How Does School Culture Reflect Middle Class Culture?

Class is rarely talked about in the United States; nowhere is there a more intense silence about the reality of class differences than in educational settings.

bell hooks

One of the things teachers often hear in the course of teacher education is that school culture typically reflects middle class culture. For teachers who grew up middle class, this statement can be perplexing. It’s like trying to alert fishes to the unique presence of water: they are so immersed in it that alternatives cannot be fully imagined.

Yet class shapes everything from interactional styles to the kinds of competencies valued in the home. In her famous ethnography of class and American childhoods, Annette Lareau characterized working class and poor families as tending to promote natural growth in children. These parents tend to let children determine their leisure activities. When they interject authority, they tend to do so with directives.

lareau cover

In contrast, middle-class families tended to practice a form of parenting Lareau calls concerted cultivation. These parents tended to equate good parenting with deliberate development of their children’s talents, especially through organized leisure activities. They also used fewer directives, instead reasoning with their children when seeking to change their behavior.

(There are other contrasts between these approaches to parenting, as summarized in this table.)

Lareau’s point is not that one style is better than the other, but instead to point out that school often assumes middle class parenting, leaving poor and working class families with less of an institutional fit. In fact, as somebody who was raised in this manner, I personally see many strengths that come out of the accomplishment of natural growth. Children have more opportunities to develop autonomy and engage in more social problem solving than children whose leisure activities are organized and led by adults.

How do these middle class assumptions play out in school? Classrooms are crowded places, and teachers frequently need to direct children’s attention and activities. Many teachers tend toward the middle class style of suggesting a transition (“Would you like to join us on the rug?”) rather than directing it (“Please come to the rug now”). If you are used to the latter, the former can be understandably ambiguous and confusing.

What is more, middle class children, through their greater experience with formally organized leisure activities, usually come to school with tacit understandings about how to participate. They have more experience responding to the authority of a non-kin adult with whom they will likely form a superficial and transitory relationship. In contrast, if your early socialization has been primarily with family, taking directions from a stranger may seem like a strange and maybe not entirely wise endeavor.

There are also subject-specific ways that social class makes school more or less a fit with children. Valerie Walkerdine has documented the ways class can interact with mathematics education in particular. She points to the quantitative fictions common to math class, describing, for example, an elementary number game requiring the “purchase” of various items for 1 to 10 pence and then making change. The working class children she observed, whose lives were much more consequentially tied to actual prices of things, found the premise of the game absurd. As I often tell my pre-service teachers, which of your students knows where to find the best price on a gallon of milk, and which simply look to make sure it’s organic? How does that change your job in making sure the cost in your word problem is realistic?

To feel comfortable participating in classrooms, children need to have a reason to be there. They need to see a connection to their lives and experience a sense of belonging. Social class differences are sometimes the source of cultural barriers to feeling like you belong in school, that school is a place that matters, that things make sense. Teachers need to be thoughtful in how they bridge these differences with their students.

Teaching as a Social Practice: A Syllabus

This spring, I am teaching one of our required doctoral seminars, Teaching as a Social Practice. I have been publicly agonizing about getting the reading list right on Twitter. This is a tough (and thrilling) syllabus to write. There is probably enough research on teaching to fill several warehouses. I have dealt with the quantity issue by making some readings shared and some “distributed,” meaning subsets of students will read and lead discussions on the individual papers. However, I want to go beyond accounts of teachers as individual actors. I strive to account for social, cultural, and historical forces that shape what is happening (and what is possible) in schools. Despite its abundance, the ample research on teaching suffers from two problems: quality and completeness. The quality issue is actually helpful, since I gravitate toward the stronger work out there. The completeness issue refers to the fact that some of the most urgent issues in teaching as a social (and therefore cultural) practice have not yet been addressed in substantive ways by research. So I need to go beyond research into popular writing and blogs. One door shuts and another one opens up… Humbly, I offer my current reading list for your edification. I welcome respectful and curious conversations about my choices.

Section 1: What is the work of teaching?

An Introductory Framework for Teaching

Cohen, D.K. (2011) Teaching and Its Predicaments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chapters 1 – 3.

