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Summer Buzz Around Teaching

School’s out, summer vacations abound, heatwaves have struck, and there must be something in the air (besides endless humidity and the feeling that summer is already flying by). Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been struck by a few headlines about teachers.

Trying to Crack the Nut of Teacher Education and Preparation 

Relay School of Education is the first standalone college of teacher preparation to open in NYS for 10 years, aimed at training schoolteachers in a way that “explodes the traditional, course-based paradigm that has been adopted by traditional schools of education over the past century.” Having been educated in a traditional school of education myself, I agree about the necessity of dramatically improving and transforming the way that teacher education happens, in order to stop failing millions of children in this country. And indeed, “some of the toughest critics of education schools have been educators themselves” - myself included. It's promising to see so many of these new innovations coming from outside of the traditional system—Relay grows out of Teacher U, which was founded by leaders from top charter organizations—Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP; and High Tech High’s master’s program grew out of a charter school’s need for more practice-based training and experience working with the specific populations served by the school. Innovations like this won’t reach the necessary scale, but if they can disrupt our way of thinking enough and demonstrate real results in student achievement, we just may stand a chance at shaking things up in academia.

Powerful Teacher Voices

Last week and last weekend, teachers rallied in Washington, D.C., for the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. Organizers of the March reportedly met with senior USDOE officials, including Arne Duncan, who reported “a lot of common ground.” (March organizers evidently disagreed with this characterization.) This in itself is exciting stuff—let’s keep this dialogue going! And with a star-studded Jumbotron message from Jon Stewart and scheduled speaking from Matt Damon, it’s great to see these critical teacher voices get such visibility! What worries me, though, is the potential for it to become quickly polarizing—“Race to the Top is awful!” vs. “Race to the Top is the best!”, “We need unions!” vs. “Down with unions!,” “It’s all about accountability!” vs. “There’s too much testing!” I’m frustrated with the either / or rhetoric, without the acknowledgment that it will take comfort in the grey area to make progress on these entrenched social issues.

Teacher Tenure Drops in NYC Under Tougher Evaluation Guidelines 

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg announced the end of automatic tenure for NYC teachers, under recent tougher evaluation guidelines. Compared to 5 years ago, when 99% of eligible teachers received tenure (a number that looks similar with statistics in other school districts nationally), this year 58% of teachers eligible for tenure received it, a decision on tenure was deferred for 39% of eligible teachers, and 3% of eligible teachers were denied tenure outright. This is powerful stuff, but of course, only as good as the ability to effectively evaluate. And here, it sounds like more work is still to be done, with so many teachers up for tenure not rated as effective and some teachers complaining that evaluation standards were unclear. But on the whole, this is exciting stuff. Imagine, the ability to understand those teachers who are most effective in driving student achievement—and those who are not—and to reward them with incentives aimed at keeping them in the classroom for the longterm, to impact even more kids over the years. And, even more, to understand those teachers who are less effective, and to (as is happening in NYC) give them more time to improve and get “up to our standards”—gone are the days of the rubber rooms (we hope!).

What do you think? How can teachers be powerful change agents in education reform? What role do traditional schools of education play? What about outside "disruptive" forces? Would love to hear from you!

Emily Malenfant

Former Chief Administrative Officer, FSG