Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Education Moving Forward

Today I had the pleasure of attending the US DOE working group on school leadership looking to exchange ideas on teacher recruitment, retention and leadership in general. A number of points from this outstanding discussion:

  1. Our teachers of the year are pretty amazing – Nebraska, Connecticut and Arkansas had outstanding ideas and thoughts
  2. Teachers think differently than teacher unions – no shocker here but union policy input tends to meet their goal of better pay and conditions for members while teacher policy input really looks at what is best for the students
  3. Customization – there is no “one size fits all” for teachers – whether it is training, certification, performance pay, mentoring – stop trying to find one solution for all 3.2 million teachers, it will not work
  4. Any time you start to pick at the edges of education it starts to snowball into all the things that need to happen to fix the thing you were picking at – the only real conclusion is that the current education system cannot work in the current reality of 2008 and we need total educational system redesign to fix any part of the broken system
  5. If people don’t stay in jobs for more than 5 years, why would teaching be different – find ways to work within the reality of the social environment and stop trying to hold on to preparation systems that don’t work in the current reality
  6. Education Schools need help – they can no longer be ignored by universities and need a serious upgrade in what works
  7. Value add is solidly in the vocabulary of teachers – say what you want about NCLB but I have heard more teachers talk about gains then ever before
  8. The “teaching to the test” mantra is still a crutch as is talking about the mythical loss of music, social studies etc. NCLB didn’t make this happen. Your student test is supposed to be aligned to student learning standards which are supposed to be aligned to what students need to know. If teachers teach to the standards, by default they are teaching to the test which is teaching to what students need to know to succeed.

Sadly – the administration is rapidly approaching lame duck status and like all the millions of panel discussions in DC, this great exchange will be cataloged and placed on a shelf without real action.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Great Teachers

What is a great teacher? It is a question that seems to always bring out political ramifications mixed with research questions. But today I heard an interview of Richard Ognibene who is the teacher of the year for New York. His thoughts are so inspiring and his advice absolutely the best. If we had 3.3 million clones of Richard teaching in our schools, we would have the absolute best educational system in the world.

I urge you to listen to the podcast from The New Teacher Hotline – and pass on the link to anyone who needs to understand that we do have so many great teachers out there truly reaching their students. They can listen from the website or download from iTunes (which helps with the rankings). The New Teacher Hotline is a free resource that is designed to provide practical advice to new teachers and is sponsored by ABCTE.

Here are some thoughts for new teachers that Richard provides:
  • Send a letter to each of your students explaining who you are and ask them to send a letter back– use those letters so you really get to know your students
  • Provide a caring classroom – a great classroom is one where kids want to be there• Discipline starts before any problems happen in your classroom
  • Set the rules and get their interest right from the start – find ways to compliment every student to their parents in the first weeks of schools
  • Collaborate with other staff
  • Understand that you don’t have 120 future scientists in your class but find a way to make science interesting to all 120

And his most important advice that all new teachers must know………. well for that you have to listen to the entire podcast.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Substitute terms getting longer...

The use of long term substitutes as a story is getting legs. As school districts continue to experience severe shortages, the practice of using substitutes to fill positions grows. And the students suffer. The US DOE says that we now have double the number of long term subs in the classroom since 1994 and that over 20% of schools now use long term subs every year.

The article then dives into the anecdotal abyss. But the example of the teacher who was in a car accident bringing in his lesson plan every day is pretty heroic. He was obviously concerned with his student’s regressing while he was recovering.

But if you have a long term sub taking over the class for a year, the sub is supposed to be planning the lesson except they may not realize their responsibility or even have the most basic knowledge of the subject.

This provides yet another opportunity for a shameless plug for our program. Why are you using a long term sub when you could be using a teacher recruited, prepared and certified by us? The reason is that people continue to let politics get in the way of common sense.

And for those who repeatedly oppose us – look at the data on our program, talk to the principals who hire our teachers and ask them if they would rather have a long term sub.

If you still don't agree, then go explain to the students that they can't have a good teacher right now because you need to make a political point.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Budget Cuts = Creative Solutions

District Superintendents are running a huge business. It is fascinating to watch Fairfax County Superintendent Jack Dale. He is basically running a $2.3 billion company. Most CEO’s with vast business experience don’t have a $2.3B budget and haven't yet had to make drastic cuts in a budget that large. The complexities of such a budget are staggering yet here we have Jack Dale and his staff now trying to cut $100 million from that budget.

They have come up with some pretty innovative ways to make those cuts. In an affluent county like Fairfax they are asking parents to pony up in the way of fees. They want parents to pay for AP tests, PSAT and the like. They are also thinking of charging $50 to participate in high school sports. They are going to raise class size by a half of a student - which I find amusing unless of course it was my child who is the one to be cut in half.

It isn’t going to get better. They have an increase of students yet property values are dropping meaning their tax/revenue base is dropping. The county told them to keep costs flat next year and their current budget represents a 3% increase – so there is still a lot of negotiating to do and no one wants to talk of cutting education in a big election year.

