Monday, March 28, 2011

More Great Dialogue

The New York Times' Room for Debate continues to host great discussion about the state of education.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Raise Teachers' Status

The New York Times 

March 16, 2011

U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.
Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.
“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”
The conference, convened by the federal Department of Education, was expected to bring together education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents from nine American states. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement.
“We’re all facing similar challenges,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview.
The meeting occurs at a time when teachers’ rights, roles and responsibilities are being widely debated in the United States.
Republicans in Wisconsin and several other states have been pushing legislation to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights and reduce taxpayer contributions to their pensions.
President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.
“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.
Mr. Schleicher is a senior official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., a Paris group that includes the world’s major industrial powers. He wrote the new report, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president who is a former West Virginia schools superintendent, for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation.
It draws on data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which periodically tests 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries in math, reading or science.
On the most recent Pisa, the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.
The “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, the report says, include adopting common academic standards — an effort well under way here, led by state governors — developing better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.
“Make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession” was the top recommendation.
University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report says.
Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor.
According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency).
But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.
In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.
“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Make It Personal

I have been saying for years that learning is maximized when the content touches students personally.  I acknowledge that this can be difficult in some subjects.  But therein lies the art of the teacher.  Furthermore, in my work on the achievement gap I regulalry point out that what we need to find are the strategies that lift achievement for all while accelerating the achievement of those measured below average.  Strategies that simply lift all perpetuate the same gap we have.  So how do we accelerate some, but lift all?  That is the key to closing gaps.  The National Science Foundation released this finding this week....

This isn't a new finding for those who have been searching for such solutions, but it is stated in a succinct fashion.  Bottom line...teachers, ask your students to write about themselves, their life, their values.  Get to know them and let them share themselves.  Make them a vital part of instruction.  

Memphis Schools Merge

I had briefly followed the story of a merger between two school districts in the Memphis area.  I stopped when I cynically realized there was no way the voting public would go for such a plan.  Fortunately, I was proven wrong.  Here is, in my opinion, a real sign of both progress and hope for our schools and our nation.  While not a perfect plan, it shows willingess to work together across all sorts of historical lines of division.  Well done...  

Speak Up

The White House, Washington

Good morning,
The state of the American education system today is unacceptable. As many as one quarter of American students don’t finish high school. We've fallen to ninth place in the proportion of young people with college degrees. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.
For the sake of the next generation, and America's economic future, this has to change.
Providing our nation's students with a world-class education is a shared responsibility. We can't out-compete the rest of the world in the 21st century global economy unless we out-educate them. It's going to take all of us -- educators, parents, students, philanthropists, state and local leaders, and the federal government -- working together to prepare today’s students for the jobs of the 21st century.
That's why I want to hear from you. As President Obama's chief advisor on domestic policy, I focus much of my time on education reform. As part of the White House’s new Advise the Advisor program, I've posed a few key questions for parents, teachers and students to answer so we can get a sense of what’s working in your communities -- and what needs to change.
Take a minute to let me know what you think:
The good news is that we're making progress and seeing improvements around the country already, focusing on our own Three R's: responsibility, reform and results.
Take Miami Central High School, where the President and I traveled on Friday. Several years ago, Miami Central was struggling. Achievement was lagging at the school, and morale was down. Graduation rates hovered at just 36 percent.  But the Miami Central community came together. They set high expectations, and they did the hard work to reform their school. They've turned around their performance -- academic achievement is improving, and graduation rates have improved by nearly 30 points. Miami Central is now well on its way toward providing college and career readiness for its students.
Today, we're visiting TechBoston Academy, a great example of private-sector, non-profit and higher-education partners working with communities to help prepare students with the knowledge and skills they'll need to succeed in college and careers. At TechBoston Academy sixth grade through twelfth grade students learn by using technology in their classrooms. Thanks to strong partners, TechBoston students have access to a 21st century curriculum, early enrollment in college classes, and an extended day program to provide enrichment and to deepen learning in core subjects.
These schools in Miami and Boston are just two examples of success. I'm looking for feedback from more all-star schools, as well as your strategies and challenges to reform our education system. 
As I mentioned earlier, education reform is a shared responsibility for all of us, and it's one that we at the White House take very seriously.
Melody Barnes
Director of the Domestic Policy Council
P.S. If you're passionate about education issues we've set up a special email list focused on education  that will offer more frequent updates on the topic moving forward: