- About NCEE
- CIEB Supported Research
- Older Reports
- Tucker’s Blogs
Cross-posted at Education Week.
I am surrounded by boxes of books. Consolidating collections that have led, ’til now, separate existences. Among them are my education books. There are many that I have not opened in years, but I cannot give them away. They are dear friends. Some bring to mind vividly the circumstances in which I read them. Some changed my life. Some brought insights that I only recognized years later. Taken together, they are in many ways the warp and woof of my intellectual life. So I have carted them around, a bit like Linus and his blanket.
I thought I might name some of them, as if you were a colleague in the room with me as I take them out of the boxes, turn them over in my hands, open them to a random page and start to read, forgetting my mission and indeed the whole world, remembering only to let you know from time to time why I treasure this or that volume. If none of this interests you, my apologies. I will not be the least bit offended if you skip this bit of reminiscence and pick up again with next week’s blog.
I begin with a book by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen called Pygmalion in the Classroom, published in 1968. In it, the authors tell of a research project in which teachers are told that students with high measured IQs have low IQs and the converse. Yes, you guessed it: The students with high IQs are given very unchallenging work and end up achieving at low levels. But, guess what? The students with low measured IQs, but believed by the teachers to have high IQs, end up achieving way above the levels predicted by their IQs. This study made an indelible impression on me. I have since come to the view that the most pernicious failing of our education system is the low expectations we have for all of our students relative to other countries, and for our low-income, minority, limited-English-speaking and special education students in particular. If there is one research study to read, this may be it.
There is Jerome Bruner’s little volume called The Process of Education, summarizing a 1959 meeting in which the author elegantly captures the spirit of this country’s last great effort to engage the country’s leading mathematicians and scientists in a collaboration with first-rate school teachers to undertake a wholesale renewal of school curriculum. I remember reading it with great excitement. Looking at it now, I wonder at the way this country has managed to convince itself that classroom teachers, carrying a teaching load that is among the heaviest in the industrialized world, could possibly muster the time and intellectual resources needed to create a curriculum that could come close to matching both the intellectual rigor and the capacity for engagement demonstrated all those years ago by the the Elementary Science Study, PSSC Physics, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, the School Mathematics Study Group and others like them. How could we have imagined that the United States could achieve world-class results simply be developing standards like the Common Core without putting at least as much effort into creating a vibrant, intellectually challenging and engaging curriculum of the sort Bruner describes?
There is Village School Downtown, a small, now much-beaten-up book by Peter Schrag. It came out in 1965, at about the same time as Jonathan Kozol’s much more popular Death at an Early Age. Both described the tumultuous events surrounding the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools and the busing system that was used. Kozol’s book was full of righteous anger at the Boston Irish who controlled the Boston Schools and Louise Day Hicks, the city council demagogue who built her career on opposition to busing. Kozol saw the situation as a conflict of moral absolutes, all the bad guys on one side, all the good guys on the other.
I have a vivid memory, though, of picking up Schrag’s book and getting a much more complex picture. Schrag portrayed a South Boston Irish community in which, for generations, middle class lace-curtain Irish teachers had taught the sons and daughters of their friends and neighbors in a tight-knit community that shared the same religious, cultural and social background and, in the process, produced students who became valued, contributing members of their community. And then, as Schrag tells it, the Great Migration of African Americans from the South began and many of those families came to Boston, bringing a very different history, values, customs, expectations and culture. He showed how, when the Irish teachers used the techniques that had worked so well for them for so many years with the Boston Irish students and had the same expectations for them, they did not work at all. Schrag showed how this frustration led to real anger among the teachers when the well-off suburbanites who were hosting parties for Jonathan Kozol in the suburbs wrote cutting letters to the editor of the Boston Globe about the unwillingness of the South Boston Irish to take in large numbers of African-Americans into their schools.
