Building a GREAT teaching work force

A new report on alternative teacher certification released in Education Next called "What Happens When States Have Genuine Alternative Certification?” is absolutely HUGE!! I could not love this report more if I tried. If state policy makers use this report, it will get them to fully understand the issues they create when they do not have alternative teacher certification.

First - it separates the real from the false. There are 47 states that claim to have alternative teacher certification programs but there are really on 21 states that can make this claim. The other 26 states that have the false programs require just as many college credits as regular university based teacher certification programs.

Newsflash #1 – if you have the fake programs, you only get about 5% of your teachers through alternative certification. If you have a real program, you increase the numbers of teachers applying and see 28% of your new teachers coming from your alternative certification program. From the report: “Hardly anyone bothers with an alternative certificate if the requirements are essentially the same as for the traditional one.”

Newsflash #2 – minority representation is much higher in states with real alternative certification than in states without it. Huh. Having artificial barriers to the classroom is keeping minorities out of teaching.

Newsflash #3 – I have to quote direct from the report: “In states that had genuine alternative certification, test-score gains on the NAEP exceeded those in the other states by 4.8 points and 7.6 points in 4th- and 8th-grade math, respectively. In reading, the additional gains in the states with genuine alternative certification were 10.6 points and 3.9 points for the two grade levels, respectively. Among African Americans, test-score gains were also larger in the states with genuine alternative certification.”

WAKE UP STATES!! If you have true alternative teacher certification, like ABCTE, you get more teachers to replace all those retirees, you get a truly diversified teaching workforce and you get higher student learning gains.

Call me……seriously call me……..we will get you on the road to alternative certification asap so you can realize the benefits of a great teaching workforce.

DQC - moving forward!

ABCTE Supports Data Quality Campaign

Washington, DC (November 17, 2008) — Results released Friday by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) show that states have made impressive gains in building longitudinal education data systems and now must use the information to improve student achievement.

In a press release issued by the DQC, ABCTE President Dave Saba offered support for the campaign’s efforts:

“Solid data is critical in any measurable undertaking if you wish to realistically monitor your progress, make necessary adjustments and legitimately reach your goals. I commend the DQC and all its partners for working together to ensure that we can measure the success of the many improvements to our current education system so that we can ensure success for all students.”

— David Saba, American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence

For more information, please see the full press release from the DQC or visit them at

In this economy, starting a business is better than teachintg

I received the comment below on an earlier blog about career changers. A lot of interesting points from this teacher.
  1. He/she is leaving because of teachers/administration not because of the kids
  2. He/she prefers to start a business in this economy over teaching
  3. He/she believes that career changers can get into teaching and bring content to life
  4. In their experience teaching is learned on the job

As we continue to look for ways to solve the teacher shortage, when you listen to the teachers leaving the profession and not the groups that supposedly represent all teachers, you get a very different story

“I'm a teacher who is planning a career change. The reason for this is partly that I don't get paid enough (I teach private school), but mainly because in teaching, you are not really rewarded for being talented or creative in the same way that you are in other professional endeavors. I'm planning on opening a small business, which unlike teaching, will grow and succeed in direct correlation with my own efforts and abilities. But here is a word of comfort. Good teaching doesn't rely on 30 years of experience. Some people can teach, and some people just can't. Experience does help, but a person can pretty much learn most of what they need to know in 3 or so years. Also, teachers who once worked in other professions frequently bring those experiences to the table, which only enriches their pedagogy. So the real issue isn't so much that teaching doesn't pay enough, it's more that talented people who want new challenges and opportunities to grow aren't given them. And in my case, it isn't the kids; they're great. It's colleagues and administration that frequently drive the brightest and best teachers into other professions. I don't know how to solve this problem, or else I wouldn't be planning my own career transition.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hopping over the low bar

Ed Sector has some great discussion on teacher certification and is using the graph from the Brookings Institution study of LAUSD teachers. The study showed almost no performance difference between alternatively certified teachers, teachers certified through standard routes and teachers with no certification. This is mainly due to the wide variation in teacher performance in all three groups.

The main issue is that there is no selectivity in the current teacher certification process in most states so of course they come out no better than teachers with no certification. The current process is just a matter of completing a series of tasks. It is rare to fail these programs and rarer still to fail the teacher certification test so the certification does not actually do anything for the teachers.

When the bar is low – everyone can jump over. And if everyone can jump over, it is just the same as having no bar at all. Therefore, these results are not surprising to anyone who works in certification.

