Readers Respond

Debating Massachusetts; scaling up KIPP; practice-based teacher training; alternative certification; for-profits in Philadelphia; selling success; teacher co-ops

The President’s Accreditation Plan

One of the most problematic planks in President Obama’s education platform (Straddling the Democratic Divide, features, Spring 2009) was the proposal that all schools of education must be accredited. In theory, it seems desirable to have schools of education reviewed by outside authorities. But accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), both private agencies, has so far failed to assure a high level of quality in training institutions. Arthur Levines 2006 study, Educating School Teachers, for example, found no significant difference in mathematics or reading achievement in students taught by teachers educated at NCATE- and non-NCATE-accredited institutions. It also found low-quality programs that had earned NCATE accreditation.

Why doesn’t accreditation improve the quality of teacher preparation programs as judged by measurable increases in learning outcomes for the students in the classes of their graduates? The Achilles heel of the accreditation process is the composition of the reviewers.

NCATE is composed only of educational, not discipline-based, organizations, and its reviewers are chiefly if not solely from other schools of education. This means, for example, that a licensure program for history or U. S. government teachers is NCATE-evaluated by academic and professional standards developed by members of the National Council for the Social Studies, not by the standards developed by members of a professional organization for historians or political scientists.

Having only education school faculty as the peer reviewers for accreditation is rather like having visiting foxes advise the local foxes on how well they have designed the lock on the chicken coop. The absence of subject matter experts (as well as members of other professions, the educated public, and the state legislature) on review teams keeps anti-disciplinary and anti-instructional theories dominant in our education schools and helps them to avoid criticisms of academically weak teacher preparation programs.

Levine would like a new accrediting agency in which the nation’s best-known education schools (like Teachers College, Columbia University) set professional standards. However, until the reviewers bring a broader and academic perspective to their observations, we cannot count on accreditation to upgrade the quality of our teacher preparation programs. In fact, we might get more academically qualified and pedagogically effective teachers if we simply eliminated completion of an approved program from licensure requirements.

Sandra Stotsky
Professor of Education
University of Arkansas

Bay State

Pioneer Institute has launched yet another attack on the education record of Governor Deval Patrick and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Accountability Overboard, features, Spring 2009). The following is just one of many examples of errors purposefully made by Pioneer. They write, Results in September 2008 showed a sharp drop in MCAS pass rates and flat or declining scores in the elementary and middle school grades.

This is simply wrong. Pass rates improved or stayed steady on 12 of the 16 tests administered. Math results reached an all-time high, including improvement in every grade.

The authors praise the work of Massachusetts students in citing the recent results on TIMSS, pointing to this exceptional performance as an illustration of the influence of status quo reforms while later falsely condemning students’ MCAS results to suggest a downward slide in performance.

Students have demonstrated consistent improvement on the MCAS over the years, improvement that has continued since Governor Patrick took office in 2006. However, the results mask a persistent achievement gap that must be addressed. For example, on the grade 10 MCAS science exam, just 28 percent of black students and 24 percent of Latino students scored proficient or higher compared to 65 percent of white students and 68 percent of Asian students. These results show us that while we have been successful with some students, we are woefully behind with others. Our mission is far from complete.

Pioneer’s vision of the future is apparently more of the same, notwithstanding the data on gaps. The Pioneer authors counsel a strict adherence to the status quo, defying data telling us that education reform in Massachusetts must significantly improve if we are to close achievement gaps and provide all students with a 21st-century education. Governor Patrick believes a bolder, more sophisticated approach is required, and I invite readers to judge his agenda on its merits at cleantext_url_o64oqr31s401oo2s162q685t88tqqo08ma-edplan-finalrev1.pdf.

Paul Reville
Secretary of Education
Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Charles Chieppo and James Gass respond:

MCAS math scores in 2008 were up by just a single percentage point in three elementary grades, and early-grade MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) scores, which are the best predictors of future success, fell the most. In fact, ELA scores for 2008 were either down or flat in six out of seven grades.

As for simultaneously pointing to stagnating MCAS and excellent TIMSS scores, 2008 was the only time Massachusetts students have participated in TIMSS; those scores are the fruits of more than a decade of reform. MCAS scores are subject to year-to-year comparison.

It should be noted that between 1998 and 2005, Massachusetts was among the states that saw the most narrowing in achievement gaps.

