The Official Website of Kendel Christensen

I read the New York Times excellent collection of comments from experts on the question of how we can change the teaching profession.  Here are are some great points I gleaned:
“…factory-era policies… treat teachers like interchangeable parts…Most school districts can’t distinguish their highest-performing teachers from their lowest; wrongly, they act as though all teachers are the same.

[This] “widget effect” degrades the teaching profession. If you do a fantastic job in your classroom, you can’t expect a fast track up the career ladder or even a pat on the back. You’ll get the same formulaic, seniority-based raise each year as the lower-performing teacher down the hall. During these hard economic times, you might even get a pink slip, since it’s illegal in 14 states to consider job performance in layoff decisions.

If you’re struggling, you can’t expect any feedback to help you get better. You’ll most likely get a “satisfactory” evaluation rating like 99 percent of your colleagues. After a few years, you’ll probably earn tenure, regardless of whether you improve, as will nearly every other teacher…

It’s odd that efforts to increase professionalism in education are often derided as “anti-teacher.” The hard truth is that as long as the widget effect persists, teaching will never be an elite profession…The solution is setting high expectations, evaluating teachers fairly and accurately, and making job performance really matter. That’s what we should all be fighting for.”
Don’t Treat Them Like Widgets” by Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project.

“college teacher education programs do not, on average, produce graduates who are any more effective than teachers who have had only a few weeks of pre-service training.”
Improve Teacher Training” by Kati Haycock,  president of the Education Trust

“teaching today is not among the most attractive careers open to talented young people…Today’s teacher compensation system is perfectly designed to repel ambitious individuals. We offer mediocre starting salaries, provide meager raises even after hard-earned skills have been gained on the job and backload the most generous benefits (in terms of pensions) toward the end of 30 years of service…Here’s the game plan: raise starting pay, accelerate salary bumps to keep up with a young teacher’s rapid improvement in effectiveness, offer ways for teachers to take on additional responsibilities and thus make more money (like mentoring younger peers or taking on more students), and offer portable retirement benefits that allow people to build retirement wealth without signing on for a lifetime of teaching. Finance this all by allowing class sizes to rise modestly, maximizing smart uses of technology, and trimming the number of aides and specialists our schools employ.”
How to Reform Compensation” by Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

“What we, as teachers, need to do is take back our profession. Most teachers will take to the streets and protest over salaries, pensions and working conditions, but how many teachers would do the same if someone who has never taught their grade level or subject, imposed a new curriculum or demanded that certain pedagogy be followed? Until practicing classroom teachers are allowed to make real decisions regarding curriculum, assessment, textbooks and professional development, the status of teachers will remain low.

At the moment, our profession seems to be in the hands of politicians, researchers, special interest groups, school system bureaucracies, unions, technology companies and textbook publishers…Why should bright high school students decide to become teachers if they suspect that everyone will make decisions concerning their profession except them?”
Let Us Teach!” by Vern Williams who teaches honors math at Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, Va. He was named to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2006.

“The National Council of Teacher Quality advises states to base teacher evaluations on objective indicators of student learning and to require stronger accountability for teacher preparation programs. Also, the organization recommends that the rigor of teacher certification exams be upgraded, especially given that almost all states set a low bar for passage. These sensible supply-side proposals, though, should be accompanied by demand-side reforms.

Parents and their children are the consumers of teaching services, and federal survey data shows that significantly lower percentages of parents of children with assigned public-school teachers are “very satisfied” with those teachers versus parents who can choosetheir public-school teachers or who decide to choose private school teachers. Choice improves satisfaction because if parents are dissatisfied with particular teachers they can choose better teachers at other schools.

Giving parents more school-choice tools would spur competition that would force states and school districts to change ineffective teacher policies, produce better teachers, raise student achievement, increase parental satisfaction, and lead to higher status for teachers.”
Supply and DemandLance T. Izumi is the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

“To improve the status of teachers in the U.S., the teaching profession needs be a desirable and sustainable long-term career option for our most talented college graduates. Here are three ways to help attract, develop and retain a deeper pool of great teachers:

Pay them accordingly. Radically increasing teacher pay can be accomplished largely by re-allocating the existing dollars spent on public education. Reducing the number of non-teaching personnel, including administrators, in the school-building has a significant impact on a school’s budget, allowing for drastically higher teacher salaries.

Give them autonomy. Let talented teachers make decisions about curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, and then hold them accountable for those decisions by looking at the growth of their students. Teachers should not be micromanaged by school or district administrators; they should be given clear goals about what students are expected to learn and the freedom to achieve those goals in their classrooms.

Encourage and provide professional growth. Good teachers want to be in schools that allow them to continually develop themselves and their craft. Time should be built into each teacher’s weekly schedule to observe and learn from talented peers in other classrooms. Schools should have dedicated time and space for teachers to individually and collaboratively reflect on their teaching practices and on their students’ work. Teachers should have regular and specific feedback from their peers and from the school’s instructional leader. Great teachers are particularly hungry for meaningful (not superficial) feedback about their practices.”
“Money, Freedom and Growth” by Zeke Vanderhoek, the founder and principal of The Equity Project Charter School, a public Title 1 middle school in New York City that pays its teachers an annual salary of $125,000, relying solely on its public funding to do so.  —“If we want to make teaching a more desirable career option for the best and the brightest, here’s what we need to do:

First, we must improve teacher preparation. Many of the highest performing education systems in the world are very selective about who gets into their teacher training programs. In the U.S., almost anyone can get into and complete a preparation program. Colleges should study the newer alternative training programs like Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, which have designed rigorous selection criteria and produce teachers ready for the classroom.

Second, we must strengthen teacher evaluations. Most evaluations of teacher performance are perfunctory at best…

 Third, we must reform teacher pay and tenure. Unlike other professions, teachers are paid with little regard to their performance or responsibilities. Most are paid based on years of service and graduate school credits, both of which correlate little with students’ academic success. We need career ladders for teachers that allow them to stay in the classroom and extra pay for taking on difficult assignments. Most important, we need to compensate all teachers based on their success with student learning and other related measures.

Finally, we must improve professional development. Teachers, like all of us, learn on the job, but despite billions of dollars in spending each year, research has shown that the quality of professional development is quite poor. Policymakers need to demand more of school and district administrators.

If we fundamentally redesign our teacher workforce system and pay teachers significantly more for their success and responsibilities, our nation can attract many of our most able workers to the teaching profession and raise its status.”
Redesign the System” by Cynthia G. Brown,  vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress.


3 Responses

  1. Good post, Kendel!

    Of course, I’m in favor of improving the status and effectiveness of teachers. (Who isn’t?)

    However, I am skeptical that handing over the reins to “the nation” will produce the wanted change. Thus, I cringe at each of Cynthia G. Brown’s “solutions” which smack of bigger beauracracy, more money, and more mess. Zeke Vanderhoek’s suggestion to better administer existing public funds seems to hit nearer the mark, although I wonder who would implement the actual changes. Would it be local leadership (I hope) or some kind of national evaluators?

    While you’re on the subject of reform, I invite you to think of the bigger picture of public education in America today. I personally am looking forward to a documentary called, The Fourth Purpose, which will tackle some of the stickiest issues surrounding public school today.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Dan!
    I believe, at least in Zeke’s case, that it was local leaderships who were able to reallocate funds to better suite their vision. My parents are actually in the process of designing a charter school and there is surprisingly a lot of leeway to do things like that (although, the state–and worse–the local district have to approve). I’m excited to see where things go. Thanks for letting me know about The Fourth Purpose. I will look into it for SURE!

  3. What John Taylor Gatto actually facilitated for his students needs to be shared with everyone at this critical stage in our culture. The following site has excellent excerpts for those who need the info but cannot listen to entire Gatto interviews and speeches that are available on the web:

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