EWA Conference: The Promise and Pitfalls of Improving the Teaching Profession


Every now and then, I get a chance to attend a conference or seminar on some issue in education. Some teachers I know hate attending conferences, but I see them not only as an opportunity to gain new knowledge and to network, but also a chance to retain my sense of sanity and perspective. The everyday life in the self-contained classroom is one of high stress, and as much as I love my students, sometimes I need a break. Conferences are a way for me to thus gain a “mental health” day, while developing professionally at the same time. Also, as a friend of mine who works in the software engineering world put it, conferences are a great chance to “geek out” with other people who work in the same field. How often do I get to talk shop with like-minded folks?

I attended a conference put on by the Education Writer’s Association (and sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation) on the topic of improving the teaching profession. This event was primarily for journalists, but some teacher bloggers were also invited.

The chance to meet with other teachers is always an opportunity I cherish, whether simply within the confines of my school, within my district, or more broadly such as at this conference. When teachers get together and really start to talk about education, it helps to alleviate the sense of isolation that one often feels in a classroom. We don’t tend to agree on everything, but when it comes to the everyday reality of teaching, we find our common ground. Another area of consensus amongst teachers is that we all want to be included in the national conversation on education, whether within the political or policy realm. We want the world to know what teaching is really all about.

I also enjoyed meeting education journalists and speaking with them. I knew in the abstract that the world of news is undergoing a huge rupture in the industry due to the rise of digital information technology, but it wasn’t until I  heard some of their stories that I understood the impact this is really having on the lives of journalists. The writers I met were well-spoken, knowledgeable, and interesting individuals.

This conference was set up typically, in that there were sets of panelists who discussed issues related to the topics of schools of education, teacher recruitment, and professional development. As they held their discussions, I jotted down notes about things that struck me. I will share those notes below in the hope that they may be useful to other educators or writers on education.

The Strategic Management of Human Capital

(side note: this was a term that was apologetically depicted by the presenters themselves as a bit technically overwrought, though I don’t have any problem with the terminology myself. We’re talking management here.)

Speaker: Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Carnegie Corporation of NY (On a sidenote: did you know that the Carnegie Corporation was responsible for funding HeadStart and Sesame Street?)

Solutions (these are all my own, which I was thinking about as counterpoints to some of the traditional data and perspectives of education reform being presented. For a better summation of the data, check out EdBeat’s post)

  • The improvement of schools needs to occur most fundamentally from within. Empower teachers with voice, feedback, time to collaborate, and leadership opportunities outside of their classroom.
  • The notion of an effective teacher must be counterbalanced with an understanding of the context of effective teaching (i.e. support within the building, resources available, etc.)
  • We need to partner with teachers to implement true reform, not simply apply pressure from outside via regulations or mandates

Teaching Teachers: Education Schools and Alternative Pathways

Panelists: Hamilton Lankford, SUNY; Sharon Robinson, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Kate Walsh, National Council on Teacher Quality

Moderator: Linda Perlstein, EWA

Problems

  • Journalists can do a better job of identifying what kind of impact a school of education is having on their local districts
  • Schools of education are completely inconsistent in their standards, syllabi, and demands
  • Schools of education see their role not simply to provide short-term “practical” knowledge, but furthermore the longer-term concepts of “life-long learning”–this frankly seems to me like an academic retreat from the harder conversations around what kind of content would actually be deemed “practical”
  • There is tension between what schools want in teachers and what schools of education teach teachers
  • Teachers are demanding knowing more about assessment, technology, and classroom management, according to surveys of graduates
  • Regulation does not seem to have a beneficial impact on teacher education programs
  • Lack of selectivity of candidates is a big issue
  • But there is a large shortage of teachers, and thus the rigor and quality of teachers is diminished
  • Teaching is not seen as being a competitive field to be in, especially by minorities
  • There is a dearth of research linking preparation programs to effective practice
  • Kate Walsh made an interesting and impassioned comment about teaching being one of the only industries where we seem to downplay being smart as a desired quality in candidates

Solutions

  • Communication must be built between the local school districts that are fed the graduates of schools of education
  • Content schools of education teach needs to be standardized
  • A larger pool of high quality candidates must be developed, and then effective screening measures must be used
  • Concept of “teaching ordinary people to do extraordinary things” by Deborah Ball
  • 4 foci presented by Sharon Robinson:
  1. Enrich clinical performance
  2. Document candidate performance
  3. Develop feedback within the state between schools of ed and public schools
  4. Create a level playing field

