Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Research, reporting shows teachers need training and investment

Bridge Magazine put together an excellent package on teacher training and turnover in Michigan.  The takeaway is somewhat unsurprising: teachers get better with training and experience.  However, this intuitive principle, backed up by Bridge Magazine's research and reporting, is at odds with the direction of Michigan education policy which increasingly focuses on evaluating teachers based on standardized tests, and on funneling kids into charter and cyber schools which have the least experienced and least trained teachers.

The problem of teacher turnover is well documented.  Many teachers are leaving the profession before they have time to get good at their jobs:
An estimated 10 percent leave the profession in their first year; between 30 and 40 percent flee the classroom within four years, about the time it takes for teachers to attain a journeyman level of skill at their job. ... That data indicates that about one in eight teachers have less than five years’ experience in their school. There are almost as many teachers with one year or less experience in their current school as teachers with more than 20 years’ experience.
“There’s fairly substantial empirical evidence that you need to get teachers past those first five years for them to be as effective as they can be,” Ronfeldt said. “They leave before they get their feet under them. My sense is that teaching is less a lifetime career choice than it used to be.” [Michigan classrooms loaded with rookie teachers who soon wash out, Bridge Magazine, October 14, 2013.]
There are some obvious causes for this common to any job.  Teaching is not easy, and it can be stressful.  But, to some extent, this is a self-inflicted wound we are causing by our treatment of teachers.
Meanwhile, teachers are bombarded with negative stereotypes, from “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” to being the scapegoats for low student achievement, even though studies show that poverty and home life have a bigger impact.
“Even if you put a very prepared teacher in a classroom,” said Avner Segall, acting chair of teacher education at MSU, “if everything around them says that society does not value them, they will leave.” [Id.]
This point is very clearly illustrated by Bridge Magazine's profile of a pair of teachers who have taught in Michigan and in Ontario.
Eric and Kristen Wideen are among a small number of teachers who’ve led classrooms on both sides of the Ambassador Bridge, and the differences run far deeper than the Detroit River.
After one year, 17 percent of new teachers in the United States leave the profession; In Ontario, annual attrition is 2 percent.
“People (in the U.S.) would say to me, ‘Oh, you’re just a glorified babysitter,’ or “Oh, you just want summers off,’” Eric Wideen recalled.
It’s a sentiment that Eric and Kristen discovered stops at the Ambassador Bridge, even though teachers are just as unionized and more highly paid in Ontario.
“The reason we do so well, the key for all high-performing countries, is high regard for teachers,” said Howitt. “My impression is that it’s much more punitive in the U.S.” [Teaching in Windsor: A few miles away, a world apart, Bridge Magazine, October 19, 2013.]
But the differences are more than just cultural.  In Canada, like in other countries with successful K-12 education, teaching is treated as a top profession. 
“Teaching programs [in Canada] are hard to get in to,” Kennedy said, a contrast to Michigan, where students can enter some education programs with a high school GPA below 3.0.
Tucker is editor of a book comparing the world’s education systems, “Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.”
“The countries we’ve studied are the top 10 performers in the PISA rankings,” Tucker said. “In many of these countries, by design, it is now as hard to get into teaching as it is to get into the high-status professions, making teaching high status.
“In virtually all of these countries, they’re recruiting teachers from the top quarter of their high school classes,” Tucker said. In Korea, it’s the top 5 percent; in Finland, 10 percent.”
And the United States?
“Most observers agree we recruit teachers from the bottom third of high school graduates,” Tucker said. [Id.]
This trend continues through teacher training where programs are more competitive and rigorous in Canada to professional development.  Other countries are simply putting more value on teachers, and they are getting better results. 

However, Michigan education policy is moving in the opposite direction of countries which have better systems.  Rather than placing more value on teachers and increasing investments and training, Michigan is moving to toward a punitive "merit pay" system against the advice of a blue ribbon panel appointed by the Governor and leaders of the House and Senate. Dissecting the idea of "merit pay" for teachers, Okemos Parents for Schools, October 11, 2013.  Michigan is also rapidly expanding charter and cyber schools as we have written about extensively, See Online schools rapidly expanding, spending tax dollars on marketing, Okemos Parents for Schools, July 26, 2013; What are "charter schools?", Okemos Parents for Schools, June 28, 2013. Consider how Okemos stacks up with a local charter school in terms of teacher experience:

The lesson from Bridge Magazine's reporting is clear: we need to stop blaming teachers, and start helping teachers.

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