Something we at Teacher Leader Network have been documenting for years is the topic of a recent report from EdTrust. Entitled: Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning, the authors correctly note that it is the conditions, not the kids, that cause our best teachers to leave the schools that need them most. The report also gets right that it will take more than money to get and keep the best teachers in the highest needs schools.
Here's a slice:
Great teachers should not have to be great in spite of lousy school environments. Good school environments should actually help even our best teachers to improve.(p. 4)
While I disagree with some of the report's conclusions and suggestions, there's also much to support here. EdTrust has added some valuable information to a long-overdue discussion.
Battle-lines are forming around the issue of remediation for entering college students. It's a major issue since 41% of all college freshmen and up to 60% of those entering community colleges now find themselves placed in some type of remedial or developmental course in reading, writing, or mathematics (yes, the 3 Rs). These courses are usually non-credit bearing, which means they do not count towards an college degree, but the student must pass them in order to gain entry to the credit bearing courses. This problem has been particularly acute for community colleges which are the main gateway into higher education for increasing numbers of students.
The critics of these programs point out that most students who enter them never actually complete college degree (is that true of most students who attempt college period?). Many college faculty argue that re-teaching students information and skills they were supposed to get in 7th through 12th grade should not be the responsibility of the college. Meanwhile, more and more students are being pushed towards the college door---ready or not.
Some of my colleagues counter that they expect entering freshman to have a strong command of the conventions of standard English usage, and lament that so many of them do not. Yet, English grammar is something they have been tested on repeatedly since third grade. Is it coincidental that the need for remediation of entering college freshmen has climbed over the same period that we have imposed more and more standardized testing of students in grades 3 - 11? What should we make of this apparent contradiction: The more we test students in PK-12, the less prepared they are for higher education? It would be easy to fall into some dangerous oversimplification of the problems, as seems to be the case in Connecticut, which recently moved to eliminate funding for all college level remedial programs.
Many of the problems in college remediation programs, including how the students are tested and placed in them, are real and well-documented, but some very big questions also remain unasked and unanswered.
Among those who flock to community college are adult learners whose education may have been interrupted or insufficient for any number of reasons: Some quit school to work and support families; some went into the military or other fields that at the time did not require a college education, and now want to resume their education. Others got into trouble and were kicked out of school as youths or sent to jail; some had major health problems of their own or in their families; some were homeless or transient--moving constantly and missing large chunks of important teaching. Still others went through school, did everything that was asked of them, but not that much was asked of them. Some of the students who come to the college remediation courses have no intention of pursuing a degree, they just want to pick up what they missed or brush up on long forgotten skills in order to better themselves or for job-related reasons. Some have immigrated here and need to learn English (like one woman with a Ph.D from her native country that came to our school recently). I have worked with students in all of these categories and many more.
What should these adults who are missing what we consider to be high-school or lower level skills do? Go back to sit among children? They come to community college because it is their best, and in many cases their only, opportunity to obtain whatever education they need. Certainly, remediation could be done better than it is in most places. Too many college-housed developmental programs take the worst K12 methods and simply put them on a faster-paced, higher-priced system.Taking the remedial work virtually is another option, but many of my adult students tell me they are uncomfortable with taking online classes and prefer face-to-face options
To say that remedial programs are a total failure, however, is not entirely true. Over the past five years, the community college where I teach has been engaged in a detailed study of students who come through our developmental writing program. We've meticulously followed the progress of thousands of students, and our preliminary findings suggest that those who complete the developmental writing classes and go on to college level English courses are highly successful.
