Shawn Daley is currently a professor of education courses at Concordia University in Portland. While his primary foci are history education, classroom management and educational technology, he believes that Schools of Education should play an important role in the ongoing conversation on school reform. Before working at Concordia, Shawn served for ten years as a high school Social Studies and Language Arts teacher at Gresham and Jesuit High Schools. Shawn is also serving as President of the Oregon Council for the Social Studies, and lives with his family in North Portland.
Rachel Fortgang is a former student of Shawn’s, and a current student teacher.
Harvard University professor Jal Mehta recently penned an editorial for the New York Times in which he argues, essentially, “American education is a failed profession.” His contention rests on the falsity of most reform propositions, that whether we are asked to take sides in the Michelle Rhee vs. Diane Ravitch debate, or whether we follow Waiting for Superman into a charter vs. public contest, we are operating in a place that will not lead to long-term, effective solutions. Interestingly, Mehta reasons that the major solution rests in the professionalization of the teaching profession, something that has been promulgated in books like Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan’s Professional Capital but has remained an elusive position for teacher leadership and reform advocates alike.
Rachel, who is finishing up her student teaching, has noticed the relatively strange position of teachers since she decided to join their ranks. Both highly educated and a veteran of programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, Rachel is one of those that the profession should be trying to attract. Yet, her initial foray has introduced a distinct conundrum. She notes:
“It’s been strange telling my friends, most of whom at this point are finishing up law school, med school, or writing for prestigious news outlets, that I am going to be a teacher. There is, I think, an unspoken disappointment that this is what I ‘have come to,’ that if I cannot be a famous writer, I will resort to standing in front of a classroom intoning the difference between a metaphor and a simile for a group of adolescents who may not care less, year after year, for the rest of my life. What I’ve been coming up against, as I just dip my toe into this profession, is the largely unspoken reality about American society’s perception of the amount of skill, or to put it more bluntly, the intelligence, that is required to be an effective teacher.”
Part of Rachel’s issue is the fact that the teaching profession occupies a strange zone within the range of professions. In Shawn’s Issues and Ethics in Education class, he often muses about “what collar” a teacher wears. Rooms are often divided between those who argue blue and those who argue white, although the final denouement usually finds the class realizing that it is neither. The teaching profession straddles a line between these two worlds, and as long as it does so, it will perpetually face the labor strife that accompanies working class positions while seeking the protections normally associated with other career fields. Mehta suggests that teachers have to work harder to have teaching be seen as a “profession on par with fields like law and medicine.” (more…)
Last month I was driving back to Portland from a visit to my friend Sol at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove. Sol had informed me before I left about the tragedy in Newtown, but I hadn’t heard much in the way of details, so when I listened to the various NPR correspondents offering segments, I found myself having to pull my car over to cry. Part of my grief was out of empathy for all of the parents who would find out that their child had been killed, but a part of me also struggled with this tragedy because of where it took place.
Having spent last month touring various schools, I had acclimated to the joys of K-12 classrooms. I visited Susanna Walker’s 3rd grade Geology Fair at Chief Joseph Elementary in North Portland, and was delighted when the children serenaded we observers with a tune about types of rocks. Then I was treated to a display of virtuoso technology instruction by Liz Docken at St. John the Baptist school in Milwaukie, where 5th graders trained me on how to use a wide variety of iPad apps. Topping that off, the morning of the 14th, I got to see 7th graders creatively formulate plans to repel internet bullies in Melanie Lorenz’s class at Neil Armstrong. In each instance, I was captivated by the sheer energy of the students. While I love teaching graduate students, they can’t compete with a motivated 4th grader when it comes to enthusiasm. (more…)
As a former East County educator, I struggled watching the rancor between districts and unions in Reynolds, Parkrose, and Gresham-Barlow this past spring during teacher contract negotiations. Having friends on both sides, it was challenging to see each district struggle to balance competing demands. Hopefully, in all three cases, the beginning of this year will afford enough respite to focus attention on academic tasks and rebuilding frayed relationships.
