Posts filed under ‘Teacher Prep’

Relay GSE v. Traditional Teacher Prep – A Symptom of a Problem

Being a change agent in education is difficult. The career arc of a reformer is likely to follow that of the shooting star/falling star with greater hyperbole than that of a “new hero” teacher. Such is the nature of the industry. So it is not surprising that leaders of education movements find themselves forced to create a pipeline for followers in order to keep their ideas alive.

My response to Bruno: You Call It Indoctrination, I Call It Effective printed in @Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education on December 3, 2012…

In Baker’s defense, I know the feeling when someone is about to offer me some Kool-Aid that will make me see the world their way…time to find the nearest exit.

However, in the binary world that pervades education debates today, either one is staunchly willing to evade accountability with complete disregard for student outcomes or one is actively hurting the children for their own good. Neither world is real, but they seem to help those who only see power in the bully pulpit sort people out and determine whether or not it is their turn to be heard.

Relay GSE is a change agent more so than a scholarly institution, but we can look forward to a time when even traditional ed programs accept the best of what they have to offer. That, of course, cannot happen until we have the kind of data that can stand up to scrutiny.

In the first place, I believe in better data. We are not really data driven. We are driven by our own world views, with some of us carrying whatever chip or war-torn paper offering flimsy support for that world view. We can do better, and informed points of view must be part of any solution to education’s woes. But that is only part of the problem. Absence of real dialogue also prevents mediation of solutions.

There is such an entrenched status quo in public education, and there is a major bullying tendency among participants to maintain it. Unions are blamed because theirs are organizations built to amass a posse with great facility. However, angry reformers sometimes practice the same tactics with digital weapons. Teachers are vilified and scapegoated without any history of real data on their effectiveness. Either way, it is a sorry combination of group think and rigid solutions. Who started it is less important than the path out of this approach.

Solutions lie between the extremes of thought. Finding middle ground without going so far as satisficing is one of the lessons we need to learn. It will begin with informed dialogue that transcends our highly polarized political arena and social networking that garners mass audiences through superficial sound bites.


December 6, 2012 at 8:55 AM Leave a comment

Teacher Prep Needs to Lead – Not Follow

Higher education must attract talented students and prepare them for careers in their chosen fields. However, an equally important aspect of their core mission must be the genesis of new ideas and leadership in innovation. I am all for quality assurance among educators, but the current dialogue around regulation of teacher prep is the stuff of lowered expectations. How can we insist on incentives to look backward when incubation of solutions for the future is what will drive their real value-added?

Recently, I spent some time at the DesignEd Symposium learning about collaboration among Boston-area design schools. It was fascinating to explore issues of creativity, innovation, and excellence with a group of educators, students, and industry leaders. The usual issues of cost, attrition, and performance after graduation – universal themes – arose in the conversations. However, the one big takeaway for me was the need for universities to drive the process of innovation, not just deliver graduates who are career-ready. This is an important component of the mission of higher education that seems to be under-appreciated in discussions about teacher prep and quality assurance.

The Department of Education has been developing guidelines for teacher prep programs that promote quality through accountability for the performance of their graduates on the job. I remain among the skeptics when it comes to holding institutions accountable for people over whom they no longer have any direct line of authority. Beyond that, we are working with the presumption that left unregulated, the teacher prep programs will deliver substandard graduates…more lowered expectations. As if this were not enough, we add insult to injury with proposals that would leave them hamstrung by the process of constantly assessing past trainees rather than investing their resources in the future of teacher leadership.

Absent regulation, schools of education and their school district partners have long histories of collaborations. Pre-practicum experiences and student teaching allow candidates to develop relationships with future employers who will observe their performances first hand. New teacher portfolios, references, and classroom auditions offer insight for employers. There is ample opportunity for communication and feedback between teacher prep programs and school systems who hire their graduates. Neither party wants new teachers to fail. Further, creative tension between current performance and future innovations is a good thing. A visionary teacher prep program needs to be improving constantly, not waiting for instructions from their clients.

