National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses why his organization supports the Common Core, dispelling myths and sharing resources to help parents learn more and support successful implementation of the standards.
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 ...
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 ...
About two weeks ago, we posted a conversation with two leaders from Boston's City Connects (CCNX) program, which is working with 11 schools to link each child to a "tailored set of intervention, prevention and enrichment services in the community." The approach has helped raise grades and test scores for the mostly low income children in these schools.
We recently spoke with people in two CCNX schools. Traci Walker Griffith is principal at the Eliot K-8 School, and Kathleen Carlisle is the CCNX site coordinator at the Mission Hill School. Each has an insider's view of this remarkable program at work.
Public School Insights: How has City Connects worked in your school? What changes have been made since it began?
Traci Walker Griffith: A number of changes have occurred at the Eliot School. I came in as principal in March of 2007. In May of 2007 the school was identified as one that would take on City Connects.
We were fortunate because the mission and vision of the Eliot School aligned with City Connects in that we are serving the whole child--academically, socially, emotionally. So we have worked amazingly well together in identifying students’ academic and social/emotional needs. And as we began the program I found that the structures and systems that it offers—whole class review, individual student review, and providing a school site coordinator to maintain and sustain partnerships—really aligned with what we wanted to start at the Eliot School at the time.
Kathleen Carlisle: I would echo many of the things that Traci just said. The whole child philosophy especially stands out in my mind—that is a City Connects and also a Mission Hill philosophy. And I think that the presence of City Connects in Mission Hill has especially impacted the identification of student needs and ways to meet those needs, be they social/emotional, academic, health or family. I think there has been greater connection between supports and needs, and also consistent follow-up.
Public School Insights: Do you have a sense of the results of the City Connects work in your respective schools?
Traci Walker Griffith: When I came on at the Eliot, a school identified as underperforming and in correction, all of the pieces we needed to put in place to increase student achievement were aligned with what City Connects was working on: identifying services and enrichment opportunities for students both inside and outside the school; working with community agencies that in the past had difficulty working ...
These days, we hear a great deal about problems with current teacher evaluation systems. The received wisdom seems to be that teachers will always close ranks and protect their worst colleagues. Why else cling to systems that rate almost every teacher as top notch?
A new study out of Chicago offers a very different view of what teachers want. When teachers evaluate each other, it turns out, they're a good deal more discerning than the district has been. In a pilot study of 44 Chicago schools, "37 percent of teachers received one of the two highest ratings, compared to 91 percent under the district’s existing system," reports Catalyst Chicago.
In fact, teachers turned out to be more demanding than principals.
They were less likely than principals to give a “distinguished” rating—the highest—on instruction, a finding that bolsters the view that teachers themselves are the toughest judge when it comes ...
One step forward and two steps back. If you're a school leader who has made real progress against tough odds in the past few years, then brace yourself for those two steps back. Budget cuts and layoffs may threaten much of what you've done. And to add insult to injury, some people will read you sermons on efficiency as you dismantle much of what you and your staff have worked for.
A piece in today's San Francisco Chronicle tells the heart-breaking story of a Blue Ribbon school that has to undo many of its reforms as it cuts staff. "Stability drove the success of Dold's school," authors W. Norton Grubb and Lynda Tredway write:
"I have an incredible staff," Dold says. "My teachers don't leave, unless they retire or move." On her watch, E.R. Taylor Elementary became a National Blue Ribbon School, one of just 25 in California, and one of 300 in the United States. How? Dold led her entire faculty to collaborate to catch struggling readers early. Three reading-recovery specialists ran 120 intense, daily half-hour lessons for every struggling first-grade reader.
"Six years ago," Dold recalls, "just 17 percent of our Latino students were proficient readers. Now 50 percent are."
Their reward for such inspiring results? The last bilingual paraprofessional? Gone. After-school staff? Cut. A popular upper-grade teacher with a pink slip says, "I can't wait any longer. I need to pay my mortgage." This year's cuts could top the past nine.
Some commentators have portrayed budget cuts as a threat to the status quo rather than a threat to reform. But that sort of thinking betrays a narrow conception of reform. If reform is purely structural--pay teachers differently, hire and fire ...
It was in a pedagogy seminar years ago that I learned one of the most important lessons I have ever learned about what it takes to motivate people: Don't assume the worst in them. That lesson seems lost on far too many policy makers and pundits.
Oddly enough, it was also lost on the person leading the seminar. (We'll call him Nathan.) He assumed the worst in me. From the start, he signaled to my peers that I was a difficult student. It began on the first day, when I leaned far back in my chair to give him a clear view of my neighbor, who was asking him a question.
"Stop!" he cried, cutting her off in mid-sentence. "Notice that Claus is slouching in his chair, playing the confident man. Emily [who was across the table from me] is sitting upright, close to the table, listening carefully. Your students' body language can tell you a lot about their attitude."
When I protested that he had misread my cues, he used my protest as more evidence that I was a problem student.
I was dumbstruck. I was an adult among adults. What's more, I wasn't used to my new role. In school, I had always been the good child. I had been meek. I used to come home from school with facial muscles sore from the strain of wearing a compliant, attentive face all day. I would drive my more rebellious older brother to distraction with my constant fears that I could get into trouble somehow and ...
Kathleen Parker could have been writing about school reform when she penned the following lines: "What some may see as cooperation is viewed by true believers as weakness. Any attempt to compromise is viewed as surrendering principle."
Her target is tea party members. Many of them are ganging up on GOP policy makers who made the tough decision to vote for bank bailouts when our financial system was on the verge of collapse. But cooperation has become a dirty word in school reform, too. That has to change.
Collaboration has become particularly déclassé since Arne Duncan cited it as a reason for some states' success in the Race to the Top. Some bloggers assume that buy-in from unions and other groups on the front lines of any big change ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
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