The Image of the Individual, or Why is It Hard to View Teaching as a Social Practice?

Goldstein, D. (2014). Introduction. The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. New York: Doubleday. (pp. 1-12).

Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: Autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teachers College Record,91(4), 509-536

Bulman, R.C. (2002). Teachers in the ‘hood: Hollywood’s middle-class fantasy. The Urban Review, 34 (3), 251-276.

Section 2: What is “social” about teaching?

Introduction to Teaching as a Social Practice

Cohen, Chapter 4 “The social resources of teaching”

Stein, Sandra J. (2002). The Culture of Education Policy. New York: Teachers College Press.

Chapter 1, “Policy as Cultural Construct” (pp. 1-25)

Chapter 4, “The School” (pp. 85-107)  

History, Place, and Professional Identity in Teaching

Goldstein Chapter 1 “Missionary Teachers”: The Common Schools Movement and the Feminization of American Teaching. (pp. 13-33).

Lortie, D. (1975). The limits of socialization (Chapter 3). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. (pp. 55-81). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Foster, M. (1997). Introduction. Black teachers on teaching.  (pp. xv-li). New York: New Press.

Horn, I.S. (in press). The Status of Teaching as a Profession in the United States. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition. Oxford: Elsevier Publishing.

How Do Students and Their Lives Shape Teaching Practice?

Shared readings:

Metz, M.H. (1993). Teachers’ ultimate dependence on their students. In J. W. Little & M. W. McLaughlin (Eds.), Teachers work: Individuals, colleagues, and contexts (pp. 104-137). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press. Chapters 1 & 2

Vilson, J. (2014). Where the Hustle Comes From. This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education. (pp. 93-99). Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Distributed readings:

Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press. Chapters 8, 9, 10 (case studies).

How Do Colleagues Matter in Teaching?

Shared readings:

Lee, V. E., & Smith, J. (1996). Collective responsibility for learning and its effects on gains in achievement and engagement for early secondary school students. American Journal of Education, 104(2), 103-147.

Siskin, L. S. (1994). Social Worlds. In Realms of knowledge: Academic departments in secondary schools. London: Falmer Press.

Distributed readings:

Coburn, C. (2001). Collective sensemaking about reading: How teachers mediate reading policy in their professional communities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(2), 145-170.

Horn, I. S. (2007). Fast kids, slow kids, lazy kids: Framing the mismatch problem in mathematics teachers’ conversations. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16(1), 37-79.

How Do The Organizational Resources of Schools Shape Teaching Practice?

Cobb, P., McClain, K., Lamberg, T., & Dean, C. et al (2003). Situating teachers’ instructional practices in the institutional setting of the school and district. Educational Researcher, 32 (6), 13-24.

Lampert, M., Boerst, T.A., & Graziani, F. (2011). Organizational Resources in the Service of School-Wide Ambitious Teaching Practice. Teachers College Record, 113 (7).

Moore-Johnson, S., Kraft, M.A., Papay, J.P. (2012). How context matters in high-need schools: The effects of teachers’ working conditions on their professional satisfaction and their students’ achievement. Teachers College Record, 114 (10).

Bartlett, L. (2014). Introduction and Overview. Migrant Teachers: How American Schools Import Labor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (pp. 1-11).

Section 3: What does it mean to “know” in teaching?

How (and What) Do Teachers Enable Students to Know?

Cohen, Chapter 5, “Knowledge and Teaching”

Jackson, P.W. (1990). The Daily Grind. Life in Classrooms (pp. 1-37). New York: Teachers College Press.

Anderson, M. (2014, November). Can White Teachers Be Taught How to Teach Our Children?

How Have Researchers Conceptualized Teaching and Teacher Knowledge?

Shared Readings: Green, E. (2014). Founding Fathers. Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Everyone). New York: W.W. Norton and Company. (pp. 23-44).

Shulman, L. (1986). Paradigms and research programs in the study of teaching: A contemporary perspective. In M.C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp.3-36). New York: MacMillan.