But our work also suggests a larger problem: That what counts as "college ready" (at least in English/language arts) is not as well-defined or easily measured as we would like to think. Like many schools, our community college uses either a student's English section subscore on the ACT or a standardized, computer-based placement test (ACCUPLACER) to determine which students need to be placed in remediation. A student who for any reason does not have an ACT score is automatically assigned to developmental courses. On the other end of the spectrum, students with English subtest scores above a politically determined cut score are placed directly into Freshman Composition I. Our own student performance data shows that there is nothing about this cut-score that really indicates whether a student is or is not ready for college level English course. It's just a speedy and convenient way to filter students into classroom slots. The English section of the ACT does not measure a student's ability to put his/her ideas together in written form; nor does it test spelling (or several other things). No standardized test can measure everything; some can't measure even really important things. Students who scored high on these tests are often poor writers; students who scored low were just as likely to be competent writers.
Perhaps the first step in fixing college remedial programs is rethinking what we mean by college ready, coming to a serious consensus; then measuring that readiness in ways that are accurate and effective. For college composition, that would mean: a) allowing teachers to focus more on teaching writing than on test preparation, and using more teacher-evaluated writing assessments. Those are expensive and labor intensive options. Many prefer quicker, cheaper solutions---which is part of how we got where we are now.
Superintendent John Kuhn, of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated School District in Texas, has written one of the best summaries I've seen of how to get education reform right. He urges policymakers and others to look at the Oppportunities to Learn campaign's 2020 Vision Roadmap: A Pre-K Through Postsecondary Blueprint for Educational Success.
In his article, Kuhn points out why it is not just up to teachers to make education work; here's a slice:
In the end, although salesmen of countless nouveau “miracle” programs will say otherwise, our success or failure in education isn’t the exclusive property of teachers. If anything, many thousands of brave teachers nationwide are trying to undo the harms perpetrated by politicians – both in Texas and in our nation’s capitol – who use budget shortfalls as an excuse to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable (and most under-represented) in our society. We have seen fit to quietly give educational scraps to other people’s children for too long, and now that we see the inescapable results, we would rather tear down the schools than offend the merchants of inequity who inhabit our voting booths — ourselves.
Thanks to my friend and TLN colleague, David B. Cohen, for a timely reminder that the Senate is about to consider legislation that might put into law the 2010 U.S. Department of Education ruling on what constitutes a highly qualified teacher.
The DoEd ruling allowed states to classify interns from the hundreds of alternative route teacher certification programs around the country, such as Teach for America, as "highly qualified" teachers under the No Child Left Behind Act, and thereby eligible to receive a state teaching license, and more important, to be placed in charge as teacher of record, over classrooms of students. Some of these interns have as little as three weeks of training prior to entering the classroom. Most of them are entering classrooms for the first time with these shaky credentials, and are actually doing their "practice teaching" while they are in fact in charge of a classroom. During this practice year, they are usually assigned a mentor teacher or some other supervisor, but that person is only in the classroom with the novice for occasional visits and after school or Saturday training sessions. Subsequently, the 9th District Court ruled in Renee v. Duncan, that the Department ruling violated the law, but the practice still stands.
It is a well-established fact by many independent observers and by the DoE itself, that most, if not all, of these underprepared, not-yet-qualified candidates are place in schools and classrooms serving disabled, poor, or minority children. Here in Mississippi, for example, almost all of the special education teachers going into our secondary schools in recent years have come exclusively from one of the alternate route programs. I say this as a member of our state Licensure Commission, fully aware that without these alternate route programs, many of our schools would not have teachers at all. But alternate route programs were developed as stop-gap, temporary measures to deal with a problem that demands a better solution, and that solution is to implement the good proposals sitting on the table to improve teacher preparation and induction so that ALL children in our public schools may have truly highly qualified teachers.
The U. S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, is scheduled to consider a bill on Tuesday, June 12th that would extend the highly qualified amendment developed by the Department of Education, and groups are actively lobbying on both sides of this issue, which brings it back to much needed public scrutiny.
Teachers-in-training cannot and should not be labeled as highly qualified teachers. Doing so is deceptive and harmful to children, to parents, and to the candidates themselves. Parents and educators should make their voices and expertise heard on this issue.