Budget limitations have created zero-sum games for most players in education. In the short-run, there will be a real loss in innovation in direct proportion to the size of the burden of teacher prep regulations. However, the long-term impact of failure to drive the industry forward will far outweigh any short-term reduction in uncertainty about the quality of new hires.

May 10, 2012 at 3:28 PM Leave a comment

The Teacher Prep Debate – Of Double Standards and Managerial Dodge Ball

Teacher prep programs cannot be forced to maintain a longitudinal tracking system on the career progress of their alums. Such a system would violate the privacy of the individuals who were monitored, answer only genuinely academic questions – not timely solutions to problems, and crowd out more prudent investments in higher education for teachers. In the meantime, districts would be allowed to dodge accountability for talent management while sitting in the real locus of control. All the while, a revolving door of TFA darlings would bypass scrutiny as they churned through the schools with guaranteed turnover. In the end, the only real change in the picture would be a serious fracture in the long history of collaboration between teacher prep programs and school districts – one of the greatest assets we might have leveraged.

Teacher prep programs are being targeted for accountability in teacher quality. Under consideration is a Federal plan to have schools of education track their graduates for up to ten years after program completion. The goal is to sort the good from the bad and hold the prep programs accountable for any shortcomings in future teacher performance. The hair on the back of my neck is raised as I consider the Bill of Rights, school district responsibility for talent management, and the perennial boot camp teacher prep experiments. School districts and teacher prep programs have a long history of collaboration. Why kill this strength by pitting the two against one another?

Employers are responsible for hiring the best people for every job, supervising and motivating them effectively, and assessing their continuing value to the endeavor. Employees enter an organization honestly and with appropriate preparation. They share responsibility for keeping themselves whole on the job. Continuous growth and professional development must be valued on both sides of the contract. When these conditions are not met, employers and employees have a problem to solve. External parties may be asked to facilitate the process, but nowhere do labor standards call for privacy invasion or deflection of responsibility onto unrelated parties.

Teacher prep programs are supposed to get their students ready as teachers. School districts hire those people, and the locus of control over the situation is transferred. The education schools are essentially off duty with regard to specific students. In fact, just as the districts must have permission from prospective new teachers to seek information from their prep programs, the prep programs have no right to seek and track employment data about anyone except their own employees. They have no right to invade the privacy of their alums. Nor do they have any control over the conditions of employment that exist after students leave their programs.

Employment is always a “buyer beware” situation. If districts suspect they have hired teachers who are inadequately prepared for the job, they are protected by probationary employment contracts. Experienced leaders must assess the situation and, in consultation with the new hire, make a plan to remediate and reassess. A trend in bad hires from particular teacher prep programs is instructive much more rapidly than a gratuitous multi-year tracking system. In addition, prep programs may well have addressed constructive feedback from districts and improved their outcomes before the negative data stream has been aggregated, analyzed and reported.

And what about alternative pathways to credentialing of new teachers? I happen to believe many of these programs bring good teachers into the education field, but they benefit from a double standard in any regulation of quality. Teach for America (TFA) only asks for a two-year commitment, by which time novice teachers are considered barely adequate practitioners. Yet we only hear good news about their contributions and worry about losing them to what is prescribed turnover, not issues of quality.

Schools of education and school districts may continue to leverage their relationships to improve teacher prep as well as sustaining educator vitality on the job. However, their primary roles should not become blended, nor should their respective accountabilities be diffused.

March 5, 2012 at 12:29 PM Leave a comment

Tarnished Seals of Approval

There is gold in the teacher quality debate, just not for the children. Quality assurance programs are lining up for funding in exchange for promises to track teachers from their prep programs through the next several generations of their progeny. However, there seems to be a charlatan factor that has already gotten under the radar.