Ball, D., Thames, M.H., & Phelps (2008). Content Knowledge for Teaching: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59(5), 389-407.

Distributed Readings: Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. (1993). Research on teaching and teacher research: The issues that divide. Inside/Outside: Teacher Research and Knowledge (pp.5-22). New York: Teachers College Press.

Gutiérrez, R. (2013). Why (Urban) Mathematics Teachers Need Political Knowledge. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 6(2), 7-19.

How Does the Organization of Teaching Shape the Epistemologies of (and in) Practice?

Cohen, Chapters 6 & 7, “Instructional Discourse” & “Teachers’ Acquaintance with Student Knowledge”

Kennedy, M.M. (2010). Attribution error and the quest for teacher quality. Educational Researcher, 39(8), 591-598.

How Should We Assess Teaching Competence?

Shared readings:

Goldstein Chapter 8: “Very Disillusioned” How Teacher Accountability Displaced Desegregation and Local Control. (pp. 164-188)

Goldstein Chapter 9: “Big, Measurable Goals”: A Data-Driven Vision for Millennial Teaching (pp. 189-230).

Distributed readings:

Kane, T.J. & Steiger, D.O. (2012). Gathering feedback for teaching: Combining high-quality Observations with student surveys and achievement gains. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Research report of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project).

Haertel, E. (2013). Reliability and Validity of Inferences about Teachers Based on Student Test Scores. The 14th William H. Angoff Lecture presented at the National Press Club. Washington, D.C. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Services. Fenstermacher,

G.D. & Richardson, V. (2005). On Making Determinations of Quality in Teaching. Teachers College Record Volume 107, Number 1, January 2005, pp. 186–213
How Do Teachers Develop Knowledge in Practice?

Feiman-Nemser, S. (2012). Learning to Teach. Teachers as Learners. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (pp. 27-55).

Ball, D.L. & Cohen, D. (1999). Developing practice, developing practitioners: Toward a practice-based theory of professional education. In G. Sykes & L. Darling-Hammond (Eds.), Teaching as a Learning Profession: Handbook of Policy and Practice (pp. 3-32). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Horn, I.S. & Little, J. (2010). Attending to problems of practice: Routines and resources for professional learning in teachers’ workplace interactions. American Educational Research Journal, 47 (1), 181-217.

Lampert, M. (2012). Improving teaching and teachers: A generative dance? Journal of Teacher Education, 63 (5), 361-367.

How are Teacher Educators and Researchers Re-thinking Teacher Preparation?

Shared readings:

Feiman-Nemser, S. (2012). Teacher Preparation: Structural and Conceptual Alternatives. Teachers as Learners. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (pp. 55-104).

Grossman, P. & McDonald, M. (2008). Back to the future: Directions for research in teaching and teacher education. American Educational Research Journal, 45 (1), 184-205.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2011). Yes, but how do we do it? Practicing culturally relevant pedagogy. In J. Landsman & C. Lewis (Eds.) White Teachers/Diverse Classrooms: Creating Inclusive Schools, Building on Students’ Diversity, and Providing True Educational Equity. (2nd ed.) Stylus: Sterling, VA.

Distributed readings:

Horn, I.S. & Campbell, S.S. (In press). Developing Pedagogical Judgment in Novice Teachers: Mediated Field Experience as a Pedagogy for Teacher Education. Pedagogies: An International Journal.

Sleeter, C. E. (2001). Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools: research and the overwhelming presence of whiteness. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(2), 94-106.

Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., Braaten, M. (2011). Ambitious pedagogy by novice teachers: Who benefits from tool-supported collaborative inquiry into practice and why? Teachers College Record 113 (7).  

Instructional Activities and Core Practices for Teaching

This past week, I had the great pleasure of spending a few days thinking with some very smart people about issues in teacher education. They included Judith Warren Little, Magdalene Lampert, Elham Kazemi, Nicole Louie, Jessica Charles, Lynsey Gibbons, and Britnie Kane. We had a few other folks interested in teacher education drop in and chat with us too.