Across the country, states and districts are struggling to develop more effective systems for evaluating the work of teachers (a topic discussed often here). For those who want serious, research-based help with that endeavor, here is a great new report from Stanford, authored by Linda Darling Hammond. Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching, builds on what we have already learned about how to improve teacher evaluation, along with examples of existing programs that are addressing some of the most persistent obstacles.
Most important, the report recognizes that it is not enough to designate teachers as "good" or "bad," what's more urgent is to identify the vast majority of teachers who are good to mediocre and provide the necessary supports to help them grow professionally. Here's a slice:
Of course, an evaluation system based on standards of professional practice must also
be able to remove individuals from the profession when they do not, after receiving assistance, meet professional standards. The most long-standing evaluation systems that
have successfully supported evaluation and personnel actions for both beginning and
veteran teachers are those that have used Peer Assistance and Review programs that
rely on highly expert mentor teachers to conduct some aspects of the evaluation an
provide assistance to teachers who need it. The systems in Cincinnati, Columbus, and
Toledo, Ohio; Rochester, New York; Poway and San Juan, California; Seattle, Washington
have all been studied and found successful in identifying teachers for continuation
and tenure as well as those needing intensive assistance and personnel action. These
systems—collaborations between unions and school boards, which build in due process
and assistance for teachers placed in intervention—have proven more effective than traditional evaluation systems at both improving and efficiently dismissing teachers while
avoiding union grievances.(32-33)
From our inspiring friends over at the Learning First Alliance, who continue to remind us that there are successful schools and school districts in America, and that "turnaround" doesn't have to mean mass firings and over-reliance on testing.
This particular story highlights a highly impoverished rural school district in West Virginia and how policymakers, teachers, unions, parents, and businesses pulled together to do what is really best for students and their families. Here's a slice:
McDowell is a shining example of a model that, with alterations to fit individual contexts, could have positive implications for other rural districts. The county is a microcosm of the challenges facing rural America. Ultimately, the timeline is one of the most important takeaways. It frames all the other work into a clear message, which in an election year, will inevitably be pushed aside: there is no instant silver bullet fix when it comes to raising student achievement.
There's also a link at the end of the piece to a video about the district and its work. Worth sharing.
Diane Ravitch set off alarms with this recent post about plans bubbling up at the Department of Education to cutback on enforcement of provisions of IDEA, specifically the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) of every special needs student. Ravitch's remarks are based on listening to a speech by the Director of OSEP, Melodie Musgrove, at an April convention of the Council for Exceptional Children.
In its press release about the plans, the Department of Education is very general as to what the actually changes might be, but the implication is clearly that more emphasis will be placed on "academic performance and graduation rates". Ravitch and others fear that means more emphasis on their performance on standarized tests, and less attention to schools providing the hard-won supports these students often need.
The OSEP did announce that it " will not be conducting the on-site monitoring visits scheduled for the 2012-2013 school year." That's a cause for some concern since it's in preparation for those visits that I've seen schools, even entire districts, get their house in order--at least in regards to the paperwork--for all special needs students. How will OSEP replace that oversight role? Will they be using technology, or is that going to be shifted more to the states (a problematic transfer, much like asking states to ensure that the civil rights of all their citizens are being protected).
In the past, academic peformance by special needs students (which includes gifted, physically handicapped, mentally impaired, and many other categories) has been determined in light of his/her IEP. Further, whether and how a special needs student is included in statewide standardized testing is also supposed to be governed by the IEP. The inclusion of special needs students in such testing has been a source of much frustration, and even shown in some cases to be detrimental to the children.
Like edblogger Alice Mercer, I too am a teacher AND a parent of a special needs child (actually of 2, and now a grandparent of one as well). This discussion strikes very close to home for some of our must vulnerable students, their families, and teachers. Mercer raises some poignant questions for the OSEP to consider as they move in this area, including the observation that states are not all that "compliant" yet with providing for their special needs populations, so is this really the time to consider lessening the oversight?
