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Cross-posted at Education Week
This is the third and last round in my interview of Gene Wilhoit, the former Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, who led the effort to create the Common Core. My series on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards comes to an end with this blog.
Marc Tucker: The best professional development I have seen is in Shanghai, where teachers work together, without facing students, for a substantial part of every day. They have well-developed career ladders, and the teachers near the top of the ladder lead work teams composed of teachers further down the career ladder to improve instruction in the school and to address a myriad of challenges the school faces. In Shanghai schools, professional development is not a matter of “workshopping” teachers, but of organizing schools so teachers are the drivers of improvement, and they are learning all the time. They have to do that in order to meet the expectations of their fellow teachers.
Gene Wilhoit: First, this issue of how we expect teachers to use their time is one of the most important differences between our system and the systems in the top-performing countries. When I first started visiting schools in the top-performing countries, one of the first things I noticed was that those countries understand that sustained conversations among teachers are critical to the improvement of student learning. Something has to give to accommodate that. For example, districts in the United States decided to make reduction of the ratio of students to teachers a very high priority. We do not have unlimited resources, so conversations about what we compromise to capture precious time will be very hard, but it is very important to do so.
Beyond the issue of time, like you, I noticed how other countries identify the best in the profession and give them leadership responsibilities and the opportunity to mentor new and underperforming teachers. They find time for faculty to operate as a team. It’s regrettable we have institutionalized professional development days as the means for growth. We must make more time available for teachers to work with each other in teams. I can see a model in which every professional in a school is a member of one or more teams, each of which is working to improve some aspect of the school program, whether that is a particular lesson or the way the school handles student disciplinary problems. Teachers interact with each other daily and are in each other’s classrooms all the time, critiquing and learning from their colleagues. The teachers would be linked to the best teachers and researchers in the country, using those connections to constantly improve their own practice. When I go into a hospital for an important procedure, the whole process is recorded, and, when appropriate, shared across the medical community. The medical community is constantly learning from one another. I can see this happening in American schools. We need to have the capacity to share problems and solutions. This is a completely different model than the one we now have for professional development in the United States.
MT: Let’s go back to the issue of the nature of the pool from which we recruit our teachers and the way they are trained. Top performers recruit from the top one-third to the top five percent of their college-going high school graduates. We recruit from the bottom half. Not only is the quality of our pool low, but it is also true that the criteria for graduating from these institutions and entering the teaching work force are very weak. How important is this issue?
GW: The evidence is overwhelming that strong academic background, along with high verbal capacity and broad and deep content knowledge are essential to good teaching. We must recruit high quality people into the profession. But we’ve dug ourselves into a much deeper hole on this issue than we realize. It will not be easily addressed. We will have to make a career in teaching much more appealing to capable high school graduates and we will also need to make the prospect of attending a teacher education institution much more appealing. Neither will be easy. Making a career in teaching more attractive will certainly involve improving teacher compensation. But capable high school students will need to see that teachers are treated as real professionals, too. That will require us, among other things, to use aggressive career ladders to create a rewarding career, and, as we were saying to each other a moment ago, to create opportunities to work collaboratively with other professionals in their school and beyond. Young people making career choices will need to have confidence that the leaders in the schools have a handle on curriculum, instruction, and the skills to manage a cadre of professionals. That implies a real focus on leadership in our schools and more latitude in decision making for professionals. These are not challenges that can be addressed with silver bullets. We will have to tackle all these simultaneously to rebuild the profession. We have allowed the status of teachers and teaching to degrade over the years. We have accepted an inferior product from our schools of education and accepted lower standards in our professional workforce. Capable young people aren’t excited about entering a profession where they see little opportunity to advance and be rewarded. Yet, there are outstanding professionals in US schools. We can identify them, put them into leadership positions, and restructure our schools. It is not the fault of the teachers that we are where we are. Society has done this. We know the importance of teachers. But we have not yet acted on our knowledge.
MT: Recruiting our most capable into teaching was one issue you identified. Talk a bit about the teacher education institutions and their programs. In Finland they have nine teacher education institutions and they are in research universities. In North Carolina there are 49 and few of our teachers are taught in our best universities. What do we have to do to reinvent our teacher education institutions?
