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.