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Cross-posted at Education Week.
In my last blog, I told you why I was not surprised that the OECD data appear to show that national investments in educational technologies have resulted in zero improvements in student achievement. I described very creative software that has been available on digital platforms since the 1980s and asserted that it won’t make much difference until the teachers who use it are very highly educated and until virtually everything else that defines what goes on in the classroom changes, from the goals we have for students to the way we assess student progress to the way schools are organized to support student learning. I don’t see technology as a driver of high-performance learning, but as an enabler, but only when the whole system is redesigned from the get-go for that purpose. I ended that blog with a promise to describe in this blog what such a learning environment might look like and what a state or nation might do to bring such a vision into being.
Let’s start at the beginning, which is, what kind of person we would you like our learning system to produce? You will have your own view, but, for my part, I’d like a high school graduate to be the sort of person I’d want for a close colleague, a good friend or would want my son or daughter to marry: smart, at home in the world, a good person, someone I could trust to do the right thing when no one is looking, someone I could count on in the clutch, who would set tough goals for herself and do whatever it takes to get there, who would go out of her way to help others, to roll with the punches, to be independent, capable of exercising initiative, know what to do and do it without constant guidance, someone I could count on to exercise good judgment, the sort of person others want to follow but also the sort who pitches in as a member of the team, a person whose education was deep enough and wide enough to serve as a foundation for moving in any direction but with strong enough technical skills in at least one area to get a great start in a pretty tough labor market, a person who is comfortable in his or her own shoes but not arrogant or standoffish, a person with a good aesthetic sense who is well read, deeply thoughtful, but fully engaged in the political life of her community and committed to being of service to others. I’d like this young person to have an inquiring mind, to learn easily, quickly, even voraciously. I would not care whether she started out as a carpenter or a brain surgeon, but I would want to be sure that whatever she chose to do, she did it as well as she possibly could. More than anything, I’d want her to be a decent person, someone I can be proud of when the day is done.
The wrong question to ask, in my estimation, is what courses should be taught and how they should be taught to this young person to get there. The right question is what sort of experiences this young person needs to have in order to develop, over time, these qualities. The emphasis needs to be on learning, not teaching. The venue could be anywhere—in school and out. The teacher could be a licensed public school teacher, but it could also be a coach on the playing field, a shop foreman who is a mentor in an apprenticeship situation, or a world-famous professor who appears in a MOOC.
But this is not an anything goes environment. In the background is a set of clear statements about what is expected of all students at the end of their common schooling, typically at the end of 10th grade, and a thoughtful framework that serves as a step-by-step guide for the core knowledge and skills that should be developed along the way. As implied a moment ago, there should be a clear set of expectations—pretty high—that all students must meet before they leave high school, but some will get there earlier than others.
The high school program is organized like the curriculum for modern medical or engineering education. There are brilliantly crafted short core courses in the disciplines, designed to convey the big ideas and introduce the key intellectual tools of the disciplines. Each of these short courses are no more than two or three weeks long. But they are intellectually rigorous, very rigorous. Taken together, they aren’t meant to take more than half the time available for course work. The rest is devoted to projects that provide an opportunity for the students to apply what they are learning to an ever more complex and realistic set of real-world problems. So a lot of the school time is spent going back and forth between straight ahead but deep acquisition of the central concepts, ideas and tools in the core disciplines, alternating in short cycles with a chance to put it to work in realistic settings in which there are important tasks to be done and results to be achieved, often in collaboration with other students, but always in a setting in which goals have to be set, work planned, deadlines met and something of value produced.
All of this must be very carefully planned, so that any individual student has an opportunity to learn all the skills and acquire all the knowledge expected, though each may end up doing it in very different ways than others of the same age and often at a different pace, meeting different challenges. The faculty has to have a system for carefully tracking individual student progress in real time against a myriad of goals and correct course constantly, never letting a student fall significantly behind while at the same time providing great flexibility with respect to the specific activities each youngster engages in.