District management teams are really going to be challenged this year with dwindling budgets. Innovative ways to meet those challenges should be shared so that we can meet this challenge and still improve education.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A GREAT week for education improvement

The "good weeks" in education improvement really keep you going. This week was certainly one of those weeks here. We had our 750th certification!! She is a health care professional from North Carolina who is moving to South Carolina to teach science. See what happens when you have the right program to attract career changers NC – you get the teachers you need!! (or if you don't, you lose a great science teacher)

Teach and Inspire – our scholarship program to recruit more teachers of color has had over 250 people attend information sessions in Florida in the last two days! Our very lofty goal is to recruit 350 science and math teachers of color for high needs schools - - we are well on our way right now.

Our charter school teacher recruitment event was amazing – we had 50 potential teachers come out last night in Tucson and have double that signed up for Phoenix on Saturday. Looks like that is going to work out well and we can expand that to other charter schools in the upcoming months.

And I testified in Florida about our Distinguished Teacher program – a lot of interest in this right now as state leaders struggle to find good performance pay programs.

Nothing like a great week in education improvement to keep you coming back for more!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Senator Kennedy on NCLB

Senator Kennedy has an op-ed in the Washington Post today to mark the anniversary of No Child Left Behind. It is a valiant effort to ensure that even with everyone focused on presidential politics, we don’t leave the legislation behind. I think it is a futile effort.

I thoroughly support his assertion that the law has helped put the spotlight on the achievement gap and gives schools the data they need to make improvements. Here some points where I agree with Senator Kennedy on changes needed:

  • More information should be used to decide on failing schools – particularly growth models and NOT portfolios (where else but education could you hand in your best work to demonstrate your knowledge of the material?)
  • More professional development for teachers – as long as it is not limited to schools of education• More mentoring for beginning teachers is absolutely needed – and we really need standards that define what great mentoring means
  • More emphasis in placing good teachers in struggling schools
  • More emphasis on the drop-out issue is desperately needed
  • Fix crumbling schools and make sure that students have the right resources – but this is a district job and should not be in NCLB

What I can’t stand:

  • Teaching to the Test – if the state standards which determine what students should know are done well and actually are the critical pieces of knowledge that every student must have to succeed in life and the state exam tests that knowledge – then teaching to the test is actually teaching students what they must know to succeed. How is that possibly bad??? If he means that student standards should be improved and the state exams must clearly test those standards then we agree
  • NCLB discourages innovation?? When you have the data to see what works and what doesn’t, and the accountability to ensure you improve that data – you absolutely have to innovate and in every profession in the world: data plus accountability = innovation – so how does NCLB discourage innovation?
  • Smaller class sizes – the data does not support this at all but this is probably a political play at appeasing the teacher unions that support creating more jobs for teachers
    My cynicism about reauthorization has grown exponentially.

NCLB will not be tackled until after the 2008 elections. And in a spirit of the new bi-partisanship from President {fill in name here}, it will not get any real focus until 2010 at best. So we are stuck with it as is for now - in spite of some good words from Senator Kennedy.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Charter Schools: help is on the way

The Issue:
• Teachers have the greatest influence on student achievement
• There are not enough great teachers
• School districts have TFA and TNTP to help them
• Charter schools need to start demonstrating that they are really increasing student achievement
• Charter schools are not getting the staffing they need

The Solution:
• Hold ABCTE recruitment events just for Charter and Private Schools

So that is what we are doing next week. In Arizona we will hold two teacher recruitmentevents just for public charter schools. Those career-changers that are ready to get into teaching will complete our preparation program to ensure they are ready to go and be ready to teach by the fall.

“Human Capital” is the new buzz word in education. It is just a fancy way of saying we have a severe shortage of great teachers. If we don’t all start working together to get more great people into the classroom, we can never truly impact student achievement and improve our schools.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2008: Education Changes Ahead

My safe prediction for 2008 is that it will be a wild year for education. It is a safe prediction because more people are getting involved, more people are becoming disillusioned, more state legislators are finding their voice and there is so much more data available to help drive change. Our schedules for January are pretty busy - so we know we will be helping drive more change.
For the new year, I resolve to blog a minimum of twice per week. There are so many more issues out there and so much to think about and I have no excuse not to.

I will start with a quick recap of my first bold prediction that states would be in some serious pain this year with declining tax revenues. Now from Florida, we hear that lawmakers are questioning bonuses for National Board teachers. Florida lawmakers want to ensure that they are getting a solid return for their very large investment. I expect that we will go down there and let them know more about our Distinguished Teacher program that rewards teachers based on results.

It was funny to hear lawmakers initially say that they were not going to touch education when they needed to make budget cuts. I think we will see more lawmakers looking to find ways to cut everything as budgets get lean and Florida may just be the tip of the iceberg.