GW: The states have a major role here. Programs exist, both strong and weak, because we have allowed them. States need to make much more aggressive use of their authority to approve the preparation programs of the teacher education institutions. We should not allow any program to exist without a high quality design, and good outcomes. The criteria for admission to and exit from teacher education programs must be high. Third, when we have a teacher shortage, we simply lower the standards for hiring teachers. We need very high standards for entry into the profession. Those standards need to be based not on a paper and pencil test alone, but on a demonstration of high teaching competence. Until we make these tough decisions, we will continue to have a proliferation of programs with limited capacity.
MT: You’ve covered the whole territory. We see the world in very much the same way–to really implement the common core in the spirit in which it was designed requires a transformation of the whole system.
GW: Yes it does. I sometimes feel people put too much weight on the Common Core. Standards by themselves will have no effect if not translated into strong instructional design, professional development, and support for the profession, all things that this country has not yet had the will to do.
MT: Most of the countries with the best student performance committed to wrenching changes in their education systems because they saw that the dynamics of global competition have changed, and they would face a bleak economic future if they didn’t produce a globally competitive workforce. It is unclear to me if we are in that place. Our relative economic success, based on a workforce schooled twenty or thirty years ago, is making it much harder for Americans to understand that there could be a crisis waiting if we don’t transform our education system.
GW: I still hear people say the great recession was just an adjustment. The reality is they are not seeing the big shifts that are right at our doorstep. This is characteristic of a country which has been very successful for a very long time. Most people don’t understand what is likely to happen if we fail to transform our education system.
Cross-posted at Education Week
This is the second round in my interview of Gene Wilhoit, the former Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, who led the effort to create the Common Core. In the first round, Wilhoit identified four arenas that would have to be addressed to make the Common Core a success: 1) high-quality, coherent and powerful curriculum frameworks and materials matched to the Common Core, 2) high-quality assessments matched to the standards and curriculum, 3) vastly improved programs of initial teacher preparation designed to produce teachers capable of teaching the Common Core well, 4) a revolution in professional development for currently serving teachers, also designed to enable teachers—in this case currently serving teachers—to teach the Common Core well to students from many different backgrounds. In this round of the interview, Wilhoit expressed confidence that in only one of these arenas—assessment—is the nation taking some of the needed steps. Here, he talks about what it will take to make the same sort of progress in the other three arenas.
Marc Tucker: Of those four arenas you identified as keys to the successful implementation of the Common Core, there is only one that is underway and that you think may come out OK. That is assessment. Let’s discuss each of the others. How can each of the states develop a powerful curriculum fully informed by the standards? There appear to be only a few options: commercial publishers, the states themselves and non-profits. I see a few publishers behaving in creative ways, but most appear to be just sticking gold stamps on existing products declaring them to be aligned with the standards when it is patently clear that they are not aligned. I see foundations investing in enabling third party institutions to stick good housekeeping seals of approval on clumps of instructional materials that do not add up to a coherent curriculum. I don’t see the foundations or the federal government stepping forward and investing in large-scale programs of curriculum development, in the way both did in 50s and 60s. Do you see any way that we will be able to develop the kind of standards-based, first-rate curriculum frameworks and curriculum to match the quality of what we see in the top-performing countries?
Gene Wilhoit: I agree totally with the picture you have just painted. Also, there doesn’t seem to be the capacity in school districts, which is the one addition I would make to your list. This country has to figure out how to make a big investment in this area. I am pessimistic about federal funding. I’m not advocating that the U.S. Department of Education have a role in designing any of this; their role should be supporting research, not curriculum development. We need to go back to our foundations and make the case. Good housekeeping seals of approval are not going to give us what we need. Quick fixes of this sort will not do it. Far more will be required.
There are international models that could help us. The board examination systems—tightly integrated systems of standards, curriculum and exams—that come from Cambridge Assessment, and that can be found in New South Wales in Australia, Singapore, and several provinces in Canada—just to name a few—provide some outstanding models of curriculum design and tons of expertise on which we could build to create very strong curriculums in the United States. The idea is not to adopt these other curriculums but to identify what others have done internationally and learn from them. They have gone deeply into issues we have not considered. These systems all use curriculum to drive instructional practice to very high standards. Our leading foundations need to understand how critical it is to have curriculum designs that can drive fundamental improvements in instructional practice. Though the will is there in some of our state departments of education, I don’t think they have the needed deep expertise. So it will be up to our best universities and our leading not-for-profits. And they will have to decide that this is a major priority for them. I can see a coalition of strong, thoughtful faculty across a number of top universities providing this guidance and leadership, perhaps in association with one of more not-for-profits that have the necessary management expertise.
