Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

The Teacher Shortage Crisis

I had an unexpected, yet illuminating, conversation recently with a former colleague in education. With just a few weeks before his non-probationary (third year) status was up, he was told he’d be non-renewed at his current school. Until his last evaluation, he hadn’t a negative comment; he had no identified areas of deficiencies. His kids performed well according to the measures of his school and department. He was passionate about kids, teaching, and his subject matter. It was his driving force to make social studies relevant, global, and meaningful for his students.

His supervisor was willing to write him a letter of recommendation and would even hire him back if another position in his subject area were to open up. However, this particular middle school social studies teacher, two sport coach, and highly involved staff member was unable to find another teaching job. He spent several months completing applications, interviewing, and being told he was a strong candidate and was near the top of those interviewed, but still could not find a new position. He was professional through the rest of the school year. He didn’t make a production of his termination with his kids as is often the case with some departing teachers.

As his last official day at school passed, and he still had no job or even job prospects. The inclination to falsely tie his ability to get a teaching job with his worth as a person and husband started to get the better of him. He was disillusioned and shaken on a level much more than the professional. He was getting desperate to find a job. He expanded his search, considered longer and longer commutes, and still nothing. It was difficult to watch the events unfold and my 17 years in education as teacher and administrator proved useless in being of any assistance to him.

However, this particular post isn’t about the inequities or difficulties of finding a teaching job in a tight job market and how that relates to a teacher shortage crisis. It’s about the unexpected part of the conversation I alluded to earlier. He’s now switched job paths completely and is managing a fast food restaurant. He doesn’t make any apologies for it and is doing quite well. My casual inquiry about how it was going turned serious when he said, “Rick, I’m so much more empowered now than I ever was as a teacher.” I didn’t expect that and in my own three years in fast food, I never really felt empowered even in the semi-managerial role I briefly held. We talked more about empowerment and the teaching profession, locally and nationally, and pieces of other recent conversations and experiences came together throughout our discourse.

His story is not unique and many teachers willingly leave the profession for myriad reasons. Teachers leaving the profession concerns me, but not as much as the ones who decide (and are deciding) not to come to the profession at all.

Welcome to the Machine

I was at the Virtual School Symposium in November and keynote speaker former Governor Bob Wise, who is now the President for Alliance for Excellent Education, spoke in his presentation about the mounting teacher shortage as being one of three looming crises that are challenging America’s k-12 education system [1] . (The other two being declining state fiscal revenues and increased global demands for skilled workers.) Two of the statistics he presented to support this shortage were

  1. In 1987-88 the typical teacher had 15 years of experience.
  2. By 2007-08 the typical teacher had just 1 to 2 years of experience. [2]

What strikes me about these two bits of information is where they fall in the milestones tombstones(?) of reform efforts in American education. The connection to the impending teacher crisis may not be strictly causal, but it does give me pause. In 1989, the year following 87-88 referenced above and sparked by the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, state governors convened a summit to focus on education. Out of this the the National Education Goals panel was formed and eventually produced the Goals 2000 legislation [3], signed into law in 1994 . As a follow up in 1996, the National Education Summit convened pledging “to support efforts to set academic standards at the state and local levels” [4]. Also keep in mind in the mid to late 90’s outcomes-based education evolved and messily imploded. Within a few years, states who haven’t adopted academic standards move to do so in the wake of NCLB that is signed into law in 2001. High-stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and the political and continued public vilification of educators soon follow. In 2002 states and school districts that receive Title I funding are required to participate in NAEP in order to keep those federal dollars [5]. High-stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and the political and continued public vilification of educators soon follow.

As the standardized tests explicitly elevated in importance the subjects math, science, and language arts, by extension those potential teachers with a passion for other areas found (and continue to find) themselves marginalized, lost in the hysteria of high-stakes, standardized testing. Math, science, and language arts teachers resent[ed] the building pressure to have their kids perform well on the tests while other teachers resent[ed] the cuts (fiscally, politically, and practically) to their disciplines, especially the arts.

