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Like many education stakeholders, I appreciate President Obama’s budgetary commitment to education (even though he found an inhospitable audience in the House). Despite tough financial times, it’s commendable that he is taking a far-sighted approach to the health of the country by focusing on education. However, with his budget, we’re left facing the same problem we’ve faced over the past couple years - over-emphasis on competitive funding programs like Race for the Top.

Perhaps in examining the issue of competitive funding, we should consider largely philosophical roots of competition ideologies. Libertarianism is the poster-child for competition and privatization, but most would agree that this philosophy breaks down in certain categories: some needs simply are not fulfilled well relying on the private sector, and some of these needs—like education—comprise areas where we simply can’t afford market failings.

Maurice Elias recently blogged on this issue on edutopia. He wrote, “it is difficult for me to understand why we want, need, or should tolerate competition for a public function such as education. We don’t have competition for police and fire services. These are required to be uniformly excellent and equitable. They are not always, but ...

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Tomorrow begins a Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration in Denver, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The conference aims to highlight examples of collaborative approaches that ease friction between administrators and union members, expedite education reforms, and lead to better results for students.  

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and AFT President Randi Weingarten announced plans for the conference in October while celebrating an innovative labor agreement in Hillsborough County, Florida.  

In the past several months, there have been numerous negative depictions in the media of teachers and teachers’ unions—including Waiting for “Superman,” some segments of NBC’s Education Nation summit. The messages indicate that

President Barak Obama’s State of the Union address has drawn a mixed response from players in the education community. I imagine all appreciate the president’s focus on education as an important issue, and approve of his connecting it to broader American self-interest with talk of jobs and competitiveness in worldwide markets. Likewise, few would disagree with Obama’s emphasis on long-term investment in education, parental involvement in children's learning, the shared responsibility of schools and their communities, recruiting more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers, and the need to overhaul No Child Left Behind. It’s also refreshing that he pointed out teachers are the most important school-based factor in a child’s success; he emphasized the greater importance of parents (and though research more specifically shows the influence of socio-economic status, these two categories are related). His talk of curbing the reach of the federal government was also encouraging to many, although his actual policy emphases related to Race to the Top and other competitive funding measures seem to counter this rhetoric.

Many are concerned with federal oversight of schools, as well as competitive allocation of funds. In a statement responding to the State of the Union Address, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten discussed the need to protect children from struggling segments of the population. Likewise, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel expressed his continued concern that “competitive grants such as ...

One strategy I’m using to get up-to-speed in my position as the new executive director at the Learning First Alliance (LFA) is to delve into the LFA member publications that land on my desk almost daily. It is true that each publication is a wealth of thoughtful articles that examine the challenges and rewards professional public educators across the nation deal with on a regular basis. I’m reminded that some of my favorite thought-leaders continue to seek new information, explore alternate approaches, and share their observations in ways that remind me that we know a good deal about how to make schooling better, we just lack the will or if not that, the systems thinking approach that could help us do what we know will make us better.

An example of that reality is the article authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University and supporter of teachers par excellent, in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of the American Educator, published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Dr. Darling-Hammond’s article “Soaring Systems” looks at three nations’ public education system, each of whom started with very little and purposefully built highly productive and equitable systems in the space of only two to three decades. Before considering what those three countries, Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, did to ...

Last week I wrote about the impact that the economic recession has had on personnel, as determined by the American Association of School Administrators’ survey Surviving a Thousand Cuts: America's Public Schools and the Recession.

And it’s bad. 34% of respondents anticipate furloughs in 2011. 66% anticipate layoffs. But in the nature of education debates, those are very “adult” concerns. Lest anyone get confused that I am not putting “students first,” let me draw attention to a few of the survey’s other findings.

  • 57% increased class size for the 2010-11 school year, while 65% anticipate doing so in 2011-12
  • 27% eliminated summer school programs for the 2010-11 school year, while 40% anticipate doing so in 2011-12
  • 17% reduced collaborative planning time within the school day for the 2010-11 school year, while 26% anticipate doing so in 2011-12

What does this mean?

Well, research has shown that students in grades K-3 who are put in smaller classes, with a maximum of 15-18 students, perform better than students in larger classes on standardized reading and mathematics tests – and the performance gap widens for each year (K-3) they are in a small class. These benefits are lasting. And ...

I was intrigued by two stories in the December 13 issue of Newsweek on the subject of public school reform in the United States: the cover story, an essay authored by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools whose picture and quote “I’m not done fighting” graced the cover (as a former English Language Arts teacher, I would have hoped for a more elegant word choice, but then I suppose space was an issue); and a second story, buried in the middle of the magazine entitled “Give Peace a Chance”, featuring a full page photograph of the president of the Hillsborough County, FL teacher’s union and chronicling the successful school improvement efforts in that school district, the result of collaboration among all the professionals in the system, including the teachers’ union. As a career educator, I think the more provocative magazine cover would have featured photographs of both women juxtaposed with the question: What will it REALLY take to improve all our schools?? ...

Colleges of teacher education have been taking a lot of heat recently. Everyone from the Secretary of Education to NCATE (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) has called for teacher education to be “turned upside down” - to move from academic coursework to the clinical practice that will help prepare soon-to-be-teachers for life in the classroom.