The school will be a fine place for taking the short courses, although some, MOOC style, might be taken at home or in any quiet place the student can find. But many of the qualities I spoke of above will be developed much more readily through extracurricular activities or outside the school altogether rather than in it. It will be up to the larger community to organize the kinds of experiences for teenage students in which they can take on real adult responsibilities of the kind that they need to become responsible, contributing members of society. Modern societies keep extending childhood ever longer when we should be looking for ways to recreate the kind of transition to adulthood that young people so desperately need to grow up but so seldom get in today’s society.
Some of the experiences that students will need in order to effectively apply what they have learned to real world problems can be done in school—you can, for example, learn about music in school, and can take up an instrument and learn to perform at high levels in school—but many things cannot. As I see it, this balance between theory and applications is not something just for students who in another day would have been called vocational students. It is essential for all students. Finding the right balance between theory and applications will not be easy but it is very important. And then, somewhere in the mix, there will have to be seminars in which the faculty and the students talk about what they are learning in these different venues and in which it is all brought together, not in lectures but seminar style, in conversation, debate and emerging enlightenment.
In this scheme of things, while the goals are unchanging, the route to their achievement is nothing if not flexible. Years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a middle school in Boston where 8th graders were working with Lego Logo robotics. The students decided they wanted to build a working model of the Star Wars walking machine. Their teacher did not know how to program the eccentric motion of the machine. Students and teacher went to the math teacher, who went to an MIT math professor who taught both teachers and students the advanced mathematics of eccentric motion. The students did not know that they were not supposed to be able to do that sort of math until they got to graduate school, so they did it and it worked. Many of those 8th graders in that inner city school were on a path to becoming engineers. Many who weren’t no longer talked about being no good at math.
In another case, I got to know a technology teacher who had a class of kids who came from every point on the socio-economic spectrum. They decided they wanted to build a laser-operated device capable of very precise measurement. The students decided they needed a very stable platform made of concrete and the only place to build it was where the teacher’s desk was. So, they built it there and then went on to construct and program the laser. When they were done, it worked. The Seattle Intelligencer wrote it up. A group of Boeing engineers read the story and came to the school, telling the students that they had solved a programming challenge that the engineers had been unable to solve. These high school kids became interns at Boeing and Boeing helped to pay for their college education.
The sort of software I described in my last blog would have found a much warmer welcome in the kind of environment I just described. But that environment will continue to be very rare indeed until the state creates what I think of as a “Skunk Works” in which several teams of people from very different backgrounds—great teachers, system engineers, designers, curriculum developers, software engineers, test developers, cognitive scientists, and just plain entrepreneurs can work together to develop all the parts and pieces needed to make what I have described not the rare exception but the rule. The state will need as well to create a very different set of incentives for such teams than now operate in regular public schools. It will have to find parents who are willing to let their children get their education in a setting that looks very unlike what they are accustomed to. It will have to find prestigious universities that will be willing to accept students who are produced in this very different environment.
As I said in my last blog, my life’s experience tells me that neither the best of our technology or the best of our entrepreneurial spirit are likely to flourish under the incentives that typically operate on public schools everywhere. A different environment, with different incentives–a safe space–is required. The state that does this, does it well and then figures out how to rebuild the whole system in this image will chart the future for all of us.
Cross-posted at Education Week.
I’m in Jerusalem at a meeting hosted by the OECD and the Israeli Ministry of Education. The topic is innovation, entrepreneurship, technology and education. Attendees include ministers of education, technologists and a few ringers like me. The Chatham House Rule applies, so I can tell you about what was said, but not who said it. My next few blogs will be based on some themes from this meeting.
The core construct for the meeting is pretty simple. Since the PISA survey was first administered in 2000, the scores of the countries in the survey have been pretty stable, but the inflation-corrected cost per student from the top performers has been steadily increasing. Another way of putting it is that, try as they might, the top performers reach a performance plateau and then can’t get beyond it.