We do acknowledge two errors in the printed version of our article. The Readiness Finance Commission favored raising the state sales tax rather than the income tax from 5 to 6 percent. The waiting list for charter schools in Boston is about 7,000 students, not 1,720. The Patrick administrations poison pilllaced plan to raise the cap on charter schools in some districts was proposed too late to be discussed in our article.

We should also have disclosed Mr. Gasss previous employment at the Massachusetts Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. He left that agency in 2005.

Scaling Up KIPP

As Jay Mathewss portrait reveals (Work Hard. Be Nice. features, Spring 2009), KIPP students succeed because they benefit from extraordinary teachers. Where do these educators come from? I examined five KIPP schools and found that 72 percent of their teachers and school leaders had attended top undergraduate institutions ranked very competitive to most competitive by Barron’s. That compares to 19 percent of public school teachers generally.

The labor pool of such elite college graduates is small. Even if 1 in every 10 of these graduates entered teaching for two years (average tenure at KIPP-like No Excuses charter schools) before moving onto other careers, they would provide only 6 percent of the some 450,000 teachers currently working in the member districts of the Council of Great City Schools (the nations 66 largest urban public-school systems).

Simply put, we might have enough of these teachers to staff a few hundred more No Excuses schools, but not a few thousand more, and certainly not enough to reach every disadvantaged child in America.

That’s why recent plans by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others to sponsor tool providers should be applauded. The development of a new wave of intellectual property for schools may in time permit a broad swath of career educators to achieve KIPP-like results. Consider two such new tools. Teachers will soon be able to access superior resources from automated systems that integrate and mine contributions from hundreds of star educators. No Excuses teachers may find it intellectually challenging to craft their own curricula, pacing charts, lesson plans, curriculum tests, and the like, all keyed to state standards, but these demands also contribute to long hours and high teacher turnover. Such tasks needn’t be tackled anew by individual teachers.

Similarly, the methods of star teachers – how they construct a culture of high expectations in their classroom and deliver vibrant and effective instruction – are at last being codified as specific techniques that can be mastered by novice teachers. Prototypes of these tools, while little known, exist today.

As KIPP has demonstrated, wholesale social transformation is not a precondition for narrowing the achievement gap. But human-capital limits may constrain the models reach. To plot a course from KIPPs individual successes toward achievement at scale takes nothing away from the organizations unprecedented accomplishments.

Steven F. Wilson
Ascend Learning

Other Routes to Teaching

The Newton Teacher Training Institute is an alternative teacher-training program in Massachusetts, similar to those described in Katherine Newman’s article (Teacher Training, Tailor-Made, features, Spring 2009). I suggest that the best phrase to describe these programs is practice-based. They are founded on the idea that the only way to learn to teach well is to practice teaching in a real school setting.

The article overlooks a significant benefit of practice-based programs: the creation of a true career path for talented classroom teachers. The career path in teaching is notoriously flat. Excellent teachers receive the same pay as colleagues who are equally experienced but not nearly as talented, and the responsibilities of a 20-year veteran are virtually indistinguishable from those of a second- or third-year beginner. The only way up in teaching is out of the classroom, through a promotion to an administrative job. Practice-based teacher-training programs offer a way out of this trap. Excellent teachers can become program faculty, where their talents in the classroom are leveraged for the benefit of future generations, and where they can earn stipends and status. In a practice-based teacher education program with rigorous faculty selection criteria and high admissions standards, the best teachers would train the best teaching candidates. This approach should not, in my view, be seen as an alternative to regular teacher preparation; it should be the way high-quality teacher preparation is done. The end result would surely be positive for the teaching profession, for students, and for society.

Jonathan Bassett
Program Director
Newton Teacher Training Institute

Philadelphia Story

Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingoss conclusion that for-profit entities outperformed nonprofit entities in their management of Philadelphia schools from 2002 to 2008 is not in and of itself a reason for our members to celebrate (For-Profit and Nonprofit Management in Philadelphia Schools, research, Spring 2009). Rather, it was the willingness of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia to innovate, apply new ideas, and reach beyond the status quo on behalf of the children of Philadelphia that should be roundly applauded.

For-profit providers of educational products and services, including members of the Education Industry Association, whether school management companies, tutoring providers, or developers of learning materials and technologies, view students, parents, school districts, and state departments of education as customers. They value innovation, expect to be held accountable for the quality and effectiveness of their programs, and understand the consequences of failure. They understand that they do not have all the answers to educations challenges and problems and that such solutions are produced only through cooperative public-private partnerships in which the parties view themselves as collaborators and not competitors.

