Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Tipping Point in Education Policy

Here at ABCTE we do a lunch time book club of sorts. Every six months we pick a professional book to read and then discuss. We meet in groups so that I can get to know our great staff better and they can become more familiar with each other and me. We started with 7 Habits last year and had some great discussions on how we can improve ourselves. The current book we are reading is the Tipping Point.

While discussing the Tipping Point on Friday it occurred to me that I actually saw how working with “mavens” (those experts who influence others) can help change education policy. In Oklahoma, Representative Ed Cannady and Representative Jeannie McDaniel are two Democrats on the Education Committee. We spent some great time with them answering their questions and better explaining our program. Because of their expertise in Education, the rest of the Democrats look to them for their stand on education issues.

Since we had spent so much time with them and because they had heard from some of the teachers in their districts on math and science shortages they voted for the bill in committee and did not debate it on the floor. That was all it took. Because some of the best education experts in the Oklahoma House were willing to vote for it, everyone voted for the bill and it passed 99 to 0.

It was great to use true example of the Tipping Point in our discussions and how it really does apply in the real world.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oklahoma is the 9th ABCTE State!

Last night Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma signed SB582 into law allowing ABCTE teachers to teach in Oklahoma. This is the 9th state that now accepts ABCTE teachers and the unanimous passage of this bill in the Oklahoma House says some pretty great things about our program.
1. The content we have added to the program makes it easier for states to accept our teachers
2. The data we have gathered is compelling evidence that our teachers are doing well in the classroom
3. Alternative certification just isn’t so radical anymore
None of the education groups opposed the bill. This leads to the conclusion that, with the changes we have made, our program is a common sense solution to math/science teacher shortages. Left to make a decision on their own, all of the House members in Oklahoma decided that common sense should prevail.

Also note that the changes we have made to the program were due to the input from education groups. So the result is that by listening to them, we can improve the program yet remain true to our goals. A pretty good feeling.

Nice coverage from Steve Sawchuk on the Edweek blog here. Now on to the 10th state…..

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

100 years of tradition unhindered by progress

We used to have a similar tongue in cheek motto at the Naval Academy where traditions could not be undone by progress. And now I see first hand how education continues to struggle with modernizing the classroom in spite of amazing technological gains in the last 20 years.

Tom Vander Ark looks ahead to the next 20 years and feels like we are finally, reluctantly, going to change – but only if we get some for-profits in the mix with the non-profits to drive that change. The working paper has been released by AEI with a forward by Rick Hess who continues to champion entrepreneurship in education.

Vander Ark is formerly of the Gates Foundation and now runs a venture capital group for education companies. So he has seen the issue up close and personal. He puts forth a pretty great picture of where education has to go and his paper deserves a quick read.

In the recent Metlife survey of teachers, the issue: “More teachers (43%) agree that their classes have become so mixed in terms of students’ learning abilities that they can’t teach effectively, compared to 39% in 1988.” His fix is World of Warcraft. Not really but it does give me an excuse to try the game. His actual fix is to use a World of Warcraft like software system to completely customize education delivery that adapts to the level of the student.

If you know any good homeschoolers, you know that most of them can educate their children in half the time. Our schools are rapidly inefficient because time is lost on bussing, meals, announcements, paperwork etc. Every day we are lose incredibly valuable time on task to things that don’t further our student’s education. Yet there is technology available today that could deliver the content more efficiently and at the level of each individual student helping them grasp the knowledge they need to succeed.

Our teachers are right in identifying one of the main problems in education today. The wide variation in knowledge and skill level of their students makes it nearly impossible to teach without the use of technology. Yet the only way we currently use technology in our schools is to have students do some research on the web and to create some great powerpoints in their group projects (usually completed by half the students in the group). We are teaching to the middle and losing more and more kids on the ends.

Vander Ark is correct - One hundred years of tradition unhindered by progress has to change - - it is just a matter of how fast and how many student lives are wasted while we wait.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Is this change we can believe in?

