Monday, February 23, 2009

Education Problem Solving Revisited

Interesting three days in Arizona on the education “human capital” front. First there was an article on teacher shortages in Arizona followed the next day with an article on our attempts to get approved in Arizona. So you have a problem and you have a solution – what should that mean…..hmmmmm…..well for some it means you find ways not to implement that solution and instead find ways to stick with what you are doing now.

A bill to encourage alternative certifications introduced by Education Chairman Crandall passed out of committee 7 to 1. The one baffled me a little – his concern was that we did not have course work. Instead of our program where candidates work through a program and are screened by two rigorous tests BEFORE getting into the classroom, he advocates for letting anyone in the classroom and training them on the fly as higher quality which doesn't make much sense. Plus – if that was good enough wouldn’t the needs of Arizona’s students be met by those programs?

The only other resistance was around our meeting of Arizona standards even though we have had an independent analysis say that we meet their standards with our program.

People that don’t want change usually stick to an argument even if the argument is proved false. Based on the outcomes of today, it looks like there is a desire to solve the problem and not stick with things that are not working.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Teacher Performance Pay

I too struggle with teacher bonuses. I totally agree with Ladner's post on Jay Greene's Blog (full disclosure that he sits on my board but that is not why I agree with him)– teachers need to be rewarded for the success of the school and for their individual contribution to that school. I saw this first hand in one of my jobs in manufacturing. We had an annual bonus that was based on the how well the organization did and how well my department did. It meant that everyone was focused on the overall performance of the plant and their individual performance. And if anyone was a slacker, the peer pressure for that person “stuff” together and not hurt our bonus was pretty intense.

There are other issues with teacher bonuses that we are still trying to work out as well. Because of a few meetings with Rob Weil from AFT I also never had a good answer for him on how we handle the problem of waiting for test score results since bonuses are most likely to have a positive impact the closer they are to the behavior being rewarded. There is also the timing of student testing and the quality of student testing. The ideal solution would be a true pre and post test with the rewards coming soon after the post test. But with school budgets today, will anyone really stomach another test for students and absorb that cost?

More studies are needed to determine how to implement performance plans and truly reward the efforts in our schools. It is great to see some on the ed reform side pointing out some of the issues and looking for solutions. We are completing the write up on our initial study for our Distinguished Teacher program and are still looking for dollars to pilot this program as a possible answer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

NO LDH - sigh of relief

If you heard a collective sigh of relief from the education reformers in the world, you heard correctly. Linda Darling-Hammond (LDH) will not be joining the US DOE citing family reasons. Her daughter is ill and, as a dad, I will keep them in my thoughts. But for ABCTE, this is a relief.

Early in my career with ABCTE I was sitting at a lunch table at a NCTAF meeting and there was an open seat next to me. LDH was about to sit down and I stood and introduced myself – at that point someone came over and explained who I was and she immediately sat elsewhere.

It is one of those moments where you see that someone is so closed to any new ideas that they can't even sit next to you. This is borne out in her publications and speeches where she will not even consider alternative teacher certification in spite of the data that support this direction. It is also the reason new ideas are driven out of education – because the people carrying and driving those ideas are treated so rudely by the defenders of the status quo. Luckily my thick skin, stubbornness and inability to care what the status quo thinks, keeps me going.

I was very concerned during the elections that Obama was represented by LDH one day and a charter school principal the next. It appears that they were still developing their education policy and now true reform really has a chance.

And the children, not the adults, will be the real winners for a change

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stop the madness

How can a person teach if they have not had course work or student teaching? It is a question that I am asked many times when visiting states. In the past this was somewhat difficult to answer, but as the data comes in from multiple studies, it is clear that the answer to this question is: just as well as those who had course work and student teaching.

We now have four separate studies that provide pretty much the same conclusion that students of alternatively certified teachers perform as well as students from traditionally certified teachers.

The ridiculous compromise that many leaders use to create alternative teacher certification programs is to make people take course work at night. To these leaders I always try to stress that teaching in the first year is physically and mentally exhausting. You have to be “on” longer than in most professions and the last thing these new teachers need is to leave their school and go sit in a class. They still need to grade papers, tweak lesson plans, rest and spend time with the family.

It turns out we are right. From the most recent study on alternative certification (Note that AC is alternatively certified and TC is traditionally certified teachers):

Students of AC teachers who were taking coursework while teaching scored lower in math than students of their TC counterparts. This finding suggests that student performance in an AC teacher’s class may be negatively related to the teacher’s taking courses while teaching.

If the first rule of education reform is to do no harm – then we must eliminate course work requirements for new teachers that have no value and are actually reducing teacher effectiveness.

The studies are found here:
“What Does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness? Evidence from New York City”, Kane, Rockoff, Staiger, 2006,
“Identifying Effective Teachers on the Job”, Gordon, Kane and Staiger, Brookings Institute, 2006
“What Happens when States have Genuine Alternative Certification”, Peterson and Nadler, Education Next, Winter 2009,
“An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification”, IES/Mathematica, February 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Great Schools

Spent the last few days in Arizona and got to visit the Basis School in Scottsdale to see how a charter school can be the top ranked High School in the Nation. Taking a tour and meeting the directors, you can see why. They push and they push hard. The middle school students were doing advanced algebra (as a former engineer I really got into solving two variables and didn’t want to leave). They integrate the curriculum across subjects moving aspects from one subject to another to maximize time and effectiveness in class. The charter school at it's best.

They thoroughly address one of my pet peeves – they teach middle school students how to study. They let them know that studying for a test is not just reading a worksheet once. The one former TFA teacher worked with his Geography students to make sure they understood where they were weak and how to strengthen skills to ensure they were ready for the test. THIS IS HUGE! I spent way too much time working with my middle schoolers because no one taught them to study – it was left to parents. I always thought that it was one great way to ensure we continued the achievement gap since public schools don't teach kids how to study. In fact if kids come to Basis later in middle school they have to do some study skill boot camp in the afternoons so that these kids can keep up.

