Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Battles Rage On

Interesting discussion in Education Next on Teach for America. I am amazed that after 19 years there is still discussion on whether it is good for schools. Somehow the education establishment, in this case appropriately represented by Art Wise, always wants the change agent to show why the program is good.

But can anyone show me after 19 years the adverse affects of TFA on students. They have had an impact on close to 500,000 students - but I don't see a huge outcry from those students against TFA. Is it better to use a long term sub who does not have any training? The arguments used against TFA in the article say that the TFA teachers wouldn’t be hired if there wasn’t a shortage. In one instance, Art makes the point for TFA over other programs since they at least have had some preparation in teaching in an urban setting.

Seriously – that is the argument against TFA???

If there wasn’t a shortage, TFA, TNTP and ABCTE would not have been formed. If the Ed schools could meet the need and all of our K-12 schools, especially our rural and urban schools had great teachers, then we would all probably go out of business.

But they cannot address the need because college students today are not choosing to go into an ed school. NECES stats show that in 1972, 23% of all bachelor’s degrees were in education and today it is down to 7%.

We are in a different world today and K-12 schools have to adapt with new programs to help meet that need.

If I were Art Wise I would be more concerned with the fact that according to the latest 990 over at Guidestar, TFA has over $50M in assets and a budget of $55M each year to add 2,100 new teachers to the pipeline. That’s $26,000 per teacher which is not cheap.

Perhaps there are more cost effective ways to recruit and certify teachers (note: shameless plug)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Prediction: another panel that creates no changes in education

I should probably be happy with the math panel’s recommendations because of the far reaching implications that will lead to incredible leaps in math expertise in our youth with the United States regaining the title of world leader.

But I am not.

I was initially happy because future parents would not go through the pain that I went through while my kids were in the ridiculous math programs of the past that never taught the basics. This left it to concerned parents to actually teach our kids math – which I am fine with if they are doing a incredible things during math class. But they were not. They were experiencing math instead of learning math.

I was delusional with the flu that is going around when I first read the news about the math panel and the euphoric sense that all future parents would not be subject to ridiculous math left with my fever.

Nothing in education ever changes fast especially education policy. Just look at the math panel itself – this was the 90th version. Seriously - NINETY? I applaud their amazing patience but if it took them 90 tries before they could agree and release the results with a hand picked panel. It will take school districts a heck of a lot longer to adopt these recommendations with input for many more stakeholders.

It is why I snicker at "voluntary national standards". It will take years to develop and cost millions of dollars. And in the end, it will take ten times longer for districts to actually do anything.

While I applaud the math panel, I would love a think tank or Ed Week to do a story in March 2010 and see how many districts actually did something with it.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Teach & Inspire

Recruiting teachers is not an easy task as any principal can tell you. But there are a lot of people out there that want to teach. In April 2007, the Tarrance Group conducted a survey of Florida residents and found that 28% wanted to teach at some point in their lives.

This month we started the Teach & Inspire scholarship program. It does confirm that there are many out there who want to teach. We had information sessions in Mississippi and Florida in January and had over 2,500 people attend those sessions. Of those, over 440 applied to be in the program. We have now sent out acceptance notices to 197.

To read the essays of these potential teachers is truly inspiring. They have come to a point in their lives where they know that they want to teach and they just need someone to help them get there.

“I want the children in my community to know that it is not about where you come from, it is about where you end up.”--Sundra Jefferson, Teach & Inspire participant

“Educators are here to help those that are falling by the wayside rise and achieve. Not only do I feel obligated to help these school districts, but I feel that it is my constitutional obligation as well.”--Christy Isom, Teach & Inspire participant

Through a Transition to Teaching grant, we will help place these great people with this incredible desire to teach into high needs schools teaching math, science, English and special education.

Amazing what can happen when politics get pushed aside in favor of real actions.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Is there only one right way in education?

The last few months we have been working in Utah to help them develop a way to recognize great teachers. Some of their more forward thinking legislators put forth a modest bill to provide $275,000 to teachers who complete our Distinguished Teacher program. That program recognizes teachers based on student achievement through value add analysis (40%), live observation (30%), subject matter mastery (15%) and principal evaluation (15%).

The bill was defeated in the last few hours of the Utah session as the House succumbed to UEA pressures. The union did not want a performance pay plan that has a student achievement component in it. They did want bonuses for National Board Teachers but that bill did not even make it to the floor.

In the sad arena that is education politics, had they offered a compromise right from the start, the $275,000 could have been made available to both National Board and Distinguished Teachers. Legislators would then be able to determine which program worked better for Utah schools or have two choices for recognizing great teachers.

But I continue to see that NEA affiliates will not compromise whether it is alternative certification or performance pay. In Utah they were happier to see both bills fail rather than both potentially split the win if it meant that we might have a little victory for student achievement performance pay plans.

Interesting - - I am sure the 140 teachers who could have received $3,000 a year extra for their great work would certainly disagree with the union making a political point with their money.

