Teachers

Today's Columbus Dispatch features an anti-Teach For America op-ed by an OSU ed professor (Thomas Stephens). He says nothing surprising to any of us who've heard ed schools' views of alternative teacher preparation before. And given that TFA-enabling legislation has already passed, his disparaging of the program is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But his line of reasoning is one that drives me so far up the wall that I just can't help myself. Bear with me for a moment, and then I'll shut up about Teach For America and go back to my work.

Stephens begins his piece by making a ludicrous but quite common analogy between teaching and medicine:

Imagine that Gov. John Kasich and Ohio legislators take on a real problem: the difficulty Medicare patients have in finding physicians who will treat them. To fix it, they pass and Kasich signs the Ohio Medicare Fair Practice Act? This new law allows college graduates to obtain a special license to practice medicine following completion of a five-week course. These bright young people, full of energy and idealism, will practice only a few years before migrating to less-onerous and more-lucrative careers.

Think this is far-fetched? Well, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate, with the help of 10 Democrats, passed a bill requiring the Ohio Department of Education to issue a resident-educator license based solely on a bachelor's degree and five weeks of training.

Alright Tom, aside from the fact that teaching a fifth grader fractions is...

?Good teaching cannot fall victim to budget cuts,? a post on Ed Week's ?PD Watch? blog implored last week.

This year many states will make dramatic cuts to their education budgets?I would urge that those budget cuts not come at the expense of improving teaching. Furloughing teachers on professional development days, or ridding school systems of professional development departments, instructional coaches, and other forms of support altogether, will erode the knowledge, skills, and abilities teachers need to meet students' learning needs, and, as a result, will have a dramatic negative impact on student achievement for years to come.

The post is grounded in the dubious (but all too common) assumption that less is inevitably worse. ?As if it's impossible to streamline spending in education?or, in this case, in professional development?without negatively impacting quality.

Nonsense.

For starters, regardless of their quality, most professional development consultants are astronomically expensive. I can remember being *shocked* that a one-day training with unheard of (and untested) trainers who knew nothing of our schools and teachers, but who worked for a well known and well respected organization charged $20,000 for a one day training. That's more than $3,000 an hour to deliver a presentation that had been pre-packaged and delivered many times before. And the quality of the trainers was so poor that we fired them by lunch.

Of course, in PD, since there is no money-back-guarantee, we never saw that $20K again. Nor were the teachers able to...

One of the nation's leading education economists, Eric Hanushek has a must-read story in Education Next, just released today, ?Valuing Teachers: How much is a good teacher worth??? And if you don't have time to read the full story, at least see Eric's summary of it. He applies some basic economic analysis to the ?conventional wisdom that teachers are the most important ingredient in an effective school.??

And, in the process, he reminds us that it should also be conventional wisdom ?that teachers are the most important ingredient in an ineffective school.? Indeed, often lost in the national demonizing teacher debate is the simple fact that ?there are large differences in teacher quality, and these differences are felt in very tangible ways by students and by U.S. society.?

Hanushek analyzed the financial impact of differences in student achievement and then matched that up with the students' teachers. He says it's ?fairly straightforward set of calculations.? ?And, he concludes,

[T]he numbers are astounding.? A teacher at the 85th percentile can, in comparison to an average teacher, raise the present value of each student's lifetime earnings by over $20,000?implying that such a teacher with a class of 20 students generates over $400,000 in economic benefits, compared to an average teacher, for each year that she gets such achievement gains.? Gains go up and down with how good the teacher is and with how many students she has.? And the gains are symmetrical in comparison to the average teacher

...

If you believe the two sides currently duking it out over collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, contracts with teacher unions are either the only thing saving American education from utter ruin or they're the greatest impediment to reforming the system. What's absent from the discussion is an examination of the role of school and district leadership, which has the power (largely unrealized, alas) to make labor agreements far less influential.

