He’s moved in a somewhat different direction lately, but back in the day Ted Leo was a master of hooks, melody, and falsetto.
He’s moved in a somewhat different direction lately, but back in the day Ted Leo was a master of hooks, melody, and falsetto.
There is a story that has been going around about a physicist, a chemist, and an economist who were stranded on a desert island with no implements and a can of food. The physicist and the chemist each devised an ingenious mechanism for getting the can open; the economist merely said, “Assume we have a can opener”!
It’s probably not fair to pick on economists in this way when then the abuse of simplifying assumptions is at least as widespread in education.
For instance, arguably the trendiest thing going in education today is ‘grit‘: “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals”.
We all agree, I suspect, that a tendency to persevere is desirable, and that we should prefer that students have more of that tendency than less of it. So it is perhaps not surprising that since the term was popularized by researcher Angela Duckworth many teachers and schools have begun reorganizing their work to better promote and instill ‘grit’ in their students.
And yet, here’s Duckworth being interviewed by Alexander Russo last month:
Q | Can you talk about how to teach grit in the classroom?
A| I don’t know that anybody’s totally figured out how to teach it: What do you do exactly, even when we do have insights from research? How do you get your teachers to speak in ways that support growth mind-set? That’s why, through a nonprofit I helped cofound called the Character Lab, we’re organizing some lectures for teachers about self-control, grit, and related topics. It’s not totally prescriptive, because the science is still developing.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the world’s leading expert on grit is saying that educators who are substantially altering their work to better teach grit are doing so without much in the way of scientific backing or guidance.
In other words, in their excitement over grit many teachers and school leaders have simply assumed – without justification – that it is a trait that can be taught and that they know how to teach it.
This is by no means a problem limited to grit. Before grit it was “21st century skills“, “social-emotional learning”, “critical thinking”, or “scientific thinking”. What unites these fads is that they all, to varying degrees, suffer from a lack of rigorous scientific evidence indicating that they can be taught at all, let alone that we have reliable ways of teaching them in schools. (“Fluid intelligence” may be next.)
Meanwhile, we have good evidence indicating that schools today are reasonably – if imperfectly – effective at teaching kids the less-glamorous knowledge and skills – e.g., in math, science, and history – that we associate with “traditional” education.
So while it’s a good idea for researchers and educators to experiment with methods for teaching other, “higher-order” or “non-cognitive” abilities, it’s also important to remember that it is probably premature to ask schools to move away from their core competencies if we can’t also give them a clear alternate path forward.
De La Soul may have made catalog available to download for free, but TMBG really pioneered distributing music online. This appreciation of “Birdhouse in Your Soul” reminded me that Flood, like many of their albums, has held up much better than other releases of its era.
I made a brief appearance on Larry Ferlazzo’s BAM! Radio show to talk more about an upcoming piece about why teachers leave high-poverty urban schools.
Time was short, so I thought I’d collect here, in one place, many of the interesting data points I came across while thinking about the subject.
The best starting place for questions of teacher turnover is probably this report from the National Center for Education Statistics. They surveyed teachers during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years to look at teacher attrition and mobility during that time period. They classified teachers as “stayers” if they stayed in the same school, “movers” if they moved to a teaching position in a different school, and “leavers” if they left the profession. Here’s what they found:
|All public school teachers||84.5%||7.6%||8.0%|
|Charter school teachers||76.2%||11.4%||12.5%|
Interestingly, neither “city” schools nor lower-income schools have noticeably higher rates of turnover than schools generally. Those classifications don’t perfectly capture what’s going on in “high-poverty urban schools” – “cities” seem to be identified mostly in terms of population and FRPL eligibility is a very imperfect proxy for poverty – but they also don’t indicate that schools in poorer or more urban areas are experiencing noticeably higher rates of turnover than other schools. (I threw the charter school numbers in there mostly out of curiosity.)
It is also worth noting, however, that (via Matt Di Carlo) a more recent data set out of Washington, DC did find noticeably higher rates of turnover in lower-income schools in that district. It’s not clear whether DC is anomalous or if the DC data are in some way better.
The NCES also surveyed ”leavers” – from public or private schools this time – who worked in different contexts about why they left the profession. Excluding vague or more personal reasons (like pregnancy), there were some differences in how often teachers in different contexts cited as very important dissatisfaction with administrators:
|Context||Dissatisfied with administrators||Lack of support from administrators|
So teachers who leave teaching after working in city schools and lower-income schools seem significantly more unhappy with their administrators. (Remember, however, that teachers in these schools are nevertheless less likely to leave the profession than teachers in other schools.)
What about teachers who stayed in teaching but moved to a different school? Looking at public and private school movers together, movers cited the following factors as very important:
|Context||Inconvenient Location||Dissatisfied with Admin||Student Discipline||Lack of Influence|
So teachers moving from city schools and lower-income schools are more likely to cite dissatisfaction with administrators, behavior issues, and lack of influence, but less likely to move for reasons of geography/convenience.
That NCES report also asked leavers what aspects of their new jobs were better or worse than at their teaching jobs. The five aspects of their new jobs that former teachers (in any context) were most likely to rate as better than teaching were:
This doesn’t speak to high-poverty urban school turnover in particular, but it does speak to what teachers in general might be looking for when they leave the profession.
It also occurred to me that not only should we compare turnover in high-poverty urban schools to turnover in other schools, we should compare turnover in schools to turnover in other sectors.
Here I’ve had a little trouble finding exactly the numbers I want. According to the NCES, between the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years 15.5% of public school teachers left their job. Here’s one source estimating total turnover in all sectors in 2008 at 18.7%.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the monthly “separation” rate in 2008 at about 3.5% for non-farm jobs. I think that works out to an annual turnover rate of about 42% across all non-farm sectors, but I may be misunderstanding the calculation. If we look just at the “professional and business services” – a generally well-educated sector – the monthly separation rate in 2008 was closer to 5%. Separations are in general higher in the private sector than the public sector.
All else being equal, turnover is generally a bad thing to be avoided when possible. It’s not obvious, however, that high-poverty urban schools or public schools in general have a “turnover problem” compared to other professions. (I’d like to see an annual separation rate for college educated workers to get a clearer picture.)
Exactly how autonomous they feel varies depending on which aspect of the job you’re asking them about. So, for example, about 58% of teachers report having a “moderate” or “great deal” of control over “selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught”, but more than 93% report that much autonomy when it comes to “evaluating and grading students”.
That makes a certain amount of sense: teachers are usually hired to teach pre-existing content standards, so it’d be a little surprising if they felt as autonomous about content as they do about grading or disciplining students (about which 88% feel autonomous).
One of the most interesting aspects of autonomy, in my view, is over “selecting teaching techniques”, since that seems to get at the core of many conceptions of teacher professionalism.
So how much control do teachers report having over how to teach? Quite a lot: 91% of teachers report having a “moderate” or “great deal” of control over selecting teaching techniques.
That doesn’t vary much by state. In the least autonomous state – Florida – 83% of teachers report a “moderate” amount or “great deal” of autonomy over teaching techniques.
To distinguish a little more between states, I ignored teachers reporting a “moderate” amount of control and focused only on those reporting “a great deal” of control over how they teach. Here there is some notable variation between states:
So while overall levels are high, there do appear to be some differences in perceived autonomy between the states. Three-quarters or more of the teachers in Hawaii, Montana, and the Dakotas feel very free to teach the way they want, while only about half of teachers in Delaware, Florida, Rhode Island, and Maryland feel that way.
What could explain these differences? One hypothesis could be that teachers are granted more autonomy in exchange for accepting relatively lower salaries (e.g., “True, we’re not paying you very much, but we won’t bug you about how you teach.”) Conversely, we might expect that teacher autonomy is associated with relatively higher salaries (e.g., “We’re paying you generously because we respect your expertise; obviously we’re going to defer to your judgment about how to teach.”)
Or, at least, these were hypotheses that came to mind for me, probably because I recently looked at teacher salaries in different states.
But are either of these hypotheses supported (or ruled out) by the data?
If we just look at average teacher salaries, states with more highly-paid teachers tend to have teachers who feel (slightly) less autonomous:
That pattern persists when we adjust teacher salaries for state-level median household income:
So there is some tentative support for the hypothesis that better-paid teachers are more likely to be expected to teach in school- or district-approved ways.
Interestingly, however, the relationship between autonomy and salary flips when we look at salaries as a fraction of median income for other 4-year college graduates:
So in states where teachers are paid more relative to household income, they feel less autonomous. In states where teachers are paid more relative to other BA-holders, however, they feel more autonomous.
It’s not at all clear what’s going on here. If you can get such different results by slicing and dicing the salary numbers in different ways, then it’s entirely possible that teacher feelings of professional autonomy are not causally related to salaries in any direct, meaningful way.
So if teacher autonomy is related to salaries…how? And if autonomy isn’t related to salary…why not?
Yesterday I tried to convince Kevin Ferguson that there are, in fact, some very good tribute albums. Two of them are tributes to Leonard Cohen including I’m Your Fan, where the Pixies do the right thing for this song by substituting a dose of derangement for the original’s bit of senility.
Last week at This Week in Ed I wrote that, contrary to some narratives, many people should still view teaching as an attractive profession:
Certainly, the last decade of education reform has substantially changed the work of many teachers, especially elementary, math, and English teachers in low-scoring schools. Many other teachers, however, have experienced education reform much less directly or intensely, and in any case many teachers are probably not as sensitive to those changes as Stephanie or Gary.
People also go into teaching much as they go into other professions: for a wide variety of often-complicated reasons. Some new teachers are looking to change or “defend” education, but others enjoy talking about their subject matter, like working with kids, or appreciate the vacation time…
Ultimately, then, whether other people think you should become a teacher is mostly irrelevant, especially when their reasons are heavily rooted in their personal ideologies or professional preferences. Teaching has a lot to recommend it and if it’s something you want to do with your life you should probably go for it.
I wrote that over the weekend (as I do most posts) which means that I wasn’t even aware of the CAP report that came out last Monday on teacher job satisfaction, which found that 90% of teachers feel fairly autonomous and 89% of teachers are satisfied with their jobs. This makes it all the more difficult to take seriously the argument that the last decade or more of education reform has been driving people away from or out of the classroom.
It’s worth remembering, though, that critics of modern education reform have been actively ignoring a lot of teacher satisfaction data for years. It was almost two years ago that I wrote about strained misinterpretations of a MetLife survey that found that teacher job satisfaction had – if anything – actually notched up in the years after the passage of NCLB.
On Twitter Doug Lemov attributed some of these misrepresentations to disenchanted teachers being poor losers:
— Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) January 22, 2014
That might be a part of it, and it’s probably why teachers who don’t passionately object to reform are often dismissed as mentally ill. But many of these unnecessary discussions about whether people “should” go into teaching seem to me not so much petty as oblivious. The assumption seems to be that teachers just must be dissatisfied and there’s not really any recognition that one’s personal experience may not be representative.1
To be fair, it’s arguably a little surprising that teachers’ views of their jobs haven’t changed more dramatically. After all, you can make a case that public education today operates very differently than it did in, say, 2000 and many of those changes would seem to have increased demands on teachers. So you can sort of understand why someone might be inclined to take it for granted that teachers are substantially less satisfied with their work than they used to be.
In fact, reformers may very well want to gloat a little less about the survey data and ask themselves why teachers don’t seem to care very much about all of these reforms.
The reformers’ assumption seems to be that they’ve found a free lunch: they can introduce considerable accountability without annoying teachers. But there’s another possibility, which is that most of the reforms that have been introduced just aren’t impacting the classroom much on a day-to-day basis or in ways that can be felt by teachers.
My experience is that both reformers and their critics underestimate the extent to which most teachers can ignore most reforms most of the time. Many teachers do not teach heavily-tested subjects – i.e., math or ELA – and those who do are often observed only occasionally and by administrators who are busy with other obligations and in no mood to pick fights about curriculum and instruction. And it’s not hard for any teacher to justify just about anything in terms of “rigor”, “standards alignment”, and “learning outcomes”.
In other words, most teachers can continue to do whatever they want in the classroom even under our contemporary accountability regime. And this ability to ignore reform helps to reconcile relatively steady teacher satisfaction data with the spread of significant-seeming education reform.
This possibility should be especially concerning to reformers who take the position that teachers and teacher quality are crucially important to improving educational outcomes. To date, however, I don’t think I’ve seen reformers publicly consider it.
So to sum up the state of education reform at the start of 2014: Reformers have spent many years trying to radically change education. So far this seems not to have affected teachers all that much but reform critics don’t seem to realize it and reformers don’t seem to mind it.
I was sort of underwhelmed by The Suburbs, but Reflektor is pretty good. James Murphy seems to have helped.
I missed this when it first came out, but back in October StudentsFirst apparently released a report called A Personalized Future for Education. If you cut through the platitudes about “teaching with a 19th century model” designed for the needs of an “industrial-based economy”, the report’s core recommendations are not obviously unreasonable:
Personalized learning is a student-centered approach to education that allows each student to advance through academic content at his or her own pace. In a personalized model, also known as a competency-based education (CBE), time is the variable and learning is the constant, so a student’s competency is prioritized over his or her age. Personalized learning removes the one-size-fits-all approach to education by offering an array of choices and content to every student at a pace that meets his or her specific learning needs.
According to CompetencyWorks, a leading collaborative initiative that works to provide information and knowledge about CBE, there are five components of CBE:
1. Students advance upon mastery;
2. Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable objectives that empower students;
3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual needs; and
5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.
There’s nothing really revolutionary here; many of these things have gone on to one degree or another for a long time under other names (e.g., “tracking”). Strictly implementing this sort of “competency-based education” on a large scale would entail many substantial changes, but teachers, schools, and districts strive for imperfect approximations of these recommendations all the time.
Of course, the report is also peppered with StudentsFirst’s standard recommendations about things like choice for students and parents and accountability for teachers and schools. What’s really striking, though, is how uncomfortably the CBE proposals fit within StudentsFirst’s broader war against achievement gaps and “excuses”.
To see why I’m surprised to see StudentsFirst endorse the CBE model, it’s helpful to start with the group’s mission statement, which includes this:
Inside our schools, a great teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s education. While there are many factors that influence a student’s opportunity to learn, a great teacher can help any student overcome those barriers and realize their full potential. For this reason, we believe in doing everything we can to make sure teachers are supported and all schools are able to hire and retain the best teachers possible.
That’s a bit difficult to parse – just try to articulate StudentsFirst’s position on the importance of out-of-school “factors that influence a student’s opportunity to learn” – but I think it’s fair to say that this is the premise that motivates their side of the teacher quality/”poverty is not an excuse” debates. On StudentsFirst’s account it shouldn’t matter whether there are various, school-independent “barriers” to “a student’s opportunity to learn”: the point of education reform is to enable schools to “overcome those barriers”.
As far as I can tell, the StudentsFirst position has consistently been that if identifiable groups of students are consistently under-performing relative to their peers, that can be viewed as a sign of educational failure. After all, if teachers and schools are “overcoming” students’ various barriers, students should be progressing academically at relatively constant rates across populations.
Now let’s return to their competency-based education report, which includes this passage on the role of competency in education:
Grade-level promotion has historically been dictated by students’ age and attendance. This system of promotion takes a one-size-fits-all approach to education, and typically serves students in the middle of the class; students who need additional review end up being moved along before they’re ready, while students who have already achieved mastery on the given topic are prevented from moving ahead and often end up bored and disengaged. This model is problematic because it does not meet the individual needs of each student and may actually contribute to a gap in achievement between students.
The good news is that personalized learning provides educators with an alternative – an alternative that is already in high demand. Personalized learning allows students to learn at their own pace, advancing only when they achieve competency and mastery of the material. A student will spend as much time as they need to gain competency. If the student falls too far behind, educators can leverage data about where the student is and target additional supports to help him or her catch up. Additionally, personalized learning adapts to situations where a student is ahead in one subject and behind in another. This means that students are provided with an education that is custom-made for them based on academic needs, not age or seat time requirements completely unrelated to learning.
All of that sounds plausible enough to me, but as far as I can tell it completely cuts against (what I think of as) the standard StudentsFirst line, which is that the point of school reform is precisely to make sure that non-school factors aren’t slowing kids down academically. So I’m surprised to see StudentsFirst advocate a system that basically concedes – and builds around – the fact that kids don’t progress academically at the same rate.
Am I missing something here?