Friday, January 30, 2009

You can't push a rope.

It is hard to fully understand everything that is going on in every state. So it came as a surprise to me yesterday when I was in Springfield Illinois that the demise of Governor Blagojevich was written in stone long before the unanimous vote was taken. As we walked around the capital, it became very clear that the sin of selling Obama’s senate seat was just a miniscule tip of the ice burg. Apparently his approval rating had fallen to 18% BEFORE the FBI press conference about senate seat for sale. He didn’t even come to the capital during the session much and almost nothing got passed last year due to his arrogance and inability to play well with others. The hatred for this man in the state house on both sides of the aisle was just amazing.

It sounds very familiar – certainly not as extreme – but familiar. The Bush administration became known for bullying, steamrolling and pretty much the “my way or the highway” mentality. No collaboration and nothing of substance accomplished.

One of my favorite leadership lines from Navy training was that you can’t push a rope. You have to lead. It is refreshing to see many in the Obama administration, especially Secretary Duncan, establishing some basic leadership in their departments as we head into these incredibly difficult times. I am very impressed that Duncan went around, met people, and promised to listen. We are absolutely desperate for leadership in education and leadership is not defined as pushing one agenda – it requires people to listen and collaborate.

It is clearly evident that Pelosi and Reid skipped the leadership seminar that the rest of the Obama team went to. No collaboration there and it already creating problems for the administration. The Democrats have a great opportunity to lead this country out of serious issues, and they are going to fail miserably because of these two.

For our own work, I am struck by the times we are able to collaborate with teacher groups and the one group that will never work with us. Early on when I took over as president, I relied on the constructive criticism of the national AFT teacher quality team. (AFT does NOT endorse our program – they do not blindly condemn it either). Because of their input we introduced a policy to be totally transparent and publish everything, we strengthened the program with additional resources and we increased the studies on our teachers. I consider them invaluable in making this a better program. In the end Joan Baratz-Snowden who retired as head of teacher quality for AFT joined our board of directors to continue the progress we have made. They call me with any questions about our program to make sure they are accurate. As Rob Weil told me: “you are a learning organization and we can always work with that”

In Missouri, the Missouri State Teachers Association are neutral on our program. They knew the state had to do something and worked with us to create a bill that was stronger for Missouri and still met the needs of our potential candidates. This collaboration has resulted in over 850 enrollments in Missouri in 9 months of which 425 are in math and science. They listened to us and we absolutely listened to them.

On the Pelosi/Reid side of collaboration for us is the NEA. No constructive criticism, no meetings to discuss ways to improve – they don’t like us and no matter what we do, they will never like us or work on improvements. Unless we develop a college of education program, we are out. Heck it has been 20 years and they still hate TFA.

I do believe that collaboration is on the rise and hopefully the administration will not get discouraged. They should continue to look for ways to strengthen our country by working together. And hopefully the Reid/Pelosi/NEA “my way or the highway” attitude will go the way of the Blagojevich’s of the world.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

D'Arcy's death sandwich

We went to D’Arcy’s Pint last night in Springfield Illinois for a “horseshoe” - according to Wikipedia this sandwich originated in Springfield. It consists of a piece of Texas toast, covered with meat, then covered with French fries and topped with a secret cheese sauce. D’Arcy’s claims to have the best – and we were not disappointed. It certainly is not for the weak of heart as a heart attack cannot be far behind –but the fries were thin, wavy and crispy and the cheese was like some of the best queso I have had. I got a small and could only eat about 2/3 thirds of it. I don’t know how anyone could eat a large. But it was worth it. Now back to the gym to work off the fat. It comes in at number 12 and Springfield is the 31st state capital I have visited with ABCTE.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mentoring - still searching

For true alternative teacher certification programs, mentoring is a critical component to ensure that career changers are brought up to speed as fast as possible. In an independent study of ABCTE teachers, we were very presently surprised to see that 83% of our first year teachers had a mentor and received about 45 minutes per week with that mentor. So our school districts are helping new teachers.

But how effective is that mentoring? Mathematica Policy Research just came out with a randomized study of the mentoring program that was the gold standard – The New Teacher Center’s program. This program can cost school districts around $5,000 per teacher so with that kind of investment, you want a good pay off.

Some quick thoughts from the study -

  1. 17 districts and several hundred teachers were involved. The majority of students in each district were low-income
  2. Control group received normal mentoring and the treatment group got either the New Teacher Center or the ETS program
  3. Plan is for 7 districts to keep up with the study during a second year of mentoring
  4. Major finding is that if you give teachers a more intensive mentoring program, they report receiving more mentoring
  5. Study did NOT find any impacts on student achievement or teacher observation scores or retention

We all continue to look for the one thing that might help all teachers and students perform at a higher level. It appears that these mentoring programs are not it and that we need to keep looking.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama and ABCTE

It is appropriate for the blogosphere to recognize the transformation in DC right now. Since our birth occurred during the Bush era I am often asked how we will fair with the new administration. The answer apparently lies at:

  • Recruit Teachers: Obama and Biden will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location.

Three years ago, we set out to create a Board of Directors that absolutely focused on solving a problem. Our current board is a bi-partisan board that has helped us ensure that our program resonates with anyone who wants to look at the issue from one point of view: does it help students succeed.

It is an exciting time in education and the changes that will occur in the next few years because so many people are focused student success will be transformational.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Low Expectations

I am a little behind on blogging topics but wanted to give a quick plug to the Core Knowledge blog and this post on curriculum. It is a discussion on high expectations and I am always fascinated with the misdirection that goes on in education discussions (not from Core Knowledge but other discussants). In this case there is a discussion of writing assignments that is a part of the Ed Trust presentation on why are schools are failing. In one school students are asked to write a detailed character analysis of Anne Frank and in the school students are asked to write an essay about “my best friend” or “a chore I hate”. Obviously not even close to the same level of difficulty.

The discussion moves to student expectations which should be high and this is where the disagreements begin. Some would argue that you can’t suddenly ask students who are years behind their grade level to create outstanding 7th grade essays. Others would argue that we continue to set low expectations that keep students years behind. But the main point of the Ed Trust presentation is that this is an AP class and the AP standards have been watered down in the second school so that they can say they have lots of people in AP. So it really isn’t so much about general expectations of all students – it is more about forcing students into an advanced class and then lowering the expectations so we can keep the numbers up and show progress.

The problem is that school districts want to say that they have XX% of their students in AP when the class really isn’t an AP class. It is similar to taking Algebra in middle school. One of the new “coins of the realm” for demonstrating progress is the number of people taking Algebra – but then the Algebra class actually becomes basic math because none of the students are even close to being able to handle Algebra. This of course forced a California judge to halt algebra (still my favorite headline).

Symbolic progress creates that race to the bottom by forcing lower standards for advanced classes. Instead of worrying about the numbers of people taking AP, let’s only talk about the numbers passing AP tests or do away with AP altogether and just have the kids take college courses – seems to be a lot more valuable to everyone except ETS.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wisconsin breaks into the top 10

I made it to the Old Fashioned Restaurant in Madison Wisconsin last night and it definitely breaks into the top 10 for state capitols. Who can resist a Wisconsin cheese platter to start - and it was beyond amazing. Then a humongous walleye sandwich that was fantastic. Great beer selection as well and medium priced so it hits all the great points I need when girding myself for legislative meetings. I had a seat near the window so I could look up at the most beautiful capital building. Definitely worth a visit and would have been perfect if it were not for the -8 degree weather.

Monday, January 12, 2009

the economic opportunty

When unemployment rises, education organizations do well. When the economy is good, people coast and soak up the rewards. When the economy tanks, people want to make themselves more valuable to their current organization or seek training to move into a more new career after losing their jobs. At Kaplan we could count on many more LSAT, GRE and GMAT test takers during a crunch.

We are seeing this firsthand at ABCTE right now. We are having the largest enrollment month of our short history. Part of this is due to the tremendous response from Missourians but it is also coming from people who have lost their jobs in real estate, financials and technical fields. They now want to move into teaching.

I have heard the past criticism that these people will move back into the private sector once the economy recovers. But there is no actual data to support this AND the economy is a long way from recovering. Plus ABCTE has an 85% retention rate – so as long as the program is rigorous, there is no concern.

This is a unique opportunity for states and even for the Congress. We can put technical workers back to work and solve our math/science teaching shortage. We are seeing great people come into our program (over 110 have enrolled in January so far and many more are expected). We have even discounted our program by $100 to make sure we do our part to help. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.

One program and we can solve two problems - - let’s work together to make this happen.

NOTE: we need some school districts in Tennessee to work with us to apply for an alternative teacher certification program under their new regulations. If you know an education leader there, please connect us!