MT: Education Development Center, where I started my career in education years ago, did this back in the 60s and developed some of the finest mathematics and science curriculum this country has ever seen, so there is a precedent here. When we look around the world for powerful curriculum designs, we find board examinations built around standards and syllabi.
GW: Some of the most respected programs in the USA are just that: the Advanced Placement program and the International Baccalaureate have those characteristics.
MT: Most of the top-performing countries have systems of this sort. Their assessments aren’t directly based on standards but on the course as it is described in the syllabus. The best example worldwide is the work of Cambridge Assessment, used in more than 150 countries. Their exams cost about what the Advanced Placement tests cost, between two and three times what the new consortium tests will cost. One reason is that they are scored by human beings rather than computers, and the other is that they release all the questions every year with examples of papers that received good scores and analyses of why they got those scores. That means that teachers know, parents know, and kids know what good student work looks like. It is actually these pieces of student work that set the standard. But American test-makers won’t release the questions in the tests each year and they won’t show you examples of the student responses that get top grades. They won’t show teachers how their students do on particular test items, so the teachers don’t know after the tests are given what their students need to work on to do better the next time. So, compared to students and teachers in other countries, our students and teachers are flying blind. Their curriculum and exam system, unlike the systems of the top performers, is designed to measure student performance, but not to improve it.
GW: All that is true. It is also true that the system you just described provides the best professional development for teachers I have ever seen. When you release the items and provide examples of student work that meets the standards, you can then engage teachers in conversations about why a particular piece of student work meets the standards. When teachers bring the work of their own students to a meeting with other teachers, it promotes a conversation about why your students were able to meet the standards, while mine did not. These conversations quickly get to the most important issues in teaching and learning. Not enough of this is happening today in the US. There is too little deep professional exchange about content, pedagogy, and student work going on in our schools, and, until there is, the Common Core will not be implemented as it should be implemented.
When I was commissioner in Kentucky, we did have opportunities of this kind for teachers. Again, the point is that we do not have to create new models. In some cases, we can resurrect very good ones we’ve used before. The longer we delay providing these types of support, the more frustrated we will become.
TO BE CONTINUED
Cross-posted at Education Week
Gene Wilhoit served as chief state school officer in Arkansas and in Kentucky before the Council of Chief State School Officers asked him to assume the leadership of their association. Two decades earlier, Wilhoit had served as an active member of the board of an organization, the New Standards Project, that I had put together to develop new, internationally benchmarked student performance standards for the American states, along with a set of assessments set to those standards. After he took the helm as Executive Director of the CCSSO, Wilhoit led the successful joint effort of the country’s chief state school officers and its governors to create the Common Core State Standards. In this multi-part interview, I talk with Wilhoit about why he thought it so important to create the standards and what he thinks will be needed to fully implement them.
Marc Tucker: Gene, you played the key role in the development of the Common Core, a remarkable achievement. Twenty years ago, our New Standards Project set out to achieve much the same goal. We did not reach the goal line, though. How would you account for your success?
Gene Wilhoit: You were ahead of your time. The country wasn’t ready for this idea politically and the states did not have the capacity to implement it. But the idea you put on the table twenty years ago grabbed my attention and has been an issue for me ever since. I realized that, historically, the chief state school officers had abdicated their responsibility. The states had never really declared what we most wanted our students to learn.
I never lost my zeal for the idea. I watched the attempts of the federal government under the first President Bush and President Clinton to do something about it, but they fell short. As time went by, the governors and the business community pressed ever more strongly for some sort of standards that would be common across the states.
When I took over as the head of the CCSSO, I decided to make the development of these standards the keystone of my administration. The states had to do it. Many people were concerned that if we did not do it, the federal government would. And we did not want that to happen. So the states took the lead. In fact, we told top federal government officials at the time that this was a state agenda, and we didn’t want them involved in any way.
