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  • Teaching = Thinking + Relationship

    by Bryan Mascio on May 5, 2015

    Our guest author today is Bryan Mascio, who taught for over ten years in New Hampshire, primarily working with students who had been unsuccessful in traditional school settings. Bryan is now a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he conducts research on the cognitive aspects of teaching, and works with schools to support teachers in improving relationships with their students.

    Before I became a teacher I worked as a caretaker for a wide variety of animals. Transitioning from one profession to the other was quite instructive. When I trained dogs, for example, it was straightforward: When the dog sat on command I would give him praise and a treat. After enough training, anyone else could give the command and the dog would perform just as well and as predictably. When I worked with students, on the other hand, it was far more complex – we worked together in a relationship, with give and take as they learned and grew.  Regrettably, when I look at how we train teachers today, it reminds me more of my first profession than my second.

    Teaching is far more than a mechanized set of actions. Our most masterful teachers aren’t just following scripts or using pre-packaged curricula. They are tailoring lessons, making professional judgments, and forging deep bonds with students – all of which is far more difficult to see or understand.  Teaching is a cognitive skill that has human relationships at its center. Unfortunately, we typically don't view teaching this way in the United States. As a result, we usually don't prepare teachers like (or for) this, we don’t evaluate them like this, and we don’t even study them like this. In our public discussion of education, we typically frame teaching as a collection of behaviors, and teachers as though they are simply technicians.  This doesn’t just create a demoralized workforce; it also leaves students in the care of well-meaning and hard-working teachers who are, nonetheless, largely unable to meet their students' individual needs – due either to lack of preparation for, or mandates that prevent, meeting them.

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  • In Defense Of The Public Square

    by Leo Casey on April 30, 2015

    A robust and vibrant public square is an essential foundation of democracy. It is the place where the important public issues of the day are subject to free and open debate, and where our ideas of what is in the public interest take shape. It is the ground upon which communities and associations are organized to advocate for policies that promote that public interest. It is the site for the provision of essential public goods, from education and healthcare to safety and mass transportation. It is the terrain upon which the centralizing and homogenizing power of both the state and the market are checked and balanced. It is the economic arena with the means to control the market’s tendencies toward polarizing economic inequality and cycles of boom and bust. It is the site of economic opportunity for historically excluded groups such as African-Americans and Latinos.

    And yet in America today, the public square is under extraordinary attack. A flood of unregulated, unaccountable money in our politics and media threatens to drown public debate and ravage our civic life, overwhelming authentic conceptions of the public interest. Decades of growing economic inequality menaces the very public institutions with the capacity to promote greater economic and social equality. Unprecedented efforts to privatize essential public goods and public services are underway. Teachers, nurses and other public servants who deliver those public goods are the object of vilification from the political right, and their rights in the workplace are in danger. Legislative and judicial efforts designed to eviscerate public sector unions are ongoing.

    In response to these developments, a consortium of seven organizations—the Albert Shanker Institute; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; the American Prospect; Dissent; Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor; and the Service Employees International Union—has organized a to bring together prominent elected officials, public intellectuals, and union, business and civil rights leaders “in defense of the public square.”

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Verbal Ability As The Key To Learning

    by Shanker Institute Staff on April 30, 2015

    We found this 1974 Al Shanker New York Times column to be of interest, both in terms of current debates over variations in "opportunity to learn" and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and in regard to recent research on the importance of oral language development in early childhood (see here for more); we hope you agree. 

    It is regrettable that the important work being done by the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement has received such scant notice, not only in the media but in educational circles as well. It deserves better. Founded in 1959, IEA is an organization of 22 national education research centers whose basic purpose, through use of tests, surveys, questionnaires and other methods, is to develop generalizations for education throughout the world. It has done studies of achievement in mathematics, science, reading comprehension, civic education and foreign languages.

    A good summary of the findings of recent IEA research is provided by Benjamin S. Bloom, Professor of Education at the University of Chicago and one of the founding members of the Association, in his article, "Implications of the IEA Studies for Curriculum and Instruction," in the May 1974 issue of the University of Chicago School Review. Bloom, to begin with, sees as a salient virtue of IEA research that its methods have been developed for the specific purpose of international comparison. In previous cross-national studies, he observes, "the evaluation instruments developed in one country typically showed that country to be superior to the other countries included in the study." The procedures which IEA has helped develop avoid such bias. The IEA studies, Bloom reports, reveal that there are vast educational differences between countries. "If school marks were assigned in the various nations on the basis of the highest nation's standards (where perhaps the lowest fifth might be regarded as failing), then almost 50 percent of the students in the lowest scoring of the developed countries would fail but about 85 percent of the students in the average developing nation would fail." In terms of grade norms, "it is evident that the attainment obtained in one year of schooling in the highest nation requires one and one-half or two years of schooling in the less favored nations. To put it in terms of time and human resources spent, it may cost twice as much for a particular level of learning in one place as it does in another."

