Sandy is an assistant professor at Pacific University’s College of Education in Eugene. Prior to that she was the principal of the Eugene Village School, a public charter school based on the Waldorf model. She has also have served as a Board member of both that school and the Portland Village School. During 2001-2002, she taught and served as a consultant in schools in Durban, South Africa. Over the past 30+ years she has worked in the public schools as an English teacher, a curriculum director, and a superintendent. Sandy has two children and four grandchildren, two of whom are in public schools.
Colleges of Education are being challenged to “prove” that their graduates can improve student learning. At Pacific University in Eugene, our students (called candidates) student teach for 18 weeks. During that time they work with the classroom teacher (called the mentor teacher) during the first few weeks and then ease into the full planning for and teaching of the children. In some cases, the mentor feels they need to give the student teacher his or her plans and tests to ensure the reliability of the lessons. (In fact, this decision is being made more frequently as the mentor is being held to test results.) Some teachers feel comfortable allowing complete independence; however, some are always in the classroom and will make changes or intervene. In all cases, our candidates are expected to create units and lessons that assess their students’ learning.
This background information should raise some questions about the ways Pacific can actually prove that it is our candidate who is making the difference in student learning. Given the present collaborating system, we need ways to identify what the candidate actually knows and has done him or herself to improve learning. Certainly each teacher (candidate or mentor) should be held accountable for improvement in learning while in his or her class. The devil, as always, is in the details: the measurements we use.
Why can’t we fix the teacher evaluation system? Maybe our newest tool, the 2010 Model Core Teaching Standards from the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Committee (InTASC) will be the fix. These standards, adopted as the evaluation tool for graduates of Oregon Colleges of Education and the proposed basis for teacher evaluation in all Oregon school districts, may help. The process, though, can have both positive and negative consequences.
First, the positive. A set of “professional practice standards, setting one standard for performance that will look differently at different developmental stages of the teacher’s career” (Council of Chief State Officers, Model Core Teaching Standards, p.1) can develop a common language for K-12 educators and teacher preparation programs. Such a common language would be helpful to the many mentor teachers who so carefully guide our novice teachers through their first student teaching experiences. Right now we in the Colleges of Education have forms that reflect TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the licensing agency) requirements with descriptors that often do not parallel those used in the daily practice of classrooms. How much better it would be to have the new teacher, the veteran teacher, and the university supervisor speaking the same language.
The standards for judgment also could become clearer if those standards reflected “stages of development.” Instead of the student teacher equating the evaluation scale with a grade (“I want a 6 because that means an A”), the scale could reflect teachers’ growth process as an educator. Too many people assume that, because both the new and the veteran teacher have job descriptions that are exactly alike, all teachers at initial licensure will perform exactly like a more veteran teacher. While more years of service do not guarantee greater proficiency, allowing for well-described and well-understood standards of development should open doors to better evaluation and enhanced professional development. Just as state standards for curriculum have allowed for a more common understanding among teachers of what an average third grader or tenth grader should know, the application of these standards can allow better conversation about teachers’ work.
Now, the negative.
Being a “veteran” educator, I have participated in many tight economies and the resulting effects on public funds for schools. None has been quite so nasty as the one here in Eugene, where we are in a fight over a ballot proposal for a four year local income tax to fund schools. But, for the first time in my career, I have found myself really having to consider my support for such a tax.
The tax funds are carefully ear-marked for lowering class size by re-hiring teachers who have received pink slips, many of whom are graduates of Pacific University where I teach. An independent committee will oversee the expenditures. The lowest income residents will not be taxed. What’s not to like?
First, there is a great deal of the unknown about the dollars that will actually be collected. At this point, the city has not even decided how and by whom the taxes will be managed; Portland, which apparently has experience with these school taxes, is the likely manager, but the woman who runs the Portland office is unsure of the management charges that will be allocated from the total tax collection.
Another unknown is the actual numbers of residents who will pay the taxes. One of the nastier attacks has been on the retired public employees who, because of their PERS income, will not being paying the tax. (Interestingly, my friends who are PERS recipients do not understand the law that permits this and many are planning on donating to the local school foundation.)