Of course, some schools of ed have been on this track for years. Take the University of Florida’s College of Education. For ten-plus years they have been working in partnership with the communities they serve, developing clinical programs to meet schools' needs while helping their students gain relevant experience in the classroom. And they track their graduates, using what they learn to drive improvements in their program. One example? A major shift in how they teach students to interact with English language learners.

Elizabeth Bondy, Professor and Interim Director of the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida’s College of Education, recently told us more.

Ensuring Relevancy in Teacher Preparation

Public School Insights: Many critics of university teacher preparation programs see them as largely irrelevant to the challenges that teachers face in their everyday lives. How do you ensure that the teachers you graduate are ready for the classroom?

Bondy: The concept we refer to as “professional development communities” is really at the center of much of the work in our program. The idea is to get university folks, school-based folks and others, such as family members, to come together to support learning.

It must be ten years that we've really worked hard at developing these kinds of relationships. In them, we emphasize the learning of the children and what needs to be done in a particular school to help all its children be successful. It is not just the business of the teachers and other school-based folks to make learning happen. As people who go into a school, it is our responsibility to put the learning of the children at the core of our work.

Given that framework, you almost can’t help but make sure the work that the pre-service folks are doing is relevant. Because you're doing the work in partnership with people who are committed to the children and, in fact, you are committed to ...

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the promising early results of California’s Quality Education Investment Act of 2006. QEIA established a grant program that will put nearly $3 billion over seven years into just under 500 low-performing schools serving nearly 500,000 students (low-performing defined as scoring in the bottom two deciles on state tests). It reaches a largely disadvantaged population - 84 percent of students at these schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, 79 percent are Hispanic and 41 percent are English learners.

Each QEIA school developed its own improvement plan focused on evidence-based reforms including reducing class sizes, hiring more school counselors and providing high-quality professional development and time for teacher collaboration. As state Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Tom Torlakson (who wrote the law) put it, “The Quality Education Investment Act puts the emphasis where it should be – on the classroom and on teaching.” And the California Teachers Association (CTA, an affiliate of the National Education Association) has been deeply involved in working with QEIA schools, helping design the program and offering training to school staff on both the law and implementing school change.

I must have burned the ears of the CTA. Yesterday they unveiled a new report on QEIA, conducted by Vital Research, LLC (and funded by the CTA), that compared QEIA schools to similar lower-performing schools. Findings ...

No one would deny that having a high-quality teacher in every classroom is important. Research confirms that effective teaching improves student achievement. So it stands to reason that very few would deny that it’s important for all teachers to have access to high-quality professional learning. After all, research confirms it is a significant pathway to more effective teaching.

Yet as evidenced by a recent report from Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council), the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and Council of Chief State School Officers, far too few states and school districts ensure that their educators have access to effective professional learning activities.

Advancing High-Quality Professional Learning Through Collective Bargaining and State Policy takes an in-depth look at the professional learning policies of six states. The conclusion? Professional learning does not have a significant place in policy and collective bargaining language. But there is hope—the report offers recommendations and examples of collectively bargained language, legislation, regulations and administrative guidelines to inform the development of policy language that can strengthen the quality of professional development in the future.

To learn more about the report and its implications, we spoke to three individuals who each brought a unique perspective to this issue: Joellen Killion (Deputy Executive Director of Learning Forward), Linda Davin (Senior Policy Analyst at NEA) and Joyce Powell (now serving on the NEA Executive Committee after four years as the president of the New Jersey Education Association and decades in the classroom).

Public School Insights: Why is it important to do address professional development through collective bargaining and state policy?

Killion: At Learning Forward, we believe that if there are strong policies in place that set clear expectations, then there will be improved practice. So when collective bargaining language addresses with clarity the importance of the opportunity for teachers to engage in professional development, and when state policy simultaneously provides resources, guidelines and expectations for effective professional development, we believe that the practice of professional development will be improved.

Davin: I couldn’t agree more. Although we know that we can have high quality professional learning in districts where it is not included in collective bargaining language, we also know that ...

Matt Brown's picture

"Ask Coach"

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Matt Brown, who can typically be found blogging on education issues over at Relentless Pursuit of Acronyms.

Reading through recent stories about the worth (or worthlessness) of teaching experience reminded me of one of my old college roommates.

I’m not normally that into video games, but during college, I made an exception for the NCAA Football series. While I technically have a degree in Political Science, I suspect I completed enough hours on our PlayStation for at least a minor in video game football. It didn’t matter if you wanted to run a spread offense, the option, Wishbone, whatever. Any of my dormmates knew if that if you fancied yourself a good NCAA guy, you needed to see how you matched up against Matt (I wasn't Mr. Brown yet).

But one of my roommates decided that he wanted to be the new floor champ. He was pretty good at a bunch of other video games, and he was a casual football fan, so he figured he could pick up the game pretty quickly. He thought that when I left the room to go to work or class, he’d play online, learn the secrets of the game, and then challenge me.

Sadly for him, playing video games online is not for the faint of heart. Only the best of the best plunk down the money for a subscription to play, and they take great pride in ...

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