Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's Not Bad News; It's Redemption Time

Let's take inventory:
1. Education system locked in the past
2. Lack of competitive edge
3. Financial turmoil
4. Retirements at risk
5. Energy dependence
6. Crumbling infrastructure.
7. An ad hoc tax system
8. The money pit of war
9. Global warming
10, Loss of international prestige.
11. etc.

Everywhere you look, America is clearly in crisis. If we believe all the self-help books, a problem is nothing but an opportunity in disguise. If so, then America has a huge opportunity to rethink its very social foundations. Paramount among social foundations and joined at the hip are education and the economy.

Society is like a complicated tapestry. Pull one thread and it all begins to unravel. America is facing the unprecedented opportunity to reweave the tapestry into a sustainable pattern. Surely as the grass is green and the sky is blue, the warp and woof is education and the economy. We have ignored so many warnings and squandered so many past opportunities. We delayed taking one stitch and now we have a tear requiring at least nine stitches. We did not weigh the ounce of prevention, and now the pain of a pound of cure awaits us.

We must waste no more time reinventing America. We must to reshape our institutions, starting with education if America want to retain its position. The constant short-term approach to our collective national headaches must be abandoned. We can no longer take an aspirin (or require testing, or pass a bailout, or drill baby drill) and expect that everything will be fine in the morning. We must create a healthy America instead of constantly medicating a sick one. We need to stop looking for the next technological miracle. First things first. Technology cannot save us. Technology is the servant of education. Education, though not as sexy as some other issues, is the bedrock of all our institutions, including the economy

Henry Petroski, writing about engineering, said that failures appear to be inevitable in the wake of prolonged success.1 He joins the many others in a wide variety of fields who know that failures contribute more than success to sustainable design. I have written before that relational trust seems to be the one trait that best predicts academic achievement. Relational trust has been long lost. How can America begin to heal itself and rebuild relational trust? It is not by bemoaning and dwelling on the problems or waiting for the government. Each one of us must collaborate in becoming part of a societal tidal wave of demand. America's future depends on it.

Step 1: We must commit to making education the buzzword of the day. Each one of us must become a lobbyist (they are not all bad) pushing education to the raw edge of the American national conscience. We all have a stake in education whether we have children or not because we all have a stake in our future. We need to demand that the public media talk as much about education as they do the economy. We must not allow the media to sidetrack the issue with entertaining distractions like lipstick.

Step 2: Polya's problem solving plan starts with understanding the problem. We only think we understand the problem. But for the most part we have been addressing only superficial symptoms. The real problem with American education is systemic. We absolutely must examine education systemically.

Society has the education system it wants. Some elements of society are clearly benefiting from perpetuation of the status quo. Sociologists and psychologists tell us that dysfunction and negativity serve some purpose. We must identify those players who drag down the system and bring their motivations and activities into the light of day. For example, I have heard parents suspect that the reason some of their children never transition out of special education is because schools do not want to lose the extra federal funding they get for each special education child. I only bring this up as an example; I do not want to get sidetracked into defenses

Step 3: We must lead from our strengths. Every single strength can positively impact the societal tidal wave of demand to give every child access to a world class education.

Step 4: Using the catalog of America's strengths, we, each according to our individual gifts, can together brainstorm strategies to capitalize on those strengths.

Step 5: Then we can design tactics to implement those strategies. We already know how to provide high quality education. There are teachers succeeding every day.

Step 6: Design methods for evaluating our progress toward our goals, concentrating on methods that avoid unjustly burdening and punishing those with the smallest voice, the children.

Step 7: Then do it.

Today, I would like to suggest that this post become the headquarters for a collaborative effort on the first three steps.

Please let's start a collaborative effort to compile the first three lists:
1. Ways to put education at the forefront. For example, lots of letters to local editors to motivate local media to cover education more deeply and more often.

2. Stakeholders, motivations and activities. For example, I have heard parents suspect that the reason some of their children never transition out of special education is because schools do not want to lose the extra federal funding they get for each special education child. I only bring this up as an example; I do not want to get sidetracked into defenses of special education. Obviously every stakeholder group will want to defend its turf. Please let's just generate a list for right now.

3. America's strengths including in fields other than education. I confess that at this very moment my ability to generate an example is blocked by my overwhelming feelings of discouragement. I hope our collaborative efforts will help me shake these feelings.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Career-Change Teachers Want

Surveys regularly tells us that career-changers are attracted to teaching. The latest survey is no exception, finding that 42 percent of college-educated Americans aged 24 to 60 would consider becoming a teacher. Like every other teacher recruitment effort, the survey ignores the competent, experienced teachers even of subjects like math and science who are unemployable precisely because of their experience. Even more surprising is that fact that this survey failed to snag any of these pushed-away teachers.

Many school districts have a policy of turning away applicants with more than three to five years experience. These involuntary career changers could be lured back to the classroom, but they want many of the same things career-changers from other fields want. The three main things career-changers want are:

1. A reasonable salary
2. Good working conditions
3. A quality alternative certification program

I will take each item in turn. But first, what are the qualities of typical career-changers?

1. They are academically able.
These potential teachers are more likely than others to have a postgraduate degree, to have attended selective colleges, and to report having higher-than-average grades than other college graduates,

2. They are motivated.

Like most teachers, many are driven by ideals—they want to give back to society, or make a difference in their communities or in the world. Some are looking to provide a positive role model to children, either because they themselves had such teachers or because they did not. Others are looking for a pursuit more meaningful than their present employment; and they see in teaching a chance to have a stronger intrinsic connection to their work.

3. They like science.
two-thirds of those interested in teaching said that they had considered the idea (of teaching) in the past, suggesting that a potential career switch has more than just casual appeal. Those working in engineering, science, and information technology are somewhat more likely than others to consider teaching, an important finding given the need for more teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

What do career-changers want?
1. They want a reasonable salary.

The survey found that career-changers want at least $50,000 per year to start, and even so, $50K means accepting a pay cut. One suggestion involves front loading teachers' salaries, by paying teachers directly the amounts usually diverted to retirement plans because career-changers are older already.

2. They want good working conditions.
They especially want supportive school administrators who respect their competence and professionalism. Career-changers are not spring chickens. They expect that the willingness to take a pay cut is compensated that make a situation satisfying: professional autonomy, a chance to demonstrate competence, the pleasure of making a difference, security and psychological safety.

3. They want a quality alternative route.
Veteran teachers do not need an alternative program at all, or if they do, it needs to be a highly accelerated one. The teaching credentialing process needs to be better articulated between states and teachers must be evaluated as whole persons, not a series of checked boxes. Currently, when a teacher moves from one state to another, getting the destination state credential can be a grueling and frustrating affair. Sometimes it appears that states seek to discourage teachers from being certified. once they get the credential in hand, their education and experience counts against them in their job search.

True career-changers are not looking for quick and easy alternative programs as much as they are looking for high-quality alternative programs.

Teachers who have come from other careers want to be effective in the classroom. Their success hinges on excellent, targeted teacher preparation, as well as positive, well-supported initial teaching experiences. Programs need to take several specific steps:

1. Use targeted selection processes that identify the strongest candidates.
2. Design programs that take into account the specific needs of adult learners.
3. Ground pedagogy in content and the needs of diverse learners, integrating theory and practice.
4. Provide strong clinical experiences in schools that prepare candidates for the specific settings in
which they will teach.
5. Assist with appropriate job placement in schools that make efforts to support novice teachers.
6. Ensure that teacher preparation programs are organized to promote students’ success as learners.

Achieving these goals may require considerable reengineering of current teacher preparation programs. Strong arts and sciences faculty, along with education school faculty who have considerable K-12 experience, must participate in designing and delivering programs that better integrate content and pedagogy, theory and practice. More effective collaborations with school districts are needed in the creation of clinically-based programs, with accomplished teachers serving as mentors, cooperating teachers, and clinical faculty. District-based programs must forge stronger partnerships with universities to ensure that apprenticeship-style preparation remains connected to advances in the disciplines, teaching and learning, technology, neurodevelopmental understanding, and more.

The survey also found that career-changers need more financial support while making the transition to the classroom including health care insurance, stipends and loan forgiveness.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"The Teachers Baby Us"

Even "A" students find themselves placed in remedial courses at college. Nationwide it is estimated that one-third of college students need remedial English and math courses, according to a new report by Strong American Schools. Remedial education is costing students and taxpayers a fortune.
According to the unprecedented analysis in Diploma to Nowhere, remediation in public institutions costs roughly $2.5 billion every year to provide students with the content and skills that high schools failed to provide them.
"When American public schools do not ensure students receive a quality education, they fail in their mission and in their obligation to taxpayers," says Strong American Schools Chairman Roy Romer. "Our country cannot afford a high school diploma that does not show real student achievement."

