The Echo Chamber Has Opened on NCTQ

The following quotes have been compiled by my colleague Ken Zeichner from the University of Washington. As he predicted in his interview with EduShyster, NCTQ’s sham rankings of teacher education would bounce through the echo chamber of both traditional and new media. Among the many methodological problems with the rankings, which look truly bizarre to those of us insider teacher education who know the quality of the graduates, is that faculty expertise is nowhere accounted for.

Despite these and other critiques, the rankings have been spread around as truth, a phenomenon Ken calls “knowledge ventriloquism.”

Ken quotes from NCTQ’s publicity materials to make his point about the way this is playing out.

Endorsements Continue to Flow in for NCTQ’s 2014 Teacher Preparation Review

Support is coming in from former U.S. Secretaries of Education:

“All of the nations’ children deserve teachers of the highest quality. We cannot ignore reports like NCTQ’s that call attention to our challenges in teacher preparation.”
–Dr. Rod Paige, Former U.S. Secretary of Education

“To ensure that every child in this country receives a quality education, teachers must be well-prepared to lead in their classrooms. Teaching institutions are critical to success. NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review serves as a source to districts and states by providing them with knowledge about how to strengthen recruitment, hiring, and training of teachers and arms aspiring teachers with the information they need to choose the most effective program for them.”
–Margaret Spellings, Former U.S. Secretary of Education; President, George W. Bush Presidential Center

Delaware joins 32 other states making measurable improvements to their teacher prep polices.

“Amongst educators in Delaware it’s no secret that teacher preparation programs are not completely aligned to the real demands of the profession. NCTQ is again issuing a report that grabs a hold of one of the elephants in the room–that the rigor and relevance of teacher prep is simply not where it needs to be.”
–Christopher Ruszkowski, Chief Officer, Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit, Delaware Department of Education

Over 105 District Superintendents have lined up behind our efforts to ensure that the teachers they hire are classroom-ready on day one.

“The National Council on Teacher Quality Teacher Preparation Review provides an additional element of data to consider when recruiting highly skilled candidates for our rigorous selection process. Building this information over time will help inform improvement opportunities for teacher preparation programs.”
Ms. Barbara Deane-Williams, Superintendent, Greece Central School District (NY)

Over 90 Education advocacy organizations have endorsed NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review:

“Teachers are the single most important in-school factor contributing to student success. Accordingly, we must ensure that all teachers are adequately prepared to teach on day one,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review provides us with crucial information – not only for prospective teachers to pick high-performing programs, but also for programs to ensure that they’re meeting the needs of our students.”
Kati Haycock, President, Education Trust

“Expanding the pool of exceptional teachers who are prepared for the difficult work of leading our nation’s classrooms is in everyone’s interest. NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review keeps the pressure on all of us – the ‘public’ part of ‘public education – to get this right. This isn’t just about children, but about the future of the public education system that we need to thrive for future generations.”
Joe Williams, Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform

Editorial board support has begun:

“Even more importantly, though, we need to improve the quality of our teacher education programs themselves. There are some real standouts in New Jersey — including Montclair State, Rider, Rowan and Kean — but most still aren’t adequately preparing teachers for the classroom, according to a new study released yesterday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a non-profit group.

This reflects a national problem. Too many educational colleges in the U.S. let almost anyone in, and it’s the school children who end up suffering for it. For a lesson in reform, look at Finland. To stop the proliferation of diploma mills, the country shut down its education colleges in 1968 and reopened them in only the top eight most selective universities in the country.”
Star-Ledger Editorial Board, June 17, 2014 Editorial

Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World weighs in:

“In a handful of statehouses and universities across the country, a few farsighted Americans are finally pursuing what the world’s smartest countries have found to be the most efficient education reform ever tried. They are making it harder to become a teacher. Ever so slowly, these legislators and educators are beginning to treat the preparation of teachers the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots—rendering it dramatically more selective, practical, and rigorous. All of which could transform not only the quality of teaching in America but the way the rest of us think about school and learning.

Over the past two years, according to a report out Tuesday from the National Council on Teacher Quality, 33 states have passed meaningful new oversight laws or regulations to elevate teacher education in ways that are much harder for universities to game or ignore.”
Amanda Ripley, June 17, 2014 Slate article

Teachers themselves voice the need for providing high-quality cooperating teachers to candidates, a key component of NCTQ’s Student Teaching Standard:

“Teacher candidates must be paired with a master teacher who is not only phenomenal with students but who has been trained to observe and coach new teachers. Teaching adults is not the same as teaching children and there are research-based practices that support adult education. Mentors should be skilled in this work to ensure that they are educating student teachers effectively and not simply look at them as interns helping out in a classroom.”
Erin Lane, 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts Teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum via HuffingtonPost article

Our 16 member Technical Panel, comprised of education experts, has signed a statement of support.

“Scrutiny of teacher preparation programs is important, from selection of candidates into the program all the way through student teaching. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to teacher training is fundamental to making sure that new teachers have the skills they need on the first day they are entrusted with instruction in their own classrooms. I believe NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review represents an important step down the road to connecting the features of teacher training to the quality of our nation’s teachers.”
Dan Goldhaber, Director, Center for Education Data & Research, University of Washington-Bothell

The drumbeat calling for change has clearly been heard and we look forward to continuing the conversation and the work needed to make sure teachers are ready on day one.


The Vergara Decision and the Shock of Inequality

“The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

— Judge Rolf M. Treu, Vergara v. California, June 16, 2014

Are there ineffective teachers in California classrooms? Undoubtedly.

Do students living in poverty find themselves disproportionately faced with ineffective teaching? Absolutely.

Is this a good justification for weakening unions and limiting due process in the termination of teachers? Not at all.

Let me explain.