Our pass rate is less than 35% through the ABCTE program. We have a very high bar so that only the best can make it into the classroom. Mathematica will have the first indication on student achievement on our teachers this winter. Based upon some of the other studies, the higher bar should give us better results.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

School Choice Event at AEI

I went to the AEI event on School Choice on Monday – and it was a great event. It had promise with Sol Stern, Joe Williams, Robert Enlow, Howard Fuller and Rick Hess on the panel and it lived up to that promise. For once in DC we got an honest discussion on a major issue and it seemed that there was even some agreement on what needed to happen in the future.

The first agreement is that our urban schools are a disaster. Howard Fuller was emphatic that making kids go to these schools is the social justice issue of our time. As many bloggers are quick to highlight, President-elect Obama is currently exercising his school choice by selecting the best school for his daughters. Howard correctly points out that every parent should be able to do that for their children.

Right here in DC, we have a middle school disaster- - shouldn’t those children have the right to immediately go to a better school. They are not safe and they are not learning. Obviously that school is not going to be fixed in the near future. I will paraphrase Howard again that it is a “grinding hypocrisy” that we won’t let some kids chose a better school but we would never send our kids to that school. It is criminal what is happening to poor kids today.

The point of contention seems to be whether you support school choice for systemic change for all schools or for social justice for kids in disaster schools. Sol Stern and Rick Hess believe we won’t achieve systemic change because there is no real penalty for losing students in our system. Sol goes on to say that we will not improve if we continue to use whole language and other poor curriculum and get teachers from ed schools who cannot teach.

My take away is that all of the speakers had some great points that can combine into a comprehensive education policy to improve our schools. Howard Fuller is an amazing and passionate speaker and he is dead on that it is criminal that we send kids to disaaster schools when other kids get to go to better schools. Enlow is right as well – we need to put more pressure on public schools to improve by creating competition but that pressure has to come in the form of better programs for competition. Sol Stern is right that the classroom is where it all happens and we all need to ensure we have better teachers and better curriculum.

I leave you with Howard Fullers great wrap up – I am paraphrasing again as I couldn’t write fast enough to get the direct quote: “I am not a supporter of choice or charter schools – I am supporter of educating kids”. That is truly the bottom line.

For more on school choice – the Alliance for School Choice has launched a great a new website:

NOTE: AEI is 2 for 2 in my book right now for holding the actual meaningful panel discussions. It seems like most DC panel discussion are mindless drivel because we could have read the paper or they are an endless tribute to KIPP, TFA and Michelle Rhee. The last two events at AEI were actual debates about significant issues affecting education!! If only all more panels could have actual discussions – the world would be a better place.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Expensive Band-Aid: STEM Part 2

From the previous post, math and science is not a full blown crisis yet. However, it does affect our homeland security and our collective expertise is on a significant down turn. So where can we find our next technical experts to help drive our economy and keep us as a world leader?

It starts in elementary school. We have to have students who are not afraid of math. The problem we face is that our elementary teachers have ridiculously low math expertise. This is demonstrated in SAT scores and in a recent report from NCTQ on the dismal state of math knowledge in our elementary teachers.

The quick solution is math specialists. The Washington Post has a great article on this and sadly a math specialist is needed to help the featured teacher explain “greater than” to her students. Sigh. So here we are putting yet another, expensive band-aid on education because we have sub-par teachers in the field.

But we need the band-aid because we cannot suddenly make math experts of the 2 million elementary teachers in our schools. For now we have to bring in a math specialist (on top of the reading specialists we also have in schools) to help. In Virginia, this cost $20 million a year to implement and recent legislation was rejected to fund this effort. The bill paid for one math specialist per 1,000 elementary students. So for the entire US, we need to invest an extra $818 million a year and find 22,854 new math teachers. Not gonna happen in this economy.

As in all problems that are so large in scale, it will take multiple efforts to reverse this trend. First – demand more math expertise from our elementary teachers starting with the rising juniors in education programs so at least two years from now we start getting a little better. Second – have REAL professional development in math for elementary teachers. In Florida every elementary teacher has to have a certificate in reading instruction and the Florida reading scores are rising dramatically in all subgroups - - hmmmmmm – could we do the same for math. Require all elementary teachers to have a math and reading instruction certificate?