In economics, there is the concept of the ‘production function.’ A production function is simply a particular way of combining inputs to get a particular outcome, say, for example, a particular way of making a car from all the materials that go into a car. You do this and then this and then this and then you get a car. It is well known that there is a limit to what any particular production function can accomplish. One can eke out small improvements in a production function until one gets to the point that there are no more improvements to be had. When you get to that point, if you want a car that performs much better, you need a whole new production function. The premise of this meeting is that education needs a whole new production function, a whole new way of combining the ingredients of an education to produce much better outcomes for no more than it now costs.
That is where technology, entrepreneurship and innovation come in. New technology might lead to important efficiencies. Entrepreneurship might contribute new energy. Innovation might provide new ideas. These are not synonyms for each other. One can innovate in the way one organizes without any change in technology. One can put a new company together and make a bundle without any innovation. Government can introduce new technology without involving any entrepreneurs. This makes for an interesting meeting.
But what are the ingredients of an education? What is an education?
Years ago, after the scores came out from the Third International Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS), the world discovered that a handful of Asian countries dominated the lists. When we went to see how they had done it, the people we talked with were unimpressed with their own success. They wanted to know how the West had managed to produce so many people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who were able to invent not just new, very successful companies but whole new industries, one after another.
They would have done well to look at Israel for the answer. The story is beautifully told in Start-Up Nation, a book whose author was at our meeting. It turns out that there are more start-ups at any given time in this tiny country than in all of Europe. Small Israeli companies are actually providing the key software ingredients for major global U.S. technology firms. Israel is a veritable beehive of highly productive entrepreneurial, high-technology activity, as if the Silicon Valley were its own country, but made up entirely of small companies, without the behemoths: agile, adaptable, always ready for the next challenge.
Here is the startling thing. Israel’s public schools are nothing to write home about. They score well down on the PISA league tables. So what does that mean? Are we fooling ourselves? Is formal schooling only weakly related to success in the modern economy?
Ask the Israelis to account for their economic success and they are ready to tell you. After the second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews dispersed across the known world, the leaders of the Jewish people decided that they would teach all Jewish children to read, to wipe out illiteracy, so everyone would have access to the Torah. In the Jewish religion, there are no authorities, passing down the Truth and enforcing it in blood, if necessary. The Torah is subject to debate. Each student reads a passage in the Torah, analyzes it and debates its meaning with his partner, each pointing out the errors of the other, and both, in the process, seeing new meanings and sharpening their reasoning powers. That is the essence of Jewish education. Endless reading. Endless debate. Analysis and argument. Argument and analysis. And the endless search for truth in which everyone is expected to participate.
But there is more than that. The core institutions are the Yeshiva (Hebrew Torah study school), the youth movement and the army. I’ve just described the essence of the Yeshiva. The youth movement is grounded in the idea of service, of young people engaging very early in activities that matter to the survival, growth and development of their society and their country. Children are given real tasks to do at an early age, tasks that matter, and all the responsibility that goes with them. They learn to shoulder that responsibility, to set a goal and work tirelessly with others to achieve it. They learn how to learn whatever they need to learn to get it done. And they gain the pride that comes with having made a real contribution—something that really matters—to the community when the job is well done.
The Israelis have a famously civilian army. Army service is compulsory for most young people. Officers are called by their first names. The spirit of argument, reasoning and debate is alive and well in the army. Ordinary soldiers ask not only “how” but also “why” and they expect an answer. But when the debate is over, the hill is taken, the tanks destroyed, the land defended. The spirit of the youth movement pervades the army. No task is seen as impossible, the question is how best to get it done. No effort is to be spared once the commitment is made. Leadership is earned, not a function of status in the society. Team work is everything. If one route is closed one is expected to find another. Debate and action, action and debate. Authority does not win. The best ideas win. The best argument wins.
It is hardly surprising that an army like this forges this spirit. Because these are civilian soldiers, they are in uniform one day and in a business suit the next. And then back in their uniform. The friendships they make in the army are for life. And the army friendships spread out into great interlocking networks of business connections. What ends up mattering most are not the formal hierarchies but the horizontal informal networks, constantly morphing, a social pattern brilliantly suited to a world in which companies form and die ever more rapidly with changes in demand and technologies. But the can-do spirit does not change. The democracy of ideas does not change. Bureaucracy is kept to a minimum. Fluidity and adaptability is the order of the day.
Israeli youth often take a year to travel before they settle down. This is another important piece of the puzzle. There is nothing like travelling the world on a shoestring to develop the sinews of independence, resilience, courage and creativity. And, no small thing, a gathering global network of friends upon whom one can call when it comes time to build your company or make a sale can come in handy when it comes to time put a business together.
What I have just described, taken as a whole, is what may be the world’s best system for developing in a whole population of young people the very qualities that populate most people’s lists of 21st century skills.
So I come back to my question. Does this mean that public government schools are actually largely irrelevant, that the qualities that make Israel a world leader in technological innovation can be developed on a national scale without paying much attention to what goes on in the schools? I don’t think so. Israel is a land of relatively recent immigrants, mostly from countries with high-performing education systems. Jewish immigrants were typically among the top performers in the schools of the countries from which they came. The leaders of Israeli firms and government leaders come disproportionately from such families. But Israel cannot feed off of its pool of highly educated immigrants forever. The proportion of less-well-educated Israelis is growing faster than the population of people from highly educated families. And automation will reduce the supply of jobs requiring less education. As these forces converge, the performance of Israel’s public schools will matter more and more. There is no free lunch.
The question was asked at our meeting: “What if we give priority not to the core curriculum in the schools but to the ‘soft skills’?” The questioner was referring to the power of the model I have just described. The Israelis shot back: We need both! But here is what you might think about. I think the story I have just told makes it crystal clear that that the so-called 21st century skills cannot be fully developed in the hot-house environment of the school. They need a much larger stage. And they need the involvement of the whole society, not just school teachers. This is, I think, a very important lesson for governments all over the world.
Cross-posted at Education Week.
Thirty years ago when we thought of the national press, what came to mind were the big national newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The three big television networks and the most important magazines typically took their lead on education news from the big city papers.
The newspapers—not just the big national papers, but the regional and even many of the local papers, had education reporters whose only beat was education. The big city education reporters were people who had spent a professional lifetime in the field, whose insights and opinions carried considerable weight with the public and policy makers. When something big came along in education, they could get their article on the front page above the fold.
Those journalists adhered to a code that required them to seek out the facts, verify them, weigh a variety of views on important issues, maintain objectivity, disclose any factors that might in the eyes of the reader compromise their independence, and go wherever the facts led him or her, without fear or favor. The papers’ bills were paid by the newspapers’ advertisers, but, for the most part, these advertisers had no interest in weighing in on education issues, so education writers and editorialists were pretty much free to call it as they saw it. Education journalists in the big dailies were expected to be broadly and deeply knowledgeable about their field, to have access to the top people, and to know the ins and outs of the big issues and controversies.
That world—the Golden Age of newspaper journalism—is largely gone. This blog is about what has replaced it—a world in which the reader can no longer be sure who is shaping the education news we read, facts and opinions shade into one another, and the person who is writing the news story or editorial may know very little about the field. It is a world in which a few highly professional media outlets have been replaced by a myriad of voices, most of whom have an ax to grind and few of whom feel any need to obey the canons of good journalism. As in so many other fields, for better or worse, the ranks of independent professional journalists acting as gatekeepers for news and opinion are greatly diminished. The canons of journalism have been replaced by “buyer beware.”
My personal experience of the death and transfiguration of education journalism is rather vivid. NCEE released its first report, the Carnegie report titled A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century in 1986. The release event was held at the Hotel del Coronado, in San Diego, in the evening. Education reporters from the print press and TV were everywhere.
We all got up at the crack of dawn the next morning and gathered in the lobby of the Del to be there when the newspapers arrived. And there they were, the stories, on the front page of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union. We later learned that the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe and many other papers had also done stories on our report that also appeared on the front page above the fold. That morning, the leaders of our commission appeared one by one on all the morning television shows. We had hit a grand slam.
None of this, of course, was an accident. I had asked Al Shanker, then the president of the AFT, to loan us his press person, Scott Widmeyer, two months ahead of the release, to develop and execute a press strategy for the report. Scott took up residence in a little corner of our tiny offices and went to work with his list of education reporters in one hand and his phone in the other. Scott knew most of the people he was calling well and they trusted him when he told them that this would be a big story they would not want to miss. The result was the press coverage I just described.
We released our second report, America’s Choice: high skills or low wages! in the Hyatt above Grand Central Station in New York City in 1990 using pretty much the same strategy and got pretty much the same result. Our next big report came out in 2006. By then everything had changed. There were very few education reporters left at the major papers and few editorial writers who knew or cared much about education. The newspapers themselves were on their knees. The broadcast networks no longer dominated TV and had very little interest in education news of any kind. In their place was a vast welter of cable channels and, of course, the Internet. The world in which a professional press agent could call a couple of dozen key education reporters and get coverage for a major education report that would dominate a whole news cycle was gone. There was no one to call. The handful of key media outlets had fractured into a thousand shards. Few papers had reporters with any time to read education reports, sift through them and sort out what was worth the public’s attention. There was no budget to travel to the education meetings at which the big issues were discussed. And, chances were, there was no longer an education desk staffed by journalists dedicated to the education beat.
Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing Nicholas Lemann explain in a few swift strokes how all of this had happened. Lemann, a pillar of the New Yorker magazine, a former dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and the author of The Big Test, one of the best books written about education in the last 50 years, was among a group of us asked to speak at an event sponsored by the National Academy of Education.
Lemann showed us one graph that displayed total U.S. newspaper advertising revenue from 1950 to 2012, divided into revenue from print advertising and revenue from digital advertising. Print advertising rises from a little less than 20 billion dollars (these numbers are corrected for inflation) in 1950 to a high of more than 60 billion dollars around 2001. And then the total from print advertising plunges in less than ten years to about 20 billion dollars. The hope, of course, is that the revenue from print advertising will be replaced by revenue from digital advertising, but Lemann’s graph provides very little encouragement on this score. The line for digital advertising revenue begins in 2003 at zero and gets up close to 3 billion dollars before the graph ends in 2013. Digital revenue combined with print revenue in the last year for which data is available is only slightly more than one-third the total for print revenue alone at the apogee of the curve for print revenue, and revenue from print advertising is falling much more steeply than the curve for digital revenue is rising.
This chart is matched by another that Lemann showed us, the chart for total newsroom employees. This chart shows a modest decline in newsroom employees from 1990 to 2007, followed by a very steep decline from that point to the present that shows no sign of letting up.
Lemann pointed out that education journalists were never on the high road to managing editor. That route was reserved for journalists writing about politics, international news and business and the economy, not those on the education beat. It is no surprise that education journalists were among the first to get the ax.
As the cuts went on, the beleaguered newspapers looked for ways to report the news they no longer had the in-house resources to cover. Lemann told us that, increasingly, the papers have turned to not-for-profit, mostly foundation-funded partners. This has benefits for both parties. The paper gets well-informed writers who cost them nothing. The not-for-profit gets a megaphone for the information and views it wants to get out. The foundation is assured that the work it is funding is widely disseminated. Everybody wins.
Well—maybe everyone wins—maybe not so much. It is more likely than not that the not-for-profit has a point of view or an active agenda that it is promoting. The same is probably true of the foundation that chose to support that not-for-profit. Neither is bound by the journalist’s code of ethics. Lemann points out that reporting can slip into advocacy without putting up a placard to announce its arrival.
I am writing this blog because we learned the hard way that, if you are a not-for-profit and want press coverage for your news or views on education issues these days, you had better be prepared to do it yourself, and add your voice to a vast welter of voices each of which is working hard to get just a little shelf space in the cacophony. There are no grand slams anymore. Apart from Education Week, a trade publication we are all very lucky to have, there is no front-page-above-the-fold anymore for education news.
Not-for-profits and others who want to reach an audience for education news and views they would have pitched to newspapers in the past have now been forced to become their own newspapers, with blogs like the one you are reading, blast e-mails, podcasts, webinars and so on. It is easy to find outlets with views like your own, but harder to find outlets that have the same respect for the facts, sound analysis, fair treatment of opposing views and congenital skepticism that good journalists have.
All is not lost. Education Week is a national treasure. There are still a few newspapers with professional education reporters on staff. The Education Writers Association has built a redoubt for education writers who are first-rate professionals, the Hechinger Report helps smaller papers publish good education reporting and ProPublica is doing some great work. But because of the broader decline of the U.S. education press, we have all lost a national resource that had the mission, legitimacy and skill to sift through the normal cacophony of education news in the United States and direct our attention to what really matters, with great skill, without fear or favor. That’s too bad.
Cross-posted at Education Week.
This is the third and last in a series of blogs about the orthodoxies of Republican and Democratic education policy over the last 40 years and the need for a new paradigm for national education politics. In the first blog in the series, I traced the step-by-step commitment of the Republicans to market models of education reform and the reduction of the role of government in American life and showed how these two dynamics are leading some Republicans to give up on public schools altogether. In the second, I showed how, during the same period, Democrats committed themselves to a form of identity politics that ended up doling out money in categorical programs, accomplished little in recent years and, in the process, left out poor whites, thus helping to create today’s politics. In this blog, I focus on the role that teachers unions have played in the politics of education reform and use the conflict over teachers and their unions to make the case for a new politics of school reform, based on the need to professionalize teaching.
As many Republicans see it, teachers’ unions are among the greatest obstacles to the improvement of student performance. They see the unions as protecting bad—even the worst—teachers from being fired and as doubling down on contract provisions that call for getting rid of young, enthusiastic and effective teachers first and protecting older, time-serving teachers to the last. As they see it, the claim that teachers are the voice of students, especially of disadvantaged students, is a cruel joke. They see teachers’ unions as interested only in protecting teachers’ economic interests, not the interests of students and parents. And, finally, they see teachers and their unions reflexively supporting Democrats no matter what the Republicans do.
For Republicans, it is obvious that the public ought to be paying market rates for teachers of different subjects—math and science teachers more than teachers of English and social studies—because people with a good command of math and science are in such short supply and the need for them in many parts of the country is nothing short of desperate, but they see teachers and their unions insisting that all teachers must be paid equally. Most importantly, Republicans are deeply frustrated at their inability to create systems in which teacher compensation is related in some way to teachers’ demonstrated competence. Where else, they want to know, are all professionals compensated without regard to expertise and accomplishment? What is the point of working really hard to improve your skills, if it makes no difference in your career prospects or compensation?
Most teachers and their Democratic supporters have, of course, a very different view. Prior to the 1970s, teachers’ unions were almost non-existent. The NEA stopped being an umbrella association for many education professionals in that period and the AFT grew in power because teachers’ salaries were going down as the salaries of high status professionals were going up. Organizing was the only route available to them to fight back against an eroding standard of living. Under American labor law, unlike European labor law, management and labor were supposed to behave like natural enemies. School boards hired labor attorneys to represent them whose experience was in private enterprise. The boards quickly agreed to contracts specifying last-in, first-out rules when budgets forced layoffs. When money was tight, the boards’ attorneys suggested that the boards offer concessions on “working conditions” in lieu of pay raises. In a public school environment, these concessions amounted to giving teachers and their unions key roles in determining who got which jobs in the systems, steadily eroding the authority of central office staff and principals. School boards were generally most afraid of public reactions to strikes, so they were more than ready to give away the store on these management issues, especially when money was tight.
Then times changed. The public got increasingly concerned about student performance and discovered that the school boards and management could not set up compensation schemes that would enable them to provide higher pay to teachers in short supply, to compensate especially able teachers. When the Great Recession hit, they discovered that the last-in, first-out provisions in teachers contracts prevented them from doing what they thought was in the best interests of students. And so on.
