Monday, August 31, 2009

Education Equality Project

I am now listed as a signatory on the Education Equality Project. The group is worth a look and is starting to gain traction. The main focus is we need to stop arguing about the 20% of education reform where we rabidly disagree and start working on the 80% of education change where we all do agree. Check them out!

The Future of Teaching

There is a very important article on teaching by Rick Hess in EducationNext this month. He has some outstanding facts and great suggestions on what has to happen in teaching in order to maximize talent and increase student learning.

First the background – he uses one of my favorite stats about our society of career changers: by 30, most people have held 4 different jobs. So assuming that every kid in college going into teaching is going to stay in teaching through retirement is ludicrous.

Career-changers are the problem and the solution. Taking at look at the huge shift in talent in grades 9-12 based on when people entered the teaching profession:

1990: 75% entered by age 25 and 6% entered by age 35
2004: 56% entered by age 25 and 16% entered by age 35

A study in Mississippi found that people entering the profession later stayed longer. Here at ABCTE where the average age of our teachers is 39, we have an 85% retention rate after three years. That is much higher than any other route.

Rick’s conclusion: more alt cert, more specialization and more technology so that we can get the talent we need and fully leverage that talent for better results.

We could not agree more.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Simple math: RTTT Chances > with ABCTE

I have been asked many times in the last few weeks if we are ‘going for’ Race to the Top (RTTT) funds as if I could just jog down to the US DOE and grab a few bags of cash. But people are right to ask about having ABCTE in the mix because the guidelines specifically say that states must have alternative teacher certification programs that are not based in higher education.

Now comes this NCTQ report that specifically recommends that Colorado adopt ABCTE to better their chances of getting access to these funds.

I hope that many more states will take a similarly hard look at their chances for tapping into these funds. This is an easy requirement for them to meet. Just adopt ABCTE for math and science teachers and your state wins, the teachers win and, most important of all, the students win with better math and science instruction.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A shift lost in the shock

Wow – some harsh words for TFA from the NEA. It is amazing that after close to 20 years, they are still going after them. Right now the NEA is doing what any union is supposed to do – raise the specter of job losses and fight for member jobs. They have targeted TFA it is getting ugly.

There is support in the RTTBOC (Race to the Bags o’ Cash) otherwise known as Race to the Top for Alternative Teacher Certification. We are formulating our support during the comment period with some minor tweaks as are many of the other groups focused on improving teachers.

But here is what the NEA had to say by way of a critique:
NEA supports alternative routes to licensure, including high quality alternative certification programs. We know of many programs that do require evidence of excellence in the content area taught and have a carefully designed program of required course work in pedagogy and work with a mentor teacher.

In most alternative certification programs, however, the candidates are not fully certified for two years. And in one particular program, Teach for America, candidates are scheduled to leave teaching just as the two years are completed.

We agree that the Race to the Top programs should be focusing on the most challenging schools. And the research is clear that a highly qualified and stable workforce is necessary for true reforms to take hold. Experience, stability, content knowledge, access to induction and mentoring programs, and preparation for teaching diverse learners (cultural, linguistic and students with unique needs) will be key to the most qualified staff in high priority schools. Plans should be designed to attract and retain the best prepared, fire-tested, career individuals who plan to be there for the duration. Alternative certification candidates should be the last ones assigned to schools targeted for real reforms.

What will get lost in the scuffle with TFA is a pretty huge shift in policy for them. This is a pretty big compromise from NEA. In the past they would not allow anyone into teaching who had not gone through the Ed schools and they had to have had student teaching. This was their fight for years. So this statement is a pretty nice move to find common ground.

But that compromise will get lost in the shock to education reformers for their favorite program.

Friday, August 21, 2009

More Men!

"It's not glamorous, it's not a status position," said Schmitt, 44. "Guys at a young age are chasing after big dreams, big money. But at some point, later in life, they look for a job that's more meaningful." From the "Fewer Male Teachers"

The number of male teachers is declining. In this article from Illinois they point it that it is now down to 22%. I remember a speech by T. Willard Fair, leader of the Miami Urban League on the desperate need for great male role models in our urban schools. This article really highlights the challenges involved with creating a more diverse teaching workforce.

Alternative teacher certification is definitely an answer. Well over 30% of our teachers are male. In order to attract more males, you have to have a focused online preparation program that respects their time, cuts out the fluff and gets them in the classroom at significantly reduced cost. But educators don’t want to hear that.