In a world of scale scores, cut points, and proficiency levels, the creative impulse in humans, and its associated propensity toward risk and possible failure, becomes unpalatable.

And, in the name of raising test scores, we continue to educate the creativity right out of our children.

So much so that we have to create “partnerships” and entire buzz phrase endeavors to reintroduce ourselves and our kids to the parts of themselves we’ve tested out of them. Consider also the Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger that reports “Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group…” [6]. We’ve heard Sir Ken Robinson tell us that “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status” in one of his creativity and school talks  from 2006 [7]. If that’s too outdated, perhaps we should pay close attention to his take on the arts, creativity, and divergent thinking in his excellent RSA Animate talk from October 2010 [8].

In an environment where just about everything has to be quantified and translated into sterile, lifeless measurable outcomes where learners are commodities to be grown for higher education or employers (rather than being developed as human beings), it’s little wonder that more people aren’t flocking to the profession. This, as many current educators will tell you, is only one point of consideration. There are many more factors that are contributing to our teacher shortage -perhaps we’ll discuss some of them here.

References

[1 ] Slide 2, The Online Learning Imperative Report and an Update on the Digital Learning Council

[2] Slides 7 & 8, The Online Learning Imperative Report and an Update on the Digital Learning Council

[3] Goals 2000: Reforming Education to Improve Student Achievement

[4] PBS Frontline, Are We There Yet?

[5] National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Frequently Asked Questions: Is participation in NAEP voluntary?

[6] Shellenbarger, Sue. The Wall Street Journal Online, December 15, 2010, A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative

[7] Robinson, Sir Ken. Schools Kill Creativity, June 2006, www.ted.com

[8] Robinson, Sir Ken. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms, October 2010, YouTube.com & TheRSA.org

December 18, 2010 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Education Bears the Brunt of Colorado Budget Cuts

Everyone is falling on hard times. I get it. People are losing jobs, consumer spending is down, tax revenue collections are down, and the Colorado has an almost $632 million shortfall for the current fiscal year 08-09 with a potential $385.5 million shortfall for 09-10. I get all that, too. But, here’s a few items I don’t get:

  • From Governor Ritter’s State of the State address on January 8, 2009: “I’ve seen the promise of Colorado in every corner of our great state, in classrooms…the best economic strategy is an education strategy…we can’t shortchange hope…Now, more than ever, we must focus on policies like this, which will help us rebound from the downturn and put us back on the path to prosperity.”
  • Of the $201.1 spending reductions and program cuts, k-12 and higher education shoulder ($45.8 million+ $30 million= $75.8 million)  or 37.7%, larger than any other area, according to his budget balancing plan.
  • Of the $289.7 million in transfers and diversions to the general fund, The Higher Education Maintenance and Reserve Fund will lose $47.2 million, again, larger than any other area.

Add those two together and education in Colorado is out $123 million of the $631.9 million, 19.5%, this year alone. This is the “best economic strategy” the governor can propose? Really?

So now, schools (here and here) and colleges (here and here) are left to sort out the mess. We get to do more with less. (Yes, more, didn’t you see that enrollment is up nearly 2%?) What it certainly feels like is that education only really matters when politicians want to introduce “bold education-reform legislation.” By sacrificing education on the political altar, disguised as “protecting life, safety and public health,” Governor Ritter is doing exactly the opposite and revealing that he and all those who support such cuts are actively pursuing the destruction of public education, despite what their press releases say. And when the terrible test scores start coming in and the dropout rates continue to rise and kindergarteners enter first grade miserably prepared and those who do graduate from high school find themselves ill-prepared for post-secondary education or careers; it won’t be the politicians who bear the wrath of public discontent, but those ridiculous educators who need to reform but just aren’t willing to do it. 

