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May 31, 2011

Comments

Thanks for this post, Dana. I, too, saw the NCEE report and wondered if our most influential powers-that-be will take note. A few weeks back I wrote a related piece on my own blog, titled "What Joel Klein Doesn't Understand About Teaching . . . & What We Should Do Instead." The recs I share are from my former organization, The Forum for Education & Democracy, but, really, they are the core recommendations that Linda Darling-Hammond has been advocating for some time, and that she based largely on a close evaluation of the countries profiled in the NCEE report. In other words, it ain't rocket science, but it does require some actual dot-connecting, as opposed to the runaway train that is the current education reform movement.

Great post. As I've mentioned before at OE, Canada would be my first choice if we had to choose an international model but these examples are still highly instructive.

Thanks, Mark! Check out the entire NCEE report. It concludes with a discussion of how Ontario has reformed teaching in the sort of piecemeal way the NCEE believes would be realistic in American states.

Thanks, Sam! I really liked your essay. I agree completely about the bizarre "hero-villain" binary going on in the teacher debate. Here's the link for those who are interested:

http://www.samchaltain.com/what-joel-klein-doesnt-understand-about-teaching-and-what-we-should-do-instead

Dana, I like alot of your writing about education, but I think this post greatly mischaracterizes the professional development that Teach For America provides its corps members. After reading Dana Goldstein's description of the report from the National Center for Education and the Economy actually leads me to conclude that the U.S. could use more TFA not less.

I just finished my second year of Teach For America in the Mississippi Delta and am going to be teaching for a third year (if not more). TFA's Professional development does not stop after the five week summer institute but continues throughout the CMs two year teaching commitment. Program Directors, former teachers who have demonstrated success teaching in low income schools, observe and advise CMs. Program Directors are very similar to mentors. The two PDs I had my two years with TFA provided much better feedback or support than either my district appointed mentor, who was a retired teacher, or my principal.

This is not to say that TFA's professional development is perfect. There are definitely places it could improve. But TFA is working to make that improvement, devoting a large amount of time and energy to improving the support it provides.

Also TFA places many math and science majors in the classroom who otherwise would not have gone into teaching. This focus on recruiting teachers with strong math and science backgrounds is similar to what is being done in China.

While TFA is clearly a different program of teacher recruitment and training from those in Finland and China, there are also similarities that can be found.

Hi Josh,
Thanks so much for your comment. Of course, TFA is certainly capable of producing great teachers. The larger point I'm making is that TFA's model -- bringing a very small group of elite college grads into teaching for a limited term engagement -- will not systemically improve the larger teacher corps. To do that, we will need to improve the teacher pipeline and professional development experience for all teachers, the great majority of whom will continue to come out of education programs, at least for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, there are teachers who should be removed, which means that there needs to be improved evaluation procedures. Placing stricter initial certification rules in place won't get that job done.

It is true that real evaluation, consisting of more observations and time spent by supervisors, is expensive than student testing, but it is the best way to improve the overall quality of working teachers.

Dana, I appreciate your acknowledgement that the most significant influences on academic achievement, by far, are the familial and socioeconomic factors that occur outside the classroom.

That said, we are beating a dead horse with all this debate about "reform" (and missing the point).

Any truly effective reform must address the growing wealth gap in our society. Demanding that teachers do more, work harder, or make do with less, not only will have only negligible benefits for children (if any), they continue to let the rest of society (particularly the wealthy) off the hook. Indeed, the entire reform debate is a deliberate distraction from the fact that public funding of education has been declining at the same time that tax rates on corporations and the wealthy have been declining.

Furthermore, the only reason that education reform has become such a hot button topic is that billionaires (like Gates, Broad, and the Waltons) have pumped so much money into charter schools, administrator training camps, think tanks and lobbying, while numerous other rich people, like the McGraws, have purchased government giveaways, like NCLB, with their lavish support of politicians.

Dana,

Excellent points. At a forum to release the NCEE report, Mari Koerner, the dean of the school of education at Arizona State, said the most important difference between other countries and the US is that other countries are much more selective in determining who gets into teacher education. Based on her experience with TFA corps members (Arizona State has a arrangement with TFA where TFA members can get a masters at the university while teaching), more able students would not put up with the kind of education most institutions provide--nor would they put up with paternalistic unions, she suggested.

You can find more about teacher policies in high performing systems in this report: http://all4ed.org/files/TeacherLeaderEffectivenessReport.pdf

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Shanghai's not the way to go. I'm currently in China working as a University instructor, and they're very unhappy with the system. From their point of view, they're just teaching children to take tests -- but not to think. In the long run, my colleagues believe that's going to make the Chinese economy uncompetitive and fall into the middle income trap. Moreover, they know that most of the test scores are due to cheating from students, teachers, AND principles. After all, everyone wins, so why blow the whistle? (In fact, I know people who have been overruled when they tried to punish cheating students.)

Follow Finland.

This article may describe the Finnish system accurately but I don't think it describes the Chinese system accurately at all. The Chinese system absolutely does emphasize test taking above everything else, far more than the American system.

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