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Guest Posts

  • Share My Lesson: The Imperative Of Our Profession

    Written on July 5, 2012

    Leo Casey, UFT vice president for academic high schools, will succeed Eugenia Kemble as executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, effective this fall.

    "You want me to teach this stuff, but I don't have the stuff to teach." So opens "Lost at Sea: New Teachers' Experiences with Curriculum and Assessment," a 2002 paper by Harvard University researchers about the plight of new teachers trying to learn the craft of teaching in the face of insubstantial curriculum frameworks and inadequate instructional materials.

    David Kauffman, Susan Moore Johnson and colleagues interviewed a diverse collection of first- and second-year teachers in Massachusetts who reported that, despite state academic standards widely acknowledged to be some of the best in the country, they received “little or no guidance about what to teach or how to teach it. Left to their own devices they struggled day to day to prepare content and materials. The standards and accountability environment created a sense of urgency for these teachers but did not provide them with the support they needed."

    I found myself thinking about this recently when I realized that, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, new teachers won’t be the only ones in this boat. Much of the country is on a fast-track toward implementation, but with little thought about how to provide teachers with the “stuff” – aligned professional development, curriculum frameworks, model lesson plans, quality student materials, formative assessments, and so on – that they will need to implement the standards well.

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  • Reviving Labor After Wisconsin: Unions Need A New Approach Emphasizing Civil Rights

    Written on June 11, 2012

    Our guest authors today are Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, and Moshe Z. Marvit, a civil rights attorney. They are authors of the book Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy By Enhancing Worker Voice.

    Conservatives are calling the failure of public sector unions to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker labor’s “Waterloo.”  Just as private sector unionism has declined from a third of the workforce in the 1950s to less than 7 percent today, Charles Krauthammer writes in the Washington Post, “Tuesday, June 5, 2012, will be remembered as the beginning of the long decline of the public-sector union."

    This forecast seems an exercise in hyperbole (many voters don’t think recall elections are an appropriate response to policy disputes) but the setback for labor was indeed serious.  One of the lessons of Wisconsin is that if public sector unions want to survive, they need to find ways to help revive trade unionism in the private sector.

    The fates of the two sectors are deeply intertwined.

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  • Staff Matters: Social Resilience In Schools

    Written on May 7, 2012

    In the world of education, particularly in the United States, educational fads, policy agendas, and funding priorities tend to change rapidly. The attention of education research fluctuates accordingly. And, as David Cohen persuasively argues in Teaching and Its Predicaments, the nation has little coherent educational infrastructure to fall back upon. As a result of all this, teachers’ work is almost always surrounded by important levels of uncertainty (e.g., lack of a common curricula) and variation. In such a context, it is no surprise that collaboration and collegiality figure prominently in teachers’ world (and work) views.

    After all, difficulties can be dealt with more effectively when/if individuals are situated in supportive and close-knit social networks from which to draw strength and resources. In other words, in the absence of other forms of stability, the ability of a group – a group of teachers in this case – to work together becomes indispensable to cope with challenges and change.

    The idea that teachers’ jobs are surrounded by uncertainty made me of think problems often encountered in the field of security. In this sector, because threats are increasingly complex and unpredictable, much of the focus has shifted away from heightened protection and toward increased resilience. Resilience is often understood as the ability of communities to survive and thrive after disasters or emergencies.

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  • Jobs And Freedom: Why Labor Organizing Should Be A Civil Right

    Written on April 13, 2012

    Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman Hill, staff coordinator of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma Hill, a former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is also the former civil and human rights director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They are currently working on a memoir, entitled Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain.

    Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit have done a great service by writing Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice, an important work with the potential to become the basis for a strong coalition on behalf of civil rights, racial equality and economic justice.

    In the United States, worker rights and civil rights have a deep and historic connection. What is slavery, after all, if not the abuse of worker rights taken to its ultimate extreme? A. Philip Randolph, the founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, recognized this link and, as far back as the 1920s, spoke passionately about the need for a black-labor alliance. Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, Randolph’s protégé and an adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., joined his mentor as a forceful, early advocate for a black-labor coalition.

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  • The ‘Snob’ Debate: Making High School Matter For Non-College-Bound Students

    Written on March 7, 2012

    Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

    The current debate about “college for all” centers on a recent speech made by President Obama in Troy, MI, in which he argued that all young people should get at least some post-high school education or training. Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, in a misreading of Obama’s remarks, responded with a focus on four-year degrees alone—suggesting, among other things, that four-year college degrees are overrated and that the president’s emphasis on college devalued working people without such degrees. The political chatter around this particular back-and-forth continues, but the issue of “college for all” has rightly raised some serious issues about the content and direction of U.S. education policy both at the high school and post-secondary levels.

    Statistics seem to show that the college-educated  graduates of four-year institutions earn more money and experience less unemployment than their non-college-educated peers. This has fueled the argument is that college is the surest path—perhaps the only path—into the middle class. But the argument confuses correlation with causality. What if every U.S. citizen obtained a community college or university degree? Would that really do anything to alter wage rates at Starbucks, or increase salaries for home healthcare aides (an occupation projected to enjoy the highest demand over the next decade)? Of course not.