They have pass rate percentages on AP exams in the 90’s. These kids are motivated and because the curriculum is so demanding from middle school on, they are ready for college level courses at a very early age.

Could this be replicated through all schools? Probably not. But if we had thousands of these schools, we would really move forward as a competitive nation. It was amazing and I look forward to having some great ABCTE teachers there in the future.

Monday, February 9, 2009

No difference.

Mathematica Policy Research, Inc has a new study out on teacher certification comparing traditional versus alternatively certification teachers.

The conclusion:

"This study found no benefit, on average, to student achievement from placing an AC teacher in the classroom when the alternative was a TC teacher, but there was no evidence of harm, either. In addition, the experimental and nonexperimental findings together indicate that although individual teachers appear to have an effect on students’ achievement, we could not identify what it is about a teacher that affects student achievement. Variation in student achievement was not strongly linked to the teachers’ chosen preparation route or to other measured teacher characteristics."

Important stuff. More to come on this but this is the third study to come to the same conclusion - there is no benefit to teachers going through traditional routes. Having a route like ABCTE's gives you more potential teachers and does nothing to the quality of teaching in schools.

Rhee likes Teachers

Please read Michelle Rhee’s op-ed today in the Washington Post. While I still feel that some of the praise for her should wait until the results are studied, the progress she has made in moving the district forward is impressive. Her work ethic and drive are just amazing to me in tackling this amazingly difficult task.

The op-ed is important because it clearly demonstrates that she does appreciate great teachers which is why she has dedicated most of her life in this effort. It seems that education reformers, like ABCTe, often get tagged as hating teachers. We all know that teachers are the key to success and we just want the best possible teachers in every classroom.

She is setting the stage for a difficult negotiation and hopefully this will clear some of the air. But since so few people read the newspaper anymore, it probably won’t help much.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


When you see your team making real progress, it is a most rewarding thing. Over the past month the incredible ABCTE team has blown past many of our goals. Each of these brings ABCTE closer to long term sustainability.

First, we already have 600 enrollments in 2009 which is incredible. Our fiscal year revenue is far exceeding our target and our fiscal year expenses are under our budget. Wall Street Banks take note – that is how you thrive and survive – higher revenue, lower costs. Wow – business rocket science from a non-profit.

Second, we have started welcome calls to all new candidates and have launched our new online orientation seminar. We have found that the candidates in our program who take one exam graduate at a much higher level. The goal is to keep these people excited about teaching and use that momentum to get them through our pretty tough program. The orientation is already receiving rave reviews from our candidates.

Third, we are totally revamping our candidate experience with new, more extensive study plans for our potential teachers. This will improve the performance of our teachers on exams and in the classroom and ensure we have more teachers available for school districts.

Fourth, the New Teacher Hotline podcast is back!! We have our latest installment. There are usually around 3,000 downloads of this free resource for any new teacher.

Fifth is some great press coverage of our in-state recruitment events in Missouri, Idaho and now South Carolina. The press wants to know who these people are and they are very interested in the number of people who are looking at teaching because of their economic situation. As a result of this great press, we have had record attendance at these events.

And sixth is increased state interest in using ABCTE as a job-retraining program to get displaced technical workers into the teaching profession at no cost to the state or district and minimal cost to the potential teacher.

In a steep recession, it is the teams that come together, get lean, move critical projects forward and work hard that will thrive and survive. With team we have here, we will be around for a very long time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Irate Parent Ploy

Joanne Jacobs has a post on sports in high school. While the point is improving leadership skills, I am driven to respond to the other issue that will come up more often in the next few years: threatening to cut sports and after school activities due to budget constraints.

It always amazes me that there are no inefficiencies in school districts since this is never a part of these budget cut discussions. The “cutting sports and after school activities” ploy is used by many superintendents as a great way to get parents totally up in arms and protesting to the county for more money for schools. Since the parents of the kids that participate in these activities are usually pretty involved, the supe can get the response they need to get more money for the district.

In Loudoun County, where we live, they are going to charge $100 per student to participate in sports next year to make ends meet. I have no problem paying since that investment is certainly well worth that price. And if students can’t afford it, they will bring back fundraisers and have a hardship process.

In the mean time, every business in America that wants to survive this recession will have done a total review of all spending and make the sharp cuts necessary to increase efficiency. Is it too much to ask for school districts to actually analyze their budgets and find efficiencies instead of using the irate parent ploy?

Monday, February 2, 2009

A science class saved

We made a tour of Missouri last week to let state leaders know how well we are doing with teacher recruitment. We have been approved there as a route to teacher certification for only 6 months and we have over 900 people enrolled with 450 focused on math and science. This is just an amazing success. Obviously this was very well received in the capital and it is great, as a non-profit, to let people know that we are living up to the expectations set for the ABCTE program

But to bring it down the personal level, we received an email from Keria Morton who has already completed her Biology certification through ABCTE. I urge you to read through her profile because it truly highlights why our program is an essential part of making sure that every child has a great teacher.

The highlights:

1. She is already teaching science and become an integral part of her school but had no way to get certified unless she drove 3 hours to college courses
2. She passed the Praxis without studying but failed her first attempt at our exams – she had to study (thus improving her knowledge) before she could pass
3. In rural schools, having a great person trumps having a certification
4. Taking course work while teaching does not work – there is not enough time in the day for grading papers, lesson plans and your family

Our schools need more people like Keria Morton teaching science. Not only is she teaching but she is totally involved in her school. Without a program like ABCTE, the students in her small school district would be without a great science teacher.