I know the coordinator of the remedial math program in one upper tier university within "the giant California State University system" who says 65 percent of incoming freshman must complete at least one remedial math course. Students report to me they are surprised, angry and frustrated to find out that good grades and studious habits are not enough enough to prepare them for college. They believe they did their part so the problem must lie with the teachers. Hence one college student's complaint, "The teachers baby us."

Roy Romer says, "We're not expecting enough of our youngsters and the institutions that train them." At least one middle school student agrees. Americans are poignantly aware of the link between education and the economy.
Americans See Link between Education and Economic Prosperity

A new poll from the Associated Press shows that education is a leading issue for Americans, ahead of the war in Iraq, terrorism, and the environment.

Most Americans agree that "if more students completed at least two years of college, the economy would benefit."

In another survey:
Majority of American Parents Think Too Little Attention is Being Paid to Education as a 2008 Presidential Campaign Issue: GreatSchools Partners with Strong American Schools to Advocate for Elevating Discussion about the Need for Education Reform

The media should be flooded with stories of everyday American pressing hard for a world-class education system. Instead, for all the complaining about education, there is little interest in a serious national conversation. In fact, one survey found that parents would rather shop for school clothes than do the more important things that might actually have some positive impact on their child's academic achievement.
The findings revealed that while most parents are engaged in back-to-school shopping, they may be overlooking other important ways they can help their children prepare for a new school year.

According to the survey, parents are more than twice as likely to shop for supplies and clothes for their children as to:
Find out what their children will be learning in the new school year
Meet the new teachers
Adjust their children's sleep schedule
Get their children on a nutritional breakfast schedule
Increase their children's reading time
Reduce their children's video/computer game playing time

What we can learn is that the education of our children is a collaborative societal project requiring the active participation of all stakeholders, including those with no children in school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We Need to Start Talking Seriously about Education Now!

According to Ed Week, it is pretty unusual for candidates to talk about education this close to an election. That is part of the problem. We know that education and the economy are joined at the hip. Up to now, what has driven economic policy is maximizing short term profit, also known as greed. A similar engine drives education. For example, gains in test scores is taken as improvement, and as long as there is a cosmetic appearance of improvement, the population is pacified and grant funders are happy to continue giving money. Now there is some lipstick on a pig.

Teaching to the test is not a sustainable strategy for getting the kind of profound improvements America needs to successfully compete in the global arena. It is a cliche but education IS an investment in the future. Americans must lift their heads and look toward the horizon. Yesterday Jeffrey Feldman said the meme for the election should be "grandchildren." You bet. I have written many times that American society has the education it wants. We know this because if it were not so, society would demand something else. Instead, we waste decades and generations bouncing from one educational fad to another. When will America say with Obama, "Enough!"

I say this election, even now, even this late in the election cycle, is a perfect time to put education and its implications for the economy front and center. It is harder work and not as fun as parsing every word out of Palin's mouth, but surely a much more long-term profitable use of time, energy and brain cells. When Bush touched the third rail of Social Security, society stepped in. Everyone with a brain and an internet connection added their two-cents worth to that debate. Except for the diehards, non-partisanship ruled the day as society concluded that privatization would be a supremely bad idea.

It is past time for society to get excited, even passionate, about the education of future generations. We can begin by examining the candidates' positions on education. I have already started. Please join me. Comment here, there, and everywhere. Most blogs have blogrolls. Use comments and Digg to create a tsunami network of education conversations. Look for creative ways to reallocate present resources. Make the media sit up and take notice.

I agree with Robert Gordon, an advisor to the Obama campaign.
McCain sounds pretty good on education, but when you scratch even a little bit beneath the surface, there’s no there, there.

The McCain campaign begs to differ.
Senator McCain ... is interested in empowering families and speaking directly to the educational needs of Americans, as opposed to the system,” said Eugene W. Hickok, a former deputy secretary of education under President Bush who is advising the McCain campaign. “Whereas Obama, beyond his mantra of more money, more money, is really just supporting these traditional approaches to the system.”

Let's go beyond such back-and-forth of political campaigns and make education an issue right up there with the economy and foreign policy. Americans need an education race mindset and commitment like that of the 1960s space race. Let's work hard to prove Paul Manna wrong.
“As for [education] being a centerpiece, I don’t think that’s going to happen with just two months to go” before the election, said Paul Manna, an assistant professor of government at the College of William and Mary, who studies politics related to education. “It’s hard to see how it’s going to gain traction.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Education: McCain and Obama Compared

Two days ago I printed out both the McCain and Obama information on education. I really do not like reading computer screens so I printed out all the info from both campaigns. McCain's required seven pages and Obama's required two pages.

McCain writes extensively about he calls his “vision,” his “principles,” and his “policies” on education. He does not write about a “plan.” Overall, McCain's information is characterized by an overabundance of pretty words, with very little in the way of specifics. Generally, each educational entity is responsible for figuring out for itself how to deliver quality education.

After a brief introduction to what Obama sees as five of the biggest problems, the rest of Obama's two pages is devoted to what he entitles, “Barack Obama's Plan.” Throughout Obama stresses that he will increase funding for each of his initiatives. Seven points out of his fifteen-point plan mention the source of funding. His plan is somewhat more specific than McCain's and does not ask education to fix itself.

Democrats will likely consider McCain's policies another example of the “you're on your own “ society and Republicans will likely consider Obama's policies another example of the “nanny” state.

McCain's Positions

Choice should drive excellence. Public education means the taxpayer pays for education in whatever educational setting the parent chooses. McCain is especially excited about the idea of virtual schools.

Competition should drive excellence. Schools must compete to attract the most effective teachers. Schools must compete to be the highest quality schools, as determined by parents. Furthermore, “every child in America is destined to compete with his or her peers around the world.” McCain would coordinate the many federal and state child care and preschool programs.

The closest thing to a plan revolves around Head Start.

1.Who is eligible? Head Start centers operating in the state with a demonstrated record of success in improving the school readiness of children are eligible to be nominated by the Governor for recognition as a Center of Excellence.
2.How does it work? The Secretary of HHS will pick at least one Head Start Center in each state based on the qualifications and experience of the Head Start Center
3.Each Head Start Center identified by the Secretary as a Center of Excellence will use their funds to expand their programs to serve more children, disseminate their best practices to other Head Start agencies (similar to a charter school dissemination grant), and improve coordination of early childhood education in their city or state.
4.How will the funding be distributed? The Secretary will provide at least $200,000 per year to each Center of Excellence, depending on availability of funding. The Secretary has discretion to increase awards if more funds become available.

Basically, any Head Start facility that has demonstrated success has a chance at $200,000 per year from the federal coffers IF the money is there. The McCain plan says that if you fix yourself in a way we find acceptable, maybe we will reward you monetarily (and maybe not). Schools do not need an extrinsic reward to motivate them. Schools want to be successful. If schools could fix themselves, they would have done so already. The systemic problems with education are more than any one school can fix on their own.

It is possible to cite a wonderful school here and there, just like once in a while a basketball player becomes a star. America needs all of its schools to be stars. America needs to become as obsessed with winning the “education” race as it once was with winning the space race.

Education reforms must address the “underlying cultural problems in our education system.”
I am guessing that what Republicans consider the underlying cultural problems and what Democrats consider the underlying cultural problems would be substantially different. It is a phrase that seeks to establish a meaningless and deceptive common ground.

All of America's children must be healthy McCain says he will “ensure there are no federal prohibitions against preschool programs offering basic health care screenings to children...” Getting rid of prohibitions is a far cry from actually paying for health care screenings. It is another example of a toothless “plan.” Japan has a regular program of health care screening for children in all the preschools. Local private practice doctors and dentists regularly visit each preschool and kindergarten at no charge to parents.

Parents must be educated to prepare their children for school. McCain would add the mission of instructing parents “in reading and numbers skills, as well as nutrition and general health” to current federal programs. There is no mention of additional funding.

In conclusion, I found that McCain did not have an education plan as much as an unfunded wish list.

Obama's Positions

Out-of-School Programs
Zero to Five Plan: Obama's comprehensive "Zero to Five" plan will provide critical support to young children and their parents. Unlike other early childhood education plans, Obama's plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state "zero to five" efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school.

Obama will also expand Early Head Start, Head Start and other child care options. Obama will improve after-school options and summer school programs. Successful in-school and out-of-school programs together will encourage kids to stay in school. College outreach programs must show students a future. If American society decides that all children need college to compete in the world, the societal benefit of relegating less accomplished students to lower level jobs needs to be addressed. Obama's plan resembles McCain's in the sense it lacks specific directives, but at least Obama does not expect education to fix itself and ask for federal money later.

Reform No Child Left Behind Obama supports the intention of NCLB but plans to reform the design, implementation and funding. It is not clear how he will address the testing and punitive aspects of the program. Testing takes care of itself when children enjoy a quality education. Punishment adds stress and people do not do their best work under stress. Although autonomy is a primary trait of satisfactory professional experiences, it is also clear that schools are unable to autonomously fix themselves without serious guidance.

Make Math and Science Education a National Priority Obama hopes to recruit math and science degree graduates to the teaching profession. In many states, secondary teachers must have a degree in their field as well as a teaching credential. It is not clear if Obama would like to recruit math and science graduates to elementary teaching.

Recruit, Prepare, Retain, and Reward America's Teachers
Recruit Teachers: Obama will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location.

Prepare Teachers: Obama will require all schools of education to be accredited. He will also create a voluntary national performance assessment so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. Obama will also create Teacher Residency Programs that will supply 30,000 exceptionally well-prepared recruits to high-need schools.

Retain Teachers: To support our teachers, Obama's plan will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. He will also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices.

Reward Teachers: Obama will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

I would add it's about time America actively welcomed its proven veteran teachers back to the classroom. It's a crime that school districts all over America have a policy of turning away their most experienced applicants.

We tend to ask what are the problems and what can we do to get a quick, short-term positive appearance of improvement. When the problem is framed in such a way, regulatory answers seem obvious. Regulation tends to highlight and punish the negatives. We need to ask different questions.

The analysis should begin with examining and analyzing first the strengths of the American education system, then designing plans that build on those strengths to proceed to a well-defined goal. In the 1960's, America had a well-defined goal; to land a man on the moon. Regarding education, America has no well-defined goals. There is not even a consensus that education is an important issue.

It seems apparent that both the McCain and the Obama education advisors recognize the same issues and recommends the same basic approaches, each policy set is consistent with the ideological orientation of the respective parties. When it comes to education, everything needs to be on the table. For Republicans this might mean, for example, actually funding proposals; for Democrats this might mean, for example, confronting the teachers unions.

Although autonomy is a primary trait of satisfactory professional experiences, it is also clear that schools are unable to autonomously reform themselves without serious guidance. Both sets of policies are incoherent and piecemeal. American society needs to demand a systemic overhaul.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

U.S. High School Graduation Rates 19th in World

On Sept 9, 2008, NBC Nightly News reported that the US rank 19th, just ahead of Mexico, in percentage of students graduating high school. In a well-cited article, Economist's View presents and elaborates on high school graduation and wage data, concluding that the gap between high school graduates and drop-outs is widening.
America is becoming a polarized society. Proportionately more American youth are going to college and graduating than ever before. At the same time, proportionately more are failing to complete high school.

Perhaps twenty years ago I read an article wherein the author prophesied the present dichotomy between the educated elite and “techno-peasants.” The author described techno-peasants as people who flip hamburgers all day and play computer games all night. I attempted to find the article in a Google search and discovered the term “techno-peasant” has entered English vocabulary, but I was unable to find the original article. Twenty years before the techno-peasant article, the Kerner Report foresaw the same situation with its famous and controversial conclusion:
Our nation is moving towards two societies — one white, one black — separate and unequal

With the educational polarization of America in place and squeezing of the middle class accelerating the economic polarization of America, we see another example of the tight connection between education and economics. CBCSE estimates that boosting high school graduation rates would save $45 billion per year. The Chronicle of Higher Education also laments the decline in graduation rates.

Employers continue to fill job vacancies with warm bodies. Students do not experience much encouragement to achieve academically. As one comment noted:
I believe the central culprit at the bottom of this is American popular culture and values. We as a society do not truly value educational attainment except as a ticket to money and status. We do not respect teachers, as is the case in many other developed and developing countries, and we have a range of derogatory names for children who excell in academics, e.g. geek, dweeb, dork and so forth. I am not surprised by these findings and if things don’t change in terms of fundamental values regarding education and intellectual achievement, this country will sink to a second-world level. I believe we are already sinking.
Christina Newhill Apr 1, (2008) 04:22 PM

I have long argued that American society needs to examine its fundamental assumptions and values about education. Right now America has the education system it wants. When America decides it wants something different, nothing will stand in its way.