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  • Apprenticeships: A Rigorous And Tested Training Model For Workers And Management

    Written on March 1, 2012

    Our guest author today is Robert I. Lerman, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute and Professor of Economics at American University. Professor Lerman conducts research and policy analyses on employment, income support and youth development, especially as they affect low-income populations. He served on the National Academy of Sciences panel examining the U.S. post-secondary education and training system for the workplace.

     

    In a recent Washington Post article, Peter Whoriskey points out the striking paradox of serious worker shortages at a time of high unemployment.  His analysis is one of many indicating the difficulties faced by manufacturing firms in hiring enough workers with adequate occupational skills.  As a result, many firms are having serious problems meeting the demand for their products, putting on long shifts, and turning down orders.

    The article cites a survey of manufacturers indicating that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.  The skilled jobs going begging include machinists, welders, and machine operators -- jobs that pay good wages.  So what happened?

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  • Public Schools Create Citizens In A Democratic Society

    Written on February 22, 2012

    Our guest author today is Jeffrey Mirel, Professor of Education and History at the University of Michigan.  His book, Patriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants, published in 2010 by Harvard University Press, is available in bookstores and online.

    How do you get people who hate each other learn to resolve their differences democratically? How do you get them to believe in ballots not bullets?

    What if the answer is “public schools” and the evidence for it is in our own history during the first half of the twentieth century?

    In the years spanning about 1890-1930, two institutions—public schools and the foreign language press—helped generate this trust among the massive wave of eastern and southern European immigrants who came to the U.S. during that time. This is not a traditional “melting pot” story but rather an examination of a dynamic educational process.

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  • Getting Ready For The Common Core

    Written on January 30, 2012

    Our guest author today, Susan B. Neuman, is a professor in Educational Studies at the University of Michigan specializing in early literacy development and a former U.S. Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education. She and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have also partnered with the Albert Shanker Institute in sponsoring a summer institute for early childhood educators, focusing specifically on oral language development and the ways it can support and help build strong content knowledge. For more information, see here.

    States are now working intently on developing plans that will make new, common standards a reality. A recent report from Education First and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center concludes that that all but one of the 47 states adopting the Common Core State Standards is now in the implementation phase. Seven states have fully upgraded professional development, curriculum materials, and evaluation systems in preparation for the 2014-2015 school year.

    Nary a word has been spoken about how to prepare teachers to implement common standards appropriately in the early childhood years. Although the emphasis on content-rich instruction in ways that builds knowledge is an important one, standards groups have virtually ignored the early years when these critical skills first begin to develop.

    Young children are eager to learn about the sciences, arts, and the world around them. And, as many early childhood teachers recognize, we need to provide content-rich instruction that is both developmentally appropriate and highly engaging to support students' learning.

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  • Beyond Anecdotes: The Evidence About Financial Incentives And Teacher Retention

    Written on January 12, 2012

    ** Also posted here on "Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet" in the Washington Post

    Our guest author today is Eleanor Fulbeck, who earned her Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011, and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

    A couple of weeks ago, an article in the New York Times, written by reporter Sam Dillon, took a look at the new incentive program being used by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Under this plan (called “Impact Plus”), teachers rated “highly effective” by the district’s new evaluation system are eligible for large cash bonuses and/or permanent salary increases.

    Dillon notes that, “The profession is notorious for losing thousands of its brightest young teachers within a few years, which many experts attribute to low starting salaries and a traditional step-raise structure that rewards years of service and academic degrees rather than success in the classroom." He also profiles several teachers who received the bonuses, most of whom say it played a role in their decision to remain in the classroom.

    Putting aside these anecdotes and characterizations of “experts’” views, the idea that financial incentives – such as bonuses for performance or teaching in hard-to-staff schools – is a key to boosting teacher retention is a complex empirical question, and an open one at that.

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  • Teacher Retention: Estimating The Effects Of Financial Incentives In Denver

    Written on January 3, 2012

    Our guest author today is Eleanor Fulbeck, who earned her Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011, and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

    There is currently much interest in improving access to high-quality teachers (Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2010; Hanushek, 2007) through improved recruitment and retention. Prior research has shown that it is difficult to retain teachers, particularly in high-poverty schools (Boyd et al., 2011; Ingersoll, 2004). Although there is no one reason for this difficulty, there is some evidence to suggest teachers may leave certain schools or the profession in part because of dissatisfaction with low salaries (Ingersoll, 2001).

    Thus, it is possible that by offering teachers financial incentives, whether in the form of alternative compensation systems or standalone bonuses, they would become more satisfied with their jobs and retention would increase. As of yet, however, support for this approach has not been grounded in empirical research.

    Denver’s Professional Compensation System for Teachers ("ProComp") is one of the most prominent alternative teacher compensation reforms in the nation.* Via a combination of ten financial incentives, ProComp seeks to increase student achievement by motivating teachers to improve their instructional practices and by attracting and retaining high-quality teachers to work in the district.

    My research examines ProComp in terms of: 1) whether it has increased retention rates; 2) the relationship between retention and school quality (defined in terms of student test score growth); and 3) the reasons underlying these effects. I pay special attention to the effects of ProComp on schools that serve high concentrations of poor students – “Hard to Serve” (HTS) schools where teachers are eligible to receive a financial incentive to stay. The quantitative findings are discussed briefly below (I will discuss my other results in a future post).

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