This is an area that should be closely watched, and about which the Department should move with great caution and transparency.
Extending my recent thoughts about Better Things to Do With Student Writing Than Just Grade It, I found this very helpful, almost prophetic piece by my TLN colleague, Patrick Ledesma on what we could and should be doing with technology in our schools and districts. Here's a slice:
So imagine entire districts and schools this month preparing the computers to test all students. Yes, for many schools that means taking away all those desktop and laptop labs for setting up individual testing stations. I remember one picture of a gym in a high school with over 350 laptops on tables setup as testing stations- complete with manila folders tapped to the sides of the screen to prevent cheating. And some schools close their libraries so students can test on the computers.....
What else should students be doing with technology besides year long online test preparation and taking high stakes multiple-choice tests online for several days in May?
Join the conversation over at Teacher Magazine to see Patrick's answers and share yours.
"Forty-six states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and a few states are well in to the process of implementing them. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group of state legislators and thinkers who believe in limited government. ALEC is considering model legislation opposing the Common Core standards, arguing that a national set of standards could lead to nationalized curriculum and impede innovation in local communities and classrooms. ALEC was supposed to vote on the proposal last week, but the group delayed the vote, according to news reports."
The expected opposition from ALEC is curious considering the history of the CCSS. As I recall (and I've followed this closely for years), it was originally pushed primarily by Republican governors, who won over their colleagues in the name of leveling the field of educational comparison among states.
You'd think the conservatives would be happy with the CCSS since, for the most part teachers, teacher unions, even subject area professional teacher organizations, were left out of the development of the standards until the public review, and they appear to have had limited influence on the final product.
On the other end of the political spectrum, teacher activists such as Anthony Cody are raising serious alarms about the Common Core Standards.
The idea that we can separate the Common Core from high stakes testing is mistaken. The Common Core exists for no other reason than to make such tests possible on a national scale. The Common Core is also closely associated with two big shifts in testing. First, there will be a significant expansion in the number and frequency of tests. There will be more tests, in more subjects, at more grade levels.
The fact that there will be common tests across the nation will make it easier to place even greater pressure on teachers and students to attend to test scores. Second, we will have the introduction of computer-based assessments, with the marvelous machines designed to grade tests, like the Pearson Intelligent Essay Analyzer, or other robo-grading systems.
There has been a vigorous debate about the CCSS in social media as well. Consider these recent tweets:
— Where The Class (@wheretheclass) May 8, 2012
— cfee | chris thinnes (@CurtisCFEE) May 13, 2012
Some English/Language Arts teachers have expressed worries over how the CCSS shifts emphasis in reading instruction from literature to informational writings. Similarly, some math teachers still have concerns about the impact the new standards will have in their area.
So who is happy with the CCSS? Are they becoming the Mitt Romney of edreform?
One thing's for sure, educational vendors are having visions of dollar signs over what having the majority of states using the same standards could mean for their bottom lines. All kinds of products are already being touted to school districts as "aligned with the Common Core." Looming over all of this are the two huge consortia of states working to develop new ways of testing students based on the CCSS.
Optimists that we tend to be, some teachers are trying to look beyond the politics of Common Core's inception and implications to how they might actually benefit, especially new teachers who are now the new majority in America's classrooms. Many more warily view CCSS as yet another edreform high-speed train already heading towards our classrooms, while trying to figure out how to make the best of it for our students.
Cross-posted at NationalJournal.com - Education Experts
Keep an eye on this movement to change the way states determine who should be licensed to teach in public schools, covered nicely in this recent piece from Hechinger Report. At issue is how to determine whether candidates can actually teach BEFORE allowing them to be the teacher of record over children.
Essentially, what is allowed now in most states is akin to having people pass only a written test before issuing a driver's license. That we take more care in checking people's ability to drive than we do their ability to work with our children is chilling in itself.