Schrag was one of the nation’s most perceptive reporters, and his effort to put himself into the shoes of the people being so widely pilloried made a deep impression on me. My sympathies were surely with the African-American kids who were facing enormous obstacles as they tried to get a decent education, but Schrag taught me to be suspicious of armchair liberals in communities like the one I lived in who were themselves doing nothing to address the problem except criticize the behavior of people who they did not care to understand. I have ever since taken the view that, if I want to help solve a problem, I had better start by trying to put myself in the shoes of the people whose behavior I am trying to change, so I can understand why they are behaving as the do.
Years later, I picked up a volume by Charles M. Payne titled So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools. Oh my, I said, this one really tells it like it is. Of all the books I have read on urban education, this one is head and shoulders above the others. Eloquent, powerful, beautifully written, it is relentlessly insightful and honest. Like Schrag, Payne sees the appalling waste, the stunted opportunities and the distance between rhetoric and reality in the mundane shuffle of life in our urban schools. My own organization has been working in schools and districts like the ones he describes since the late 1980s and the world he details precisely the world we have seen in these institutions. Payne understands that many of his readers will see his book as an indictment of the professional educators he portrays. But Payne understands, as Schrag did, and Kozol did not, that he is portraying ordinary people caught in the trap of a dysfunctional institution. It is painful to scan through this book again. When he wrote it, seven or eight years ago, he had a good deal of hope for the Chicago Public Schools, which figure large in the book. I wonder what he would say now. Perhaps the title of the book is the answer.
Two books that sit side by side on my shelves anchor my understanding of how and why the American education system took its current form. The first is Education and the Cult of Efficiency by Raymond Callahan. The other is The One Best System by David Tyack. Together, they show how the Progressive Era wrapped itself around the admiration of most Americans for the achievements of the mass-production model of industrial development that was powering the United States to world economic dominance. That was a model in which most workers were expected to do as they were told by engineers who used scientific methods to figure out the one best way to get the work done. For anyone who despairs of changing our education system because change seems so impossible, it should be inspiring, for over the course of a mere 25 or 30 years, enormous changes were made in the governance, management, staffing, organization and financing of American education. And, at least as I see it, the changes the country made then are, one and all, the sources of the biggest problems we face now. It is very instructive to go back through these pages to recall how and why it all happened and to remind ourselves that today’s solution is tomorrow’s challenge if we fail to adapt to a constantly changing environment. We are now preparing our students for a world that no longer exists, a world described very well in these two books.
Here’s another pair for you: Peter Drucker’s The Age of Discontinuity and Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise. In the first, Drucker, in 1969, foresees that the nations and companies that build their competitive advantage around the ability to do “knowledge work” will be those that succeed. Almost 50 years later, the United States has not quite got the message. We are still educating our children for a world in which the majority leave school with only basic literacy. Almost half a century ago, Drucker saw that it would no longer be enough and he explains why in his very accessible and very persuasive prose. His book has anchored my view of the challenge our schools would be up against since I first read it.
McGregor’s book came out in 1960, anticipating Drucker’s. In it, he says that as long as the managers in the mass production economy described by Callahan expect workers to try to do as little work as possible and to do it poorly, they will get what they expect, but when they start expecting workers to act more like professionals and treat them as professionals, then the workers will put everything they have into it and do the best work of which they are capable. These latter workers are the very ones that Drucker went on to describe as the kind of future workforce the United States would need. Though neither of them knew it, both were describing the way we would have to change how we recruit, train, manage and support our teachers half a century later. I commend both books to your attention all these years later.
I cannot resist another pair: The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn From Japanese and Chinese Education by Harold Stevenson and James Stigler (1992) and Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics by Liping Ma (1999). These two books set a standard for international comparative studies of education that has rarely been met since. Stevenson and Stigler introduced a whole generation of American educators to Japanese lesson study and, in the process, opened the eyes of many to the possibility that we have a lot to learn from education systems overseas. I stand here flipping through the pages of Liping Ma’s book thinking, “No one reading these pages can doubt for one minute that the typical rural elementary school teacher in China likely has a much deeper command of the mathematics of arithmetic than the typical suburban elementary school teacher in the United States.” She does this not with declarative statements saying so, but in one careful description of actual practice after another. Both books, very different in style, are brilliant demonstrations of the power of the comparative method.