From left to right: Nicole Louie, Jessica Charles, Lynsey Gibbons, Elham Kazemi, Magdalene Lampert, Judith Warren Little, me, and Britnie Kane

From left to right: Nicole Louie, Jessica Charles, Lynsey Gibbons, Elham Kazemi, Magdalene Lampert, Judith Warren Little, me, and Britnie Kane

Right now, debates rage about the value of teacher education. The folks around this particular table take teacher education very seriously. We all aim for what is currently called ambitious teaching — ambitious in the sense that it aims to engage all students in rich and complex forms of content.

To pull a couple of examples from their work, Magdalene currently works with the Boston Teacher Residency. Borrowing the idea of residency from medical education, she and her colleagues work to figure out effective ways to use long-term partnerships with practicing teachers and schools as the grounds for teacher education. Elham has been working with in-service elementary teachers in the Seattle areas, focusing her work with one particular school on mathematics instruction.

Both of these projects have had some impressive successes. BTR has done extremely well in recruiting and retaining teachers, and Elham’s project has dramatically improved math instruction on multiple measures.

Magdalene and Elham are a part of the Core Practices Consortium, a group of scholars from University of Washington, University of Michigan, UCLA, Notre Dame, University of Wisconsin, University of Colorado and the Boston Teacher residency.

If you want to read more details, here is a description of a conference session they did describing their work. Here is a journal article and here is a website cataloging some core practices by content area.

The basic goal of the Consortium is to identify practices that capture specific, routine aspects of teaching that require professional judgment and stand to raise the quality of content-specific instruction in K-12 schools. Because teaching requires thinking and doing, these activities create focal points for the work of teacher education.

Some examples of instructional activities include things like interactive close reading in elementary literacy or pressing students to construct evidence-based explanations in secondary science.

I purposefully used the examples above because I think they are smart choices for this work, but my reservations remain nonetheless.

As we discussed and shared and learned together, I still wonder if it’s possible to adequately capture teaching practice –– in the broad meaning of the word that I know my colleagues intend — through the specification of routine activities.

Let me explain.

I’ll start with a definition of teaching. I’ll extend David Cohen’s formulation slightly and claim that teaching is the deliberate cultivation of learning in others in distinctive teaching situations. The “in others” highlights its relational dependence. The “teaching situation” part points to is context-dependence.

This elaborated definition cuts to the very heart of my concern. While aspects of teaching are undoubtedly routine, their meaning comes out through the particulars of relationships and situations, with all the complexity of that setting and those histories.

My favorite example to illustrate this idea comes from a conversation I had with Peg Cagle. We were talking about whether to put names on publicly displayed student work.

In my working class high school where many of my students’ had histories of struggle in mathematics, I visibly put my students’ names on the work I hung on classroom walls. They needed to have ownership of their mathematical ideas, even in their formative stages.

Peg, on the other hand, taught in a magnet program for gifted students. Many of her students worried about being discovered as an impostor in the gifted track, making them fearful of others’ judgments. She kept her students’ names off of work-in-progress in her room.

Did we have different practices? At a certain level of description, yes. I put names on and she kept them off.

However, on a deeper level, we were attending to the same issue: the social vulnerability of asking students to share what they think. We both wanted to encourage our students to do so in ways that were attentive to their prior histories with mathematics.

So while what we did was different, at a deeper, conceptual level, however, we were alert to the particulars of our teaching situations and modified our practice to meet the goal of students sharing their ideas.

I don’t offer this example to negate the idea of instructional activities. I am convinced that there is value in this approach. I share the example to point out that teaching, because of its contextuality, may not operate like other professions where the meaning does not so depend on the relationships among the people involved.

Asking The Right Question

John Dewey . . . asked a class, “What would you find if you dug a hole in the earth?” Getting no response, he repeated the question; again he obtained nothing but silence. The teacher chided Dr. Dewey, “You’re asking the wrong question.” Turning to the class, she asked, “What is the state of the center of the earth?” The class replied in unison, “Igneous fusion.” (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956, p. 29)

Did the class know about the center of the earth? The point of this little parable, of course, is not really. Being able to correctly recite the words ‘igneous fusion’ on cue does not make evident that these words had meaning to the students.