Today in the Oklahoma House, Senate Bill 582 passed by a vote of 99 for and 0 against. A unanimous vote for the ABCTE alternative teacher certification program to be accepted in Oklahoma. This is pretty stunning as our program has, in the past, faced stiff opposition from the education establishment.

We have made a lot of changes to the program and placed a greater emphasis on teacher preparation especially in the pedagogy area. And we have changed to create a more balanced board of directors. And we have been much more accommodating in meeting with education groups to build a program in each state that takes input from all sides. And we have done a much better job at completing research and placing more teachers. And we have done a much better job at publicizing all of those accomplishments.

But 99 to nothing?!?!?.

That is really stunning. From my front line view, the tipping point is a combination of teacher unions looking to work with other groups and stop saying no to everything and President Obama constantly touting alternative teacher certification.

Regardless, it is extremely gratifying to become more “mainstream” and find much more common ground in education.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shortsight is as shortsighted does

I have been trying to keep up on the stimulus dollars to see if it is really going to prevent teacher layoffs etc. First my amazing ABCTE team got word last week from Utah that there is a hiring freeze on teachers right now. After a four year pilot using our math program, we were recently approved in Utah for all ABCTE certifications because they were constantly facing teacher shortages and knew they had looming teacher retirements. One district that normally hires 300 teachers will hire less than 50 next year. Most districts are eliminating educational programs and using those teachers to backfill any new hires needed. The final blow in Utah is that the state board approved a reduction to the school year by 5 days for 2009 – 2010.

Looking bad for stimulus dollars providing a positive impact for schools – Utah is actually slipping.

Then in my own backyard in Virginia (and my daughter’s school system), the Washington Post reports that Loudoun County Supervisors, upon hearing that Loudoun schools would get $11.8 million in stimulus, promptly cut $7.3 million from the school budgets. Not painful since it keeps them whole and no teachers will lose their jobs, but it certainly doesn’t create any reforms. And since Loudoun is still growing, it still creates problems.

The main issue is that state and district budgets are worse than initially thought. So the hole is much deeper and the stimulus is going to only fill it so far. Right now that is causing some panic and to twist a phrase – shortsighted is as shortsighted does. States and districts are looking to just get by next year so the dollars are not really driving any reforms.

The problem is that all this panic will dry up our teacher pipelines are really at the same time staffing is getting exceptionally lean. In two years districts will find themselves scrambling to find the talent they need. Those districts that think long term and really look to tap into the talent out there now and get that talent into teaching programs will be those that really do right by their students.

More to come……

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Pretty interesting day for education in the press as they are finally breaking the story that I broke on March 20, 2009 about the pending “tsunami” of teacher retirements. USA Today has a piece about it quoting Tom Carroll from NCTAF saying that “we will lose one third of our teachers in the next 5-6 years”. The New York Times uses another quote from Mr. Carroll - “The traditional teaching career is collapsing at both ends,” the report says. “Beginners are being driven away” by low pay and frustrating working conditions, and “accomplished veterans who still have much to contribute are being separated from their schools by obsolete retirement systems”

It is great to see this getting some press. They did, however, gloss over the one of the major issues in the report which is that our retirement system for teachers actually provides a disincentive to delay retiring. While the rest of the working world has already delayed retirement in their minds by 2-3 years based on the collapse of their IRA’s or 401k’s, teachers in many states would financially lose if they delayed retirement. So the stock market collapse has no impact on our retirement issue.

South Carolina actually passed a law allowing teachers to retire and then come back without facing a financial penalty on their pension. I expect that we will see more states looking to follow suit as this tsunami builds over the next three years.

Since the beginning of this blog I have been sounding the alarm on retirements as my readers know from my favorite statistic: in 1972, 21% of the bachelor’s degrees in this country were in education and today that number is less than 7%. Unfortunately, most states have such restrictive teacher certification requirements dominated by Ed schools so that as those 1972 teachers retire, they are left with gaping holes. Those states without solid alternative teacher certification routes will be the ones who feel the greatest pain in the next few years. .