All of the books I have mentioned strike me as fresh and relevant today as they were when I bought them some decades ago, and I commend all to your attention. But there is one book on my shelves I would characterize as not just important and relevant but also as wise. And that is Lee Shulman’s The Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach. I find myself returning to it again and again. Try it. I predict you will find yourself doing the same thing.
Cross-posted at Education Week.
I’m told that the hottest item at the recent meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers was ESSA, the new federal education legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind. That, I thought, is encouraging. That must mean that the chiefs are reading the legislation the way the Congress intended it to be read, as an invitation, now that so many of the constraints put in place by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been vanquished, to think big, to reinvent state education systems to meet the enormous challenges the states are facing. But then my friends told me that no, that wasn’t it. The big question on the minds of most chiefs was what they needed to do to comply with the new legislation. That was disappointing.
Senators Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander have been trying hard to send a message to the states. Like many others, they saw the federal government, empowered by No Child Left Behind, with Race to the Top layered on afterwards, as having greatly exceeded its mandate, as having become a national school board that no one wanted. ESSA was designed as a giant slap on the wrist for the U.S. Department of Education. Taking back much of the authority that the Bush and Obama administrations had grabbed, Senators Alexander and Murray handed it back to the states.
But that is not the end of the story. Alexander and Murray remembered that No Child Left Behind received bipartisan support in the first place because the Congress was deeply dissatisfied with the way the states had absorbed a great deal of federal money for disadvantaged students over the years, with very little to show for it.
What the two senators keep saying is that the return of authority to the states is provisional, not necessarily permanent. They plan to see what the states end up doing with their newfound freedom. If they go back to their old ways, if they fail to redesign their systems to produce much more learning for all children, but most especially for those disadvantaged students for whom the federal funds are intended, then the Congress will consider what its next step will be, because it does not intend to go back to the status quo ante.
This is not about compliance. It is about imagination, bold plans and determined implementation. Unless I misread the intent of Congress, if the states just go through the motions of complying with the requirement to come up with a comprehensive plan a year hence, if state leaders think their systems just need a few tweaks, if they see this as simply a process of managing the usual jockeying among the usual claimants on the available federal funds, then they will find, in the not too distant future, that the federal government will once again be telling them not only how they can spend its money, but the state’s money, too. And there may be no going back next time.
This is a golden opportunity for the states that choose to grab it. Students in close to 30 countries now outperform American students. All but a handful of the leading industrial countries do better by their low-income and minority students than we do. High school students in many countries are graduating with two to three years more education than our high school students. Indeed, what the record shows is that the typical high school student in the United States graduates high school not ready to succeed in most of our colleges because they cannot comprehend textbooks written at a 12th grade level and they cannot succeed in a course called “College Mathematics” even though that course is mostly middle school mathematics. The first year program of most of our colleges is actually what most high schools in many countries accomplish before they graduate high school.
We not only have many more low-performers than a growing number of other countries, but we have fewer high performers.
When the first NAEP survey was done, about 40 years ago, the U.S. had the best-educated workforce in the world. Now according to the OECD and ETS, our workforce is among the least well educated in the industrialized world. The consequences for states that want to be competitive in the modern global economy will be very serious.
I have written about all of this elsewhere, repeatedly. I will say no more about the challenge we face here. What I do want to do is issue an invitation to the states that are as alarmed by the situation I have just described as I am.