Friday, January 9, 2009

More than wind sweeping down the plains

It is not often in your travels that you get to witness an historic event. But I was lucky enough to be in Oklahoma this week when the 2009 legislative session started and it is the first time in the history of that state that the Republicans have a majority in the state senate as well as the house. Considering the political environment of the 2008 elections, this is no small feat.

Meeting the key players who made this happen like Senate President Glenn Coffee it is pretty easy to see why. He is a very smart and yet humble person with a laser focus on improving Oklahoma. From an education perspective, when I congratulated him on this victory, he gave me a firm handshake, looked me in the eye and said – “we will pass education reforms”.

This sentiment was echoed by Senate Education Chair John Ford and Vice Chair Clark Jolley. The Oklahoma House is no less enthusiastic with new Education Chair Ann Coody and Vice Chair Sally Kern. They are ready to get things done and, more importantly, ready to work with the Senate to make it happen. Speaker Chris Benge has made education one of his top priorities. I know that the first day people are always optimistic, but on this day the excitement was over the top.

No less important are Democratic Senator Judy Eason McIntire and Democratic Representative Jabar Shumate who are tired of the old solutions and want to fix Oklahoma schools now. Senator McIntire is in her final two years before hitting her term limits and told me she has been patient for too long. They keep telling her to wait and the schools will get better but she refuses saying “we cannot lose another generation of students”. She does not want to leave the senate until every child in Oklahoma has the chance for a great education. She is determined and not up for reelection – a formidable combination.

Being there for the opening ceremonies and seeing the excitement and determination to create a world class education system in Oklahoma was incredible. Education change doesn’t happen here in DC, it takes dedicated leaders in the states to create that change – so keep an eye on Oklahoma.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

North Carolina needs a change and Tennessee makes one!

Great opinion piece in the Fayetteville Observer from Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation. There are a growing number of education thought leaders like Terry who understand the benefits of alternative teacher certification and are advocating for states like North Carolina to get on board. He also advocates for ABCTE as a way for North Carolina to get there.

It is also great to see Tennessee joining the number of states who will move to having genuine alternative teacher certification. The state board recently passed regulations that will allow approval of programs like ours to help improve quality and increase the numbers of great teachers for their classrooms.

These are exciting times in education!

Monday, January 5, 2009

DC Schools moving forward

Yesterday I was going to blog about the outstanding opinion piece by Colbert King in the Washington Post on Saturday appropriately titled “Beyond Publicity, What is Rhee Producing”. King makes a great point that seems to occur with every rock star superintendent of schools – they make changes and are immediately canonized before we even see the results. Education reformers start drinking, and even making, the kool-aid because we are so desperate to see any progress that anyone who actually makes a change must immediately be worshipped. Then, because of the superintendent’s fame for making changes, they leave before anyone can really see results. In theory they could be a disaster, but no one will really know because the results never catch up to them.

However the nasty flipside is also true. King advocates for an independent auditor to see if all these changes provide results but it is difficult to see solid results in a short period in a school system that has been mired in sub-par performance for so long. While I applaud the need to really understand the results of these disruptive innovations, I am fearful that her detractors will see the results and find ways to say that her methods are not working. People will try to reverse what she has done before we have a chance to see what she can achieve. This happened most recently in Philadelphia.

Had I blogged yesterday, I would have been a lot more harsh about the fame thing and the education reformer fawning that occurs at every conference. It is as if every education reformer signed a pact never to have a conference unless Michelle was a keynote speaker with angels singing in the background. I would ask that everyone tone it down and not make a huge deal until the results are in. Our critique of the status quo is they focus too much on inputs and not enough on results – yet every superintendent we worship is because of their inputs, not results. Plus we set the expectation so high that they are doomed to disappoint.

But then I read this and I am drinking the cool-aid again. The key element in true reform is great teaching and Michelle is going to provide a laser focus on improving the District’s teaching corps. She is dumping National Board because it is too costly and does not get results, setting high expectations for students and trying to eliminate bottom performing teachers. She is eliminating teacher training which does not produce results, in favor of a program that is getting results in Montgomery County and she is going to improve mentoring.

This is a huge, much needed step to get DC Schools back on track. If we can combine that with King’s idea of an accountability measure – with very reasonable goals – I think the attention Michelle is getting will be justified in two years when we see DC finally become a place where kids come to learn.