Monday, July 11, 2011

Why 'Regaining the Luster' really needs some focus

I'm sure many of us read the DM Register article about the upcoming education town halls and summit.  The DE, headed by the leadership of Jason Glass, has done a fabulous job of organizing and promoting the event to stakeholders.

But yesterday's article left me cold, even angry. It's not that I am resistant to change, as I try to grow and change each day of my life, and especially in my teaching career. But it appeared that the same tired solutions that were used back in Terry Branstad's first term (and didn't fix the problems) were being posited yet again.  And those solutions simply are not enough.  We must consider the following as we approach the summit.

NAEP. Is the NAEP framework correlated to the Iowa Core, or the Common Core?  If that correlation is not established, we have no indication for its validity in Iowa. We have no idea if the test's achievement level represents what children can know and do as a result of their learning.  We don't know if what is tested is important to us as Iowans.  Additionally, there is no penalty for kids not trying on this, or other standardized tests.  We are shooting in the dark when we check achievement levels on this test.  Secondly, does a NAEP score actually translate to a job in an age of networking and college names?  I'm not certain that it does anything besides giving a government entity bragging rights.   Either communicate the urgency to Iowa citizens, or let it go.

National Board Certification. I've never been a fan of NBPTS certification, but I did try the process more than a dozen years ago because of the money involved as a carrot by Gov. Branstad (full disclosure, here).  I missed the target, and set out to find out why.  At that time, the board did not disclose who scored the test, although their website has been updated to say 'fully certified teachers.'   That still doesn't tell me much.  And a look at their board shows me very little in the way of people who understand research on what works best for teachers and students in regards to learning.  It does placate political and union interests, though, with a wide variety of stakeholders being represented.  We have no idea if the prompts are correlated to the content we teach in Iowa, either.

But why do this, when we have already put into place the Charlotte Danielson model for Iowa teacher evaluation?  Why don't we modify this and add one detailed reflection of teacher practice, which is the model that NBPTS uses for 4 of their 10 assessment pieces?  Wouldn't a state model, administered and evaluated by AEA personnel who are experts in their content fields, as well as versed in best-practices, be a cheaper alternative.  It wouldn't require a $25,000 carrot per teacher, and would allow that funding to be used to support AEA work.  I just don't think I need teachers in Texas, the home of the processing center, to evaluate me and tell me how to teach Iowa children.  And I don't think that just because a teacher can write well on the NBPTS means that he or she is a leader at their skill.

Master's Degrees.  And what about master's degrees?   I've read and seen blogs and tweets all spring that lead me to think that the only good degree is one that leads to administration certification.  We shouldn't, the thinking goes, be paying for those silly classroom teachers who expand their learning via a master's degree in their subject area.  The fundamental issue here is money.  Branstad is quoted in the DM Register as saying that we need to pay teachers who are starting their careers more money.   I do agree that our current model of funding is not sustainable, as each year we pay more state dollars for a declining student population.  Salary scales need to be addressed, but not by recklessly invalidating the hard work of those who have devoted themselves to advanced learning.  Our first step is to replace tenure with a system of evaluations that don't take place once every three years.

Issues and Innovations.  My hope for the summit  is that we address the needs of today's student that we can control, including technology integration, data-driven assessment and reteaching, the use of social media, and innovations like project-based learning and blended learning.  We have excellent teachers across the state doing great things in their classroom, and we should be capturing that, and using those teachers as models, perhaps on a state you tube channel or digital professional development network.  We should be in deep conversations with the institutions who are forming our pre-service teachers, as their efforts are critical to transformation.  I hope that the summit is focusing on the teachers and the higher learning stakeholders.

Creativity and 21st Century Readiness.   How often are we testing our kids for this skill, which has set the US apart for years, and has led other countries to focus on our teaching structures?  And what internationally validated test experience compares US innovation to other countries?  Isn't this what we are trying to do when we look at the research?  As we study books like "The Global Achievement Gap," isn't that the direction we are to be heading?  How do we measure that?  I'd like the summit to point me in the right direction

What We Can't Control.  This is the underlying elephant in the room.  It's the reason that we all get frustrated.

  • First, we cannot guarantee that kids always do their best, either in the classroom or on assessments, which is why we have structures like #IDM and #RTI.  But if we can't motivate a kid with a local assessment, this is doubly true for standardized assessments that are not directly linked to a classroom grade.  And so the ultimate validity of our student performance is possibly whether or not they can get a job after they graduate.  A look at the May statistics shows that Iowa is doing ok, and that jobs are available.  What do we want for our kids?  Exit exams?  Rubrics?  Multiple Measures? 21st century readiness evaluations? E-portfolios? The summit should focus in, with laser precision, on this idea.
  • Similarly, we cannot control teachers who will not change. We need a fundamental restructuring of the evaluation and tenure process before this will be possible.  Until then, we can have PLCs and enact systemic, teacher-led professional development and tech integration,  but these innovations fall flat if we have administrators hamstrung by tenure, and infrequent evaluations..  This is perhaps the critical issue where stakeholders need to come to consensus at the summit.

We cannot afford to be stymied by old solutions to new problems at the upcoming education summit.  But we need to reach both the attendees and those who are watching from afar as we plot our course for the next 10 to 15 years in Iowa.  Our students are depending upon it.

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