Our organization, the National Center on Education and the Economy, has been researching the strategies used by the countries with the world’s most effective education and training systems for close to 30 years. We know as much as any organization in the world about the strategies those countries have used to build mass education systems that can deliver spectacular results at scale. We have been building a world class leadership training system capable of delivering very high quality training to superintendents, central office staff, principals and teachers in leadership positions that will enable them all to transform their states, districts and schools into high-performance systems, based on the lessons learned by the top performers all over the world, including the United States. And, finally, we have put together an advisory, backed up by our leadership training system, to work closely with a few states determined to rebuild their education and training systems to equal the very best systems in the world.
None of this is about copying anything or anyone. It is about learning from the leaders here and abroad and building something that will work in your context.
We don’t think that any state can do what needs to be done by gathering a consultant and a few leaders in a back room and deciding what to do. If any state is going to do the tough things that will be needed to match the performance of the world’s leaders, big changes will be necessary. The schools belong to the people and the needed changes are not going to happen unless the people see the need for those changes and get behind them. That is not a matter of an advertising campaign. One of the things we have learned from the top performers is that leading real change requires a statewide discussion that involves lots and lots of people from every corner of the state and every interest group.
The question a state needs to start with is not “What should our education policies be?” but rather, “What do we want for our people?” “What kind of future do we want for our kids and their kids?” “What kind of economy do we want?” “Do we want to compete on the cost of labor, which will make many people poor? Or on the quality of the goods and services we produce which will make our people rich?” That is a conversation in which the governor, the legislature, educators, the business community, everyday citizens, the press, the higher education system and others have to be deeply involved if it is going to work. If your state decides that it wants an inclusive economy that is based on selling high quality products and services to the world, then it is an easy step to the conclusion that you cannot get there unless your whole education system is redesigned to achieve that goal.
One more thing. I am making an economic argument for a thorough revamp of your education system. But I am most definitely not talking about creating cogs for a new industrial machine. What we need are highly educated students who have studied not just English, mathematics, science and technology, but music and art and history too. Young people with inquiring, independent minds who know the difference between right and wrong and will do the right thing when it is hard to do, young people with vision who see differences among people in culture and background as a strength and not a problem, who can set their own direction and be cogs in no one’s world.
What ESSA is asking the states for is not compliance. It is asking for a plan to build the kind of education system that can turn out the most highly and deeply educated people on the planet, in great numbers, at a price the public can afford. That will require a redesigned system staffed by highly educated and well-trained, well-compensated and well-supported teachers who are treated as professionals.
The states we want to partner with will be states in which the top leaders in the governor’s office, the state education agency, the higher education agency, the legislature and the business community want to reach for the stars. If that describes your state and you think you might want to produce a plan that will set you on that road, we can help. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cross-posted at Education Week.
We start from the assumption that policy should aim at getting a first-rate teacher in front of every student. Then we note that the research on expertise says that it takes about 10 years to become an expert in just about any professional endeavor. Some experts estimate that half of those who start a career in teaching are gone in five years, and those whose view is much less grim nonetheless estimate attrition rates that are still way above the rates of teacher attrition in the top-performing countries. Consider that those who leave teaching before 10 years have elapsed never get a chance to become an expert teacher and that is a good deal more than half of those who start a career in teaching.
When teachers are asked why they leave teaching so early in their careers, they typically complain that they were not well prepared for the realities of teaching and had little help from anyone else once they started teaching. Indeed, many report a “sink or swim” experience that was distinctly unpleasant.
But what about those who stay in teaching? Here the research is helpful again. It tells us that most teachers have a steep learning curve during their first three years in teaching, but that curve typically flattens out after three years. There is, to my knowledge, no definitive finding on why this is so, but when you look at the incentives that teachers face, it is hard to find any incentives for teachers to get better and better at their jobs. They have a strong incentive to learn enough to survive–to do the job “well enough” at the outset. But, after that, all teachers have pretty much the same job, at the same pay, with the same status, for the rest of their working lives.
Most professionals in the high-status professions work hard at honing their expertise during their whole career, because there is a career, a succession of positions of increasing responsibility, authority, status and compensation available to them, but only if they are willing to get better and better at the work. There are no such career trajectories, by and large, available to teachers in the U.S. Though the research on expertise says it takes at least ten years to become an expert, it does not say that one becomes an expert after accumulating ten years of experience. It says that happens only if the individual keeps working hard, year after year, to become better and better at the work. But teachers have no incentive to do that.
There are, of course, teachers who do work really hard, year after year, to get better and better at the work, but they are the ones driven by an inner demon, not ordinary mortals like you and me. So, while it is probably true that most of our teachers could be really good, really expert, there are not nearly enough of them, because they have no incentive to do so. Even if they had the incentives, they have none of the support they would need to achieve true expertise.
Maybe that’s it, the best we can hope for. But a new research report, previewed at the recent annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Washington, makes it plain that we could have first-rate teachers in front of virtually every student if we wanted to, but we would have to change many features of our education system to get there.
Eighteen months ago, NCEE’s Center on International Education Benchmarking gave a grant to Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University to organize and direct a very large international comparative study of teacher quality policies and practices in a sample of countries that rank very high on the OECD PISA assessments of student performance. Darling-Hammond assembled a brilliant team of researchers from all over the world to conduct the research. Last Sunday morning, several of them reported on one aspect of their work–how schools in those countries are organized and managed to support high-quality teachers and high-quality teaching in Australia, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada. Jossey-Bass/Wiley will be publishing the case studies and the cross-case analysis. What we heard on Sunday was a preview.
You MUST buy the books when they come out, later this year. Having read several draft chapters from one section of the cross-case analysis and several from the case studies, I promise you that it will be worth every penny and as much of your time as you can spend. This will be the landmark study on teacher quality for many years to come.
Without giving away the study’s findings, this week’s preview gave strong evidence that despite differences in culture, context and continent, there are common elements around how the work of teaching and schools themselves are organized that play no small role in propelling these systems to the top end of the international league tables.
From this research, we see that when a system focuses on building teacher expertise through collaborative, research-focused professional learning and at the same time provides a meaningful career progression that reinforces and rewards the building of teacher expertise, the following tends to occur:
One strong caution: The reports I have so briefly summed up here cover only one aspect of the teacher quality systems established in the countries studied — what goes in the schools once a teacher is first hired. In every one of these cases, enormous efforts have been made to create the strongest possible cadre of teachers beginning their careers as novice teachers.
This package needs to have a warning sign on it: Do not expect the same results from your schools as these countries have gotten if you adopt the measures described in these papers but fail to attend to the quality of the teachers entering the system.
In recent administrations, both when Democrats and Republicans were in the White House, the senior figures in both parties and their economic advisors agreed that free trade was in the country’s best interest. Of course, everyone understood that this was true overall, not necessarily for every individual involved. Governments, in theory, should be looking out for the greatest good for the greatest number. There would always be some who would not benefit, who would get left behind.
And there are. Most are poorly educated people with relatively few skills…and they are angry. Their parents and grandparents were steel workers, auto workers, textile workers, coal miners, shoemakers and furniture makers. And all the people who worked in the neighborhood banks, shops, laundries, diners, bowling alleys and movie theaters that served those who worked in the mills and mines. They stepped into their parents’ shoes, expecting to earn at least what their parents earned, to take their place as the wage earners in their families, to have the respect of their spouses, children, and communities. They had not gone to college, but they wanted their kids to go.
But it didn’t work out that way. The textile jobs went from Maine to South Carolina on their way to Mexico. So did shoemaking. The furniture jobs went from North Carolina to China. Detroit and Flint became ghost towns as car manufacturing went south and then offshore. Consumer electronics and appliances went first to Japan and South Korea and then to Taiwan and China. Towns, villages, entire counties and states became shells of their former selves, wiped out by low-cost competition from East Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and even Africa. The jobs that did not go offshore went to automated machines, machines that were making other people wealthy, but not them.
The people who used to make our cars, pants, shirts, tables, chairs, shoes, beds, TVs, radios, home video recorders, towels, electric lights, toilets, dishwashers, stoves, clothes washers, stereos, outboard motors and children’s toys made them no longer. They lost their homes and their jobs, had their cars repossessed, had to move in with relatives, could not afford to send their kids to college or get decent medical care for their family or even feed them three square meals a day. Some started taking drugs or overdosed on alcohol. The most depressed committed suicide.
If I were running for President, I would make it clear that changing this picture is one of my top priorities. It is about the economy but not about an economy that works for the country as a whole, while leaving many Americans out; it is about good jobs for all Americans. It is not about continuing a culture of dependency; it is about making sure that everyone who wants work can get it. It is not about fighting over who gets the jobs that are left; it is about creating a lot of great jobs in a high-skill economy. Making America great again ought not to mean throwing our weight around like a schoolboy tough; it ought to mean earning our place in the world the old-fashioned way, by being damned good at what we do.
But I would also make it clear that in today’s economy, being willing to work hard is not enough. There are literally billions of people in other parts of the world who are willing to work hard and many of them are willing to work for much less money then we are. In today’s global economy, the only way to make it is to work hard, and to work smart, too. In today’s world, it is the highly educated and well-trained who are cleaning up. The United States used to have the best-educated workforce in the world, and now it has one of the least well-educated workforces in the industrialized world. Our next President should pledge to change that. There is nothing more important for our country’s future than to make sure that we once again have the best-educated and best-trained and most creative workforce in the world.
If I were running for President, I would offer the American people a deal: If you are willing to do everything in your power to get the best education and training you can get to do the high-skill jobs that need to be done, then I will turn over heaven and earth to make sure you get the education and training you need at a price you can afford to do the kind of work you want to do.
Chinese and Indians and Hungarians and Chileans and South Africans and Singaporeans are your competitors now, and they are working just as hard as they can to work smarter than you. The only way you and your children are going to succeed is to work at least as smart as them, if not smarter.
But the next President has a long road to climb to get us there. In the Carter administration, the federal government spent more than five times as much as it does now on job training for American workers. We need to restore those funds and make job training one of our top priorities. We must modernize job training, get employers deeply involved in designing it and supporting it, so that the people who are trained will get the good jobs that employers can’t find anyone to fill. We need to set up apprenticeship systems for young people and old. We need to set up a system so that every region of the country can develop its own economic development plan and get the money it needs to train the people needed to make that plan come alive and work. All over the country, good jobs in the technical aspects of health care, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing, IT systems, civil engineering and other high-paying fields are going begging because employers cannot find the people with the skills they need. We must change that.
We also need to tackle the unemployment system so that it takes account of the fact that people often work multiple part-time jobs, and many can only get intermittent employment. We should set it up so that people aren’t penalized for getting a part-time job while they are looking for the right job. We need to make sure that people who are willing to work hard are supported while they are looking for work or are getting the education and training they need to get that next job, although we should not support people who just want to be on the dole or are not willing to take a decent job or engage in full time education and training and work toward a credential. We need to change the tax system to provide income support to hard-working, low-income families to reward work, not sloth.
For a lot of people who have seen their jobs disappear, there are no jobs where they live. The government ought to be willing to pay for them to go to a job interview in another part of their state or region if that is where the jobs are. And it ought to be willing to help local officials develop a sound plan to bring new investment to their part of the country.
Because much of our sense of our own worth comes from the work we do, the contribution we make, the skills we use, the jobs we have, government ought to be about making sure that every adult who is willing to get the education and skills they need to get a good job has an opportunity to get those skills and that education and that job. Our society and our country cannot possibly be any stronger than the ordinary working people who make it up, the bedrock on which we all depend. The next President needs to do whatever it takes to help Americans get the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a world that now runs on education and skills.
Date: April 29, 2016
Date: April 21, 2016
Date: April 15, 2016
Date: April 8, 2016
Date: April 7, 2016