Meaning. An ultimate goal of learning, to enrich our lives with meaning.

From this perspective, Dewey’s question was the right one. It connected school learning to meaning in the world.

How do we do that in math class, the place with the most deep-seated rituals of recitation and mindless calculation? How do we move from what English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called ‘inert ideas’ — those which have been received and not utilized or tested or ‘thrown into fresh combinations’?

I am about to go teach a class of pre-service teachers to engage this very set of issues. We are looking in math class at the nature of the tasks being used through the lens of Margaret Smith and Mary Kay Stein’s work on this topic.

I already anticipate some of the arguments that will come up about the richness of particular tasks. Over the years of using this framework with both new and experienced teachers, I can boil the issues down to these questions:

1. What kind of thinking will students do as they engage in this activity?

2. Is there sufficient ambiguity that they can approach it in different ways or re-think familiar ideas in new ways?

I would love to hear from others about your ways of judging good mathematical tasks, as well as your favorite resources for finding them.

Teacher Community and Professional Learning

One of the things I study is how teachers learn with colleagues. I focus primarily on urban secondary math teachers. I basically film people working together and analyze it to death. I am interested in this because teacher collaboration is repeatedly shown to support both teacher learning and student achievement, so I am curious about why.

First things first. Strong collaboration is very rare. Very few high school teachers report even simply sharing ideas with colleagues. Productive collaboration goes beyond just sharing ideas or resources into what I have called collaborative pedagogical problem solving. This is really unusual but super cool when I get to see it.

I want to make two points about what I have observed, and then pose some questions to the #MTBoS .

Observation 1: Effective collaboration is hard.

There are a number of challenges to effective collaboration. First of all, it takes an investment of time, energy, and emotional commitment. These are scarce resources, particularly in high turnover schools. Teachers face a lot of structural obstacles to collaborative learning. The typical 50 minutes of daily planning time, for instance, is already overfull with the demands of grading, planning, and home communication.

Second, it’s hard to talk about instruction with colleagues. When teachers talk about instruction, this is almost always asynchronous from the active work of instruction. Unlike scientists, who have standardized ways of representing what happened in the laboratory, teachers do not have standardized ways of representing what happened in a lesson. We can use things like student work, but then we do not have standard ways of interpreting these. Some teachers will look at student work with a right/wrong lens, while others will want to understand a students’ thinking.

At the same time, one of the advantages of working in a school-based teacher community is that your colleagues are close by: they know your administrators, they know your community, they know your students. You don’t have to explain those things to them, which makes the description part of sharing a little easier.

Observation 2: Typical teacher collaborative talk does not support deep professional learning. When I have analyzed the learning opportunities in teachers’ conversations, I have looked at two things:

(1) what conceptual resources are being developed as teachers talk about instructional problems, and

(2) how are these connected to their future work.

Most teacher collaborative talk does not offer much in the way of professional learning.

For example, most teachers plan together by organizing a pacing calendar. They will say things like, “The book says 7.1 will take 1 day, but with our kids we’ll need 2.”

In this case, the opportunities to learn are thin. We don’t know what the math content is, we don’t know why we need two days, and we don’t know how that extra time will be used.

In contrast, if teachers plan by building on students’ thinking, their talk may sound different. They will say things like, “Our kids freeze when we do fractions. Let’s just focus on these problems as rates of change. We can show them on the graph how this is change over time, like, “for every 5 seconds, the car moves 10 feet.'”

In this case, concepts are developed about who the students are, what their experiences of math are, and what instruction might look like to keep them engaged and develop their mathematical understanding. These concepts are directly linked to what the teachers will do next in their classrooms.

MTBoS Challenges:

Regarding Observation 1: In some ways, the bloggy/tweety teachers have overcome some of the limitations of school-based teacher community by finding like-minded folks online. They have found their kindred spirits to share with. This is awesome and overcomes some of the limitations of traditional collaboration. Also, the MTBoS are typically tech savvy. I have been impressed with the ways they manage to represent their classrooms through samples of student work, lesson plans, photos of their classrooms with kids doing things. But, other details of our teaching situations –– the tetchy administrator, the new curriculum policy –– are not as readily available.