So much for “push[ing] hard against the status quo and creat[ing] a bold new vision for education in Colorado,” right Governor? So much for your “moral document” reflecting our values (6th paragraph on page 4). I have a hard time reconciling your actions (especially when you use education as a political tool) with the “sacred trust” you mention at the beginning of your State of the State Address. Perhaps what would be truly bold would be to stand resolute and not cut a single dollar from the State’s education budget, in any form, this year or any hence. That, Honorable Governor, might be the only way we can truly believe you when you say, “Our children deserve nothing less than a world-class education.”

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New (Old) Component of Postsecondary Readiness

If you’ve lost track of the ongoing conversation, especially here in Colorado (but generally across the US), about college and workforce readiness. There’s been lots of buzz about it. The Colorado Department of Education is town hall forums meetings all over the state. All this, you may recall is a result of Senate Bill 08-212, the “Preschool to Postsecondary Education Alignment Act” also known as the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4Kids) legislation introduced by Governor Ritter. According to one CDE news release,

The town hall forums will focus on such questions as:

  • What do students need to be workforce ready?
  • What do students need to be postsecondary ready?
  • Are there special considerations for the workforce or higher education in your region of the state?

S.B. 08-212 requires that the Colorado State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education adopt a description of “postsecondary and workforce readiness” by Dec. 15, 2009.

Further, S.B. 08-212 seeks to establish a seamless pathway from preschool into college or the workplace. Essential to that pathway is an understanding of what it means to be ready for education or the workforce after high school and a plan to ensure that students take the necessary courses and master the content to do so.

These are good questions, no doubt, but CDE is missing a critical element, a new (old) component of postsecondary readiness…

Cost.

I don’t mean how much all this legislation is going to cost. (That’s a whole post in itself.) I mean the cost of going to college. Consider an article from today’s New York Times that reports “…college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent.”

Sure, we need to prepare our kids for postsecondary and workforce readiness; I’m not arguing that -yet. But, once we get them ready -especially for college -then what? Student loans, multiple jobs, navigating college over 6-7 years, scholarships and grants (not for all)? Not likely, probable, viable, sustainable, or practical. How many financial crises do we need in this country until we learn massive debt is NOT a good thing?

Unfortunately, massive debt is what we are really making our kids ready for as long as postsecondary education is a commodity to be brokered on capitalistic terms. That is our fundamental problem at the intersection of democracy and capitalism. We simply want postsecondary education for all, but we really can’t provide it for all. We can’t pay for it because we have to pay for it. No government “ism,” assistance programs, or bailout plans are going to help; no legislation introduced by and governor, president, mayor, or whomever will make a difference until we decide that education is a fundamental right for everyone. We’ll fall miserably short of our readiness goals until we restructure our social, economic, political, and cultural priorities to make it happen.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Schools as Worker Incubators and Education Reform

Subtitle: Education Reform Legislation Debrief -5.21.08 

Today at the CASE Legislative Debrief, we received an overview of the very active legislative session and the education bills that were passed (and defeated). One of the bills, SB 08-212 signed into law on May 14, 2008 by Governor Ritter, I have been writing about (see my CAP4Kids tag) and expressed some concerns. Later at the debrief round-table session I asked a series of questions about some things that haven’t been sitting well with me. I ask them here again (with some additional thought and background).

Is the purpose of schools [in Colorado] to produce workers? “Workforce Readiness” means preparation for getting a job and “College Readiness” means going to college to get a degree for a job, right? So schools are to be worker processing factories; that’s really what we are talking about, right? Take for example this excerpt from The General Assembly’s Finding (c) on pages 3 and 4 of the Bill,

“To be successful in the workforce and earn a living wage immediately upon graduation from high school, a student needs nearly the same level of academic achievement and preparation that he or she would need to continue into career and technical or higher education.”