Yet, I think Oregon districts are going to continue to see flare-ups when it comes to teacher contract negotiations, partly because of the still stagnant economy, but also because of several other factors:
a) Short period of time between contract negotiations: Since negotiating the contract is no one’s day job, the sides often protract the discussions long past the expiration of the previous contract. With most districts operating under a three-year scheme, what this does in effect is stagger contract negotiations right on top of the other. There is scant time for any hostility to cool or for teacher-district relationships to be aided by collaborative ventures. I have been prompted, having seen this scenario played out a few times, to wonder why the state and districts don’t work to change contract lengths (recognizing this is not a small task) to avoid this scenario. (more…)
The other day I was talking to a colleague when he referenced how a teacher he supervises had been in a conundrum. Wanting to be innovative, that teacher had assigned a film project but did not have enough cameras for her students. My colleague had walked in and seen her angst, but then suggested that she ask if any students had a smartphone. Surprised that he would suggest this, she asked her class and several students raised their hands. My colleague then told her, “problem solved.”
I wish that more administrators were like my colleague. While I have been fortunate to work with schools that have been taking strides to update their technological infrastructure, my experience walking through many schools is unsettling. In an age where technological expertise is a select ticket to rapid employment and economic opportunity, our schools are rarely beacons of progress. As tech geeks like myself eagerly await the promise of the next round of iPads, schools are still hampered by draconian rules that ban smartphones and a teaching community that crawls rather than bounds toward technological integration.
A few years ago I was getting a haircut in the Hollywood District when my barber asked me what I did for a living. “I teach 12th graders,” I replied. He then said, “Whoa, do they give you combat pay for that?”
I chuckled at his comment, assuming he was joking. He wasn’t. He went on to talk about how it must be difficult to work with high school students, and how I probably was on the fast track to sainthood for spending my days with them. I didn’t dispute him because it was a sentiment that I had heard before. I could see it any time I sat on the MAX on my way home from Gresham, and watched adults wince whenever a gaggle of teens entered the car. This always struck me as strange, because I loved teaching high school students, and even on my worst day in the classroom, I felt I was doing critical work for our nation’s future (and having a lot of fun in the process).
While my posts over the last couple weeks have only engaged a portion of the education reform program that Marc Tucker suggests in “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” I nevertheless hope that more of you take the opportunity to tackle the text on your own. When I finished reading the entire report (online here), I was part enthralled and part enraged by what he was intimating.
On the one hand, I share Tucker’s passion for wanting to make our system stronger—and I was captivated by the daring he suggest in attempting to reboot the system. At the same time, my enthusiasm was tempered at points by his comparisons, as I believe at times he simplified the reasons that other national systems are so successful, and that we cannot—mainly because of politics—adopt the reforms he suggests (to be fair, my dismay there is partly directed at those who would rather remain fighting than moving toward a real solution). Nevertheless, in recognizing my ambivalent feelings, I realized that Tucker’s plan may ultimately be what the American public needs as a blueprint for true educational reform.
What I have found empowering about Tucker’s approach is that it contains elements that both reassure and challenge any group involved in American education.
In continuing my take on Marc Tucker’s report “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” (read a summary here), I wanted to focus this post on his suggestions for teacher education programs in the United States. (See my previous post about his opinion on charter schools and teacher pay.)
As an education professor, my interest piqued with Tucker’s focus on Schools of Education. Since joining the faculty at Concordia University last year (after ten years as a high school teacher), I have been more aware of the critical roles that teacher preparation programs play in establishing the character and skills of teachers as they enter into the profession. Thus, Tucker’s decision to devote time to their strengths and weaknesses provided an opportunity for me to examine my own practice as well as the state of all schools working to prepare educators.
Among several observations, Tucker concludes that standards for teacher preparation programs need to be higher. He explains that a low bar has led to teachers who are coming from the bottom third of college entrants, and that their mastery of content knowledge is suspect. Tucker argues that low expectations within colleges of education nationally have also led to these colleges being seen by universities as “second class citizens” on campus as well, which leads to fewer institutional supports (research grants, etc). All of these issues contribute to teachers being ill-equipped to succeed in the classroom.