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  • The Persistence Of School And Residential Segregation

    by Matthew Di Carlo on April 24, 2015

    School segregation is a frequent topic of discussion in U.S. education policy debates, and rightfully so (Orfield et al. 2014). The segregation of schools by race, ethnicity and income both reflects and perpetuates inequitable opportunities in the U.S. (e.g., Reardon and Bischoff 2011a; Kaufman and Rosenbaum 1992).

    Needless to say, school segregation, within and between districts, is primarily a function of residential segregation – the spatial isolation of individuals and families by characteristics such as race, ethnicity, income, language, education, etc. There are several different ways to measure segregation, since it can be gauged by different traits (e.g., income, ethnicity), and at different levels – e.g., state, county, city, neighborhood, etc. The choices of variables can have a substantial impact on the conclusions one draws about segregation's levels and trends (Reardon and Owens 2014). One generalization, though, is in order: In the U.S., we have tended to gravitate toward “our own kind,” whether in terms of income or race and ethnicity. This disquieting reality is neither accidental nor mostly the result of individual preferences. In addition to the obvious historical causes (e.g., Jim Crow), segregation arises and is perpetuated by a complex mix of (often institutionalized) factors, such as the spatial patterning of housing costs, density zoning, “steering,” “redlining,” overt discrimination, etc. (e.g., Ondrich et al. 2002). And, finally, there is the stark fact that the nation's poor have very few choices in terms of housing and neighborhood, and many of those choices they do have are bad ones.

    That said, it bears keeping in mind that the majority of families and individuals in America do indeed have the means to make meaningful choices about where and how they live, and even those who desire to live in an integrated neighborhood also weigh many other, meaningful factors – such as housing costs, convenience to stores and transportation, crime rates, schooling options, and so on. There is some evidence of progress in residential (e.g., Ellen et al. 2012) and school integration (e.g., Stroub and Richards 2013) by race and ethnicity, but increasing segregation by income (e.g., Reardon and Bischoff 2011b) Nevertheless, on the whole, integration tends to be unstable, while segregation tends to be more persistent.

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  • Measurement And Incentives In The USED Teacher Preparation Regulations

    by Matthew Di Carlo on April 22, 2015

    Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released a set of regulations, the primary purpose of which is to require states to design formal systems of accountability for teacher preparation (TP) programs. Specifically, states are required to evaluate annually the programs operating within their boundaries, and assign performance ratings. Importantly, the regulations specify that programs receiving low ratings should face possible consequences, such as the loss of federal funding.

    The USED regulations on TP accountability put forth several outcomes that states are to employ in their ratings, including: Student outcomes (e.g., test-based effectiveness of graduates); employment outcomes (e.g., placement/retention); and surveys (e.g., satisfaction among graduates/employers). USED proposes that states have their initial designs completed by the end of this year, and start generating ratings in 2017-18.

    As was the case with the previous generation of teacher evaluations, teacher preparation is an area in which there is widespread agreement about the need for improvement. And formal high stakes accountability systems can (even should) be a part of that at some point. Right now, however, requiring all states to begin assigning performance ratings to schools, and imposing high stakes accountability for those ratings within a few years, is premature. The available measures have very serious problems, and the research on them is in its relative infancy. If we cannot reliably distinguish between programs in terms of their effectiveness, it is ill-advised to hold them formally accountable for that effectiveness. The primary rationale for the current focus on teacher quality and evaluations was established over decades of good research. We are nowhere near that point for TP programs. This is one of those circumstances in which the familiar refrain of “it’s imperfect but better than nothing” is false, and potentially dangerous.

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  • Is The Social Side Of Education Touchy Feely?

    by Esther Quintero on April 16, 2015

    That's right, measuring social and organizational aspects of schools is just... well, "touchy feely." We all intuitively grasp that social relations are important in our work environments, that having mentors on the job can make a world of difference, that knowing how to work with colleagues matters to the quality of the end product, that innovation and improvement relies on the sharing of ideas, that having a good relationship with supervisors influences both engagement and performance, and so on.

    I could go on, but I don't have to; we all just know these things. But is there hard evidence, other than common sense and our personal experiences? Behaviors such as collaboration and interaction or qualities like trust are difficult to quantify. In the end, is it possible that they are just 'soft' and that, even if they’re important (and they are), they just don't belong in policy conversations?

    Wrong.

    In this post, I review three distinct methodological approaches that researchers have used to understand social-organizational aspects of schools. Specifically, I selected studies that examine the relationship between aspects of teachers' social-organizational environments and their students' achievement growth. I focus both on the methods and on the substantive findings. This is because I think some basic sense of how researchers look at complex constructs like trust or collegiality can deepen our understanding of this work and lead us to embrace its implications for policy and practice more fully.

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  • Broadening The Educational Capability Conversation: Leveraging The Social Dimension

    by James P. Spillane on April 15, 2015

    Our guest author today is James P. Spillane, Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Spillane has published extensively on issues of education policy, policy implementation, school reform, and school leadership. His most recent books are Distributed Leadership in Practice and Diagnosis and Design for School Improvement. Learn more about Spillane's work at www.distributedleadership.org.