This certainly seems to indicate worker production preeminence. What if a kid doesn’t want to be a worker in the traditional get-a-job sense?  Doesn’t this kind of thinking simply reinforce our old industrial models? The logical next question in response is “If not college or workforce readiness, then what?” My response is that those things are important, but we’re still negelcting the same things. What if a kid wants to be a musician, artist, novelist, actor, athlete, missionary, entrepreneur, public servant, or [add your own]. (disclaimer: there are requirements that standards be created in Visual and Performing Arts and PE, too, but we have those and they don’t figure figure into any of the state or national accountability reports now.) Right away I can anticipate the old arguments about managing money and “what if she blows a knee” and “kids still need to know how to read and write” and [commence hand wringing and brow furrowing] and other traditional “that’s not practical” objections. And before some get all “that’s not realistic” with me how many stories are out there and haven’t been told like Ben Kaufman’s, who started making money at 12?

Here’s some reasons why this has been so widely accepted. We K-12 people, especially us high school folk, finally have a law saying Higher Education has to work with them and not dictate to them. Higher Education loves it because they get tap into their revenue streams potential students in 8th grade (See Definition 13 on page 7).  The business community loves it because it gives them a consistent flow of workers and all those kids Higher Ed weeds out will already have their workforce skills mastered. Lots of  grades 3-11 educators love it because it’s not CSAP. (Be careful, fellow educators, what you wish for; you just might get it.) The testing companies, particularly ACT, love it because they get to make all kinds of money from all those School Readiness and Workforce Readiness assessments. (Think I’m exaggerating? click on the ACT link and look at the wording on the left side of the page.) Legislators love it because they have so many constituents in those other sectors who love it.  Lots of voters will love it because who can really argue against “School Readiness” or “College and Workforce Readiness” anyway. The feds are going to love it because we’ll be testing the kids like crazy -all the time. The media will love it because they can draw more people to their outlets when they sensationalize just how miserable a job education is doing because they’ll be able to manipulate all this testing data to tell any story they want.

I understand that we’ve been told we’re failing in so many areas in education when compared with the rest of the world. (Those notions, by the way, are also debatable on so many levels.) America is bleeding out jobs all over the world. America’s dominance in [add your lost American sector here] is [fill in rank here] to [fill in global competitor here]. So we must act with an Act using the ACT in order to perform the same act again. Maybe I’m becoming cynical and being critical, offering no solutions, but we have long identified the problems, proffered remedies, and ended up in the same place. Professor Daniel Tanner of Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education put his finger on it.

“No less than any other era, the contemporary scene is marked by waves of conflicting and contradictory criticism and reinvented demands for reform. Following an era of damaging retrenchment, public school educators may be justified in hesitating to find fault with any of the recent reports and studies of our schools when these documents call for a vast increase in our investment in education. But unless the profession sorts out the demands and prescriptions for reform, the schools will continue to be buffeted by conflicting demands and will ride whatever sociopolitical tide is dominant.”

The American High School at the Crossroads from ASCD (1984!!!).

May 21, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

David Warlick Keynote -4.21.08

Today, as part of some ongoing staff development, our district is hosting David Warlick who will be doing a keynote and several roundtable sessions. Pardon the writing as I took notes during the presentation.

From the keynote…

One of the things I appreciated immediately was that he set up a blog entry with some links that he would be referencing through his keynote. During the keynote, David Warlick brought all the tech down to the level of students and teachers. That’s his mission, passion, and purpose. It’s not about the stuff; it’s about making meaning and making education meaningful.

Web Sites

Items of Note

  • Information has changed. What it looks like and what you can do with it and how we interact with it.
  • We’re spending too much time teaching our kids to use paper.
  • We’re preparing our kids for the future they are going to invent. We know almost nothing about the future we are preparing them for. “For the first time in history our jobs as educators is to prepare our children for a future that we cannot clearly describe.”
  • We should stop integrating teachnology and integrate literacy. Being suspicious about the information they find. Investigate and become a digital detective.
  • If all we have taught our kids is how to read, are they literate or dangerous? Adults were taught to read what was handed to us. Our kids are not reading this way. They are reading in a global electronic environment.
  • We can’t rely on the gatekeepers to be the sentries of information. It must become a personal skill.
  • Find information, decode it, critically evaluate it, organize it into personal libraries.
  • We should not just develop literacy skills, but literacy habits.
  • We should not just develop lifelong learning, but a learning lifestyle.