Tucker has several proposals to address these issues. (more…)
Marc Tucker, in his recent report, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” made some strident observations about education reform in the United States, and after spending some time with it, I’d like to explore some of his proposals over the next few blog posts.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire report, the Chalkboard team offered a summary in their recent Research Update. In short, Tucker is the head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and crafted this report after a summit of various education ministers from around the globe. Commissioned by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the summit sought to investigate what the “best” nations were doing well in order to learn how to improve our beleaguered education system in the U.S.
This particular document drew some interesting conclusions—in fact, I found myself startled at some of Tucker’s claims. One was the ineffectiveness of charter schools as a means of true reform. Tucker feels that the gains made by charters are too sporadic and, ultimately, these schools are more prone to fail than succeed. I appreciated the insight since two of my children are educated in Portland charter schools.
I was left to ponder that thought after reading a “Politifact” article about state senator Mark Hass’ claim that an Educational Service District (ESD) superintendent’s salary could pay for three teacher’s salaries. The article, written by Ryan Kost, sought to establish whether Hass’ claim was true. In reading on, through what seemed like multiple machinations about salary, Kost concluded, somewhat harshly, that Hass’ claim was “false.”
I could craft a separate article about the issues with the methodology that Kost utilized, but I wanted to discuss what the spirit of this article told me.
One the one hand, Mark Hass certainly didn’t do us any favors by trying to make a great sound bite that the Oregonian could take a crack at. But at the same time, I was disappointed at the approach of the Oregonian to undermine what Hass is after: a way to streamline costs for education. The Oregonian runs multiple articles about how schools are using money inappropriately. But when Mark Hass is trying to challenge the status quo of ESD offerings, the Oregonian, instead of remaining consistent and exploring what cost savings there may be, goes on the attack against him.
Reading articles like this one make me question if the Oregonian is going to be an ally in helping our educational system. It would seem to me that the Oregonian’s role in the education debate is not to “stir the pot” in order to fill up the blogosphere on Oregonlive.com. As essentially the only major publication in the state, they have a sacred responsibility to present information to the population that no other media outlet can.
A message from Chalkboard: Under the federal laws Chalkboard is prohibited from endorsing political candidates directly or indirectly and we do not intend to do so. We have hosted this discussion for the good of the order.
This Thursday I have the unusual opportunity to attend the KGW-TV gubernatorial debate between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. I may have been invited to this event because when I submitted my question to KGW on their website, I indicated that I was an undecided voter. I believe that KGW wants me to attend in the hopes that this particular debate may sway my judgment.
That may in fact be a correct assumption on their part. Being a former speech coach, I love the entire debate process, and strong argumentation in such a venue could be enough to tilt me in one direction over the other.
I grew up the son of a “Rockefeller” Republican, which out in these parts would probably be more of a “Packwood” or “Hatfield” Republican. My upbringing lends me to desire a government that is fiscally conservative. To that end, I can relate to Chris Dudley’s calls to shrink some of the largess that exists in our state education system and to attempt to reorganize what could be wasteful expenditures within school districts. In the 18-point plan that he has on his website, he alludes to some thoughtful steps towards change, like requiring all districts to bargain together (as Washington does) and modifying how the state pays for bus transportation in order to realize savings for our cash-strapped education system.
At the same time though, he offers suggestions like increased scholarships to students to attend Oregon universities, which I would wholeheartedly support, but he doesn’t seem to completely sync this proposal with the notion of trying to reduce expenditures responsibly. How can we offer scholarships to our neediest students at universities with skyrocketing tuition costs and still be fiscally responsible? Maybe some clarification on implementation would be helpful to have explained on Thursday night…
I am also a member of the Oregon Education Association, the state teacher’s union, who has recommended that I vote for John Kitzhaber. (more…)