Finally – take a look at Pennsylvania. They are moving the elementary certificate to PreK-4 only. After fourth grade you must have a subject matter specialization in order to teach. This is very cool though they are not implementing until 2013. Since NAEP testing on math starts in 4th, I might have started there for the math specialist. But at least this way, Pennsylvania 5th grade students will be receiving math instruction from a math specialist.

The longer we wait, the further behind we will fall. States need to act now or we will continue to place costly band-aids on more education problems.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The math/science crisis

I participated in a math and science conference a few weeks ago. Two interesting points came out of that meeting for me. The first point is that we actually looked at defining the problem! The 2005 Duke University study "Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate", did point out that we are doing OK in production. They reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor's degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. So we can outsource and import our way towards maintaining our technological dominance, but we still need to staff all of those classified engineering positions that require U.S. citizenship.

So we have a problem but not as huge as some of the numbers flying around right now. This is also back up by basic economics which would dictate that if industry lacked the talent they needed the price for that talent would go up significantly. We know this is not the case because if industry was paying $90,000 starting salaries for mathematicians and engineers, I can assure you there would be no shortage in our University system.

Salaries are depressed because less expensive labor from other countries is keeping wages low for technical positions. And our university students are not pursuing majors with depressed salaries. College grads look for the highest payoff with the least amount of work and a business major sure looks a lot easier than engineering. According to CNN, business majors were looking at $48K vs Engineers looking at $52K. According to NCES, the number of business graduates has gone from about a million a year in 1900 to over 1.4 million today. The number of engineers has stayed constant at 79,000.

All may not be lost. Based on recent Wall Street issues and the pending layoffs of over 70,000 employees, people may start gravitating away from business into other majors. But that brings us to the second point. You still have to enjoy math and science to go into the technical fields and that is not happening in our elementary schools.

Later this week I will cover point number two which is the dismal state of math in elementary schools.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bringing Ed Reform to Scale

Yet another data point on the selectivity model for improving education. By selecting teachers from top universities, charter schools in Boston are getting better results for their students. This is pointed out in an editorial over at Gadfly today by Steven Wilson from Ascend Charter schools.

There are 7 charter schools that are realizing significantly higher student learning gains on the state’s MCAS tests. Over 50% of the teachers in those schools are from elite universities compared to 19% at public schools.

But then Steven does something that most education reformers refuse to think about. Can you bring that model to scale. Can we slowly replace all 2.6 million teachers with teacher from elite schools (note I used a little thing called math to pull out the 19% already from elite schools). He thinks not.

From his editorial:“Each year, about 142,000 students graduate from highly selective postsecondary institutions (Barron's top two ranks). Even if one in every ten of their graduates entered teaching for two years (the average tenure at many no-excuses schools) before moving onto other careers, they would provide for only six percent of the 438,914 teachers currently working in the 66 member districts of the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS). Simply put, we might have enough of these teachers to staff a few hundred more No Excuses schools, but not a few thousand more, and certainly not enough to reach every disadvantaged child in America.”

This is the same problem with KIPP and TFA which are highly touted as the solution for education woes. While they are great programs we need to simultaneously invest in programs like ABCTE that can be brought to scale efficiently and effectively.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Carnival of Education is UP!!

Read all about it at the Examiner

Selectivity - continued.....

Joanne Jacobs has a great post pointing the way to Carpe Diem. It turns out that Education PhD’s have the second lowest GRE scores compared to any other academic focus. SAT scores are the same – in 2006, the College Board reported that only 2 majors had lower SAT scores than teachers – public relations and family studies.

The critical path to improved education is teaching. Until we become more selective in our teaching programs, we cannot hope that our students will improve

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama will close the achievement gap all by himself

It goes without saying that pop-culture has a dramatic impact on our youth and their studies. When LA Law became a hit show in the 80's, the number of people entering law school sky-rocketed. It was closely followed by ER which created a rush to get into med school. The CSI effect had universities scrambling to create CSI degree programs.

So my prediction is that Obama will significantly close the achievement gap without actually implementing any new programs. Through his success he will be a role model to African-American students everywhere and suddenly doing well in school will be cool. Graduating will be even cooler. Parents and teachers will finally be able to say that if you stay in school and do well, you could be president.

T. Willard Fair who runs a charter school in Liberty City in Miami told me that having positive male role models is the number one problem for his students. It is very likely, that he will have a very presidential role model for his students soon.

Do not underestimate this effect. Combine that with Obama’s support for charter schools for inner city students and the achievement gap will close. Many will take the credit (we at ABCTE promise to take some credit as well), but having a role model who clearly demonstrates how far an education can take you will have a significant part in closing the achievement gap for African-American students.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Alternative Certification Works

Last week, representatives from the McCain (Lisa Graham Keegan) and Obama (Linda Darling Hammond) campaigns met at Columbia University for a debate on education. Later in the week, in an open letter on The Huffington Post in response to the debate, Stanford University professor Martin Carnoy took issue with several of Senator McCain’s education policies, including his stance on teacher recruitment.

I’m not looking to take sides or to support one candidate’s proposed policies over those of the other. But I do take issue with the fact that Carnoy sells alternative certification programs short in his letter, as he only focuses on Teach for America and expresses his doubts about whether or not “alternatively certified teachers staying an average of two plus years in the classroom are going to make a serious long-term dent in improving education for academically shortchanged kids.”

What Carnoy neglects to mention is that Lisa Graham Keegan also named other alternative certification programs, including the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), during the same segment of the debate when Teach for America was discussed. Anyone who has taken a close look at ABCTE knows that we’re not looking to plug teachers into the system for the short term as a quick fix (nor do I think that is Teach for America’s goal).

By focusing our efforts at ABCTE on recruiting mid-career professionals, we’re seeing that our teachers have staying power. After three years, 85% of ABCTE’s graduates are still teaching. Our rigorous program takes 8 to 10 months to complete on average and only 40% of ABCTE candidates pass our Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) exam the first time. Our candidates must also hold a bachelor’s degree from an approved college or university and pass a subject area exam as well as a background check. We’re not simply giving people “a quick course” and throwing them into the classroom, and I hope Carnoy understands that.

Carnoy also claims in his letter that “there just aren't enough highly skilled, relevantly prepared educators trained to work” in high need schools. I agree completely and that’s why ABCTE introduced the Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program in late 2007.

ABCTE’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program recruits, certifies, and supports highly effective new teachers of diverse cultural and professional backgrounds to work in high-need schools, districts, and subject areas. Teach & Inspire is already active in Florida and Mississippi (by the way, the deadline for the program’s current application period is November 15, 2008), and we’re looking to expand it into other states.

There are many phenomenal alternative certification programs out there, Teach for America among them, and Carnoy’s seemingly blanket dismissal of them all—intentional or not—is unfortunate. All programs need to be looked at independently and it very well may be a mix of these alternative certification methods that helps solve our teacher shortage problems over the long haul.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Judge Orders Halt to Algebra

Wow. Judge orders halt to algebra. Only in California could you have a court case that results in this type of headline.

I am a huge advocate of STEM lament the loss of our competitive edge in the world marketplace. But I support the judge in this case. It is wrong in so many ways to force all students to take algebra in the 8th grade.

In the real world, we solve problems the old fashioned way. We identify the problem, gather real data, brainstorm possible solutions, pick the best possible solution, test the solution, make adjustments and fully implement.

Because education has so many problems, the current problem solving method is – pick any solution, find a problem, fully implement, never bother to see if it works.

We have a serious lack of technically trained high school students. But the problem is not the numbers of people taking algebra in 8th grade. The problem is a lack of good mathematical foundation in elementary school due to crappy curriculum and teachers who fear math.
If you create a great foundation in math in the early grades in all elementary schools with great teachers teaching a great curriculum, then the demand for early algebra will go up because students are ready. You cannot force this top down solution just because it looks good. The only thing you do is dramatically increase costs, create more math teacher shortages, end up using untrained algebra teachers and ultimately water down the algebra curriculum because too many students fail.

I applaud the judge! When I was in the Navy we had a cynical slogan that applies to California – “Why manage when you can over-react”. Stop the over-reactions and fix the real problems.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


They published a letter to the editor from us today!! Always nice to get a plug.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wanted: male teachers

There was a segment on Good Morning American today about the shortage of male teachers. There were representatives on from and while ABCTE was not mentioned on the air, we are featured on the web site.’s “How to Become a Teacher” page with link to ABCTE:

There’s also this article from ABC News that links directly to

Education Debates

Tomorrow night there is an education debate between Lisa Graham-Keegan (McCain) and Linda Darling-Hammond (Obama). There have been a few debates between Lisa and various Obama representatives. The funny thing about these debates it that some of the Obama reps support and believe very different things.