Keynote Centerpiece

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic expand our notions of what it means to be literate by

  • Exposing what is true
  • Employing information
  • Expressing ideas compellingly
  • Ethics -The thread that weaves all of them together

A compelling quote, “We will have achieved educational reform when no teacher believes they can teach the same thing the same way every time.”

I’m ready to learn more in the roundtable sessions…

 

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Acronymns Started Fighting This Week

Subtitle: Education Reform Legislation Update -4.19.08

On Thursday (4/17/08) this week I received my BriefCASE from the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) detailing the legislative updates and amendments for Senate Bill 212, also called Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4Kids), that passed the second reading of the bill in the Senate. I have referenced this initiative-turned-bill in two of my previous posts on March 19, 2008 and March 30, 2008.

CASE writes (I’ve added links): “These amendments will put Colorado on a fast track to piloting EPAS (Educational Planning and Assessment System) for purposes of data collection in the 2008-2009 school year. The next phase would call for the elimination of 9th and 10th grade CSAP and adoption of ACT College Readiness Standards for reading, writing, math, and science. It would move forward the following assessment package: Explore in 9th grade; PLAN in 10th grade and ACT plus ACT writing in 11th grade. All assessments would be administered in the spring.”

Later that day, I received a news release from the Colorado Department of Education(CDE) that detailed Commissioner Dwight D. Jones‘ “concerns about rush to adopt assessments before standards.” CDE Communications can be found at http://www.cde.state.co.us/Communications/index.html. Here are some quotes from the press release.

Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones today expressed his concern that amendments to Senate Bill 212 approved today may tie the hands of the department in choosing the best possible standards and assessments for Colorado students.

Specific concerns (abbreviated and bulleted, read the full text here)

  • Alignment with standards. The ACT/EPAS products are not based on content standards adopted by 178 school districts across the state.
  • Achievement gap information.“The Colorado public needs an assurance that any proposed system would provide a similar or better view of achievement gaps.”
  • Costs. “No state in the country has gained federal approval for what is being proposed today,” said Commissioner Jones. “No costs have been projected or identified for the process of gaining federal approval…
  • Growth model. “It’s unclear what adjustments are needed to fit a new test into the growth model,” said Commissioner Jones.

This appears to be the first skirmish in the highly publicized legislation. The legislative amendments definitely seem to be an acknowledgement, albeit political, of the general (correct or not) perception that CSAP is an irrelevant (at least in terms of usefulness to students beyond high school) exam. CDE has spent much of their time and energy on a longitudinal growth model that has CSAP scores at its heart. See Reference 1 and Reference 2for more information. There’s a sort of disconnect since the legislature, in House Bill 07-1048, required CDE to work with a technical advisory panel appointed by Governor Ritterto “to revise the growth model developed under HB 04-1433 to better quantify student growth (CRS § 22-7-604.3). The statute stipulates that the analysis of longitudinal growth should serve as the cornerstone of Colorado’s education accountability system.” (Note: HB 07-1048 is in the appendix in Reference 1 and mentions CSAP specifically. See the press releasefrom the technical advisory panel from March 6, 2008.) Apparently the House, Senate, Governor, CDE and the 178 school districts have lots of work to do before this becomes a practical reality. Is practical too hopeful of a word?

As an additional point the people over at ACT must be absolutely drooling over the prospect of getting an entire state of 9th and 10th grade students taking their tests. Of course we have mandated the ACT for our 11th graders already. Let’s not forget that although ACT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit company, they aren’t giving their tests away and it’s in their best interests to capture as many kids as possible to give weight to their college and workplace influences. Their continued corporate health directly depends on their sustained growth. Their National Career Readiness Certificate and the associated WorkKeys assessment can’t be far behind if we go down the currently proposed legislative path. 