Politicians and the public blamed the teachers, forgetting that it was the school boards that had offered these provisions in lieu of pay raises. The teachers, under assault from every quarter, were not about to give up what was left of what they won earlier. They were opposed to “merit pay” because, in their experience, when principals were allowed to pay some teachers more than others, most principals’ decisions were based not on teachers’ competence, but on the loyalty of individuals to the principal. They were not about to embrace the idea that teachers in short supply should be paid more than others because they thought that all teachers were underpaid. They were not about to change the last-in, first-out rule because their experience was that school districts would seize any opportunity they could to hire two cheap teachers in the place of one experienced, more expensive teacher.
Most important, teachers and their unions felt as though they were in a bunker, blamed by everyone for faltering student performance, when the proportion of students in poverty in their schools had reached unprecedented proportions. They were being held to account for society’s failure to meet its most basic responsibilities. And, finally, the regime of tough, test-based accountability, introduced by the younger Bush and embraced by the Obama administration, had been experienced by teachers and their unions as a mean-spirited policy that was, at its core, anti-teacher and thoroughly demeaning.
The result was teacher exodus, plummeting enrollments in schools of education and rapidly expanding teacher shortages that are now leading to the widespread waiver of even the already low standards for becoming a school teacher in a growing number of states. Astoundingly, these developments, instead of producing increased compensation for teachers in a country in which teachers’ salaries are already low by global standards, has instead led to steadily declining teachers’ compensation and an increasing gap between teachers’ compensation and compensation in the high status professions.
The one place where Democrats and Republicans have agreed on teacher policy has been on tough, test-based teacher accountability, and that has been an unmitigated disaster, as I just said. There is a way out of this mess. It is not through an all-out assault on teachers and their unions. Nor is it through an uncritical embrace of the blue-collar model of teacher unionism that has held sway since the 1970s. The answer is to adopt a professional model of teaching of the kind found in the countries with the best-performing education systems, many of which have very strong teachers’ unions. That implies that, in the United States, government will have to abandon its attack on the unions and the unions will have to get out of their bunker and embrace a very different model of unionism.
All of the top-performing education systems have been built around the imperatives of teacher quality: attracting high-performing high school graduates to teaching with competitive compensation and professional conditions of work. They recruit their teachers from the top half, not the bottom half, of their college-going high school grads. They send them to research universities to be educated and shut down their diploma mills. They create real career ladders for teachers, with starting compensation competitive with compensation for top civil servants and culminating in pay for master teachers at the same level as school principals. Compensation is tied to advancement up the ladder, not to longevity and the taking of “graduate” courses unrelated to teaching duties. Teachers advance up the ladder based on demonstrated teaching expertise, leadership ability and the ability to coach and mentor new and junior teachers. Teachers in systems like this stay in teaching three to four times as long as the typical American teachers and therefore develop much more expertise. Teachers near the top of the ladder are expected to take a strong role in leading teams of teachers who play the decisive role in improving the curriculum, student lessons, instructional methods and student assessment. What I am describing is a truly professional environment for teaching. And it works.
Teachers in such systems have the pay, authority, responsibility and status that most American teachers only dream about. But, if they are going to get that, their unions will have to largely abandon the blue-collar model of unionism they were forced into in the 1970s and have lived with ever since. At the heart of this new professional model is the kind of career ladder I just described. When I asked Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the head of the NEA, in public whether she could support such a model, I got an emphatic “Yes!” When I asked Randi Weingarten in another public forum recently whether she could embrace the larger group of reforms of which this kind of career ladder is a part, she gave me the same response. This does not mean that all the state affiliates of NEA or all the AFT locals would instantly climb on board if offered such a deal. There are scars all over the place on both sides that need healing. But the makings of a deal to turn teaching into the one of the most desired professions in the United States are there if only the Democrats and Republicans who are part of the current impasse are willing to build on them.
Date: October 20, 2016
Date: September 30, 2016
Date: September 23, 2016
Date: September 16, 2016
Date: September 9, 2016