At the October 10th debate at AEI between and Lisa (McCain) and Michael Johnston (Obama) – it was an ed reform love fest. Johnston helped start New Leaders for New Schools (alternative certification) and now runs a charter school in Denver. Can’t get more reform minded than that. He supports most education reforms (vouchers was not mentioned at this debate) and it was hard to tell the difference in education platforms between the two. The only difference seems to be that Johnson would spend more new dollars and Graham-Keegan is advocating smarter spending of current dollars.

But tomorrow night Linda Darling-Hammond will present a different agenda for Obama. She does not support alternative teacher certification and does not seem to support charters. She has been a champion of maintaining the status quo and she is representing Obama tonight.
So which education platform is the real Obama platform? Graham-Keegan scored with that thought at the October 10th debate making it look like he is indecisive on the issue or pandering to the status quo by riding the fence.

We know from his speeches that he is more reform minded on education. But anyone who has worked in the states knows that speeches don’t really count - - - it is who is in charge of doing the actual work that dictates which direction things move and right now we just don’t know what that would mean for an Obama administration.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Education budget cuts will get even worse

Just over a year ago, I predicted extreme belt-tightening ahead in state budgets. After looking at my retirement savings, I wish that I wasn’t so right. Now we read that 29 states face a total shortfall of $48 billion. And the states that were immune last year to the real estate crumble because they had oil and natural gas revenues are going to be hit hard with oil down under $80.

This is all very bad news for education spending. It will go down and it will go down hard.

At the Broad event, it was of deep concern to the superintendents on the panel. They felt it was going to hit their students and that they were going to have to make very difficult changes. They are going to have to get help from the community. What they were not doing is whining. They seemed to take it in stride and stayed focused on the kids.

States have got to find ways to cut that don’t adversely affect student learning. They need to find efficiencies in their systems that can fully leverage the smaller budgets they are going to find.

Programs like ABCTE that have been funded with federal dollars to reduce their recruitment cost is an excellent example. States and districts don’t pay a dime for our program yet they receive high quality teachers who stay in the classroom (85% retention after 4 years). Instead of providing a four year scholarship for a math teacher to Florida State, that money could be used to scholarship 100 math teachers through ABCTE. Instead of paying $5,000 - $7,000 per teacher for a recruitment program in the district, the district could work with ABCTE at $2,500 per teacher.

These are significant savings and could help save after school programs, reading programs that make our schools better.

If we can only get leaders to stop looking at the politics and look at the results – we can make this happen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Great School Districts

I had the pleasure of attending the Broad Prize for Urban Education in New York City yesterday. It was a pretty amazing event and if you have the chance to go next year, I suggest that you make the time and understand what great school districts do to become great.

To listen to the five superintendents who were the finalists for the prize is to be amazed. It was difficult to keep up with the many great ideas they had implemented and it became very clear why they were there and how they had accomplished such great things with their students.

A partial list:
  1. Each one of thanked their students for their success – it is so rare to give credit to students for success in education. We focus far too much on adults. But these successful school districts thank the students first.
  2. No Excuses – successful school superintendents don’t fix the blame on the environment. They accept the environment and find out how to be successful no matter what.
  3. A thorough belief by all staff that every child can learn.
  4. A focus on ninth grade to keep those students engaged and in school.
  5. A change in focus. In most schools elementary teachers say they teach students and secondary teachers say they teach their subject. Changing the mindset that all teachers teach students.
  6. No “lectern lizards” – you must have teachers who engage their students in the subjects.
  7. Parental involvement – one district asked the dads to take their students to the first day of school to show the importance of learning. 27,000 fathers showed up with their student this year.
  8. Every single one of the superintendents had a school board that understood that things had to change and helped push the changes that resulted in improved student performance. They held the superintendent accountable for results but supported the difficult that had to happen. They all brought their enthusiastic school board members with them.
It was incredibly motivating to hear these innovative superintendents talk about their dedication to their students. The ceremony finished with Tom Brokaw and he is a truly gifted speaker. Note that when he was retiring, the head of GE asked people what he should do for Tom to thank him for his years of service. Tom’s wife said he would be happy if GE create a scholarship for New York City students to go to college. GE created the Greatest Generation Scholarship program with $2 million.