When we look at inequality from the comfort of privilege, it does indeed “shock the conscience” –– especially the first time you really look at just how unequal our educational system has become.

Like Judge Treu, I am outraged at what Richard Ingersoll first identified as the “maldistribution of teachers.” This refers to the way the most qualified teachers disproportionately work with the highest achieving and most affluent students –– even within the same school.

In fact, international comparisons reveal that the United States stands out in this maldistribution problem: our country’s disparity in students’ access to qualified teachers is among the largest in the world.

Shocks the conscience, doesn’t it?

The diagnosis of teacher tenure as the root of this problem will not produce a cure. It’s the educational equivalent of putting leeches on the patient to let out “bad blood.”  It may make some intuitive sense based on our everyday educational discourse of “grit” and “innovation” –– but it also means you don’t actually understand the underlying causes of the problem.

What Ingersoll and other scholars have pointed to, time and again, are the organizational and working conditions that make it hard to staff high poverty schools –– so much so that there is a literature about “hard-to-staff schools.”

How hard-to-staff? As documented by Lora Bartlett in her book Migrant Teachers, between 2000-2010, US schools could not find enough teachers domestically to fill open positions, bringing in over 90,000 overseas trained teachers. They teach predominantly in urban schools with the highest poverty student populations in America.

With all the focus on Teach for America, Bartlett reports that “more overseas trained teachers have been sought to teach in America in the last ten years than there have been Teach for America teachers in the entire history of that program.”

The truth is that the problems facing our schools in the highest poverty communities exist so far off the experiential map of middle-class Americans that just seeing some of their challenges would provide a “shock of conscience.” Given that shock, the way is paved to point fingers at whatever bogeyman can be conjured.

In the Vergara case, the billionaire backers pointed to teachers unions and their role in giving teachers due process before termination.

Ironically, if research shows that poor working conditions are really the root cause of the maldistribution problem, reducing the negotiating power of unions is exactly the wrong solution.



Why We Need Strong Teacher Communities

I am glad that there have been a spate of headlines about the limitations of value-added modeling for assessing teachers. Ranking teachers primarily on the basis of student test scores not only goes against intuitive sense, but it is also junk science, as numerous professional organizations have said repeatedly. (Here is AERA’s statement. Here is ASA’s.)

There is a robust educational research finding, however, that seems to stay out of the headlines: the importance of good colleagues for teachers — and students.

This particular finding, which has been around for decades now, has a hard time capturing the public imagination because we are a society that thinks we do not have a society. We are a society that imagines individual characteristics like grit and dynamism and determination can overcome anything. We make movies about teacher heroes going against the grain, making us complacent about real inequities in our schools. The message seems to be, “Well, if we only had more determined teachers, these problems wouldn’t exist.”

Yet all the research on schools and departments that defy the statistical odds of their student demographics find the same thing time and again: it is not the individual teachers in themselves that make the difference. It is teacher teams working together to raise expectations, coordinate systems, and support students over the years that make a difference.

Think about it. Inequality is an institutional problem. Why do we imagine a lone individual can change these systemic forces?

Especially when we have so much evidence that strong teacher teams can.

In high schools, Valerie Lee and her colleagues looked at the situations that support equitable achievement. To find such achievement, they looked for schools in which students’ demographic background variables (among them race and socioeconomic status) were not strongly predictive of their eventual level of attainment. Schools that have achieved equitable outcomes share identifiable traits: they have a rigorous common curriculum and a strong organizational push for students to enroll in challenging courses. In mathematics departments, Rochelle Gutiérrez found that teachers who take collective responsibility for their students’ success contribute substantially to this organizational push.

Similar findings have been published in top journals by David Strahan, Karen Seashore Louis, Tony Bryk, Milbrey McLaughlin and Joan Talbert. In my own work, I have seen how teachers’ collective responsibility supports students’ long-term positive engagement in the mathematics curriculum.

Teachers who work together can coordinate expectations across the grades, increasing expectations for student responsibility as they mature. Teamwork can give the teachers a place to hold the sometimes-abstract ideas of professional development up against the complex realities of their classrooms. For instance, in one school I worked with, the teachers were implementing a new curriculum and had received training in using it. When one unit required particular cultural knowledge that many of their students did not share, the teachers figured out an appropriate adaptation to bring their students up to speed on a topic the textbook took for granted.

In addition, the team allowed the teachers to coordinate their instruction, pacing lessons together and developing shared language and representations for key mathematical concepts. This allowed teachers to easily tutor one another’s students after school or in support classes, since everyone knew what kinds of conversations and presentations were going on in the classrooms. The collaboration directly contributed to the teachers’ mathematical learning as well. When teachers did not fully understand a concept, or could not anticipate the ways in which a topic would be hard for students, they turned to one another for brief tutorials or ideas to bring into their own classrooms.
Besides all of the ways in which the collaboration supported the goal of increased student achievement, the teachers consistently reported the unexpected benefit of the emotional support they garnered from the team approach. As one teacher reported, “When there’s a problem, when there are issues with a kid, there’s a group to talk about it, to say, ‘Hey, there are issues here. What do you suggest? What do you think? What’s a good way to go?’ And so you have this whole giant support system.”

If the preponderance of evidence points to the importance of collaboration in achieving equity, why is this not a commonplace feature of teachers’ work?

Teachers who want to meet and collaborate with their colleagues often do so at great personal expense. Frequently, they end up donating hours before and after school or sacrificing their scant preparation time. Even in places where teamwork becomes an explicit part of their work, it is seldom adequately offset by any reductions in other time-intensive job duties or it gets taken over by administrative demands.

I would love policy makers to shift their imagination from threats and sanctions against either individual teachers or entire schools to think about how to make productive collaboration a meaningful part of teachers’ work.