There is, of course, an irony in this. Even though we were very diligent about not involving the federal government in the development of the standards, and even though we warned the federal government against doing anything that might imply federal government pressure to adopt them, the federal government still, in the Race to the Top program, created very strong incentives for the states to adopt the Common Core, and that has turned out to be enough to turn the Common Core into a political football.
MT: Nonetheless, when the dust clears, it is very likely that there will be a large number of states that continue to embrace the Common Core by that name or some other. The question I have is not whether states will formally embrace the Common Core, but whether it will fail because it was never really implemented. The premise of the Common Core is that it will greatly raise expectations for kids, especially for those kids for whom standards have been low; that it will serve as a framework that can be used to develop a powerful curriculum as well as a framework for excellent instruction in the hands of capable teachers. Are the states and other folks involved doing what is necessary to bring that vision to life?
GW: I’ll begin on a positive note. There is plenty of evidence that an overwhelming majority of teachers view these standards as superior to what they had before. They want to use them in their classrooms. That creates a foundation of goodwill where it most counts. But if we don’t support this enthusiasm, it will quickly turn to confusion, resentment and pushback. I worry that we might fail to give professional educators what they need to implement the Common Core. Their initial enthusiasm could easily disappear.
I’ve noticed a couple of things that trouble me. It is not an easy task to translate standards into a curriculum. You can’t teach standards. They are the objectives. They need to be fleshed out in learning progressions to allow us to create specific curricular designs. But in this country, there is a belief that the curriculum belongs to every local community and every school. We have a lack of capacity to develop strong curriculum at that level and a reluctance to allow others to take this on. Will we be able to translate standards into a strong curriculum design, which will be a basis for instruction and assessment? I see many people ignoring this issue and going straight to tasks and assessment. This is very troubling to me.
How do we resolve this? In many states, curriculum decisions will be left to locals. But we should be looking for highly capable people who could create first-rate model curricula, of the kind that the National Science Foundation supported with such success years ago. We should be creating opportunities for teachers to work together in their schools in a more disciplined way to design and evaluate curriculum. Networks of teachers should be set up to work on this, guided by professional organizations charged with providing the support that teachers will need to make sure that the curriculum they develop is developed to high quality standards.
Secondly, I worry about assessment. This experiment by two consortia has produced, from what I can see, better assessments than what states have used before. There is every reason to believe the first full-scale field administration of the tests will be successful. At the same time I see a number of states pulling back because they want a cheap test, but you can’t have high quality on the cheap. Some states seem to think that they can produce high quality tests on their own, but I don’t think any state has the capacity to do that. And, with respect to the tests being produced by the two state consortia, I worry about the states’ capacity to keep the two consortia going over the long haul. We may need to explore new forms of public-private partnerships to sustain and continuously update these new tests.
Third, our professional development system isn’t geared toward providing the kinds of support teachers need to implement the Common Core State Standards.
MT: The only thing you left out that is on my list is the quality of the teachers our teacher education programs are developing.
GW: Yes, I agree. And I worry how long it is going to take to turn our teacher education programs around. These institutions have very little capacity to do what has to be done to prepare first-rate teachers, and even less capacity to provide dynamic support to teachers once they enter the profession. Right now, we are only playing around the edges of what needs to be done in teacher education. We have not even begun to see the kinds of dramatic changes that other countries–the countries that are far ahead of us in student performance–have made in their teacher education institutions.
TO BE CONTINUED
Cross-posted at Education Week
There is a large literature on teachers’ professional development. Unfortunately, it is mostly about the provision of workshops. I doubt that anyone is surprised to learn that workshops that teachers attend only because they are required to do so and are paid to attend–workshops that typically provide tools to address problems they do not think they have and no tools to address the problems they do think they have–result in very little discernible benefit to anyone. I have just described a very large industry.
In recent years, another industry has arisen which claims to offer a new path to effective professional development: I refer to the development of standards for effective teaching and rubrics for judging whether teachers have the skills and knowledge called for by the standards. The best known of these systems is the one developed by Charlotte Danielson. It conjures up the image of a school principal sitting in the back of a classroom with a clipboard running through a list of dozens of different criteria for good teaching, each with its own rubric, page after page after page of this, trying to make fair judgments about the teachers’ performance. As Dylan Wiliam has observed standards and rubrics can be used to judge performance if done well, but they tell the individual very little about how to improve their performance. Does anyone suppose that this is how partners in our best law firms develop the professional skills of young associates? Or the way that the colonels in the US Army develop the combat skills of the officers who report directly to them? For centuries, great artists learned their trade by apprenticing to the masters. Do you suppose the masters carried around clipboards full of standards and rubrics?