The Philadelphia story, then, is not so much a tale of for-profits winning against nonprofits or district-run schools, but a valuable lesson in how to approach education reform effectively and produce real results. Indeed, the real victors in Philadelphia, and elsewhere where such public-private partnerships exist, are the students.

Steven Pines
Executive Director
Education Industry Association

Selling Success

Emily Hassel and Bryan Hassel (The Big U-Turn, features, Winter 2009) are right to examine how public schools could learn from successful corporations and other public programs. One of the underlying themes of those successful turnarounds is enhancement of the publics perception of their success. The new carpets at Continental Airlines and the crackdown on petty crime in the New York Police Department were put into place to convince the general public that these organizations were doing well.

This focus was not on the core businesses of these organizations, or even their customers per se, but rather the general public, who might become customers and supporters of the program. For public schools, following their lead would mean paying closer attention to that segment of the population who are not the parents of current students, the general tax-paying public, who provide the majority of support for the schools.

For example, schools might focus on those few places where the public can see students and teachers during the school day, such as on field trips or at dismissal. What impression does the public get of a school if the students are blocking traffic and cursing? Paying more attention to student behavior at these times could directly affect the publics perception of school success.

Another area of emphasis might be the kind of data released to the public. Currently, schools focus on data that are useful primarily to parents, such as grades, achievement scores, awards, etc. The public wants to know about the success of the schools graduates: the adults they hire, work with, and bump into on the street. It is the graduates, not the students, who provide the benefit they get from their support of the schools.

Peter Dodington
Bronx Latin School

Article Spread: Teacher Cooperatives article from Spring 2009 issue of Education Next. Teacher Co-ops

While attention is welcome, it’s disappointing that two recent studies, and other insights from Minnesota New Country School (MNCS), the original teacher cooperative, were not included in Teacher Cooperatives (features, Spring 2009). Moreover, much of the reporting focuses on Milwaukee schools, where teachers are not allowed to set their salaries and benefits, key parts of the teacher co-op idea according to MNCS cofounder and EdVisions Cooperative director Doug Thomas.

While almost half of MNCS students are low income, and more than 30 percent have some form of disability, studies by Scott Wurdinger and Jennifer Rudolph of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and by EdVisions Cooperative cofounder and staffer Ron Newell found results worthy of note: the average ACT score of MNCS students (and EdVisions Cooperative members) is higher than the national average. More than 90 percent of MNCS alumni responding to a survey have enrolled in postsecondary education and report that MNCS gave them an advantage over college classmates. Sixty-nine percent of MNCS alumni responding had completed a two- or four-year postsecondary degree. Student surveys show growing enthusiasm for learning, self-confidence, and goal setting, compared to declines among students in many larger district high schools.

MNCS agrees on the need for high standards and uses projects to help students reach them. MNCS recognizes that projects like documenting and testifying to legislators on mutated frogs near the school (which led to national attention because others later found similar phenomena) help develop problem-solving, research, and public-speaking skills. But projects aren’t sufficient, for example, to master algebra.

Though she mentions MNCS, its not clear whether author Beth Hawkins actually visited the school. No MNCS student, parent, or teacher is quoted. Having helped a little to start MNCS, Im not neutral. But I believe strong academic results and key teacher cooperative details deserved more detailed coverage. There are good reasons that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave MNCS more money to replicate itself.

Joe Nathan
Director, Center for School Change
University of Minnesota

Book Alert

I was shocked by the fundamental distortion of my ideas in the review of my book, The Global Achievement Gap (book alert, Winter 2009). I wonder what evidence the reviewer could provide from my book to substantiate this assertion: He deplores results-based accountability for schools, educators, and kids. Unlike many so-called progressive educators, I am a strong advocate for accountability. I spend most of one chapter analyzing the difference between good and bad tests. My critique of No Child Left Behind is precisely that the standards for accountability, which rely mainly on multiple-choice factual recall tests, are too low and are putting our country at a serious competitive disadvantage. I advocate for a national writing test and use of the Collegiate Learning Assessment and PISA tests for accountability purposes. And I spend an entire chapter discussing the importance of holding schools of education and teachers to a much higher standard of demonstrated excellence for certification and recertification, and suggest ways of phasing out the tenure system.

Finally, I describe two public charter schools that succeed in teaching their predominantly minority students both rigorous academic content and 21st-century skills, while holding themselves to the standard of graduating 100 percent of their students, and sending nearly all to four-year colleges.

If this is not accountability, then what is?

Tony Wagner
Change Leadership Group
Harvard Graduate School of Education

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