My class of teacher candidates and I are reading Teaching 2030, a book that uses wonderful ideas from practicing teachers to discuss their changing roles. As the title suggests, the authors (Barnett Berry and the TeachersSolutions 2030Team) offer analyses of the present to project a positive future. The book discusses the union movement and its effects on the present roles; learning ecologies and technological changes; differentiated pathways and careers for teachers; and teacherpreneurism and innovation. It is the latter concept – teacherpreneurism – that most intrigues my teacher candidates and me.
First, a definition. Teacherpreneurism is not educational entrepreneurism: recruiting people from outside schools to “fix” what is inside the present schools. Instead, teacherpreneurs are “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all the while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.” (Teaching 2030, p.136) In other words, the goal of these people would be to work from within to make schools better. The premise is that good teachers, especially, but not exclusively, young ones, want to stay within teaching but not within the cradle to retirement of working only in a classroom. Instead of moving to administration, these newly envisioned roles would allow teachers to work with students but also with their colleagues and students beyond their own classroom in a variety of ways – and they would be paid accordingly, both in personal satisfaction and in salary differentiation.
When my students talked about these ideas, they became interested in what happens in schools now and wondered why these sorts of opportunities don’t seem to exist. So I had them watch videos of the CLASS Project, especially the Sherwood District which is trying anew salary schedule to allow teachers to move in that direction. http://educators4reform.org/participating-districts/sherwood-school-district/ I wanted them to see that in Oregon change has begun. (A side note: many were really surprised how the teachers in the CLASS project talked about the lack of supervision and evaluation before implementing these changes. Most of them have a very limited understanding of the profession they are entering, and I often think how their lack reflects society as a whole.)
We here in Eugene are experiencing yet another round of deep cuts, school closures, and furlough days. All of this publicity discourages my class – will there be jobs for them? And that is why I have them read this book so they can envision an alternative kind of schooling. While Rahm Emmanuel’s comment of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” came back to bite him, I do agree that this present funding crisis offers us a way to rethink how we teach. Or, more specifically, how children learn. Whether we reexamine our outdated high school Carnegie units and the structures that result or apply technology to allow for individualized instruction in our over-crowded classrooms or some other yet-to-be-thought-of idea, we have the opportunity to create a new future. We Oregonians pride ourselves on innovation in environmental and health issues; why not in education?
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
- Langston Hughes
The Senate has defeated the “Dream Act” (The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). This legislation offers a path to citizenship for children who arrived in the United States illegally as minors (under 15 years old). One of those paths is through completing a college degree. A bipartisan team of senators has sponsored this legislation since 2001; the most recent iteration tried to address the concerns of tuition costs and the possible domino effect of citizen sponsorship. In fact, despite the cries from opponents, if you read the actual parameters of the bill, you may be surprised to learn how really difficult it would be – even with the legislation – to become a citizen.
While both sides in the dispute over passage used social justice language and/or financial issues to justify their votes, I would like to add another argument in favor of the bill: developing our infrastructure. We don’t always think of education as an infrastructure issue. We cannot see the physical results like we see a bridge or a highway or repair of a school building. People are not outside schools in their orange vests or hard hats reminding us of “our tax dollars at work.” Yet teachers and other educators work to create and build skills and knowledge that are necessary for people to function successfully in our complex and interdependent system. To deny access to that system seems equally as near-sighted as not repairing bridges or letting school roofs leak. (more…)
Waiting for Superman is a powerful reminder that children and parents care about their own education. By choosing to focus on several children and their families, the director Davis Guggenheim translates large data sets about school and child failure into personal stories. The two former elementary teachers, present teacher educators, who attended the film with me, were in tears at its end. (Even this hardened secondary teacher’s eyes were moist!) All three of us are familiar with the statistics, with the arguments of the policy makers, with the demands from our own constituency to send them better prepared teachers; those numbers and demands are never as convincing as seeing the effects of bad policies and unresponsive schools.
