The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, Chapter 4
Reinventing the Education Profession
The Trouble with Educators
Teacher Preparation: Teacher preparation programs are terrible because the required classes are irrelevant to teaching, and students don’t get useful feedback on their lessons or performance. Education school faculties don’t understand the current challenges in schools.
Administrative Preparation: Future administrators are not taught how to be change leaders or even how to effectively supervise teachers. Programs appear to be a random collection of courses.
“What one has to do to become certified as a teacher or administrator is nearly identical to what students have to do for a high school diploma—take a disjointed collection of courses of uneven quality and the pass tests that rarely measure the skills that matter most.”
Teaching Practice: No one in schools has the time to help new teachers. Evaluation of teaching is poorly constructed with periodic 10-minute visits and later discussions about what was observed. Evaluation forms–checklists (‘satisfactory’ or ‘needs improvement’)–don’t help teachers improve or even know what they should be working on. Lousy preparation causes ‘teacher dropout,’ often within five years. The national cost of this dropout is seven billion dollars annually.
Administrative Practice: Too much time is consumed in day-to-day management, leaving no time or energy for working on what is happening in the classroom.
Wagner finds that his own teaching and administration was trial and error. He did a lot well, but he didn’t understand why it went well and couldn’t articulate what he was doing right.
Through personal experience and working with teachers, Wagner has found that:
· Districts must limit their priorities and think about their “theory of action”—think systemically and use questions such as ‘What is the real problem you’re trying to solve, and how do you know it’s the most important problem you should be working on?’ They need to ask questions about strategy and accountability.
· Sometimes superintendents have their personal ‘babies’ (projects) and everyone is afraid to tell them why there are issues/problems with it. Since schools and districts are run through ‘top-down’ management, these bad ideas become runaway trains.
· In addition, though teachers will agree on the goal (improve student learning), they don’t agree on the methods, even judging lessons as effective or ineffective with no set criteria.
Wagner argues for a fix:
To make teacher and administrative preparation meaningful, teacher preparation should be more like business, law, or medical school with case studies, more mentoring, and hands-on experience. The Ed.D. degree should be replaced with the equivalent of an MBA for school administrators. (Some examples of current change in administration programs are given.)
An example of good performance-based assessment is found in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). A Pennsylvania State Department of Education study found that impact of NBCTs include:
· Students score 7-15 percentage points higher on year-end tests and NBCTs are more effective with minority students; NBCTs’ students surpass students of non-NBCT in three-quarters of all comparisons and gains are equivalent to spending an extra month in school.
· Math NBCTs helped 9th and 10th grade students achieve larger testing gains and were particularly beneficial to special-needs, African American and Hispanic students.
· Students of NBCTs exhibited deep learning outcomes more frequently.
States should require teachers to update portfolios (NBCT-style) to keep their licenses.
Teachers should have regular critiques of their performance.
Worry over issues of teacher autonomy and tenure should be funneled into union negotiations for changes in working conditions, as well as better compensation, evaluation and promotion.
A study of 25 highest-performing school systems in the world (measured by the PISA tests) shows that three things matter:
· Get the right people to become teachers
· Develop them into effective instructors
· Ensure that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.
There should be an equivalent to NBCT for administrators.
The Trouble with Educational Culture
The culture of education must change as educators are profoundly isolated. Traditionally, people who choose to be educators like to hone their skills, work alone, and value security and continuity above change and challenge.
Authority and accountability is top-down and creates a culture of compliance (which some teachers give lip service to and then do whatever they want in their classrooms).
Bad teachers exist not because of tenure and unions (Wagner has experience with private schools without those) but because educators are extremely reluctant to criticize one another, and administrators have no idea how to evaluate teachers anyway.
Policymakers must be willing to fund a different and more expensive system of training and professional development for teachers. The example of Japanese teachers is given: half of the day is spent teaching, the other half working with colleagues on planning and perfecting lessons.
“Teachers and administrators, working alone all day every day, cannot possibly meet the new demands for improvement that are being thrust upon them with increasing urgency from all sides.”
“Isolation is the enemy of improvement” (Anthony Alvarado as quoted by Wagner).
“What we don’t know yet is whether American taxpayers and our government care enough about the future to pay educators a more professional wage and to provide them with the working conditions they need to succeed: smaller classes, teachers organized into teams with shared responsibility for groups of students, more effective coaching for continuous improvement, better and more frequent local assessments of students’ progress, and more time to work and learn with colleagues.”
How then do we improve instruction?
· First, make the classroom walls transparent. “I truly believe that viewing and discussing videos of teaching and supervision is the single most effective strategy for improving instruction for all schools.”
· Second, have a clear definition of rigor.
· Next, let go of “the outdated, compliance-based ‘command-and-control’ mindset that still seems to characterize many of our public education bureaucracies.”
· Reinvent the culture with the new three R’s
o Rigor: it focuses on a thinking curriculum (student thinking rather than the right answer responses)