Archive for August, 2012

The teachers who fall through the cracks

We often talk about trying to save the kids who fall through the cracks, but what about the teachers? There are good teachers out there, who truly love teaching and believe that all of their students can learn, but their voices are rarely heard. With the rise of teacher quality organizations (Teach Plus, National Center for Teacher Quality, The New Teacher Project, Educators for Excellence, etc) it’s getting better, but not fast enough.

A blog was recently posted on CNN from a teacher who is in SUPPORT of merit pay, career ladders, differentiated pay, and stronger evaluations. She accurately recognizes the problems within the current education system and embraces healthy competition and the continuous improvement of teachers.

But, she doesn’t discuss the reasons why these things aren’t being implemented any faster.

Policy reformers (BOTH democrats and republicans) are hampered by politics. The unions remain incredibly strong and it feels like one step forward two steps back during the implementation of every (and any) reform. The unions protect the status quo and this teacher (and most of the great teachers out there) challenge the status quo.

Unions are definitely a major issue to this type of reform, but the capacity of principals and teachers are barriers as well.

Principals and other school administrators need strong training to understand how to use data effectively and how to evaluate teachers for 1) evaluation purposes and 2) observations for the sake of creating a teacher’s professional development plan. These are two very different reasons for a principal or teacher leader to observe a classroom and they must be trained to do the actual observation properly, and to know what to do with that information once it’s gathered.

The capacity of teachers is also severely lacking across the country. Many schools of education are graduating teachers who have no real classroom experience, don’t know how to differentiate learning for students, and don’t understand how to manage a classroom. In effect, schools of ed are essentially setting up their own graduates for failure. As reformers, how come we’re not putting more pressure on the schools of ed to better teach their teachers? To track how their teachers do in the classroom, upon graduation? How long they stay in education? Teachers major in education believing that they’ll be taught how to teach, when that’s not the case.

On another teacher capacity note, if we have merit pay and better evaluation systems. Do we have enough good and great teachers to fill the positions of teachers who will be removed from the profession? We can’t effectively implement the solution without addressing the pipeline gap.




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Moving teachers out of the box

A great EdWeek Commentary piece by Bryan Hassel (Public Impact) and Celine Coggins (Teach Plus). Lots of really good points in here, along with some new and different ways to staff schools, so that students get the best teachers at the right times.

Click on the above link for the entire piece, some excerpts are below:

Expanding the Impact of Excellent Teachers

Published online: Aug. 16, 2012

Why is this time unique? Two crucial trends are at play. First, the United States has begun to act on the compelling data showing great variation in teachers’ success in helping students learn, as well as the monumental impact this variation can have on the life chances of students. As states and districts work to build better teacher-evaluation systems, schools will have increasingly accurate and useful data to identify which teachers are exceptionally effective.

Second, we are experiencing a major generational change. For the first time in memory, a majority of teachers have fewer than 10 years of experience. In the coming decade, they will decide whether to stay in the classroom or move on. Opportunities for leadership and compensated professional growth will weigh heavily in their decisions.

Possible examples of how to do this:

  • For example, excellent elementary teachers can reach two to four times more students by specializing in their best subjects, while less costly paraprofessionals supervise students during noninstructional time, such as recess and transitions between classes, and complete paperwork.
  • Alternatively, teachers at all levels can reach substantially more students by swapping teaching time, as little as an hour daily per student, with personalized digital instruction supervised by paraprofessionals. With the right schedule changes, teachers can collaborate, reach more students, and maintain personalized instructional time. The charter school network Rocketship Education provides one example of schools that combine subject specialization and digital instruction to achieve stellar results in high-poverty elementary schools while keeping teacher pay within budget.
  • Teacher-leaders can bring excellence to multiple classrooms by leading teams. Of course, some schools already have grade-level or department leaders. But rarely do these teachers have accountability for other teachers’ student outcomes, authority to select and evaluate peers, and enhanced pay that is sustainably funded. With full accountability for all students in a set of classrooms and explicit authority to lead teams, teacher-leaders have an enormous incentive to develop others and help all of them do their best. Lastly, master teachers can teach larger classes—within reason and by choice—allowing other teachers to have smaller classes.

Second, schools must couple collaboration with teacher leadership. Professional learning communities are not new, but their developmental potential is squandered when individual teachers are unaware of which of their peers achieve the best outcomes and when excellent teachers are isolated. Moreover, schools find scheduling a challenge and paying teacher-leaders unsustainable. Teams that acknowledge excellence openly give great teachers license to lead and good teachers license to learn.

Third, schools must empower excellent teachers to shape school cultures. Expanding these teachers’ impact will require them to influence not just classrooms, but also school values and policies. Excellent teachers should play a prominent role in determining peer selection, instructional practices and materials, evaluation methods, and retention decisions.

More needed policy changes and implications are discussed in the complete article as well.

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