They want to continue to train all 3.4 million teachers the exact same way. They refuse to understand that maybe, just maybe, doing things differently might actually change the make-up of our teachers which could have such an amazing impact on our schools.

Alas, change comes slowly in education – but it will come - and we will keep fighting so that we can better role models for all students.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Indiana wants me, and we will go back there!

We continue to stay in the news in Indiana as SUPERintendent Tony Bennett pushes for major reforms in education. This is great to see as you have a teacher speaking out in favor of these reforms and the SUPERman himself pushing hard.

Let’s break it down – shall we?
1. Teachers have the greatest impact on students
2. The performance of our education system has become stagnant while all the other school systems of the world improve
3. There are 3.4 million teachers in the US – is there any single training method that works perfectly for 3.4 million people?
4. If our current teacher preparation programs were perfect, number 2 wouldn’t be true
Therefore, bringing in new methods that can address training for different groups of potential teachers is the logical next step

We will continue to push with Tony Bennett to make sure that every student in Indiana has a great teacher.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scholarity = disruptive innovation

About four months ago I started working with a group of amazing programmers who had spent the past 2 years developing the next generation of education software. They have created technology to provide a tutor-like experience for students. This software checks student work at every step, provides deep and continuous diagnostics then recommends the next set of content and problems to truly master a subject. This is a true ‘game changer’ for any education company and could be the disruptive innovation we need to move our education system forward.

Our goal is to now find a test prep company and a content provider to partner with since our software “bolts” underneath any curriculum. We are now ready to introduce dynamic insight technology to the world with the right partner.

Please check out the website, give us some feedback (yes, I created the website) and let us know if we can help your organization!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Only the strong survive

Note: this is not an ABCTE charter school - I just joined the board of an independent DC charter school 18 months ago to try and help them survive and did all we could.

Last night I went before the Washington, DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) and relinquished the charter to our school. We will not be opening this year because we did not have enough students enroll to make it financially viable. But it goes deeper than that.

Charters schools operate on an incredibly lean budget, always less then district schools, and if there is not outside funding they cannot make it. In our case, we did not succeed in getting enough grants and donations and continued to fall further behind. This drove staffing cuts that then started to hurt the curriculum and student experience.

Even with those cuts we did dramatically improve on AYP this year and we had higher enrollment than we ever have had this summer. But without financial support, we could not make it unless we had another 20 students enroll. We worked hard with the PCSB to thoroughly analyze the school this summer so that we could make the right call. It has been an agonizing few weeks trying to figure out the best possible course of action.

In the end we did what is right for the students and closed the school.

This is the beauty of the charter school system without artificial caps – only the strong will survive giving students the best possible choice for their school.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It is not teaching to the test

Interesting exchange during the New America Alliance conference on education opportunities here in Santa Barbara. There was a panel with Steve Barr from Green Dot, Kim Smith from NewSchools Venture Fund that was moderated by Dr. Angela Valenzuela. It was supposed to be a panel on business response to education issues but Dr. Valenzuela wanted to use the opportunity to rail against testing.

She picked the wrong panel.

Kim Smith was outstanding in her response that testing is the reason we know so much about the achievement gap. Without the testing and standards of NCLB we would not be so focused on the issues of education inequality in this country. I have also said the same things she was saying that our tests and standards need to be fixed – not throw out the tests.

Standards are supposed to be what kids need to know to succeed. Tests are supposed to be aligned to the standards. By definition, teaching to the test should then be teaching what kids need to know to succeed.

Then Steve Barr chimed in and said that parents trust him with their kids - something he takes very seriously. He has to be able to show those parents that their kids are academically advancing so he has to test – he owes it to those parents to demonstrate that their trust was not misplaced. It was really a great exchange on how far we come and that it is time to move away from test or not test - and move forward with finding scalable ways to get results.

Now on to my panel with TFA and Linda Darling-Hammond - - ABCTE playin with the big guys.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Go Virtual

On Friday I am on a panel for the New America Foundation to discuss how we can dramatically improve education in the US. This is a group of Hispanic business leaders who are tired of the poor performance of our education system. They want to come out of this meeting with actual action items that can have a positive impact on students.

Since we are involved in the teacher quality aspect I really want to focus on the fact that we are never going to find 3.5 million highly skilled, highly motivated, outstanding teachers. One stunning fact I just pulled for this event:

• In 1974, 24% of teachers scored in the top percentile on high school tests, in 2000 it was down to 11%

So if we start with the premise that we cannot find all the talent we need and still need to educate every child then we need to somehow find a more efficient way of delivering education. If only there were some sort of machine that every other entity in the world uses to maximize efficiency……………sigh.

