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.