A year or so ago, I discovered that my principal certification was not transferable to a new state because the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University was not a quality leadership program for educators. Okay, so the echo chamber of education does not recognize the validity of general management training. Looking further, however, the School of Education at Northwestern did not make the list, nor did the Curry School of Education from my undergraduate school, the University of Virginia. In fact, I discovered that my best chance for adequate credentialing would be enrollment in one of a plethora of storefront correspondence schools scattered across Long Island and the Bronx. They had met the requirements for the national seal of approval.

It seems to be the case that only a handful of major university education programs have applied for accreditation in the new teacher quality programs. And the reason may be that they don’t have to…their work stands on its own merit. Why would they undergo yet another tedious review procedure to prove to the narrow field of education that their world-class standing is, indeed, deserved?

School districts know the sources for strong teacher preparation. They are more likely to have trouble hiring and retaining new teachers from high quality programs because of LIFO and seniority issues, the limitations of career advancement, or the pension trap. Further, teachers who offer promise but deliver less success over time may reflect their employment environments more so than their original training.

I believe in continuous quality assurance. I cannot endorse expending serious resources to raise the barriers to entry in a field that lacks commitment thus far to annual goal setting and performance reviews once access to the field has been achieved. 

PS, What are the chances that you are getting some of your best insights from alums of one of the perennial boot camp teacher prep programs that bypassed most tradition quality hurdles?

November 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM Leave a comment

Promote Teacher Quality with Career Mobility – Not More Regulation

Professionals often get their first jobs because of their educational backgrounds; they keep getting jobs because of where they have worked and what they have done. They enter each job well-prepared and committed to keeping themselves current, energized, and growing. Obstacles are hurdles to be overcome; problems are opportunities for leadership and accountability. These are NOT the values of regulation; they are the values of entrepreneurship.

Historical patterns of regulation in K-12 education tended to erect barriers to entry in lieu of professional quality assurance. Teachers and administrators have had to complete required coursework and apprenticeships as well as passing exams or other assessments to achieve licensure. They then entered the profession, often remaining in the same school district for the duration of their careers. Periodic recertification required professional development and, in some cases, additional formal education. However, by that time, most had achieved tenure. They were IN the system, and every financial incentive from paycheck to pension created barriers to exit.

The US Department of Education has determined that this regulated approach to teacher quality has failed. What we need is…drum roll, please…regulation to make the barriers to entry higher. Huh? Yes, let’s make it harder for those closest to the energized newbie end of the spectrum, new teachers-in-training, to get the job. Not sure how this addresses the problems of hiring and retention in urban education, but it clearly does something that even the toughest blame-game champions have never been able to accomplish: assign accountability for failures within the public education system to people who have not yet participated. Way to keep the peace guys!

I am truly disappointed. This is not Change I Can Believe In. This is further abdication of leadership. We have an opportunity to inject entrepreneurship into the system, challenge bureaucratic procedures, and reset the way we motivate leaders in the classroom and in the front office. Let’s rethink this thing. And not with the institutional myopia of a group of insiders whose vision comes from the wrong end of the telescope. It’s time to let people in education come and go as they please, and to bring a more cosmopolitan approach to problem-solving. I’m talking removal of the barriers to exit.

Suppose teachers and administrators had freedom to move about the education system, seeking new experiences, sharing expertise, and disseminating best practices…without severe financial penalties. Suppose a great teacher wanted to go for an MBA instead of an MA in school leadership…to bring new management tools back to the system. Suppose an empathetic school leader wanted a burned-out educator to get to a better place…without losing the ranch.

Educator quality arises from openness to change, which, when managed correctly, translates into professional growth. It is predicated on trust, fair evaluation of performance, and safe harbor while taking calculated risks and exploring creativity. It is stifled by rigid regulations, inflexible pay and benefits, and scapegoating behavior. We will not build a better education system with a slow trickle of teachers from more tightly regulated teacher prep programs. We have a lot of great teachers. We need to set them free.

October 3, 2011 at 11:56 AM Leave a comment