The central issue here, in my view, is not how to conduct an effective workshop or how to judge an individual’s performance, but how to improve that individual’s competence. More precisely, the issue is how to design schools to create an environment in which the professional competence of the whole faculty is constantly improving. As you will see, I think the answer to this question has very little to do with workshops and even less to do with clipboards and reams of standards and rubrics. It has to do with organizational design. It is mainly a matter of getting the incentives and supports right.
The aim is to improve teachers’ expertise. One of the now-famous findings of the literature on expertise is that it takes roughly ten years to become expert in virtually any field. But teachers, on average, stay in teaching only five years. So it may be that the most important thing we can do to improve teachers’ professional competence is make the occupation sufficiently attractive to induce them to stick around long enough to become expert and then keep them in teaching long enough to enable their students to reap the rewards of their accumulated expertise.
But that same literature makes it clear that longevity does not by itself create expertise. One gets expert only by working hard and continuously to improve one’s competence.
And indeed, recent research shows that teachers’ competence seems to top out after three years, long before they can be said to be truly expert teachers. I suspect that this has something to do with the incentives teachers have to improve their game. I would argue that teachers’ competence does not improve on average after three years because by that time, they are good enough at their work to get by and then have neither the incentive nor support to work hard to get better. For most teachers, the job they have on their last day in the classroom is the same as it was on the day they became a teacher. Contrast this with the law firm, or the military or an engineering firm. Focus for a moment on the law firm. Recent law school graduates don’t sign up to be junior associates for the rest of their lives. Their aim is to make partner, maybe senior partner, maybe even managing partner. As they move up the ladder, they get more pay, more responsibility, more autonomy and greater status in the eyes of their colleagues and in the larger community. My guess is that the regard if not the admiration of their colleagues is worth at least as much as the pay to them.
Most teachers expect to be paid to develop their professional competence. But if the same people were doctors or engineers, they would be keeping up with their field on their own time and at their own expense. Why? Because gaining the expertise they need to stay current is the key to advancement in their chosen profession. But there is no career path for teachers unless they leave teaching. Without an incentive to learn, most will learn enough to get by and then stop. This is characteristic of blue-collar work but not of professional work.
Professional learning in organizations built around high-status professionals is a very important function of the firm. The same is true in the military. People higher up on the career ladder are judged in no small measure on their success at identifying promising junior people, providing them with growth opportunities, coaching them along the way, suggesting things to read when they are likely to benefit from them, providing them with access to just the right internal and external formal training when they need it and so on.
What we are seeing in the top performing countries in education is very much what I just described. The system cannot be implemented without well-designed career ladders. Without career ladders, there is no career. And, if we cannot offer real careers in teaching, we will not be able to keep or attract to teaching the very people we most want–those who have what it takes to go into the high-status careers.
But there is more. In most of the top performing countries, teachers have much more time to work together to improve their own performance and the performance of the students. They work in teams to design, field test, revise and then implement highly effective lessons. They do the same thing to come up with designs for formative evaluation of student progress that enable them to change their instructional strategy during a class if the students are not understanding what is being taught. They are constantly sitting in on each other’s classes, critiquing one another and learning from one another, in a very disciplined way. They are taught research skills and use them to judge whether what they are doing is really working.
Sometimes teachers in these schools decide they need some formal instruction offered in a workshop. But that is not the heart of the system for professional development. The heart of the system is the approach to school organization and management I just described. That approach provides very strong incentives for each member of the faculty to get better and better, not stopping when they think they are “good enough.” And it provides the support that every member of the faculty needs to become more expert. It is not about workshops or rubrics. It is about getting the incentives and the supports right. It is about creating an environment in which teachers believe that, however good they are, they can do better and never stop trying to do just that. That is what a world-class professional development system looks like.
I’ll be taking a brief blogging break for the next two weeks for the holidays. I’ll be back with the conclusion of the Common Core Implementation series at the beginning of next year.
Date: January 22, 2015
Date: January 15, 2015
Date: January 8, 2015
Date: December 19, 2014
Date: December 4, 2014