Is this an issue? How much does this limit what teachers can learn together online?

Regarding Observation 2: I have seen so many impressive exchanges among teachers in the MTBoS. Most of these have focused on dissecting mathematical content, sharing rich activities, and refining instructional language. It seems harder to share about the particulars of students and their thinking because those are so much more specific to people’s schools.

Is it possible to hit the sweet spot of professional learning –– to develop concepts about the interrelationships among students, teaching, and mathematics  –– through online interactions?

The Calm of Experience

This is a story of my own learning as a teacher.

During my student teaching, I particularly struggled with a boy I will call Aidan. He was a gloomy 7th grader, a social isolate with no particular sense of humor who regularly antagonized other students.

One day, when I was patrolling the hallways between classes, Aidan rolled by a row of lockers on his Heely’s, elbowing several girls along the way. Because I did not have much empathy for the child to begin with, this incident angered me, perhaps more than it should have.

I brought him to the Head of School’s office, ready for him to get his just desserts. After I relayed what I had witnessed to Teacher Celia (her real name — she deserves all the praise I am about to give her), she turned to Aidan with a calm look on her face.

“Aidan, is what Teacher Lani* said accurate?”

Aidan looked at his lap and reluctantly nodded.

“Can you see what the problems are with what you just did?”

Aidan was quiet. She waited, watching him intently.

After a pause that was longer than anything my 21 year-old self would have had the patience to endure, he looked up at her sheepishly.

“Well, yeah.”

In the remainder of the interaction, Aidan admitted to his poor judgment in both wearing Heely’s at school and elbowing the girls. He and Teacher Celia agreed to the consequences.

I no longer recall what they worked out, since I was so dazzled by her calm, accepting presence. I remember that it seemed measured and fair, giving Aidan an opportunity to repair his relationship with his peers and learn from his mistake.

Why am I writing about this now?

I have two reasons.

First, we are in an era that thinks that just because you learn so much about teaching on the job, there are those who would simply put new teachers in the classroom without much student teaching or mentoring.

Watching Teacher Celia with Aidan helped me see that I needed to move past identifying with the elbowed girls and reacting to Aidan as an annoying boy. I needed to figure out how to be his teacher too. Teacher Celia’s poise and humanity in dealing with him became my go-to image when I dealt with a child who I struggled with. I did not spend a lot of time with administrators in my own career as a student, so seeing the right way to handle misbehavior was critical to my own development.

Second, I am concerned that we are normalizing teacher turnover so that the calm presence of experience has become a rarity in many schools. Estimates of teacher turnover in the first five years range from 30% to 50%, with the rates being even higher among TFA teachers (about 80% leave after 3 years). The burdens of turnover are high, impacting everything from achievement to the cost of staffing and retraining.

I think there is another cost to turnover that involves the social well-being of children. When I see the disciplinary statistics in schools, I wonder if the calm wisdom of experience exists on the most afflicted campuses. Aidan was lucky that Teacher Celia was the go-to for the consequences of his misbehavior and that his discipline was not left to me. She was measured, whereas I surely would have been more reactive. Likewise, in the second school I taught at, we had an administrator with the same matter-of-fact calm when dealing with behavior issues; I was always grateful when children in my class had last names that fell in the first third of the alphabet so we could sort things through with her. I could trust her to preserve the student’s and my own humanity and help us arrive at a reasonable solution.

I am not trying to romanticize experience or say that all veteran teachers share this wisdom. However, I do think it is easier to muster a calm perspective when dealing with students from the vantage point of experience. This calm is certainly a rarity in barely-mentored newbies. I believe that the first year of teaching is often so difficult, in part, due to the steep learning curve and constant novelty of high stakes situations. As experience accrues, these situations become more manageable and teachers’ reactivity diminishes. But if we continuously staff our schools with minimally mentored novices, we take away an important resource from children and their development.


* This student teaching placement was in a Quaker school, where teachers are called “Teacher [First Name]”, showing respect and familiarity.

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.