Questions/Comments

  • Ariel Sacks, a teacher in Brooklyn, made the critical observation that the conversation should really not be about the recruitment of teachers, but rather about the retention of effective teachers – I couldn’t agree more
  • One of my thoughts during this conversation, when someone brought up the inevitable data about Finland, Singapore or South Korea: Why are we always so busy looking at international comparisons as opposed to the knowledge and experience that teachers within our own classrooms have to offer?
  • Mark Roberts, a teacher in Washington D.C. made the point that we don’t put someone in a courtroom and after a few years expect them to be an effective lawyer–we have extremely high standards that they have to meet prior to even entering into training. Why should it be any different for teachers?

Bringing in the Best: Recruiting and Hiring Practices

Panelists: Vicki Bernstein, NYC DOE; Dan Goldhaber, Center on Education Data & Research; Spencer Kympton, TFA

Moderator: Caroline Hendrie, EWA

Problems

  • Relative wages of teachers have decreased when you account for inflation
  • Research from the private sector suggests that compensation matters
  • There are no solid predictors of a recruit’s performance in the classroom

Solutions

  • Leverage technology to recruit–it is cheap and it can be targeted
  • Institutes require incentives to change
  • Creating a competitive, viable market for teaching could influence change in schools of education
  • Elevate the prestige of the teaching profession
  • Though there are not sure predictors, we can still weed out the “bad bets”
  • Hiring from the top 1/3rd means the top 1/3 in terms of results, not where you came from or prestige
  • Refine the recruitment process based on nuances, not “silver bullets”–Vicki Bernstein pointed out that because of the complexity of teaching, it is hard to use any artificial construct to judge a potential recruit
  • Spencer Kympton pointed out that one predictor TFA has found from its data is the level of a candidate’s achievement beyond academics–such as the ability to set and meet goals

Questions/Comments

  • Samuel Reed, an educator and consultant from Philly, inquired what kind of recruitment efforts were made to target minorities to enter the profession. TFA rep. Spencer Kympton responded that they seek to foster conversations with minority students upon entrance into college, not only when they are about to graduate, in order to build interest in teaching as a profession. He also stated that TFA obtains 40% of its recruitment pool from low-income backgrounds
  • Dan Brown, a teacher in Washington D.C., gave his personal story and used it to articulate how compensation and wages do matter. He also pointed out that accountability in education renders it an unattractive field to work in
  • David Ginsburg, an educator and consultant, pointed out that based on his personal experience, the survey instrument (Star Teacher Selection Interview) used in Haberman’s research is highly effective as a predictor of teacher performance. Dan Goldhaber responded that the survey still could only account for 10% predictor success. Vicki Bernstein may have indicated that she has used Haberman’s survey instrument as well.
  • Richard Whitmire (I think this was who said this, but I may be mistaken–please correct me if this is inaccurate information) stated that compensation should be restructured to provide incentives for teacher performance, such as by raising the bar for tenure and making it much more difficult to attain
  • Kenneth Bernstein, an educator and union rep from Washington D.C., responded to this comment with an opposing view in support of teacher pensions. He also pointed out how checklists used to gauge teacher effectiveness were superficial.

During lunch, Michele Cahill, vice president for national programs and director of urban education at Carniegie Corporation, presented some research and perspective on education reform.

  • Cahill stated that there IS a silver bullet when it comes to one area of education policy–the MDRC study on small schools of choice demonstrates that small schools of choice can improve graduation prospects for disadvantaged students
  • She pointed out that school conditions are of extreme importance, such as teaching what students need, getting an effective group of teachers together, scheduling time for teachers to collaborate together, etc
  • Routine cognitive jobs are changing or being replaced in many industries–this will inevitably occur in teaching as well
  • Technology is a potential avenue to give effective teachers greater loads of children

Questions/Comments

  • Stephen Lazar, a teacher and union rep in NYC, cautioned that scaling such use of technology in the field of education–such as in NYC’s Innovation Zone–too quickly could be detrimental
  • Cahill agreed, and said that we have to be smart about scalability and look at the sustainability of any reform, such as by paying especial attention to the concept of renewal, wherein networks collaborate and reflect on what is working well and what needs to be modified
  • Mark Roberts questioned the fads in the education industry, and asked how we can better increase teacher involvement
  • Cahill responded that one way of doing this is for teachers to look at data and collaborate in the form of inquiry teams
  • Talia Milgrom-Elcott made a comment about how we need to battle against monolithic thinking and ideologies as we seek to improve the teaching profession

Learning on the Job: Improving Professional Development

Panelists: Karen Hawley Miles, Education Resource Strategies; Ted Preston, Achievement Network; Judy Zimny, ASCD

Moderator: Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week

This was my favorite panel of the conference, as the kind of solutions all of the panelists presented corresponded with what I know is effective as an educator.

  • Differentiate PD for teachers
  • There must be strong leadership in a school – that leader must assemble a strong team and provide the vision and goals for the school
  • Teachers only get better in the contexts of their jobs, which leads to continuous improvement and professional growth
  • Time within the school day is needed for teacher teams to meet and collaborate
  • School leaders must establish common planning periods and–at first–force collaboration to happen
  • Clarity in communication is important from school leaders
  • Judy Zimny also advised that school administrators should reduce announcements made during the day, as well as put all their emphasis on teaching by reducing time spent on extras
  • High performing schools spend 3 times more time collaborating than low performing schools
  • The focus on evaluations of teachers needs to include collective accountability by focusing on teams rather than individual teachers
  • As schools struggle to improve, they must retain the perspective of where they are developmentally as a school, and therefore develop their organizational contexts at a realistic pace
  • Take the focus off of “superstar” teachers, and instead look for “synergistic” results–focus on school-wide goals that include all school staff
  • The whole organization of a school should be focused on learning, not individual goals
  • Professional Development is often cut due to funding spent on reducing class size
  • There must be people within the school who possess strong content knowledge

Questions/Comments

  • Jose Vilson, an educator in NYC, asked how we can development environments in schools that foster teacher leaders?
  • I asked the question of how we can measure things like the relationships and contexts within a school, given the current focus on accountability. Karen Hawley Miles responded that there is a survey instrument available that can measure the “trust” within a school. However, she noted that when tied to high stakes consequences, this data becomes skewed. I think she said that it was the”Fry” survey, but I can’t find anything when I try to Google this. If anyone know what survey she was talking about, please clue me in! I’ll try contacting her directly in the meantime and update here when I find out. UPDATE 2/23/11: I must have misheard “Schneider” as “Fry.” The survey is part of the book that I had already happened to link to under “trust” above! Guess I’ll be heading downtown to check it out in the library. If anyone is further interested in this topic, Deborah Meier also has a book on trust in schools.
  • Peter Meyer, a journalist and editor at Education Next, questioned how an effective curriculum–such as one based on ED Hirsch‘s research–can be provided to teachers
  • Stacey Snyder, project manager for Teacher Quality Partnership out in Iowa (one of the few to rep for rural schools at this conference), brought her concerns for rural schools to the table. In the face of dwindling community resources and declining enrollments, Stacy inquired about what innovations the panel saw coming in the arena of PD that could help to alleviate their sense of isolation and promote technology?

Resources/Links

Here are links to blogs or sites from educators that were in attendance at the conference:

Here’s links to the journalists’ sites that were in attendance:

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13 thoughts on “EWA Conference: The Promise and Pitfalls of Improving the Teaching Profession

  1. Thanks for sharing Mark. I have actually now done two posts, one with my suggestions for journalists, in which I mention you, and another more personal reflection on the event, which includes a link back to my earlier piece. That can be read here

    Peace

  2. Great post, Ken. I also liked your tweets during the conference! On your post on An Idea for Journalists, I just want to clarify: the “Mark” you are referring to in that post is Mark Roberts of Teachermandc, not me! ;)

    • yeah, I caught that after I posted

      and at first I blew the link back to this. It is now fixed. And I passed on the link to your post to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post.

      Thorough, thorough job of taking notes. Me, as you know, I preferred to tweet. Could not do both. Together we probably provide a pretty complete picture.

      Peace.

  3. Here’s links to other posts on the conference:

    Ariel Sack’s post: http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/shoulders_of_giants/2011/02/story-idea-for-education-journalists.html

    Mark Robert’s post:
    http://teachermandc.com/2011/02/20/the-man-behind-the-curtain/

    Kenneth Bernstein’s posts:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/21/947980/-Education-writers-and-teachers-meet
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/19/947363/-An-idea-for-journalists-covering-education

    Stacey Snyder’s post:
    http://tqp-stacey.blogspot.com/2011/02/just-what-is-effective-teaching.html?spref=tw

    Jose Vilson’s post:
    http://thejosevilson.com/2011/02/21/3-stories-an-education-journalist-should-write-about-from-an-educator/

    Peter Meyer’s posts:
    http://www.educationgadfly.net/flypaper/2011/02/the-next-frontier-abyss-testing-and-its-kissin%E2%80%99-cousin-cheating/
    http://www.educationgadfly.net/flypaper/2011/02/the-great-teacher-trap/

    Stephen Lazar’s posts on some story ideas for journalists:
    http://gothamschools.org/2011/02/22/stories-that-need-to-be-told/#more-55154
    http://stephenlazar.com/blog/2011/02/but-will-they-stay-1-more-urgent-idea-for-journalists/

    Michael Hick’s brilliant take on the event:
    http://www.edleadernews.com/2011/02/22/the-curious-case-of-the-alt-cert-custodian/

    Sarah Butrymowicz’ post on EWA’s Ed Beat on Talia Milgrom-Elcott’s presentation:
    http://www.edbeat.net/

    Joanne Jacob’s post on recruiting and training teachers:
    http://www.joannejacobs.com/2011/02/recruiting-and-training-good-teachers/

    Liz Bowie’s post asks her readers for suggestions on ed stories:
    http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/education/blog/2011/02/ever_wanted_to_tell_education.html

    Dan Brown’s post on his question asked during the teacher recruitment panel:
    http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/get_in_the_fracas/2011/02/recruitment.html

  4. Mark, I enjoyed meeting you at the EWA Conference, and look forward to staying in touch. I also appreciate your reflections and thorough recap of the event.

    As for the validity of Martin Haberman’s research-based Star Teacher Selection Interview that I touted at the conference, here’s Dr. Haberman’s response to Dan Goldhaber’s research: http://www.habermanfoundation.org/Articles/Default.aspx?id=90. And here’s another article speaking to the interview’s reliability: http://www.habermanfoundation.org/Articles/Default.aspx?id=94

  5. David, nice rebuttal, thanks for sharing that link! Speaking personally, simply hearing you vouch for it at this conference was enough for me to know this instrument is worth investing in. Who am I going to listen to: an educator with almost 20 years worth of experience, or an economist? Easy decision there.

  6. Hi, Mark!

    What an (almost) thorough recapture of the day’s events. It is a treasured resource complete with many useful links. Thanks for capturing it.

    One notion of contention though. . . as if my rural voice already didn’t feel represented (or heard) . . . you overlooked my meager attempt to blog with no link. Guess that makes me the “weakest” link or the “missing” link. . . not taken personally! :)

    • Hi Stacey! I had missed you on the first go-round because I couldn’t find your blog. But once I got your email, I made sure to get you up there and linked (under the educator blogs section). I absolutely did not forget you–I may be all cityfied now, but I once lived out in the mountains not too long ago, and I look out for my folk! :)

      BTW, I’ve tried to post a response to your blog post a few times but have encountered trouble for some reason, so I’ll post my response here. I like that you are focusing on the concept of “teacher effectiveness” as a guide to your work with your team, and interestingly, in that report I had spoken to you about with the VIVA Project (find it at http://www.vivateachers.org under NY Idea Mine), we also similarly first sought to define an effective teacher using Goe et al. as well! I think if you combine that definition with Haberman’s research, as David Ginsburg suggested, then you and your team will have some very powerful work. Best of luck, and it was great meeting you!

      • Thanks, Mark! It is good to be of the same folk . . . take care, and know that I know I was heard. It was great to meet you! Hopefully I have adjusted the settings on my blog to make it possible for future replies and responses. Working on a rural piece next.

    • Ha! You’re not the first to complain about the random assignment of the lil monster icons. Unless you create your own OpenID, they just assign you a random monster gravatar. :)

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