Last week, I attended a great panel at the Yale SOM Education Leadership Conference on teacher contracts, ably moderated by Andy Rotherham. Discussing the district's 2009 contract, New Haven Public Schools assistant superintendent Garth Harries placed a lot of blame for the restrictive nature of labor agreements on the poor state of education management, saying that teachers will routinely go above and beyond the requirements of their contract if they trust management. The AFT's Joan Devlin, speaking to a largely unsympathetic crowd, agreed, pointing out that a good working relationship between the New Haven local and district management allowed everyone to move from haggling over hours to talking about how to reform schools together. The entire panel agreed that bold, visionary leadership with integrity is rare at the district level.

I am not naive about the battles unions fight against reform; they deserve criticism for opposing everything from the firing of absence-prone teachers to charter schools in one place or another. However, as Fordham's 2008 report, The Leadership Limbo, illustrated, district leaders often blame...

One of the reasons Candidate Obama was so appealing was his call for participants in our democracy to "disagree without being disagreeable." Though he hasn't always lived up to that standard, it's a worthy objective?and one we education reformers should keep in mind too.

In that spirit, I strongly encourage you to read Richard Kahlenberg's brilliant 2007 biography of Albert Shanker, Tough Liberal. Or, if you don't have time to tackle its 500 pages, listen to this 45-minute interview with Kahlenberg instead. (It's the third offering of the Education Next Book Club, a new long-form podcast that I'm hosting. Previous editions featured Richard Whitmire on The Bee Eater and Dan Willingham on Why Don't Students Like School?)

What struck me most about the book was the status of the teaching profession before Shanker and his colleagues won the right to collectively bargain in 1960. Teachers made the same wages as car washers; autocratic principals harassed teachers on a daily basis; and teachers could be fired on a whim. I was also fascinated by the story of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy?whereby black leaders demanding "community control" wanted to fire many white, Jewish teachers?and the scars it might leave in terms of teachers' psychology around job protections.

Of course, things are much better for teachers today, what with much higher (if still mediocre) salaries, generous benefits, and over-the-top job security. So I...

If you haven't yet, steer yourself over to the latest "Room for Debate" conversation at the New York Times, entitled ?How to Raise the Status of Teachers.? It features some excellent pieces, including one by Fordham's own Mike Petrilli. (Spoiler alert: Mike reframes the argument. It's not about raising the status of teachers, it's about successfully recruiting high-caliber college graduates to teaching.)

Want to know more? Mike will be on Chicago's WGN radio station today at 12:35 EDT discussing the issue. Listen live online, or to the podcast, at www.wgnradio.com. Tune in!

?Daniela Fairchild

This post appears today on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog. The question: How can the United States raise the status of teachers and teaching?

Raising the ?status? of teaching is like chasing a mirage: It looks great from a distance but it never seems to materialize. Teachers today are one of the most respected members of our society, according to opinion polls. The growing backlash against perceived ?teacher-bashing? in Wisconsin and elsewhere is more testament that Americans like their teachers. So what exactly is the problem the status-boosters are hoping to solve? Raising teachers' self-esteem? [quote]

On the other hand, it's true that teaching today is not among the most attractive careers open to talented young people. Making it more attractive is an objective we can do something about.

Today's teacher compensation system is perfectly designed to repel ambitious individuals. We offer mediocre starting salaries, provide meager raises even after hard-earned skills have been gained on the job and backload the most generous benefits (in terms of pensions) toward the end of 30 years of service. More fundamentally, for decades we've prioritized smaller classes over higher teacher pay. If we had kept class sizes constant over the past 50 years, the average teacher today would be making $100,000.

Thankfully, reformers are trying to flip this equation. Here's the game plan: raise starting pay, accelerate salary bumps to keep up with a young teacher's rapid improvement in effectiveness, offer ways for teachers...

Liam Julian

At a KIPP charter school in Jacksonville today, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed SB 726, a bill that will set up a teacher evaluation system that judges educators based, in large part, on student test scores, institute merit pay, and end tenure for new teachers (current teachers will still be paid based on their previously negotiated contracts, but if they receive poor evaluations for several years, they can be dismissed). Florida's former governor, Charlie Crist, vetoed a similar bill last year.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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