Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The irony of high teaching standards

Interesting day in Richmond yesterday speaking with education leaders from all over the state. I keep hearing from all around the country – no one can find high school teachers and this was certainly evident in Virginia. It is rapidly reaching crisis level. The irony is that states claim that they don’t want to lower standards and try other alternative ways to recruit, prepare and certify teachers while districts continue to just ignore the current standards to fill critical positions any way they can.

One superintendent said that over 75% of his new high school teachers are coming from alternative routes – it is not what he wants at all but it is the only way to staff his schools. He has no one coming from the ed schools.

We also learned that there is a serious lack of experience in our high schools. During one discussion on mentoring, a special education teacher said that she doesn’t have anyone to be a mentor in her schools because no one has over 3 years experience! Even if they do have the experience, teachers have so many extra duties now that they do not want to take on mentoring as well. This sentiment was backed up by all the teachers in the room. They cannot even find retirees to come back and mentor.

States continue to put in place regulations that uphold what they perceive is high standards while the people who actually have to implement those standards have to go around them in order to give the students a teacher. Teacher groups continue to fight against alternative methods which in essence is degrading the teaching profession by increasing the use of long term substitutes and placing untrained “warm bodies” in the classroom.

And every year we wait to do something, this is going to get much worse.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


MO – it stands for Missouri and momentum. We got a little of both yesterday when the Missouri State House voted final approval of Senate Bill 1066 without any new amendments. This means the bill goes on to the Governor who has shown he is in favor of the bill. This will allow ABCTE to recruit, prepare and certify new teachers for Missouri schools.

A lot of work goes into an effort like this since the Ed Schools don’t want the competition and the NEA is still battling against us. Oddly, their fight was to add Praxis to the bill which made no sense since the cut score is so low for Missouri teachers that it really doesn’t help determine anything. But we pressed on and the cooler heads in the legislature agreed.

It is great to see that you can bring common sense solutions to the states and, after a few years, people take action. It takes some great legislators who are mainly concerned with great schools to get it done. Legislators like our bill sponsors Senator Luanne Ridgeway and Representative Scott Muschany.

We continue to move forward in other states and those that need teachers and are tired of excuses, will be the states where we focus our efforts. For now, it is off to Missouri to start recruiting for us!

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's Limbo Time!

Where are the teacher unions in Massachusetts? As defenders of the profession, they should be outraged by a bill that will lower the standard for getting into the profession. McKinsey tells us from their research that selectivity is how the best performing schools in the world build a world class teaching work force. Massachusetts is going to keep the bar high to get into teaching unless you can't reach the bar.

Massachusettss going to allow people to appeal if they fail their teaching exam. They will be able to meet other criteria to get their certification because too many can’t pass. My favorite quote is from a school board member Christopher R. Anderson who said: "These are people in the anecdotal cases I've seen who we don't want to see pushed out of the profession, and the lack of the appeals process has been a hurdle to retaining them"

Alert the Journal of Anecdotal Evidence – once again, we dramatically change an education system designed for large numbers based on anecdotal evidence.

And in a nod to the education groups who love to compare teaching to lawyers and physicians, Republican lawmakers put forth amendments to let doctors and lawyers practice even if they failed their certification exams. Seems that comparison is only good in certain situations.

We will never develop a world class education system without a world class teaching workforce that we will never have until we build more selectivity into the system. We are stuck in a downward spiral – we can’t get teachers who can pass a test because their education wasn’t that great so we are going to lower the bar and let them in anyway, lowering the education prospects of a new generation of students who wont be able to reach this lower bar to get into teaching – and so on.

Thank you Massachusetts for taking a giant step backwards.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Drill and Kill

Both of my daughters have completed their middle schooling in Virginia. We moved to Loudoun County because they have great schools and I endure the long commute to ensure they had the very best.

Both girls had 8th grade teachers that were amazing. In Eduspeak, these teachers would be considered “drill and kill” methodologists when it came to teaching writing. Every week for the entire school year, their English teachers required them to write an essay of the week. They were required to write a rough draft and have it edited by someone who signed off on their editing by Wednesday. They had to turn in the rough draft along with a final draft every Friday.

The drill and kill they were forced to endure had them write essays on politics, poetry, current events, school culture, favorite pets, sports, music, literature, science and a whole host of topics – some optional and some required.

After this horrible drilling, both of my daughters write far better than I ever could and have formed the great habits necessary for great writing. It has set them up for success in high school and now college. They both scored a 6 on their SAT writing.

Drilling is necessary for mastery. Killing is not. By using a variety of different topics for the essay while sticking to solid essay structure, students in Loudoun County mastered the writing skills necessary for success.

It’s only drill and kill if the teacher has limited creativity to make the necessary drills challenging yet fun.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wanted: improved reading scores

We need a school that wants to improve their reading scores. We have a reading certificate program for teachers based on the recommendations from the National Reading Panel. The program has a CD ROM and workbook for teachers to complete and then a rigorous certification exam. The program covers phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, text comprehension and differentiated instruction.

We want to give the workbooks, CD ROMs and certification testing to an elementary school that needs to improve their reading instruction to complete the program at no cost. The school would get the program for all teachers, get help in starting the program and have their teachers complete the certification exams. We just want to see if it helps their students.

So if you know a school that would like to get ahead in reading, please let them to go to the contact us page and volunteer. We will select the 3 schools by June 1 so that the teachers can review the program over the summer and be certified by the start of the next school year.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Career switching will get worse

When people try to claim that the teacher shortage we face is a retention problem, I laugh. Don’t get me wrong – I would love to see better working conditions and even higher salaries for teachers. But that will not come close to fixing the problem.

We no longer live in a society where someone works in one job, let alone one career, for life. Based on my daughter’s college friends, it is not going to get any better.

We took some of her college friends to dinner a few weeks back and half were planning on transferring from Radford University to other schools. They talk about this as if it was as easy as upgrading to a new text messaging plan for their cell phones. Back in “the day”, the only people transferring to a different college were usually doing so for nefarious reasons.

My daughter has now been accepted to James Madison University and will transfer there next semester. All of her friends at the dinner who applied will also be transferring. If they switch colleges this easy, I can guarantee that attitude will carry over into jobs and careers. Thirty year teaching careers will be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Starfish, data and change

This one is a little sappy but so applicable to education. I was speaking with Dr. Nixon in Tennessee and he has all these starfish in his office. So I asked him if he likes the beach. He said no and that he had them in his office to remind him of The Star Thrower Story which can be found at: http://www.starthrower.com/star_thrower_story_script.htm

The gist of the story is that an older gentleman is walking down the beach when he sees a younger man jumping around the surf. As he approaches, he realizes the guy is throwing starfish back into the ocean that have been beached. He asks why is the young man doing this when he can’t possibly make a difference and save all the starfish on the beach. The young man reaches down, picks up a beached starfish, throws it back into the surf and says: “I made a difference for that one”.

Interesting – love the story but felt let down by the moral of the story on the website. I immediately felt like the starfish are symbolic of anyone who struggles. The young man was anyone in education trying to make a change and the older guy was the establishment that felt that change will not really make a difference. Eventually he figures out that it is worth it and that making a difference starts small.

It was motivating for anyone who constantly battles the forces of status quo.

The other amazing thing I learned on my trip is how many changes Tennessee is making in education based on data. Keep an eye on them. They are changing curriculum, adding math and science requirements, have strengthened their standards and are changing the sequence of science courses all based on data from student performance.

Tennessee got all this data and started using it to improve education and no teachers lost their jobs in the use of that data. Interesting…….

So, after my trip south, I believe even more in starfish, data and change.