News stories:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Management by Fad

When United States manufacturing companies were getting their collective butts kicked by Japan in the late 70’s early 80’s, they started grasping for straws. They would try anything new to get their edge back and the string of different techniques they tried became known as management by fad. Many of these fads were actually sound ideas. However, when companies went to implement the latest fad, they neglected to properly train staff which created lousy execution.

Fast forward to today where K-12 education is getting their collective butts kicked in the world arena and here we go again: management by fad. Schools are trying anything, as long as it is new, to improve education. Since results are hard (and costly) to measure, we just go forward with things that sound like they should work. And what is usually lacking is proper training which is creating lousy execution.

Technology is big – we are trying to use the the latest technology but we really don’t have any knowledge of how to use that technology to improve education results. So we spend a lot of money and have smart boards and laptops in classrooms – but not a lot training and knowledge for teachers on their use and how it can impact achievement.

Block scheduling - intuitively obvious that it would work but we have no real data and now we read that schools are questioning the unintended consequences of this approach. Having gone through this with both my kids, I often wonder if this is better or worse as it seems better for classes with long set up and clean up (chemistry, art, shop, band, PE), but worse for history, English and math where it might be better for daily classes. Once again, it appears that more training and better execution would create improved results.

Our teachers need better training on how to use the new programs – not just new programs - and we need to find something to measure effectiveness lest we continue to dart in and out of programs without any real long term direction.

Note that in the previous post, the world’s best schools don’t have one way of doing things. They have great teachers who receive great training in delivering great instruction. Buying laptops and moving to block scheduling cannot make up for problems in those areas.

Friday, March 7, 2008


I find the McKinsey & Company analysisof the world’s best performing school systems fascinating. The analysis and comparison of the world’s schools should create some amazing actions to help improve education in the United States. Unfortunately education is not about analysis, it is about politics.

Their number one recommendation is that we need to develop a world-class teaching work force if our schools are ever to regain their rightful place as the best in the world.

It is interesting that selectivity is a prime focus of world class school systems. However, most of the so-called “alternative teacher certification” models in use in the United States allows almost anyone into the classroom to teach. While they are teaching, in their free time, they are expected to take classes to learn the art and science of teaching. At the end of two to three years of this, they are certified teachers. The only selectivity is if you have the stamina to teach all day, do your lesson plans, grade your papers and still have enough energy to attend classes at nights and on weekends to complete your course work. However – in the ABCTE program – you have to complete your study BEFORE you get to in front of kids and only 40% make it through to the classroom. Selectivity.

Part two of the McKinsey study is ongoing professional development. Those who oppose us are worried because they know that the mentoring and professional development our teachers get once they are in the classroom to speed their development on the job is not world class. We are constantly told that the professional development is a joke and the mentoring is sketchy at best. We need a concerted effort to fix both if we ever want a world class teaching workforce.
Finally, we have to stop lowering class size until we achieve selectivity and quality in our teachers and the absolute best continued training. All we are doing every time we lower a class size is diluting the quality of the workforce we have with no solid supply to augment that workforce. The McKinsey report clearly states that you would increase student achievement if we put a few more students with our star teachers as opposed to creating smaller classes taught by mediocre teachers.

This is a great report – but as usual, the politics in education will get in the way of any progress in education.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Been a little busy......

It has been a while since I blogged - but it turns out that many states are looking for the solutions we offer.

In Missouri, the Senate passed a bill allowing ABCTE to recruit, prepare and certify teachers. A lot of press on this since one senator attempted to filibuster the bill that ultimately passed 25 to 5. It is now on to the Missouri House.

Mo Chamber lauds Senate action on bill to make it easier for career professionals to switch to teachingBy Jo Mannies, STL Post-Dispatch, Political Fix

Gov. Blunt Statement on Alternative Teacher Certification
JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Matt Blunt today issued the following statement commending the Missouri Senate for passing legislation to allow alternative teacher certification:"One of the issues I addressed earlier this month at the 2008 Governors Summit on Regional Economic Development is the teacher shortage that exists in some areas of our state in subjects such as math and science."We need to provide the opportunity for highly motivated people with education and experience in these areas to have the training to bring their expertise to the classroom. Missouri's current system of alternative certification of professionals who want to become teachers is too restrictive. I support this alternative, to allow certification through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence."I called for an alternate certification process when I ran for Governor, and I commend the Missouri Senate for passing Sen. Luann Ridgeway's forward-looking legislation to allow an alternate way for motivated professionals to become certified to teach in Missouri classrooms."

And in Utah they are looking at legislation to reward teachers who pass our Distinguished Teacher program with a $3,000 bonus - outstanding progress in recognizing great teachers.

Details about the bundled education and tax bills

So - at least I have an excuse for missing a few blogs. Flying between DC, Missouri and Utah is not easy. More to come as we continue to work with legislators looking to solve education problems today.