In my daughter’s school they used computers to conduct research and do powerpoints. They did not get curriculum that was customized to their needs, they did not work on practice problems and they did not see classes delivered by the best teacher in a given subject.

So my pitch is going to be that we have got to start training more teachers to use digital content (see CA) and we have got start re-thinking our school structure to better utilize the talent we have and get that talent in front of more kids.

Will this meeting change anything? I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Carnival of Education Innovation!!

From the ABCTE blog!! Visit it today!!

Welcome to the first edition of the Carnival of Education Innovation.

Before we get started, here’s a quick summary of what a blog carnival is for those who’ve never heard of one before: It’s basically a collection of links to recent blog posts on a particular subject. People can come browse the links as a sort of one-stop-shop for all that’s happening in education innovation that week—a “best of the week” so to speak where you can come each Tuesday to catch up on what’s happening in the world of education innovation.

One other important thing to note—you play a major role in what appears in each week’s Carnival of Education Innovation. Visit our submission page by 4pm every Monday and submit your suggestions for that week’s carnival. These suggestions can be from your own blog or other education innovation-related blog posts you’ve come across.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Teachers rule

I was pondering what to write about for our Friday blog when I received the email below from on of our scholarship recipients. ABCTE has a Transition to Teaching grant which provides a full scholarship through our program. This is why we fight so hard for alternative teacher certification programs:

"Yes, today was my first day with the students. And yes, I am crazy busy, but I will make time to keep you updated because I would not be here if not for you. It turns out that I am teaching 7th and 8th grade English and Reading. I found out (from a parent) that I was also teaching 8th grade Tuesday night! There seems to be quite a bit of confusion at my school about many things, but I am sure it will all work out eventually. I am just doing what I think should be done until I am given more direction. I have learned quite a bit about frameworks, pacing guides, and more. I have been assigned a mentor – she has been very helpful. I really like her.

My room looks fantastic. My sister-in-law and I painted a mural on the back wall that says, “Language is your transportation … to your dreams, your goals, your future. “ My principal loves it. She used my syllabus at the grade level meeting as an example of what she wants from everyone. She has given me a lot of encouragement.

I fell in love with my students today (already). I am swamped, overwhelmed, confused, but very happy.

It was great to hear from you.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

And the winner is.........the STUDENTS!

In the education world, part of the promise of competition is that it will improve schooling for all kids. But we really have not seen that happen in areas where students have a choice of schools to attend. Most of the blame goes to a system that protects schools from seeing adverse affects from competition.

I chair a board for a DC charter school and I am now seeing first hand the two factors that will ultimately make better schools a reality through competition:

  1. There has to be more seats than students so that schools actually have to fight for every student in order to survive
  2. Parents have to experience shopping for schools long enough to become savvy consumers

It is basic economics that if a resource is scarce, the price goes up. In DC, there are excess seats and not enough students. Wouldn’t be too much of a problem but our reimbursement per student has stayed flat this year and our reimbursement per student for facilities has gone down. Also of note is that many of these schools were built at the peak of building costs in DC. There is no slop in a charter school budget to absorb any reduction in revenue. Ouch.

So the only way to make up for this budget crunch is to make sure you have more students. Basic business sense as more students means more revenue. The result is more schools are pursuing these students and marketing to a lot more of their parents. These aggressive marketing efforts required in these lean times are creating a much more educated consumer out of DC parents - because we have to reach all of them in order to survive.

In order to meet recruitment numbers, schools are offering free after school programs and more laptops. Parents are demanding more to commit to bringing their student to your school.

And the winner is……….the students!!!

It is pretty amazing to see that charter schools are actually building this competition in DC. And because Michelle Rhee is building a better public school system to compete, the students in DC are really going to win over the next few years.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New Education Carnival -

The Carnival of Education Innovation

Next Tuesday, August 11, we’re launching a blog carnival—the Carnival of Education Innovation.

For those of you who have never heard of a blog carnival before, it’s basically a collection of blog post summaries on a particular subject – a “best of the week” so to speak. One blogger hosts each edition of the carnival and then other bloggers and blog readers submit blog posts they’d like included in that edition of the carnival. Then the carnival goes live on a certain date (every Tuesday for ours) and people can come browse the links as a sort of one-stop-shop for all that’s happening in education innovation that week.

