Category Archives: Educator Preparation

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

Thoughts on Indiana’s Changes to Superintendent Licensure Policy

Indiana legislation (HR 1357) passed in 2013, permits local school boards to hire superintendents without licensure or previous training and experience in schools or educational leadership. The bill passed with the tie-breaking vote of the state’s lieutenant governor. It was the first time an Indiana lieutenant governor passed a tie-breaking vote in eight years. Previous state law required that superintendents hold a teacher’s’ license and hold state certification as a superintendent. Superintendents can now be hired in Indiana with a temporary license. The new law does require, however, that superintendents have a minimum of a masters degree. To date, no Indiana school boards have hired a superintendent who does have superintendent licensure.

One question that has been raised is how the change in superintendent certification requirements would affect other legislation which requires the evaluation of all certified employees of school boards. Would HR 1357 also require the formal evaluation of superintendents, even non-licensed ones? My guess is that in Indiana, as in other states which allow local school boards to hire superintendents with temporary licenses, superintendents would still be formally evaluated by school boards. Since advocacy for this policy change has come from advocates that also support high-stakes accountability for teachers and leaders, it is not likely that they would support waiving evaluation requirements for non-licensed superintendents. However, if I am incorrect, and the covert plan of this policy’s advocates is in fact to undermine the evaluation of superintendents, my hope is that Indiana state law would be changed to require the evaluation of all superintendents, those with permanent licensure and those without it.

The major underlying question with this issue is whether in fact there is benefit to requiring licensure for educational leaders, and in this case in particular, licensure for school superintendents. My answer to the question is that it depends. If we are talking about high-quality preparation/licensure programs for educational leaders, then I wholeheartedly believe there is great benefit to preparation programs for educational leaders. If, however, we are talking about poor-quality programs that serve the primary function of bringing in tuition dollars for colleges of education, then a non-licensed superintendent can be just as good/effective or better than one who has earned licensure. I do believe functioning as an effective superintendent requires expertise in organizational leadership and administration, and some expertise or depth of understanding about instructional leadership. An individual may very well possess those qualities, however, without holding superintendents licensure. I guess the just of it is that preparation does matter if it is good preparation. But the reality in educational leadership preparation is that state professional standards boards across the U.S. continue to permit poor quality programs to operate; that reality must change. If poor quality programs are not rooted out, leaving the public to wonder whether there is any benefit to preparation programs and licensure for educational leaders, educator licensure (for leaders and teachers) will be a thing of the past in a very short time period.

Should state legislatures proceed in the style of Indiana and remove licensure requirements for superintendents? I am not sure yet. But for states that do make the decision to move forward in this vein, they should do so with caution. Serious conversation on these issues has to continue across the now huge divide between reformers and traditionalists. Currently, most serious conversation happens only within camps, and tremendous opportunities for the development of good policy are lost because we are not having open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that involve representatives of all the various stakeholder groups.


Educational Leadership Preparation in Kentucky: A Race to the Bottom?

This week I am attending the International Symposium on
Educational Reform hosted by the University of Jyväskylä
in Finland. Yesterday I had a great conversation with a Finnish colleague who is preparing to assume the principalship at a school in the Jyväskylä
region of the country. Our conversation centered on the quality of educational leadership
preparation programs. He first shared with me that the government has limited
the number of higher education institutions authorized for principal training;
currently only three institutions may offer principal training in Finland. But
even among just those three programs, aspiring principals in Finland have an
understanding of which programs are most highly regarded and they typically apply to
those programs first.

When asked about the state of
affairs with educational leadership preparation in Kentucky, I shared quite a
few things. I included the recent state-required reform of educational
leadership programs across the state, including the requirement that principal
preparation occur at the post-masters level-only in Kentucky. I shared that at
the University of Kentucky we had redesigned our program with the input of
practitioner colleagues to be a rigorous, high-quality program, with work-embedded
assignments and courses co-taught with scholar-practitioners currently in the field. I
shared that our program was designed to be delivered in an executive-style format,
with Saturday on-campus meetings 5-6 times per semester and online and
independent work in-between on-campus meetings. I told him that our program was
designed to prepare aspiring leaders to be the change agents in education that
Kentucky desperately needs to turn the corner in student learning.

But I also had to share
with him a few unpleasant realities about educational leadership preparation in
Kentucky; realities which contrast considerably with how Finland has approached educational leadership
preparation. I told him that the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB )
has chosen not to limit the number of higher education institutions in the
state that may offer principal preparation programs. As a result, I told him, Kentucky
has an oversupply of principal preparation programs; in fact, considerably more
programs exist than there is either need or demand for programs. Kentucky’s EPSB has approved principal preparation programs at 11
higher education institutions in the state. For comparison sake, Finland has a population of
5.3 million people and three programs leading to principal licensure; and
Kentucky has a population just under 4.4 million people and 11 programs leading
to principal licensure.