We have a unique opportunity today to mitigate this crisis. We have displaced workers with incredible skills who could become teachers and fill the void that will soon cripple our schools. The naysayers, and there are so many of those in education, will say that once the economy turns around, those people will leave. But they won’t leave if you have solid preparation programs like ABCTE’s that realize an 85% retention rate.

Secretary Duncan tells us that what we do in the next three to four years will have a lasting impact on our education system for the next thirty years. In the case of teacher recruitment, it is both what we do to attract more teachers and what we don’t do to change needlessly restrictive teacher certification that will have the greatest impact on our future students.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The unprecendented leading to the dramatic

I was invited to attend the ARRA briefing over at the US DOE today. For us, the briefing actually provided a little more information than previous top line discussions. In times of great change, effective organizations over-communicate. With ARRA, the US DOE is definitely making sure that they do that and it is appreciated by many. This extra communication is certainly keeping people from finding things not to like about the recovery money (see – I didn’t call it stimulus so their communication plan is working).

There are two great things about these briefings that are very noticeable. The first is that Secretary Duncan is so careful to always start with the positives. Whatever he is talking about, he always starts with the positive and continues to prefer the carrot to the stick. In this case, states forgoing the carrot (in this case the carrot takes the form of billions of dollars) will feel like they actually got the stick since they will lose billions. The second is John Schnur – if someone in the audience brings up something they don’t like, rather than debate, he asks for input on how to handle it better. It is so refreshing to have people admit that they don’t have all the answers and really seem to want everyone involved in making the program better. It is really disarming to the questioner which makes it quite enjoyable to watch since most questions are really just a ploy to get your organization noticed (disclosure: I have done this in the past).

However, they have got to find some new words. I wish that I would have written down how many times “unprecedented” and “dramatic” were used. No one would argue that the amount of money is unprecedented and that for that much cash we do need to see dramatic results – but it became a little funny towards the end as it seemed to be used in every third sentence.

The big take away for ABCTE is the Race to the Top funds (should we call this RTTT or R3T). There are $5 billion to fund this race. Approximately $4.35 billion will be given to the states that, through their ARRA spending, really demonstrated that they are working towards true reform with increased student success. The remaining $635 million will be distributed through the Office of Innovation and Improvement(OII) through existing programs and some new programs. It is clear that Jim Shelton, formerly of Gates, is now fully in charge of OII and ready to go since he stepped up and did a lot of the talking on RTTT. We should see some RFPs flowing here over the few months. I believe that they want to have the RFP process completed by end of the fiscal year and the money distributed in spring and summer of 2010. Very ambitious.

The Secretary also continued his theme of wanting to see more local courage and less adult dysfunction. He is correct. If that actually happens maybe the unprecedented will actually lead to the dramatic.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

ABCTE Teachers

I would urge you to go to the Meet our Teachers section of our website. It is really quite incredible and the reason we exist. Here you will learn about Angela Moore who worked in the military and other careers before finding teaching as her calling. With her spouse in the military, it was tough for her to complete any teacher preparation program that did not have an independent study option. With ABCTE sh was able to teach. With our scholarship program, she could do it now.

Mississippi has a very difficult time finding teachers. The fact that we were able to recruit people like Angela to teach in Mississippi high schools is incredibly rewarding and the reason we all work so hard to get other states to accept our teachers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Yesterday we went around to all the House Education committee members in Oklahoma to ensure passage of the alternative teacher certification bill SB 582. We had some very good questions from all the members. The most striking discussion with one of the Democrat members was that she told us that a math teacher/department head had called her and told her she had two math teachers who needed to be fired because students in their classes were not learning math. But she couldn’t fire them because she had no one to replace them. She asked that the legislature please do something about the shortage to get them the help they need.

So in a first for ABCTE we had a 14 – 0 vote in an education committee. As the program has evolved, become more “mainstream”, added great resources and become much better at communicating our message, we now see true bi-partisan support. It was a great day.

See the vote video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFBcRQlY0M0