    We are well into a new century – 15 years and counting! Yet, we continue to fixate on last century notions about human capability. Specifically, we still dwell mostly on the individual teacher or school leader, on investing in and developing their individual human capital so as to improve their productivity and in turn generating higher returns to the individual, school organization, school system, and society. The empirical evidence has established educational professionals' human capital is undoubtedly important for school and school-system productivity.* At the same time, however, by fixating primarily on human capital, we miss or undermine the significance and potential of social capital.

    Social capital captures the idea that capability (and by extension productivity) is not simply an individual matter but also a social matter. In other words, in addition to individual capability, there are (often untapped) resources that reside in the relations among people within organizations, systems, or society – a social capability. These social relations can be a source of and a channel for crucial resources such as trust, information, expertise, materials, security, obligation, incentives, and so on - see Bryk & Schneider 2002; Coburn 2001; Daly, Moolenaar, Bolivar, & Burke 2010; Frank, Zhao, & Borman 2004; Frank, Zhao, Penuel, Ellefson, & Porter 2011; Louis, Marks, & Kruse 1996; Moolenaar, Karsten, Sleegers, & Daly 2014. In a given system or organization, social capital is much more than the aggregate of members' human capital.

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  • Teacher Turnover At Success Academy Charter Schools

    by Matthew Di Carlo on April 9, 2015

    A recent New York Times article about the Success Academies, a large chain of New York City charter schools, focuses a great deal on the long working hours and heavy stress faced by teachers at these schools. The article reports that three Success Academy (SA) schools had teacher turnover rates above 50 percent. Officials from the network, however, dispute these figures, which they say are inflated by the fact that many teachers who leave SA schools simply transfer to other SA schools (i.e., they are counted falsely as leaving SA when they are in fact staying within the network).

    In fact, SA officials claim that, when one account for these intra-network transfers, their true turnover rate across all their schools ("attrition from the network," in the article) between June 2013 and June 2014 was 17 percent, which is far lower than many critics suggest. Now, on the one hand, these ongoing debates about teacher turnover at SA schools, which have been occurring regularly for years, are a little strange. It is clear that SA teachers work unusually long hours in high stress, tightly regulated environments, and do so for salaries that are lower than those offered by most other professional jobs with similar working conditions. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that turnover would be high; indeed, high teacher churn, like student mobility, is in many respects part of the model of schools such as the Success Academies (and, of course, some turnover, such as that among poorly performing teachers or those who are not a good fit for their schools, can be beneficial).

    On the other hand, however, SA officials are making an empirical claim about turnover at their schools, one that includes an interesting and somewhat unusual angle (intra-network mobility). And this claim is very easy to examine with teacher-level data that we happen to have available via a public records request. So, let’s take a quick look at turnover at SA between 2012-13 and 2013-14 (the latest year-to-year transition we have).

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  • Charter Schools, Special Education Students, And Test-Based Accountability

    by Matthew Di Carlo on April 7, 2015

    Opponents often argue that charter schools tend to serve a disproportionately low number of special education students. And, while there may be exceptions and certainly a great deal of variation, that argument is essentially accurate. Regardless of why this is the case (and there is plenty of contentious debate about that), some charter school supporters have acknowledged that it may be a problem insofar as charters are viewed as a large scale alternative to regular public schools.

    For example, Robin Lake, writing for the Center for Reinventing Public Education, takes issue with her fellow charter supporters who assert that “we cannot expect every school to be all things to every child.” She argues instead that schools, regardless of their governance structures, should never “send the soft message that kids with significant differences are not welcome,” or treat them as if “they are somebody else’s problem.” Rather, Ms. Lake calls upon charter school operators to take up the banner of serving the most vulnerable and challenging students and “work for systemic special education solutions.”

    These are, needless to say, noble thoughts, with which many charter opponents and supporters can agree. Still, there is a somewhat more technocratic but perhaps more actionable issue lurking beneath the surface here: Put simply, until test-based accountability systems in the U.S. are redesigned such that they stop penalizing schools for the students they serve, rather than their effectiveness in serving those students, there will be a rather strong disincentive for charters to focus aggressively on serving special education students. Moreover, whatever accountability disadvantage may be faced by regular public schools that serve higher proportions of special education students pales in comparison with that faced by all schools, charter and regular public, located in higher-poverty areas. In this sense, then, addressing this problem is something that charter supporters and opponents should be doing together.

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  • The Edu-CAT-ion Policy Glossary: Feline Edition

    by Victoria Thomas on April 1, 2015

    We realize that Edu-CAT-ion Reform can be very confusing.

    So, with the help of many beautiful cats that were rescued by and adopted from the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center, the Montgomery County Humane Society and the Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County, we have compiled a list of common terms with illustrations to make them more under-CAT-able.

    Please consider adopting one of the wonderful pets available at your local shelter.

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