But it is not the abundance of
principal preparation programs in the state alone that is so troubling. Two
confounding issues make the oversupply of programs a problem for Kentucky.
First, all of the state-approved programs are not rigorous, high-quality
programs. And who can best attest to the quality or lack of quality in
programs? Students and graduates of the programs can attest to it, and they do.
Most of the students and graduates of educational leadership programs in
Kentucky that I have come across have no problem with telling you whether their
program provides or provided solid preparation for the principalship. And it’s
been more than a few current school leaders that have told me flat out that
their preparation program was useless. That is a problem.

But here is what makes it worse.
Many of those same students and graduates will tell you that they chose their
preparation program not because they believed it to be a high-quality
program, but because it was the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to earn principal
licensure. That is an area that I do not believe has been explored by the
educational leadership research literature. While more than a few studies have
shown educational leaders criticizing their leadership preparation programs, I
am not familiar with studies that asked those leaders if they chose their
program based on its perceived high-quality. For if the findings of my non-systematic
data collection were confirmed (and I believe they would be), and principals in
Kentucky are in large numbers choosing the leadership preparation programs that
they perceive to be the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to get the certification,
then Kentucky’s schools are in a whole lot of trouble.

First, I do not believe it bodes
well that aspiring school leaders would think so little of their preparation for
administrative positions that they would choose programs in that manner. Second
but also very important, when aspiring leaders choose leadership preparation
programs based on ease, programs that need to enroll students to remain viable
begin to compete for those students by watering down program admissions
requirements, curriculum, and expectations; creating what my colleague Justin Bathon has referred to as a Race to the
Bottom
for leadership preparation programs. That, I fear, is what is
beginning to happen in Kentucky. And I fear that aspiring leaders choosing preparation
programs based on ease will have disastrous consequences for the state. Programs
in Kentucky that choose to compete for students will respond to the student market
by offering dumbed-down programs; and programs that refuse to compromise their standards
will go out of business as a function of the market. The result will be
Kentucky left with a generation of school
administrators that are certified, but ill-equipped to be the visionary and transformative
leaders that Kentucky schools so desperately need.

That, I told my Finnish colleague,
is where I believe educational leadership preparation in Kentucky may be headed;
but it doesn’t have to be that way. Kentucky’s EPSB can better regulate the market. EPSB’s bar for
program approval may be set too low. A higher threshold for program approval
with just a few high-quality programs in the state may be an avenue for the
EPSB to consider. Better regulation of the market would prevent current aspiring leaders from
choosing low quality options and forcing the entire market in that direction. But
in addition to EPSB responding to this potential crisis of school leadership, we
have to change the culture of the education professions to place a much higher
value on education, preparation, and professional learning. Preparation and
training are not just unnecessary hoops for educators to jump through; these
are opportunities for deeper learning and reflection so that educators can
improve what they do. It deeply troubles me that professional development for
so many Kentucky educators has been reduced to simply accumulating the minimum
number of hours required each year. It deeply troubles me that preparation and
certification programs are regarded by so many Kentucky educators as standing
in line to get their tickets punched so they can get the job that they think they
already know how to do. We must change the current seemingly dominant cultural
beliefs about professional learning in the education professions and/or change
the people that are going into the education professions. Finnish teachers and educational
leaders place great value on their continued learning and professional
development. That seriousness about their professional learning is one of the keys
to the Finns’ successfully improving educational outcomes for students across Finland.
Such an important cultural change could pay huge dividends for Kentucky as
well.

New Years Resolution: Be Honest About Education 2012

As we start 2012 I propose that we all make the resolution that we begin to be honest with ourselves, and with our children, about education in America. For too long we have led ourselves and our children to believe untruths about schools, teachers, and our systems of public education. This ends for me today. For I believe the only way to move toward fixing our education uglies is to expose them. In that vein, I begin today with a exposing a few lies that we have continued to tell our ourselves and our children about education. Here are a few to get us started:

Lie #1: Schools are all about children.

The Truth: Schools are about money and adults too.
It is true that if there were no children there would be no schools. It is true that children are at the heart of many of the decisions we make in and about schools. But it is also true that P-12 education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in every state. Thousands of adults in every state are public school employees and state public school systems spend millions of dollars every year on contracts with vendors. All this is to say that schools are also the places where lots of adults work, and many of the decisions we make in and about schools are based not on what is best for children, but on what is most convenient for adults. Whether you want to call this truth good, bad, or ugly, it remains the truth.

Is there any way around this? Would it be reasonable to say that we can get to the point where all decisions in schools are made strictly on the basis of what is best for student learning? Probably not. But it is reasonable to set the goal that children’s learning will become our top priority when making decisions. It is reasonable to say that if a decision comes down to two choices: one option being better for student learning, and the other option being easier/more convenient/more lucrative for policy makers/school leaders/teachers, the clear choice would be the option that is best for student learning. We are not currently at that place.

Lie #2: We believe all children deserve a quality education.

The Truth: We do not.
This one is a pretty obvious fabrication. If it were true we would not continue to provide lesser quality education to students based on their socioeconomic background/neighborhood. The vast majority of children in the US who live in more affluent neighborhoods have a higher quality educational experience than children who live in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Children in lower income neighborhoods typically attend schools with poorer quality facilities, teachers who are less able to meet their needs, and lesser quality instructional and technological resources. Many factors contribute to this reality. A few of these factors are many teachers’ preference to not teach in predominantly low income and minority schools, teacher preparation programs failing to prepare aspiring teachers to meet the needs of low income and minority students, a failure to attract candidates into the teacher profession who would serve low income and minority students well, differential school funding, and outright neglect of resources in schools that serve predominantly low income and minority students.

Lie #3: All teachers are good teachers.

The Truth: Some teachers are completely ineffective.
The claim that all teachers are effective or even that all teachers have the potential to be effective is ridiculous and is an insult to the teaching profession. High-quality teachers are highly-skilled professionials with a mastery of both the academic content that they teach and the pedagogical skill necessary to effectively deliver that content to students. It is insulting to the profession to assume not only that anyone could do this, but that anyone could do this well. Many of our current crop of teachers are not effective teachers. Some of them have no desire to become effective teachers. These teachers should be relieved of their classroom duties immediately.

Lie #4: People become teachers because they love children.

The Truth: Some teachers/principals do it for the money.
I believe that the majority of educators went into the field because they care about children, but I know very well that this is not the case for a significant minority of educators. Contrary to popular belief, public school teaching is not the worst paying job in town. Some people actually do become educators for the money. The stability and benefits that come along with the profession are attractive to some people as well. Also, it might be a little less than pleasant for the general public to find out the number of teachers that majored in education because it was easier to get into and keep a job than the field they would prefer to be in.

What about the principalship? Well, some principals make really good money (really good)! That is attractive to some educators whether they believe they would be effective at the job or not. Higher education institutions have exacerbated this problem as many education administration graduate degree programs have become diploma mills, recommending principal certification to the state for any living breathing human being who pays two years worth of tuition. Worse still, some teachers go into school administration in an effort to work less directly with children.

Please join me in telling the truth about education in 2012. Being honest about our shortcomings in education is the necessary first step toward making things better, and I really want things to get better. Our children’s future depends on it.

Happy New Year!

Devaluing the Importance of Pedagogical Expertise– A Dangersous Policy Trend

Since writing my November 3rd post about proposed changes to Indiana’s educator preparation programs,I haven’t stopped thinking about what I see as the beginning of a policy trend in devaluing the importance of classroom teachers’ pedagogical expertise. Perhaps beginning with the No Child Left Behind Act and its surrounding rhetoric, increased emphasis has been placed on teachers’ content knowledge or lack of it. I contend that this renewed emphasis is extremely important. I have worked with and observed far too many teachers over my career whose grasp of their courses’ academic content was severely lacking. This is extremely problematic. If a geometry teacher doesn’t have a solid grasp of geometry, the odds of her student coming away from that course understanding geometry are slim to ridiculous. So again, I whole-heartedly support policy initiatives to make sure teachers have the required content knowledge to teach.

However, I do not support policies that place emphasis on teacher content knowledge but deemphasize the importance of pedagogical skill. Both areas are extremely important and must be jointly emphasized. Most of us, even if we have not worked as educators, realize that teachers’ content knowledge alone is not sufficient for providing the type of learning experiences that we want for our children. I have had the opportunity to observe quite a few classrooms just over the last year where the teacher standing in front of the room was unquestionably an expert in his or her subject area, but hadn’t the slightest clue how to convey their knowledge and understanding to the young people they were charged with teaching. 
Effective teachers are those that have a firm grasp of both their content and pedagogical skill. Policies that sacrifice teacher training in one of these critical areas at the expense of the other not only put the learning of our children in jeopardy, but they are a slap in the face to good teachers who have worked extremely hard to master both.