His thoughts for why this country is in trouble right now:
  1. We are in this situation because values gave way to desire
  2. As a society we have lost our priorities, our ability to sacrifice and our focus on common cause
  3. In the past, people lived without so they could have what they need – we no longer do that
  4. The solution begins with education

We can have no greater legacy than providing a great education to all students
And if that kind of day doesn't motivate you, you should just not be in education. Thank you Elie and Edyth Broad.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Math and Science Focus

Always nice to get the word out about ways to solve the math and science teacher shortage in the Fairmont Sentinel.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

True Systemic Change

The biggest "no surprise" of last week was that ED 08 has died of natural causes. Gates and Broad initially said they would put up $60 million to get education in the forefront of the election. They apparently spent $24 million and really don’t have much to show for it. I saw Roy Romer speak a couple of times and I was not impressed and wondered why he was chosen.

If you want education to be a campaign issue, then you have to get parents irate about our pathetic education system. Giving out fancy buttons and brochures to education think tank people is not going to bring about systemic change. All these think tanks around Washington suck up lots of money and don’t actually “do” anything. And because parents don’t read think tank stuff, there is no grassroots push for change.

If foundations would move all of their money away from think tanks that theorize and push issues, it would create a budget for a network of statewide parent groups. Those groups would then educate parents on the state of education in their state and build the outrage that should be there. That outrage will become votes that are the one thing (besides cold hard cash) that actually move politicians.

You could call the group - Parents for Quality Education - and they would be able to do what the unions do. They would attend every state board meeting and push for changes at the granular level that can help students. They would have someone at every state senate and house education committee looking for bills that would hurt or help students and mobilize concerned parents. They could become the advocates for change that is so desperately needed. They could shift the discussion away from adults and move it to the students.

It is time to stop talking and theorizing about education change and start making it happen. I applaud Gates and Broad for moving their money out of an ineffective campaign and hope that foundations will start investing in true systemic change that starts with parents.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A very old house

Jay Matthew’s looks at staffing our schools. He uses DC KIPP as an example where the principal had to fire 2 teachers because they were disorganized and were not improving even after coaching. He is correct in imagining the nightmare that would result if the teachers were left in place. Students in those classes would suffer academically and it would be very difficult to get them back on track.

I don’t think DC KIPP is alone. In the education world, or in any other world, there is a good chance that 10% of your staff is not going to work out. The problem in education is that we are looking at 3.2 million teachers which means that 320,000 teachers need to be replaced right now. Even more depressing is that it means that 6.4 million students are being adversely affected because we cannot replace those teachers.

But education is like owning a very old house. When you go to do a seemingly simple repair, it ends up requiring a ton of work and a ton of money. When you go to fix a simple hole in the wall you find the insulation is gone, the wood is rotting and the plaster is cracked.

In the KIPP example there is a great principal who knows what to look for in a great teacher and is spending time in the classroom understanding the dynamics of that environment. Sadly, we cannot assume that every school has that same leadership. In order for us to be able to accomplish this wholesale replacement of 10% of the workforce, we have to have good tools to observe the teacher and we have to have principals trained on using those tools.

Looking at firing two teachers in order to ensure students have a great year seems like a great solution to take to scale. But in order to do that we have to fix the principals and we have to find a great tool to give them to help fix teaching. That would require a ton more work and probably a ton more money.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel

It is interesting that many of the same ideas come around on teacher shortages. One of the favorite is the professionals coming in a few hours a week and teaching math or science. This was a President Bush proposal a few years back through his adjunct teacher corps and Minnesota is the latest to raise the proposal.

Sounds good but it will never work. First – the teacher unions would never allow it because it lets un-certified teachers in the classroom. Second – well, if the unions would never allow it, you don’t need a second reason because they hold too much power. But for the sake of argument, teaching requires a lot of on the job experience before you can really impact your students. So teaching part time, without any training, means you would probably never become all that effective.

If you want professionals in the classroom, then have a program (hint: ABCTE is one) that actually attracts professionals. Using an efficient program like ours means that they still get training, they still get certified and we get the professional engineers, math experts and scientists that we so desperately need.

So stop trying to reinvent the wheel – use the wheels that are already here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Education Problem Solving 101: Define the actual problem

I am often amazed out the lack of problem solving in America’s schools. We jump to a solution without ever truly analyzing the problem. Two examples:

Problem 1: not enough kids take the SAT in Philadelphia schools. The solution: pay for SAT prep courses for all high school juniors and pay for them to take the SAT. The result: since the students were so woefully behind in their learning, they could not take advantage of the preparation. It was very sad to see these students finish all they could do on the SAT in about 10 minutes and sit there the rest of the time. Real problem: they were not prepared for high school and need remediation so that they have a chance on the SAT then they you can pay for them to take it.