CSAP or EPAS, I could go on, but I already have: Fit: Corporational Education; State Standardized Test Questions. Let’s just hope there’s not more Death Threats for Test Scores (Thanks, Wes!)

April 19, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education Reform Legislation Update -3.30.08

In a previous post, I referenced an educational reform bill introduced by Governor Ritter and bipartisan legislators. According to the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) (of which I am a member) BriefCASE Newsletter, the initiative is now Senate Bill 212 and has passed out of Education Appropriations after hearing testimony from 20 or more witnesses.

The CASE newsletter reports that the bill, containing more than a dozen amendments, has support from CASE that “strongly believes that it will reach into classrooms with a new vision for standards and assessments as well as alignment at the critical junctures of preschool to kindergarten and high school into postsecondary options.” The newsletter reports that several superintendents testified in support of the bill as well. CASE reports “direct involvement in a series of amendments that were adopted into the next iteration of the bill. Many of these amendments were jointly presented by the anchor group members (CASE, CASB, and CEA), and we appreciated joining efforts with Great Education Colorado on the important resource questions that this bill raises.”

The article also reports “Boulder New Vista High School Principal and CASE member Rona Wilensky opposed the bill because she does not think that college and workforce readiness mean close to the same thing.” Wilensky’s commentary in the Denver Post can be found by following this link. Additionally, Principal Wilensky wrote a blog post in Education News Colorado titled Shooting Holes in CAP4K Underlying Premise on March 26.

Her Denver Post piece raises several issues that align with my “Points of Concern” in the previous post. I’d like to see more discussion about this beyond the PR news reports. I’m hoping that the analysis that CASE will be doing will be of substance and provide some insight. I can’t say that I have become a supporter, but I can’t say I have become an opponent either.

March 30, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bold, Ambitious, Revolutionary, Comprehensive, Sweeping, Landmark Education Reform Legislation Introduced in Colorado

…as told in the words of the media outlets and the press release from Governor Ritter’s office here in Colorado. At the time of this writing (11:15PM MST), here are the sources.

Points of encouragement (I may expand on these later)

  • Re-examination and refinement of standards; most have been around in their (relatively) current from since 1996  
  • Educators from around the state will be involved
  • “The next generation of standards-based education must take into account the fact that different students have different aspirations…” (page 6 lines 24-26)
  • “Public education must be designed to encourage and accommodate students’ exposure to and involvement in activities that develop creativity and innovation skills; critical-thinking and problem-solving skills; communication and collaboration skills; social and cultural awareness; civic engagement; initiative and self-direction; flexibility; productivity and accountability; leadership; information technology application skills; and other skills critical to the twenty-first-century workforce…” (page 7 lines 11-19)
  • “…achieving the goals outlined in this part will likely require the reallocation of state resources to meet increased needs at the state and local levels, including but not limited to significant investment in professional development for educators.” (pages 8-9, lines 24-27, 1)

Points to watch/Points of concern (I may expand on these later also)

  • Implementing model content standards for pk-13, currently we only have model content standards for grades 3-10
  • The development of a significant amount of bureaucracy to facilitate this
  • 45 references in some fashion to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education
    • 4 references to technology (3 of those with in context of information technology)
  • Assessments aligned to postsecondary and workforce readiness (PWR)
    • Scoring criteria to measure students’ level of PWR
  • Requiring “each local education provider to require each high school student, beginning in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade, to enroll in the PWR program.” (page 3, second to last paragraph) 
  • Requiring “each high school student’s final transcript to describe the student’s level of PWR based on the student’s level of performance in the PWR program and on the PWR assessment.” (page 4 end of first paragraph) 
  • Endorsements and outstanding achievement indicators on diplomas
  • Amending “college admission and remediation policies to permit students to earn qualifying credit by proficiency, not by “seat time” or course titles alone.” (bullet point on the press release page) 
  • The reactions of colleges and universities

More on this as it evolves. I’d be interested in the thoughts of others in the blogosphere related to this.

March 19, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment