Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong?

Dana Goldstein with an article that raises fair, provocative questions about how we do teacher recruiting, training, evaluation and retention (Bob Compton's outstanding documentary, The Finland Phenomenon (http://www.2mminutes.com/films/finland-phenomenon.asp), reached similar conclusions):

To address these problems, many American education reformers spent the past decade demanding that districts and states get tough with teachers and provide them with more prescriptive advice on how to improve their practice. The political results are the new state laws written in response to the Obama administration's Race to the Top grant program, some of which base up to 51 percent of a teacher's evaluation on student test-score data.

 But what if the United States is doing teacher reform all wrong?

 That's the suggestion of a new report from the National Center on Education and the Economy, a think tank funded mostly by large corporations and their affiliated foundations. The report takes a close look at how the countries that are kicking our academic butts — Finland, China and Canada — recruit, prepare and evaluate teachers. What it finds are policy agendas vastly different from our own, in which prospective educators are expected to spend a long time preparing for the classroom and are then given significant autonomy in how to teach, with many fewer incentives and punishments tied to standardized tests.

 Following this approach, Finland has been able to abolish test score-based accountability, finding that the folks who come through their challenging teacher professional development pipeline are well prepared to create their own curriculums and assessments. "It is essential for high-performing countries to trust its teachers, but it had better have teachers it can trust," writes Marc Tucker, author of the NCEE report.

 The takeaway, I think, is that teaching reform efforts should focus more heavily on rebuilding the pipeline into the profession and less on creating complex reward and punishment systems for current teachers, most of whom oppose increased testing, and many of whom are demoralized by the direction of U.S. education policy. For those teachers already in the classroom, the single most powerful professional development experience is not merit pay, but good, old-fashioned collaboration, working side-by-side — over the course of a full year — with an experienced mentor.

But there's a chicken-and-egg problem here.  You couldn't take today's teaching force in many areas – especially urban ones – whereby the teachers unions have converted teaching from a profession to the longshoreman's union and use Finland approach.  But unless you adopt the Finland approach, how do we upgrade teaching to become a true profession and attract higher quality people?  Again, no easy answers….


Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong?

By Dana Goldstein


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