Problem 2: not enough kids take algebra in middle school. The Solution: force kids to take algebra. The result: since the students were so far behind in math, the “algebra class” became remedial math class and scores stay flat. If you can’t multiply and divide (because you were busy feeling good about math and not actually learning your math tables), you will not succeed.

Now there is a study from Brookings that proves how misguided this approach is. His conclusion – we need to improve math instruction, accountability and testing at the elementary level if students are going to succeed in middle and high school math.

Take it a step further - - you have to improve the math knowledge of our elementary teachers if we are going to improve math instruction – or move to a specialist model. If you teacher is uncomfortable with math, then their students are going to be uncomfortable with math. In our field studies of ABCTE exams, we become acutely aware of the lack of math skills in elementary teachers.

In real problem solving the first step is to define the problem. Until we fix our elementary schools, it will not matter what solutions you implement in middle and high school.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Importing Teachers

Let’s review what is going on right now in America –

We have an economic crisis because no one seems to understand complex finance and Wall Street got greedy. Last night on CNBC, one of the Wall Streeters actually said to the camera – “we wouldn’t be in this mess if you didn’t take out a mortgage you could never pay back”. Wow – he actually said that part of our economic mess is that Americans are too stupid. Sadly he is on target. We cannot be a financial super power if people earning $50,000 a year take out a mortgages on a $500,000 home. It is no wonder we can only place 24th on the international math exams.

A big part of the problem is that we do not have enough math teachers.

The solution for many states – during tough economic times when an additional 32,000 people hit the unemployment lines this week alone – is to import math teachers from other countries. We brought in over 15,000 teachers from other countries last year because we don’t have enough people to fill our classrooms.

So we are weak in math and science AND we don’t have enough math and science teachers but rather than improve certification rules to let experts in our own country to inspire the next Bill Gates, we bring them in from overseas.


We are going through the H1B visas for teachers and ABCTE is going to hit hard on every state that is importing teachers. It is just sad that we have people who want to teach but these states think it is somehow easier or better to import a teacher for a few years.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Millions of Career Changers waiting to Teach

It is hard to tell if you are on the right track in education some times. But a recent survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation seems to show we are in the right place at the right time to have a positive impact on students.

Their survey shows the following (which is very similar to a survey we conducted in Florida a few years ago). Bottom line is that there are plenty of professionals out there who want to teach. They just need some extra dollars and need help figuring out how to get there.

From the survey:
  • 36 million people age 35-56 in the US have a Bachelor’s degree
  • 42% of adults said they have/would consider teaching as a career
  • 35% of these people would consider making the switch in the next 3-5 years
  • And only 27% of that group know the steps to get certified and becoming a teacher

Not surprising based on our numbers. ABCTE continues to attract thousands of people each year into our program. The number one recruitment strategy that has been successful for us is making the process to get into teaching efficient and easily understood. You would be surprised at how hard it is to figure out how to get into teaching by a state department of education website.

Message to states and districts: stop going overseas to recruit and look right here at home for the teachers you need. They are right in your own back yard.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A good bottle of whine left unopened

I went to the State Policy Network program in Arizona this week and, as a new guest, had picked out a delightful and amusing bottle of “whine” to bring with me. I get pretty frustrated with education reformers at these conferences who say we are going to talk education reform – and the spend two days talking vouchers and tax credits.

But I did not get to use the bottle of whine that I brought. Because the conference opened up with various leaders talking about tackling true education reform and not being “one trick ponies”!! And now a debate on Gadfly echoing this sentiment.

Reform means reform. And the data continues to demonstrate that implementing just one reform will not improve schools. It will take serious fundamental changes in our education system to bring our performance back to the levels that our world economy demands.

So, for now, I can put the bottle of whine back in storage and let it age a little more - - I may still need it some day and a good whine always gets better with age.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fixing Teacher Quality

Teaching quality continues to move forward in the news. Mike Petrilli has an excellent write up in the Gadfly from last week and now a new article in the Washington Post about what the newly canonized Michelle Rhee plans to do. But they are all trying to run before we learn to walk.
Management texts will tell you that you need to focus on improving staff. In teaching, the staggering numbers always tell the tale.

There are 3.2 million teachers. Jack Welch, the brilliant CEO of GE, made his managers rank all staff so that they knew the top 20%, middle 70% and the bottom 10%. The top 20% were fast tracked into leadership positions and the bottom 10% got fired.

We would have to fire 320,000 teachers per year. That would double the number of teachers we need to hire each year and since we can’t find enough to fill our positions now, we will never have enough if we start to really push an aggressive approach towards eliminating mediocre teaching.

The other problem with rating teachers is that our principals have not demonstrated that they are really all that great at rating teachers. Here I am siding with the teacher’s unions again - but we would really need some serious evaluation training for principals before we can start this type of approach.

To solve teacher quality we need to do the following:

  1. Fix recruitment – have enough candidates for each position so that the principal can hire the right teacher for his/her students – we need more routes to the classroom to increase the numbers
  2. Be Selective - less than 40% of our ABCTE candidates make it through the program and we are starting to see great results from our teachers
  3. Train principals in hiring – ensure they know how to match the teacher to the students
    Develop great performance evaluations for teachers – outcomes and observations based and ensure the evaluation is more than once a year
  4. Train principals on evaluations – ensure they know how to develop teachers
  5. Develop truly great professional development for teachers – develop efficacy measure for the professional development to ensure it meets minimum standards
  6. Train principals on how to assign prescriptive professional development from performance evaluations

Once that is in place, then you can start to move teachers who do not succeed with students out of the classroom. But we have a lot of work to do learning to walk before we can start running.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Jay is a little off

Jay Matthews has an article about schools in miserable condition and makes the bold statement that it is the teachers and not the schools that need to be fixed first. He argues that once we have great talent generating great results, then we should fix up the schools.

He uses the KIPP schools, Thomas Jefferson Math/Science school in VA and other great schools in lousy buildings as proof of the argument that you don’t need a great building to have incredible learning gains.

The problem with that logic is that we don’t have tons of great teachers and we cannot attract teachers without better facilities. It is one of the many pet peeves I have with the unions – why is there not more outrage for working conditions in this country. In my eyes a union is supposed to get better pay and working conditions and the teacher’s union has not been all that great at the latter.

The teachers that have made a difference in the small number of great schools in crappy buildings would do well in any setting. They are passionate about their craft and continue to work hard ignoring the structural problems that surround them.

But can we seriously expect to find 3.5 million people like that? I doubt we can. We need to be more selective in picking our teachers and in order to do that we have to attract many more of them into the profession and in order to do that – we cannot ask them to work in buildings that are falling down.

I think Jay is a little off on this one.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Carnival of Education is UP

The 186th edition of The Carnival of Education (hosted this week by SharpBrains.) is open for your educational pleasure!

Go St. Louis!!

Great article today covering our start in Missouri. It has been such an amazing response from some amazing people. Our first certified teacher completed last week - - an electrical engineer who has been teaching in a private school for three years.

My favorite part of the article is where the cite the recent Mathematica study showing 85% of our new teachers are still in the classroom - an amazingly high number - and in the next paragraph the NEA rep says he doesn't think our teachers will stay in the classroom. Never let facts get in the way of your talking points.

Our new teacher discussion forums have launched giving our candidates an online community to work with and our next prepare to teach workshop will go up next week.

In the world of education reform - progress like this always feels good!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NCLB and Education Reform Leaders

Mike Petrilli over at Flypaper wonders if NCLB has created a new breed of education leaders and he is mainly looking at superintendents of large school districts.

It got me thinking about the other dramatic shift that seems to have been caused by NCLB through the highly qualified teacher requirement. Over the last 18 months 5 different state directors of teacher certification have suddenly retired. Kansas, DC, Louisiana, Colorado and Georgia.

This is no small shift. Thes directors were considered leaders in the teacher certification world and, more importantly from a reform perspective, were dead set against alternative teacher certification.

Twenty percent turnover is a pretty big deal. This sea change will open the doors in these states to new certification options and will provide more expanded markets for ABCTE.

Exciting times….

There is change in Denver

If you have not read The Slate’s coverage of the education reform rally in Denver before the Democratic National Convention then I strongly urge you to do so now. This is truly a watershed moment in American politics. Democrats are finally realizing that the teacher’s unions are doing their job – working hard to get better pay and working conditions for their members and that if that comes in conflict with improving schools, schools lose. As Senator Peter Groff stated – with much applause – “when the children's agenda meets the adult agenda, the adult agenda wins too often.”

This is a great day in education reform. To see inner city leaders taking a stand on what is right for students and not worrying about the political ramifications is truly amazing. It provides inspiration to teams like our staff at ABCTE who are battling to do what is right for students to know that others out there are working just as hard for our schools.