And it is just that manipulation of our emotions through the struggles of five students and their search for better schools that worries the film’s critics. They know that tugging on heart strings will get a greater response than, for example, Deborah Meier’s argument in the October 27, 2010 Education Week. She says that, instead of blaming “‘lazy’ teachers and power-hungry unions” (p. 12), Guggenheim might rather illustrate the issues between the wealthy and the poor that allow people like him to escape the public schools. Her exposing an obvious, but still extant, problem is important. It does not, however, resonate as much as hearing the story of Bianca whose mother can no longer afford the small tuition of a Catholic school and hopes the public, free charter school is the answer.
I am a great admirer of Meier and certainly agree that our country’s acceptance of the wealth gap is a disgrace. Her own response to that gap was to start her own successful alternative school in Harlem; she is certainly familiar with the stories in the film. Those stories bring us closer to the problem than any kind of lecture on the problem: poverty, systems’ failures, bad teachers, unions. I often have to counter my student teachers’ comments that a lot of parents just don’t care. These novices reflect the beliefs of some other teachers who, working under demanding circumstances, feel a loss of effectiveness. That loss of self-efficacy often turns into scape-goating – parents are a natural target. This film might work to counteract that response.
Unless….unless we decide to focus on the film’s deficiencies: (more…)
A September 27, 2010 headline in the Denver Post reads: “Jeffco Schools to Increase some Teachers’ Pay to more than $100,000” http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16159862. The article goes on to explain that the district has received a federal grant to study how peer support, professional development, and additional pay affect student achievement in high poverty schools. That study will include both a control group (without increased pay) and a full implementation group, certainly a necessary and important follow up to the Vanderbilt study released last week.
The most interesting part of the article, though, is the response by readers. Many of them use very strong language to decry the salaries: “Those are absolutely obscene salaries (plus lavish benefits) for public school teachers to be making …. There are plenty of highly educated long-timers who are terrible teachers. Looks like property taxes will continue going up!” “How about hiring more teachers instead this is a real waste of tax payers money….or keeping some of those recently closed schools open?”
Or this “conversation” between a teacher: “I am a high school science teacher – all who think it is an “easy” profession need to try it for a week. Most of you would run back to your little 8-5 by Wednesday- if not sooner.” And the non-teacher’s response: “Good bet you’ve never tried any jobs other than teaching. You’re still just getting used to working again after your three-month vacation.”
(On the other hand, the comments also included some applause for at least trying something different – as long as the NEA was not involved).
These responses remind us how many myths surround schools and how these myths make it difficult it for schools to try new ideas. For example, the notion of “obscene salaries” grows out of a conviction that people become teachers because they love children and that money will corrupt that value. (more…)
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H.L. Menken
In his August 2 column in the Oregonian Leonard Pitts wrote “It is time teachers embraced accountability. Time parents, students and government did too.” In my previous blog I also urged teaches to embrace AND to take charge of accountability. Given the responses to Pitt’s column including the response written by an Oregon teacher, teachers and (I agree with Pitts), parents, students, and government are not quite ready to take the challenge.
The responses to both Pitts and the blog writer ranged from the defensive to the vituperative with two people offering more nuanced analyses. Bob Bath in the above blog explains the very real difficulties in assigning responsibility to just one teacher for a student’s OAKS score in a given year. “Skybeaver” in response to Pitts draws a useful analogy to illustrate how knowing the relationship between a beginning and ending score on a test makes the end score more meaningful but also more difficult to reward. Both responses have within them the seeds for developing a more sophisticated and valid way to hold teachers (and students) accountable for learning: (more…)
Every summer I have the chance to hear stories from classroom teachers about how their schools are responding to policy demands. These stories grow spontaneously out of our class discussions as we study ways to use data to inform their teaching. Just yesterday I shared a favorite book: Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered by Gerald Bracey. I use examples from the book, not to discourage them from reading research, but to help them learn the ways all of us are manipulated by the misuse or misapplication of numbers.
I have a mission: to inspire my students not to wait anxiously for the public display of scores, rankings, percentages, correlations presented as causes, and then to react. Instead, I want them to act. I want them and their fellow teachers to gather their own data on their own students, analyze that data, and use the data to create a more three-dimensional picture of teaching and learning. Or as one of my students said: triangulate the data sources. (more…)