The Carnival of Education Innovation will include anything having to do with new ideas on moving education forward (ideas to move education backwards will not be accepted). We’re interested in hearing from people on all sides—right, left and center—and from as many different backgrounds and angles as possible. We want to hear from teachers, administrators, parents, students, politicians, writers and anyone interested in blogging about education and how it can be improved. So please help spread the word.

The benefits to you are many:

1. Each week you get a new link to your blog – building your search ability in google and your status on blog rating sites
2. Each week you get more traffic to your blog
3. Overall building of readership as other bloggers come to know what you are doing in the education space
4. If you don’t have a blog THIS IS A PERFECT WAY TO GET IT STARTED

To submit a blog post for consideration for inclusion in the 1st edition of the Carnival of Education innovation, our carnival submission before 4pm next Monday, August 10. This is how it will work every week—please submit by 4pm on Mondays and then check the ABCTE blog every Tuesday for the new edition of the carnival. The carnival will “travel” at times and be hosted by other bloggers. You can check the carnival homepage ( or ABCTE’s blog ( ) to find out who is hosting each week. Also – when the carnival is up – it helps if you say so on your blog with a link.

Let’s make sure that all your Education Innovations get the readership they deserve!

Please email Mike Holden here at ABCTE with any questions

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More Movement

A pretty great day in the world wide webisphere for ABCTE. First, our humble little blog is named to the Top 100 blogs for teachers by Clear View Education. So our sincere thanks for that.

Second, it is great to see a teacher come out in favor of the proposed teacher certification changes in Indiana. A true common-sense editorial to help keep things in perspective which seems to be rare in education these days.

Always a good day – now off to the stakeholders meeting on ARRA over at the USDOE to hear about RTTT funding. And I thought the Navy overused abbreviations and acronyms. Perhaps Congress should create a separate OFEDAB – the Office of Education Abbreviations.

Monday, August 3, 2009

ABCTE - subject matter AND pedagogy

A guest post by ABCTE's Director of Public Relations, Mike Holden:

One of the common misconceptions about the ABCTE program is that our exams focus only on content expertise. I’ll occasionally see a news story or a comment posted online where people are outraged that someone could become a teacher by only passing “a test” showing they are experts in a particular subject.

It is true that in order to earn ABCTE certification a candidate must pass a test in the subject they’d like to teach (i.e. someone who wants to be certified in math must pass our math exam). These subject-area exams by themselves are difficult and should not be quickly dismissed—no one is going to pass without knowing their content and knowing it well.

But there is a second exam that all candidates must pass and it should not be overlooked. This important component to the program is the Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) exam, which tests an ABCTE candidate on knowledge related to working with students. Here’s a short summary from the PTK snapshot that goes over what is included on that exam:

“The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence believes that highly skilled teachers should possess a comprehensive body of knowledge that is research-based and promotes student achievement. The Professional Teaching Knowledge exam is designed to assess a new teacher’s knowledge of teaching-related criteria. Such knowledge is typically obtained in undergraduate preparation in areas such as human development, classroom management, instructional design and delivery techniques, assessment, and other professional preparation. This exam also contains a writing component that will evaluate a candidate’s ability to write to audiences they will most likely address as a teacher: parents, colleagues, and/or school administrators. Candidates will be asked to compose their written response without access to any writing aids such as spelling and grammar tools.”

How difficult is the PTK exam? Take it from ABCTE biology teacher Keria Morton, who was already in the classroom and used our program to get certified and keep her job:

“After teaching for three years, I knew I had the content knowledge and teacher know-how to pass the tests. After all, I passed the Praxis test with no preparation and I did not figure the ABCTE tests could be much harder, despite what they told me. But I missed the cutoff [for the PTK exam] by two points. Boy, was I unprepared for just how difficult these tests were. No random person could just come in and pass these tests. I am not even sure a few months of diligent studying could accomplish it. You have to know your material to meet the challenge the ABCTE program offers to you.”

Or, on the content side of things, here's a video of ABCTE math teacher Wanda Champaign-Martin, who underestimated the ABCTE math exam and found out the hard way that the tests are “very comprehensive.”

Finally, here’s ABCTE English teacher Bridgette Blake, who talks about how the county she was teaching in recommended ABCTE to her and that the administrators “knew that this program would definitely prepare [her] for the classroom.”

ABCTE does issue its teaching certification based on tests, but these exams allow people to place-out of college coursework and they are not easy. As we tell potential ABCTE candidates, the tests are “rigorous and comprehensive.” The average candidate takes 8 to 10 month to complete the program and the exams should not be sold short. We want our teachers to show that they know their subject AND how to teach it. Aiming for anything less wouldn’t be good for anyone.